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A Tazia carrying procession in 1790-1800 by Shia Muslims on Ashura (Muharram) in the Indian subcontinent (c. 1790-1800). The Tazia were immersed into river or ocean.

Ta'zieh or Ta'zïye or Ta'zīya or Tazīa or Ta'ziyeh, (Arabic: تعزية‎‎, Persian: تعزیه‎‎, Urdu: تعزیہ‎) means comfort, condolence or expression of grief. It comes from roots aza (عزو and عزى) which means mourning.

Depending on the region, time, occasion, religion, etc. the word can signify different cultural meanings and practices:

  • In Persian cultural reference it is categorized as Condolence Theater or Passion Play inspired by a historical and religious event, the tragic death of Hussein, symbolizing epic spirit and resistance.
  • In South Asia and in the Caribbean it refers specifically to the Miniature Mausoleums (imitations of the mausolems of Karbala, generally made of coloured paper and bamboo) used in ritual processions held in the month of Muharram.

Ta'zieh, primarily known from the Persian tradition, is a shi'ite ritual that reenacts the death of Hussein and his male children and companions in a brutal massacre on the plains of Karbala, Iran in the year 680 A.D. His death was the result of a power struggle in the decision of control of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.[1]

The Origins of Ta'zieh

Ta’zieh as a kind of passion play is a kind of comprehensive indigenous form considered as being the national form of Iranian theatre which have pervasive influence in the Iranian works of drama and play. It originates from some famous mythologies and rites such as Mithraism, Sug-e-Siavush (Mourning for Siavush) and Yadegar-e-Zariran or Memorial of Zarir[2][3]. The Ta'zieh tradition originated in Iran in the late 17th century and predates all Western theatre traditions.

There are two branches of Islam; the Sunni and the Shi'i. The Sunnis make up about 85-90% of Muslims, but the Ta'zieh tradition is performed by Shi'i Muslims during the first month of the Muslim calendar, Muharram, one of the four sacred months of the Islam calendar.[4] Muharram means forbidden.

A strong belief in the Muslim community was that nothing could be better than the way Allah created it, so all other creation was deemed disrespectful. Because of this, there are not many accounts-visually or otherwise- of this religious tradition. During the tradition it was very important that all spectators knew the actors were not disrespecting Allah, so many times the actors had their scripts on stage with them so it was clear that they were not trying to depict another person that Allah did not create. The ritual was eventually banned by the authorities in Iran because the ritual was being exploited for political advances. Ta'zieh is not performed regularly in Iran and has not been seen at all in certain provinces of the region since 1920[5]. France was the first non-Muslim country that Ta'zieh was performed in in 1991. Since then, the tradition has been seen in non-Persian cities like Parma, Italy, Rome, Italy, and New York City. [6]

Ta'zieh in Persian Culture

The ritual dramatic art of Ta‘zīye
Country Iran
Reference 377
Region Asia and Australasia
Inscription history
Inscription 2010

In Persian culture it refers to condolence theater and Naqqali which are traditional Persian theatrical genres in which the drama is conveyed wholly or predominantly through music and singing. It dates from before the Islamic era and the tragedy of Saiawush in Shahnameh is one of the best examples.

In Persian tradition, Ta'zieh and Parde-khani, inspired by historical and religious events, symbolize epic spirit and resistance. The common themes are heroic tales of love and sacrifice and of resistance against the evil.

While in the West the two major genres of drama have been comedy and tragedy, in Persia, Ta'zieh seems to be the dominant genre. Considered as Persian opera, Ta'zieh resembles European opera in many respects.[7]

Persian cinema and Persian symphonic music have been influenced by the long tradition of Ta'zieh in Iran. Abbas Kiarostami, famous Iranian film maker, made a documentary movie titled "A Look to Ta'zieh" in which he explores the relationship of the audience to this theatrical form. Nasser Taghvaee also made a documentary on Ta'zieh titled "Tamrin e Akhar".

The appearance of the characteristic dramatic form of Persia known as the ta'zïye Mu'izz ad-Dawla, the king of Buyid dynasty, in 963. As soon as the Safavid Dynasty was established in Persia in 1501 and the Shiism of the Twelvers adopted as the official sect, the state took interest in theater as a tool of propagating Shiism.[8]

Women in Ta'Zieh

Women were not considered active members of the Ta'zieh performance ritual. Almost all women in these rituals were played by young males, however on some occasions little girls under the age of nine were able to fulfill small roles.[9] Women were traditionally played by males who would wear all black and veil their faces. During the festival period, the tekyehs were lavishly decorated by the women of the community that the performance took place, with the prized personal possessions of the local community. Refreshments were prepared by women and served to the spectators by the children of well-off families.[1] Society women were invited to watch the performance from the boxes above the general viewing area. [5] Generally the audience consisted of the more well-off families as they regarded Ta'zieh as entertainment, while the lower-class community members thought of it as an important religious ritual. The Ta'Zieh gained popularity during the 19th century and women painted scenes from Ta'Zieh performances on the stage on canvases and recorded history. This was a huge step in the history of islamic art. [10]

Importance of the Space

In Persian Ta'Zieh, the space is very important. The ritual was always performed in what was called a tekyeh. The most famous tekyeh is called the Tekyeh Dowlat, which was built by the King of Persia, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar and was situated in the capital of Iran, Tehran. Tekyehs (with the exception of the Tekyeh Dowlat) were almost always constructed for temporary use and then demolished at the end of Muharram. They varied in size fitting anywhere between a dozen to thousands of spectators. [1] Tekyehs were somewhat open-air, but almost always had awnings of sorts atop the building to shield the spectators and actors from sun and rain. All performers in a Ta'Zieh ceremony never leave the stage. The stage is elevated between one to two feet from the ground and split into four areas: one for the protagonists, antagonists, smaller subplots, and props.[5]


Costumes for a Ta'Zieh ritual are what is considered representational in terms of theater. They are not meant to present reality. The main goal of the costume design was not to be historically accurate, but to help the audience recognize which type of character they were looking at. Villains were in red, protagonists in green and anyone about to die was in white. Women were always portrayed by men in all black. [1]

Ta'zīya in South Asia

Shia Muslims take out a Ta'zīya (locally spelled Tazia, Tabut or Taboot) procession on day of Ashura in South Asia.[11]

The artwork is a colorfully painted bamboo and paper mausoleum. This ritual procession is also observed by south Asian Muslims in,

In the Caribbean it is known as Tadjah and was brought by Shia Muslim who arrived there as indentured labourers from the Indian subcontinent.

Tabuik made from bamboo, rattan and paper is a local manifestation of the Remembrance of Muharram among the Minangkabau people in the coastal regions of West Sumatra, Indonesia, particularly in the city of Pariaman culminates with practice of throwing a tabuik into the sea has taken place every year in Pariaman on the 10th of Muharram since 1831 when it was introduced to the region by Shia Muslim sepoy troops from India who were stationed and later settled there during the British Raj.[17]

1878 painting of Tazia immersion in the Bay of Bengal by Shia Muslims (Emile Bayard).

During the colonial era in British India, the ta'zīya tradition was not only practiced by Shia Muslims and other Muslims but joined by Hindus.[18][19] Along with occasions for Shia Muslims and Hindus to participate in the procession together, the Tazia procession have also been historic occasions for communal conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims and between Hindu and Muslim communities since the 19th century.[11][20] These Tazia processions have traditionally walked through streets of a town, with mourning, flagellation and wailing, ultimately to a local lake, river or ocean where all the Tazia would be immersed into water.[11]


Like Western passion plays, ta'zia dramas were originally performed outdoors at crossroads and other public places where large audiences could gather. Performances later took place in the courtyards of inns and private homes, but eventually unique structures called tazias were constructed for the specific purpose of staging the plays. Community cooperation was encouraged in the building and decoration of the takias, whether the funds for the enterprise were provided by an individual philanthropist or by contributions from the residents of its particular locality. The takias varied in size, from intimate structures which could only accommodate a few dozen spectators to large buildings capable of holding an audience of more than a thousand people. Often the takias were temporary, having been erected specially for the mourning of Muharram. All takias, regardless of their size, are constructed as theaters-in-the-round to intensify the dynamic between actors and audience. the spectators are literally surrounded by the action and often become physical participants in the play. In unwalled takias, it is not unusual for combat scenes to occur behind the audience.[21]

Takia-ye Dawlat, the Royal Theater in Tehran, was the most famous of all the ta'zia performance spaces. Built in the 1870s by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, the Royal Theater's sumptuous magnificence surpassed that of Europe's greatest opera houses in the opinion of many Western visitors.[21] This takia was later destroyed by Reza Shah.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d Chelkowski, Peter. "Time Out of Memory: Ta'ziyeh, the Total Drama". Asia Society. Retrieved 11 November 2017. 
  2. ^ Alizadeh, Farideh; Hashim, Mohd Nasir (2016). "When the attraction of Ta'ziyeh is diminished, the community should inevitably find a suitable replacement for it". Taylor & Francis, Cogent Arts & Humanities. 3 (1). doi:10.1080/23311983.2016.1190482. 
  3. ^ Alizadeh, Farideh; Hashim, Mohd Nasir (2016). Ta'ziyeh-influenced Theate. ISBN 978-1519731791. doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.3511154 & doi:10.5281/zenodo.59379.svg
  4. ^ Zarilli, Phillip B.; McConachie, Bruce; Williams, Gary Jay; Sorgenfrei, Carol Fisher (2006). Theatre Histories: An Introduction. USA: Routledge. pp. 81–82. ISBN 978-0-415-22727-8. 
  5. ^ a b c Caron, Nelly (1975). "The Ta'Zieh, the Secret Theatre of Iran". The World of Music. 17: 3–10 – via JSTOR. 
  6. ^ "TA'ZIA". Encyclopaedia Iranica. July 15, 2009. Retrieved September 18, 2017. 
  7. ^ Iranian performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (BBC Persian)
  8. ^ Iranian Theater Propagates Shiism
  9. ^ Mottahedeh, Negar. "Ta'ziyeh; Karbala Drag Kings and Queens". Iran Chamber. 
  10. ^ Idem. "Narrative Painting and Painting Representation in Qajar Iran". 
  11. ^ a b c Reza Masoudi Nejad (2015). Peter van der Veer, ed. Handbook of Religion and the Asian City: Aspiration and Urbanization in the Twenty-First Century. University of California Press. pp. 89–105. ISBN 978-0-520-96108-1. 
  12. ^ Specifically, Trinidad Sentinel 6 August 1857. Also, Original Correspondence of the British Colonial Office in London (C.O. 884/4, Hamilton Report into the Carnival Riots, p.18
  13. ^ Peasants in the Pacific: a study of Fiji Indian rural society By Adrian C. Mayer
  14. ^ Jihad in Trinidad and Tobago, July 27, 1990 By Daurius Figueira
  15. ^ Korom, Frank J. (2003). Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. ISBN 0-8122-3683-1. 
  16. ^ Shankar, Guha (2003) Imagining India(ns): Cultural Performances and Diaspora Politics in Jamaica. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas, Austin pdf
  17. ^ Bachyul Jb, Syofiardi (2006-03-01). "'Tabuik' festival: From a religious event to tourism". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 2007-01-27. 
  18. ^ Beyond Hindu and Muslim: Multiple Identity in Narratives from Village India By Peter Gottschalk, Wendy Doniger
  19. ^ Toleration through the ages By Kālīpada Mālākāra
  20. ^ Shabnum Tejani (2008). Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History, 1890-1950. Indiana University Press. pp. 58–61. ISBN 0-253-22044-0. 
  21. ^ a b "THE PASSION OF HOSAYN". Encyclopedia of Iranica. Retrieved 2008-01-19. 


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