Ta’ziyeh in Iran (Part III)

By: Dr. Freydoon Arbabi
© Freydoon Arbabi

Freydoon Arbabi, professor emeritus of civil engineering - Michigan
Technological University
for some 20 years, and visiting faculty at UC-Berkeley and University of Waterloo in Canada, is a consulting structural engineer in the Bay Area. He is the author of a book, Structural Analysis and Behavior, published by McGraw-Hill in 1991 and some 40 technical articles in professional journals. He has recently authored a book, Classical Persian Music, Radif. Which describes the history and characteristics of Persian music for non musicians. Information about this book can be obtained by sending an email to farbabi@mtu.edu.  

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Takieh Daulat, Oil Painting by Kamal ol-Molk, Gulistan Palace

Different Ta’ziyehs 

At the height of ta’ziyeh performances a large number of ta’ziyehs were composed. Enrico Cherulli, Italian ambassador to Iran during the 1950’s, collected over a thousand different ta’ziyehs, which are kept at the Vatican Library. This collection includes some interesting mystic or Sufi ta’ziyehs as well, such as Majles of Mansur Hallaj.  Hallaj is one of the most interesting sufi figures who crusaded all his life for the down trodden folks.   He was hung by Moslem zealots for his belief of unity of being, and the ability of humans to reach godliness. Another Sufi ta’ziyeh is titled Shamse Tabrizi and Jalal-edin Rumi. The latter reconciled Sufism with Islamic beliefs. 

Another collection is one with 260 ta’ziyehs at the Library of Majles in Tehran. There are documentations and discussions of ta’ziyeh. Bahram Beyza’i in his book, Nemayesh dar Iran, describes the dramatic aspects of ta’ziyeh. Another interesting book is Ta’ziyeh va Ta’ziyeh Khani of Sadeq Homayuni. H. Taheri Dust has filmed several ta’ziyehs at Habib Abad near Esfahan. Parviz Sayad has produced several films and videos on ta’ziyeh, including Khoruje Mokhtar, Abdollah Hafif, and ta’ziyeh of Hurr which was performed at the Shiraz Festival of Arts in 1967. Ta’ziyeh titles include, ta’ziyeh of Ali-Akbar, Imam Hassan, and ta’ziyeh Shahr Banu. Shahr Banu, daughter of Yazdgerd the third, the Sasanid king during the Arab invasion, is said to have been taken as a prisoner (slave) when Arabs overran Tisfune, the Sasanid capital. Subsequently she was married to Imam Hossein. Many of ta’ziyehs are variations of one another. Nevertheless, there is a significant number of independent ta’ziyehs. 


The popularity of ta’ziyeh led to some variations of it. These so called gushehs were often performed before the main ta’ziyeh for warming the audience. They were performed at a corner of the hall. This may be the reason for the term gusheh (corner). Such pieces may depict the story of a more minor figure in the Karbala events such has Hurr, or Qassem. Sometimes they included stories other than those of Karbala, such as Yousef and Zolaikha. The story of Zolaikha trying to seduce Joseph and when he refuses her advances she blames him for trying to seduce her. Because victimization of innocent in this story bears similarity to those of Karbala it was appealing to the audience. A similar story is Abraham trying to sacrifice his son Isaac to show his devotion to God. In this case a lamb is sent by God as a substitute sacrifice, and loyalty of Abraham is not compromised. Other popular gushehs are Ta’ziyeh of The Lion of God about Ali father of Imam Hossein, and The Death of Prophet Mohammad.


Takieh Daulat, interior without cover

Ta’ziyeh of Qassem

Qassem is the young son of Imam Hassan, and Nephew of Imam Hossein. He along with his mother and his younger brother Abdollah, are among Imam Hossein’s entourage at Karbala. As the skirmish heats Qassem feels depressed for being left out of defense efforts and not being taken seriously by his uncle. He complains to his mother and asks her to intervene on his behalf. “Qassem is too young”, replies Imam Hossein, “besides he is the living memory of my brother, Hassan”. Upon her insistence the Imam relinquishes and reconsiders Qassem’s participation in the battle. Furthermore, he laments, “young Qassem has not yet tasted the fruits of life”. Then Imam Hossein remembers that his brother had suggested that Qassem marry Fatemeh, Imam Hossein’s daughter. He asks his sister Zainab to approach Fatemah and ask her to fulfill her uncle’s wish and marry Qassem. "How can I?" replies Fatemah. "I am in mourning for my brother Ali Akbar (who has just been killed). "It is the will of God”, replies Zainab, “so that Islam may perpetuate". This logic persuades Fatemah to concede. Suddenly the riderless horse of Ali Akbar bursts upon the scene to further dramatize the event. Qassem’s mother states that it is not right to conduct marriage celebrations while the bride’s mother, Um-e Laila, is in mourning for her son. Imam Hossein tells her to go to Um-e Laila and convince her that festivities must take place, and ask her to help in preparing the wedding celebrations. "These are circumstances of our lives," he sighs.  The nuptial chamber is prepared with teary eyes. Qassem is dressed in Ali Akbar’s bridegroom costume (who had been recently married). Fatemah is similarly dressed up for the event. Next Zainab asks Fatemah to mount Ali Akbar’s horse for the symbolic ride to her wedding chamber. Fatemeh refuses to mount the horse of her martyred brother. Hossein is deeply touched and agrees that Fatemeh is right. He orders his own horse, Zoljanah to be used instead. Everyone congratulates the bride and the groom, and each other. Imam Hossein even sends presents of sugar cones (the traditional Iranian wedding gift) to his nemeses, Shemr and Ibn-e Sa’d. The couple enters the bridal chamber. However, Qassem exits after a short time stating that consummation of the marriage is impossible under the circumstances. "See how alone Imam Hossein is as the battle nears. Perhaps our union will have to wait till the judgment day," He states. Fatemeh asks for a token of him, so she can recognize him on the resurrection day. "You will recognize me from the hundred wounds on my body", he replies. He then entrusts his brother, Abdollah, to his aunt Zainab and tells Imam Hossein that he is ready to join the battle. The Imam wraps a black shroud, the qualifying garment, over Qassem’s wedding clothes. This is the honorary authorization that Qassem had been seeking. He bids a last farewell to his bride and asks his mother to take care of her before joining the battlefield.  Despite his valiant efforts Qassem is captured after falling from his horse. Shemr standing above him asks Ibn-e Sa’d's permission for dealing the final blow. Qassem makes a last request, which is to see the face of his sweetheart one more time. "Give him a respite," says Ibn-e Sa’d. However this last wish is never granted. Shemr does not want to jeopardize his chances of the Ray governorship, which has been promised him if he quells Imam Hossein’s rebellion quickly. Qassem cries out to Imam Hossein, who rushes to him through the crowd of infidel soldiers. He reaches Qassem, but after Shemr has struck the last blow. Imam Hossein cradles Qassem’s head with his arms and curses his murderers. Qassem’s last words are that he should not be taken back to the camp. “Because I do not want my new wife to see me in this miserable state”, he bemoans.