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A Nakhl is a huge wooden structure similar to a cypress tree in shape, which on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Iranian national and religious legends is carried ceremonially, symbolising their coffin. The origins of the ritual of Nakhl-gardani go back to ancient Iran and the martyrdom of the legendary hero Siavash. But after the coming to power of the Safavid Shiite government, this ritual was held only to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein every year on the day of Ashura in the arid and desert areas of central Iran, where the cypress trees grow. The present article seeks to analyse how the Nakhl-gardani ritual is performed and interpret the cultural meanings affecting each stage of the ritual in central Iran, and for this purpose, it has used the technique of ‘thick description’, which is used by interpretive anthropologists. The information of this research has been collected through observation and in-depth interviews with 19 organisers of the ritual and mourners present on the day of Ashura in 2020 in the cities of Yazd, Mehriz and Ardakan in central Iran. Findings of the research show that the Nakhl-gardani ritual is performed in two stages: Preparing the Nakhl and carrying it. In the first stage, some artists using local knowledge and Nazr (a kind of public donation) construct a Nakhl in various sizes and a person called Babaye Nakhl decorates the Nakhl with symbolic objects such as donated mirrors, pieces of red cloth and traditional armaments. In the next stage - after construction and decoration, a group of servants including the bearers of the Nakhl, the Nakhl guide, lamentation and music groups, along with the mourners participating in this ceremony carry the Nakhl through the main places and squares of the city on the day of Ashura. Research findings show that this ritual is a masculine ritual and the reason people participate in this ritual is Barakatkhahi (seeking blessing). A separate ritual called Bilzani is held simultaneously with the Nakhl-gardani ritual to further seek Barakatkhahi. Barakatkhahi which means asking for abundance, is achieved by asking for help from an object associated with a myth and if a large number of people together ask for help, the possibility of receiving Barakat will increase – thus, explaining the importance of the collective Nakhl-gardani ritual.
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Ebrahimbay Salami, Gholamheidar and Mahmoudi, Mostafa
"Thick Description of Ashura Rituals in Iran: Case Study of the Nakhl-gardani Ritual,"
International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage:
3, Article 10.
Available at: https://arrow.tudublin.ie/ijrtp/vol10/iss3/10