Qalishuyan (Carpet Washing) Rituals of Mashhad Ardahal in Kashan, Iran

Qalishuyan (Carpet Washing) Rituals of Mashhad Ardahal in Kashan, Iran
Photo by Abbas Torabzadeh / © ICHHTO, 2011

There is a holy place around Kashan County and in the village of Mashhad Ardahal which is called the holy shrine of Sultan Ali ibn Muhammad, the son of the fifth imam of Twelver Shii Muslims, it is the origin of historical- religious rituals of carpet washing (Qalishuyan). The ceremony is annually held on the second Friday of autumn by villagers and a lot of tourists go there to see it. This ritual was globally registered in 2012 and is the only religious creed which is held in accordance with solar Hijri calendar.

What is the story?

Ali ibn Muhammad al-Baqir is the son of Imam Baqir, the fifth imam of Twelver Shii Muslims. He is mostly known as Sultan Ali in different sources. According to some historical reports, in 731 Sultan Ali migrated to this region upon the request of some of the followers of Ahl al-Bayt (the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) who were from Chehel Hesaran and Fin counties in Kashan. He was dispatched there with the purpose of guiding and making them aware of religious principles of Islam for three years. He was eventually killed by Umayyad representative’s forces in Darband of Aznaveh County in 116. He was buried in Mashhad Ardahal which gradually became a holy shrine for the Shia. From then on, the villagers hold a special mourning ceremony, the creed which was later called “carpet washing” which was registered in the list of intangible heritage of UNESCO.

The carpet washing ritual is yearly held on the second Friday of autumn in the memory of Sultan Ali in Mashhad Ardahal. In this ritual, villagers of Fin and many tourists gather together to hold it gloriously.

The Ritual of Announcement

One week before the start of carpet washing ceremony and usually in the first Friday of autumn, another ceremony is held in Fin and Kashan which is literally called “the Friday of Announcement”. In this day, people are invited to attend the ceremony of carpet washing in Mashhad Ardahal. Each year, 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 autumn is the Day of Carpet Washing in Ardahal. The inhabitants of the village know it as “Carpet Friday” (Jom’e-ye Qāli) which usually happens in one of the days from 9th to 15th of Mehr (the first month of solar Hijri Calendar). If the ceremony is coincided with a religious celebration or mourning ceremony, it is held one week earlier or later. In this day, many people from all over Iran will come to Ardahal to attend the ceremony. At the beginning of the ceremony, the elders of Fin get a blessed carpet from the elders of Khaveh village in holy shrine of Sultan Ali. The carpet is moved with excitement and enthusiasm by the villagers to the destination of historical river of Imamzadeh Hossein and they remove dust and dirt from the carpet with their wooden sticks and sprinkle the water of river on it and then they go back to Khaveh village from another path and deliver the carpet to the elder of holy shrine of Sultan Ali with the same excitement and it is kept for many years in a safe box.

Mythical Roots

Apart from the history of carpet washing which was mentioned earlier, it is believed that the roots of this creed can be found in the mythical and ancient stories and rituals of Iran. Some of the experts state that as this creed is coincided with Mehregan celebration (a Zoroastrian and Persian festival celebrated to honor the yazata Mithra, which is responsible for friendship, affection and love) for one week, it can be concluded that the carpet washing ritual is a heritage of the story of Siavosh whose form was changed by the advent of Islam. Siavosh was a major figure in Ferdowsi’s epic, the rituals of his death and mourning ceremonies are the origin of many Iranian mourning creeds. 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).

About the Holy Shrine

The building of Sultan Ali holy shrine is located around the hillside of a mountain which overlooks the vast and dry land of Ardahal. The researchers believe that the primary building belongs to Buyid dynasty which was gradually changed and improved during the empires of Seljuq, Timurid, Safavid and Qajar. The complex presently consists of three halls (Iwan) and three courtyards (Sahn) in its Eastern, southern and Western sides.