October 6, 2013

Mausoleum of the Aga Khan

Mausoleum of the Aga Khan
The late Aga Khan III, leader of the Ismaili community, a sect of Islam, found such peace and beauty in Aswan that before he died in 1957 he chose a site on the western bank of the Nile, on a peak overlooking his favourite part of the river, for his tomb. His Mausoleum, built in the Fatimid style with a single dome, is a landmark of Aswan today. It stands cool and isolated on an area of 450 square metres. It is constructed of rose granite, and the inner walls are of marble embellished with verses from the Koran. The Aga Khan claimed direct descent from Fatimah, the daughter of the prophet Mohammad. The tombs of the Fatimids are on the eastern bank of the Nile.

Mausoleum of the Aga Khan
Outdated traditions and rural continuum
The age-old tradition of prosperity or adversity being dependent on the Nile flood and the fervour with which the Nile festivals were celebrated, has finally run its course. It was started thousands of years ago by the earliest settlers of the Nile valley who thought that rites, spells, and offerings of thanks would control, appease, or please the power behind natural phenomena. In earliest times a bull or goose, and later a roll of papyrus, written with sacred words, would be cast on the waters.

Mausoleum of the Aga Khan
The eruption of the river and the subsequent blossoming of the land was regarded as the result of a marriage. Even after the Arab conquest, public criers walking the streets announced the progress of the flood, so that the qadi could prepare a ‘contract of marriage’. The Bride of the Nile Ceremony took place, during which a symbolic maiden would be given to the river. Witnesses confirmed the ‘consummation’ and, with elaborate oriental ceremonial, the dykes were broken. Until the 1970s, the arrival of the flood was the occasion for a public holiday, and a procession of garlanded boats filled with rejoicing people cast flowers upon the waters.

Today it is no longer necessary to please Hapi, the Nile-god. The water is released by sluices operated at man’s will, and the thirsty land quenches itself to man’s timetable. The Nile no longer revitalises the soil with its rich alluvium. The Black Land, Kmt, which was the name for Egypt, is deprived of its natural source of fertility.

Mausoleum of the Aga Khan
But continuity survives change, and in Upper Egypt one can best see the apparent paradox of Egypt undergoing repeated change, yet remaining changeless. Though new hotels, factories, and highways reflect the modern era, we can still see the simple village with dust roads and rectangular mud-brick houses. There are transport vehicles on the one hand, and the faithful donkeys as the beast of burden, on the other. Tractors and modern equipment are used alongside the time-honoured plough and the shaduf the most ancient of pumping devices for lifting water from the river to the canals.

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