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Iran (Persia)


Dance as prayer in Luristan, Northern Iran, 1340~


Gibb, H.A.R. (ed. & transl.): The travels of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354. Cambridge, Hakluyt Society, 1962, 2 vols.



In that same year he died, and his son Atäbek Yüsuf ruled for ten years, and after that his brother Afräsiyäb. When I entered the city of Īdhaj I wished to see this sultan Afräsiyäb, but that was not easily come by as he goes out only on Fridays, owing to his addiction to wine. He had one son and one only, who was his designated heir, and who fell ill at this time. On a certain night one of his servants came to me and made enquiries of me about myself; when I told him he went away and came back later after the sunset prayer, bringing with him two great platters, one with food and the other with fruit, and a pouch containing money. Accompanying him were musicians with their instruments and he said to them ‘Make music, so that these poor brethren will dance and pray for the Sultan’s son.’ I said to him, ‘My associates have no knowledge of either music or dancing,’ but we prayed for the sultan and his son, and I divided the money among the poor brethren. In the middle of the night we heard cries and lamentations, for the sick boy had died.







Ten women dancing and singing at a feast given by the Lord Steward, Casbin, Persia, 1599-1627


Sherley, Sir Anthony & Sir Robert & Sir Thomas: The three brothers; or, the travels and adventures of Sir Anthony, Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Sherley, in Persia, Russia, Turkey, Spain… London, Hurst & Robinson, 1825. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


So after some five or six days’ rest we were furnished with apparel and horses; and then the Lord Steward did invite Sir Anthony and all we of his company to a great banquet at the King’s palace, which Sir Antony did not refuse; when the Lord Steward did royally receive us, meeting us half the way, attended with forty gentlemen very well horsed; so coming to the palace we did behold there a sumptuous spectacle, which was the palace gate being curiously set, wrought and garnished with rich stones very bright, the like I think the world cannot afford. The going up unto the gate was seven steps, about some half dozen yards broad, of a very strong kind of stone; so when we were alighted from our horses, and come near unto the gate, the Lord Steward told Sir Anthony that it was the fashion that those that did enter into the gate, must kiss the first step, and especially strangers, but you shall be privileged to do as it shall please you. Sir Anthony replied, in honour of the Sophi thy king, I will do this; and so he made a low obeisance, and in the like sort did Mr. Robert Sherley his brother, but all we did kiss the step, which did greatly rejoice the Lord Steward and his company. So into the house we came, which was richly hanged in every room with gold carpets, and under foot with rich arras; but to tell the several sorts of dishes we had there I cannot express, and every dish trimmed with rice, coloured of all kind of colours.


We had also the king’s music to attend us, both there and home or where we would command them. There was also at the feast ten women very gallantly apparelled, and very beautiful, who did dance according to their country manner, and sing all the time we were feasting. There we spent that day, and at our return to our house we were guarded very royally with all the citizens of worth, with the sound both of drum and trumpet. And in the like sort did the Governor feast us, and all men were willing to show us any pleasure we would.










Twenty women dancing in procession at Casbin, Persia, 1599-1627


Sherley, Sir Anthony & Sir Robert & Sir Thomas: The three brothers; or, the travels and adventures of Sir Anthony, Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Sherley, in Persia, Russia, Turkey, Spain… London, Hurst & Robinson, 1825. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


The King swearing a great oath, which was by the soul of Mortus Ali, that he should sit in the chair, and if the best Persian of them all did grieve at it, he would presently cut off his head; and taking Sir Anthony by the hand, bid him sit down, without fear, which Sir Anthony did, and when he was set, the King kissed him, and said, “Brother, thou dost well become this place;” then he called for a stool for Mr. Robert Sherley, which was presently brought, and he sat him close by his brother Sir Anthony, and placing all of us of Sir Anthony’s company round about the throne, sitting on carpets cross-legged, according to the country fashion; then came there in a royal banquet with drums and trumpets sounding before it, which was brought in by twenty-four noblemen, and when the drums and trumpets departed, the music came in playing, with twenty women very richly apparelled, singing and dancing before the music. So when the banquet was ended, the King arose, taking Sir Anthony by the arm, and so they walked, arm in arm, in every street in the city, the twenty women going before, singing and dancing, and his noblemen coming after, with each of them one of our company by the hand, and at every turning there was variety of music, and lamps hanging on either side their streets of seven heights one above another, which made a glorious shew; and thus for the space of eight days and nights did we spend the time in sporting and banqueting with all the pomps they could devise.









Whores and boys at the British ambassador’s entrance into Ispahan, Persia, 10/04/1627


Sherley, Sir Anthony & Sir Robert & Sir Thomas: The three brothers; or, the travels and adventures of Sir Anthony, Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Sherley, in Persia, Russia, Turkey, Spain… London, Hurst & Robinson, 1825. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


We entered Ispahan the tenth of April, and I shall truly relate the order of our entertainment. Three miles short of the great city, we were entreated to repose an hour in a garden of the King’s, where we had a banquet. Thither came the agent, and some English factors, to wait upon our Lord Ambassador. Thence, riding in good equipage, the Sultan of Ispahan, Meloym-beg, the Treasurer, Hodgee-Nazarr, the Prince of the Armenian Christians, with all the Beglerbegs and Coozel-bashaws of the city, accompanied with 4000 horsemen, came to welcome us. The fields and streets, for two miles, were filled, in our passage, with Bannyans and women from the city, ten thousand at the fewest, who, as we past, cried “welcome,” and shouted strongly: amongst the horse were above forty kettle-drums, and tabrets, nor wanted the whores and boys their places, all which, with antique dances, made the ceremony more notable.








Wedding at Alamut, Valley of the Assassins, Iran, 1931


Stark, Freya: The Valleys of the Assassins. London, Murray, 1934.



The next day was that of the triple wedding, and the village was already buzzing with it by the time I got up. A visit to the bride was the first ceremony. My hostess arranged a tray for me, with nuts, raisins, nuhud, and a cone of sugar in the middle, to be borne ahead of us as an offering when we went to call. We followed, in our best: my hostess in a very starched chintz ballet skirt over black trousers, a yellow damask shirt, striped velvet waistcoat, and white lace coif fastened under the chin with a dangling ornament of cowrie shells. She had four bracelets and an amber necklace with silver coins, turquoises, and many little odds and ends attached to it: an amulet was fastened on her right arm. Her mother-in-law was even gayer, with a yellow silk shirt, green waistcoat with gold buttons, and one white kerchief with a red one above it tied into a point over the forehead.


We climbed up among houses till we came into a room crowded with women, in a confused twilight lighted from the middle of the ceiling by a small round hole. The dower chest was being filled: an affair of gilt and coloured tin with three locks, and all the ladies were helping with the packing. The whole female part of the village was passing in and out, bearing gifts, looking over the bride’s trousseau, rushing into an inner room to give a hand with the pilau, and talking in high excited voices.


In one corner, apart from it all and completely hidden under a pale blue chadur, or veil, stood the bride. She stands motionless for hour after hour, while the stream of guests goes by, unable to sit down unless the chief guest asks her to do so, and taking no part in the general gaiety. I went up and lifted the veil to greet her, and was horrified to see large tears rolling down her painted cheeks. The palms of her hands and her finger-nails were dyed with henna; her hair was crimped with cheap green celluloid shirt in atrocious taste, and a green velvet waistcoat brought specially from Qazvin; and all this splendour, covered away under the blue chadur, was weeping with fright and fatigue, thinking who knows what thoughts while it stood there like a veiled image at the feast. She was not to appear in public again for twenty-one days after the wedding, they told me.


The male relatives of the bride sat round the guest room floor in a quieter and more dignified manner. They were being provided with food, and I was soon taken in to join them and given bowls of soup coloured with saffron, with pieces of chicken floating about it. When this was cleared away, and when the women had also eaten in their noisier part of the establishment, we began to enjoy ourselves. Two copper trays were brought to use as drums; the bride’s aunt, a lady with as many chains and bangles as an Indian idol, sat crosslegged to beat the time, and one after another the women danced to the clapping of hands. They held up a handkerchief which, at intervals, they threw to one or another of the company, who would wrap it round a piece of silver and toss it back. They danced with remarkable abandon, cracking their finger-joints and leaping into the air with both feet close together.


In the corner the bride still stood, her face completely hidden. But it was soon time for her to start: already various messengers had come to say that the young men were on their way. The friends of the bridegroom would come to fetch her: they would be repulsed three or four times, to show that there was no indecent eagerness about the affair: but finally they would succeed and escort her to the new home.


When we stepped out into the village, the young men were already galloping wildly up and down. Their mules, delighted to have no packs on their backs, and very gay under household carpets that covered them, were kicking their heels and tearing up and down the narrow beehive streets.


Two weddings were now in progress. The bride from Pichiban was expected at any moment. She had a three hours’ ride down the precipitous track from Salambar to negotiate under her chadur. She was coming: a beating of wodden sticks and drums announced her; “Chub chini ham Iaria. Chub chini ham Iaria,” the boys cried, dancing round her. A vague and helpless look of discomfort made itself felt from under the chadur which hid the lady on her mule, all except her elastic-sided boots. Two uncles, one on each side, kept her steady on the extremely bumpy path. So, in complete blindness, the modest female is expected to venture into matrimony. The village seethed around, waiting. The lady approached, riding her mule like a galleon in a labouring sea. At a few yards from the door she was lifted down: a lighted candle was put into either hand: in front of her on trays they carried her mirror, her Quran and corn and coloured rice in little saucers, with lighted candles: these were all borne into her new home, but she herself paused on the threshold with her two lights held up in white cotton-gloved hands; and her bridegroom from the roof above took small coins and corn and coloured rice, and flung it all over her as she stood. The little boys of Garmrud were on the look out: a great scrum ensued for the pennies: the bride, unable to see what was going on and with the responsibility of the candles, which must not blow out in her hands, swayed about, pushed hither and thither, and only sustained by the buttressing uncles: it is as well to have relatives at such moments.


With a great heave the threshold was transcended: in the shelter of her new home the lady unveiled, while the bridegroom, paying her not the slightest attention now he had got her, devoted himself to our reception. The bridegroom also has to stand at the end of the room till one of the guests takes pity on him, and asks him to sit down. This young man, however - he was just fifteen - bore it with more cheerfulness than his fiancée. His new boots and orange tie - for he was dressed as a Ferangi in honour of the occasion - were sufficiently glorious in themselves to make up for any other discomforts of matrimony.


We had more dancing and a village idiot to come and tie himself into knots on the floor for our amusement; a revolting spectacle. And then, leaving the Pichiban bride to settle into her new house, we returned to our own show, which was just now reaching the dramatic moment of the meeting between bride and groom at the outskirts of the village.