The Glory of the Shia World, by P. M. Sykes and Khan Bahadur Ahmad din Khan, , at sacred-texts.com
Perhaps there is no harm, O ye wise men of Europe, if, before I act as a guide to the Sacred Threshold, which no one except a Mussulman can cross, I give you some preliminary instruction to prepare you for the glory and splendour which I shall describe to you.
Now, many of you, I dare say, are not aware that Iskandar traversed the valley of the Kashaf Rud, and that it was revealed to him that, on the site now occupied by the Shrine, one of the holiest men of all time would be buried.
To honour the spot Iskandar enclosed the land with a wall, and for many centuries the prophecy was unfulfilled, until Harun-al-Rashid,
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THE IMAM TAKING THE POISONED GRAPES FROM THE CALIPH
From a Persian picture.
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the accursed, heard of it, and, when about to die, ordered his servants to bury him and erect a dome over his body on this site. His instructions were carried out and the dome still exists, with the body of Harun-al-Rashid buried beneath it.
I now approach, with feelings of grief, the subject of our Imam Riza, on Him be Peace, who was the eighth in descent from Ali, and who was of such transcendent virtue that Mamun, son of Harun-al-Rashid, made him heir-apparent to the Caliphs, who, the Curse of Allah be on them, had hitherto slain or poisoned almost all the ancestors of the immaculate Imam.
Mamun not only coined money on which both their names appeared, but he even ordered that the sacred green of the Imam should be substituted for the black worn by the sons of Abbas. Truly, the rejoicings of the lovers of the Prophet's household knew no bounds, and they thought that "The discharged water had returned to the stream, and that right was about to be restored to the rightful heir."
However, this accursed Caliph, hearing from Baghdad that his relations were hostile to his purpose, not only changed his plans, but, with his own hands, offered poisoned grapes to the innocent Imam.
They say that, after partaking of the grapes,
the ever-blessed Imam rose to depart, whereupon Mamun the Accursed, the spawn of Iblis, said, "Whither goest thou, my cousin?" To this the Saint replied, "I go to the place to which thou sendest me."
Shortly afterwards our Lord the Imam expired, and, in accordance with his own wish, was buried in the same shrine as Harun-al-Rashid.
Owing to the ignorance of mankind the tomb of the holy Imam was neglected for many generations, until it chanced that the son of the Vizier of Sultan Sanjar was residing at Tus, at that time the capital, and trying to regain his health by hunting. It happened that a gazelle, pursued by the youth, took refuge in the tomb of the Imam, and when he urged his horse in pursuit it declined to move.
After trying every means in his power to make his horse proceed, he finally understood that he was on holy ground, so he dismounted, entered the deserted tomb, and, praying to the Imam, was miraculously healed of his malady. That very night the Imam appeared to the wife of the Vizier in a dream, and when she heard of the miraculous recovery of her son she informed the Vizier and the news reached the Sultan, who at once gave orders that the Shrine should be repaired and other buildings
added to it. The garden of Sanabad, which lies close by, was also brought into cultivation once again.
From this date, although Khorasan has been ravaged again and again, the Shrine has never been deserted, and when Tus was utterly destroyed, and most of its inhabitants massacred by the pitiless Moghuls, the remnant gathered round the tomb of the Imam, which has now been the capital of Khorasan for many cycles of years.
Among those who honoured themselves by giving gifts to the Shrine, was Shah Rukh, the son of Amir Timur, who presented a candelabrum of pure gold; but Gauhar Shad Aga, his wife, who, as I shall detail later on, built many of the glorious buildings, far surpassed her husband, her name being honoured to this day.
After the death of Shah Rukh confusion again ensued, and the savage Uzbegs from Khiva captured the holy city and murdered men, women, and children, not even sparing the Sayyids. They also carried off the golden candlesticks and lamps, and stripped the Shrine of its jewels and carpets, and, worse than all, they destroyed its priceless library.
After this gloomy night, however, the dazzling sun rose high in the heaven, and the Safavi dynasty, descended from the holy Imam, completed
this glorious pile of buildings which form the marvel of the world. Inshallah, I will conduct you thither.
The Shrine, needless to say, forms the centre or heart of Holy Meshed, and all around it for some distance lies the property of the Imam, who is still living. In proof of this I could mention that when the Pivot of the Universe, the deceased Nasir-u-Din Shah, had constructed a telegraph line from the capital to the Sacred City he addressed the first message to the ever-living Imam, who graciously vouchsafed a reply.
To continue, you may well comprehend that all the property belonging to the Imam is sacred, and that all those who flee from injustice receive sanctuary, once they are inside the chains which hang across the road.
To make everything clear to even the ignorant, I procured a plan of the Shrine prepared by the architect, Haji Muavin-u-Sanaia. This pious individual, in order to render service to the Imam, worked incessantly to prepare this plan for a space of two years, and, hearing of this, our renowned Shah bestowed on him the high title of "Adjutor of the Architects." In short, I, after a careful examination of the plan, can state that it is correct.
Looking then at it, you must understand, O readers, that we approached the Sacred
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THE OLD COURT, SHOWING NADIR'S FOUNTAIN IN THE FOREGROUND
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[paragraph continues] Threshold from the "Upper Avenue," and stooped to pass the chain, which we touched with our hands and then kissed, while our guide recited an appropriate prayer.
Inside on both sides were shops which are famous throughout Asia; and I am ready to confess that although the Kermanis excel all others in weaving and in many other ways, their shops cannot be compared with those of Meshed. However, this is not due to superior ability on the part of the Khorasanis, but simply to the fact that Meshed is near Bokhara, Samarcand, and also Herat; and, indeed, I found upon inquiry that the beautiful silks which I saw all came from Bokhara. The Turkoman carpets, too, which are very fine, are not produced in Khorasan. I will, however, praise its fruit, which is very good, albeit, owing to the cold, there are no figs or pomegranates grown in the gardens near Meshed.
The Sayyid would not allow us to delay, nor indeed did we wish to, and very soon we passed through a lofty gateway, with an inscription warning the pilgrim that he was approaching holy ground, and were informed that the court of dazzling richness which we had entered was the "Old Court."
Being a lover of history I examined everything in detail, and if I tell you that the court
was some ninety by sixty metres, with four great porches, and that it was covered with tiles of many colours which not only cannot be made except by Persians, but require the sapphire blue of the sky of Iran to show them in their perfection, you may faintly imagine its beauty. It is paved with hewn stones, and underneath lies the dust of thousands of pious Mussulmans.
The court is two-storied, the upper row of chambers being occupied by the high officials of the Shrine. The lesser officials, such as the carpenter, the goldsmith, and the repairers of the holy Korans, occupy the lower chambers, some of which have even been converted into tombs.
There are four porches, the most beautiful of which is known as "The Golden Porch of Nadir." It was indeed built by Sultan Husein, but was enriched by the mighty Afshar, may Allah forgive him, who not only paved and panelled it with white marble brought from distant Maragha, 1 but covered the walls with tiles cased in gold.
The inscription in great golden letters on a blue ground is very perfect, and, Allah knows, Nadir was a World Conqueror and a Lord of Perception, albeit cruel.
Of his power of perception they relate that
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THE GOLDEN PORCH OF NADIR SHAH
(With group of Shrine officials)
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one day when he entered the Sacred Shrine he saw a blind man invoking the aid of the Imam, and upon inquiry he learned that he had been there for several months. The Great Monarch asked him why his faith was so weak that his sight had not been restored, and swore that if on his return he found him still blind he would cut off his head. The wretched man prayed so fervently, and fixed his mind so intently on the Imam, that within a few minutes his sight was restored, and in honour of the miracle the bazaars were illuminated.
Upon entering the court we first performed our ablutions at the famous "Fountain of Nadir." This unique fountain is formed from a single block of white marble decorated with exquisitely chiselled flowers; it is octagonal in shape, three feet in height, and eighteen feet in circumference. The top is hollowed out, and copper cups are suspended for drinkers; above it is a gilded cover.
They say that Nadir saw this stone at Herat, and agreed to pay a large sum for its transport to Meshed in twelve days, which, for a distance of sixty-five farsakhs, would be very difficult.
Yet, urged by the hope of a royal reward, the man brought the stone in nine days and presented himself before Nadir full of hope and happiness. The Shah, however, upbraided him for not
keeping his contract and blinded him. His descendant was the owner of the house we were lodging in, and I am convinced of the truth of this story. In short, I have by these two examples shown to you both the perfect perception and also the cruel nature of Nadir Shah, the Conqueror of Delhi.
To complete my description of this court, there are two unrivalled minarets which are also cased in gold. Indeed, when the pilgrim stands where he can see the Golden Porch, the minarets, and the dome, he has no breath left in him; and it was only at my second visit that I noticed that round the dome were two inscriptions by Shah Abbas and Shah Suliman respectively. The Safavi dynasty is too famous to need praise from me. As they say, "Our enduring record is engraved in the history of the world."
After admiring the glorious blue tiling and the Golden Porch, we approached a grating of steel covered with brass, through which we could see the sacred haram. 1 This we touched, and then bowing towards the Shrine, left our shoes at the Kafshkan, which was in charge of a man who really seemed to be worthy to be a Vizier, as, although hundreds of pairs of shoes are always in his charge, he apparently never forgets to whom they belong!
Leaving, then, our shoes to the care of this individual, we entered the passage leading into the Porch of Nadir, and saw that on both sides were silver-plated doors. Traversing the corner of the Porch we entered a second "Fountain House," in which is a large tank hewn out of a single piece of marble. Under the dome lie the remains of the favourite eunuch of Gauhar Shad Aga. They say that this individual was so honest that he was entrusted with all the money expended on these buildings by his mistress; and that when he died it was proved that he had not accumulated any wealth whatever. As the poet sings:
From this building we entered the Dar-ul-Siada or "Place of Greatness," and surely it is worthy of its name. Its extreme length is one hundred feet, and in the middle it rises to a central dome, with a smaller dome at each end. Its decoration consists of a panelling of blue and gold tiles; and above, the wall and ceiling are covered with glass facets resembling diamonds, which, were not the chamber dark, would make the gazer blind. Set in the wall is the round
golden dish from which the immaculate Imam, on him be Peace, had partaken of the poisoned fruit. In the centre of it is a hole from which ignorant people extract a little dust and rub it on their eyes, believing it to be the very dust of the holy Imam.
Here also the Sayyid drew our attention to a second grating which is made of silver, and was presented by the father of the deceased Kawam-ul-Mulk of Shiraz, whose ancestor, Haji Ibrahim, was boiled to death by Fath Ali Shah.
This Haji Ibrahim was the famous Vizier of Aga Mohamed Shah, whom he joined at Kerman after deserting Luft Ali Khan Zand. So powerful was he that the far-seeing Shah advised his successor not to trust him, but to put him to death on a suitable occasion.
At this period almost all the governorships in Persia were held by his sons, but such devoted servants had the Shah, that they were all seized on the same day at the same hour; and Haji Ibrahim was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil as a punishment for his many crimes.
Looking through the silver grating, we, once again, saw the Imam's tomb, and once again we bowed towards it; and, burning with desire, we hastened on by the gate of the Hissam-u-Saltana, which is also plated with silver, to the Dar-ul-Huffaz,
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THE TOMB CHAMBER
From a Persian picture.
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or "Place of the Reciters," 1 which resembles the "Place of Greatness," but is not so magnificent.
Here we prostrated ourselves, touching the ground with the sides of our face, as in honour of Allah alone may the forehead touch the ground; and we prayed in accordance with the verse of the Holy Koran, "O believers, do not enter the house of the Prophet without the permission of its owner."
At last, thanks be to Allah, we moved forward and again prostrated ourselves, rubbing our faces on the threshold of the Golden Gate, one of the marvels of the world. We then rose, overjoyed to be inside the haram, and, approaching the grating round the tomb, shook it, with prayers and entreaties to His Highness the Imam, and kissed it. We also kissed the lock, and you must know that every pilgrim, after handling and kissing the lock on his own account, and that of his dead relations, must do likewise on behalf of his living relations and friends, whose petition to visit the Shrine in person is thereby placed before His Highness.
I must now tell you that when the immaculate Imam died, it was desired by Mamum to bury
him under the dome in the centre of the building, that his accursed father might attain his salvation from the contact of his body with that of the sacred Imam; but no tool could break open the Caliph's tomb, may the curse of Allah be on him! And, lo! a miracle befell as, while the workers were toiling in a discouraged fashion, they suddenly saw a grave ready dug in the north-east corner, and there the innocent martyr was buried with his feet towards the head of Harun-al-Rashid, the accursed.
The richness of the Shrine is unspeakable. The price alone of the door facing the foot of the tomb is worth the revenue of seven kingdoms, as it is of pure gold. The floor is inlaid with the choicest slabs of coloured marble from Shandiz, and the walls are covered with tiles in white, blue, and gold, like the work of China. Above them there is glass facet work of such beauty that how can I represent it?
The tomb of the accursed Caliph is beneath the earth and is nowhere visible, but round the tomb of the sacred Imam are three gratings. The outer of these is of steel, the one next beneath was, they say, taken from Nadir's tomb, and is of silver, studded with rubies and emeralds: the inmost grating is also of steel inlaid with gold. Above the tomb are hung jewelled aigrettes, daggers, swords, and other offerings of
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THE GOLDEN DOOR AT THE FOOT OF THE TOMB
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such value that the treasure of Karun 1 is nothing in comparison.
We pilgrims, after kissing the blessed lock, moved round to "The Foot of the Saint," and here, after prostrating ourselves close to a second gold-plated door, which is studded with rare jewels, the appropriate prayer was read.
Continuing on, we moved slowly and solemnly round to "Behind the Head," facing the "Old Court." Thence by a narrow passage to "The Head."
In the passage all the enemies of the Imam are cursed, and Sayyid Mirza Ali called out, "A curse be on Harun and on Mamun!" to which we responded, "Let it be more!" At the head of the tomb the grating was again kissed, and, after prostrations, the two prayers were read.
Thrice was the tomb encircled and thrice were the curses pronounced, after which, with tears of joy and in deep humility, we each lifted up our hands to heaven and said: "O Allah, accept my prayers and receive my praises of Thee and bind me to thy chosen people."
. . . . . .
[paragraph continues] Thus, at last, was fulfilled the great desire of my life.
244:1 Maragha is near Tabriz, and over 1000 miles distant from Meshed.
248:1 Haram is the name for the sacred tomb chamber.
253:1 The exact meaning is that the man knows the Koran by heart and has the title of Hafiz. To-day, in Persia, this title is unknown, whereas a Hafiz is highly honoured by Sunnis.
257:1 Karun, the Korah of the Old Testament, corresponds to the Croesus of the Greek world.