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Stone Lions, Lying on Tombs, Serving the Dead


04 May 2004



An 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 Median dynasty.

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.



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