|Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)|
Origin of name
"Zahedan" is the plural of the Arabic word zahed meaning 'pious'. A folk etymology maintains, however improbably, that the current name, Zahedan ("Sages," or "pious people" in Persian) was given to the city upon its visit by Reza Shah.
Variants of name
- Zāhedān (Romanized)
- Zāhedān-e Yek
Zahedan is located on Chabahar-Zaranj-Delaram Highway, near Pakistan and Afghanistan borders, only about 41 km south of the tripoint of the borders of the three countries, at an altitude of 1,352 m above sea level and at a distance of 1,605 km from the Iranian capital of Tehran.
Before the rise of Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1923, the city of Zahedan was known as Dozz-aap. That name was in turn derived from the Persian Dozd-aab, literally meaning "water thief". This is the name given to a sandy land formation that quickly swallows up any water that falls on it, be it rain or irrigation water. The name was changed to Zahedan by the Iranian Academy of Culture (the Farhangistan), set up during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi in the 1930s, which changed a myriad of toponyms in Iran. However, the name is not just a neologism: instead, it is taken from the medieval city of Zaidan, whose ruins stretch for miles on both banks of the lower Helmand river near its inland delta in Iranian Sistan.  Although the imposing ruins of medieval Zaidan (destroyed by Tamerlane in the late 14th century) are tens of miles away from modern Zahedan, somehow it was seen fit to rename Dozd-aab after this prestigious historic city.
Zahedan lies east of the Kavir-e Loot desert. The city was part of the historic region of Sistan, situated today on the borders of southeastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan. One portion is part of the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan. The other portion is part of the Nimruz Province of Afghanistan.
The name Sistan comes from 'Sakastan', of which Sistan was once the westernmost part. The Saffarids (861–1003 CE), one of the early Iranian dynasties of the Islamic era, were originally rulers of Sistan.
In the Shahnameh, Sistan is also referred to as Zabulistan, after Zabol, a city in the region. In Ferdowsi's epic, Zabulistan is in turn described to be the homeland of the mythological hero-king Rostam.
Zahedan and the area of Sistan has a very strong connection with Zoroastrianism and during Sassanid times Lake Hamun was one of two pilgrimage sites for followers of that religion. In Zoroastrian religion, the lake is the keeper of Zoroaster's seed and just before the final renovation of the world, three maidens will enter the lake, each then giving birth to the saoshyants who will be the saviours of mankind at the final renovation of the world. The most famous archaeological site in Sistan is on Kuh-e Khwajeh, a hill rising up as an island in the middle of Lake Hamun.
Zahedan is a centre for Sunnism in Baluchistan. The Makki mosque and its madrasa play an important role in Baluchistan's society. Shaikh Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi is the main and most influential religious and Sunni community leader in Iran that is heading Makki mosque and its institutions. Zahedan also has a Friday mosque for Shi'ite and a Jame mosque, where many members of the community gather to worship on Fridays. A colorful bazaar, Rasouli Bazaar, can also be found in the city, where Baluchi and Pashtun traders intermingle. About 100 km south of Zahedan is an intermittently active volcano, Taftan, which rises abruptly 4,042 m from the surrounding plain.
The Demographics of Zahedan's inhabitants are largely ethnic Baluchi who speak the Baluchi language and Sistanis who speak Persian Sistani, Yazdi and Khorasani. There are also smaller numbers of Pashtuns and Kurds.
- Henry Savage Landor, Across Coveted Lands, London 1902, chapter XXI.
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