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Ashura

Muharram Gilan Standard

a symbolic standard used in Ashura ceremonies

 

In Iran, there are not many rituals performed as wholeheartedly as Ashura, during which the streets are decorated with banners, food and drinks are given away, horns are blown and songs are recited to the rhythm of drums, and Iranians of all ages get together in large groups to watch and participate in spectacular religious processions.

 

Is Ashura celebrated?

 

Ashura is basically not a festival to celebrate, but a collection of religious rituals that are observed to commemorate the 3rd Shia Imam who was martyred in Karbala in the late 7th century AD. It is actually the climactic end of a mourning tradition that starts on the 1st day of Muharram, in the Hijri lunar calendar, and lasts for 10 days.

During these 10 days, after sunset and the evening prayers, you will see local people, young and old, men and women, going out to the energized streets and performing rituals together, as they beat on their chest and move with the rhythm of drums in parades. They are preceded by a huge heavy standard, decorated with jingling bells and feathers, carried by one strong man. After marching for a couple of hours, processions return to places called Husseiniehs to continue with the rituals in circles and in masses, moving and mourning to the drum beats and the rhythmic lamentations.

 

History of Ashura

In the late 7th century AD, Hussein-Ibn-Ali, the 3rd Shia Imam, was martyred in Karbala during a battle against the Umayyad’s army, led by Yazid-Ibn-Moavieh. After the war, the events were recounted and lamented by the Shiite followers as a historical epic that gradually formed a collection of ceremonies and rituals that became an indispensable part of Shiism. The rituals gained a significant status in Iran at the time of 17th-century Safavids, when Shiism was declared the official religion of the country. In modern Iran, Ashura is now a part of Islamic identity that brings people together to be a part of one big event.

 

 

Nazri

Although Ashura ceremonies are in fact mourning traditions, you will find people to be quite lively as they enthusiastically participate in high-spirited activities. The most well-known of these traditions is called Nazri, which is basically distributing food to people as charity. There are times when a Muslim makes a vow to God that if his wish comes true, he will give away a certain amount of money or food as a votive (Nazri) to people, and Muharram is the perfect opportunity to fulfill such promises.

Nazri (Food offerings) _Muharram_Mashahad

Iranian people offering free food to others in the month of Muharram

 

Hot tea or cold sherbet is served to participants and spectators on the streets, but the most customary dish distributed as Nazri in the month of Muharram, is Khoresht Gheymeh, a stew which includes rice, lamb, split-peas and other ingredients, prepared in huge casseroles by the help of volunteers and given away to people. As a matter of fact, giving and receiving a free meal on this occasion is a fun part of Muharram for a lot of Iranians who consider this food a gift from God and the 3rd Shia Imam and they believe it to be good for their body and soul.

 

 

Nakhl-Gardâni

In some parts of Iran, on the occasion of Ashura, people carry a huge wooden structure called Nakhl, symbolizing Imam Hussein’s coffin. Some of these wooden objects are so gigantic, that only a hundred strong men are able to carry one on their shoulders!

Nakhl Gardani as a part of Ashura ceremonies in the lunar month of Muharram

a leader directing people who are carrying Nakhl on their shoulders

According to many scholars, the rite of Nakhl-Gardâni dates back to pre-Islamic times, when Iranians held a similar ritual called Siavashoon for a mythological character called Siavash.

 

 

Ta‘zīye (Shabih-Khâni)

Taazieh as a part of Ashura ceremonies in the lunar month of Muharram

a symbolic battle in the theatrical event called Taazieh

Ta‘zīye is a theatrical reenactment of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom in Karbala. It is performed on open spaces and grand squares, recounting the story of the battle in an epical manner with people singing and acting in dramatic manners. In some of the big performances, there are more than a hundred roles to play and animals are also a part of the spectacle. Ta‘zīye or Shabih-Khâni has been declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010 by UNESCO.

 

 

Shâm-e-Qaribân

At noontime of the 10th day in Muharram, a public holiday, the rituals reach their climax when people are out, taking part in parades, distributing food and drinks and watching Ta‘zīye. After lunch, things go back to a normal calm holiday, but it is not the end of the ceremonies.  People, especially the young, get ready for the evening and a ceremony called Shâm-e-Qaribân. In this ceremony, Iranians light candles on the streets in memory of the 3rd Shia Imam and his followers. This occasion is relatively calm and peaceful, as you see youths wearing black and holding candles in their hands, finishing the ten-day mourning ceremonies in a sacred serenity.

Ashura

Muharram Gilan Standard

a symbolic standard used in Ashura ceremonies

 

In Iran, there are not many rituals performed as wholeheartedly as Ashura, during which the streets are decorated with banners, food and drinks are given away, horns are blown and songs are recited to the rhythm of drums, and Iranians of all ages get together in large groups to watch and participate in spectacular religious processions.

 

Is Ashura celebrated?

 

Ashura is basically not a festival to celebrate, but a collection of religious rituals that are observed to commemorate the 3rd Shia Imam who was martyred in Karbala in the late 7th century AD. It is actually the climactic end of a mourning tradition that starts on the 1st day of Muharram, in the Hijri lunar calendar, and lasts for 10 days.

During these 10 days, after sunset and the evening prayers, you will see local people, young and old, men and women, going out to the energized streets and performing rituals together, as they beat on their chest and move with the rhythm of drums in parades. They are preceded by a huge heavy standard, decorated with jingling bells and feathers, carried by one strong man. After marching for a couple of hours, processions return to places called Husseiniehs to continue with the rituals in circles and in masses, moving and mourning to the drum beats and the rhythmic lamentations.

 

History of Ashura

In the late 7th century AD, Hussein-Ibn-Ali, the 3rd Shia Imam, was martyred in Karbala during a battle against the Umayyad’s army, led by Yazid-Ibn-Moavieh. After the war, the events were recounted and lamented by the Shiite followers as a historical epic that gradually formed a collection of ceremonies and rituals that became an indispensable part of Shiism. The rituals gained a significant status in Iran at the time of 17th-century Safavids, when Shiism was declared the official religion of the country. In modern Iran, Ashura is now a part of Islamic identity that brings people together to be a part of one big event.

 

 

Nazri

Although Ashura ceremonies are in fact mourning traditions, you will find people to be quite lively as they enthusiastically participate in high-spirited activities. The most well-known of these traditions is called Nazri, which is basically distributing food to people as charity. There are times when a Muslim makes a vow to God that if his wish comes true, he will give away a certain amount of money or food as a votive (Nazri) to people, and Muharram is the perfect opportunity to fulfill such promises.

Nazri (Food offerings) _Muharram_Mashahad

Iranian people offering free food to others in the month of Muharram

 

Hot tea or cold sherbet is served to participants and spectators on the streets, but the most customary dish distributed as Nazri in the month of Muharram, is Khoresht Gheymeh, a stew which includes rice, lamb, split-peas and other ingredients, prepared in huge casseroles by the help of volunteers and given away to people. As a matter of fact, giving and receiving a free meal on this occasion is a fun part of Muharram for a lot of Iranians who consider this food a gift from God and the 3rd Shia Imam and they believe it to be good for their body and soul.

 

 

Nakhl-Gardâni

In some parts of Iran, on the occasion of Ashura, people carry a huge wooden structure called Nakhl, symbolizing Imam Hussein’s coffin. Some of these wooden objects are so gigantic, that only a hundred strong men are able to carry one on their shoulders!

Nakhl Gardani as a part of Ashura ceremonies in the lunar month of Muharram

a leader directing people who are carrying Nakhl on their shoulders

According to many scholars, the rite of Nakhl-Gardâni dates back to pre-Islamic times, when Iranians held a similar ritual called Siavashoon for a mythological character called Siavash.

 

 

Ta‘zīye (Shabih-Khâni)

Taazieh as a part of Ashura ceremonies in the lunar month of Muharram

a symbolic battle in the theatrical event called Taazieh

Ta‘zīye is a theatrical reenactment of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom in Karbala. It is performed on open spaces and grand squares, recounting the story of the battle in an epical manner with people singing and acting in dramatic manners. In some of the big performances, there are more than a hundred roles to play and animals are also a part of the spectacle. Ta‘zīye or Shabih-Khâni has been declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010 by UNESCO.

 

 

Shâm-e-Qaribân

At noontime of the 10th day in Muharram, a public holiday, the rituals reach their climax when people are out, taking part in parades, distributing food and drinks and watching Ta‘zīye. After lunch, things go back to a normal calm holiday, but it is not the end of the ceremonies.  People, especially the young, get ready for the evening and a ceremony called Shâm-e-Qaribân. In this ceremony, Iranians light candles on the streets in memory of the 3rd Shia Imam and his followers. This occasion is relatively calm and peaceful, as you see youths wearing black and holding candles in their hands, finishing the ten-day mourning ceremonies in a sacred serenity.

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