Twilight Prayers by the Tomb of Hāfez

Published on Monday 8th, Oct 2018
Iran, old cities, twilight
Pigeons flying over Shiraz at sunset time


By the time we left our lodging in the old neighbourhood of Shiraz, the sun had already been tucked away by the cobalt cloaks of the night. The walls that framed the alleys, though robust during the daytime, had begun to melt into the amorphous state of dreams, and the distinct outline of the buildings which had, so far, delineated against the twilight, blurred into shadows. The pigeons – the beloved pets of the Iranians – were resting after their training flights in the comfort of their nests on the surrounding terraces, and the verses they had been scribbling for hours on sky’s notepad were now dissolved, transformed into memories only to be repeated during the evening’s gentle cooing. There was a hint of cumin wafting in the air as we crossed the medieval-looking streets, and a feeling of tranquillity – the usual serenity of the blue hour – as most people had already receded to their homes. Only an aged lady was sitting since morning on the same stairs: a figure imprinted, like a symbol, in the creases of time.

We headed towards the Musalla Gardens which, for the past 600 years, have been hosting the final resting place of Hāfez (*). For centuries, the site has also incorporated one of Shiraz’ most famous cemeteries; however, it is the love of the thousands of people who have come to pray next to Hāfez’ shrine, the poems they have recited, and the tears they have shed that have ultimately sanctified this ground.

Shiraz, Iran, Hafez, tomb, poet, poem, sufi, pilgrimage
At the entrance of the Musalla Gardens


As we approached the entrance to the garden, we were greeted by an old man who, seated on a shabby plastic chair, was distributing smiles and colourful paper cards. His shirt pocket was stuffed with even more papers, and two small parrots, a white and a green one, were perched on his left hand, their beaks often engaged in what we, humans, enjoy interpreting as kissing. Now and again, the birds, nudged by a subtle movement of their owner’s hand, would single out a paper from the bundle, which would then be offered to the passersby. Following the same process, a verse written in Farsi against a pinkish background found its way into my palm – a tangible vibration of a thought and sentiment that had been born in days of yore.

Shiraz, Iran, Hafez, Tomb, pilgrimage, sufi
Sharing verses in front of the Musalla Gardens


Like most Iranian gardens, the Musalla Gardens – a pleasure ground often featured in Hāfez’ poetry – include ponds, tall trees for protection against the wind or sun, flowerbeds of alluring varieties, and citrus groves whose blossoms in springtime add a heavenly touch – a fragrance of angelic origins – in the ambience of the sanctuary. Unlike other similar areas, though, this one is also embroidered with verses of Hāfez, bestowed with care in every corner (often in the exact locations mentioned in Hāfez’ poems), offering lines of protection or inspiration to the thousands of pilgrims who visit the mausoleum in a quest for spiritual advice or inner peace.

Shiraz, iran, tomb, sufi, pilgrimage
Entering the Musalla Gardens: Hāfez’ memorial in the front, and the mausoleum at the background


The first structures erected to commemorate the cherished Iranian poet were rather modest; yet, they resisted the ruthlessness of time, remaining, for 300 years, under the protection of the various rulers who believed that the constructions were based on omens found in the poet’s work. The Hāfezieh – the memorial which rises at the end of the entrance pathway and separates the orange groves from the shrines – was initially built in 1773. Until today, the vaulted hall, modified, enlarged, and with the verses of Hāfez engraved on its columns, welcomes, like a courteous host, the visitors that congregate to the premises. The mausoleum, on the other hand, is a much more modern construction (**) and comprises of an open pavilion encircled by eight columns and a mosaic tiled dome that resembles the shape of a dervish’s hat.

Shiraz, Iran, Musalla Gardens, mausoleum, pilgrimage, sufi, spiritual
Hafez’ tomb


We walked towards the tomb and, as the night settled comfortably, the paths surrounding the shrine got increasingly busier. A small group chose a quiet corner and performed the ritual of the evening prayer, foreheads tapping the ground, sharing hopes and fears with the deity that has been, from time immemorial, the Mother of Gods. Others, alone or with friends, were chanting mantras or recited Hāfez’ poems, the overall murmur creating a hum that echoed the OM-sound of the universe. Copies of the Divān(***) emerged out of bags and were opened at a random page, their owners reading, with misty eyes, the lines that were meant to be received as an answer to a prayer. Ultimately, everybody would stand for a long while under the dome and, with fingers reaching towards the alabaster tombstone, they would engage in a silent conversation with the poet, asking for guidance and receiving – according to many confessions – the purest essence of love.

Tomb, Shrine, Shiraz, Iran, Sufi, Poet, verses, pilgrimage
On the tombstone, a poem of Hāfez is engraved. Part of it reads as: “On the day of my death, give me a minute’s time to set eyes on thee, Then, from the world and life, I will be set free.”


Hāfez is not merely a poet. Described by Emerson as “a poet for poets” and by Goethe as a poet who “has no peer,” Hāfez’ ghazals (lyrical poems) have been, for centuries, a boundless source of inspiration. The Persian heart, already vulnerable to the melodic nature of poetry and inclined to use it to express any range of feelings, has found in Hāfez the personification of the nation’s soul: the eternal father-figure who, through tenderness and love, can bridge the gap between divinity and the physical world. Even today, most Iranians have in their homes a copy of the Divān next to the Holy Quran, and the poems, often chosen randomly in a moment of need, are perceived to be part of an intimate dialogue with the poet himself. During Nowruz (the Iranian New Year) or the Winter Solstice, family and friends gather together, and, besides the traditional feast or the exchange of gifts, they recite some of Hāfez’ poems, many of which are known by heart and are used as proverbs or predictions for the future.

“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath

moves through – listen to this music.”

Verses by Hāfez


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Twilight Prayers by the Tomb of Hāfez

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