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Development of Diegetic Practices in Iranian Indigenous Performances: A Historical View

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There are different views about the beginnings of the Ta’ziyeh. Some scholars and orientalists believe that the preliminary experiences which today may be a called religious performances happened after the first centuries of establishing the Shiite faith in Iran, during the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736 AD) as an official instrument of the State to promote the spirit of commemorating and mourning for the heroes who sacrificed by the evils at the Holy Day of Ashura.

In spite of all changes in the styles and the performative strategies of showing Ta’ziyeh, through its long journey from ancient Persia to the current time, new trends of Iranian theatre remain deeply connected to the tradition of telling stories and doing actions simultaneously before popular audiences. These are mostly inspired by the Muslims’ interests in getting together to celebrate their myths and epics. In this respect, Iranian believers are known as the most interested people of the region attracted to gathering around and reciting the oral narratives again and again. Ta’ziyeh was hence a kind of materializing of the communal unconsciousness to make ideal imaginary associations with the relatives of the Prophet Muhammad. Repeating the seasonal ceremonies and imitating the heroic actions were, in fact, a shared intention to be totally engaged in—an initiation, the ritual of becoming mature.  In this respect, Ta’ziyeh might be connected to the anthropological approach of performance theory.

Among those non-religious performances in Iran of which we may follow the vague traces, Naghali is the most influential in its use of narrative practices. We don’t know much about the origin of Naghali in the pre-Islamic world. A few indications in Iranian literature and historical books suggest that there were many popular storytellers in ancient Persia who recounted lyric and epic stories for the people and this is the oral tradition which came into Islamic communities. The poems of Ferdowsi (Shahname, 1010 AD ), Nizami’s Haft Peykar (which literally means seven stages of transcendence, 1200 AD) and the book History of Sistan (1460 AD) or Ibn Nadim’s Al-Fehrest (987 A.D.) were the most reliable texts in which the narrative practices of doing a performance in ancient Persia could found.

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