By: Jonas Sanjabi
I’ve been struggling to show reality about Yarsan belief and all Yarsan activists care passionately about equal right that always have proved by conciliatory efforts and peaceful demand expressed. you can read a lot about yarsan in Persian and Kurdish languages but lack of English essay propelled me to write in this way so this article deals with the belief systems of Yarsan religion residing in the western part of Iran. This work is followed by a thick description of ethnography of religious (culture) elements، Religious texts from the past and characteristics of Yarsan community through an emic approach. This study is essentially based on hermeneutic anthropology which seeks to put religious belief and interpretation holy texts of Yarsan and the other people’s stories which handed down from their ancestors. Participant observation and interviews were employed as data collection strategies. The ethnographic findings demonstrated that the religious aspect determines of their different states and quality of life. The result of this research may be useful in cultural and convergence discourses thus spontaneously needing to know about geographical location and the government system of that area.
Here, I would provide a brief overview of Iranian society. Iran is located in Middle East. It is one of the ancient civilizations of Asia. Iran is a multi – ethnic and multi- religious society. The important ethnic groups are: Persian, Kurds,Turks, Lures, and Balouches. Majority of Iranian population are Muslims. The two major divisions of Muslims are Shiite and Sunni. The Shiite in comparison to Sunni is majority in Iran. Other religious minority in Iran are: Yarsan, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. These minorities compose nearly 2 – 3 percent of the total Iranian population. Iranian Kurdish community inhabit in five major provinces: Elam, Kerman shah, Kurdistan, west Azerbaijan, and north Khorasan. There is no accurate data on ethnic population in Iran and provincial data are the most reliable data for demographic ethnic studies in Iran. Kurdish population in Iran is estimated around 6.5 million in 2006 census, rephrase 10% of whole population actually 7.7 in 2008 . Some township is located in Kermanshah
province. Majority of Kurds people belong to Islam (both branches: Shiite and Sunni). But this community(Yarsan) is not considered as Muslim group. So this group has no social communication with other Iranian communities.
Iran is located in the south-eastern part of Asia. It has historically experienced large-scale migrations and cultural contacts with other surrounding nations. Nowadays, different ethnic, religious groups and minorities live in Iran, possessing particular cultural traits, elements, rituals and traditions, which do not assume a singular cultural fit.
One of these groups is the Yarsan who inhabited the Kermanshah province located in the west part of Iran the present research uses thick interpretative ethnography within the realm of hermeneutic anthropology to study this community. The study focuses on meanings and symbolic analysis within the cultural system from an emic point of view. So far, the Yarsan community has been a secret society, so it means they always should hide their identity. To reach inner conception and auto interpretation of people, we suggest interpretative anthropological approach which explores interpreted reality as a text. The objective of this research is nature perception and introduction of group culture, in which semiotic and social symbolic analysis is discoursed. The result of this research could be helpful in socio-cultural discourse and cultural convergences; therefore, the main question of this research is to recognize the status of semiotics and semiotic of Yarsan religion, within their cultural systems. This community mainly settled in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. but the population of Yarsan is not obvious because of political issue but some researcher estimate around 3 million, more or less. Sixty percent of this population is settled in the rural area, while 40% live in the urban area although this figure isn’t on validation base.
This community is considered to be Kurdish, constituting one of the old ethnic groups of Iran,
it is claimed that their origin goes back to first day of big bang when the world was created as mentioned, this group is an inner religious. Their religion has been mixed with metempsychosis belief Some of the followers of this religion believe that in 14th A.D. in Solemaneh city of Iraq Sultan sahak appeared. They emigrated to the western part of Iran for some problem, starting propaganda for Yari religion.
The most important characteristic of Yarsan cult is their ancient religion, which Distinguishes them from the other Iranian religious groups. One of their basic principle is to believe in Don-Na-Don (cloth to cloth= universe to universe which constitutes their focus cult). The notion of Don-Na-Don(reincarnation) similar to that of metempsychosis, that is, if a dead person is righteous his soul descends to a body of another good person, but if dead person is an ill-treating one his soul descends to a body of another bad person or to a body of an animal ,every human being may be rich in one Don, but poor in another. Even he may be rich or poor in many Dons. A person becomes wealthy because of control over his fate.
To reach psychotic perfection and elevation, every individual in his course of life must successfully pass 1001 Dons (universes), and then he can reach to utmost level where he joins God .These 1001 Dons are a kind of hierarchy to visit the God. Ascending this hierarchy spiritually is called Don. In fact, 1001 Dons are nothing for reach God’s qualities therefore the perfect person is the one who reaches to God grade and divinity. Passing each Don needs lot of sufferings and mortification for every creature. The God manifestation in a human being occurs in two forms: at first in the form of Zate Bashar(human nature) where some of the God qualities along with nature, manifest in a Don, second in the form of Zate Mehman (guest nature).
Zate Bashar is a manifestation of God in physical manner, such that the human body at the beginning becomes the place for God manifestation. Actually being a human is apparent therefore, physical death is apparent too. It happens when Zate-haq (God nature) gets out from the human body and thus the human body will not remain. However, if some in his ritual perfection becomes successful, God manifests in his body, so his Don will be Divinity. Even the degree of this divinity is equal to God and is similar to the reality which is manifested in Soltan sahak. Therefore the soul of this kind of person after death will link to Haq(God).
Zate Mehman is same as God’s nature, of course in people who reach high degree of purification and God manifestation in them. This manifestation of God provides responsibility for person. The time of appearance of God’s nature in a body of a person needs departure of Zate Bashar (human Nature). Zate Mehman may reflect in a human body for a moment or forever. The body in which Zate Mehman appears is called Shah Mehman (guest king). The soul of Shah Mehman of the dead body again will join living humans.
Evolutions of soul is in form of come and go within a period of 50,000 years, but if the soul could not successfully travel to 1001 Dons within this period, it will be deprived from joining God on the other hand if soul be more pure before 1001 Don’s , soul will receive rewards .They observe Gods justice in Don-Na-Don conditions therefore sufferings like poverty, illness and handicapping of each person depend on his background near God so God behaves with them according to their previous Don’s background.
The people of this community believe that God appeared to saint in three periods. Prior to Adam, God created seven angels to guard the sky, moon, sun, stars, weather, earth, water, fire and metals. These angels had God’s essence in them. In the first period of appearance, Ali and his seven saints succeed God and his first period angels. But in the second period, Shahkooshin and his seven companions succeed the first period saints, and in the third appearance, Sultan Sahak and his seven saints succeed the second appearances.
They have four pillars as follows:
1) Rasti=Truth (abstinence from falsehood and sin)
2) Paki=Purity (internally as well as externally)
3) Nisti=Inexistence (degenerating desires to reach to God rank)
4) Reda=Magnanimity (means self-sacrificing and providing services to help human being)
Among this people, all religious beliefs and holly’s in time and place are watched. If you want to learn more about yarsan or investigate need to know some of expression.They consider the following rites as holly’s: 1.Bayobass (only come and see me), 2. Jamkhaneh (group house/worship) 3. Khadmat(service for people), 4. Nazer-o-niaz (vowed), 5.Shokraneh (Thankfulness), and 6. AbehJam (water distribution), Bayobass (means come and visit me) tradition is considered to be the final and sufficient contract that takes place between disciple (murid) and desire. It is said to be the basic principle of their religion. In this contract, the desired one are expected to go and visit sultan Sahak, Tomb which is an important pilgrimage to them. There are two types of Bayobass, both of which are holy places: 1- Sadjnar Bayobass (Sadjnar means fire pan which resembles the sun), and 2- Pardivar Bayobass (Pardivar means beyond the bridge, which is located near the Sultan Sahak tomb and it is righteous bridge).
The first type on Bayobass is an old external promise dating back to the beginning of human creature between followers and God. However, the second type dates back to Sultan Sahak appearance in the fourteenth century. This is a promise and contract sealed between Sultan Sahak and his followers. Actually Pardivar is the special Gheblah of the Yarsan group. The great confession contract between Sultan Sahak and his followers was sealed in this place and since then this place has become the pilgrimage of this people. The soul of dead person must cross Pardivar Bridge after reincarnation in another person’s body. Each passage is called one Don. Each soul must 1001 times across the bridge then enters heaven and rejoins Sultan Sahak and visits his kinship. Common religious practices (every Tuesday and Friday) take place in Jamkhaneh. It does not need to be a specific place. But any place can act as a Jamkhaneh, provided that it has sufficient space for constructing circular seating (adaptation of sky circular) for participants. The circle center is considered to be God’s place, from circle center God shines to all prayers similarly. Jamkhaneh ceremony has its own rituals In Jamkhaneh, Sarkalam (who prays for others) along with Tambour (a kind of music instrument such as guitar) playing reads kalameh haq (religious book). At the time of performance of blessing, participants are not allowed to leave the assembly. Until the ceremony ends, the number of participants should not be less than seven persons. The participants should be mature, wise Sarsepordan (literally a person who entrusts his head mean a process they should pass to allow to participate and inter to this religion something like Baptism in Christianity( to eleven Sayid families. It should be mentioned that children and women are not allowed to take part in the ceremony. In this rite, participants should observe the following rules: wearing socks and cap to observe cleanliness, and wearing the fasting belt as a symbol of readiness to help other people and the connection of individual souls to each other’s body.
Individual participation in the ceremony is based on the social stratification, comprising of Sayid at highest rank, then Khalefeh (caliph), Doakhan, Khaedm and finally, ordinary people at lowest rank. Each individual based on his duty has to do his task. By the end of ceremony, a special food called Nazri (vowed food) will be eaten by participants. At the time of food division, each person follows his duty, that is, Sayid praying, Khalefeh or Khadem sharing food (called Navalah contain bread and meat sometimes rice )among participants equally, Doakhan reading the holy book and Khadem providing the service for participant and controlling the discipline in the ceremony. The aim of conducting Nazri is to meet their material and spiritual needs. A person who avow should have some qualifications like being mature, cognizant, wise, and with prior intention.The subject of Nazri must be specified and avow must be faithful to the contract. Things vowed also must have some conditions that is it should have transaction capacity, available, harmless for eating purpose, and should not be Taboo. The subject of vow can be in the following manner:
- Bloody sacrifice includes bull, sheep and cock (They shouldn’t be ill and female).
- Bloodless sacrifice includes things like nutmeg pomegranate etc.
- Khadmat (service)in this ceremony, special food is prepared out of rice, cock and ghee.They claim that the objective of using cock meat is that the bird declares end of the night(darkness) and announces glad tiding(brightness of the day), and this animal is very polite, but the most strongest reason for this is supposed to be gratitude and prosperity of their lord (Sultan Sahak) that after a war he had with his enemies conducted a celebration that is called ID yari = ID Padshahi (yari festival) ending with cock meat eating.
- Nazri (vow) is also edible, but there is no need to specify it, and there is no obligation for it. The purpose underlying it is closeness to God It also ends with food eating.
- Shokeraneh (thankfulness) is a rite that becomes necessary if a person is in a disposition that he is reminded of the origin of creation and in gratitude, he arranges a thankfulness rite. Khadmat is the procedure observed in this ceremony.
- 6. AbehJam (water distribution) rites take place within Jamkhaneh khadem (servant), which is supposed to distribute water filled in a jug among thirty participants who are seated in a circle. Participants are supposed to drink sufficiently. This custom also reminds the follower of Sultan Sahak’s behavior in Pardivar Jamkhaneh, where the original purpose was to resolve disputes.
*Sarsepordan cult: This ceremony is considered as an identity rite. If an individual does not follow it, he loses his identity in the eyes of his group. When an infant is born, within 7 to 40 days of life but nowadays the parents let him/her to be wisdom and mature then they can decide what they want to do by the way, thier parents must entrust the child’s head to one of the eleven Sayid families. Until the end of his (her) life, this person is affiliated to his lord that is one Pieer and one Dalael. These two holy persons are mediators between individual and “Padshah Haghighat” (God). The procedure of rite of Sarsepordan is as follows: A white kerchief, sharp blade, a piece of sugar candy, a coin, bread and salt will be made available. In this rite, a Pieer or his agent with parent’s candidate (child) makes final notice whether he is permitted to entrust the infant’s head to Pieer or no? If parent agrees, then the Pieer or his agent uses a sharp blade to cut the nutmeg. Here the nutmeg is considered as symbol of infant entrusted to Pieer (law of similarity). After breaking the nutmeg, its parts are distributed among rite participants to be eaten. Then praying is started and after that the kerchief is fastened around the waistline of candidate (child). Candidate’s father with his left hand catches Daleal’s skirt and Daleal also catches khadem skirt, lastly these three people kiss each other’s hands. The kerchief is removed from the candidate’s waistline by Daleal and he will be the owner of Kerchief. Also some money is collected from participants that will be paid to the Pieer of candidate This ceremony is ended with a specific meal.
Yarsa religion has rites like Kiblah, Fasting etc. Actually these rites are not exactly like Mohammedan but sometimes people made mistake and get it wrong. For example Yarsan Kiblah is holy place of “pardivar”, but Moslem’s kiblah is Mecca. Also Moslems observe annual fasting for one complete month, but Yarsan observes annual fasting twice a year, each time three-day fasting but this depend to which Khandan the person used to be. The first one is in November called “Marrnowi” fasting, it is on the occasion of the saved life of Sultan Sahak in a war with Chichah army in a cave called Marrnowi. So this fasting is gratefulness in gratitude to their lord. The second fasting, lasting three days, is called Qavaltas, an annual commemoration of the group of Yarsan people who had gone to visit Sultan Sahak so they were buried in snow fall for three days, but they were saved by Sultan Sahakpeople. The name is derived from the buried group leader Qavaltas.
The Yarsan religion has their own calendar, they consider a full year to be 360 days, and the remaining five days is called Panjeh Tar (Tambour playing) Azadi. These people also consider each season to
belong to one of the saints; that is spring belongs to David, summer to Benjamin, autumn to MostafaDavan and winter to PieerMoses. Also, all events happened in these seasons is registered by pieerMoses. The naming ceremony as a cycle of life takes place in the first week of birth. On this occasion, the infant or child is introduced to the group and the special blessing is read by Sayid. The blessing is as follows: Thou! Child you are made-up of four elements’ that is, your parents should not be fed up on you. Second, your Pieer and Daleal should not deny you; third, your behavior must be fine and you are not supposed to disturb your neighbors. Fourth, your practices and behavior will be completely registered in PieerMosses note book.
Death for this people is considered as a holy matter, the reason is in the belief in metempsychosis (Don-Na-Don). According to holy texts, death is just a transition from a body to another body. The dead body is washed and a special blessing is declared. The concept of this blessing is as follows: The dead person’s head is entrusted to a lord, and his sins are exempted, his soul fully to nature of God, Then the dead body covered with white cloths (shrouding), if a man has two wives or married twice, his shrouding is doubled. The burial ceremony is carried out along with playing Tambour, the Holy book is also recited.
The evident symbol of this people is to keep unshaven moustache, male individuals are not permitted throughout their life to shave or cut their moustache. If a person does not observe this rule, without any objection he will be abandoned by other members of society. They consider this sign to keep them apart from outsiders. Another reason that is mentioned is that moustache brings veil and modesty for men.
Yarsan religion is an ancient cult, we have a lot thing to explain about it, but this just briefly description of Yarsan religion although we were committed to death by Islamic regime because of our belief especially when we propaganda because is conflict with Islamic belief thus according to constitution we have no permit to doing our ceremony, in this article I’m not going to write about discrimination against us just my aims to make it more clear about Yarsan but I will write more about our ceremony completely with details.