Horse Cult In Kurdish Funeral Kotel Ritual

Horse Cult In Kurdish Funeral Kotel Ritual



Latif Mammad



“Kotel” is a funeral procession when ahead of the funeral procession a horse is with armour and clothing of the deceased. Those who distinguished bravery, fortitude, courage, military valour, as well as honorary members of the tribe  was awarded with such an honour. It’s a special ceremony, where only men participate, in honour of the deceased and is settled on the day of his burial. This rite was reflected in written sources.


Prominent Russian scientist M.B. Rudenko describes this funeral Kurdish rite as follows: “They take the horse of the deceased, the rump is covered with a fabric (the color one – if the heirs are left after the deceased – sons, or black – if there are no such ones). Clothes, weapons and a cap of the deceased are placed on the saddle. If shortly before a young girl died in this house, then her finest clothes were also put on the saddle; if a young man died in the family, close relatives, as a sign of mourning for him, cut off their braids and put them on a horse saddle. Having tied to the end of the spear or to the rifle barrel a bright scarf with a fringe, they make a semblance of a battle flag, which symbolizes bravery, valor and courage of the deceased. The banner is either tied to the saddle, or it is carried by one of the participants in the ceremony. In front of the deceased’s house door they clear the space in the form of a circular platform, along which one of the relatives, usually a young man, leads a horse, taking him by the bridle. Attending men perform the funeral laments of the heroic character, they are called songs “kotel”, or “songs for leading a horse” (Kılame Kotele, kılame gerandine).


The horse is led around the site until the “Hevari” arrive – this is the name given to the relatives and friends of the deceased who are informed about the incident and live in the surrounding villages. Standing on the outskirts of the village where the deceased lived, specially deployed sentinels, having noticed the appearance of “hevari” from a distance, immediately inform the participants of the funeral rite, who are moving towards the arrived “hevari”. Ahead the horse is led; all taking turns and perform funeral laments. When both processions meet, the “hevari”, if they are on horseback, get off their horses, approach the participants of the “kotel”… Then everyone slowly goes to the house of the deceased; funeral moans are performed again. When the procession approaches the house, the rite participants give way to the “hevari”, who are the first to enter the house. After a moment of silence, the lamentations begin to sing again. During the funeral procession to the graveyard the horse is led in the front. At the time of the funeral the horse is set aside. For the return from the cemetery, the cover, saddle, weapon and clothing of the deceased are removed from the horse, and are given to the sheikh or pir who washed the deceased.” And on the grave of the deceased a monument in the form of a horse is erected as a gravestone as the personification of spiritual and physical connection and unity in this life and the afterlife. The kinship of a horse and a Kurd is even more appeared in funeral rites and songs — the Kurds lamentations. In them, the horse is a close friend of a lost friend and brother, mourning along with relatives and members of the family about the death of his master, he is almost a member of the family of the deceased. If a sister, a mother, a wife, as a sign of mourning, may not brush their hair or cut off a lock of their hair and put it on the grave of the deceased, then their tails are unbraided.


The Kurds also have a special term delberday (“with an unbraided tail”): according to Kurdish custom, a horse participating in the “Kotel” mourning ceremony will surely be unbraided the tail, whereas usually it is braided. This horse is designated with the special term hespe delberday (“a horse with an unbraided tail”), and like the close relatives of the deceased, it participating in the funeral procession, also takes condolences.


Even in the second half of the 20th century, the “Kotel” rite could be observed among Kurds living in Armenia – both Muslims and Yezidis. Especially if death occurred in the mountains, during the nomad (summer) camps, then they buried a worthy person with this rite. And in many parts of Kurdistan – this is a common phenomenon, where the rite “Kotel” still exists.


In addition to the national holidays, the Kurds of various denominations also celebrate religious general Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Yezidi, and Alawite holidays by their followers.

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