THE 72 RITUAL MAQAM OF THE YARSAN
This page is devoted to the 72 ritual maqam of the Yarsan, a Kurdish religious current which was established around the 11th century and which developed more substantially starting in the 14th century in the provinces of Kermanshah and Lorestan. Until now, these vocal and instrumental pieces for lute tanbour were reserved for initiates and thus unknown to the general public. Ali Akbar Moradi was aware that in the near future these pieces might be presented by musicians of debatable skill and thus decided to record them and publish them after receiving the authorization of the Yarsan spiritual authorities of the region of Guran.
Kurdistan is a region of Western Asia which extends from the Taurus and the mountains of Armenia in the west to the Zagros Mountains in the east, and from the Caucasus in the north to the Mesopotamian plain in the south. Throughout its history, Kurdistan has known enormous religious diversity. Even today, the preislamic festival of nowruz is celebrated, marking the beginning of the new year with the spring equinox. Since the 16th century, the Kurds have mostly converted to Sunni Islam, while the Shiite minority represents about 7% of the population. The two main Sufi rotherhoods present in Kurdistan are the Qadiriyya and the Naqshbandiyya. Heterodox communities have also developed, the Alevi, the Yezidi and the Yarsan (or Ahl-e Haqq).The two main dialects, Kurmanji and Sorani, both belong to the south-western branch of the Iranian language family. The sung poetry however uses other dialects such as Horami and Gurani among the Yarsan, and Zaza among the Alevi.
The Yarsan community lives mostly in the south of Iranian Kurdistan, i.e. the province of Kermanshah and the north of Lorestan and includes the whole Gurani tribe, most of the Sanjabi and a good part of the Kalhor, Zangeneh of Kanduleh and Jalalvand tribes. They are also found in the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, in the region of Teheran, in Iraqi Kurdistan and also in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. According to the figures of various authors, they represent 3 to 10% of the Kurdish population.
The adepts of this religion are known by various names: Yarsan or Yaresan, the term used by the largest and most orthodox part of the community; Ahl-e Haqq (People of the
Truth), the term which is best known in the West since its introduction by Count Gobineau; Ali Ilahi (those who deify Ali) mostly used by their Muslim detractors…
According to M. Izady (1992), Yarsanism now has three currents, which are distinguished by the positions which they adopted with respect to Islam:
1. The Ahl-e Haqq, whose last two masters, Nimatullah Jayhunabadi and his son Ostad Nur Ali Elahi (1895-1974), author of the famous work Borhan ol-Haqq 1 (Teheran, 1963), sought to move closer to Shiite Islam, apparently in an effort to protect the community.
2. The Tayifasan who are further from Islam than the Ahl-e Haqq.
3. And lastly the Yarsan in the strict sense, farmers and artisans of the province of Kermanshah, who are profoundly attached to their religion and who deny any link with Islam.
The origins of the Yarsan dogma are to be sought in the ancient Indo-Iranian religions and especially in the cult of Mithra and Mazdaism. Elements from Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions were also added. The pillars of this religion, which is highly mystical and which some authors include in the “cults of the angels” (with Alevism and Yezidism), are:
- Belief in a divinity called Ya, the Divine Essence, creator of the world. In the beginning, the world was covered with water. At the bottom of this water was a pearl, at the heart of which was the Divine Essence in a state of “pre-eternity”. It first gave rise to its seven companions, the haftan (seven bodies). Then, at the request of the haftan, the divinity came out of the pearl and manifested itself in the form of Khavankar (or Khawandagar), the Lord God. This God created the world by burning the pearl: the smoke gave rise to the sky, the stars and the clouds, and the matter to the Earth. The haftan asked him to create man, which he did with a lump of yellow clay. Then the haftan asked him to manifest himself in human form. God wanted to breathe a soul into the body of the man. But as the soul refused, the haftan entered the heart of the man and
played music (see CD 4 track 1). When the soul heard this music, it fell into ecstasy and entered the body of the man where it remained imprisoned.
- The successive theophanies of the divinity. There are seven of them. The first is Khavankar; the second is the Imam Ali (whence the fact that the detractors of the Yarsan called them Ali-Ilahi, “those who deify Ali”); the most important are the third and fourth, respectively Shah Khushin (11th century) to whom is attributed the first pact with the divinity, the consecration of the tanbur and its introduction at religious gathering, and Soltan Sahak (14th century) who renewed the contract with the divinity and formalized Yarsan dogma. According to the tradition, since the mothers of these theophanic beings could only have been impregnated by the divinity, they were necessarily virgins.
- The cult of the angels. The haftan, companions of the divinity, have their avatars. In the fourth period, that of Soltan Sahak, his three companions, frequently mentioned in the sung poems, appeared: Pir Benyamin, Pir Davud, Pir Musi. There are other important angels: the haftavaneh or the Seven Powers, the haft-sardar or the Seven Commanders, the qavaltas, etc.
- The metempsychosis. The cycle of the souls covers a period of 50,000 years and includes 1,000 reincarnations; the 1,001st will be eternal and will take place on the Day of the Resurrection which will also be that of the Last Judgment. This cycle of reincarnations is not strictly linked to that of life; in addition to those which follow death, other reincarnations are possible: following an illness, in a waking state when a man feels that his soul has changed or during a dream (M. Mokri, 1959). From this standpoint, reincarnations may also be seen as lluminations which mark the course of a man's life which are more lasting if they live in uprightness and piety. The soul, in its long journey from the inorganic state to the divine state is supposed to grow to perfection through the sequence of reincarnations.
- Religious practice is based mainly on assemblies of initiates or jam (circle), offerings, sacrifices and respect for some rules of life: purity, uprightness, modesty, help to others. These rules are covered by a pact which unites God, his companions (the haftan) and the faithful. This contract was formalized first by Shah Khoshin in the 11th century under the name of Sajnari then renewed and developed by Soltan Sahak in the 14th century under the name of Pardivari Bayabas. All of the Yarsan rules and beliefs are included in a body of words or kalam which were pronounced by various masters and saints.
- The jam is the mystical assembly of the faithful. These people, men or women, must be adults and must have been initiated by a spiritual master (sayyed, pir or dalil). Their souls must be pure and their bodies washed. They must want to come closer to God. They must wear a piece of cloth around their waists as a sign of submission. All of the participants of the jam must unite their thoughts to form a single being. During the ceremony, music plays a central role because, as at the time of creation of man it allowed God to fill him with his soul, it is through music hat the participants gain access to the Truth. The foremost sacred instrument is the long-necked lute tanbour. Before it is played, the instrument is handed from participant to participant. They touch it, kiss it and then give it to the cantor who an then start to play and chant the kalam, the sacred words. The community is divided into eleven branches (khandan) each led by masters whose genealogies stretch back to their founders. Therefore, the Yarsan still remember most of their masters and their saints. We should say more about some of these figures because the texts of the maqam refer to them frequently.
1- The first master is Bahlul. He lived under the reign of the Abbassid caliph Harun al- Rashid (8th century) who made the city of Kermanshah the seat of his summer court. As his religious activity displeased the caliph, Bahlul was persecuted and threatened with death and apparently pretended to be crazy.
2- The second master is Fazl-e Vali (10th century) who some consider the first theophany of the Islamic period.
3- Another important but somewhat mysterious figure is Baba Sarhang who very likely lived at the end of the 10th century.
4- Shah Khoshin is the third theophany. His real name was Mobarak Shah. Shah Khoshin was born at the beginning of the 11th century in the region of Lorestan where his maternal grandfather, Mirza Amana, was a village chief. According to tradition, his mother conceived Khoshin while still a virgin; his father, indignant, abandoned her in the mountains. She was distraught and wandering in tears when a knight called Kaka Raya appeared and told her that she would give birth to a child of light. He is attributed the first formalization of the canons of Yarsanism and the consecration of the tanbur in the mystical assemblies.
5- Soltan Sahak – fourth theophany – is the most important figure of Yarsanism, because he was the one who renewed the contract with the divinity and structured Yarsan dogma. He lived in the 14th century. His mother, Khatun Dayrak, lived in the home of Shaykh Issa in the town of Barzandja, in Iraq. After the death of Shaykh Issa, dissensions arose between Soltan and his young brothers. He left his hometown and moved to the village of Sheikhan. He was over one hundred years old when he died and his mausoleum is built on the banks of the Sirvan, near the border of Iran and Iraq. The next figures are considered incarnations of the companions of the divinity (haftan).
6- Pir Benyamin was born in the 13th century near Mount Shahu (Elbourz chain), in the region of Horaman. He was received by Soltan Sahak in the village of Sheikhan and became one of his companions. His mausoleum is in Karind Gharb, 100 km from Kermanshah.
7- Pir Musi came from Syrian Kurdistan. Soltan Sahak made him his scribe.
8- Pir Davud, third companion of Soltan Sahak, was born in the 13th century in the village of Davdan, in the region of Horaman, and his mausoleum is located in the village of Sheikhan, on the banks of the River Sirvan.
9- Baba Yadgar lived in the 14th century in the village of Sheikhan. According to some kalam, Soltan Sahak designated him as his successor. Upon the master's death, Yadgar left his home village for Zahab, 120 km to the west of Kermanshah. He first lived in a cave in the valley of Hona before moving to the village of Sarana, near Mount Dalahu. His mausoleum, on Mount Dalahu in a place called Takht-e Sarana, has become one of the most important Yarsan pilgrimage sites.