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Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth – The ecstatic dances of the Sufis of Galand Bagh



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]

Thirty miles from Teheran, at Galand Bagh, the home of the former Iranian Ambassador to Rome, Nizam Sultan Khajenouri, I witnessed the ecstatic ceremonies of the Sufis.

Like many Iranians who otherwise appear quite modern, Nizam was a Sufi and deeply involved in the poetic and mystical tradition which all the greatest Persian poets have belonged to.

The ceremony took place in an isolated building in the garden. Ernest and I were served tea in a comfortable little room furnished with rugs and cushions. Then we slipped through a narrow door into a large adjoining room filled with men sitting on the floor. It was very dark. We sat discreetly in a corner, against a wall. The silence was awesome, overwhelming.

Little by little, almost imperceptibly, a low murmur of prayers seemed to rise from this motionless crowd of bodies. Then someone began to intone a low chant, which the others, still murmuring, took up in unison. The chant grew gradually louder and louder, and more and more rhythmical, until it became almost deafening. A man stood up and began to dance, making a strange animal-like droning sound and head movements which the Greeks used to compare to those of bulls.

Then others joined him. The dance became more and more frenetic, the chants gradually changed to shouts. The clamour was fantastic, overwhelming. Drums began to play, giving a tempo to the dance. I felt completely dazed, almost hypnotised. Time and space seemed no longer to exist. The movement and the noise formed a kind of cone that rose to the sky and seemed to communicate with an unknown world.

The dancers acted as though they were intoxicated. They went into a trance, shouting and calling out strange incomprehensible words. The droning went faster and faster and became more and more spasmodic, mingled with invocations to Allah.

This frenzy lasted over an hour. Then the exhausted participants began to fall on the floor, one after another, in a sort of cataleptic fit. The clamour slowly died down, then suddenly ceased altogether. The room looked like a battleground covered with prostrate, motionless heaps of bodies. A blessed silence, like a mysterious presence, descended upon the room enveloping these victims of faith.

Ernest and I slipped quietly out the door, still completely deafened, still under the spell of our strange experience, the magical act of communication with the unknown we had witnessed: we felt transformed, like different men. We remained for a long time in the quiet and peaceful little room without saying a word to each other, then walked through a lovely rose garden back to the main house.

I have never dared to record the zekhr ceremonies. The religious nature of this kind of experience is far too intense for me to even consider introducing so profane an element as curiosity. Two of my assistants, who were less personally involved, succeeded in doing this: one in Syria, the other in Yugoslavia, among Moslems of Albanian origin. I was able to produce two superb recordings of these ceremonies. Jochen Wenzel, a skillful young technician who accompanied the researchers, was strongly marked by the violence of the experience.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items




Bull and cow

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps