9.12.2017

A month in Iran: reportage 6: Natanz "A famous Sufi story tells that different religions are like fingers of the same hand..."

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Natanz: the shrine of Abd as-Samad
"They say it's a mosque... but it isn't, not exactly... The authorities don't like this..." My friend assumed  a cospiratorial tone. Indeed this is a mosque, but also the place where a Sufi saint used to leave and to teach in the unconventional way proper to the mystics of Islam. 
Image may contain: indoorKnown as the shrine of Abd as-Samad, the present complex date from 1304 ac, but its original structure was built in 1299 ac, after the death of the saint. It's small, geometrical, sharp. The cupola isn't round but esagonal, with a specific remind to numerology and spiritual symbolism, and it's blue like Isfahan maiolics against the dusty desert yellow of the desolate landscape.
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The symbol of the Imam Ali: Zulfiqar , the legendary sword.  
The mosque is the most remarcable building in Natanz and it attracts a small number of adventurous tourists. In front of the decorated door there is a pluricentenary tree and two young men in traditional clothing seem in the act of worshipping it, their hands joined and risen at the level of their faces as if they were reading an invisible book. The Book indeed, the Mother of the Book, the originary Qur'an... Why not? a living venerable vegetal qibla... The direction is right because a mosque door is always oriented toward the holy Makkah. A Christian churche absis should be oriented toward Jerusalem, because in the originary ritual the priest used to stand in front of the devotees leading their prayers, just like the imam in a mosque. In the first times of Islam Muslims too used to pray toward Jerusalem. A famous Sufi story tells that different religions are like fingers of the same hand. 
Image may contain: one or more peopleThere is only one minaret, decorated in tiles, slender and slim. It's a symbol of the male, like a lingam, while the cupola represents the female, like a yoni. Usually the mosque are squared while the cupola is round because the square represents the 'earth' (material world) while the sphere represents the 'heaven' (spiritual world). Inside a mosque it isn't strange to find a cross, as it's the symbol of the union of the vertical line (from material to spiritual) and the horizontal line (from many to one). By the way in Nepal people do the sign of the cross when they pass by a stupa or a chorten or an holy place in general, included the tombs of their ancestors, a stream, a tree...
The shrine ceiling isn't flat but moved in lights and shadows by infinite niches, empty and filled at the same time, with the result that the material seems to dissolve in the concept, in the line, in the shape. So few remains of the ancient decoration! still here it's possible to recognise the same style of the more complex mosques of Isfahan or Shiraz. On a wall I see painted in red the symbol of the Imam AliZulfiqar , the legendary sword. On the bare floor, facing a blind qibla robbed of all its splendour, there is a worn carpet, and I get the chance to pray in this incredible place. Just two rakats, just to connect, as I did in the Annapurna base camp. 
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An ancient school (madrasa)
Next to the shrine there are a museum and some maiolics shops. In the museum a man has replicated a small ancient Natanz in every dettails recycling waste and spare materials. Here you can see the bazar with many different traditional jobs, the houses, the school... And I'm especially amused seeing the pain inflicted to the student who didn't learn his lesson! Fortunately this is definitely over in Iran and in a large part of the world. Not everywhere. But really... Imam Ali used to say: "Oh my god, I don't worship you for fear of your hell nor for desire of you heaven. I worship you because you are worth to be worshipped." I think the same about knowledge: you must love it for itself!
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In the maiolics shop
The maiolics shops are not just shops but also a kind of living museum where we are showed the traditional technic of realisation of these beautiful vases. The owen is like a room with a small door with shelves allowing to cook even fifty vases at the same time! but nowadays vases are cooked in electric owens, more pratical and healtier. The splendid colours are still prepared in the traditional way, grinding and mixing natural materials, mineral or vegetal. Vases get their shape by skilled hands on a manual or electric lathe, then they are engraved and painted, sometimes according to models or requests but very often on the spot according to the creativity of the master.
The sunset is painting the cupola orange and black. It's time to drive to Tar, the disapearing village where we are going to spend two more days...

TO BE CONTINUED

Have also a look to Part 1, Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5

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