Saturday, December 5, 2009
Khaled Nabi Cemetery
Khaled Nabi’s Cemetery is located in the Golestan Province, 70 kilometers north of Gonbad’e Kavoos on the secondary road at the border of Turkmenistan. The cemetery is in close proximity to Khaled Nabi’s Mausoleum who is believed to have been a prophet from Yemen. It is generally believed that Khaled Nabi was the only prophet between Jesus and Muhammad and lived in the area approximately 1,600 years ago while the cemetery itself possibly goes back to the Mazdaki era in the 6th century. According to the notice board next to the main shrine Khaled Nabi was a fifth-century Nestorian Christian, and a most unlikely figure to pop up as the object of veneration to Sunni Muslims on Iran’s border with Turkmenistan.
One of the interesting and culturally amazing characteristics of this cemetery is its tombstones. The tombstones of the deceased, depending on their sex, are shaped as the female or male genital organs. The female tombstones are carved as ovaries and wombs while the male tombstones resemble an erect penis. Thick with moss and lichen they totter in small groups like drunks at a party. Some of the stones are more than two meters high and are said to reach just as deep below the ground. There is a total of over 500 of such tombstones with many of them still standing.
The cemetery extends to the tops of two adjacent southern smaller hills where there are more graves. Around the main Khaled Nabi hill, especially to the north and around the main graveyard hilltop, one can find scattered male and female tombstones of varying sizes. Half way between the shrine hilltop and the main cemetery, on the side of the footpath stands the tallest male phallic tombstone as if greeting the visitor to the cemetery. 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.
The local myth about the cemetery and its occupants is that following the departure of Khaled Nabi, the inhabitants of the area began worshiping the sun and as a result, and as punishment, they were all turned to stone (the male tombstones). The female tombstones have been described as belonging to sheep, hence their unorthodox shape.
Official news agencies rarely give any coverage to this area and the site is barely mentioned in Iranian guidebooks. Even when doing so, such publications go no further than Khaled Nabi’s Mausoleum (for obvious reasons). In general the rough terrain and inaccessible paths limit any kind of tourism to the cemetery in spite of its uniqueness. Due to the neglect in maintaining the cemetery, and even more so as a result of sensitivities over the sexual nature of the cemetery, a number of the tombstones have been stolen or broken.