Nizami Gandjawi

Djamal al Din Abu Muhammad Ilyas b. Yusuf b. Zaki Muayyad.

One of the greatest Persian poets and thinkers. He was born and spent most of his life in Gandja. Nizami being his pen name.

In recognition of his vast knowledge and brilliant mind , he was given the honorific title of ” Hakim ” ( learned doctor  ) by Scholars.

Nizami was learned in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, jurisprudence, history and philosophy. His work is a synthesis of Persian literary achievements up to this time.Nizami lived for a period of 37 years and died approximately in 1217 AD.

UNESCO  recognised 1141 AD as his date of birth and declared 1991 AD as The Year of Nizami.

To honour the 850th anniversary of his birth , there were International Nizami Congresses held in 1991 AD in the cities of Washington, Los Angeles, London and Tabriz.

Usually there is more precise biographical information about the Persian Court poets , but Nizami was not a Court poet- he feared loss of integrity in this role and craved for freedom of artistic creation.  Nizamis 5 masterpieces are known collectively as Khamsa, Quintet, or the Pandj gandj, the 5 Treasures.

The 5 epic poems represent a total of close to 30000 couplets and they constitute a breakthrough in Persian literature.

Nizami was a master in the genre of the romantic epic. In sensous verses he explains why human beings behave as they do, revealing their follies and glories, all their struggles, unbridled passions and tragedies.

The plot in his romantic stories is carefully constructed to enhance the psychological complexities of the stories. The characters work and grow under the  stress of action to discover things about themselves  and others and make swift decisions. He delieanated simple people with as much insight and comparison as the princely heroes in his mathnawsi.  Artisans were particularly dear to him. Painters,  sculpters, architects and musicians are carefuly potrayed and often play crucial roles.

The romance of Khusraw and Shirin is a very important source of information about the role of artisans in pre Mongol Persia as well as the education and training methods of the artists.

The Khamsa serves as a principle source of our knowledge of 12th century ( AD ) Persian musical compositions and instruments. There have been few poets other then Nizami in the long and rich history of Persian literature who have had such an influence and impact as poets, calligraphers , miniature painters , musicians , and in recent times on people of the theater, film, and ballet. His influence spreads to Central Asia , the Caucasus, Asia Minor, and Muslim India.

Considered as one of the greatest poems of the Near and Middle East , the number of imitations of , and sequels to , Nizamis Khamsa or the separate poems of it is without precedent. The most popular have always been the 3 romantic epics: Khusraw wa Shirin, Layla wa Madjnun, Haft paykar.  Also another incomplete Diwan of his poetry exists.

” Makan al asrar “- Treasury of mysteries is the first Mathnawi poem of Nizami`s ” Khamsa” . It is a poem that has mystical overtones and is the shortest mathnawi of the quintet and is comprised of 2260 couplets written in the ”  Sarimatwai mawkuf ” metre.

Scholars have tended to consider the year 1170-1172 as the date of its completion, and was dedicated to a patron of art and culture,  Fakhr al din Bahram Shah of the Turcoman Menqudjek dynasty of Erzindjiani, and according to some historians , Nizami was richly rewarded by BarhamShah for the poem.

To Nizami truth was the very essence of poetry and it is on this principle he attacked the Court poets who sell their integrity and talents for earthly returns. The Islamic law served as the loom on which the philosophy of his Makhan al Asrar was woven in intricate patterns. He was looking for universal justice and the guidelines for people in the poem are accompanied by warnings of the transitory nature of life.

The ” Mysteries of Nature ” is one of the most difficult to understand in all of Persian literature. The difficult language , with its extremely, with its austere ethical demands , made this poem not very popular among the general public. Nevertheless, it became a model for countless numbers of imitators throughout the East.

Many scholars consider ” Makhzan al asrar ” a mystical poem. Structurally it begins with a large body of introductory matter. Here Nizami established a pattern for the introductory matter. Here Nizami established a pattern for the introductory chapters not only of his later epics but also for almost all epics written thereafter.

They include verses in worship of God followed by a chapter of praise and veneration of the Prophet and a description of his ascension to the heavens.

” Khusraw wa Shirin ” is the 2nd poem of Nizamis  ” Khamsa”  and the first of his romantic epics. Its protagonists are Khusraw 11 ( 590 AD- 628 ad ), the last great Sassanid monarch , known as Parwiz, the Victorious , and his mistress Shirin. Their love was recorded by many subsequent Islamic  writers, and Firdowsi devoted more then 4000 couplets to the reign of  Khusraw 11 in his  ” Shah Nama “. It was Nizami who gave the story a real structural unity. Infusing it with his own profound experience of loving and expanding it with his thoughts on religion , philosophy and government. Khusraw and Shirin are not able to meet for a long time, despite the help of their confidant. Then they are forced apart due to the political marriage of Khusraw and Maryam. After the death of Maryam and Farhad , Nizami introduces an affair between Khusraw and a girl from Esfahan, that further delays the union with Shirin.

Finally on the wedding night of Khusraw and Shirin , Nizami creates a humorous entracte.   Khusraw gets drunk and Shirin her presence in the nuptial chamber with that of a notty,wizened oldcrone. Through these dramatic devices , Nizami makes a powerful commentary on human behaviour.

Nizamis understanding of women is strongly expressed in ” Khusraw wa Shirin “. Shirin is the central character and there is no question that she is a poetic tribute to Nizamis wife , Afak. She is well educated, independent, resourceful, imaginitive , erotic , and humorous. That she is the Queen, rather then a commoner, as is the case in Ferdowsis Shahname gives the story of  a stately quality.

Her relationship with Armenia is perhaps a reflection of its geographical proximity to Gandja, and she is like the Byzantium Maryam- a Christian. Nizami was a pious Muslim and respected other religions.

Shirins sense of justice is so great that she foreswears Khusraws love until he should regain his throne, thus fulfilling his responsibility to his people. Even after they are married , she continues to exert a strong influence on Khusraw , educating him as always through example and love; as a result the country flourished , justice was observed and strengthened , and science , religion  and philosophy thrived.

The tension between the strength of Shirin and the weakness of Khusraw is enhanced dramatically by Nizamis tight control of plot and setting , and his development of the towering figure of Farhad. Episodes of meeting and of missing, of searching and of waiting, are richly entwined with scenes of the barren desert and of luxurious Court life; asceticism weighs with sensuality.

Nizamis use of allegories , parables and words with double meaning raised the Persian literature to a new height. The poem is written in the light , flowing , graceful ” hazadj musaddas maksur ” metre, deliberately imitating that used by by Gurgani in Vis Ramim. There are about 6500 couplets. Its exact time of completion is uncertain. The year 1180 AD is given in some manuscripts , but many scholars believe that it was finished after 1184 AD.

The great Persian authority on Nizami, Wahid Dastgirdi, calls Khusraw wa Shirin ” the best historical fable of love and chastity, the treasure of eloquence , counsel and wisdom “, whilst Bertels believed that Khusraw wa Shirin ” is one of the great masterpieces of world literature.” For the first time in the poetry of the Near East , the personality of a human being has been shown with all its richness , with all its contradictions and ups and downs

Layla wa Madjnun is perhaps the most popular romance in the Islamic world. Versions appear in prose, song, and poetry in every language within the vast area stretching from the Chinese border to the Atlantic Ocean. But because of the psychological depth and universality accepted in the story , Nizamis epic still serves as a model for all others. It was commissioned by Abu l-Muzaffar Akssitan Shirwin Shah, a Caucasian ruler proud of his Persian origin and a benefactor of Persian culture.

For centuries , the legend of Layla and Madjnun had been a popular theme of the short love poems and songs of the bedouins , and during the early days of the Muslim era , it had been absorbed and embellished by the Persians. Madjnun is traditionally identified with a poet known as the Qays b al Mulawwah who probably lived in the second half of the 7th century AD in the Nadjd desert of Arabia.

Nizamis poetic vision was inspired by the Royal Commission, and so he expanded and deepened the plot and the personalities , creating from the fragmentary versions a full scale dramatic poem.

For his romance , Nizami chose an easy metre , the short hazdj musaddas. ” Laila wa Majnun ” is comprised of at least 4000 distchis. Nizami wrote that it took him ” less then 4 months ” to compose it , which implies a trance like state of writing. He used all the material , written and oral , available to him, adding, altering and transforming as his poetc genius prompted in order to create this tragic masterpiece. Nizamis originality lies nin his psychological portrayal of the richness of the human soul when confronted with intense and abiding love.

Madjnuns compulsions, anxieties, frustrations , and passions are not slighted as he moves inexorably toward an ideal loe that involves renounciation , and ultimately transcendence.
Many critics have interpreted this as mystical love. The psychological profile of Layla is less deeply drawn , but her enduring love is no less an achievement.

Layla wa Madjnun are scoured by separation , social ostracism , self denial, and spiritual and physical sufferring from the very beginning until their tragic ends.
The expanded version of Layla wa Madjnun closes with a vivid dream sequence of paradise. Imitations of Nizamis work can be listed by their hundreds , and the romance is popular even today. According to research , counting only the most famous versions – there are 20 in Persian, 40 in Turkish, 3 in Azeri, 1 in Uzbek, 1 in Kurdish, and 2 in Tajik.

” Haft Paykar ” is the 4th and the most intricate poem of Nizamis ” Khamsa “. It is written to be the exploration of love and is said to be mystical too. The 7 stories told therein can be interpreted as the 7 stations of human life, or the 7 aspects of human destiny, or the 7 stages of the mystic way.
Nizami firmly believed that the unity of the world could be perceived through arithemasicm, geometrical , and musical relations. Numbers were the key to the one connected Universe : for through numbers multiplicity becomes unity and discordance, harmony.

Hence Nizami used 7 , the number that has always been pre eminent among the people of the East, as the major motif of ” Haft Paykar “: for in Islam , 7 is considered as the first perfect number. In ” Haft Paykar ” , the phentasmagoric movement of its hero , Barham Gur, as he visits each of the 7 princesses , covers a symbolic path between the hidden mystery of the divine and purity and unity. The princesses and the pavilions are the manifestations of specific planets, specific climes, colours, and days. The pavilions are domed , representing the structure of the heavens. Nizami illustrates the harmony of the universe , the affinity of the sacred and the profane, and the concordance of ancient and Islamic Iran.
The number 7 casts its magic spell through out the ” Haft Paykar “. Completed in 1197 AD it was commissioned by and dedicated to the prince of Margha ala ad din Kurp Arslan. The poet chose an historical figure for his hero- the sassanid emperor and hero Barham Gur.

Out of the many stories of Alexander in Persian literature, that of Nizami is unsurpassed. Nizamis account of the adventures of Alexander is probably the first work in Persian literature that is divided into two parts- 1) Sharaf Nama ( the Book of Honour ) and 2) Ikbal Nama ( the Book of Wisdom ).
The two parts are treated by Nizami as 2 separate entities, each covering a cycle of Alexanders life. In the first cycle Alexander appears as the conqueror of the world, in the second as the philosopher.

The Iskander Nama was the fifth and last of his epic poems and was therefore composed after 1197 AD- the date of completion of ” Haft Paykar.”

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