Introduction to Chak Chak
Undoubtedly, the city of Yazd can be considered the capital of the Zoroastrians of the world. Because most of the principal places of worship of this religion are in the city; One of them is the Chak Chak Ardakan Zoroastrian Shrine, where is the holiest and most prominent Zoroastrian altar in the world, located in the heart of a mountain east of Ardakan. It welcomes numerous followers of the religion every year, and many tourists travel there. Yazd Chak Chak Cave can be considered one of the mythological wonders of Persian history and a landmark in the shrine. The religion of Zoroastrianism as the ancient religion of Persia has a special sanctity and respect among Persians, and people, even though they have converted to Islam, have especial respect for the ancient Persian religion and customs. This issue has made Persia, as the cradle of Zoroastrians in the world, a place of worship for the religion’s followers.
About 70 km from Yazd and 43 km east of Ardakan, you will find the most prominent Zoroastrian altar, Chak Chak. Where the Zoroastrians believe, the mountain responded to the call of Nikbanou, the chaste daughter of Yazgard III, when she said, “Embrace me as a kind mother and save me from my enemies,” so the mountain protected her from the aggression of the Arabs. A shrine where the mountain spring water is flowing and dripping and the sacred fire is always lit. Chak Chak, Yazd is stuck at the foot of the rocky mountain. Every year in June, on the anniversary of Nikbanou taking refuge in the mountains, one of the most significant Zoroastrian religious events is held for four days, so Zoroastrians from all over the world gather there. Zoroastrians love the shrine and consider it as a symbol of the unity of the Zoroastrian community.
The Shrine’s Naming (Chak Chak )
People called the shrine “Chak Chak (the sound of water drops in Persian)” due to the temporary water dripping from the mountain in the temple that you always hear its sound. For the Zoroastrians, the drops are the symbol of Nikbanou’s tears; These drops have been flowing since the day she hid in the mountain’s crevice. Another name given to the place of worship is “Pir-e Sabz.” The temple is the centre of unity and rendezvous of all Zoroastrians in the world. On the other hand, the existence of trees and lush nature in the heart of the desert, around the place of worship, has made it more attractive and mysterious. In the Mithra ethic (the Zoroastrian angelic divinity (yazata) of the covenant), the word “Pir” refers to the last stage of mysticism.
The Sycamore tree is a few thousand years old, which is the oldest tree in the world, has emerged from the heart of the mountain that embraced Nikbanou to become the shadow of her tomb. So the reason for choosing the name Pir-e Sabz refers to the tree that has remained green due to the dripping water flowing from the mountain. There are six Pirs in Yazd where were the hiding places of the daughters or relatives of the last king of the Sassanid dynasty, “Yazdegerd III.” Zoroastrians consider these areas sacred and a symbol of their solidarity.
The Water Source in The Mountain
Several Dutch geologists have concluded during research that the mountain is on a fault one kilometer deep. The underground canals cannot cross the fault, therefore, they rise and can seep out of it due to the calcareous nature of the mountain. In other words, rainfall could not be the water source. Although it decreases or increases during the year, it never stops.
History and Narratives of Chak Chak
The story of Chak Chak, Yazd is also the story of love for the earth. Preservation and protection of lush trees and the conservation of nature are among the sanctities of the Zoroastrian religion, and the Chak Chak is one of the most famous examples. Various stories have been told about the shrine from hundreds of years ago until now. Each is expressed on a specific basis, which has made the shrine mysterious. One story about Chak Chak is that during the reign of Yazdegerd III, the Arabs prevailed everywhere. When the country was in turmoil, he migrated from the royal palace in Madain, in Saudi Arabia to Yazd, Persia, asking his supporters to build a strong city with defensive fortifications. Yazdgerd entered Yazd with his wife Katayoun, his children, and a crew named Morvarid after the new city was built. He had seven children: two sons named Hormuzan and Ardashir and five daughters named Shahrbanu, Parsbanu, Mehrbanu, Nikbanu (Hayatbanu), and Nazbanu.
The Arabs who invaded Persia had one of their goals to find Yazdegerd as the king of Persia and attacked him city by city. Accordingly, Yazdgerd was forced to go to war with the Arabs. But he failed to achieve victory and went to Khorasan inevitably. Unfortunately, in Khorasan, a miller (guard of the mill) killed him, and the news of the death of the Sassanid king reached Yazd. The Yazdegerd family had no choice but to separate from each other to escape the enemies, and each of them had to go to the surrounding lands.
- Parsbanu and Mehrbanu
Although they rushed to the northwest of Yazd together, they said goodbye to each other near Arjanan, a village in the Aqda district of Ardakan city, so that they would be safe and no one would suspect them. Mehrabanu set out for the city of Aqda and died of starvation and suffering. In honour of her and his family, inhabitants buried her body in a garden in Aqda, known as Mehr Farm today. The region inhabitants consider the farm as Mehrbanu’s place and keep her memory alive by lighting candles in special ceremonies. Parsbanu escapes to the west of Aqda and reaches Zarju village. It is said that she disappeared in a mountain, where is a place of worship today and the mountain’s crevice is considered as her disappearance spot. Stories tell us that a scarf-like garment was seen in a rock crack in the past which is a kind of relic of that event. People separated it from the mountain and preserved it for blessing.
Katayoun and Ardashir
Ardashir, the youngest son of Yazdegerd, goes to the eastern parts of Yazd with his mother, Katayoun, and people do not know about them. Katayoun or Seti gives her son to Kiqbad, the priest of Yazd, and in order not to be captured by the Arabs, she throws herself in a well behind the barrier of Yazd. Zoroastrians visit the well in white clothes with folded arms. Today, the well is known as the shrine of Seti Pir, which is in the city of Yazd. Ardashir also disappears in the middle of a mountain in the east of Yazd in a place that is now called the Pir-e Narastaneh shrine.
- Nazbanu: Nazbanu, another girl from Yazd, moves to the south of Yazd who had disappeared in Tijang mountain. After a while, a shrine called Pir-e Naraki Shrine was built in her memory.
- Nikbanou and Morvarid: Nikbanou and Morvarid, the loyal crew of the Yazdegerd family, move together but were forced to separate in the desert. Each went on their own since they could hide from the enemies. Morvarid disappears in a mountain 17 km from Ardakan, where is currently known as Harisht Mount and holds a special sanctity among Zoroastrians. But about Nikbanou, inhabitants say that she encountered the enemy army on the way to the mountain east of Ardakan. Seeing the enemy, Nikbanou climbed a high mountain in fear to protect herself. The enemy came so close to her that they could easily have captured her. Then, the chaste lady asked the mountain to save and embrace her like a kind mother with a loud sigh; suddenly, a rift was created in the mountain, and she disappeared. There is a crack in the mountain at the Nikbanou’s entry spot where springs have flowed. From the mentioned water, the sycamore tree has grown from the heart of the rock with more than one meter of diameter. According to this legend, the Chak Chak mountain sheds tears in memory of Nikbanou every year.The magnificent sycamore tree, which is more than a thousand years old, is located in the shrine, which according to some narrations, is Nikobanou’s stick; when she hit the mountain crevice, the water that springs from the mountain creek turns green.Over time, water droplets dripped from the top of the dry mountain, watering the travelers, and if a large crowd or flock of sheep arrived, the water flow became so large that the water was enough for everyone.
Shepherd’s Dream and Chak Chak Shrine Building
According to a legend, a shepherd grazing his flock in the area discovered the shrine of Nikbanu after years of being hidden from public view; The herd flies, and the sheep flee. The shepherd went to the mountain to find his flock, and then he faced the waterfall with dripping water. The shepherd fell asleep after being watered, dreaming his flock in front of an enlightened lady. The lady asked him to build a room there under her name. After waking up, the shepherd saw the herd nearby. Sometime later, he and a group of Zoroastrian elders built a room there, and since then, the shrine has been created so that people can make their wishes there and pray.
Another narration refers to the construction of Zoroastrian shrines near the springs as a source of purity, so the followers of Mehr built their temples next to the springs. They were called the Temple of Anahita, which symbolized the purity and fertility of the goddess Anahita. Some believe that this place is considered one of the Anahita temples due to the nature of these temples that were built on a hill and water flowing in them. The shrine was also constructed to the east so that the Mehr followers could worship the sun at dawn. Moreover, Zoroastrian shrines in Yazd were advent centuries before the Sassanid dynasty came to power.
The Architectural Structure of Chak Chak
Chak Chak Shrine is one of the most mysterious places in Persia, where has been preserved for almost 1400 years. The shrine includes the main area where a series of buildings and a fire temple are architectured in a stepped style.
The complex contains five irregular floors, each roof of which is the courtyard of the upper floor, and the architectural structure continues to the highest point below the mountain to the most particular part of the shrine, the fire temple. To enter the shrine, you have to climb numerous stairs built on the mountain that may be a sign of Nikbanou’s sympathy and association with the effort of climbing on the day mentioned above.
When you start to climb the stairs, from the very beginning of the stairs to the place of the shrine, on the surrounding walls, you will see inscriptions from the Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, on one of which is written the following sentence: The world is one way, and that is the way of salvation.
Reaching the top of the stairs; You will see the fire temple or the shrine of Chak Chak or Pir-e Sabz. Its architecture is a stone building in the heart of the mountain, and at first glance, it looks like the cave’s mouth. To enter the fire temple, you have to go through a golden metal door that contains an Achaemenid soldier layout with a spear in his hand. Inside, there is a covered space of the shrine, where is a small building with a stone roof, and in the middle of it with a chandelier installed to provide light to the shrine.
It is interesting that the naturally formed uneven shape of the walls remains intact and is reminiscent of the historical days of Yazd. If you look down, you will see a unique marble floor covering the shrine’s area, which is a little wet due to the dripping water coming from the mountain, giving you a special feeling. Upon entering the shrine, you will see a wall built next to two large stone rocks, and next to these rocks, there is a place to light candles. In addition, you can find the burning fire, the eternal light of Zoroaster, in the middle of the temple. There are round lotus flower shape dishes around the fire that pilgrims light candles and incense in them. Zoroastrians hold their events by this fire. The smell of incense, damp water, and fire have always filled the temple space with spirituality for Zoroastrians. Many paintings from history as paintings of famous and holy Zoroastrian figures are on the walls. Next to them, you will notice the dark and opaque colour of the fire temple walls, which is due to the presence of the eternal flame, and a Hirbod is always responsible for lighting the fire. There is a place where plants such as Adiantum Capillus-Veneris and mountain figs have grown in the stone wall on one side of the shrine. In the shrine, there are simple rooms for Zoroastrian pilgrims, the oldest of which date back to Naser al-Din Shah Qajar’s rule, and therefore have found a double attraction.
Special Ceremonies of Chak Chak Shrine
In ceremonies, in addition to prayers and supplications, the attendees sing hymns and eat special foods for the ceremony and distribute vows. Among the ceremonies that are held these days, we can mention the engagement and marriage ceremonies, Gahambars recitation, public prayer, distribution of vows, and the Navjote or Sedreh Pushi. During these worships, the pleasant atmosphere strengthens the motivation and morale of the followers that many Zoroastrians call the ceremonies the Zoroastrian Hajj. Zoroastrians gather here to honour the memory of the Nikbanou; Meanwhile, a priest in a white dress reads the Zoroastrian Bible in a rhythmic Avestan voice. On the occasion of the Mehregan celebration, another magnificent ceremony will be held in the holy place. In this festival, Zoroastrians dress in purple and rejoice for six days. Only Zoroastrians and those with invitation cards are allowed to attend the ceremony. The old sycamore tree is remembered during all ceremonies.
Inside one of the rooms, there is a well more than 50 meters deep that Zoroastrians tie a thread around the well’s rope to meet their desires. At the bottom of the compound, there are containers for collecting water to bless the pilgrims. In the complex, rooms or naves called Kheileh have been built for rest. There is a tandoor and kitchen next to the rooms, for the convenience of visitors so that they can use them to sacrifice sheep, cook meat, and bread.
Protocol of Entering the Shrine
Upon entering the holy place, you will realize its mystical and spiritual atmosphere; Where every human being reaches the peak of peace by worshiping God. Entering the Chak Chak shrine, like Muslim mosques, requires a series of rituals. In this place, as in other fire temples, you must take off your shoes when you enter and wear a white cap that includes a white hat for men and a white scarf for women. Priests wear masks to keep the sacred fire and the fountain of the Yazd Chak Chak clean from any human contamination. As the floor is wet, Zoroastrians give you white slippers to keep your feet from getting wet. In addition, the matter of women not entering the mosque during menstruation in Islam also applies to this fire temple; The subject is mentioned to the visitors on the entrance boards.