Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tazieh, Art of Ashura

Today is the tenth of Muharram and Ashura is celebrated in many Islamic nations. Mass processions continue for several days in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, parts of Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan , India and many other countries.  Several years ago, I was surprised to learn that Ashura is an official holiday in India, a country which harbors 75 million Shia Muslims. Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Hussein the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He was killed on orders from Yazid, the Ruler of Damascus in 61 (AH) for the reason of  not endorsing the oppressive and tyrannical rule of Banni Ommayeh. Imam Hussein and his few companions fought in Karbala to expose the hypocritcal nature of the Ommayeh regime and to demonstrate the authentic values of Islam. " I `have no intention in my uprising other that to revive the authentic values of Islam and to bring reform to the religion of my Grandfather." he stated when threatened in Karbala.
Mourning processions, speeches and , food which is distributed on the basis of vows for Hussein are the hallmarks of these days. Many  speeches and mourning ceremonies are also held to discuss the dimensions of the Hussein's revolution.   Ashura has served as an inspiration for not only the Islamic Revolution in 1978, but also for Shia's in their struggle against Saddam in Iraq, against the Israeli aggression in Lebanon and Palestine, and for many others against any oppressive system. Even today, ceremonies reflect the political atmosphere that surrounds them. Some of them take a more political and critical dimension while others only take the form of rituals.
Ashura has its own artistic appeal as well. Black, green and red are the colors of Ashura. Many have read poems for Imam Hossein or created paintings, and other artistic creations. One of the traditional arts of Ashura is the Tazieh,  literally meaning condolence theater;  which is a theatrical replay of the events of Ashura symbolizing epic spirit of resistance and righteousness. Tazieh is practiced and performed in many countries; in India and Pakistan the tradition is to build a replica of the masoleum of Imam Hussein, which I have seen in some ceremonies. Tazieh is usually performed in the street or in a local  public area. Abbas, the brother of Imam wears green armour and Shimr the person who martyrs Imam Hussein wears red. They recite poems and tell the story of Ashura .
We watched a Tazieh this morning in Tehran. Dozens of spectators were standing in a circle and the skit was perfomed in the street using small loudspeakers. They were wearing colorful costumes and they invited people to pay their vows. Even though now, some academic art centers in Iran are reviving the arts in the authentic forms, it is  still sad to hear that tradtional arts like Tazieh are gradually fading away and that few people are learning this art from their elders.

No comments: