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0348 Explorations in Turkestan 1903 : vol.1
Explorations in Turkestan 1903 : vol.1 / Page 348 (Color Image)

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312   THE BASIN OF EASTERN PERSIA AND SISTAN.

LEGtNDS.

Legends are proverbially untrustworthy, but there is usually a solid kernel of truth in their center. Smith (p. 35o) relates an ancient tradition common among the natives of Bajistan to the effect that the whole country around Bajistan was once covered by the sea, and that the place derives its name from two words signifying " to take toll," alluding to the toll at the ferry paid by travelers for boat-hire when the waters had partly receded. Farther east along the borders of the saine playa which lies near Bajistan, " Yunsi (the Persian form of Jonah) is marked by local tradition as the spot on which the prophet Jonah was cast by the whale, and where he lay for many days concealed under a pumpkin plant." Sykes (p. 93) mentions these traditions and adds : " Again, further east, on the Herat road, is the village of Langar, signifying an anchor, and so a port, and according to M. Khanikoff, there is an ancient tradition that Langar was a harbor on the great inland sea. Although legends are as a rule far from trustworthy, yet in the two instances given it is hard to understand how they came to exist, unless there had been an inland sea at some not very remote period." Smith (p. 367) relates another legend which does not fit quite so well. Ja-i-Gharak is a village 20 miles south of Meshed, on the direct road to Nishapur. It is located in a mountain valley, I, 200 feet above Meshed. The naine means " place of drowning," and is derived from an old tradition that the country here was once covered by the sea, and that a ship foundered here. Although Smith mentions a small lake which has been artificially dammed below the village, it is hardly possible that a large lake could ever have existed here, as it may possibly have done near Bajistan, Yunsi, and Langar. It may be that the naine has been transferred a few miles across the mountains from the borders of the Dasht-i-Lut, which must have been a lake if the rainfall was ever greatly in excess of that of to-day.

THE LEGENDARY HISTORY OF SISTAN.

Sistan has its own crop of legends. The village of Deli Abbas Khan lies on the shore of the lake 2 or 3 miles east of Kuh-i-Khoja, and is inhabited by Sayids, who are supposed to be one of the oldest and purest Persian stocks in existence. According to their own traditions, they have inhabited the country from time immemorial, and are the descendants of the ancient Zoroastrian population. The chief of the village possesses an ancient book which has been handed down to him from many generations of ancestors, and is now his dearest treasure. From this book he partly read, but mostly related to me the following traditions :

Long, long ago all Sistan was occupied by water, a great lake, which covered not only the swamp and the site of the modern villages, but the site of Zahidan and the other ruins as well. King Suliman (Solomon) saw the lake and perceived that if it were free from water the bottom would be very good for grain and melons and all sorts of fruit. At that time there was no more rain than now, but the rivers, which came from springs in the mountains, were very much larger. Desiring to benefit mankind, King Suliman sent for his " dhus," huge giants, each with a single eye looking upward from the top of his head, and ordered them to reclaim the lake. Swifter than man can imagine they went to work, and digging up earth from this side and from that, carried it on their shoulders in bags, and filled the lake. By noon the work was completed, and hence the country is

sometimes called " Nim-ruz,"   " Half day." When the work was finished the " dhus " went to the
springs in the mountains and covered them, so that the water no longer came out. Since that time there has been some water in the lake, but far 'less than formerly.