Ta'ziyeh, Iran

A Traditional and Ritual Play as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Iranian People

Hamid Momenzadeh 승인 2024.06.14 19:43 의견 0

Ta’ziyeh (Passion Play):

Today, in the terms of Iranian works of drama and play, Ta’ziyeh (passion play) is considered and classified as a traditional and ritual play. Its main essence originates from Islamic and Iranian traditions and rites. This traditional play, which has inspired by the love to Ahl al-Bayt (literally meaning "Family of the House", referring in Islamic tradition to the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad), religious rituals and myths, has an inextricable tie with Islamic identity and Iranian history.

It is a play in which the Battle of Karbala is shown by people who play the role of the main characters in the Battle of Karbala. This is a traditional religious play for Shiite about the killing of Imam Hussein ibn Ali (AS). The art of Ta’ziyeh helped the development of theater in Iran, on the one hand, and served as the Shiism’s artistic symbol, on the other hand.

This precious art was registered in UNESCO in 2010.

The origin of Ta’ziyeh:

It was a very important issue to study in the history the discussion about the origin of Ta’ziyeh or passion play and the time of its emergence in Iranian society. In the ancient lands of the world, most of classic plays link with the religious rites, and rooted in myths, legends, beliefs, and generally in culture of a nation. Mitra’s tragedy and mourning for Siavash in Iranian myths is more likely the most original example of backgrounds underlying the passion play showing Imam Hussein (AS) and the history of Karbala. These two ceremonies have contributed to the formation of passion play.

The performers of passion play (Ta’ziyeh Khan) who are a group of ordinary people, represent the story of religious figures affliction and sufferings and the heroism of martyrs killed in Karbala, all of what had been mentioned in the earlier versions of Maqtal books, and narrated by Marsieh chanters (who manage the passion play).

History of Ta’ziyeh:

Ta’ziyeh is a transformation and evolution of the ritual mourning and ceremonies, which were common in Iran from the first and second centuries in particular 4th century AH (the period of Buyid dynasty). Mu’izz al-Dawla ordered that people wear black costume , close bazaars, and mourn in groups on Ashura day.

Ta’ziyeh, in the today sense, emerged in the middle or at least at the end of the Safavid dynasty, and developed and evolved in Afsharid dynasty and at the beginning of the Zand dynasty. Then it more or less became common. From the Qajar period on, Ta’ziyeh reached its pinnacle. In the Qajar dynasty, several new theatrical stages ( Tekyeh) were constructed of which the most well known is Tekyeh Dowlat (Royal Theater).

Ta’ziyeh components:

A) Ta’ziyeh Khan (s) (the chanters of the verses of poets on Karbala event) who can be categorized in three groups in terms of the role they play:

1) Auliya khan or Movafegh Khan (Protagonists): Those who play the role of the Prophet of Islam, the Imams, and their companions, and other prophets.

Auliya khan

2) Ashqya’ Khan or Moqalef Khan (Antagonists): Those who play the role of enemies and opponents of the family of the Islam Prophet and the Imams or other prophets.

Ashqya’ Khan

Ashqya’ Khan

3) Angels and heavenly caller: Those who act as angels or heavenly caller.

B) Ta’ziyeh Gardan or Moein Ol-Boka’ (the director or manager of the passion play): Ta’ziyeh performance is supervised by a director or manager. The manager provides the texts for the play and determines the costumes and the roles of each performer. Of his other tasks are the arrangement of the stage, the distribution of roles and texts.

Moein Ol-Boka’

C) Bani (The sponsor): someone with good intent and purpose who sponsors the passion play.

D) Costumes: the costumes of protagonists are black, green, white, yellow, or blue in color. Feathers used on the top of helmets are white, yellow, and green. The costumes of antagonists are often red and black. Antagonists mostly wear armor, boots, and helmets with red feathers on top.

E) Nosqeh (Script): it is a long paper 10 cm. in width and its length depends on the context written on it. It is sometimes in the form of a little notebook. Every Ta’ziyeh Khan has one script in his hand, of which he chants the lyrics.


F) Equipments of Ta’ziyeh: Many types of equipment are needed to perform a passion play, some are used as a symbol. Examples are: sword, dagger, shield, mace, ax, arrows and bows, spears, helmets, armor, boots, stick, water-skin, chairs, palanquin, pulpit, tents, masks, flags , horses, camels, sheep, lion skin, and so on.

G) Music: Melodies and songs and musical modes (Rast Panjgah, Maahur, Humayun and rhythmic music), especially for singing songs and dirges and pre-chanting, and even military songs and marches were gradually introduced into Ta’ziyeh. Almost from the period of Nasser Al-Din Shah on, it can be found general characteristics in the Music of Ta’ziyeh.
Vocal music or spoken music is dedicated to role players like protagonists, angels, and jinns and other peoples like preachers and heralds. Antagonists chant poems without music and tune, shouting with violence.

The theme of songs is proportional to the character and morality the role player should represent, and it is defined by the type of the event. These themes are of special quality and conditions for the managers of Ta’ziyeh and are different from traditional music. Chanting songs and dirges is not like singing in joyful ceremonies. The role players of Ta’ziyeh do not sit down, but move around chanting and performing the role, and do not repeat any verse, and don’t regard the intervals between the verses of a piece, and in some cases, there are interruptions between verses, which is filled up with music.

In Ta’ziyeh, the listeners and viewers pay more attention to positions and movements of the role players. Also, the musical tune is changed by changing the scenes and each role player chants in special tune. Of the variety of musical tunes dedicated to Ta’ziyeh we can address to pre-chanting, liturgical chanting, precepts and commands, epic poem chanting, womanish chanting, childish chanting, soloist and group chanting, singing farewell and separation, singing parting and mourning, singing like Gabriel and other angels and jinns, herald chanting, preaching, the dead and ghosts singing etc.
The musical instruments have not changed so much in the history of Ta’ziyeh. The musical instruments for Ta’ziyeh are confined to a few wind and percussion instruments, such as trumpets, drums, timpani, cymbals, flute and so on.

H) Language and Literature of Ta’ziyeh: the language of
Ta’ziyeh is poetry and most of lyrics used in Ta’ziyeh are of prosodic and official poetry and in some cases, a Ta’ziyeh poet uses non-formal poems or rhythmic prose, such as some dirges or pre-chantings, Bahre Tavil (some type of folksy rhythmic prose) and Chahar Pareh.

Poems of Ta’ziyeh are mostly simple and explicit in terms of language and literature. Ta’ziyeh Lyrics are not also monotonous and uniform in terms of literary quality and style and value.

The main purpose of Ta’ziyeh lyrics is to express attributes, moods, attitudes, portrayal conditions of the characters in Ta’ziyeh, or to demonstrate and to explain Ashura events. Since the spectators are mostly ordinary people the poems should be simple to be understood by everyone. If Ta’ziyeh poet wanted to compose high level poems, then, the main purpose, i.e. dramatic aspects of Ta’ziyeh, would be eliminated. Chanting sermons, preaches, boasting, fighting challenging, talking to oneself, dialogue with animals and objects are of examples of poem and prose used in Ta’ziyeh.


This article was written by Hamid Momenzadeh, the CEO of Haft Honare Niakane Parsi Art and Cultural Institute in Iran. In addition to his leadership role in promoting Iranian art and culture, Hamid Momenzadeh has recently been appointed as an International Reporter by Arirang Culture Connect. His extensive experience and deep understanding of Iranian traditions enrich his contributions to the global cultural dialogue.

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