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Not merely a mourning ceremony: The lunar month of Muharram in Iran

With grief-stricken hearts, millions of the faithful across Iran along with their fellow Shia Muslims worldwide hold massive mourning ceremonies in the lunar month of Muharram to commemorate the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), third Shia Imam and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

However, essential characteristics of the month goes far behind such mere bereavement as it broadly manifests in various time-honored Iranian traditions such as storytelling besides artistic genres like music, literature, fiction, painting, and dramatic arts.  
As to its outward manifestation, the sense of grief comes to a climax on the day of Ashura when the Imam and his 72 loyal companions were all martyred in 680 CE. Ashura, literally meaning 10th as the battle took place on the 10th day of Muharram, falls on October 12 this year.

Ubiquitous mourning processions together with distribution of votive food by numerous benefactors form outer fringes of the day, which take the center stage in every corner of the country.

In what follows, excerpts form a full article by Maryam Ala-Amjadi that goes further into detail about observation of the tragic event in the country has been given:
From a theological window, religious rituals are perhaps a recreation of collective memories that help to shape what is known as collective identity, an essential foundation for sense of belonging. One such ritual is the mourning ceremony.  

Rich with symbolism, most of which have historical values, these ceremonies are a platform where communal beliefs and ideals about life and death are acknowledged and as people unite in grief and hope for consolation, they search for new meanings of life and reevaluate and confirm the foundation of their beliefs.

Imam Hussein (AS) and his army of few followers battled with the large military detachment from the forces of Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph, whom Imam Hussein (AS) had refused to recognize as caliph.

The Imam was beheaded by Shimr and all his supporters were killed, including his six-month-old infant son, and the women and children were taken as captives.

However, the core meaning of Muharram is beyond such mere bereavement and commemoration of the past.  Karbala is an actual and metaphorical venue where the Truth confronted the Lie, where justice spoke vibrant and audible in the face of prejudice and where courage, passion and devotion preceded attachment, worldliness and obstinacy.

The commemoration of Ashura is a tribute to truth and justice and condemnation of tyranny anytime and anywhere. This is perhaps one of the many reasons why a day like Ashura will never wear out.

No one could have said it more beautifully than Imam Hussein (AS) himself who was a preacher of peace and went to war only as the last resort; when on the day of Ashura he and his followers carved passion and courage forever in the depths of our shared memories, he wrote:

“If you do not have any religion, then at least be noble and broad-minded in your own world.”

The art of mourning

In many cultures, the act of consolation has a ritualistic face and it is therefore systematic and easy to follow as it provides its very own logic, symbolisms and paradigms.

The ceremonial bereavements of Muharram are a platform where various artistic genres like literature, painting, music, fiction and drama are reconciled.

Traditional Persian coffee houses were a bridge between the past and the present as they helped to preserve various traditions.

It was also in these very coffee houses that the account of Imam Hussein (AS) and other great religious men were presented in the form of naghali (telling stories ceremoniously) and marsiyeh soraei (reciting eulogies, funeral hymns about religious and fictional characters).  

These traditions are still alive in many regions across the country. Each neighborhood sets up its own establishment for the ceremonial processions of the month known as ‘Tekkiyeh’, which are venues for gathering of mourners known as ‘heyat’ (literally meaning group or delegation) who honor the life of Imam Hussein (AS).

Resilient beat of drums and a few other instruments are heard as people weep to the hymns and men in black rhythmically flagellate their backs with two pairs of chains and beat their chests with open palms. This ritual is known as sineh-zani (beating the chest). Women may watch the processions and follow the parade; however, they do not practice flagellation.  

Later people take turns to hold the flag as the mourners move through the streets. A tall (sometimes as long as 12 meters) richly decorated with fabrics and feathers structure known as nakhl (palm tree) is carried around.

The nakhl is a symbol of Imam Hussein’s coffin as history narrates his beheaded corpse was carried on a stretcher made of palm leaves.

For many people carrying the nakhl throughout the ceremony is a form of bereavement and an instance of humbleness.

Some nakhls are so heavily decorated that more than a 100 people are needed in order to carry them.

Alam (literally meaning standard) a symbol of standards carried in Karbala are also shouldered by some. This parade usually last a few hours after which people gather for a dinner or lunch feast known as Nazri.

Other communal forms of mourning include Ta’ziyeh which is actually a passion play usually performed during the first ten days of Muharram culminating in a passionate and emotional peak on the tenth (Ashura).

Stories and characters involved in the Karbala battle are enacted by men and young children. Needless to say, these rituals are region specific and quite diverse. Major theatre house in Iran also stage plays relevant to this month.

Nazri: Food ritual and alms for the poor
Religious ceremonies in Iran more than often include food offerings, whether they are held at public venues like mosques or at private residences. These communal gatherings are also a kind of forum where friends, acquaintances and neighbors meet over food that is served after the ceremonies.

During Muharram, particularly on Tassua (the 9th day of the month) and Ashura days, cities are abuzz with preparation for food offerings known as Nazri, the processions of which are usually sponsored by wealthy benefactors.

Sheep, cows and other halal animals are specifically and ritually sacrificed for this purpose. The most common dish is Gheymeh which includes a thick stew of split peas and chopped lamb cooked with dry lemons and tomato puree and served on a bed of hot saffron rice.

Other dishes of Persian cuisine, like Aash (thick soup-stew), Halim (thick dish of wheat, lentil and meat), Shole Zard (a sweet dish made of rice), palm dates and sherbets are also served during these days.

Facts and figures

1- Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and therefore the 1st day of the month marks the Islamic New year. Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Muharram moves from year to year.

2- Muharram (derived from the word Haram, meaning forbidden) is one of the four sacred months of the year in which war is prohibited.

3- In Islamic and Persian culture, the 3rd, 7th and 40th day of birth and particularly death are significant dates. Arbaeen (literally meaning forty in the Arabic Language) which marks 40 days after the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS) is also a typical period of mourning for Muslims.

4- During Muharram, particularly on Tassua and Ashura, people refrain from doing or saying things that may violate the honorable spirit of the month. Television and radio channels alter their timings and programs to accommodate more of religious sermons, mourning songs, live ceremonies and films pertaining to the spirit of the month.

5- Black as the color of mourning during this month is visible in people’s attire, banners hanging from buildings, billboards, decoration of city walls and in the writings on the rearview windows of cars.

6- Tassua and Ashura are holidays in Iran. Iraq, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain, Trinidad and Tanzania are among the countries that honor Muharram.

PHOTO: Thousands of mourners assemble commemorating the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS) in the central Iranian city of Yazd on December 16, 2010. Clad in black, they carry a massive yet richly decorated structure known as nakhl (palm tree), which a symbol of the Imam’s coffin as narratives say his beheaded corpse was carried on a stretcher made of palm leaves.


منابع: http://tehrantimes.com/news/407166/Not-merely-a-mourning-ceremony-The-lunar-month-of-Muharram-in
ارسال کننده: مدیر پورتال
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برچسب ها Mourning ceremony, lunar month, Muharram, Iran


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