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  Updated: December 01, 2007

Shia rituals including Ta'ziyeh discussed by US historian

By: Anjum Kermani

BERLIN, Germany: A two-day symposium on the trans-regional transfer of popular Shia beliefs and rituals, began in Berlin on Wednesday evening November 28, concluded on Thursday.

A focal point of the opening session hosted by the Berlin-based Center for Culture and Language Research, was the cultural transfer of the Shiite Muslim passion play, Moharram, to India and the Caribbean region.

According to Peter Chelkowski who is a leading US Mideast historian at New York University, the Ta'ziyeh which symbolizes the heroic martyrdom of Imam Hossein (AS) was also taken over by Hindu-dominated Indians as well as parts of the Caribbean basin.

The word Ta'ziyeh literally means expressions of sympathy, mourning and consolation.

As a dramatic form it has its origins in the Moharram procession marking Hussein's martyrdom and throughout its evolution the representation of the siege and carnage at Karbala has remained its centerpoint.

Chelkowski pointed out Indian Ta'ziyehs feature the artistic recreation of the Imam Hussein shrine which Indians believe has a healing function.

Indians are also mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, wearing white shirts contrary to Iran where people are wearing dark shirts, the US scholar added.

On the role of Ta'ziyehs in the Caribbean Basin, Chelkowski said it was brought to the region by Indian guest workers.

One month a year, large and small-scale Ta'ziyehs are taking place in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad, mostly at the beach front, he added.

Many Hindus, based in Trinidad, are also attending the Ta'ziyehs, noted Chelkowski who lived and studied in Iran for many years prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.                   

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