Naw Hisar

June 6th, 2013 by Victoria Racimo

Naw Hisar

It is a traditional pilgrimage of the Ismailis to a sacred site at the end of the village of Dizbad in Iran, where gushes a spring from a rock called Naw Hisar. This pilgrimage takes place every year during a transition period after the summer, but before the harvest of plums, which is an important source of village income. The event also takes place just as the educated members of the jamat return from their holidays, such as the teachers, medical officials and government employees. It implies that the pilgrimage takes place during the time of family reunion and communal gathering.

The whole day is devoted to the pilgrimage which starts early in the morning. It starts without ceremony. The people take breakfast, forming a vast picnic amidst the mottled shadows cast by the trees. The children, most excited, race ahead, climbing along the higher ridges, chasing and daring one another. Between 9 and 10 a.m., the people reach a leveled area strewn with trees, about 12 km away from the village. This is not yet Naw hisar, strictly speaking.

Just after breakfast, an air of quiet resolve descends. A few people start to get up and move off. The old and bent seem as determined as the young, who weave around them and take more tricky paths higher up. They file upwards along a sharply rising valley. Suddenly, around a bend, the site comes into view at the end of the valley, a stony collar that stretches magnificently several hundred feet up. Its undulations command the entire valley, forming a giant amphitheatre of scree. The first person to get to the site sacrifices a goat of sheep in the name of the whole village. The pilgrims gathered around the trees, some squatting, and others, mainly women, huddling busily next to it. Beside the women is a rippling spring, with people bending over to drink from its cool. On a ledge of slate just above the spring the women burn cotton wool soaked in oil and from the sticky residue they smear their eyelids and eyelashes as well as those of their children. This spring is regarded as tabaruk (benediction), a source of blessings. Soon the gathering becomes large, as people squat or sits on the area in front of the trees, the men settling down on the left, the women on the right. One man stands up to explain the purpose of their gathering in the following words: –

Khaki Khorasani was greatly drawn to spiritual matters, even when he was a little boy, far too young to be allowed in for communal prayer. One day Imam Abul Hasan Ali was visiting. When food was being distributed to the congregation after the prayers, the Imam pointed at the ceiling and said, “Give the little one up there his share of the food.” People were puzzled and someone climbed up to the roof. They caught a little boy peering don to listen to the prayers and gave him the food. One night, a few years later the boy Khaki Khorasani was sitting among the women who were spinning cotton while they recited poetry in praise of the Imam called haqqani, which he loved to hear. The boy suddenly noticed the Imam passing by the door on his horse. All the women were oblivious of this, but the young boy dashed out, grabbed the Imam’s cloak and held onto his bridle. He walked with the Imam and insisted that the Imam grant him his murad (inner wish). The Imam dismissed him, saying, “You are a child.” The boy said, “I am qualified for my wish.” The Imam said, “You will attain your goal when your beard is thick enough for a comb to share more details get stuck in it.” Khaki Khorasani refused to give up and continued to badger the Imam. The Imam threw his whip some distance away, told Khaki Khorasani to return it to him, and went on riding. Khaki Khorasani grabbed it in the dark and it turned into the head of a dragon. He ignored the fangs, raced back to the Imam and returned it, whereupon it turned back into a whip. The Imam then threw his walking stick on the ground and told the boy to return it. As Khaki Khorasani reached down to pick it up, it turned into a snake. This did not deter the boy, who picked it up and gave it back to the Imam, where upon it back into a stick. By now they had reached a particular spot about a mile upriver from the village of Dizbad, where today two streams meet. The Imam struck a stone with his stick and water gushed out. The Imam thought to himself, “This ought to satisfy the boy.” But it didn’t and the Imam made to hasten ahead of the stubborn boy. The boy followed him until they reached Naw Hisar, right here where we now are. The Imam then pointed to a rock and told the boy to carry it up over the mountain ahead of them. This the boy did and returned. The Imam then struck a rock and a spring of the coldest water in Khorasan spurted forth. Again he thought this would satisfy the boy. However, when Khaki Khorasani tugged at him more, the Imam finally said, “Whenever a comb gets struck in your beard, I will grant you your wish.” Khaki Khorasani said, “Give your comb.” He got it and thrust it into his hairless cheek until it sank into the flesh. Khaki Khorasani then returned to the women, who had never missed him because to them no time had passed since the boy saw the Imam. From that day on, Khaki Khorasani became a great poet and the most famous ancestor of the people of Dizbad.

The narrative over, the pilgrims, now hushed, break into a recital of ecstatic verses of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’s Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz. They also perform zikr. The crowd then gets up, and returns to the picnic ground. Many sheep, sacrificed to thank God for granting a wish, are cut up into small pieces and dropped in the numerous pots of a delicious Iranian stew called abgusht. As the women prepare this lat lunch, the families sit in clutches on the richly colored, sun-dappled rugs and enjoy tea. Numbers of people flit from group to group and catch up on one another in a round of easy informality that nevertheless carefully obeys the order of seniority: a junior relative or friend visits the senior, and a villager the guest. After the lunch, everyone streams along various routes back to the village.

Imam Abul Hasan Ali in the above sermon is actually Imam Nuruddin Ali (d. 957/1550). Khaki Khorasani was born in the village of Dizbad in Khorasan, where he died most probably around 1056/1646.

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