Narration of Persia

Narration of Persia--2005 Department of Traditional Arts ICHHTO Research Center, Morshed Ahadi points to the part of the screen he is reciting its story


Through the rich history of Persia, few cultural elements have remained intact, one of which is the art of narration. Ever since Aryans entered the plateau of Iran, they brought this way of performance art with themselves through which they would tell the stories of their ancestors and later the epics of their gods.

This play, which is a combination of narrating, solo-acting, singing, and an improvisation performance, is done in two ways: Open-Space (at squares, passages, farmlands, etc.) through which the stories were drawn on a scroll curtain that would be opened slowly in front of the audience, and Closed-Space (in coffee houses or mansions) in which the curtain was hung or mounted on a wall before the performance and covered by a contrast curtain to be removed from the main curtain when the narration starts.

The influence of this art was so great that it was used to motivate and encourage the army, and in the Safavid era, it was highly valued.

The Elements of Scene Reading

The main parts of this way of performance are:

  1. Preface or Pre-event (A lament to gather people)
  2. Hymn (A song in which they ask God for help)
  3. Monaghab Khani (Merit Reading—Praise the family of the Prophet Mohammad)
  4. Speech in the sanctity of the curtain
  5. Opening the contract curtain or the scroll curtain
  6. Sermon Reading or the beginning of the speech
  7. Storytelling (Dealing with side stories)
  8. Description of the main event
  9. Escaping (This will be improvised, based on how people are feeling, and the recent events)
  10. Monody and Requiem
  11. Giving the promise to tell a more joyful story on the next event
  12. Pray for the audience
  13. To fold the curtain

The Curtain

This curtain is a piece of fabric on which scenes of mythological stories, historical narratives, and even stories of the great prophet’s lives are drawn. There’s a believe that says seventy-two stories are drawn on the curtain but in reality, it does not include exactly that many. This belief is created in terms of the multiple stories and the large number of the images. It is on connection with this belief that a famous conversation happens in between the narrator and the audience; The narrator may ask, “how many stories and faces are drawn on the curtain?” and the audience replies “366 faces and 72 stories.”

The characters are drawn on a background of natural colors, the components together and the composition of the images are arranged in such a way that it conveys concepts through the role of the narrator and the story itself. The illustration of the good characters and the bad characters are painted differently; you may see the bad characters with elongated faces and the good characters with kind, round faces.

Besides all these, the positioning of the characters is determined by their rank. If it’s the narration of a war, the soldiers are drawn smaller, without the usage of perspective or anti-perspective. The commander, the prince or, the king is drawn slightly bigger to show the distinction, which also includes their horses and ammunition. This illustration of the characters must be included and drawn stereotypically, and to give emotion to the characters, their body language is also drawn in such spectacularly, showing the feeling of pain or death. The characters are mostly painted with Qajar-style clothes. Even the emotion that lies within their eyes is uniquely painted; like if they show power or their weakness, if it’s comforting or terrifying, it is drawn in a realistically.

Iranian dramatic story-telling: Morshed Ahadi Photograph: Sa’id Azadi © 2005 by the Department of Traditional Arts at the Research Center of ICHHTO

The Scene Reader

It is not just the role of the curtain that will fascinate the audience but how the narrator tells the stories and leads the eyes on the curtain to drown the audience in the depth of the narrations on the background of the scene.

He is the person who tells the stories drawn on the scene. A singer and actor—someone with high physical ability and excellent creativity in improvisation who, with the usage of the stories, can play the role of all the characters.

Now that’s the time when the magic happens—the narrator walks between the curtain and the audience, acting out each character, singing the poems and epic songs and telling the painted stories. As his voice tonnage changes and plays out the narrations with his hands and using his stick, and the moves he makes with his body, takes the audience deep into the scene, where the events are happening. All of a sudden, the audience feel no border between them and the scene, finding themselves in depth of the story, playing the role of one of the characters.