ḴĀKSĀR, a strictly popular order of Persian dervishes, favored by artisans and shopkeepers (see also IRAN ix. ISLAM IN IRAN [2.3]). The name “Ḵāksār” (lit. ‘dust-like’) was probably chosen to figuratively denote a lowly, humble, and modest person (Dehḵodā, pp. 9338-39; Moʿin, p. 422). The earliest mention of a group called the Ḵāksārs is provided by Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Širvāni, known as Mast-ʿAlišāh (d. 1837), in Riāż al-siāḥa (p. 131), in which he mentions that he had on occasion associated with them. It is doubtful, however, that the Ḵāksārs mentioned by him are identical to the Ḵāksār wandering dervishes (Gramlich, I, p. 82).

The history of the Ḵāksār dervishes is replete with fanciful tales and mythologies, conveyed in oral narratives, the origins of which are thus difficult to trace. The source of some of the rites and rituals practiced in this Shiʿite order can be traced to Qalandari, Malāmati, Fetyān, ʿAyyārān, and Javānmardi (qq.v.) movements and, to some extent, even to the traditions of the Banu Sāsān beggars (q.v.; Gramlich, I, pp. 76, 78-80; Zarrinkub, 1978, pp. 360, 377-78). It is, therefore, not easy to assign the Ḵāksār to any of the well-known categories in the Perso-Islamic tradition. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the Ḵāksār dervishes emphasized their Persian and non-Arabic origins and character (Gramlich, I, p. 82).

Origins. The absence of any major literary works produced by this order, together with the Ḵāksār dervishes’ lack of knowledge of classical Sufi texts, makes it all but impossible to provide even an outline of the order’s history (Zarrinkub, 1978, p. 377; Gramlich, I, pp. 85-86). The Ḵāksār “poles” (aqtāb; leaders of the order) did not believe in the value of writing, and thus most of the order’s rituals and customs, and their symbolic meaning, have been transmitted orally. One of the last poles of the order, Moṭahhar-ʿAlišāh (mid-19th century) remarked that “the poverty (faqr; i.e., Sufi practice) of the Ḵāksār is an untouched and pure subject; no one has yet published anything about our states and precepts. We live as dervishes in practice, not with forms and books” (Ḵᵛāja-al-Din, p. 1).

The oral narratives and tales regarding the order’s founder are unreliable and do not permit us to infer much of historical significance. Some Ḵāksār dervishes maintained that the genealogy of their path dates back to Adam, while others recounted fanciful tales about Salmān-e Fārsi (d. 653), who in their mythology was a Zoroastrian Magus that, like all other Zoroastrian priests, was waiting for the advent of the Prophet Moḥammad, and who set out to become a witness to his appearance. The Prophet initiated him to his most secret doctrines and, subsequently, he was appointed as the first pole and founder of the Ḵāksār order by ʿAli, the first Imam (Gramlich, I, pp. 82-84; Modarresi Čahārdehi, p. 79).

Others in the order have narrated the story of a man called Ḡolām-ʿAlišāh, whom they believed to be the son of Karim Khan Zand (q.v.; r. 1751-79), and who supposedly returned to Iran from India in the early 19th century to establish the order (Modarresi Čahārdehi, p. 8). This account is most probably a distortion of Maʿṣum-ʿAlišāh’s (d. 1797) migration from India to Iran in the late 18th century for the purpose of reviving the Neʿmat-Allāhi order; and it lacks any connection to the history of the Ḵāksār. ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Zarrinkub, however, believes that this Ḡolām-ʿAlišāh was one of the Jalāli poles in the beginning of the Qajar period (late 18th century), who brought major changes to the order through his strong Shiʿite tendencies, and who caused the Ḵāksār to branch off from the Jalāli order (Zarrinkub, 1978, p. 376). It is reasonable to assume that the Ḵāksār originated as a branch of the Jalāli order, which was founded, according to the Jalālis themselves, by Solṭān Jalāl-al-Din Ḥaydar.

However, nothing about Jalāl-al-Din Ḥaydar, who also features in the fanciful lineage of the Ḵāksār, can be learned from the dervishes’ own narratives and tales. His presence in the oral history of the order is restricted to his name and his title in Ḵāksār terminology: the pole, the king, the lion (Pir, Mir, Šir). It is, however, almost certain that this character, whose life is covered in a veil of obscurity, is Jalāl-al-Din Boḵāri (q.v.; 1308-84), better known as Maḵdum-e Jahāniān-e Jahāngašt. He was the grandson of Sayyed Jalāl-al-Din Sorḵ, who had migrated from Bukhara to Multan and was initiated into the Sohravardi order by Shaikh Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Zakarīyāʾ (see BOḴĀRI, SHAIKH JALĀL-AL-DIN). Sayyed Jalāl-al-Din Sorḵ is much revered by the Ḵāksār, and we can assume with a high degree of probability that the Ḵāksār are, as a Sufi order, a branch of the Sohravardi order and have the same founder as the Jalāli dervishes who still exist in India (Gramlich, I, p. 72). Zarrinkub, however, believes that Solṭān Jalāl-al-Din Ḥaydar, the supposed founder of the Jalāli order, is not a historical figure but a fictional one combining the names of Jalāl-al-Din Ṯāni and Sayyed Qoṭb-al-Din Ḥaydar ʿAlawi (d. 1221), who lived in India and from whom Ebn Baṭṭuṭa (q. v.; d. 1368 or 1369) received his ḵerqa “cloak” (q.v.; Zarrinkub, 1978, pp. 373, 376).

Solṭān Jalāl-al-Din Ḥaydar has a mythical character in Ḵāksār oral narratives; he is said to have possessed a magical power for self-multiplication, often appearing simultaneously as seven or forty men. Dervishes believe accordingly that his burial place is in the cemeteries known as čehel-tan (forty men) and haft-tan (seven men) in Shiraz. Some other dervishes believe that his burial place is in Torbat-e Ḥaydariya in Khorasan, and that the name of the city is related to the name of their founder (Gramlich, I, p. 73).

Nur-al-Din Modarresi Čahārdehi, who spent a number of years among the Ḵāksār to study and document their doctrine, customs, rites, and traditions believes that four branches have developed within the Ḵāksār order: 1) Ḵāksār-e Jalāli—also known as Abutorābi and Ḡolām-ʿAlišāhi; 2) Duda-ye ʿAjam; 3) Maʿṣum-ʿAlišāhi; and 4) Nurāʾi (Modarresi Čahārdehi, p. 3). Zarrinkub considers the Jalāli as the main order and branches such as Ḵāksār, Ahl-e Ḥaqq (q.v.; people of the truth), and the Jalāliān-e Ḡolām-Ališāhi as its offshoots (Zarrinkub, 1978, pp. 375-76).

Although the Ḵāksār order is presumably one of the lines deriving from the Jalāli order, the novel features occurring in the order’s hierarchy and ceremonies make it entirely distinct from its origin.

The Ḵāksār doctrines and rites. The basis of the Ḵāksār doctrines are transmigration (ḥolul) and metempsychosis (tanāsoḵ). They believe that God transmigrates from one garment (jāma) or personality to another, and that he has appeared in seven personalities during different periods. They also believe that after death the soul is transferred to a different body from the one it inhabited in life, in order to be requited for its deeds. After the progression of the soul through one thousand bodies, it will ultimately be united with the truth (the purification of the soul through 1,001 rebirths; see AHL-E ḤAQQ). The Ḵāksārs’ conviction in the continuous manifestation of ʿAli, the first Imam, in different periods of history is also based on their belief in metempsychosis. ʿAli is revered and worshipped as the perfect Man and, in some Ḵāksār branches, as God Himself (Modarresi Čahārdehi, pp. 46, 146-47, 171).

The stages of the path in the Ḵāksār hierarchy. Although the Ḵāksār cannot be strictly considered either as a Sufi order or as a distinct sect, as many Sufi ideas and customs are found among them as in Sufi communities (Gramlich, I, p. 81). The stages of the path in the Ḵāksār order are, however, completely different from those in the Sufi orders. There is little doubt that the Ḵāksār dervishes are less punctilious with respect to their religious duties than are other Sufis (Gramlich, I, p. 74). It seems that almost all the stages in the Ḵāksār initiation are material and outward. In their traditions, ceremonies, and rituals one can rarely find an exercise relating to inner practices such as contemplation and asceticism. However, one might consider the binding of a large stone to one’s stomach in order to suppress hunger as an ascetic practice. The stone was termed sang-e qanāʿat “stone of contentment” and this action was attributed to the Prophet (Gramlich, III, p. 5).

Gramlich maintains that there are seven stages through which a Ḵāksār dervish attains the stage of poverty and annihilation (faqr o fanāʾ; Gramlich, III, pp. 80-81); odarresi Čahārdehi gives details of six ceremonies through which an aspirant or seeker (ṭāleb) attains the stage of leadership (eršād; Modarresi Čahārdehi, p. 12). These stages are all practical, and hardly anything in common can be found between the ceremonies of admission into this order and initiation into the major Sufi orders.

The first stage in the initiation ceremony of the Ḵāksār order is “tongue” (lesān), during which the guide (pir-e dalil) takes the candidate to the public baths, ceremoniously washes his body in accordance with religious law, places a shroud on him, and then takes him before the master of the path (pir-e ṭariqat). In this ceremony, the candidate requests a new name, and the master grants him a name usually chosen according to his profession and temperament. At the end of this ceremony, the guide cuts a small lock of hair off the ṭāleb’s head, and pieces from the eyebrows, beard, and mustache. This tradition is called “sealing” (mohr kardan), and after this ceremony the ṭāleb is not allowed to cut the sealed hair for the rest of his life. This ceremony resembles the Qalandars’ custom of shaving off these four areas of hair growth (Gramlich, III, p. 76). The main difference between the two orders, however, is that while Ḵāksār dervishes “seal” their hair from cutting (that is, terminate the cutting of their hair in these four areas in order to grow it continuously), the Qalandars do the opposite and “seal” its growth, thereby shaving their hair consistently for the rest of their lives (Modarresi Čahārdehi, pp. 12-13; Gramlich, III, pp. 79-81).

The second stage is “goblet” (piāla), that is, drinking the goblet of poverty and the wine of heaven (kawṯar). In this ceremony the guide provides a drink of water, sugar cube, and rose water in a cup, and after reciting the rules of the twelve goblets (the goblets of power, light, wisdom, love, earth, heaven, religious law, path, truth, knowledge, death, and the master ʿAli), presents the sherbet to the moršed and the ṭāleb. They all in turn take a sip from the drink. This ceremony resembles the Fetyān custom called “drinking from the goblet of fotowwat (see javānmardi; see also Modarresi Čahārdehi, pp. 16-17; Gramlich, III, pp. 82-108).

In the third stage, “garment” (keswat), the guide places a coin on the ṭāleb’s right arm in the presence of the master and the master of invocation (pir-e doʿā), brands a circle on his skin using a candle, and rubs the burnt skin causing a wound to appear. The ṭāleb is forbidden to wash or have intercourse with his wife until the burnt skin of the wound peels off. The resulting scar is considered to be “the seal of prophethood” (mohr-e nobowwat). According to Ḵāksār rules, after this ceremony the ṭāleb is allowed to accept disciples and promote them to the stages of lesān and piyāla (Modarresi Čahārdehi, pp. 21-22; Gramlich, III, pp. 108-12).

“Depositing the ‘flower’” (gol sepordegi), that is, the burnt skin, with the master, is the fourth stage in the Ḵāksār initiation ceremony. In this ceremony, the master kisses the wound and assumes responsibility for delivering the burnt skin to the treasury of the first Imam, Ḥażrat-e Amir (Modarresi Čahārdehi, pp. 26-27; Gramlich, pp. 112-13).

The fifth stage in the initiation ceremony is “breaking the walnut” (jawz šekastan), which must take place in the presence of a Sayyed from an Ahl-e Ḥaqq family. In this ritual, the ṭāleb subordinates himself to an elite member of an Ahl-e Ḥaqq family, highly revered among the Ḵāksār. High-ranking initiates of the Ḵāksār order thus become affiliated to the Ahl-e Ḥaqq and pledge obedience to one of their masters (Modarresi Čahārdehi, p. 33; Gramlich, I, p. 81; III, pp. 113-15).

The sixth stage of the ceremony is “wearing the loincloth of God’s love” (long-e ʿešq-e Allāh pušidan) according to Modarresi, or “choosing another dervish as the lamp holder” (čerāḡi gereftan) according to Gramlich. In this stage, the ṭāleb attains the rank of leadership. In this culminating ritual, the title “master” (moršed) is granted to the ṭāleb, and he is thereby placed in charge of the affairs of the foqarā (dervishes). The supreme master of the order designates a dervish as “the lamp holder” (čerāḡi) for the newly promoted master; the dervish accepting this designation remains at the same stage throughout his life, and in exchange will receive lifelong material support from his master (Modarresi Čahārdehi, pp. 33-34; Gramlich, III, pp. 115-17).

The last stage, according to Gramlich, is the initiation into the degree of poverty and annihilation (faqr o fanāʾ), through which the hierarchical structure of the order is brought to seven—the number of pure spirituality for the Ḵāksār (Gramlich, III, p. 117).

After each stage of the six-fold initiation ceremony described by Modarresi Čahārdehi, the ṭāleb is responsible for organizing a rite known as “food boiled in the caldron” (dig juš), to feed the dervishes. He must slaughter a camel or a cow, skin it carefully without scratching any part of the animal’s meat, and then cook it in one piece in a huge cauldron. When the meal is prepared, the dervishes spread a tablecloth (sofra), gather around it, and after reciting verses from the Qurʾān, serve the meal (Moddaresi Čahārdehi, p. 113; Gramlich, III, pp. 49-53). The rites and ceremonies of admission enumerated here are more or less also found in the other branches of the Jalāli order.

The outfit of Ḵāksār dervishes consists of: the ḵerqa (cloak); long (loincloth); kafani (shroud), a white simple garment worn by dervishes indicating that they have detached themselves from the physical life, hayāt-e heyvāni, to be attached to the spiritual life, ḥayāt-e ruhāni; the jāfi ziršalvār (underpants) worn with kafani; a headgear called tāj, usually artfully crafted with twelve folds (Gramlich, III, pp. 3-4); and a headgear with a rope around it consisting of forty threads twisted together, called rešta-ye darviši (the thread of dervishhood; Gramlich, III, p. 6).

The loincloth stands out as the most important piece of the outfit for the Ḵāksār (Gramlich, I, p. 80), which the order is said to have referred to as selsela-ye longbandān (lit. ‘chain of the loincloth wearers’; Jurgen Wasim Frembgen, pp. 49-70). The wearing of a loincloth is one of the several traditions shared between the Fetyān confederation and the Ḵāksār, and can be considered as an indication of inner relationship between these two groups (Gramlich, I, p. 80). The rosary (tasbih), bag (čanteh), begging bowl (kaškul), and horn (šah-nafir) were also inseparable parts of their outfit. Although the Ḵāksār were known as a peaceful people, the axe (tabarzin) and the club (mantas), which are also essential pieces of their traditional outfit, can connect them to the tradition of a group of Fetyān and ʿAyyārān who were known as rebels against the government and society (Gramlich, I, p. 79).

Some Ḵāksār dervishes were known for their jugglery tricks demonstrated to the public (maʾreka-gereftan). They were also known for, in a notorious begging style, pitching a tent, called čādor-e qalandari, in front of certain houses and asked a certain wish to be fulfilled by the owner of the house. Throughout their history, these dervishes have been accused of consuming opium, bang, kondor, and hashish, which they considered as “the leaf of secret” (barg-e asrār; Modarresi Čahārdehi, p. 83; Gramlich, I, p. 76).

The suppression of their public appearance by Reza Shah (r. 1925–41) led to the transformation of the remnants of the Ḵāksār Dervishes into a regular and distinct Sufi order under their Qoṭb, Ḥāji Moṭahhar, during the post-Reza Shah period in the 1940s (Gramlich, I, p. 73). Ḵāksār Dervishes, along with other Sufi orders have been repressed by authorities since the advent of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. What is certain is that they precisely represent the current definition of the word “dervish” in Persian; white-bearded men with long hair, wearing long white robes and dervish caps, and carrying a battle-axe and a begging bowl, are the images that spring to mind when one hears the word “Ḵāksār.”



ʿAli Akbar Dehḵodā, “Ḵāksār,” Loḡat-nāma-ye Dehḵodā VI, Tehran, 1998.

Jürgen Wasim Frembgen, “Tying and Untying the Trouser-Cord,” The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 5/1, April 2004, pp. 49–70.

Richard Gramlich, “Die Affiliation der Ḥāksār,” in Die schiitischen Derwischorden Persiens. Erster Teil: die Affiliationen, Deutsche Morgenlandische Gesellschaft, Wiesbaden, 1965, pp. 70–88.

Idem, Die schiitischen Derwischorden Persiens. Dritter Teil: Brauchtum und Riten, Wiesbaden, 1981.

Sayyed Moḥammad-ʿAli Ḵᵛāja-al-Din, Kaškul-e Ḵāksāri, Tabriz, 1981.

Nur-al-Din Modarresi Čahārdehi, Ḵāksār va Ahl-e Ḥaqq, Tehran, 1979.

Moḥammad Moʿin, Farhang-e Fārsi, Tehran, 2003.

Annemarie Schimmel, Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam, Edinburgh University Press, 1994.

Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Širvāni, Riāż al-siāḥa, ed. Aṣḡar Ḥāmed Rabbāni, Tehran, 1920.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Zarrinkub, Jostoju dar tāriḵ-e taṣawwof-e Irān, Tehran, 1978.

Idem, “Ahl-e malāmat va rāh-e qalandar, moṭāleʿa-yi dar bāb-e vākonešhā-ye daruni-e Ṣufiya,” Majalla-ye Dāneškada-ye Adabiyāt, Dānešgāh-e Tehrān 22/1, Tehran, 1975.




(Zahra Taheri)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 19, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 4, pp. 356-359