Friday, February 11, 2011

Muharram...It Ain't Christmas

We arrived just after the start of the holy month of Moharram (also spelled Muharram).  Moharram is the month that begins the Islamic new year, but it's not a celebratory month.  Rather, the tone is more like Lent in the Christian tradition.  During the month, the martyrdom of Mohammed's grandson, Imam Hussein, is commemorated, particularly on Ashura, the 10th day of the month.  (The Islamic calendar is lunar, so the date changes every year for our calendar as well as the Iranian calendar). 

Anyway, the mood is very subdued during this month.  Most women don't wear bright colours or even makeup.  It was quite a contrast to the American and Italian Christmas cheer we had just come from.  Ironically, the colours of Moharram are red and green.  So these colours were displayed prominently, though with a completely different meaning!

Our first full day in Iran was Tasua, the day before Ashura, also a holy day.  Every neighbourhood has some sort of events, at minimum a parade of local men and boys flagellating themselves with zanjir, chains with handles attached.  This was the local parade:

The men wear black and hit their chests while singing.

Some play music while others hit themselves with the zanjir.  The chains are heavy, but most men were letting the chains glide over their backs, so it didn't seem to be painful.

The young ones were into it too.

At the local parade word spread quickly that "a foreigner" was watching.  They seemed excited that I would be watching their parade.

Next, we headed to a nearby village where they observe the day full force.  I even got to try out the zanjir at Ahmad's relatives' house:

I don't think you're supposed to be smiling during this, but hey, I'm new here!

In the village more elaborate parade groups came by. 

These look pretty heavy!

This guy's a professional!

And there was more self-flagellation...

You can see the guy on the right has a tea pot to offer the men tea.  The neighbours also offer sweets and dates to the marchers.

The village had erected a tent for the groups doing passion plays that come by throughout the day from different neighbourhoods.

We saw several passion plays commemorating different parts of the Battle of Karbala and the death of Imam Hussein. 

The green guys are good and the red ones are the bad guys.

Some plays even included horses, which made the front row a little iffy when the horses started acting up! 

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