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Nawḥakhwāni (Persian: نوحه‌خوانی) is reciting elegies and mentioning the hardships with grief, and certain manners to mourn for great leaders of religion and is in Shi'a culture commonly practiced in the mourning of the infallibles (a) especially Imam al-Husayn (a). According to Shi'a teachings, reciting elegies for the dead is disliked except for the infallible (a), which is among the most important religious rituals and means of spreading virtues and reviving remembrance of those examples of perfection.

Literal and Idiomatic Meanings

The literal meaning of "Nawha" is hardship and crying loudly, wailing and also mourning upon a lost dear one. Idiomatically, what is recited in mourning ceremonies of Imams (a), especially in the mourning of Imam al-Husayn (a), is called Nawha.

One who recites elegies and nawha in the groups beating chests or doing Zanjir Zani (chain-beating) in the mourning of Imams (a), and the mourners beat their chests or beat themselves with chains with his rhythm is called Nawhakhwan. Also, the one who composes elegies and nawha is called Nawhasara.

General Meaning

Reciting nawha for the dead has been a ritual at the Age of Ignorance and has been disliked. However, for the Infallibles (a), it has been among the most important religious rituals and a means of spreading virtues and reviving remembrance of those examples of perfection. Hadiths received from the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) about reciting nawha are of two types:

  • Hadiths criticizing and prohibiting composition of nawha
  1. The Prophet (s) said, "I dislike the one who tears his hair in afflictions and raises his sound of wailing and crying."
  2. It is narrated by Abu Sa'id al-Khudri from the Prophet (s) that he (s) cursed a wailing woman and a woman whose voice upon mourning reaches a non-mahram (stranger) man.

Therefore, reciting nawha, firstly, should not be with wailing and groaning and, secondly, what is mentioned about the virtues of the dead one need to be true or thought to be true; otherwise, they are not permissible and even prohibited and wipes the reward. If the dead person had virtues and good qualities and mentioning them encourages others to acquire those virtues, it would be good.

  • Hadiths permitting reciting nawha:

The Prophet (s) told a group of Ansar (the Helpers) who were mourning for their martyrs in the Battle of Uhud, "There is no one mourn for my uncle." and he (s) began crying. This way, he (s) approved of the crying and mourning of the families of the martyrs and implicitly ordered to cry for his uncle Hamza.

Al-Shaykh al-Saduq narrated from Imam al-Baqir (a) that he (a) made a will that for the next ten years after his martyrdom, people mourn for him in Mina during Hajj and revive the ritual of mourning.

Hadiths that consider reciting nawha permissible refer to the second type and those hadiths which have prohibited it refer to the first type.

Specific Meaning

In the culture of mourning for Imam al-Husayn (a), nawha refers to a kind of elegy that is performed collectively. In this usage, nawha is composed to accompany the chest-beating. Then, a person recites nawha, and others beat their chests with its rhythm.

What is mentioned as disliked in hadiths about nawha, an associated job and receiving payment for it refers to the kind of reciting nawha at the Age of Ignorance which was mixed with falsehood and sometimes prohibited actions.


Since the emergence of Persian poetry until the 8th/14th century, the common type of elegies has been the official type composed in the form of qasida (odes). However, when Safavids reached the power, made the religious elegies common in the form of some odes on one rhyme. After the spread of religious elegies, two other types of religious elegies, nawha and poetic account of martyrdom in the form of masnavi (rhyming couplets), were created.

In the last a hundred years, due to uprisings, poets have also mixed religious themes with social and political themes. They have made a kind of national-social elegy which has elevated the role of elegies from the level of mourning to the level of provocation and awakening of people as a social and political duty.

Nawha is among non-official poems and a kind of religious elegy which is recited with certain rhythms in the mourning ceremonies of Imam al-Husayn (a) together with the ceremony of beating chests. The first instances of nawhas were formed at the time of Qajar. In Divan of Sabahi Bidgoli (d. 1218/1803-4), there is a qasida which is similar to nawhas regarding rhythm. Thus, some have considered it the first recorded nawha.

Mirza Abu l-Hasan Yaghma Jandaqi (d. 1276/1859-60) was the first poet who dedicated a part of his divan to nawha. His style of composing nawha was novel. He formed religious elegies in new rhythms and called them nawha of Sinazani (chest-beating) or Sangzani. Some examples of his nawha can be found in the works of contemporary poets such as in Mulla Rida Mahzun al-Dhakirin Rashti's Muhriq al-fu'ad and Kuliyyat of Samit Burujirdi (1262/1845-6 – 1331/1912-3) and Divan of Wisal Shirazi.

Content of Nawha

Content of nawha is usually a part of the events in Karbala which the reciter mentions from his own point of view. For example, nawha of Abbas (a), Imam al-Husayn's (a) farewell to Lady Zaynab (s) and mentioning the hardships of Imams (a) in the form of talking in their place.

Features of 'Ashura-related Nawhas

  • Simplicity of language
  • Using short sentences
  • Using epic and emotionally influential words and structures
  • Natural and harmonious mixture of Arabic and Persian languages
  • Detailed descriptions
  • Clarity of language

Form of Nawha in Persian Poems

Persian poems composed for nawha have rhythm, but they are more miscellaneous in rhythm and rhyme than the forms of traditional Persian poems and are harmonious with the beats of chest-beating. Additionally, the equality of the length of hemistichs is not observed and thus they are similar to Nima Yushij's poems in this regard.