Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Ashura: the pageant
"America is trying to take Ashura from us," the small, Ahmadinejad-like prayer leader called out to the crowd.
The crowd ignored him. Someone near me said, "He's trying to make this night political. It should not be political."
Still the man tried. It was like watching a rock and roll performer bomb while trying to get people to sing along with him.
Finally he gave up on politics and chanted the prayers for the sick. The crowd got excited then. That is what they came here for after all.
We were at the shrine in Tajrish in Northern Tehran. "Where are you from?" people asked me in broken English.
"America," I answered.
"Welcome to our country."
Inside the shrine, it smelled like feet, women with rainbow-colored feather dusters ushered the hordes of women to the grave. "We love Americans," a woman in a black chador whispered into my ear. "It's your government we don't like."
This was the night before Ashura. The next day we woke up to chants of "Hosseinjan, Hosseinjan." We went outside where a neighbor offered us a rice dessert with saffron. Ashura is a friendly holiday in Tehran. People are excited to be out together. It's an opportunity to express public emotion, to flirt, and to be part of a crowd. Iranians grab every one of these opportunities. Groups of young women looking their absolute best eye groups of young men with ridiculous hairdos while their parents and relatives look on.
The pageantry itself is amazing. Hazzans chant rhythmic mourning songs, men and women beat their chests. Men march, twirling chains and slapping them on their shoulders in time to the chanting. Giant mantles covered with bronze animals, shields, and feathers are carried through the streets.
And the food! Everywhere people were giving out food and drinks! We passed one group that was feeding 12,000 people. Mosques, private homes, private groups: everyone was handing out food. We ate ghemeh: a dish of split peas, potatoes, and mutton. Later we ate the heart, lung, and liver of one of the many sheep that gave its life that day.
Enough of that…