Sacred Stones

While travelling in the territory of the Bakhtiari nomads, especially on the migration routes, we find different representations of faith and varied combinations of sacred objects serving religious purposes. These are made of stone alone, or stone and different materials, such as wood, pieces of coloured fabric or iron.

The first category of sacred stones are monoliths with natural motifs. If these natural motifs are not well-shaped, the Bakhtiari will refine them. The majority of these natural and religiously significant motifs are the footprints (radi pa) and handprints (jayi dast, panjih) of Fatimih, daughter of the Prophet; of the Imam Riza, the eighth Shii Imam; or hoof prints (radi sum) of the latter’s horse.


Konar Shah cemetery, Lali Plain © P. Khosronejad, 1997


Konar Shah cemetery, Lali Plain © P. Khosronejad, 1997

Other sacred stone constructions are columns made by piling carefully chosen pieces of small stone. The composition, shape and height of these columns vary according to the builder. These columns are normally built to indicate the proximity of a saint’s shrine. The hills where a saint’s shrine is seen for the first time are covered with such stone piles.


Bazoft migration route, Khuzistan © P. Khosronejad, 2002

However, the columns located near saints’ shrines are to be different. They are witnesses (shahid) on behalf of the pilgrims on the day of resurrection and their appearance before God. After visiting the saint, the Bakhtiari (pilgrims) build these stone columns. They include one stone for each member of their family; a family of five will therefore have a column of five stones. While constructing this column, the maker speaks to the column and beseeches it to become his witness on the day of resurrection:

“On the day of the resurrection, God will interrogate this Bakhtiari: ‘You were not a good servant [bandih, Muslim] and you never went to visit my children [the saints].’ Suddenly the column will speak and say: ‘Oh God, this man is a good Muslim and is a good creature of God [qulam, khidmatguzar], I am his witness. On that day, he built me and he beseeched me to be his witness for today.’ God will listen to the words of this column and will forgive the faults of the poor Bakhtiari.”

In the case of sacred stone constructions, we must also discuss a very popular type of qadamgah. These structures and sacred surroundings are considered saints’ and Imams’ stopping points – where they had relaxed or prayed. The diameters of these circular spaces vary, but are usually 3–5 m. In the centre, we usually find one or more green or black flags linked to pieces of coloured material and attached to a long, vertical piece of wood. In the interior of the circle, in the walls, we find little niches where visitors and pilgrims put votive materials (nazri) or candles. These sacred constructions generally are near – but outside – villages, or beside cemeteries and holy places situated high in the mountains.


Darehburi, Lali Plain © P. Khosronejad, 1997

In addition to sacred stone constructions, we can also find among the Bakhtiari two additional stone constructions that are part of the mortuary landscape but which are not attached to local saints. The first is the lion tombstone. Lion tombstones are sculpted and placed on the tombs of exemplary, courageous men, and heroes of their clans or their tribes (mostly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) in order to immortalize their names and celebrate their bravery for generations to come.


Khizr-i Zindih, Lali Plain © P. Khosronejad, 1997

The second such funeral stone constructions is the mafihgah. A mafihgah is a large stone cube that is built and erected in memory of male departed loved ones, or of chiefs of clans and tribes. Normally, a few years after death, the deceased’s family and elders of his clan construct such a memorial on his land or at his farm. If they died in the summer pastures, they will erect his mafihgah in their cold pastures; if he died in the winter pastures, mafihgah will be constructed in the summer pastures.


Kotok, Bazoft migration route © P. Khosronejad, 2003