Spatial Poetry and the Sufi Body: the chelleh-khaneh at the Shrine of Shah Ni’matullah Wali in Mahan

This talk explores the relationship between poetry, image, and space in an example of what can be termed spatial poetry: verses written or adapted for a specific space, inscribed on its surfaces, and understood in terms of the viewer’s presence and movement within it. The space in question is a late sixteenth-century addition to the fifteenth-century shrine of the Sufi-poet Shah Ni'matullah-e Wali (d. 1431) in the southern Iranian town of Mahan. Known as the chelleh-khaneh (house of retreat), it consists of a small room designed for meditation, entirely covered with colourful imagery and inscriptions in verse by a disciple of the Sufi’s descendants. After a brief overview of the room’s role within the shrine complex, the presentation will concentrate on how the room’s spatial program guides the spiritual and corporeal experience of its users, engaging the body of the meditator in order to achieve a bodily representation of the Sufi master.

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