Muharram and its rituals are to honor a man who never wanted to yield to any tyranny.
Muharram mourning is a collection of Shiite (and sometimes non-Shiite) rituals in the month of Muharram in mourning the martyrs of Karbala. Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin, Sayyida Zaynab, Umm ul-Banin, and Al-Rabab were the first to mourn Imam Husayn ibn Ali and call on others to mourn.
Ibn Athir writes: Al-Rabab did not live for more than a year after Karbala. She refused to sit in the shadows because Imam Husayn ibn Ali, her husband, was killed and beheaded under the burning sun. Eventually, she died of grief and sorrow.
Mourning for Muharram in Iran began with weeping and poetry, and then Marsiya, fasting, icon-painting, chest-beating for mourning, and Ta’zieh ceremonies began. Most of these rituals were formed during the Buyid dynasty, Safavid, and Qajar periods. When the Safavid came into power, the official religion of Iran changed from Suni to Shiite. Therefore, mourning for Imam Husayn ibn Ali became more serious.
Mourning for the martyrs of Karbala began in the first days after Ashura in 61 AH and continued. What happened in Karbala, especially on the tenth day called Ashura, was the battle between Imam Husayn ibn Ali and his companions and the army of Yazid ibn Mu’awiya. Karbala took place on the 10th of Muharram of 61 AH when Imam Husayn ibn Ali refused to pledge his allegiance to Yazid. As predicted, on that day, Christ would be crucified in Nineveh once again. Imam Husayn ibn Ali denied Yazid, promised himself to Allah, and this action led to his martyrdom and beheading and his companions. Then his family, women, and children were captivated.
Karbala is the most tragic event in the history of Islam; Hence, the Shiites hold their most respectful mourning ceremony on its anniversary every Muharram.
With the Buyid dynasty coming to power in 352 AH for the first time, the government declared Ashura a public holiday and public mourning. They ordered butchers not to slaughter in honor of the day, cooks were not allowed to cook, and people sat up mourning tents in markets.
Ta’zieh, Alam (a large flag), Nakhl Gardani, preparing votive food, Nawhakhwani (citing and mentioning the hardships with grief for the great religious leaders), and Marsiya are among the ceremonies of Muharram in Iran.
Marsya: composing and reciting poetry about the martyrdom of Imam Husayn ib Ali and his companions. Marsya and lamentation have been popular among Shiites in different periods.
Chest-beating for mourning: This is the most common type of religious mourning of Shiites in different countries, especially in Muharram. Chest-beating for mourning can be held anywhere, in mosques, Hussainiya, and homes.
Ta’zieh: Ta’zieh is a play. Some actors and actresses dress up as a character present in Karbala and play what happened there. This play is usually performed in the first ten days of Muharram and on the streets for any audience. The script includes lamentation. Ta’zieh is a mutual performance in Islamic and Shiite countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.
Fasting: Fasting is the expression of the events of Ashura with sorrow and grief, which is also called mentioning the tragedy of Sayyid al-Shuhada, and is usually accompanied by chanting and weeping.
Chain-beating for mourning: One of the rituals of Shiite mourning is that they form groups of several parallels columns. Chain-beating for mourning is the act of beating the chains in harmony and order with the sound drums on their shoulders to show the mourner’s grief.
Alam Gardani: Alam means a flag but with metal and unique decorations, and it should be heavy. As Abbas ibn Ali held the banner and streamer of Husayn bin Ali’s caravan and gave his life to protects his brother, the ritual of carrying an Alam in Muharram mourning groups is to honor him. This Alam is very heavy, and young men who wanted to obtain magnanimity and chivalry volunteer to carry the Alam.
Sham-e-Ghariban: There are many resemblances to the story of Christ and Imam Husayn. The last supper where Christ gave the Apostles bread and wine as his blood and flesh, and Husayn is the Blood of God, both innocent and knew they would end up alone. Sham-e-Ghariban means the night of the expatriates. It is a tradition, a ritual on the night of the 11th of Muharram, to mourning the sufferings of the captivated children and family of Imam Husayn. As they were in chains and all of their loved ones were killed before their eyes, in Shame-Ghariban women, and children light up candles and walk around in the dark crying.
Nakhl Gardani: One of the mourning rituals on the day of Ashura, in which a group of young and strong men turns the embellished black-clad Nakhl in a certain way with etiquette. Nakhl Gardani is the symbolic gesture of carrying Imam Husayn’s body in a coffin. Nakhl means palm tree, and some say those who buried him used a palm tree trunk to move him.
Per region of our country has its style and context in mourning and holding mourning ceremonies. On the other hand, there are many similarities in many mourning traditions of different cities. Citing the tourists who have seen these rituals, they believe that: if one attendest these rituals, you are participating in something bigger than life.
Southern cities of Iran
One of the rituals that impress others is the ritual the people of Abadan, Khorramshahr, Bandar Ganaveh, Bushehr, and Bandar Abbas mourn Imam Husayn.
On the nights of the first ten days of Muharram, these cities hold a type of mourning known as “Bushehri” with lamentation. Traditional southern chest-beating for mourning is a kind of ritual dance founded by Nakhoda Abbas. People come together in nested and concentric circles. The lamenter stands in the center. The mourners hold the next person’s back with their left hand while they do the chest-beating with their right.
By beating with the lament’s rhythm, the movements of the hands and feet form a sort of unity and harmony. They move in a counterclockwise direction on the path of the circle.
After finishing the chest-beating for mourning with epic laments, on special nights, people shape two columns. They hold the shoulder of the person in front of them. They move in a way between loping and trotting and walking hurry while one person sings short laments in the middle of two columns, and the chest-beaters respond. After a while, they stand and face inwards (two columns facing each other) and hit their chest hard with grief.
In the city of Ilam, they hold a ritual called Chamar. Chamar is a mourning service not specific to Muharram. However, the most sorrowful Chamar is the one they perform in that month. Chamar is a chant, a tune, a cry of grief with an afflicted voice. Women perform this service. Generation after generation, they have learned how to do it as a tradition.
Another glorious ceremony held during the mourning days of Imam Husayn in Iran is the “Shah Husayn” ceremony in Tabriz. This ritual, called “Shakhsi” in the local dialect, begins a few days before Muharram and continues until the noon of Ashura.
In this ceremony, the mourners in the black form a human path. They move a special stick from head to toe. These movements follow a chant “Shah Husayn” (Shakhsi) and “Vay Husayn” (Vakhsi) of the mourners. Shah Hussein’s religion is a symbolic behavior; It seems that the mourners are leaving for Karbala and standing next to the companions of Imam Husayn.
The mourning of the people of Zanjan has been the center of attention these years. Zanjan was entitled the capital of the Husayni Passion. The people mourn like no other place and show their love for Imam Husayn as if he was the last piece of truth and they have lost it. No one should shed the blood of an innocent. Those capable of such murder are damned forever.
Nakhl Gardani is one of the most famous Muharram customs in the days of Tasu’a and Ashura in Yazd. Nakhl is a large wooden structure that is covered with mirrors and decorated with colorful shawls and fabrics. Nakhl Gardani is a symbolic ritual that takes place at noon or evening of Ashura. The Nakhl carriers allegedly carried the body of Imam Hussayn on the afternoon of Ashura to bury it.