a phenomena dating back to Achaemenian, was a makeshift and rapidly
built enclosure on a hill-top or a mountain-side close to the war zone
where the remains of soldiers lost in the battle were moved to.
Fires lit and
maintained at the War dakhmas for several weeks after the war closure
would help any unconscious soldier mistaken for dead in the haste of the
conflict and gaining consciousness at night to find his way out.
Typically situated in
the remote areas close to the boundaries of the Achaemenian, Parthian and
Sasanian empires, war dakhams were not common in the heartland of Iran.
The last war dakhma of Iran is a note-able exception. In the interior of
Iran each locality had access to a local dakhma
Sometime multiple villages used a common dakhma.
Driving north on the
highway from Kerman city to Mashad and carefully viewing the hillsides to
the West, the ruins of the last war dakhma of Iran can be spotted three
centuries after its sudden build and commissioning.
In early 18th century,
Mir Wais, a fanatical Sunni-Moslem from Kanadhar (present Afghanistan)
[iv] while on pilgrimage to
Mecca obtains a written 'Fatwa'[v]
from the grand Mufti of Mecca to the effect that it was meritous for true
Moslems to destroy the followers of Shi'ism.
Upon returning to
Kandhar he manages to murder the governor of Kandhar. Then his fanatical
son Mahmud murders his own uncle and claims governorship of Kandhar. In
1721 CE Mahmud having assembled an army sets on a march to the national
capital of Isfahan - the center of Shiat power of Safavids.[vii]
As his army approaches Kerman city, the governor of Kerman orders the
gates of the fortressed city closed. Mahmud's appeal to be allowed in for
re-provisioning is not headed. In a rage he orders his soldiers to launch
a merciless attack on the villages on the north-east of the fortressed
city laying wide open. His aim is to cause maximum casualty and to
terrorize. The more prosperous villages close to the city are inhabited
by Zarathushtis and take the brunt of the attack. (To marginalize the
establishment had barred them from living inside the fort city.)
On the day that goes
down in infamy thousands of lives mostly older people, children and
pregnant women unable to run away were sworded down by Mahmud’s talibans.
Many of the younger people out in the field and able to outrun the killers
lower themselves into the wells opening to the underground water tunnel (Qanat)[viii]
that provide for water flowing into the city. Those who were able to
traverse the underground water tunnel and reach inside the city appeal to
the governor for shelter in the city. The governor relents despite
opposition from the Shiat establishment.
A few days later, with
the rebellious army having withdrawn, the surviving
regroup and venture
outside the city gates in search of their loved ones. In a true case of
the living envying the dead, they have to shoulder the undaunting task of
taking care of the remains of their loved ones, at same time as picking up
the pieces of their lives and moving on. With little time to
grief, their only
viable alternative is to erect a makeshift dakhma at a remote
mountain-side outside the city and away from preying eyes; a site large
enough to accommodate remains of all the lives lost on that faithful day
numbering into thousands. (No exact counts are available.)
At the entrance to the
3rd millennium, we need to take the time and remember all the innocent
lives lost on that faithful day – caught in the cross-fire, all victims of
a nonsensical & fanatical Sunni-Shiat conflict dating back to 10 centuries
before their time – and wonder what has changed.
View of the ruins of the
war dakhma seen from the Kerman-Mashad highway.
View of the ruin of part
of the western wall of the Dakhma. The round structure by the wall
served as an ATASUZ, where a fire was kept ablaze.
Another view of the
ruins of part of the western wall. The small opening in the
mountain visible is where likely a guard was stationed for a short
Dakhma was used by Zoroastrians for disposal of the dead. With
emphasis on ecology and keeping the green fertile and used for
agricultural purpose, ancient Iranian did not bury the dead. Instead
they would have enclosed structures on top of mountains or hills,
where the remains of the dead would be placed to be eaten by
vultures. The remaining bones would be treated with acid and disposed
of. That method of disposal was common amongst Zoroastrians, and
continued even after the conquest of Iran by Arabs. However, the use
of Dakhmas came to an end in mid-20 century. Its use continues
amongst the Parsis in India into the 21st century.
Boyce, Mary, “Some points of traditions observance and change among
the Zoroastrians of Kerman”, ĀTAŠ-E DORUN: The Fire Within – Jamshid
Soroush Soroushian Memorial Volume II, 1stBooks Library, Bloomington,
IN, 2003, pps. 43-56.
Huff, Dietrich, “The dadgah of Kerman”, ĀTAŠ-E DORUN: The Fire
Within – Jamshid Soroush Soroushian Memorial Volume II, 1stBooks
Library, Bloomington, IN, 2003, pps. 183-197.
Most of Afghanistan was part of Iran until mid-19th
A religious edict issued by an authoritative Moslem cleric that
becomes binding on his followers. They are required to follow the
edict without questioning.
Vafadari, Shahrokh R., “A note on Kerman and Dastur Jamsab”,
ĀTAŠ-E DORUN: The Fire Within – Jamshid Soroush Soroushian Memorial
Volume II, 1stBooks Library, Bloomington, IN, 2003, pps. 447-453.
Boyce, Mary, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices,
Routledge & Kegan Paul Publishers, London, 1984, pps. 177-182.
English, Paul W., City and Village in Iran, The university of
Wisconsin Press, 1966, pps. 18-19, 135-140.