Dancers & musicians in the Shahnama

This is a folio sheet from the Shahnama, a poem written by Hakīm Abu’l-Qāsim Ferdowsī Tūsī in the 11th century. However, this particular illumination was done in the Safavid period, between the years 1520-1530 C.E. The picture is 30.8 cm by 18.0 cm, in opaque watercolours. The page is in the Freer & Sackler Museum.

The one of the legends of the Shahnama is of Bahram Gur. The picture is the daughters of Barzin dancing for Bahram Gur. The dancer has possibly a belt in her left hand and an instrument slung over her body. The second dancer is possibly clapping. The instruments being played are a large tambour and a chang (or harp) player.

Princeton University has a Shahnama Project, where thumbnails of the Shahnama is able to be viewed.
Recommended reading
The Persian Book of Kings: An Epitome of the Shahnama of Firdawsi translated by Basil William Robinson. Via Google Books.
History of the Chang by the Farabi School.
Traditional Iranian Music by the Toos Foundation.
Dance- Raqs written by A. Shapur Shahbazi & Robyn C. Friend. From Encyclopædia Iranica.
Research and Reconstruction of an Ancient Persian Harp from the International Art & Architecture Research Association.

The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds (also known as Mantiq al-Tayr) is a 12th century Persian poem written by Farīd ud-Dīn ‘Attār. This picture is from a Safavid book from the early 17th century. It is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the poem, the birds of the world gather to choose a king, believing that it would bring harmony to all the birds. The hoopoe bird, wisest of the birds, persuades the other birds to seek out the Simurgh, which lives on Mount Qaf. The birds travel through the valleys of quest, love, gnosis, contentment, unity, wonder, and poverty. When they reach the Simurgh, only thirty birds remain. They see themselves reflected in the Simurgh, so see themselves. The poem is an allegory on the Sufi path to Allah through self-annihilation.
Recommended reading
Bird Parliament by by Farid ud-Din Attar. Translated by Edward FitzGerald (1889).
The Conference of the Birds. In four parts.

Bashar Ibn Burd

Bashar Ibn Burd was born in the year 714 C.E. in the Umayyad Caliphate, in the city of Basra. During his lifetime, the Abbasids rose to power, overthrowing the Ummayads except in the Andalus.

His Grandfather had been a slave from Persia and his father a convert to Islam or Mawla, a second class citizen. Growing up the city of Basra, Bashar showed his poetic talents early but was born with a disability. He was born blind.

Clouddust of battle over their heads was like the night
And glitter flashes from the motion of our swords
Lighted the darkness like falling stars.

This poem extract talks about a battle his tribe the Uqayl tribe fought and won. However, he is best known for his court poetry, known as hijāʾ, which is also satirical. He served in the court of Caliph Al-Mahdi after the Abbasids built Baghdad to be their capital. He was told to stop writing love poetry, as it was thought to be morally lax, even licentious, as he wrote about drinking, sex and slave girls. He quickly broke the ban but it was a critical hijāʾ of Al-Mahdi which got him arrested. He was charged with heresy and zindiqism, was beaten to death and his body dumped in the Tigris river in the year 784 C.E.
Bibliography
Arabic Poetry on Language is a virus.com.
Looking Back-On Abbasid Poetry by Tam Hussein on Emel.com.
Lawful Magic and a Blind Arab Poet by Rachel Hajar on her blog My Life in Doha.
Arabic poetry: a primer for students by Arthur John Arberry. Via Google Books.
Appunti su Baśśār b. Burd by F. Gabrieli. JStor article in Italian.
La evolución de la poesía árabe by Adel Ghadbán. JStor article in Spanish.

Mihri Hatun

There is very little information about Mihri Hatun but what is know was that she was born 1456C.E. in Amaysa, Turkey. She was the daughter of a judge and had been privately educated. Part of the literary circle of Prince Ahmed, one of the sons of Bayezid II, she never married but had affairs with both men and women. However a later biography called them innocent and she lead a life of virtue. She died in 1506 or 1516 (conflicting dates on sources). She had written over 200 poems and gazels, but I could only find two-

At one glance
I loved you with a thousand hearts.

They can hold against me
No other sin except my love for you
Come to me
Don’t go away

Let the zealots think
Loving is sinful
Never mind
Let me burn in the hellfire
Of that sin.

Another of her poems has been placed in the New York City’s transport system, to entertain travellers-

My heart burns in flames of sorrow
Sparks and smoke rise turning to the sky
Within me the heart has taken fire like a candle
My body, whirling, is a lighthouse illuminated by your image.

Bibliography
The Ottoman Biographies of Poets by J. Stew Art-Robinson. JStor article.
Nightingales & pleasure gardens: Turkish love poems by Talât Sait Halman & Jayne L. Warner. Via Google Books.
Medieval Women, Poetry and Mihri Hatun by Dr Huriye Reis. Via Google Docs.
Medieval Arab Lesbians and Lesbian-like Women by Sahar Amer. Via Google Docs.

Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya

Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya was born in the year 717 CE in Basra, Iraq under the Umayyad Caliphate. Born into a very poor house, she was the fourth daughter. Her name literally means “the fourth”. After a plague went through Basra, killing her family, she was on a caravan when it was attacked. She was captured and sold into slavery.

However hard her master worked her, she stayed awake all night praying and fasting throughout the day. One legend has it that the master woke up in the night, hearing her. He went to look upon her but was blinded by a halo of light around her head. She was freed the next morning.

Much of her life was written about much later, by Farīd ud-Dīn ‘Attār, in the 12th century. Many of her legends originate with his story of her life. After she was freed, she lived the life of an ascetic in a desert cave. She had many disciples, and offers of marriage (which she refused).  She died in her mid-eighties, still an ascetic, in the year 801CE.
Rābiʻa was the first to put forth the idea of Divine Love, believing that you should love God for Himself, not out of fear of Hell or desire for Paradise. It was her idea of Divine Love that influenced Sufi Philosophy for centuries.

If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.

Her poetry is able to read on Poet Seers and Islamic Foundation.
Bibliography
Sidi Muhammad Press.
Rabia al Basri- Poet Seers.
Fifty Poems of Attar by Farid Al-Din Attar. Via Google Books.
Farid ad-Din ʻAttār’s Memorial of God’s friends: lives and sayings of Sufis by Farīd al-Dīn ʻAṭṭār, Paul Losensky. Via Google Books.
Religiosity and Love Spirituality of Rabi’ah al Adawiyah Literature by DR. Muhbib Abdul Wahhab.

Dancing Sufis


This picture is from an album of poetry and pictures from the Safavid period, 1575 from Qazvin, Iran. Height: 30 cm, width: 19.8 cm. The writing in the upper right hand corner is poetry by Sa’di called Gulistan or the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden can be read and downloaded from MIT.

The page is currently in the Freer & Sackler Gallery.

Sufi dancers and Hafiz


This is a page from an early 16th century Persian copy of the Divan of Hafiz or Hafez. His full name was Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šhīrāzī but is known under his pen name of Hafez.

His works are still taught today and were an influence of Sufi mysticism since the 14th century. Some of his works can be seen on Poet Seers.com and Black Cat Poems. This picture is currently in the Freer and Sackler Gallery.