Taziyeh in Translation

Ta’ziyeh In Translation
Finding Our Own Stories Through
The Story That Has Been Told
• Ta'ziyeh is an ancient and uniquely Iranian passion
play that reenacts the martyrdom of Hussein,
grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in the desert of
Karbala in the 7th century
• Presented annually during the first 10 days of
Muharram, 1st month of the Islamic Lunar calendar
• It depicts an event that is at the root of the separation
of the Shi’ia from the Sunni branch of Islam
Events Leading to the Story
• Prophet’s death presented a constitutional
challenge – how to select a successor?
• Sunni’s: elect the caliph
• Shi’ites: blood line of Muhammad (Ali)
• Ali elected 4th caliph then assassinated
• Hassan poisoned
• Hussein threatened
The Story of Ta’ziyeh
• Hussein leaves Mecca after he is secretly invited to Kufa to
take the caliphate
• The Sunni caliph Yazid, sends forces to intercept Hussein
& followers in the desert of Kerbela
• After ten days of siege where they are kept with no water,
Hussein, all his male next of kin, and their supporters are
shot with arrows, cut to bits by the swords of the enemy
army and their dismembered bodies are trampled into the
desert under the hooves of horses.
• Their severed heads are brought to Yazid in Damascus,
together with Hussein’s chained female relatives.
Ten Day Cycle
• Journey from Mecca to Kufa
– Murder of Moslem & his two boys
• Encirclement in Karbala
– Hur intercepts & escorts the group to the desert
• Tasu-a
– Shemr takes over, last attempt to persuade Hussein
• Battle of Ashura
– Individual stories of sacrifice & martyrdom
• Sham-e Gharibaan
– Tents are burned down & camp looted
Scene of Battle
Similarities with
Christian Cycle Plays
• Funeral cycles that originated in mourning
rituals and religious processions
• Using collective grief as an occasion to
celebrate and the sorrow of the martyred
death, a cause for triumph
• Makes audience one with the drama:
common set of beliefs & system of ethics,
shared language, common enemy
Takieh Isfahan
Troupe of Takieh Dolat
Qajar Era
A Fish Out of Water?
Ta’ziyeh presumes an initiated
audience of believers
Past Experiments
• Mahmood Karimi Hakak
– Hussain as a communist leader
• Mohammad Ghaffari
– Trinity College (1988)
• Sufi tale in English: Moses & the Wondering
– Lincoln Center (2001)
• Traditional Ta’ziyeh in Persian by troupe from Iran
• Definition of Hero & Heroism
– Submission not a dramatic choice
• Islam
– Reputation as violent religion
• Production Values
– Minimal & symbolic
• Performance Style
– Representational not realistic
• Adapt to a different/contemporary setting
(communist outcast/hero)
• Update language or replace with familiar
language (Rumi)
• Choose less controversial segments or
familiar characters (Moses/Dervish)
• Update production elements (music)
Why Now? Why Here?
• Religious iconography as a political tool
– Us versus Them: the righteous versus the evil
doers, God is on our side
– War on Terror: the new Crusade, triumph at any
– Martyrdom: Heaven as real estate
– Brave New World: speeding up the end of the
Why Ta’ziyeh?
• 9/11
On this day does anyone recall his loneliness for his brother,
Or describe the capture of his sister?
Their manifest cries are for the oppressed ones,
Or for the tyranny of the oppressing enemies.
• War in Iraq
O sufferer of sorrow, the world loves thee;
Old and young mourn thee with broken hearts.
The dust of thy threshold is too the place of prayer of mankind,
And Karbala is the prayer ground of angels.
Why Ta’ziyeh?
The women wondered amid the burning tents
Like the reflection of stars on water.
The small children, from around the tents,
Ran in all directions, like fiery sparks from the heart.
Other than their lacerated lives which could not be reached by the vicious
Nothing remained to them of their torn possessions.
Fingers were cut off for the sake of rings;
Earlobes were torn for their earrings.
The grandson of that king whose exalted name is called
At morning, noon and night from the minarets,
Has fallen in the blood and dust, and they trample his body
With their horses’ hoofs which strike screams from rocks.
Glorifying Martyrdom or
Communal Catharsis?
• Who are the “glorified martyrs” in our society?
• What does the reenactment of such events do in a
• What is our relationship to death, to war?
• Could we benefit from a communal mourning
• Does the ritual of grieving perpetuate or lend
closure to loss?
Nakhl Gardani