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Full text of "Journeys In Persia And Kurdistan ( Vol.Ii)."

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LETTER xxiv    THE PEKSIAN PASSION PLAY                159

the Passion Play. As night came on it was possible to
feel the throb of the excitement of the city, and till the
small hours the march of frenzied processions was heard,
and the loud smiting on human breasts and the clash
of the chains with which the dervishes beat themselves,
were intermingled with a united rhythmic cry of anguish
—Ah Houssein \ Wai Houssein ! (0 Houssein ! Woe for
Houssein!) Ya Houssein! Ya .Hassan I and in the
flickering light of the torches black flags were waving,
and frenzied men were seen beating their bare breasts.

In some of the cities these processions are a sickening
spectacle. Throngs move along the streets, escorting large
troops of men either stripped to their waists or wearing
only white shirts which expose the bosom. Beating their
breasts with their right hands in concert till they make
them raw, gashing themselves on their heads with daggers,
streaming with blood, and maddened by religious frenzy,
they pass from street to street, and the yell rises from all
quarters, Ya Houssein I Wai Houssein I Occasionally
men drop down dead from excitement, and others, falling
from loss of blood, are carried away by their friends. It
is at the end of the month of mourning that these pro-
cessions, called testeh, increase so much in frenzy and
fanaticism as to be dangerous to the good order of cities,
clashing with each other, and sometimes cutting their way
through each other with loss of life. To join in a testeh
is to perform a "pious act," and atones for sin committed
and to be committed. The Tazieh or Passion Play itself,
acted in splendour before the Shah, is repeated every-
where throughout Persia, lasting from ten to twelve
days, the frenzy with which the different incidents are
received culminating on the last day, when the slaughter
of Houssein is represented. On the whole the Tazieh
is among the most remarkable religious phenomena of
our age.