Deep in the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan lies Lalish Temple, a stunning complex nestled in the mountains that serves as the holiest site for the Yazidi people. The Yazidis are a religious minority group whose beliefs and traditions have been shrouded in mystery and misunderstood by outsiders for centuries.
But make no mistake – their faith is rich with history, culture, and devotion. At Lalish Temple, you can witness firsthand the power and spirit of this ancient religion.
The temple complex consists of several shrines, courtyards, and tombs that date back hundreds of years. For Yazidis around the world, Lalish is more than just a place of worship – it’s a symbol of their identity and survival against all odds.
The Yazidi People and Their Beliefs
The Yazidis are an ethnoreligious group that live primarily in Iraq but also have communities scattered throughout Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia. Their religion dates back over 4,000 years and is believed to be one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world.
Yazidis believe in one God who created seven angels to govern different aspects of creation. They also have a deep reverence for nature and believe that all living things are connected.
One unique aspect of their religion is their belief in Tawuse Melek – or Peacock Angel – who they consider to be both good and evil depending on interpretation. This has led to misunderstandings about their beliefs from outsiders who wrongly associate them with devil worship.
Importance of Lalish Temple in Yazidi Religion
Lalish Temple is the most sacred site for Yazidis around the world. It’s where they come to pray, make offerings, and connect with their God. The meaning of Lalish for them is the same as Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem for Christians.
According to Yazidi beliefs, Lalish is where the seven angels descended to earth and where Adam and Eve were reunited after being separated in the Garden of Eden. For Yazidis, a visit to Lalish is an essential part of their spiritual journey.
It’s a place where they can connect with their past, present, and future. To see Lalish Temple is to witness the resilience and strength of a people who have survived persecution throughout history.
The History of Lalish Temple
Origins and Construction
Lalish Temple is the holiest site for the Yazidi people, a small religious minority group primarily located in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The temple complex is situated in the town of Lalish within the district of Shekhan, northwest of Mosul.
The temple was constructed in 1155 A.D. by Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, who is considered the founder of the Yazidi faith. The temple complex comprises several structures including a tomb for Sheikh Adi and several other holy figures and saints important to Yazidi beliefs.
The architectural style incorporates elements from various time periods including classical Islamic architecture and ancient Sumerian design. It’s amazing how thousands of people worship at this holy site every year.
Historical Events that Have Affected Lalish Temple
Over time, Lalish Temple has faced numerous historical events threatening its existence and significance to the Yazidi people. In 1414 A.D., Timur (Tamerlane) invaded Iraq and destroyed many religious sites, including the Lalish Temple.
However, it was rebuilt by Pir Shamsaddin after his pilgrimage to Mecca. Another significant event occurred during Saddam Hussein’s regime when he banned all Kurdish religious practices in an attempt to eradicate their culture entirely.
This led to severe persecution of Yazidis who were forced into hiding or faced death if caught practicing their faith openly. Most recently, ISIS targeted Yazidis for extermination due to their beliefs which they considered heretical.
During their occupation of northern Iraq between 2014-2017 they killed thousands of men indiscriminately while enslaving women and children as sex slaves or forcibly converting them to Islam.
Despite these challenges throughout history that have threatened its existence, Lalish Temple remains a powerful symbol of hope and resilience for the Yazidi people and their beliefs.
The Heart of Yazidi Belief: Lalish Temple
For the Yazidi people, Lalish Temple is not just a religious site; it is the very heart of their belief system. It represents their connection to their ancestors, their gods, and each other as a community.
The importance of the Lalish Temple in Yazidi beliefs cannot be overstated.
The Role of Lalish Temple in Yazidi Religious Practices
Lalish Temple plays a central role in Yazidi’s religious practices. It is here that Yazidis come to pray, meditate, and perform rituals.
At the entrance to the temple complex, visitors must pass through a gate called “Bab al-Shaykh,” which means “the Gate of the Master.”
This gate symbolizes entering into a sacred space and preparing oneself for spiritual transformation.
IMPORTANT: You must be dressed modestly in order to enter Lalish. For men, this means long pants, whereas for women it means covered legs, shoulders, and a head covering is recommended.
At the entrance, you will be asked to remove your shoes. Nobody in Lalish wears any shoes. While it’s recommended that you’re barefoot, many visitors wear socks.
The stones can be scorching in the summer and freezing in the winter. Take some socks with you and decide on-site.
Once inside, visitors can explore various locations within the temple complex, such as shrines dedicated to specific deities, tombs of revered saints and priests, and courtyards where communal gatherings are held for festivals and celebrations.
The most sacred location within Lalish is its inner sanctum – Jundi Serdah – where only high-ranking members of the religious hierarchy may enter.
Visitors can enter the temple, but not the tomb itself.
The Importance of Specific Locations within the Temple Complex
Every location within Lalish holds significant meaning for Yazidis. For example, one area called “Jihan” represents paradise on Earth.
It is believed that Adam and Eve lived here before being cast out from paradise. Another area called “Sheikh Adi’s Tomb” is where Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir – founder of the Yazidi faith – was buried after his death in 1162.
In addition to these locations with historical significance, there are also areas dedicated to specific deities worshipped by Yazidis such as Tawûsê Melek, the peacock angel. The Yazidis also worship black snakes, often seen as a symbol of the devil.
However, in Yazidism, the black snake saved Noah’s arch by using its body to plug a hole in the ark.
The Symbolism Behind Certain Objects and Rituals Performed at the Temple
Many of the objects and rituals performed at Lalish Temple hold tremendous symbolism for Yazidis. For example, visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering the temple complex as a sign of respect for its sanctity.
The practice of lighting candles, burning incense, and offering food, water, or flowers are also common rituals performed during worship in different areas of the temple.
The symbolic meaning behind these practices varies among different groups within Yazidism. For many Yazidis, lighting candles represents enlightenment and hope while burning incense is seen as a way of purifying one’s soul.
The offerings made on altars dedicated to specific deities such as Tawuse Melek or Shamsadin also hold deep significance for many believers. Overall, Lalish Temple remains an essential site for Yazidi people across the world.
Its significance in their belief system goes beyond just religious practices; it represents their connection with their past and future – with ancestors who lived thousands of years ago until today’s generation – it is where they gather together as a community to celebrate life’s joys and overcome life’s sorrows. It embodies what truly gives meaning in life: faith & identity.
In Lalish you can witness and even take part in many of the traditions that the Yazidi people have practiced for centuries.
Like in Christianity, Yazidis practice baptism. This takes place in a chamber known as “The White Spring” and is pretty much the same as a Christian baptism.
I was lucky enough to witness one, although they do not let outsiders inside the chamber, so I had to observe from a distance.
The Wish Tree
Tie a piece of cloth on the tree and walk around it wishing (asking God) it comes true. Which tree? You’ll know – it’s the biggest tree and it’s right in front of the entrance to the tomb.
Entering the Tomb
At the entrance of the tomb, you’ll notice a raised sill on the ground. You must step over it, not on it. Actually, you’ll notice that all doors in Lalish have the same raised sill. The rule applies to all sills as they are believed to be the resting place of angels.
When you enter you’ll notice silk cloths tied everywhere. Knots are important for Yazidis. You have to make a wish while tying a knot on one cloth and then untying another knot. This is symbolic of you “releasing” a wish so that yours can be granted.
The Oil Room
The next chamber has a bunch of oil jars on the side. This room is where the Yazidis store their oil. They use the oil to light 365 lamps every day to symbolize the neverending light of the sun.
In the room, Yazidis take a piece of oil-dampened cloth and throw it trying to make it land on the stone slab at the end of the room. They get three attempts and if at least one is successful, they will have good luck.
At the end of a trip to the temple, Yazidis go to the bread room next to the temple and eat a piece of stale bread.
Yazidi New Year
The Yazidis have their own calendar. In 2023 they rang in the year 6773. The Yazidi New Year is always on Wednesday. More accurately, it’s on the first Wednesday of spring, which in Julian Calendar terms is on or after the 1st of April. In 2023 it fell on the 5th of April.
If you’re planning a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan next year, it might be wise to save the date 3rd of April.
The Yazidis have many traditions and rituals that take place during their New Year Celebrations. You can read all about them here.
The Yazidis are endogamous, that is they only marry within their social circle. If anyone marries an outsider, they immediately lose their religious status as a Yazidi. That’s one of the reasons why the Yazidi are so secretive and mysterious, but also a reason why their population is slowly dwindling.
Architecture and Design of Lalish Temple
An Unforgettable Experience for the Senses
Walking through the gates of Lalish Temple, one cannot help but be struck by the intricate design and architectural brilliance that is on full display. The temple is a stunning example of Middle Eastern architecture, with influences ranging from Islamic to Assyrian.
The main entrance gate is adorned with beautiful inscriptions in ancient Aramaic, which add a layer of mystery to an already mystical place.
The complex itself is made up of several courtyards, each with its own unique charm. Visitors can marvel at the exquisite brickwork in the walls and archways that surround them as they walk through narrow pathways between buildings.
The most striking feature of Lalish Temple is undoubtedly the distinctive conical roofs that top many buildings within the complex. These roofs are instantly recognizable as symbols of Yazidi architecture, and their presence adds an almost magical quality to this already enchanting location.
Symbolism Made Tangible
Every structure within Lalish Temple has been built according to specific rules and regulations set out by Yazidi beliefs. Each building has a specific purpose, whether it’s for worship or housing holy relics revered by Yazidis around the world.
For example, visitors will find several small shrines throughout the complex dedicated to different figures from Yazidi mythology. The design elements found in each structure also play a significant role in reflecting Yazidi beliefs.
For instance, all structures are oriented towards Mount Arafat in northern Iraq, which is regarded as a holy site by many followers of this faith. Meanwhile, visitors will find elaborate carvings done by master craftsmen depicting deities important in Yazidi traditions adorning many surfaces.
It’s hard not to be awed when visiting Lalish Temple – even for those who don’t follow this particular faith. The architectural beauty and symbolic design of this holy site are truly something to behold, and there is no doubt that it stands as a testament to the spiritual richness of the Yazidi people.
Controversies Surrounding Lalish Temple
Persecution faced by Yazidis
It’s impossible to talk about Lalish Temple without addressing the persecution faced by Yazidis in recent years. ISIS has targeted this minority group in Iraq for genocide, resulting in countless deaths, abductions, and displacement from their homes.
The temple itself has been damaged and desecrated by ISIS militants. It’s heartbreaking to think that a place of such spiritual importance has been subjected to such violence and destruction.
How to get to Lalish Temple
The distance from Erbil to Lalish is around 120 km. Since there’s no permanent population in Lalish, there is no need for public transport. And there isn’t any. The only way to reach Lalish is to take a private taxi, which would cost around 40000 IQD / 28 EUR one way. Hitchhiking is an option.
When I went to Lalish, I did so from Duhok. It was a very confusing experience. I was told there are public minibuses going to Ba’adra, which is the closest you can get to Lalish with public transport.
Unfortunately, it turned out that these minibuses either don’t go at all, or go at random, infrequent schedules. Enquire at the bus station in the center of Duhok, but don’t count on that option.
Instead, when I got to the bus station in Duhok, I got on a city minibus towards the outskirts of the city. The minibus stopped literally in the middle of the road where around 10 men quickly started bombarding me with offers to take me wherever I wanted.
I negotiated with one of them to take me to Lalish for 15000 IQD / 10 EUR. In retrospect, I think I could’ve gone for 10000 IQD, maybe even lower, but whatever.
To return back to Duhok I hitchhiked. I had to take 1 car to the intersection for Ba’adra, one more to the checkpoint just after Ba’adra towards Duhok, and a third that took me all the way to the city. Hitchhiking is easy in Iraqi Kurdistan.