People playing Daf during Sahneh commemoration ceremony.

Sahneh Commemoration Ceremony

Explore the Subculture Traditions of Kurdish People

Dive into the Culture & Traditions of Iran

The sound of tanbur and daf echoes throughout the city. My body is shaking while my eyes get fixed on this little girl. She plays tanbur as if her breath has been intertwined with the music since the day she was born. I turn around my head, and this time, I get mesmerized by an elder. He plays tanbur as if his breath has been intertwined with the music since the day he was born. The magic is not just in the music they play but also in seeing their different beliefs and ways of living that manifest themselves through their every act. Youth among elders all representing how authentically they honor their community members on this day.

They are grieving and celebrating their greatest tanbur player, Seyed Khalil, whom they’ve lost physically. It seems as if he lives through the string of every tanbur in this city. Now everyone is the greatest tanbur player in Sahneh. It’s as if the common language all generations speak here is music. There is no miscommunication. I feel part of their family listening to the intimate sound of their heart beating through this spiritual ceremony. Sahneh is a gathering of all souls who speak the language of music. I close my eyes and feel the spiritual vibrations of my body through the magic of Sahneh.

Details You Need to Know to Plan Your Trip

Sahneh commemoration event is a public spiritual ceremony that happens every year on November the 18th. It takes place in Sahneh, in the Kermanshah Province. This ceremony brings together Yarsans, tanbur and daf players, music lovers, and all of Seyed Khalil Alinezhad’s fans. Moreover, people gather together to share their love for spirituality woven with music, Regardless of their differences.

  • Kind: Kurdish Traditional Commemoration Ceremony
  • Location: Sahneh, Kermanshah, Iran
  • Date: 18 November

History of the Festival Through Ancient Stories

On November the 18th of 2001, unknown men murdered the famous tanbur player, “Seyed Khalil Alinezhad,” in Sweden and left no footprints behind. So many hearts broke over his death. For he was not only one of the best tanbur players ever known but also a pioneer in making tanbur. So, they made him a tomb in Sahneh. They celebrate his spiritual presence and mourn his death ever since. Also, these people have a particular way of grieving that is rooted in their religious practices.

The spirituality in Iran has more than 4000 years of history, starting with Mithraism. However, Islam slowly took its place in most regions of Iran. Yarsans are the keepers of Mithraism as they are highly influenced by this ancient religion. Moreover, the mystical religious and spiritual practices since ancient times have been interwoven into the blood of the Persian culture. From ancient Mithraism to current Yarsanism, Ahle Haqq rituals, and many more minority groups, these people have had a significant impact on our culture in many ways.

The interconnection in their prayer ceremonies to music and prayer dance practices has been a beautiful mystery to many of us living in Iran for years. Therefore, Sahneh brings forth the opportunity for the public to go behind the closed doors of these traditions and ceremonies. It is a commemoration event in which anyone could participate.

Musicians from Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan, Iraq, and the Turkish Alawites join the local musicians to pay respect to the memory of one of the pioneers who contributed his life to the progress of Kurdish tanbur.

Sahneh is the scene that reveals the cultural mysteries through music, zikrs, and poems to all who search for more authentic traditional subculture events.

Seyyed Khalil Alinezhad standing in Sahneh village with his Tanbur

He was one of the most influential figures in Sahneh village.

Culture and Ambience of This Festival

Somewhere in the middle of the mountains where trees grow tall and music projects everywhere, Sahneh is happening. People from all regions travel to this village on this day to join hands in unity and honor one of the most influential Kurdish figures. The commemoration day is a special day of remembrance. However, it’s not just remembering Seyyed Khalil, but for most people in the region, it’s a day to remember what has brought them together every day of their lives.

They start the day by cleaning the cemetery and preparing it for the evening ceremony. People from near and far places start walking towards the cemetery while some of them play tanbur and daf, and sing poems and zikrs. They enter the cemetery with the sound of music, paying respect to Seyyed Khalil.

In the evening, there is a special ceremony in which some of the most talented musicians will play tunes, read poems and tell us the unheard stories of the spiritual mysteries held within this region of Iran.

The ceremony never ends. As after leaving the cemetery, people go to these houses called “Jam khaneh.” That’s where the music continues to live on until the sunrise. Some dance through Sama, and some get lost in the beauty of watching the whirling of the bodies, sounds, and the energy flow around them.

The healing sound of tanbur gets ingrained in the heart of the people who visit Sahneh for the days to come.

A group of toddler girls playing tanner at Sahneh festival

In the magical town of Sahneh, everyone knows how to play Tanbur.

More Magical Stories from Previous Participants of the Festival

Sarah

They said anyone that visits Sahneh during this time is a guest of Seyyed Khalil inviting us to their house. As I walked into this beautiful house, I got shocked. After a few minutes, tears started streaming down my face. Some men were playing tanbur and daf, while a few women were singing Kurdish spiritual poems. A group of children among elders were whirling in Sama dance. I wondered how they don’t fall turning around themselves this quickly and for so long. It was beautiful. An elderly woman read my mind. So, she walked towards me and asked me if I wanted to learn to whirl. As she taught me the wisdom of the dances, I started practicing. Whirling, while the music echoed in my ears, made me feel like the wind.

I never felt so free in my expression and connection to my surroundings. Moreover, I felt like I was part of something bigger as if our bodies had all became one through zikr, dance, and music. I was disconnected from anything that did not flow in my life in Sahneh and felt connected to the breath of the moment in front of me.

Ali

Every string was an expression of a higher note. Sahneh was not a musical gathering. It was a praying ceremony. It was as if the voice of the gods and spiritual leaders were coming out of the tanburs and dafs grounding everyone to listen in silence. I’ve never believed in any religion or spiritual practice, but this was not about believing. I felt the higher notes. I heard the higher notes through the mountains of the region echoing the sound of the instruments and the wind together. I felt one with nature at this place.

The resistance of the mountains was very much the same as the look on the musicians’ faces. Also, the softness of the wind was visible in the depth of their eyes. They were also one with nature. It felt as if unity found a new meaning in this community through music and songs

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What Makes This Festival Special and Unique?

  • You’ll experience an authentic regional Iranian commemoration ceremony. Moreover, you’ll get to know the ancient musical instruments of this land.
  • You’ll get to know some of the unique spiritual cultures in Iran, such as Yaranism, Ahl-e haqq, and Sufism culture up close.
  • You’ll get to enjoy the beautiful city of Sahneh and Kermanshah. Mount Behistun, Taq-e Bostan are two UNESCO world heritage sites in Kermanshah, just to name a few.
  • You’ll have the possibility of buying tanbur directly from the various local makers of this ancient instrument.

Why Do We Care?

Keeping the Sahneh commemoration ceremony alive

To familiarize foreign travelers and a potential worldwide audience to our traditional ceremonies and native instruments like tanbur and different ethnic groups and minorities of Iran and their culture.

Creating a unique experience for travelers

To organize a more in-depth experience for travelers through a unique Iran musical tour combined with deeper human interactions and visiting historical sites.

Changing the ugly narrative

We want to expand the cultural narrative of this land through the travel stories of others. Therefore, the world gets to know Iran beyond what’s portrayed in the mass media. Also, helping the local economy of the region by showcasing the real experiences travelers could have when visiting this less popular part of Iran.

Why Take a Tour?

  • Etiquette: Sahneh is a local traditional commemoration ceremony with a lot of elders participating in the events. Therefore, travelers need to learn the dress code, body language, and the culture of the region. Moreover, it enables them to participate responsibly in the most respectful way to the local community. We will have conversations and discussions around community outlines before attending the event.

  • Translation: The role of a translator could be crucial for travelers. It helps them to form a deeper connection both to the people, culture and also to the music they experience at the festival.

  • Accommodation: Most accommodations during the event are private. Due to the difficulty of reserving the right place to stay during these nights without a tour operator, our tours are the most hassle-free and efficient way for attendees to find suitable accommodations.

  • Transportation: We help travelers find transportation to get around in the city. Finding a public taxi might take some time. Due to the schedule for the festival, time is an essential element to enhance the quality of the experience during this short trip to Kermanshah.

FAQ

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Do we have to buy tickets?

No, Sahneh is an open commemoration event. Therefore, anyone with a passion for music or culture can join.

Are the locals welcoming towards foreign travelers?

Iranian people hospitality is famous, and the Sufis have their special moral codes for guests and other people who join this ceremony. Also, a lot of the musicians and performers join from other countries which make this festival a multinational one.

Would it be challenging not to know the meaning of the songs?

No. First of all, most of the songs are instrumental. Rarely do they sing anything, and when they do, it’s Kurdish. A lot of tourists from different parts of Iran don’t understand much like foreign tourists. What makes this music festival worthwhile is the music and ambiance.

How is the weather in Sahnehh during the time of the festival?

A bit cold during the nights.

Is there a possibility to participate in other activities in Sahnehh beside this music festival during that time?

There are a lot of historical sites you can visit. For example, on your way to Sahneh, you will spend some time exploring two UNESCO world heritage sites: Bisotun and Taq-E Bostan.

Visiting various tanbur making shops is one of the things you can do. Having the chance to talk with elders and getting to know Kurdish culture is another authentic experience you’ll get to have. Not to mention special Persian food that is unique in each city.

How much do we need to know about Sufism and Seyed Khalil to be able to enjoy the festival?

You wouldn’t need to know so much. However, we’ll make sure to tell you what’s interesting to know beforehand.

Can we also have the culture tours along with this festival?

Of course! Check out the cultural tours and choose whichever one you want.

Are we allowed to photograph this vent?

Absolutely! There are no rules against photography.

Is tanbur specific to this region of Iran, or is it popular everywhere?

It’s popular everywhere in Iran. It is also known as “tanbour,” “tambour,” “tembur” and “tanboor.”

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2 Day Sahneh Ceremony Tour

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The Remembrance of Authentic Tunes

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Get lost in the beautiful music of Kurdish culture in their honoring ceremony of Sahneh while also visiting two UNESCO world heritage sites.

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