Can you guess what the Rabbit is dressed as? As a hint, I can reveal that he also carved himself into his Halloween pumpkin. The very scary Rabbit is preparing to go trick-or-treating in the evening and he will surely terrorise the whole neighbourhood (he is the scariest rabbit in the world right now!), so get these carrots ready! Happy Halloween Everyone!
Today Leo's Rabbit discovered a superb Golabetoon Craft Shop and Art Gallery located within Outlajan Market at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. Its outstanding window display with a vast selection of bespoke handicraft immediately caught Rabbit's eager eye, and he promptly entered the shop. Exceptionally friendly owner greeted him warmly with a big smile inviting for a browse around the tastefully arranged shelves. Rabbit found himself surrounded by a unique collection of traditional Persian art and souvenirs. He was especially impressed by the spectacular hand-painted pottery and ceramics and exquisite jewellery crafted with a great attention to detail. Leo's Rabbit could not resist temptation and bought a pair of distinctive metal-ceramic earrings for his friend. He was mesmerised by quality leather and kilim handbags, but could not decide which one to choose. Please don't forget that Leo's Rabbit lives in MamaMus's handbag, so selecting a new one feels for him like buying a new house. Not an easy decision indeed!
Although Rabbit did not acquire a new 'house' for himself, he left the shop very content with the whole experience. He thoroughly enjoyed the authentic feel of Golabetoon Craft Shop with its delightful, inspirational handicraft.
Today Leo's Rabbit is back in Tehran shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Walking through numerous corridors, over 10km in length filled with stands specialising in a variety of goods, made our little Rabbit feel a bit tired and dizzy. He decided to take a break and hide from the crowds in a shady corridor within Outlajan Market. After just a few meters walk, he got excited when he spotted many colourful umbrellas floating above the passageway. He learned that this lovely display belongs to Sorahi Cafe and Art Gallery and he immediately entered the shop.
He was instantly impressed by the tasteful decor, with heavy mahogany furniture, beautiful stained-glass windows, colourful lamps hanging with long wires from the ceiling, a charming water feature and handmade jewellery, accessories, paintings, ceramics, porcelain and other traditional crafts on display across the shop. The whole place was filled with a delicate aroma of freshly ground coffee that instantaneously stimulated Rabbit's senses. He found a perfect place to sit and soak up the art while enjoying a cup of authentic Persian coffee.
He was told that the establishment, founded in September 2017 by Sorahi family, sells handcrafted arts from more than 50 different artists from all over the Iran, and simultaneously offers a vast selection of hot beverages, including traditional herbal drinks freshly brewed and served together with Iranian cakes and sweets. Leo's Rabbit liked the organic, authentic feel of Sorahi Café. He admired beautiful artwork on display and left the shop physically and spiritually invigorated and refreshed …hmm… and carrying a lovely hand-made belt he purchased for himself (he may even lend it to MamaMus… well her waist is ‘slightly’ wider than the Rabbit’s, but it will fit her wrist).
Today Leo’s Rabbit discovered a little treasure while wandering around the streets of Yazd. In the city centre, inside the Amir Chaghmagh Bazaar complex behind the mosque, he came across the lovely Oasis Art Gallery. It instantly caught his attention with its beautiful window display of handcrafted pottery and ceramics. He was further drawn to the shop when he noticed few cats lounging and playing around inside. Our Rabbit is a big feline lover, so he didn’t waste a minute and promptly entered the gallery. Straight away he was impressed by its well-designed interiors with tastefully arranged artwork. With high quality, beautiful pottery, ceramics, paintings, hand woven Persian rugs, carpets and kilims from modern and traditional Iranian artists, this classy collection was a real feast for Rabbit’s eyes. Friendly and helpful shop owners made our little Rabbit feel very welcomed. Although he didn’t make any purchase, he enjoyed looking at the artwork and his heart-warming encounter with the friendly residential cats. Gorgeous Art Gallery with a furry difference – real oasis for any rabbit (or human) in the desert city of Yazd on a very hot day.
After days of enjoying a variety of lovely Persian food, Leo's Rabbit felt a bit uneasy trying to fit in to his jeans. He first thought that the jeans must have shrunk somehow, but after trying on few different pairs, he had to face the truth and admit that he probably put some weight on. He immediately decided to go on a 'one carrot a day' diet (well... we’ll see how long he will be able to sustain the regime; considering his previous attempts, it will be a success if he lasts till the lunch-time :-)) and join a gym, so he embarked on a search for one.
The day in Yazd was piping hot, with temperature of 33°C and our little Rabbit got really tired and thirsty. He almost gave up his search for a gym, when in the city centre, he came across a water reservoir, an impressive 29m-heigh building dating from 1580, with elliptical roof crowned with five magnificent windcatchers (tower-like elements creating natural ventilation known also as badgirs). Rabbit has heard that many traditional water reservoirs built with windcatchers are capable of storing water at near freezing temperatures during summer months, so he quickly hopped towards the entrance to get some cold water. There was no water inside however, but he wasn't disappointed as today the building houses ‘Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh’, a traditional Iranian gymnasium for men (he assumed that male rabbits are also welcomed and he wasn’t mistaken). He suddenly felt invigorated – he found a gym and was ready for a workout!
Rabbit purchased a ticket (it costs 100,000 rials – sounds a lot, but in fact it’s only about £2) and entered the gym. He thought that the doorway was very low as he had to fold his ears to go through it. He was told that it has been made this way intentionally to force one who enters to bow his head in acknowledgement of a higher power. In the centre of a circular room, symbolic of the sun and unity, he saw a round exercise area (the Gowd) located below ground level (apparently to remind the practitioners of humility). He learned that Zurkhaneh is thousands of years old and has its roots in battle and warfare. These physical activities were supposed to make warriors out of ordinary men and not only prepare them for unarmed combat, but also develop their endurance, concentration, flexibility, and speed. Practitioners of the Zurkhaneh are expected to display a sense of duty for their country and community, be brave, humble, and of high ethical virtue and integrity. They should be Gentlemen (javan mard). Our little Rabbit certainly considers himself to be a Gentleman (GentleRabbit), so he was ready to start practising Zurkhaneh. He noticed a vast selection of wooden club bells, shields, chains and boards. He spotted a large painting on the wall, showing exercise techniques. He studied it carefully and planned his exercise routine. He smiled as he already imagined himself swinging around two large club bells, feeling powerful, strong and very masculine, like the strongest rabbit in the world. He vigorously hopped towards the weights and tried to lift one of the club bells. As you would probably expect (unlike our Rabbit, who views himself much stronger and bigger than he really is), he failed miserably.
After his failed attempt to use the gym equipment Leo’s Rabbit felt even more respect for the Gentlemen practising Zurkhaneh. He admired photographs of the old champions and watched men perform their exercises to the rhythmic beat of the drum (zarb) that helps the whirling individuals to reach almost religious heights of concentration.
Leo's Rabbit didn't manage to film the exercise session, but he can recommend a YouTube video by Piotr Teleon (below) showing the Zurkhaneh practitioners in Yazd.
Zurkhanehs Clubs are traditionally only for men, but the one in Yazd visited by Leo's Rabbit, is the only one in Iran that admits women (and rabbits) as spectators. It has workouts that are just over an hour at 6am, 6pm and 8pm.
Rabbit enjoyed his visit to Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh and although he didn't lose any weight nor was he able to follow the though exercise routine, he was fascinated by the unique traditional Iranian system of athletics. Although he often complains about having to exercise to keep in shape, today he felt grateful for his high-tech treadmill at his local gym, where he can even watch TV or browse the Internet while gently jogging. Tired just from watching Zurkhaneh exercise session, he ended up his visit to the gymnasium with a traditional Iranian coffee and sweets and decided to buy a bigger pair of jeans.
Following his visit to the Zoroastrian Fire Temple Leo's Rabbit, fascinated by this ancient Persian religion, was eager to explore further the principles and rituals of Zoroastrianism. In his pursuit of knowledge he travelled to dakhma, the original Zoroastrian burial place in Yazd, known otherwise as Towers of Silence. On his approach, he saw the two towers rising up from the desert (that's were Zoroastrians laid their dead leaving them to be consumed by the birds of prey) and a group of buildings at the base which provided shade and a place to rest and pray for the moaners.
Our usually talkative Rabbit walked around in silence, with his eyes wide open, contemplating the scenery and thinking of hundreds or maybe even thousands of people, who found their final resting place in here. If only the walls of these simple buildings could speak... They would've revealed a mystery of the ancient rituals and the gruesome scenes they've witnessed... Yes, 'gruesome' - that's exactly how Rabbit felt about the traditional Zoroastrian burial at first. He was horrified and shocked when he found out how the dead were disposed of, but when he explored the details and understood the reasons behind them, he became at ease about it. It made so much sense.
He already knew that Zoroastrians, same way as rabbits, live in harmony with the nature and they are very careful not to pollute or destroy the environment and its four elements: the earth, the air, the water and the fire. According to their beliefs, a body becomes impure at death, when the soul departs and evil spirits arrive to corrupt the flesh of the deceased. A dead body is imminently considered to be a possible source of contamination and disease. Zoroastrians acknowledge that whilst all the respect should be given to the deceased, no injury or harm should come to the living, and therefore their funeral customs are primarily focused on keeping contagion away from the community.
When a person passes away, like in many other cultures, family members gather to say their goodbyes and prayers, usually conducted by two priests, with the purifying flame burning throughout the ceremonies. Traditionally, the body of the deceased was thoroughly washed using gomez, containing bull's urine, and consequently acting as an antibacterial disinfectant. The ritual was especially important in the old days as a prevention of the spread of infectious diseases.
When the washing rituals and further prayers were completed, the clothed body of the deceased would have been handed over to the caretakers, traditionally called nasa salars. Rabbit was told that in Farsi 'nasa' refers to the 'agents of disease and contamination' and 'salar' means 'controller', therefore a 'nasa salar' would be someone responsible for preventing contamination and disease. Nasa salars themselves had to undergo a ritual bath and spiritual cleansing ceremonies. They wore white gloves and face masks, similar to those used by the surgeons.
After wrapping the body with the shroud, an even number of nasa salars carried the deceased to the Tower of Silence on an iron bier. The mourners, always travelling in pairs, followed with two officiating priests leading the procession.
Leo's Rabbit stood for a little while at the bottom of the stairs leading to the tower, and eventually hesitantly climbed the very stairs used by the nasa salars, still in operation just over 40 years ago.
Near the top of the tower, Rabbit stopped in front of a small chamber with two stone platforms visible through an open archway. He wandered what it was used for... An eager guide explained to him that a body would have been placed here, on one of the platforms, for a final Sagdid, a ritual confirming death. It was particularly important in the days before doctor-issued death certificates to ensure that a coma was not being mistaken for death and there are no signs of life. Sagdid ritual involved a specially trained dog able to sense death. If the dog stared steadily at the body, then the person was thought to be alive. If the dog did not look at the body, the passing away of the person was confirmed.
A sudden shiver passed through Rabbit's entire being when a thought occurred to him: 'What if the dog would have been wrong..?'
After a final Sagdid, the nasa-salars carried the deceased through a solid iron door into the tower (dakhma), a roofless circular structure surrounded by a 5-meters high wall. As Rabbit already learned, Zoroastrians don't place their deceased in the ground (the impurities present in the dead matter would corrupt the earth and the water) nor cremate them (the process would corrupt the fire and the air). Instead, the bodies of the dead were placed atop a tower (yes, the same tower our horrified Rabbit climbed today) to be feasted upon by birds of prey. Provided that the vultures are present in adequate numbers, the flesh would have been completely stripped from the bones in a matter of hours. The remaining skeleton was allowed for a few days to dry under the scorching sun before removal. Finally it was deposited into the deep well in the middle of the tower, with lime juice purred over it. The bones, being subject to air, water and heat, would completely dry and disintegrate.
While the body laid inside the tower, the family and friends who have accompanied the departed on their final journey to the dakhma, would retire to a prayer hall at the bottom of the tower and say their farewell prayers for the soul of the deceased. After the nasa-salars exit the tower, the moaners would return to their homes.
Keeping aside the gruesome imagery, Rabbit thought of the Zoroastrian way of disposing of the dead as a very ecological and natural way. Apparently, when a rabbit dies his body provides food to the other forest animals and insects, leaving only the bones to disintegrate. He also understood that the Zoroastrians consider the feeding of one’s dead body to the birds as person's final act of charity.
Since the 1970s, the use of dakhmas has been illegal in Iran. Zoroastrians adapted new burial methods and have moved to placing their dead beneath concrete, to keep out all contaminants. They still don't build monuments or mausoleums for the departed, but instead keep their memory alive in the hearts and prayers of their families and subsequent generations. In many Zoroastrian houses visited by Rabbit, there was a room especially dedicated to all the deceased family members, with their photographs on display and ever-burning candle. The remaining families were keen to describe to him the persons in the photographs and share some stories about the deceased. He was also told that the annual prayers and family gatherings in memory of the departed continue until 30 years after their death.
Rabbit thought that this is a better way to honour someone's life than a monument at a rarely visited cemetery. He also understood the meaning and the importance of his own little existence, with his purpose of keeping Leo's memory alive. He smiled to himself and looked up to the sky...
Leo's Rabbit 'lives' in my handbag and he travels with us everywhere we go. He has pictures taken at various locations, tourist attractions and places we visit. As a part of this blog we will describe Leo's Rabbit Travels to share our personal experiences from these visits. Hopefully couple of people (apart from us :-) ) will find it interesting and may even feel encouraged to visit one of Rabbit's destinations.