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Iran’s Phallus Cemetary

13337260 721537 721533 ir6re8 6-4 img52 721530 721532032          Over 600 cemetery head stones are sprouting out of the earth in this cemetery, 40 miles northeast of Gonbad-e Kavous in the North East corner Iran. The stones are clear references to fertility, which is often seen in Indian and Asian depictions of the lingham, which are also in stone, from this period. Most are shaped as male and female sexual organs (penises, vs. wombs and ovaries) and they have become the ultimate photo opportunity for young Iranians on a day trip. But the tomb is also a place for religious pilgrimage where women make wishes and leave an offering, by way of tying ribbons in the surrounding trees.  The area is amazingly lush and green in Spring, then parched during the Summer and makes up the northern part of Golestan province, in the mountains of the Torkaman Sahra (Turkmen desert) near the border with Turkmenistan. Here, amongst mountain tops that loom over an undisturbed green valley, is a small shrine to Halat Khaled Nabi, or Prophet Khaled, a Christian Yemeni prophet said to predate Mohammad by 40 years.This would make him the only prophet between Jesus and Mohammed, but Muslims would not normally worship him, it ali-majdfar-khaled-nabi-19ksmacks of something far more pagan. One blogger wrote: “In Shiite areas, such as a large part of Iran, this kind of lonely pilgrimage shrines built over the grave of a holy man are quite frequent. In Majid Majidi’s beautiful film Rang-e Khodâ, “The colors of God” we see how a grandmother takes her grandchildren on a pilgrimage to such a tomb. However, the Turkmen population of northern Golestan is Sunni. This confession theoretically condemns this type of “saint cult”, and they only go on pilgrimage to Mecca. But the Turkmens, strangely, also visit a large number of holy tombs both in the local mountains and across the border, in Turkmenistan. The reason is that Islam came to the Turkmens primarily through the activities of Sufi sheiks, rather than through the mosque and the “high” written tradition of sedentary culture. The Turkmen clans still regard these holy men as their founders and “patron saints”, and their communal identity is focused on the cult of these figures.”

Despite the cemeteries clearly ancient origins, the site was only added to Iran’s list of heritage sites around a decade ago and nothing is about its origins has ever been confirmed. The stones are varied and stand between 50cm and 4 meters and some are very deeply buried into the ground so that their true height is not known.  Some theories are that this is a Turkoman burial site, or that they stones mark the places where the enemy of the prophet were buried. In any case the area is mostly left to be destroyed. Shepherds graze their sheep there and many of the stones were broken by people taking pieces away to be sold. One visitor wrote “Of particular interest are two small tombstones, a male and a female; close together on top of this small hill; perhaps that of Turkaman Romeo and Juliet. The grave has been illegally dug and the bones scattered.”