Why you should travel to Iran during Muharram

Author : Daricer , August 28, 2019

Why you should travel to Iran during Muharram

Traveling to Iran during the month of Muharram and visiting Muharram mourning ceremonies is one of the most different and unforgettable experiences you can have in life.

If you are in doubt about traveling to Iran during the month of Muharram, this post may help you set aside your doubts and close your luggage.

  1. Muharram month

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. The general meaning of the adjective Muharram means “banned, barred, forbidden, illegal, illicit, impermissible, prohibited, unlawful, unpermitted, unauthorized or even taboo”. the Islamic calendar dates differ from year to year in contrast to the West and are based on the lunar cycle.

For Shia Muslims, Muharram is a month of mourning. The Mourning of Muharram is a confession of mourning and commemoration of the killing of Imam Hussein and a group of his companions in the Karbala incident. The Battle of Karbala took place on 680 CE (Muharram 10, in the year 61 AH of the Islamic calendar) in Karbala, in present-day Iraq.

2. Day of Ashura

Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram in the Hijri calendar of the Holy Day of Muslims (and Shia mourning).

During the annual commemoration of Ashura, Shia Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Year after year, the Shia review the narrative of Karbala on Ashura to remember the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.

3. Mourning of Muharram

Mourning for Imam Hussein and his companions begins on the first day of Muharram and reaches its peak at noon of Ashura.  In the evening of Ashura, this mourning continues under the title of the Sham e Ghariban (homeless strangers’ supper) ceremony. Over the centuries, this ceremony and

Symbols are in people’s beliefs and thoughts. These customs are historically important in addition to religious cultural demonstrations.

Communities perform religious mourning based on their tradition and culture

And they use different tools and methods. In Iran, the ceremony will be held for Imam Hussein and his companions in a different way. Interestingly, not only is the event different around the world, but it is also

It is done differently in different cities, towns and villages of Iran. Tools used such as gauges,

Drum, Reed, Clarinet, hautboy and other musical instruments. Dirge, hitting a bunch of chains on the shoulders,

Beating on the chest, and performing Ta’zieh are parts of this event. . But in general, following elements give this event special passion: 

• Weepers’ song

• The sound of cymbals, drums, etc. 

• Repeating the dirges and poems by mourners 

• The sound from the beating of mourners’ hands and chains on chest and shoulders 

• Metal and cloth Alams which are decorated in special style and particular poems and paintings, which fit with the theme, are engraved or written 

• Participation of large number of people (children, teenagers, middle aged, elderly men and women) 

• Similar clothes 

Some provinces and cities are famous for different mourning styles like: 

  • TabaghKeshi in Qazvin (a city in western Iran) (Tabagh a tool made of wood in the form of cylinder which is about one and a half meters Height and one meter in diameter. Many of these cylinders are covered with mirrors. Some mourners carry it on their heads on the day of Tasoa) 
  •  TashtGozari in Ardabil (Ardabil is a city in northwestern Iran) (the basin is a sign of water and rivers that are closed to Imam Hussein and his followers.The ritual is one of the oldest Iranian traditions and rituals. Many Turkic-speaking people in Iran begin the Muharram mourning with this ritual.In this ceremony, which is held with sigh and tear, groups of people who beat their shoulders and chest by chain and hands pour water in water-skin for remembering Karbala thirsty people. They take it to the mosque with basin made of bronze or copper that is usually carried on the shoulders of elders of each district. After circumambulating mosque, basins are located in their own special place which is poured with water by praying. Attendees and mourners take some water from these basins as a consecration and for meeting their needs and wants.
  • Nakhl Gardani, trolling the palm, in Abyaneh (a village in Isfahan province) and Yazd (is a city and province located in the center of Iran) (this ceremony is held in Ashura as a symbol of funeral of Imam Hussein. Palm is a small room where vertical walls on both sides are like a pine and is made of net woods and walls. Palm is decorated with a variety of fabrics such as cashmere, is carried in mourning day and is put near homes which have a vow. Some people sacrifice sheep or goat near Palm. At the end, it is put in its place) 
  • Gel Mali(kharrah mali), rubbing mud on body, in Lorestan province (located in the west of Iran) (people cover their body with mud for sadness of loss of Imam Hussein as an ancient tradition.  This ritual starts from Tasoa afternoon by collecting the soil free of any pollution from mountains, then pour the soil in a special laver and mix with water and rosewater. After that, fire is lighted for making mourners warm after rubbing mud).
  • Chehel Manbar, forty pulpits, in Gorgan (a city in Golestan province which is located in the north of Iran), Khorramabad (a city in Lorestan Province) and Lahijan (a city in Guilan province) (there is a pulpit or table covered with cloth near every house and there are candles on the table which are lighting. Anyone who has a forty-pulpit vow goes to the house or mosque that has a pulpit. The owner of pulpit put candles and small packages of rice on it and someone who has a vow put date on pulpit and take rice and lit the candle. This ceremony begins from twilight of Tasoa and ends after the evening pray). In summary, in investigating mourning rituals, artistic-cultural branches such as literature (poem and prose), music, play (drama, epopee, myth, and stage design), painting, outfits, language, accent, etc. emanate impressively. 

However a series of symbols of ceremonies are common in all parts of Iran that mentioned above briefly. For better understanding, description of these concepts is as followed: 

  • Ta’zieh: It is an obvious example of religious rituals of mourning and reflection of the people’s deep beliefs and emotions which can demonstrate the value of Islam among Muslims and strengthen the sense of solidarity among people. Undoubtedly, Ta’zieh is one of the most genuine Iranian dramas that can preserve Iran rich culture (figure 6). It is the only indigenous play of Islam and traditional religious play of Iran in which Iran social-philosophical values have been visualized in this art. The main theme of Ta’zieh is heroic martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his faithful companions in Karbala and confrontation and conflict between good and evil. But what distinguishes it from west tragedy is that conflict in Ta’zieh unlike tragedy is in benefit of vicious people.
  • Zanjeer Zani: hitting a bunch of chains on the shoulders: It’s a kind of mourning ceremony in which male mourners as a regular group in general and sometimes irregular one beat on shoulder, back and head by chain. Hitting a bunch of chains on the shoulders is done in different modes such as one beat, three beats, four beats and more that is accompanied with poetry and panegyric, cymbal and drum.
  • Beating on the chest: It’s also a mourning style in which mourners beat on chest by hand. The movement of people who beat on chest has a special harmony that increases the glory of the ceremony. Regular and rhythmic monotone that is heard during the beating on the chest attracts all people in the ceremony. In other words, a major factor of organizing and effectiveness of the event is harmonious rhythm and movement of people who beat on chest. 
  • Music and elegy: Music in Tasua and Ashurais played by some instruments such as cymbals, drums, reed, clarinet, hautboy, trumpet, and flute. This music surprisingly impresses the people who beat on chest by hand and hit on shoulder by chain and the audience’s emotions. Along with music tones, poems are read in form of elegy. These poems are about Karbala Battle, Imam Hussein, and his family and companions. Dirge is sung individually or in a group along with the sound of beating on chest by hand and hitting on shoulder by chain. In fact, it is a sound that has aesthetic and 

Musicological functions

  • Alam and Kattal: Alam is an object that is made of bronze, iron and brass which is sometimes reticulated, and is put on a long wood at a height of 3 to 4 meters and has valuable colorful fabrics. Implications of Alam to tall tree and lofty position of martyr have two reasons: one is that the height of tree represents ascension of martyr (like the Ascension in Christian religion) and the other one is that falling of tree and breaking its trunk don’t mean destruction and loss; but, when it refuses to come down and grows on its remaining root with more buds, it shows eternality of martyr. Alams are made of spring and resilient blades are used for greeting, paying obeisance to and bowing to the greatness of the Lord (Nadalian and Hoshyar, 2008). Alams have different forms and symbols that each of them has different meaning. Kattal is a kind of alam in which is erected a shirt without sleeves in the upper part and mourners move it with signs and banners. According to Moein Persian dictionary, it is an alam which is moved by mourners in ceremonies 
  •  Votive foods: cooking votive foods and sweets in various religious ceremonies have been done for ages. Preparation and distribution of these foods have a special value in Iran’s culture. Different votive foods are also distributed among mourners and crowds in Tasua and Ashuraevents. Diversity of foods is different around the country depending on the tradition and culture of the provinces and cities. These foods include a variety of rice and pottage. Preparation of food for mourning groups is a teamwork that needs cooperation and coordination of a lot of people which can be in different ages and genders. 
  • Sham e Ghariban, homeless strangers’ supper: this event is held in the evening of Ashura and considered as a good ending of the ceremony. A lot of candles are lightened and sad dirges are sung in homeless strangers’ supper ceremony. In other words, lightning candles is the main symbol of this night. No Alams and banners are used. 

We suggest that you travel to Iran once during the month of Muharram, and do not miss this magnificent and wonderful religious event.

We have also provided links to sites that can provide you with services during the month of Muharram for mourning services. You can use DaricCard to pay for tours.



Sources: The Potentials of Tasua and Ashura Ceremonies in Cultural Tourism Development