Re-cognizing transience in Taziyeh and Darbar
Paradoxically, the awareness of its (transient architecture) own temporality shares without complexes its time and space conditions resulting in accomplice architecture. – La MIMA
It is impossible for a Shia not to weep. His heart is a living tomb, the true tomb for the
head of the beheaded martyr. – Shia saying
Transient architecture, in its self-conscious or 'accomplice' mode, achieves a transparency with time. Danish architect Aldo van Eyck described this process of internalizing time ('the growing body of experience') as a process wherein the past is reflected in the present, resulting in the former losing its quality of 'cutting blade,' or, 'sourness.' A van Eyck, who became one of the leading proponents of an avant-garde structuralism (an inaccurate name for the movement) expressed in the labyrinthine-micro-city playgrounds of Amsterdam and The Orphanage, framed architecture in the image of man. Reacting against the functionalist modernist edicts of CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Modern), Eyck believed that, 'Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more. For space in the image of man is place, and time in the image of man is occasion.' Eyck's version of this 'symbiotic' architecture manipulated elements of relativity, reciprocity and what he termed 'dual phenomena' against the monumentality and uni-directional, central and definite aspects of modernism. The spatiotemporal coordinates of Taziyeh and Darbar are precisely such place–occasions with fixed and ambulatory forms of performance during orosh and Muharram, centered around and surrounded by multiple transient structures. As local expressions of the Islamic cosmos through a constellation of the meta-historical, political and spiritual, the heterogeneity of Muharram and orosh appears, at first, to resist easy analogies with transient architecture as a global category. Yet, re-cognizing the ludic, accomplice and non-uni-directional elements in these 'transient spaces' opens up trajectories.
Taziyeh and Darbar refuse the space between 'religion' and 'politics.' Geraldine Finn has shown how these are mutually determining and determined categories as each are the 'difference' of the other. In Bangladesh, overlapping religious narratives are structured through the transposition of mythical themes (the memorialization of Saints) in the liminal rituals of orosh and Muharram; space is re-territorialized in one, while circular time becomes space, flat in the sense of rhizome tracing the collective unconscious, in the other. Transience here expresses dual phenomena not dissimilar from A van Eyck's definition of phenomena 'which could only exist with their opposite without resorting to the arbitrary accentuation of either one at the expense of the other.' The orosh gate cannot exist without the accomplice receptiveness of the chottor (precinct) and streets which are overtaken by orosh, or the playgrounds/fields where the tents are erected; the processions and plays twice a day for ten days exist relative to the surrounding, and centering Sunni culture.
Taziyeh (literally, 'grief', or mourning/consolation) negates the notion of architecture tout court or performance as 'ritual/festivity.' Between total architecture (the body) and le theatre total, Taziyeh inhabits a liminal space where a rhizomatic community moves in concentric circles (cycles of meaning, 'across' ten days that climax in Ashura) towards verticality. If the body of the Shia is the true tomb, the transient Takiyeh, imambara, stages, flags and symbolic procession constitute merely the purification and poisoning process, the circumventing of the sacred and profane. The body is the site of mattom (the iconographic chest-beating and self-flagellation) and the vessel of polyvalent dream rather than 'mere' symbol (as differentiated by Deleuze in The Logic of Sense). Nonverbal, nontextual and nonvisual elements in Taziyeh, both procession and play, have equal symbolic value as the verbalized, the textual and the visual. Music (dirge) and fragments of script are ludiclly combined, the entire ritual is a collective knowledge and possession of dream. Where Taziyeh has developed into a theatrical genre, particularly in Iran, it has retained these elements. In Wirth's view, the way language in Taziyeh articulates 'an attitude but not the particular meaning' is similar to avant-garde playwrights like Wilson or Serban. Whitney writes, 'Taziyeh actively retains a fundamental principle of intimacy without placing any constraints on the size of the performance space or the number of spectators. This is le theatre total.' This corporal implosion, ending on the 10th day, Ashura, with a drowning of the Taziyeh structure (either in an actual well or in some symbolic 'field') that marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, always carries a danger that is rare even in the liminal dangers of most rituals: far from a festival, the loud anti-music of Taziyeh's characteristic 'mattom' (the rhythmic beating of the chest) and backward-forward movements that reach a crescendo as the body becomes the living tomb of Hussein, possessed of an open wound, is a unique commemoration of martyrdom, re-enacting social divisions in some instances, while re-inscribing the minority culture in the majority's religious narrative in others.
Taziyeh, as a procession of cycles, reflects concentric meanings. It has been likened to the ghazal, another significant Persian cultural inheritance, where multi-layered reality is presented in 'two or three themes dropped like pebbles into a pool, and the concentric rings of images expand, intersect, and create patterns of resonance.' To be surrounded, to take part, these are elemental parts of the 'total theatre' that is Taziyeh and its fixed form is the theatre in the round. Takiyeh, the pavilion built for communal meeting are large, circular roofless buildings covered by awnings. The structure imitates the living tomb, and the living tomb imitates the symbolic transient structure that is drowned or left in the symbolic field of Karbala; Muslims and non-Muslims, Sunnis and Shias merge in the outer circles while those who are possessed, who merge completely, create waves. Through these concentric and multiple meanings, the festival of historical witness occurs in the intimate space of 'le theatre total.' The symbols become dream, and dream, through possession, becomes 'reality.' The collective experience of this nearness to God (one variation of the meaning of Kar–nearness– and Bal–God–in Aramaic) is the experience of Karbala, the city of pilgrimage in Baghdad and the field of 'agonies' (another definition of Karbala, in Arabic) where the martyrdom took place. The true tomb is the head of the Shia who 'cries out.' Thus the drowning of the transient structures of Taziyeh in fields or lakes, sometimes in a 'dry well' in Dhaka, is always in 'Karbala.'
In Bangladesh, the non-Muslim and non-Shia may be 'equal' temporarily in this communitas. From a narrative of an 'elect' lineage, the ritual creates equal subjects before the laws of injustice, redemption, possession. Philip White writes of Turner's notions of liminality in social structure. White writes: 'Turner conceived society as involving a dialectic process between communitas, the undifferentiated community of equal individuals, and structure, the differentiated and often hierarchical system of social positions, the fate of any type of communitas is inevitably a “decline and fall into structure and law”, after which a new form of communitas may rise again.
Communitas appears where structure does not.' Whitney writes of the ludic in ritual: 'One is … thrust into near-chaos, in which the former rules no longer apply. Social relations, mores, expectations etc. all get smashed to bits and ludiclly recombined in ways that would never fly under normal circumstances.’ The subversive potential of such liminality does not always remain latent in Taziyeh across the sectarian variations from Africa to South Asia. In Saudia Arabia, the refusal to grant this right to commemoration resulted in not just an opening of a wound, but the meta-codes of injustice was re-written into the violence that ensued between Shia's and the monarchial state.
In the cycle of Muharram, monumentality (the Imambara) is superceded by cyclical, even 'rhizomatic' elements. One can trace a rhizomatic map (Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the rhizome as a map, rather than the vertical 'tree' in the form of ideas) of Islamic culture in Bangladesh, where the transient elements of Taziyeh evoke a circularity of 'another world' that, ultimately, disallows the (linear) narrative closure of readings of sectarian 'schisms' in Islamic history. Rather, it opens up a subversive meta-history of (global, not particular) injustice through the liminal consciousness of Muharrum. Taziyeh may initiate one into the structure and law of a minority sect of martyrdom, yet this communitas is what Ferro described as a 'festival of historical' witness in a world where 'history' has not stopped (transience here is adaptation to the 'growing body of experience'). Taziyeh is circular, the Imambara is drowned and does not return until the next cosmological beginning of the year; yet it rubs against the present, with a quality of cutting blade. Diametrically, as we will see, Darbar's manifestation of accomplice architecture denudes friction, subdues edge. The structure and law is new, wholly new; its materiality is continuously written into the streets, for each tent that is dissembled and reassembled, for each new addition to the main structure, the frontier of the Darbar expands, a new flag is added. The verticality is not released in a collective gesture towards return, but transience is the accomplice to permanence here, and this is essentially a linear, material expansion.
Syed Jamil Ahmed, in Reading Against the Orientalist Grain: Essays on Buddhist performance, describes any cultural performance as a 'a heterogeneous amalgam of polyvalent inscriptions of fragmented history of struggles of power in a manner that the magical system can be a continuous process of accumulating of sedimenting layers of numerous significance.' Within Bangladesh, the practice of Taziyeh is merged with the syncretic practices of Islamic theatre in the culture, ranging from Sunni-majority processions and plays in Mymensingh to the Shia-centered processions of the capital. Yet everywhere Taziyeh is practiced, the plot is mobile.
The extra-scriptural elements in Taziyeh in Bangladesh has a fluid, organic rather than superfluous, imposed relationship with existing culture, not unlike the extra-scriptural rituals of other minority religions in the country, such as the temporary structures used to drown the Hindu deities. Mir Mossaraf Hussein's Bishadh Sindhu expresses the tendency of Taziyeh in South Asia to transpose the local characters with the mythical ones, revealing the transparency of the meta-codes across cultures, apart from the sedimenting processes of syncretism. The seminal text of Bishadh Sindu, although a more mythical than authentic historical account of the events of Karbala, has involved the interchangeability of characters and places, where the 'historical enemy', Yazid, or unjust ruler, has taken on local interpretations, from the 19th century until now.
That which is not a part of the gravity of the ritual may be considered unnaturally ludic, such as the stick play that accompanies the outer circle of a Taziyeh procession more recently, usually by non-Shia members in Dhaka. In the various districts, such as Mymensingh, where Taziyeh is performed in village theatres and fields, the majority of participants are non-Shia. The dominant Sunni culture has appropriated, through a process of narrative such as Bishadh Sindhu which is symbolically connected to the history of Muharram, but not necessarily a factual representation of events, the memorialization of Hussein as their own, and the re-enactment of social division is substituted here for a liminal ritual that allows any Muslim, Shia or Sunni, to partake of the 'possession' where all are equally bleeding, crying, remembering. It is said that a non-Muslim can partake of the 'purity' of the dul-dul horse's milk: the liminality refuses hierarchy. Costumes lose their markings, the good and bad are only marked by their roles, or vaguely symbolized by color. Red and green represent the poison and the dagger, black is the color of mourning and stage décor and props are quite stark. The dul-dul horse signifies both tragedy and pity, while 'horse' itself conjures various instances of the martyrdom: bodies trampled by horses, betrayal, slavery, the battlefield.
Thus, the inter-structural liminal qualities of Taziyeh involve a subversive friction. The ludic quality of orosh is of a very different nature in Darbar. The Sufi order of Darbars, uprooted from the originary context of the countryside where (numinous) people converted en mass, is a wholly new story re-writing itself into the spatial consciousness of the city. Darbar is a phantasmic heterotopia, a spiritual alterity that is fast rivaling the orthodox spiritual spaces of the city, at once replaying the rural Darbar and displacing it, in an almost imperial-horizontality, a spiritual frontier discovering new political and religious territory.
Ever since Kutub Bag Darbar Sharif grew its slender minaret, snugly fitting its mysteriously modern façade on top of a 'hotel', a slow, sure transformation took place in 30-30A Indira road, while the melting pot of classes which claim a stake in that intersection of alley and road alternately held its breath, in awe, then bewilderment, and penultimately, broke into the camp of attraction and the camp of repulsion. It is here, in this most mongrel of city arteries, this model of soldering togetherness, that twice a year, a world turns inside-out and other-worldly purity claims a stake on the walls from 30-30 Indira Road, overtaking political graffiti in the wall that runs opposite all the way to the end of the park; here where the vertical expansion of a Darbar slowly superimposed upon the urban-airs of Indira Road turned an urban melting pot into mere nodes for a mystical clearing, as though the jungle of cities could be turned into a desert, reflecting, for all to see, a conspiracy of inner and outer power.
The Thursday zikr is cyclical, but orosh, that transient moment when the Darbar lives its most imperial moment, when its show of power takes away the breath, comes on less and less 'brutally', the loudspeakers have been shut off. It is the visual element that now subdues the neighbours, internalizing the present with festive, decorative and familiar addendums. The bamboo lies in the street for days. The street becomes habituated, as it does to countless changes, the forever shifting street sellers, tea stalls. The preparations make the larger community de facto accomplices. The bare scaffolding of the gates is estranged from their final meaning, and when they are assembled, the whole has become acceptable due to its parts.
Orosh is an 'other world' imposed horizontally and hierarchically upon Indira Road's complacent urbanism, a sanctum that opens up and closes, a show-and-tell fairground for children, and an urban space re-inscribed by the other-worldly dictions of the Darbar– this Dhaka of the political magnets, this Bangladesh of the Dhaka cultural and social elites. The Darbar has a specific resonance, both spiritual and political. Its presence functions as a heterotopia where there are entries and exits, rites of purifications, a spiritual hierarchy that vertically imposes a spatial-other-world that negates the economic-functionality of most spaces in the city. In Kutubag, and the new proliferation of Darbars in Dhaka, we find spatial fluidity not only of rural and urban, where hundreds flow from different provinces to Dhaka in buses for orosh, but a spatial grid of political and economic webs of power, power alchemized in heterotopia. If we think of Kutubag as a heterotopia, the second principle of Foucault's hetero-typology is seen at work: 'The second principle of this description of heterotopias is that a society, as its history unfolds, can make an existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion; for each heterotopia has a precise and determined function within a society and the same heterotopia can, according to the synchrony of the culture in which it occurs, have one function or another.' The original Sufi Saints converted thousands of Bengalis in the lonely 'wastelands' of the rich agricultural floodplains. Their meanings merged with local myths; theirs was a message of the 'heart' as tomb. The Sufism of the urban Darbar seems to be a battleground wherein a new conversion is waged, albeit, increasingly through the visual mode rather than the loudspeaker sermons that are part of the intra-Islamic purifications.
It is no simple fraud, this (initially) delicate red herring whose lateral expansion is damned by a house called 'Obujh Mon', on its opposite side a wall is being built to mark off an immense apartment building, recently unfinished, on the ground of a supermarket that used to be. At first the residents lived in a gentle harmony with the nascent stone, the vertical expansion was not quite as bewildering to a culture habituated to the opposition of sacred and profane and the juxtaposition of the sacred in mundane spaces. Yet, overtime, as Kutubag Darbar carved its intention, and bellowed its destiny, the vertical expansion combined with a lateral diffusion becomes too immense to ignore.
The most recent addition is a red light that takes its position like a chandrabindu over the Allahu at night. Orosh transforms the slow vertical expansion, translating the frontier and horizon of power into the horizontal axis of field. Last year it was the huge field facing the parliament, this year it's the small park. Each year the walls get a fresh paint and with every passing year, the domes of the gates are supplemented, supported, by new domes, new structures on top of the green-glass floors.
Spiral staircases lead up to the Pir's cushioned seat where the liminal world of rite is re-inscribed into the structures of hierarchy. Zikr, unlike the liminal rites of Taziyeh, is possession that does not invoke history, the body is the seat of the spectator-actor, but there is no aesthetic space, nor is hierarchy ever forgotten. In Darbar, it's a one-way street and a spiral staircase away, the flights of possession can only be read in terms of hierarchy. The spatial articulation of a 'loud cry' that is Taziyeh never quite loses the 'cutting' quality of the past through liminal initiation; its ritual experience of communitas traces an 'eternal return' of a meta-historical truth of injustice, perpetuating the possibility of friction. Erstwhile, the sublimated imperialism of the new urban variations of the Sufi-Darbar in Dhaka, their paradox as 'accomplice with the present' environment appears to be a fantastic yet surreptitious frontier, an expansive line that poses as transience but creates permanent structures overtime. Re-cognizing Taziyeh and Darbar through the prism of transience reveals the political/social friction that retains its quality of 'sourness' in Taziyeh, refusing 'internalization', and the aesthetics of the fantastic in which the political frontier of the urban Darbar in Dhaka is shrouded.
1) Geraldine Finn. Of Religion and Politics: Refusing the Space-Between. Kritikos, Vol 9, 2012.
2) Hans Ibelings. Aldo Van Eyck. The Architectural Review, 17 December 2012.
3) Marc Ferro. The Use and Abuse of History. Routledge, London, 2003.
4) Syed Jamil Ahmed. In Praise of Niranjan: Islam, Theatre and Bangladesh, Pathak Shamabesh, Dhaka, 2001.
5) Syed Jamil Ahmed. Readings Against the Orientalist Grain: Performance and Politics Entwined with a Buddhist Strain, Anderson Printing House, Calcutta, 2008.
6) Daniel Mufson. What do Ta'ziyeh and Hip-hop have in Common? http://danielmufson.com/the-abdoh-files/what-do-ta%E2%80%99ziyeh-and-hip-hop-have-in-common/