Saqqākhāna (Persian:سقاخانه) is a small space in public areas Iranians have built to give water to passengers so that they receive rewards from God. Saqqakhanas gradually received a new role as religious symbols and entered mourning ceremonies of Shi'a.
In Shi'a culture, saqqakhanas remind the water-bearing of 'Abbas (a) in the Event of Karbala. Therefore, saqqakhanas which were usually made of large stone containers in which water was poured and bowls were chained to them, were made in larger sizes later and were decorated with names of Imam al-Husayn (a) and 'Abbas (a). After adding symbols to them such as a small hand to bowls and a metal window to saqqakhanas, some people would light up candles or tie knots (dakhil) to them wishful to fulfill their wishes.
Siqayah is derived from the root (s q y) in Arabic, meaning "to water or give water". Different words derived from this root (Istasqa, Tusqa, Istasqahu, Siqaya) have been mentioned in some verses of the Qur'an. Siqaya [as a job] has been among the most important and honorable positions regarding the Ka'ba and pilgrims of hajj in Mecca, some famous families of Mecca had. There, saqqakhana was referred to as a place where they store water for the thirsty and some people considered it a blessed place.
History and Architecture
An old saqqakhana is like a room in the wall on the passages in bazaars. Some of them are three by four meters, but most of them are smaller and sometimes, a saqqakhana is so small which would look like a hole in the wall. They are mostly built beside the door of mosques, Takyas, the entrance of bazaars and generally where many people come and go. Some of them are endowed to mosques, and others have been endowed as public property by donors.
A saqqakhana is usually a room or small room with a sliding door and window made of wood or iron. To prevent an increase of humidity behind the door of the saqqakhana, they usually built a counter stone on the front side of it.
Usually, saqqakhanas were connected to a well of drinkable water, the water of which was taken out using a bucket and wheel and poured in Sangab (the stone container) of saqqakhana. Sangab is usually in a rectangular shape with a depth of 50 to 70 centimeters, some of which have an endowment statement inscribed on them. Usually, Sangab was put in front of saqqakhana for people to use it. A hole would be made at its bottom for drainage of water and a copper bowl would be chained to the outside wall of saqqakhana on which the sentence, "Ya Husayn" [O Husayn] or "La'nat bar Yazid" [curse be upon Yazid] was written on it. Other brazen or golden bowls with a hand inside them and some verses written inside them were sometimes available. In some saqqakhanas, the inside wall and the outside surface would have the paintings of some of the events of Karbala, portrait of Imam al-Husayn (a) and Abbas (a). At the transom of some saqqakhana, there is tilework that shows the mentioned events.
Some saqqakhanas were exclusively used for watering. Others, which people thought would have a reputation for fulfilling requests, would be decorated with symbols that had roots in the culture and religion such as mirror, candle, lock, metal puppets, hand, eye, star and green color.
According to the Cultural Atlas of Tehran, there have been 103 saqqakhanas in Tehran before 1921, most of which had been built between 1871 and 1920-1. After 1921, 193 more saqqakhanas were added to this number most of which were built between 1961 until 1965-6. Some of these saqqakhanas are:
- Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi
- 'Aziz Muhammad
- Musawwar Khuda Bandihlu
- Haj Fakhr al-Mulk
- Kal 'Abbas Ali
There are many saqqakhanas in the bazaar of Isfahan, naming which was based on the part of bazaar they were located in, such as Qeysariyya Saqqakhana or their connection with places such as religious schools of bazaar or the grave people who were in their proximity such as Majlisi Saqqakhana near the tomb of al-'Allama al-Majlisi or Mulla 'Abd Allah Saqqakhana near the Mulla 'Abd Allah school.
Isma'il Tala'i is the name of the saqqakhana in Inqilab ('Atiq) courtyard of the Holy Shrine of Imam al-Rida (a). Its roof is made of Gold and its walls are made of marble stone. This saqqakhana was among rare buildings the one-piece Sangab of which was brought from Herat by the order of Nadir and Isma'il Khan Tala'i built a roof above it on marble columns and decorated its top with gold bricks. By the order of Nadir, they directed the water stream underneath the basin, so that it would always be full of water. This saqqakhana is still there after having little modifications. It is said that Isma'il Khan supplied the expenses for building it from the gold Fath Ali Shah Qajar gave him as a sign of gratitude for saving his life.
Rituals of Saqqakhana
One of the special rituals of the Day of 'Ashura and the month of Muharram in Borujerd and the regions around it is to run mourning ceremonies in their houses which are called saqqakhana. Upon the coming of the month of Muharram, some families of Borujerd cover one or some of their rooms with black cloth and put a wooden pulpit with some small lamps there. They decorate the walls of that room with the portraits of Shi'a infallibles (a) and also epic eulogies about Imam al-Husayn (a) and the Martyrs of Karbala.
Saqqakhana in Naqsh-i Jahan Sqr. in Isfahan
- The material for this article is mainly taken from سقاخانه in Farsi WikiShia.