Sunday, April 25, 2010

Arash Kamangir


Arash Kamangir is a heroic archer of Iranian folklore. He was the Persian national hero who sacrificed his life to preserve the territorial integrity of Iran. The name Arash remains popular among speakers of Iranian languages. Tiregan, the summer solstice celebrates the life of Arash Kamangir.


Persian legend has it that at the end of a long-lasting war between Iran and Turan, the General Afrasiab had surrounded the forces of the righteous Manuchehr and thus the rulers of both countries decided to make peace and to fix the boundary between their kingdoms. It was determined that somebody should ascend Mount Damavand and from there shoot an arrow towards the east and wherever the arrow lands, that would be the new border between the two countries. Arash, known as the swift arrow, and in modern Persian as Arash Kamangir, was the best archer in the Persian army who volunteered to shoot the arrow. On the bright morning of Tirgan, the first month of summer, Arash stripped naked, faced north, strained his bow as never before, let the arrow fly and rid with the arrow. According to Persian tales, the arrow flew the entire morning and fell at noon, on the 2,250 kilometer bank of the Oxus River in what is now Central Asia. The river remained the boundary between Iran and Turan for centuries until the Mongol hordes poured in to push the Persians southward in the 10th century AD.


The distance the arrow travels varies; in one it is thousand leagues (farsakhs), in another forty days walk. In several, the arrow traveled from dawn to noon, in others from dawn until sunset. The location from which Arash fired his arrow varies as well. In the Avesta (which does not mention places in Western Iran), it is 'Airyo.khshaotha', a not-further identified location in the Middle Clime. Islamic-era sources typically place the location of the shot somewhere just south of the Caspian Sea, variously in Tabaristan, a mountain-top in Ruyan, Amol fortress, Mount Damavand or Sari. The place the arrow landed is variously identified as Mount Khvanvant in the Avesta (likewise an unknown location), a river in Balkh, east of Balkh, Bactria/Tokharistan, the banks of the Oxus River or Merv. According to al-Biruni, it hit a nut tree between Fargana and Tabaristan in the furthest reaches of Greater Khorasan. A few sources specify a particular date for the event. Later sources associate the event with the name-day festivities of Tiregan.


In al-Tabari, Arash is exalted by the people, is appointed commander of the archers and lives out his life in great honor. Other versions of the myth state that Arash was never seen after that day and his body was never found after his death. However, there are still stories from travelers who were lost in the mountain about how they heard Arash Kamangir's voice and the voice helped them find their path and saved their lives. In any case, Arash Kamangir has remained one of the most popular and favorite Persian legendary heroes who is the symbol of sacrifice and bravery in the Persian history. He will be alive in the memory of Iranians forever and every year on the occasion of Tiregan Festival, Iranians hold some ceremonies in his commemoration.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ferdosi


Hakim Abol Ghasem Ferdosi, (935–1020) was a highly revered Persian poet. He was the author of the Shahnameh, the national epic of Persian-speaking world as well as the entire Iranian realm. Ferdosi was born in 935 in a village near Tus, in Greater Khorasan (now part of the Iranian Khorasan Razavi province). The son of a wealthy land owner, his great epic, the Shahnameh ("The Epic of Kings"), to which he devoted more than 35 years, was originally composed for presentation to the Samanid princes of Khorasan, who were the chief instigators of the revival of Iranian cultural traditions after the Arab conquest of the seventh century.


When he was just 23 years old, he found a “Shahnameh” written by Abu-Mansour Almoammari; it was not, however, in poetic form. It consisted of older versions ordered by Abu Mansour ibn Abdol Razzagh. The discovery would be a fateful moment in the life of the poet. Ferdosi started his composition of the Shahnameh in the Samanid era in 977 A.D. During Ferdosi’s lifetime the Samanid dynasty was conquered by the Ghaznavid Empire. This task was to take the poet some thirty years or more, during which he included the verse:

“ ... I suffered during these thirty years, but I have revived the Iranians (Ajam) with the Persian language; I shall not die since I am alive again, as I have spread the seeds of this language ... ”


After thirty years of hard work, he finished the book and two or three years after that, Ferdosi went to Ghazni, the Ghaznavid capital, to present it to the king. There are various stories in medieval texts describing the lack of interest shown by the new king, Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni, in Ferdosi and his lifework. According to historians, Mahmood had promised Ferdosi a dinar for every distich written in the Shahnameh (60,000 dinars), but later retracted and presented him with dirhams (20,000 dirhams), which were at that time much less valuable than dinars (every 100 dirhams worth 1 dinar). Some think it was the jealousy of other poets working at the king’s court that led to this treachery; the incident encouraged Ferdosi's enemies in the court. Others believe that Mahmood was furious for not being the subject of the book and thus betrayed their agreement. Ferdosi rejected the money and, by some accounts, he gave it to a poor man who sold wine. Wandering for a time in Sistan and Mazandaran, he eventually returned to Tus, heartbroken and enraged. He had left behind a poem for the King, stuck to the wall of the room he had worked in for all those years. It was a long and angry poem, more like a curse, and ended with the words:

"Heaven's vengeance will not forget. Shrink tyrant from my words of fire, and tremble at a poet's ire."


Ferdosi’s Shahnameh has remained exceptionally popular among Persians for over a thousand years. It tells the history of old Persia before the Arab conquest of the region. This tale, all written in poetic form and in Dari Persian, starts 7,000 years ago, narrating the story of Persian kings, Persian knights, Persian system of laws, Persian Religion, Persian victories and Persian tragedies. It is the history of Iran's glorious past, preserved for all time in sonorous and majestic verses.


Regarding the money promised to Ferdosi, one story claims Mahmood resent the amount promised to Ferdosi’s village, but when the messengers reached his house, he had died a few hours earlier. The gift was then given to his daughter, since his son had died before his father at the age of 37. However, his daughter refused to receive the sum, thus making Ferdosi’s Shahnameh immortal. Later the king ordered the money be used for repairing an inn in the way from Merv to Tus, named “Robat Chaheh” so that it may remain in remembrance of the poet. This inn now lies in ruins, but still exists. Some say that Ferdosi's daughter inherited her father's hard earned money, and she built a new and strong bridge with a beautiful stone caravansary nearby for travelers to rest and trade and tell stories.


Ferdosi is said to have died around 1020 in poverty at the age of 90, embittered by royal neglect, though fully confident of his work’s ultimate success and fame (clearly seen especially in last verses of his book). Ferdosi was buried in the yard of his own home. It was not until Reza Shah Pahlavi's rule that a mausoleum was built for the great poet (and remodeled in 1969). His tomb is nowadays well-marked and celebrated by people from all realms. In 2006 installation of power poles for transferring electricity in Tus not only vulgarised the historical-cultural landscape of the mausoleum, but also reduced the chances for registration of this historic monument in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.


Ferdosi is one of the undisputed giants of Persian literature. Ferdosi has a unique place in Persian history because of the strides he made in reviving and regenerating the Persian language and cultural traditions. The most important descriptive passages of the Shahnameh are descriptions of war, the beauty of people, and the beauty of nature. Although Ferdosi himself had probably never taken part in a battle and the descriptions of scenes of warfare are in the main imaginary, they are described so variously, with such liveliness and to so stirring an effect that, despite their brevity, the reader seems to see them pass before his eyes. His works are cited as a crucial component in the persistence of the Persian language, as those works allowed much of the tongue to remain codified and intact. In this respect, Ferdosi surpasses Nezami, Khayyam, Asadi Tusi, and other seminal Persian literary figures in his impact on Persian culture and language. Many modern Iranians see him as the father of the modern Persian language.

In May 2006, UNESCO designated May 15th as National Ferdosi Day which is annually celebrated by Iranians. To commemorate the great Iranian epic poet, many art and cultural festivals are held on this day across the country.


چــو ایــــــــران نبـاشد تن من مباد
بدین بوم و بر زنــده یک تن مباد
دریـغ است ایــران که ویران شود
کنـام پلنگـــــــان و شیــــــران شود


بسی رنج بردم در این سال سی
عجم زنـده کردم بدین پـــــارسی


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Azadi Tower


Azadi Tower (previously known as the Shahyad Aryamehr Memorial Tower) is the symbol of Tehran, Iran, and marks the entrance to the city. Azadi Tower is situated in the middle of Azadi Square. Built in 1971 in commemoration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire, this "Gateway into Iran" was named the Shahyad Tower but dubbed Azadi after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. It was the symbol of the country's revival, and intended to remind coming generations of the achievements of modern Iran under the Pahlavi Dynasty. It is 50 meters tall and is completely clad in cut marble, a striking national monument and audio-visual theatre complex. Prior to the opening of Tehran’s new airport, it was the first sight to welcome visitors to Tehran due to its proximity to Mehrabad Airport.


Azadi Tower is part of the Azadi cultural complex, located in Tehran's Azadi square in an area of some 50,000 square meters. There is a museum and several fountains underneath the Tower. The architect, Hossein Amanat, won a competition to design the monument. Azadi Tower combines Sassanid and Islamic architecture styles. It is alleged that Amanat also integrated a degree of Bahai symbolism in the design; there are exactly nine stripes on each side of the tower and exactly nine windows on the tall sides of the building, nine being an important number in the Bahai faith.


Built with white marble stone from the Isfahan region, there are eight thousand blocks of stone. The stones were all located and supplied by Ghanbar Rahimi, whose knowledge of the quarries was second to none and who was known as "Soltan’e Sang’e Iran". The shape of each of the blocks was calculated by a computer programmed to include all the instructions for the building work. The actual construction of the tower was carried out and supervised by Iran's finest master stonemason, Ghaffar Davarpanah Varnosfaderani. The main financing was provided by a group of five hundred Iranian industrialists. The inauguration took place on October 16, 1971.


The entrance of the tower is directly underneath the main vault and leads into the basement. The black walls, the pure, sober lines and the proportions of the whole building create an intentionally austere atmosphere. Heavy doors open onto a kind of crypt where lighting is subdued. The lighting there seems to issue from the showcases placed here and there, each containing a unique object. Gold and enamel pieces, painted pottery, marble, the warm shades of the miniatures and of the varnished paintings glitter like stars among the black marble walls and in the semi-darkness of the concrete mesh which forms the ceiling of this cave of marvels. There are about fifty pieces selected from among the finest and most precious in Iran. They are in excellent condition and each represents a particular period in the country's history.


The place of honor is occupied by a copy of Cyrus's Cylinder. The translation of this first Declaration of Human Rights is inscribed in golden letters on the wall of one of the galleries leading to the museum's audio-visual department. Square flag-stones, gold sheeting, and terra cotta tablets from Susa covered with Cuneiform characters of astonishingly rigorous geometry are the earliest testimonies of Iran's history. Potteries, ceramics, varnished porcelains like the beautiful seventh-century blue and gold dish from Gorgan, an illuminated Koran, and a few exceptional miniatures display milestones in the country's annals up to the nineteenth century, which is represented by two magnificent painted panels from Farah Pahlavi's collection. A mechanical conveyer allows visitors to view the hall in comfort. Some art galleries and halls have been allocated to temporary fairs and exhibitions.


In 2006 Azadi Tower appeared to be in a critical state with its foundation being threatened by water seepage and facing gradual destruction. Furthermore as a result of negligence in carrying out basic repairs, bad weather and air pollution, the stone façade and its tile works were also in poor condition. Fragments of the outer parts of the tower had fallen apart owing to aging and lack of repair since its construction. Despite warnings about the urgent need for repairs since 2004, no action has been taken.


On February 11, 2007, during the celebration of the 28th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution, an Iranian man named Amir Moussavi, 32, fell to his death while free climbing the tower in front of the tens of thousands celebrating. He was only three meters from the top when he was overcome by exhaustion and unable to climb further.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ariobarzan



Ariobarzan (around 368 BC-330 BC) was a Persian satrap of Persis and military commander. He is best known for commanding the Persian army at the Battle of the Persian Gate northeast of today's Yasuj against Alexander of Macedonia in the winter of 330 BC. As a result today Iranians can look back, stand proud and declare that their country has been greatly recognized as the homeland of courage, altruism and selflessness of many brave patriots who stood firmly against invaders and defended their beloved homeland and whose achievements will never be forgotten.


Ariobarzan was made satrap of the southern province of Fars in present-day Iran in 335 BC by Darius III Codomannus. The Persian Empire suffered a series of defeats against the Macedonian forces at Issus and Gaugamela, and by the end of 331 BC Alexander had advanced to Babylon and Susa. A Royal Road connected Susa with the more eastern capitals of Persepolis and Pasargadae in Persis, and was the natural venue for Alexander's continued campaign. Following the Persian defeat at Gaugamela, Darius realized he could not defend his capital Persepolis and traveled east to rebuild his armies at Ecbatana, leaving Ariobarzan in command. Meanwhile Alexander split his army and led his 14,000 strong force towards the Persian capital via the Persian Gates.


Ariobarzan was charged with preventing the Macedonian advance into Persis, and to this effect he relied heavily on the terrain Alexander needed to pass through; a narrow mountain pass that lent itself easily to ambush. There were only a few possible routes through the Zagros Mountains, all of which were made more hazardous by winter's onset. The valley preceding the Persian Gate, called the Tang'e Meyran, is initially very wide, allowing the Macedonian army to enter the mountains at full march. Ariobarzan occupied a position near the modern-day village of Cheshmeh Chenar. The Persian Gate was only a couple of meters wide at the point of ambush with visibility limited due to the rising sun. Once the Macedonian army had advanced sufficiently into the narrow pass, the Persian troops of just over 1,000 rained down boulders on them from the northern slopes. From the southern slope, Persian archers and catapults launched their projectiles.


Alexander's army initially suffered heavy casualties, losing entire platoons at a time. The Macedonians attempted to withdraw, but the terrain and their still-advancing rear guard made an orderly retreat impossible. Alexander was forced to leave his dead behind to save the rest of his army. The Persian success at the Battle of the Persian Gate was short lived though although it gave the Persians hope that it would provide Darius more time to field another army and possibly stop the Macedonian invasion altogether.


After being held off for 30 days, Alexander succeeded in encircling the Persian army in a pincer attack with Philotas and broke through the Persian defenses. Some sources indicate that the Persians were betrayed by a captured tribal chief who showed the Macedonians an alternate path that allowed them to outflank Ariobarzan while a token force remained in the Macedonian camp under the command of Craterus. Alexander and his elite contingent then attacked the force of Ariobarzan from above in a surprise attack until the Persians could no longer block the pass.


Although precise figures are unavailable, historians generally agree that this engagement cost Alexander his greatest losses during his campaign to conquer Persia. According to some accounts, Ariobarzan, and his surviving companions were trapped, but rather than surrender, they charged straight into the Macedonian lines. One account states that Ariobarzan was killed in the last charge while another version reports that Ariobarzan escaped to the north where he finally surrendered to Alexander with his companions. The defeat of Ariobarzan's forces at the Persian Gate removed the last military obstacle between Alexander and Persepolis. Upon his arrival at the city of Persepolis, Alexander seized the treasury of Persepolis, Alexander allowed the troops to loot Persepolis, kill all its men and enslave all its women. In 330 BC, Alexander ordered the terrace of Persepolis, including its palaces and royal audience halls, to be burned before leaving to find Darius III.


كنون گويمت رويدادي دگر / زتاريخ ديرين اين بوم و بر
چو اسكندر آمد به ملك كيان / يكي گرد فرمانده ي قهرمان
به ايرانيان داد درس وطن / دراين ره گذ شت از سرو جان و تن
كه فرزند نام آور ميهن است / مرآن شير دل آريو برزن است
چو نزديك شد لحظه ي واپسين / به ميدان_ آورد گفت اين چنين
بدان اي سكندر پس از مرگ من/ پس از ريزش آخرين برگ تن
تواني گشايي در پارس را / نهي بر سرت افسر پارس را
به تخت جم و كاخ شاهنشهان / قدم چون نهي بادگر همرهان
مبادا شدي غره از خويشتن / كه ايران بسي پرورد همچو من
چو اسكندر اين جانفشاني بديد / سرانگشت حيرت به دندان گزيد
به آهستگي گفت با خويشتن / كه اينست مفهوم عشق وطن
اگر چند آن آريا مرد گرد / پي پاس ايران زمين ، جان سپرد
ولي داد درسي به ايرانيان / كه در راه ايران چه سهل است جان

***************

وطن یعنی به دشمن راه بستن / به اوج آریو برزن نشستن
وطن یعنی دو دست از جان کشیدن / به تنگستان و دشتستان رسیدن

Friday, April 9, 2010

Towers of Silence


A Tower of Silence or dakhmeh is a place on top of a hill where Zoroastrians brought corpses for vultures to devour as a funeral formality. With its Zoroastrian history, Yazd is home to many of such Towers although they are no longer utilized for their original purpose and currently just serve as a tourist attraction. The bodies of the deceased were placed atop the Tower and so exposed to the sun and birds of prey. The Tower was surrounded by walls built to prevent others from seeing the frightening sight of the big birds using their powerful beaks and picking on the body of the deceased. As a result generally in less than an hour nothing of the body would remain other than bones.



According to Zoroastrians beliefs, nature and its four elements of earth, water, air and fire are sacred. Zoroastrian tradition considers a dead body to be unclean and death a temporary triumph of evil over good. Specifically, the corpse demon was believed to rush into the body and contaminate everything it came into contact with, hence there were rules for disposing of the dead as safely as possible. This made it the most appropriate way of getting rid of a corpse as an animal fed upon another.


The roof of such Towers are divided into four concentric rings; the bodies of men are arranged around the outer ring, women in the second circle, and children in the third ring. Once a body was stripped of its flesh by vultures, the bones would then be sprinkled and washed with pure nitric acid and slaked lime for further purification. After the bones had been bleached by the sun and wind (which could take as long as a year) they were collected in an ossuary pit in the inner most circle of the Tower. Assisted by lime, they would gradually disintegrate and the remaining material with runoff rainwater would run through multiple coal and sand filters (which prevented the sacred earth from getting contaminated) before being eventually washed out to sea.


In essence a Tower of Silence was a reusable grave. Its ceremonial procedures were handled by the resident guardians who lived in a tiny roofed place near the Tower of Silence on top the hill, while relatives of the deceased stayed in a house down below, never allowed to enter inside. The resident guardians would gain access to the top of the Tower to perform their duties via an accompanying stairway. In the early twentieth century, the Iranian Zoroastrians gradually discontinued their use and began to favor burial or cremation.


According to its adherents, using such a disposal method for the deceased had its benefits. Its positives included the fact that there would be no difference in the method of disposal regardless of the deceased’s class or wealth and thus all would be treated equally. Furthermore it would prevent a body from decomposing underground and mice, worms and maggots feeding upon it.


In addition to many more in Yazd, Kerman and even Tehran, there are two Towers of Silence about 15 kilometers south of Yazd and on top of a hill. The older one is known as Maneckji Hataria while the newer one is called Golestan. Their diameters are respectively 15 and 25 meters and their perimeter walls rise 6 meters. The area is also home to a number of mud, stone or brick dwellings. One of such dwellings was used, as was with other Towers of Silence, to light an all night burning fire for three consecutive nights after disposing of a body in the Tower. The positioning of the window of the dwelling would allow the fire’s light to illuminate the Tower. Another famous Tower of Silence is Cham Dakhmeh, located adjacent to a modern day Zoroastrian cemetery in Yazd. The entire area, considered a mass Zoroastrian cemetery was registered as a national monument by Yazd’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department in 2005.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cheshmeh Ali


Chehsmeh Ali, Ali Spring, or as it was originally known, Cheshmeh Ali Boolagh, is a recreational spot in Semnan province and is a year long attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists. It is approximately 30 kilometers from Damghan and enjoys mild weather while its tall trees add to its natural beauty. It is conveniently located on the highway connecting Tehran and Mashad and is thus a popular rest area for travelers going in either direction. While the structures at this location seem to date back to the Safavid era, however, it was most used during the Qajar era as it was utilized as a summer vacation spot for the Qajar Kings.


Cheshmeh Ali, with its two springs supplying water at a rate of 600 liters per second, is the only permanent river in Damghan. Its source is from the Alborz Mountain and as a result of the high volume of the currents, two large pools have been constructed to regulate the flow and store fresh water. The depth of each of these pools ranges from 1.5 to 4 meters while they span an area of 4,500 square meters. Cheshmeh Ali irrigates many of the surrounding villages and fields on its path.


Throughout history, due to its moderate temperatures and overall striving foliage and natural scenery, Cheshmeh Ali has not only caught the eye of tourists, but also that of Persian Kings. On each side of the main edifce at Cheshmeh Ali is one of the mentioned pools. This structure, predominantly used by Fathali Shah, consists of wooden columns, is two stories high and has a view to either side and thus, both pools. The Qajar Kings would often times sit in this area and enjoy their natural surroundings. It was constructed of a special mortar made of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ashes in specific proportions, and was very resistant to water penetration and as a result has braved the elements after close to two centuries. South of the pools is Agha Mohammad Khan’s structure with its decorated walls. The entire complex also consists of a bath and a mosque although they are in an advanced deteriorating state.


Local picnickers often times frequent Cheshmeh Ali where they can enjoy the view of this lonely Qajar pavilion amidst its willow trees and reflecting pools. The scenic contrasts en route to the location, such as the high snow-topped ridges, the dry rocky outcrops and the mud-walled plum orchards, add to the overall charm of a much recommended visit.


Cheshmeh Ali has been registered as a national heritage site registered by Iran’s Cultural Heritage Department.