Inhabited for thousands of years, western Iran is home to modern-day Kurds and boasts some of the most pristine, untouched natural landscapes the country has to offer. What the region lacks in the way of massive constructs and jaw-dropping monuments, it makes up for with a plethora of folklore: tales of honor, bravery, and romance.
The Kurds are famous for their unique culture, diverse Kurdish dialects, colorful attire, and various dance forms as well as their love for traditions, one of which is Zemawendi Piri Shalyar (or the wedding of Piri Shalyar); a thousand-year-old tradition observed enthusiastically by the residents of Hawraman (Oraman) Takht Village, Kurdestan Province.
The ancient ritual, which is held biannually, brings the locals together and takes them back in time. As such, the festival of Piri Shalyar (also known as Piri Shahriyar) has become a symbol of unity and solidarity for the villagers.
For tourists, it is a social event that captures the spirit of community engagement in an exotic manner.
So, without further ado, here is the tale of Piri Shalyar.
Sage with Divine Powers
Esteemed sage Piri Shalyar (or Pir Shalyar) was a Zoroastrian man believed to have been blessed with divine powers, who lived in Hawraman around 1,000 years ago.
According to Kurdish lore, Piri Shaliyar was well-respected thanks to his wisdom, spiritual powers, and the ability to heal the sick. His reputation preceded borders and stories of his miracles reached lands as far away as Bukhara (in present-day Uzbekistan) whose ruler had a beautiful daughter that was both deaf and mute.
The king sends his daughter, Bahar Khatoun, to Hawraman hoping Piri Shalyar might be able to grant her the abilities to speak and hear.
Lo and behold, he cures her before even meeting the girl. As legend has it, she began hearing sounds as she approached the village and, as the procession was closing in on the sage’s home, a howling demon jumps out of a stokehole only to be killed by Piri Shalyar’s doorstep. And that is when the princess gained the power to speak.
So, the king of Bukhara, who had previously pledged to wed his daughter to whomever heals her, arranges his daughter’s marriage to Piri Shalyar and a ceremony is held in the village.
The ceremony was not only to commemorate Piri Shalyar and Bahahr Khatoun’s union, but also to honor the victory of good over evil.
The event is held twice a year—once in middle of spring around May 1 and the other in middle of winter about February 1—and lasts for three days.
Every family has a specific role to play; some have historically been in charge of cooking, some prepare the sacrificial sheep, and others are responsible for the music.
Even children, play a part: They are the harbingers of the ritual. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the first day of the festival, they distribute walnuts picked from the garden of Pir Shalyar’s home in a tradition known as Kalavrochneh. They knock on doors and trade walnuts for sweets or other comestibles.
Then, the blessed livestock for the ritual are brought to the house of Piri Shalyar to be sacrificed. The meat is distributed among families and whatever is left is used for cooking the Veloshin, a variation of barley soup, which is shared among the locals on Wednesday afternoon.
To the people of Hawraman, the soup symbolizes equality — since every person is only given one serving. They believe it helps cultivate a sense of unity.
After eating Veloshin, it is the time for invocations, singing and dancing in front of Piri Shalyar’s house to the tune of daf (an Iranian percussion instrument which is a staple in Kurdish ceremonies) until sunset. You may see mystics, known as dervishes, who may overcome with an indescribable sensation expressed through exotic dance moves, which can amaze or frighten you.
The second day follows the same pattern until the sun sets. At night time, a ritual known as “Shab Nisht” or evening gathering takes place at the sage’s residence. Every family has had its own place in the house since tradition was first observed. Despite the house’s modest size, the local are under the impression that it can fit hundreds of guests.
Clergymen, poets, orators, and guests gather at the house to praise and honor him, and discuss different aspects of his wisdom. There is even more dancing and daf playing. Finally, before the group breaks for night, a shoe belonging to Piri Shalyar wrapped in green cloth is passed around for good luck.
There is also an ancient book filled with his guidance and pearls of wisdom but outsiders are forbidden from seeing it.
On Friday morning — the third and final day — it is time for “terbi or toggfrbi”, when men go to Piri Shalyar’s tomb, pray, and apportion a type of bread known locally as “kolere mejgeh”. The bread is cooked on Wednesday and Thursday by women but they’re not allowed to attend this final ritual.
In times long since gone, the locals would tie green and white pieces of cloth to the branches of a tree that they believed had a connection to the sage himself, in the hopes of having the wishes granted.
Ancient Ceremony in an Ancient Village
The enchanting village of “Hawraman” is built into the slopes of the Zagros Mountains in Kurdistan. The village is renowned for its unspoiled natural landscapes, music, rich culture and history dating back to the Paleolithic Era (the Stone Age).
A standout feature of the village is its stair-stepped architecture, where the roof of one house is yard of the one above.
Some believe “Hawraman”, “Houraman” or “Oraman” is made of two parts: ‘Houra’, which supposedly comes from Ahura in Ahura Mazda (the Zoroastrian prophet), and ‘Man’, meaning home. So, Hawraman means the land of Ahura Mazda.
Others believe Houraman means ‘the place of sun’ because Hour means the Sun in Avestan, the sacred language of Zoroastrians. (Sacred book of Zoroastrians).
I hope you enjoyed the tale of Piri Shalyar and wish for you to get a chance to see the festival up close.
Please share your comments and insights below.