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158 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER xxiv
long melancholy call to prayer from the minarets. If it
is necessary to go out at night a person of either sex is
preceded by a servant carrying a lantern near the ground.
These lanterns have metal tops and bottoms, and waxed,
wired muslin between, which is ingeniously arranged to
fold up flat. They are usually three feet long, but may
be of any diameter, and as your consideration is evidenced
by the size of your lantern there is a tendency to carry
about huge transparencies which undulate very agreeably
in the darkness.
This is the Moharrern or month of mourning, for
Hassan and Houssein, the slain sons of Ali, who are
regarded by the Shiahs as the rightful successors of
the Prophet and as the noblest martyrs in the Calendar.
During this period the whole Persian community goes
into deep mourning, and the streets and bazars are filled
with black dresses only. In this month is acted through-
out the Empire the Tazieh or Passion Play, which has for
its climax the tragic deaths of these two men.1
I arrived in Hamadan on what should have been the
first day of Moharrem, but there had been a difference of
opinion among the mollahs as to the date, and it was post-
poned to the next day, for me a most fortunate circum-
stance, as no Christian ought to be seen in the streets
at a time when they are filled with excited throngs
frenzied by religious fanaticism. On the following day
the quiet of the city was interrupted by singular cries,
and by children's voices, high pitched, singing a chant so
strange and weird that one both longs and dreads to hear
it repeated. The Christians kept within their houses.
Business was suspended. Bands of boys carrying black
flags perambulated the town, singing one of the chants of
1 For a detailed and most interesting account of these remarkable
representations the reader is referred to Mr. Benjamin's Persia arid the
Persians, chap. xiii.