Travel Worn Satchel

Iran: Chanting, singing in the usually bustling Grand Bazaar, Tehran

The Grand Bazaar in Tehran is huge. There is about 10 Km of lanes and alleys supporting a vast number of stalls, mosques, guest houses and banks. I heard it said that if you can’t buy it in this ‘city within a city’ you won’t buy it anywhere. There are sections of the bazaar that specialise in a product or service – such as warren of corridors devoted to carpet sales; another stocking reconditioned motorcycle engines and yet another exclusively for underwear.

Apparently, the Grand Bazaar is the busiest market place in this region. Except the day I visited which coincided with a day of mourning during the holy month of Muharram.

All the stalls were closed. The normally bustling alleys were now a thoroughfare for locals to traverse the bazaar. While ambling round I heard a eerie chanting and rhythmic beating of hands on chests. Below are some recordings and photos:

Men chanting and beating their chests as they walked down a narrow alley lined with the portraits of men who died fighting for Iran

The chanting stopped as the small crowd surrounded a dais from which a man began to sing an mournful dirge. Around him the alley was lined with portraits of men killed fighting for their country.

A short excerpt from the singer’s lament

Some of the men joined in with the singing, others hummed. I saw one man in tears while another, incongruously was talking on a phone.

I find this final recording particularly mournful. Not sure if it’s the gradual number of singers joining in or the waves of palpable sadness that wash over the crowd. That said, there is a resonance about this recording which leaves me feeling both melancholic and, strangely, uplifted.

Wonderfully mournful, poetic and melodic song

It was luck that I happened to be in the bazaar on that day at that time to witness this doleful parade. The remainder of my time I wandered between the light and shadows of the uncongested lanes and alleys soaking up the atmosphere and offers of tea…

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