Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, coinciding this year with the fifth month of Persian calendar and August in Christian calendar is the month of mourning for most Shia believers in Iran.
Thousands of men and women participate in a series of commemorative mourning rituals during the first ten days of Muharram. These rituals often include Tasua’ and Ashura processions, Sineh-Zani, and various forms of the Rowze-khāni .
The most important and popular of these commemorative performances are Tazieh. During these days, religious people, whether living in rural or urban areas, finance and participate either as performer or spectator in Tazieh.
Tazieh narrates the epic struggle and tragic martyrdom of Imam Hossein(AS) and his 72 companions by the army of Caliph of time . Imam Hossein (AS) was the 3rd Shia Imam and grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), and the event known as Karbala event happened on the plain of Karbala, Iraq in 680 CE.
According to the Coronavirus Combat and Prevention Headquarters, gatherings and attendance in crowded places could lead to the spread of the disease, so some of Muharram mourners in the province took a different approach this year.
A number of taaziyeh performances recently streamed online in Tehran and other cities has been welcomed.
The courtyards of the cultural centers of Vahdat Hall, Iranian Artists Forum, Sanglaj Hall, Khatam, Eshraq, Razi and Bahman, as well as Imamzadeh Ali-Akbar (AS) in Chizar, Imamzadeh Ahl ibn Ali (AS) in Khavaran and Imam Hussein Square are among the main locations for the tazieh performances.
A number of the performances will also take place in the courtyards of Imamzadehs, the tombs of the Shia Imams’ descendants.
Morover, several cultural and religious centers across Tehran will be hosting over 50 tazieh performances on Imam Hussein (AS) in a program titled “Mourning of the Sun”.
The performances begin from 21 August and will continue until September 17.
For the audience of these gatherings, chairs have been arranged in accordance with the health protocols, which have been placed at a distance. The program is also broadcast live to online audiences every night on the Namayesh Net website, and fans can watch the program live.
Tazieh stage décor and props are quite minimal and very symbolic. The events are narrated and enacted in a non-chronological way; the scene change is indicated by actors jumping off the stage ring, or they may circle the stage. The musical intervals also show the passage of time.
Costumes are very representational. There’s no historical accuracy, but the color symbolism and ornaments represent the characters and their nature, e.g. villains are dressed in sumptuous red clothes, and protagonists appear in white and green clothes. Male play the role of women.
Tazieh is rooted in Persian literary tradition, mythology and folk poetry. Commemorating the death or martyrdom of Persian heroes had a long tradition that predates Tazieh.
Regardless of their size, all Tazieh stages that are often built in large halls called husseiniyeh are constructed as theatres-in-the-round. This architecture fosters a strong spectator-performer relationship. Although Tazieh has strong non-illusionistic conventions, it ends with a moment of such intense sadness that causes the audience weep and sob.
Talking about the spectator-performer relationship, the created synergy has huge cathartic effects for Shia devotees.
In Tazieh, both vocal and instrumental music are used. Drums, trumpets, flutes, and cymbals. Drum music announces that the troupe has arrived.
Next, a fanfare is played while the actors walk into the performance area, and then the performance opens with the pishkhāni, or prologue, which is sung by the chorus who may sing their lines in antiphony, sometimes Rowzeh-Khani accompanies prologue. This sets the mood and presents a summary of the plot.
Except for contemporary Western-type theatre, Tazieh is the only serious drama ever developed in the Islamic world. Its golden age was during Qajar dynasty (1789–1925).
In Iran, the event of Karbala and its artistic presentations have a major position in continuing Shia religious and cultural memory. Today, it is performed throughout Iran, but also in countries with significant communities of Shia Muslims.