Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
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Lions, Lying on Tombs, Serving the Dead
old “Bakhtiyâri” cemetery with stone lions standing
over the graves of the Pahlevanss, “Izeh”.
Statues of stone lions sitting on tombs guarded
the buried Imamzadehs (spiritual figures) and Pahlevans (heroes/warriors)
and were listeners of people who told their secrets and stories
to the dead. The lions have also been symbols of Iranians’
power and courage.
Putting stone lions on tombs of popular men has been a tradition
dating back to the old days, even to prehistoric times. If you
have ever traveled to Hamedan, in western Iran, you surely have
met with the city’s famous lion which was constructed at the
Making such statues reached its pinnacle during the Safavid
dynasty and despite sculpting being prohibited by the law, the
stone lions were continued to be put on tombs of Imamzadehs and
Pahlevans, two of which can still be found in Ahamad and Haroun
Velayat Imamzadeh Tombs of Isfahan city.
Three stories are told of these powerful animals lying on
Iranian tombs. The first is that they guarded the tombs, even
straying the wild animals that neared the tombs; some people
even considered them holy and asked them to make their wishes
come true. The second story is that rich people put their
valuable items such as jewelry inside the statue. Finally, it is
said that it was just used as a gravestone to show the
deceased’s greatness and courage.
The tradition was kept alive until recently in villages of
Bakhtiari, Fars, and Azarbaijan and can still be seen in some of
their graveyards. It was specially popular among nomads of the
western province of Kurdistan.
is the Light on the Path to Future"
British Institute of Persian Studies