Journey to Holy Mashhad: Representation of Imam Reza’s Sacred Shrine and His Pilgrims in Arminius Vambery’s Travelogue

Document Type : Original Research Article


Assistant professor, Department of Foreign Languages, Faculty of Humanities and Physical Education, Gonbad Kavous University, Gonbad Kavous, Iran


The sacred shrine of Imam Reza has been the heart of the Holy Mashhad since his martyrdom. With its spiritual atmosphere, dazzling beauty, and exuberant architectural charms, the shrine has created a passionate desire in travelers from various nations and religious backgrounds in different eras to experience its heavenly world. Arminius Vambery, a Hungarian orientalist, is one of these voyagers, visiting Imam Reza’s holy shrine in the nineteenth century. He records his observations in Arminius Vambery: His Life and Adventure. Since Vambery has disguised himself as an indigent dervish, he has free access to the shrine in contrast to other Western travelers in the same period.  Moreover, his good command of the Persian language and Islamic lore enables him to effectively interact with enthusiastic pilgrims and register their rituals and desires. Hence, his travelogue can be treated as an unofficial historical document providing invaluable information about Imam Reza’s shrine, pilgrims, and their devotions. Thus, by adopting the descriptive-analytical approach, the current article seeks to examine Vambery’s representation of Imam Reza, his shrine, pilgrims, and their rituals and beliefs. The close analysis of Vambery’s travel narrative demonstrates the travel writer’s sympathetic attitude toward Imam Reza, his holy shrine, and his pilgrims. For Vambery, the cupola of Imam Reza’s shrine is the beacon of peace and security for the approaching pilgrims and travelers. In the eyes of the travel writer, the chief feature of Imam Reza’s shrine is its egalitarian space where divine love rules supreme and where there is no place for earthly hierarchies. To Vambery, the gracious hospitality of the shrine immensely is impressive and commendable since it is performed efficiently. From his perspective, the sight of Imam Reza’s shrine is a touching moment that elicits sincere gratitude from the travelers and pilgrims. According to Vambery, Imam Reza’s martyrdom engages the imagination and sympathy of the pilgrims and travelers resulting in their identification with him as well as the formation of intimate communitas among them regardless of their religion and race.  One can attribute Vambery's charitable depiction of Imam Reza’s divine world to his firsthand experience of the holy shrine and meaningful communication with Imam Reza’s pilgrims.


Main Subjects

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