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The Last War Dakhma of Iran


















War dakhma[i], 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 [ii][iii]. 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. [vi]

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 Zarathushtis the Shiat 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 Zarathushtis 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 while.

[i] 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.

[ii] 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.

[iii] 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.

[iv] Most of Afghanistan was part of Iran until mid-19th century.

[v] A religious edict issued by an authoritative Moslem cleric that becomes binding on his followers. They are required to follow the edict without questioning.

[vi] 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.

[vii] Boyce, Mary, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge & Kegan Paul Publishers,  London, 1984, pps. 177-182.

[viii] English, Paul W., City and Village in Iran, The university of Wisconsin Press, 1966, pps. 18-19, 135-140.