Firdausi’s Shahnama is a manual on kingship, wisdom, love, and magic

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I’ve reached the end of this great history
And all the land will talk of me
I shall not die, these seeds I’ve sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave,
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim,
When I have gone, my praises and my fame.

Firdausi
Extracted from Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, translated by Dick Davis
firdausis-shahnama

The Shahnama (The Book of King), composed by the Persian poet Firdausi (940-1020) around the year 1000, comprises more than 60,000 rhyming couplets, telling the story of Persia (modern-day Iran) from the time of creation to its conquest by Muslims in the seventh century. Partly legend, partly historic, it is also a manual on kingship, a collection of heroic tales, and a long essay on wisdom, love, warfare, and magic, structured around four successive dynasties, each representing the various phases of human history, seen from the Iranian…

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The Shahnameh as propaganda for World War II

The British Library’s newly opened exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion includes a number of exhibits relating to Asian and African Studies, one of which is a series of postcards dating from World War II based on an episode from the famous Persian epic the Shahnameh, or ‘Book of Kings.’

The postcards on display in the current exhibition use the myth of the tyrant Zahhak in an attempt at rendering anti-German propaganda more relevant to Iranian cultural sensibilities. The Iranian scholar Mojtaba Minovi (1903 -1976) was working for the BBC Persian service during World War II, editing the pro-Allied newspaper Ruzgar-i Naw. When asked for advice on an effective propaganda campaign for Iran, he suggested using stories and imagery from the Shahnameh (see Wynn, p. 4) to appeal to the Iranian people. Minovi’s advice was taken and the images were created in 1942 by Kimon Evan Marengo (1904-1988), known by the sobriquet Kem, a prolific creator of propaganda cartoons for the British during the war.

 

See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/05/the-shahnameh-as-propaganda-for-world-war-ii.html#sthash.WFwYcWGy.dpuf

 

Connections: Shahnama Centre for Persian Studies – Pembroke College (University of Cambridge), Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Sir Isaac Newton Trust, Iran Heritage Foundation, British Academy.

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Shahnama or The Book of Kings by Abu’l-Qasim Hasan Firdausi and its crucial role in the formation of the Iranian cultural identity throughout the ages to present day. The text of the Shahnama, based on the ancient Iranian mythology, was completed in 1010 and is the longest poem ever written by a single author in the whole history of humankind.

"The enthronement of Hurmuzd,” folio from an early 14th century “CAMA” Shahnama manuscript. On temporary loan to the Shahnama Centre from the collection of the late Dr. Mehdi Gharavi. Image courtesy Ameneh Gharavi and Dean Entekabi “The enthronement of Hurmuzd,” folio from an early 14th century “CAMA” Shahnama manuscript. On temporary loan to the Shahnama Centre from the collection of the late Dr. Mehdi Gharavi. Image courtesy Ameneh Gharavi and Dean Entekabi

Global philanthropist Bita Daryabari and speakers from around the globe gathered to celebrate the official opening of the Shahnama Centre for Persian Studies at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England. (Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.) The $2 million (US) endowment by Daryabari ensured the creation of the Centre…

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The Aga Khan Museum’s collection includes a folio from the epic Persian poem, Shahnama

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Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (ca. 1532).Image: Archnet Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (ca. 1532).
Image: Archnet

The Shahnama was composed by the Persian poet Firdausi (d. 1020) around the year 1000. It tells the story of ancient Iran (Persia) from the time of Creation to the conquest of Islam in the seventh century. The history of Iran is divided into three successive dynasties: the Pishdadiyan (the early legendary shahs, who established civilization and fought against the forces of evil),  the Kayanids, and the Sassanians (the last glorious dynasty to rule Iran before the advent of Islam).*

Partly legend, partly historic, it is also a manual on kingship, a collection of heroic tales, and a long essay on wisdom, love, warfare, and magic. The epic poem helped preserve Persian traditions, folklore, and oral literature — becoming the Persian literary standard — and it retains considerable influence in the storytelling tradition of Iran, even today.It was customary for every king…

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Love Charms, a Sufi poem/kafi by Bulleh Shah painted by by F. Zahra Hassan (text and painting from an album produced in 1997 in London.

LOVE CHARMS

With love charms, O friends, I shall win over my Beloved.

This charm I shall recite and waft: with sun fire burn it.

The lamp black of my eyes is the dark clouds: with brows

I shall kindle the blaze.

I cannot afford anything else; But I will plaint my wedding braids

on my temples.

Seven seas welter in the core of my heart; from the heart

I will start a wave,

Tranformed into clouds, will come crowding down.

Love, the Brazier; the aspen seeds the stars; in the

Sun-fire I will cast them.

I will enfold my spouse in my arms and sleep; then I

will deem myself wedded!

I am neither married nor a maid, yet I will mother a babe in my lap.

O, Bullah, sitting in the courtyard of the Houseless

I will sound my horn.

This is a very beautiful poem with very powerful symbolism. It is a love song in which the first person, the narrator, is female and is trying with every type of charm and magic she can think of to win her Beloved – the Beloved being the Divine Beloved hidden within us all: “With Love Chars, O friends, I shall win over my Beloved”. It is typical of the mystical poetry of the Indo-Pak sub-continent, (particularly in Hindu poetry) specially the northern part, to narrate a poem in the first person in the role of a female Lover addressing her male Beloved, the Beloved being the Divine Beloved. The device is used in most of the poems I have chosen and in them God is the Beloved, the husband and Bullah himself is the wife, whose only aim is to win the favour of her husband. On a more profound level it symbolises the yearning of the individual on the earthly plane to become reunited with the Creator on the celestial plane, “then I will deem myself wedded~” The language of the poem has some very strong and beautiful imagery such as “the lamp-black of my eyes is the dark clouds” and “Seven seas welter in the core of my heart; from the heart I will start a wave.” The “Seven seas” suggests that the narrator, in the longing knows she possesses such strength of love in her heart that when it is unleashed it “will start a wave,” which in turn will be “transformed into clouds” and come “crowding down.” in this poem Love is described not only as the “seven seas”, but also as the “brazier” – that is, the container for burning hot coals, the “aspand seeds” which are placed on the coals to avoid the evil eye, and the “stars” too; and then, as with the charm mentioned in the second line (and the title as well), they will all be cast in the “sun-fire.”

This, it must be said, is one of Bulleh Shah’s rare poems in which the language is not as simple as usual. He is narrating in the first person as the female Lover and in the last verse she succeeds in wining over the Beloved. This is symbolic of the marriage of the individual should (herself, the Lover) to, the universal Spirit, “I will deem myself wedded~” The union between husband and wife is when the poet realises his Divine Ideal of losing his ego in God. His communion with God results in ecstasy, bliss and the highest spiritual happiness and the “babe in his lap” is the fruite of his union, a spiritual child or gnosis (Marifa). The poet is an unmarried lady in this poem, and symbolically she is the love of her Lord.

“Sitting in the courtyard of the Houseless” is an awkward translation and in fact in Punjabi Bulleh Shah writes “peen”, which means throne or platform. “Peeri, is the highest spiritual station and when reached the blessed traveller is able to listen to eternal song which is sung by the soul.