Talysh - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Talysh are Muslims—for the most part Shiites, with Sunnis in twenty-five villages in the southern Talysh region (Astarinski Mahal). Among ancient beliefs the most clearly expressed is the reverence for trees and groves. The oak tree in Mashkhan, where people come even from distant places to worship, is regarded as especially sacred. A second holy oak is found near the villages of Razi and Pmadï, on the summit of Bakhmaku. The holy trees are hung with colored rags. The Talysh populated the world surrounding them with good and evil spirits, regarding as particularly dangerous Alazhan (literally, "the Red Woman"), who attacks women in childbirth and newborn children—the Talysh portray her in the form of a black woman with great eyes and enormous breasts, which she tosses over her shoulders. As Shiites the Talysh especially observe the Muharram, the month of mourning, abstention, mutual aid, and help for the poor.

Ceremonies. The foremost festival of the Talysh is the festival of the New Year (Navruz), occurring on the day of the vernal equinox. The Muslim festivals of the end of the fast and Kurban Bayram are also also celebrated. The Talysh of Azerbaijan celebrated the Soviet civil holidays until 1991.

Death and Afterlife. The funeral customs adhere to the general Muslim practice. Among the Talysh the deceased is washed not by specialists but by neighbors and relatives. The body is arranged with the face toward the south and covered in a corner of the grave that is then closed off with short, thick boards set vertically to the wall. Among grave monuments are carved sculptures of rams, with which the Talysh sometimes tell fortunes. Funeral banquets are held on the third, seventh, and fortieth days after death. A copy of the Quran is placed in the house of the deceased, and visitors arriving over the course of the following three days each read out a word. The next world is imagined according to general Muslim eschatology: judgment day, paradise, and a hell with nine circles, the most dreadful of which is the final, fiery circle. Condemnation to eternal torment is reserved for those who have committed the most grievous sins without being remorseful.

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