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Tazieh, Revives the Tragedy of Karbala

Considered by many as one of the most outstanding religious dramas, Ta’zieh narrates the sad tale of historical malice, which our holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and his kin, suffered. One of such sad tales circles around the bitter and heartbreaking events, which led to the tragic martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS) in the Neinava dessert around the year 680 A.D. (61 A.H.)

Ta’zieh by itself is synonymous with the word “holy mourning” or grief, especially in the case of the tragedy at Karbala. Properly delivered, it takes the shape of an art, which has survived centuries of ups and downs in Iranian history. Muslims have never missed out on one Ta’zieh occasion all through their hard times. But of course the way it is carried out today has changed in more than one way. Compared to all the other holy ceremonies and festivals, Ta’zieh is so highly praised that few can out do it in divinity or even popularity. The wet eyes of the audience of this drama emphasize the grandeur of this tragedy and once again, reinforce the fact that Ta’zieh is a thrilling religious ceremony.

The underlying philosophy behind it arises from the spirit of justice-seekers who have stood up against evil all through their lives. Other than just being popular amongst the Muslim community, it serves as a source of spiritual enlightenment, and with its emotional outcomes, purifies the soul and mind of humanity. The date of its initiation is traced back to the fourth century, after the Hijrah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

Edward Browne, author of The Literary History of Persia, with the support of two Iranian and German documentaries, recognizes Moiz-ud-Dowlah Deilami as its initial founder who lived around the year 963 A.D. Evidently, after assuming his position at the Caliph’s court in Baghdad, Moiz-ud-Dowlah initiated ten days of mourning at the beginning of the holy month of Muharram and thus, ordered all the shops in Baghdad to be closed during this period. People were asked to dress in black in order to display the depth of their grievance and sorrow. This command made mourning an official and communal ceremony and later established the foundation for Ta’zieh as is seen today, during the Safavid era (1501-1722 AD).

The responsibility of carrying out these proceedings is on the shoulders of a Ta’zieh director, who organizes and leads the group of performers. The director prepares the written dialogues of the drama, and picks out the appropriate costumes for each actor or “Shabih”. The director is a skilled musician, familiar with musical scales. During the performance he leads the musicians and the actors with his gestures or his stick. This is one of the unique aspects of this art, which has inspired many traditional Iranian playwrights and even some European ones, such as Peter Brook. Since the leader is working with a stage crew, some of his directions are given directly during the performance on stage. Thus he forewarns us to seek the underlying meanings in this work and not to be satisfied with the dramatic surface of the story.

As there is no make up involved in this drama, the actors are chosen according to their physical figure and their vocal abilities. Their exaggerated moves establish the fundamental basis of the play. The musical instruments involved are Dohol, Korna, Sorna, trumpet, Senj, flute, and Ghare flute. Previously the training of the singers began as early as their childhood years. After a couple of months of rehearsal, a role was given to every actor in accordance with his physique. The actors voluntarily accepted their roles and were mainly focused on the spiritual rewards; so, false ambition and lust for fame played no part in their conduct. The crew consisted of male performers and females were seldom seen on the stage except for young girls under the age of nine. The role of female characters usually was granted to young boys with girlish voices.

There are two parts involved in every Ta’zieh. The first is the aural part, which consists of listening to the holy hymns and the “marsieh” reciters. The second is the performing part, in which the audience participates in the actions by the rhythmical movement of their hands and bodies. Taking a glance at the way Ta’zieh was performed in a larger cross section of Iran, we notice that these mourners later stirred many dramatic movements. Among the components, which contributed to the overwhelming popularity of this art, are the unification of holy hymns with dramatic movements, which together appeal to the sentiments of the mourners. Another point that has substantial value is the fact that this is not only a fine representation of dramatic arts, but in fact it is a political device that has shown its efficacy thoroughout the history, in which the mourning symbolizes the perpetual battle against the wrongdoing of the systems in all times and places.

On the significance of Ta’zieh and its powerful impacts a respectable theater authority has once said “regarding its formal values, it is extremely expressive and emotional. The actor doesn’t only play his role and leave the stage; he performs a religious ritual. It is considered among those dramas in which the audience can recognize himself with it, without knowing the whole story, believing in its historical accuracy or without even being a Muslim. Its language is free of complexities, the set and the costumes are plain but its emotional effects on the hearts of the audience or the listeners are incredible. Time and place, past and future lose their credibility and fade very smoothly away, while virtues like courage, faith, justice, benevolence, loyalty and love become the main players on the stage”.

Among all the performing arts in Iran, when considering their historical backgrounds, Ta’zieh is the only one where beauty has come to balance and harmony with cultural and philosophical values, and of course the only one with the most popularity among all the sectors of the society.

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