Ashura in the holy month of Muharram, Iran.

Shiites take to the streets during the holy month of Muharram to commemorate the death of the third Imam, Hussein, more than 1300 years ago in Karbala, Iraq. The Day of Ashura is an expiation day in which Muslims have the opportunity to redeem their minor sins. For weeks, the population of Iran slips into a state of sadness that is as contagious as it is intriguing. Numerous public displays of intense collective pain follow in processions throughout the cities, men’s rows dressed in black parade melancholy accompanied by recitals of poetry and music while beating the chest with different rhythms to the sound of the drums or are flagellated with chains liveras back to echo their suffering while the audience watches with devotion. These processions are usually preceded by the Alam, the banner of Hussein in the battle of Kerbala and a sign of truth and courage. It is one of the most important and symbolic objects used in mourning rituals. The alam consists of iron structures ranging from 2 to 5 meters in length, made up of flexible steel sheets filled with figures and engravings, a physical representation of symbols and allegories, placed on top of it and decorate with embroidered feathers, silks or brocades. Each Alam has a different decor and a variety of figures that give it a different story. The Alam can weigh up to 300 kilograms and is only carried by one person.

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