A Religious Procession

One of my earliest vivid remembrances was viewing a night torch-lit procession of Persians in the cobble-stone streets of Erzerum from the balcony of our house. I had known nothing of this; a number of guests had been invited and as I was only a youngster, I had been sent off to bed at the proper time but apparently did not go to sleep. Curious at what was going on about me, I crept down stairs to the second floor and from there, out to the balcony where the guests were assembled, this is the view that I saw from behind the palings of the iron railing on the balcony.

There were two bay horses richly caparisoned and saddled. On the side of the saddle of each horse was a milk white dove and a sword in its scabbard placed up-side-down. Each of the horses was led by a turbaned retainer dressed in brilliant Oriental costume. The horses were followed by an extraordinary group of men, stripped to the waist. From the waist down they were swathed in white cloth. On either side of the procession other men walked carrying lighted torches. By the fitful flames of these torches, one could see that these men, naked to the waist, were beating themselves. Several of them had heavy chains and by bringing them forward and throwing them over their shoulders were beating themselves unmercifully. Other had swords, long Turkish swords (simitars), and were striking themselves making the blood stream down, a vivid red against the white cloth of the robes. These men were the mourners of the two young princes, Hassan and Hussain, who had been killed by their uncle in the early days of the development of the Mohammedan religion. From the Mohammedan sect which adhered to the memory of these two princes grew the Suni sect to which belong the majority of the Persians today. This procession was held on the anniversary of the killing of these two princes.

I remember seeing them fall as they were passing by, faint from the loss of blood and cruel self-inflicted beatings. Men who were there for that purpose immediately threw water on them and helped them to stand again and these poor men would stagger along and continue to beat themselves with their heavy chains and simitars. The whole procedure was carried out in a rhythmic monotone, the men calling out in unison each time that they threw the implements over their shoulders, "Hassan", and then "Hussain" as they flung the swords and chains over the other shoulder. They all performed these actions to time and it left me with a memory never to be forgotten, not only to the eye but also to the ear.

This procession wended its way to the main Persian cemetery in the outskirts of the city where ceremonies were carried out. The doves were killed and their blood poured over the spot considered sacred by the Persians. Many men have been known to have died while acting as mourners from suffering self-inflicted tortures.

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