Persia/Chapter 10

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The customs of a nation separated from us by an immense space, are the more interesting the more they differ from our own. We also observe with pleasure the coincidences between both; as a traveller is delighted to meet with the plant of his own county in a distant land. In contemplating the manners and customs of the Persians, we rarely experience the latter kind of satisfaction: here all is new; but from this novelty springs the interest which we take in studying them.

Among these people, one and the same ceremony is frequently practised to exalt a man to dignity, or to strip him of it, and even to deprive him of his life.

When the king has selected one of his officers to fill any post whatever, the secretary of state prepares his commission on a paper two or three feet long, adorned with gold and painted with different colours. The best writers in the office are commonly chosen to engross documents of this kind. The imperial seal is placed at the top of the paper, within an ornament of gold and brilliant colours. This place belongs exclusively to the seal of the sovereign; for the position of that appendage denotes in the East the quality of the writer, as well as of the person to whom he writes. Thus, the royal seal is the only one put at the head of a letter; that of the princes is affixed lower down, and that of the ministers at the lowest extremity; lastly, the seal of persons of inferior rank is placed at the back of the letter.

The paper, so sealed, is put into a bag of very light gauze, and this bag is inclosed in another of gold brocade: after which, the whole is addressed to the person appointed to the office. The appointment is always accompanied with khilaut or robe of honour, a sabre, and a dagger adorned with precious stones, if the office be of a military nature; or with a rich ink-horn, seven or eight inches long and one broad, if in the civil department.

When the new officer resides near the court, he puts on khilaut, and repairs in it to the palace, at the first audience given by the king. An Itchic Agasee, or master of the ceremonies, conducts him to the foot of the throne. When he is at some distance from it, he falls on his knees prostrate himself thrice on the ground, rises and takes his seat according to his new dignity. If he resides in another province, the reception of the royal letter and the khilaut takes place with great pomp: and this is one of the occasions on which the Persian grandees make the greatest display of magnificence. When the person on whom this honour is conferred is apprised of the time at which the bearer of the royal favour is expected to arrive, he goes out two or three miles to wait for him, either in a building erected for the purpose, and called khilaut-kaneh, house of khilauts, or in a tent. The magistrates of the city, the ministers of religion, the looties or buffoons, the dancing-girls, and a great concourse of people, accompanying him. Mr. Scott Waring estimated the number who attended a ceremony of the kind at 8hiraz, either from necessity or curiosity, at twenty thousand. When the astrologer have fixed the lucky moment, the bearer of the letter and khilaut is introduced: each of them is placed on a richly ornamented tray. The whole assembly rises. The new officer makes a low obeisance, falls on his knees, and afar a short prayer for the prosperity of the king, he rises, strips off his clothes and puts on the khilaut: after which, he respectfully raises the king's letter to his forehead before he opens it, and then reads it aloud. This ceremony being finished, he sits down, and receives the congratulations of all present. The cavalcade then sets out on its return to the city, The people throng the mad, expressing their joy by obstreperous acclamations; the trumpets sound, and the musicians perform military marches. When the officer is of high dignity, the people break small glass tubes filled with sugar, and scatter them on the ground. When the king makes his public entry into a town, bullocks are killed by the way, and their heads being cut off, are thrown down before him as he approaches.

This is not the only occasion on which the khilaut is conferred: it is given by the king, in token of his approbation or favour, to such of his own subjects as are deemed deserving of the honour, and to ambassadors or other foreigners who visit his court. Its quality, and the number of articles of which it is composed, differ with the rank and favour of the receiver.

A common khilaut consists of a caba or coat; a kemerbund or zone; a gouchpeesh, or shawl for the head: when it is intended to be more distinguishing, a sword or a dagger is added. To persons of distinction rich furs are given, such as a catabee or coordee; but when the khilaut is complete, it consists of exactly the same articles as the present which Cyrus made to Syennesis; namely, a horse with a golden bridle, a golden chain, a golden sword, besides the dress, which is complete in all its parts. The golden chain now sent is part of the horse furniture, and over the animal's nose. From the Persepolitan marbles, it appears that the ancient Persians wore chains round the neck. Bracelets were also sent, and are shown by the same marbles to have been worn. By the golden sword is meant a sword whose scabbard is ornamented with gold—such are the Persian swords at this day.