Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/111

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PERSIA.

taining the Koran. The procession is closed by musicians and young men, performing a variety of dances.

The first ten days of the month of Moharrem are devoted to a solemn mourning, in memory of the death of Hossein, the son of Ali. During this period, the Persians dress themselves in mourning, affect all the external appearances of sorrow, abstain from shaving their heads, from bathing, and even from changing their clothes. On the eve of the first of Moharrem, the mosques are hung with black. The next day, the pulpits are dressed in the same manner, the akhond and pish-namaz, inferior ministers of religion, ascend them, and narrate the particulars of the murder of Hossein with all the inflections voice that are calculated to render them more pathetic. The congregation from time to time beat their breasts, ejaculating: Ya Hossein! Ez Hosein heif! "O Hossein! Alas, Hossein!" Parts of the history of this Imam are in verse, and are chanted to a doleful tune. Various episodes of this history are daily represented by itinerant minstrels, as the circumstances,of the passion of Christ are exhibited in the Catholic countries of Europe. Banners, to which are fastened pictures relating to this history, are carried about the streets, followed by a concourse of men and boys, some personating Hossein's soldiers, and others his enemies. The two parties sometimes come to blows, and these sham-fights terminate in the death of one or two of the combatants.

The representation of the marriage of young Cassem, Hassan's son, with the daughter of his uncle, Hossein, forms one of the amusing incidents of this funeral festival. A young man acts the part of the bride, who is attired in a rich wedding-dress, and accompanied by her relatives, who sing a mournful elegy on the death of the bridegroom; for it should be observed, that the Imam Cassem was slain before the consummation of the marriage. At parting from his bride to go to the fight, Cassem takes the most affecting farewell of her; and, with a presentiment of his fate, he gives her, in token of his love, a mourning robe which she puts on. At this moment the people, transported with rage, rush upon the effigy of the caliph Yezid, the murderer of the Ali family, and tear it in pieces.

It is impossible to give an adequate description of the fanatic phrenzy of the Persians, during the days of mourning; nay, it could scarcely be credited, did not history teach us that the human mind knows no bounds in its aberrations. Death then appears a blessing of heaven; and those who perish in the combats which take place, are accounted martyrs. On the last day of the festival, their bodies are deposited in sepulchres, which are profusely decorated, and carried with great pomp to the