Zanjīrzanī or Self-Flagellation (Persian: زَنجیرزَنی, literally: beating oneself with chains) is a Shiite mourning ritual in which people beat their shoulders with clusters of chains attached to a wooden handle in the memory of the elegies of Ahl al-Bayt (a), and in particular, the Captives of Karbala. The ritual is popular in India, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. It is generally practiced only by men who participate processions on important occasions of mourning rituals, such as the First Ten Days of Muharram and the Last Ten Days of Safar. There are different styles of "zanjirzani". Zanjirzani processions are usually accompanied by Nawhakhwani, drumming, and Sinj (cymbal). Although the majority of faqihs (Shiite jurisprudents) permit zanjirzani, some of them have forbidden it along with Tatbir.
The origin of zanjirzani allegedly traces back to India and Pakistan. The ritual probably entered Iran in the middle of the Qajar period. There is no account of zanjirzani in older sources. There are reports of zanjirzani in European travel books in the period of Nasir al-Din Shah. In the period of Reza Shah, mourning rituals, including zanjirzani, were forbidden. In the period of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, there were temporary bans on practicing such rituals on some occasions. For example, in August 1955, before the Muharram month, the Pahlavi government appealed to a fatwa by Sayyid Hibat Allah Shahristani, an Iraqi jurisprudent of the time, and banned zanjirzani and some other mourning rituals. The ban was followed by protests, including a huge procession of zanjirzani by people of Azerbaijan who sat in on Sayyid Muhammad al-Bihbahani's house. The sit-in ended after the intervention of Husayn 'Ala, the prime minister of the time. Zanjirzani was also banned in 1927 in Hyderabad.
Geographical Locations and Places
Zanjirzani is a Shiite mourning ritual which is mainly held in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and India in different manners.
There is no particular place to hold zanjirzani. It is held in alleys, streets, as well as enclosed places, such as the courtyards of religious sites or Husayniyyas.
The ritual of zanjirzani is probably a symbol for the elegies of the caravan of the Captives of Karbala on their way to, and in, Syria; elegies such as having chains on their arms and legs and being whipped by the guardians of the caravan. Zanjirzani is a sort of undergoing pains and sufferings in order to share the sufferings imposed on the Captives as well as the Martyrs of Karbala by their enemies.
Manners and Styles
The ritual is held in different areas of Iran and Iraq with slight differences, though it preserves its identity nonetheless. However, it is held in a totally different way in India and Pakistan. The main difference is that the chains used in the latter two countries have blades on them.
In Iran, people who practice zanjirzani hold processions organized in lines with one or two persons in each row. In front rows are seniors and then the youths, teenagers, and children. They beat their shoulders, and sometimes their heads and chests, with chains in harmony with the rhythm of the nawha recited by a Nawhakhwan. They beat drums and Sinj along with the procession. There are different styles of zanjirzani, such as uni-stroke, two-stroke, three-stroke, four-stroke, and more. The rhythm of zanjirzani follows that of nawha and the drum.
On days of Tasu'a and 'Ashura, sometimes horses covered with white cloths stained with red drops, as symbols for bloods, move ahead of chest-beating and zanjirzani processions. And sometimes some pigeons are put on the back of the horses as symbols for propagating the news of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) from Karbala to Medina.
In Iraq, zanjirzani is practiced in an almost similar way to that in Iran. All people who practice zanjirzani wear black clothes the shoulders of which are torn apart in order for the chains to touch the naked bodies for more empathy with the household of Imam al-Husayn (a). In Kadhimiya, a group of men form rectangular or oval shapes and march towards the Shrine of al-Kadhimiya. Along with these processions, drums, Sinj, and horns resound, and Nawhakhwani is usually practiced. Some people attach small blades to their chains to inflict a greater pain to themselves.
In Pakistan and India
In India and Pakistan, the ritual of zanjirzani used to be held in the way it is held in Iran, but later, it underwent changes by people, such as the attachment of blades and knives to the chains.
Zanjirzani is held in all cities of Pakistan. Even some young Sunni Muslims and Christians take part in the ritual. In Pakistan, it is customary for men and women who do not have children to pledge to God that if He gave them a child, they would bring him or her to the ritual of zanjirzani for Imam al-Husayn (a) every year.
Opponents of Zanjirzani
- Sayyid Abu l-Hasan al-Isfahani: he issued a fatwa forbidding Tatbir, zanjirzani, and the like: "it is haram and illegitimate to use swords (Tatbir), chains, drums, and horns and to do other similar things which are common in mourning processions and on the Day of 'Ashura today."
- Sayyid Muhsin Amin: in his al-Tanzih li a'mal al-shabih, he treated zanjirzani in the same way as Tatbir and forbade both. In this essay, he attributes to Mirza Shirazi the fatwa that "latm" (beating one's body, e.g. chest-beating) is also forbidden if it causes the body to become red.
- Sayyid Hibat Allah Shahristani also forbade zanjirzani, and his fatwa led to protests.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from زنجیرزنی in Farsi WikiShia.