The holy shrine of Sultan Ali ibn Muhammad, the son of the fifth Shia Imam is located in the village of Mashhad Ardahal, 40 km far from Kashan city. This shrine is the origin of historical-religious rituals of Carpet Washing (Qali Shuyan) which is annually held on the second Friday of autumn by villagers, attracting a significant number of pilgrims and tourists. This event as the only Islamic religious ritual held in accordance with the solar Hijri calendar (in the Iranian month of Mehr in early October) was registered by UNESCO in 2012 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
What is the story?
Ali ibn Muhammad al-Baqir, mostly known as Sultan Ali, was the son of Imam Baqir (677-733 CE), the fifth Shia Imam. According to historical resources, Sultan Ali migrated to Mashhad Ardahal from Medina in 731 CE upon the request of some of the followers of Ahl al-Bayt (the family of the prophet Muhammad) who were from Chehel Hesaran and Fin counties in Kashan. The main purpose of his mitigation was to guide and train locals in the religious principles of Islam for three years. However, he was eventually martyred by Umayyad forces in Darband of Aznaveh County in 116 CE.
Before he was buried in a tomb in Mashhad Ardahal, turned gradually into a holy shrine for the Shia Muslims, his body was wrapped in a carpet by his followers and washed in a near stream. Since then, a special mourning ceremony, later called “Carpet Washing” is held annually on the occasion of the anniversary of this tragic event to mourn for Sultan Ali. The shrine is located around the hillside of a mountain overlooking the vast and dry land of Ardahal. It is believed that the history of the primary site refers to the Buyid dynasty (934-1062) but was gradually changed and improved during the empires of Seljuq (1037-1187), Timurid (1370-1507), Safavid (1501-1736), and Qajar (1789-1925). At present, the shrine consists of three halls (Iwan) and three courtyards (Sahn) in its Eastern, Southern, and Western sides.
The Carpet Washing ritual is annually held gloriously in Mashhad Ardahal on the second Friday of autumn to commemorate Sultan Ali’s martyrdom.
The Ritual of Announcement
One week before the start of the Carpet Washing ceremony usually on the first Friday of autumn, another ceremony literally called “the Friday of Announcement” is held in Fin and Kashan. On this occasion, people are invited to attend the Carpet Washing ceremony in Mashhad Ardahal. In addition, town criers go to the markets and alleys of Fin, Kashan, and Khaveh to inform people of the upcoming Carpet Washing ceremony.
Day of Carpet Washing
The second Friday of the Iranian month of Mehr in early October is the Day of Carpet Washing in Ardahal, Known by the inhabitants of the village as “Carpet Friday” (Jom’e-ye Qāli). However, if it coincides with another religious celebration or mourning, it will be held one week sooner or later. At the beginning of the ceremony, the elders of Fin get the remains of the sacred carpet, used before for the body of Sultan Ali, from the elders of Khaveh village in his shrine. The carpet is then carried by the villagers on their shoulders to a stream near the shrine to be washed in front of a huge gathering. The carpet is then turned back by mourners to Khaveh village from another path, delivered to the elders of the shrine of Sultan Ali, and finally kept there in a safe box.
Apart from the history of the Carpet Washing ceremony mentioned earlier, it is believed that the roots of this ritual can be found in the mythical and ancient stories and events in Iran. Some experts state that this ritual is a heritage of the Siavosh story that was changed after the advent of Islam. Siavosh was a major figure in Ferdowsi’s epic poem book and the rituals of his death and mourning are the origins of many Iranian mourning ceremonies. Also, some people believe that the ritual of Carpet Washing is a memorial of Tishtrya (a Zoroastrian benevolent divinity associated with life-bringing rainfall and fertility).