The Death of Hussein and his followers at Karbala in 680 C.E. on the tenth of Moharram, (the tenth day of the Muslim year), is remembered in Iran with all the pageantry and fervour that attaches to religious processions in other parts of the world.

Two or three days before the actual day, street parades start in the major towns and cities of Iran. On the day itself parades weave their way through the traffic as shown above.

The parade starts with men carrying banners and they are followed by a man carrying a large portrait of Hussein. Next come one or more enormous constructions called 'alama' which support plumes of feathers and various ritual emblems. These constructions are carried on the shoulders of a single man and more or less kept in place by a vertical pole which rests in a leather pouch suspended in front by leather straps. As each man tires another comes forward to shoulder the burden.

There seems to be no fixed design for these although the ritual objects, which may include peacocks, lions, horses and camels, seem to be fairly consistent. The style varies from town to town and region to region but certainly in Tehran there is a predominance of peacocks. I am hoping to include an explanation of the significance of these at a later date. The colour of the plumes may also vary as shown here.

Behind the plumes come lines of men who beat their shoulders with chains. These supplant the more dramatic crowds who used to strike their heads until they bled. The men swing their chains in time with each other alternating the shoulders. Amongst them walks a figure dressed in red who is supposed to represent the Caliph, Yazid, but is colloquially referred to as 'Shem'.

At the rear of the men come the musicians, made up of percussionists, sometimes a flautist, and invariably a singer who chants the ballad recounting the tragic events of that September's day.

The procession concludes with black furled banners as a sign of mourning.

After the parades have finished free food is available in the streets. This appears to be donated by local shops and restaurants. It typically consists of Khoreisht-e-Qeymeh, a stew of lamb with yellow split peas. This is served with thin 'lavash' bread, (reminiscent of a tortilla), and rice.


Last Updated: April 15th 2000 (10th Moharram 1429)
Pictures taken during the Ashura processions in Dr. Lavasani St., N. Tehran, 10th Moharram 1420 AH.