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The new year's festivals and the shrine of Ali Ibn Abi Talib Sy Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan

By Jonathan Leonard Lee


This study examines the customs and origins of three spring festivals at the shrine of 'Ali b. Abi Talib, Mazar-i Sharif, Afghanistan; namely Nauroz, Janda Bala and Gul-i Surkh. Since these festivals are not part of the Islamic religious calendar, we seek to locate their origins in the pre-Islamic religions of Iran and record the contemporary traditions of these festivals. Since the festivals are assimilated to a shrine dedicated to the fourth Caliph of\ud Sunni Islam, we examine the processes which gave rise to this juxtaposition and how it came about that this shrine came to be considered a rival to Najaf.\ud \ud The Sa1juq and Timurid discovery narratives are examined (Chapters 1-2) in their wider religious and cultural context, followed by an examination of Afghan folklore related to Nauroz and the pre-Islamic religious traditions of Bactria (Chapters 3-4). We conclude that an important impetus for the founding of this shrine is the fact that, until the arrival of Islam, Bactra had been the paramount pilgrimage and cult centre of the region. Over the millennia, whilst the dominant religious tradition had changed, Bactra adapted to such ideological fluctuations in order to maintain its dominance of the. lucrative pilgrimage\ud traffic. Marginalised by Islam, whose heroes and foci of pilgrimage lay in the Arab world, the alleged discovery of the body of Hazrat 'Ali at the site, provided an acceptable Islamic framework for the revival, or continuation, of indigenous Bactrian New Year customs.\ud \ud Our examination of Gul-i Surkh, or 'Red Rose', festival (chapters 5-6) finds a parallel in the Annenian Vardavar festival. Originally this festival appears to have been derived from a blending of Iranian and Babylonian religion in Bactria, namely the cults of Anahita, Adonistrammuz and custoins associated with the Iranian hero, Siyawush. Janda Bala (Chapter 7), on the other hand, appears to be rooted in ancient Vedic and Shamanistic tradition. All three festivals, though, we argue, also represent different aspects of ancient Indo-Aryan and Babylonian fertility rites connected with the spring and vernal equinox

Publisher: School of Theology & Religious Studies (Leeds)
Year: 1999
OAI identifier:

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