By Seyed Hossein Hosseiniseddiq            

Muharram rituals: flagpole-carrying in Shahroud

August 23, 2020 - 21:58

In Muharram culture, Shia Muslims perform the ritual of carrying flagpoles to commemorate the memory of Holiness Abol-Fazl Al-Abbas (PBUH), the faithful flag bearer of the Karbala plain.

In the past, flags and banners were considered as the symbol of a group, corps, or division, and usually, the task of maintaining it was the responsibility of the bravest men of this group.

The fifth day of Muharram every year in the city of Shahroud is dedicated to Hazrat Abol-Fazl Al-Abbas, the brother of the third Shia Imam, Imam Hossein (AS), and the flag-waving ceremony is held on this day.

The flag is one of the signs of mourning for those who move in front of the delegation during the procession. This sign consists of three parts: a wooden base, a metal body of a tray like a heart in the shape of a net, made of brass, and a steel protrusion approximately ten centimeters wide and one meter or longer.

According to locals, this sign is a symbol of the flag carrying the flag of Karbala incident, Hazrat Abol-Fazl Al-Abbas. Dressing the flagpole with black, green, etc. fabrics on this day is done by Sadat (those who are from the generation of Household of the Prophet of Islam) and the old servants of Aba Abdullah Al-Hossein in the houses of the owners of the flagpole and the neighborhood of Vali Abad castle.

For this purpose, some of the servants of Tekiyeh (a religious place) Shahroud Bazaar have gone to the houses of the owners of the flagpole in the area this morning, and in each house, after saying the phrase “Ya Allah” as a permission to enter the house and praying for their deceased, to a place they leave again.

Between morning and noon on the same day, the houses that have the flagpole are full of women and girls who go to the shrines to seek help or to make vows. It is very common to tie handkerchiefs or scarfs to the flagpole and to bless cloth and other items in this regard.

With the announcement of the noon call to prayer, the mourners offer prayers in Bidabad and are served for lunch. After an hour, some residents of Bidabad neighborhood formed a mourning committee and first went to the house of the late Karbalaei (a title for someone who has visited the Holy Shrine of Imam Hossein) Mir Abedin and after praying for the happiness of the deceased, to take the flag appointed to the Baba Ali clan, they set out for his house.

In front, a white flag is carried by a mourner. Behind the flag, several young people play the trumpet. With the presence of the group in front of the delegation, the flagpole is carried by several young people of the same Baba Ali clan along with other mourners to Tekiyeh of Bidabad.

Vowers whose houses are in the path of the procession present their loaf sugar to the mourning committee. Some women also greet mourners by smoking Sepand (plant seeds that burn to ward off evil eyes) in charcoal fireplaces. After the presence of the mourners in Tekiyeh of Bidabad and a brief reception, they leave for Tekiyeh of Bazaar. There, too, the flagpole of Tekiyeh of Bazaar, which is known as the oldest flagpole of the city, is placed separately in front of the group by the youth, and thus the flagpoles are carried in a line according to its antiquity.

The next places are Aqa Mosque, Tekiyeh of Shariat, and Sheikh Ali Akbar Mosque. Along the way, three mourning signs called Amari, which resemble a tent, join the mourning procession. Amari is carried from the sky as a sign of Hodah or palanquin, which carries Holiness Zahra (PBUH), the beloved daughter of the Prophet of Islam, or according to another belief, Holiness Zainab, the granddaughter of the Prophet of Islam. After the delegation arrives at the beginning of Shabdari Street, the mourners are divided into two groups.

Some people who are the bearers of the flagpole have gone to Vali-Abad castle and in this place, the work of dressing the flagpole is done by Sadat and the old servants of this ceremony. Others went to the Tekiyeh Yazdis living in Shahroud and Haj Reza Ali and returned to the place of mourning with the flags of those Tekiyehs. In Vali-Abad castle district, the detached body of the flagpole is connected to each other and the work of dressing (tying the fabric around it) is done. Putting apples on the tabs of the flagpole is very common on this day, and in the end, apples are divided between the flagpole bearers and the mourners with the intention of healing and blessing.

With the presence of another flagpole of Shahroud neighborhoods, around four o’clock in the afternoon, some of the elders of Tekiyehs, while whispering Mohtasham Kashani’s poems such as “What is this revolt again”, move in front of other mourners. In front of them, a white flag is carried by one of the servants of the Tekiyeh of Bazaar. This flag is attributed to Hazrat Abol-Fazl (AS) and its white color indicate his departure to bring water and not war.

When the group that recites Mohtasham’s poems arrives at the beginning of the alley of castle Seminary, a group of young people hit their hands on their chests and form long queues by saying O Abbas, O Abbas.

These people hit the chest with one hand and hold the other person’s back with the other hand. In this way, the mourners are connected to each other like chains. Behind the group of O Abbas, O Abbas, who beat their chests rhythmically, are most passionate and interested young people who flagpoles are carried in a line according to its antiquity. Meanwhile, the flagpole of Tekiyehs Bazaar, Baba Ali, and Bidabad are often carried high in front of other flagpoles.

A group of mourners, including those who recite Mohtasham’s poems, or those who regularly beat their chests, or those who carry the flagpoles, walk along Mazar Street and reach the Shahidan e Mehrab Park, passing through a narrow passage to the Tekiyeh of the bazaar and due to the narrowness of this space, the flagpoles are placed lying on the shoulders of the mourners.

Inside the Tekiyeh, women and children are seated in the royal residence section, waiting for the mourners to arrive. Around sunset, a group of old servants and then a group of those who hit their chests enter the courtyard. At this time, mourning culminates with the remembrance of O Abbas O Abbas with a slap on the head and chest. This excitement continues until the last flag enters the courtyard and then the atmosphere of the ceremony changes with the recitation of Salawat (Mohammad, peace be upon him).

At this time, an eloquent eulogy is recited in the description of the self-sacrifice and bravery of Hazrat Abol-Fazl Al-Abbas (AS) and the audience beats rhythmically on their chests. This mourning lasts until the Sunset prayer, after which the flagpoles of each neighborhood are transferred to their Tekiyehs and mosques.

In the belief of the people of the city, the Tekiyeh of Bazaar has been highly regarded by Hazrat Abol-Fazl Al-Abbas (AS), who can accommodate all the mourners on this day. According to the informants of the city, the ritual of the flagpole has been popular in the city of Shahroud for more than one hundred years ago, and since then, the glory and grandeur of its performance have been added every year.

Tekiyehs Bazaar (another name for Bazaar Tekiyeh is Zanjiri) and Bidabad are among the founders of this religious ceremony. According to this ritual, the flagpoles of all the mosques and neighborhoods of the city are transferred to the Bazaar on this day. If the blade suddenly falls to the ground while carrying the flagpole, a sheep is immediately sacrificed in the same place.

Otherwise, they believe that something bad will happen to the person carrying the flagpole. On this day, all the sheep that are sacrificed during the ceremony in front of the flagpoles belong to the Tekiyeh of Bazaar. Based on this belief, other vows such as sugarloaf, etc. are also included. To carry the flagpole and bear its heavyweight, a special leather belt is attached to the waist and the end of the wooden base of the flagpole is placed between the metal rings attached to the belt. Some people tie a scarf around their waist for this purpose and pass the wooden base of the flagpole in the middle of it.

In the beliefs of the people of the city, the flagpole is highly regarded and respected due to its attribution to Hazrat Abol-Fazl Al-Abbas (AS) and many people resort to it to meet their needs. Vowing to provide the cloth needed to cover the flagpole, to distribute nectar and dates among the mourners, or to eat a few apples placed on the steel protrusion of the flagpole at the end of the ceremony are among these beliefs.

 (Dr. Seyed Hossein Hosseiniseddiq is a faculty member at the Islamic Azad University)

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