TOUS, Iran -  Almost 1,000 years after his death, one can still hear Hakim Abul Qasim Mansur, better known as ferdowsi , reciting the epic shahnameh (the Book of Kings) in a classical Persian accent for devotees who visit his grand mausoleum in this Iranian city.

Stepping into the hall, where he has been resting for centuries, the time stands still and the devotees walk into history.

They try to listen to ferdowsi , who recites his shahnameh for them. And to add to the visitors’ thrill, the administrators of the heritage site, try to build an atmosphere where “nothing can escape”.

They will brief you about the shahnameh in such a way that drags you back into the times when ferdowsi was physically living.

There are no two opinions, he never died despite his death some 10 centuries ago.

Completed in more than 30 years, shahnameh chronicles the legends and histories of Iranian (Aryan) kings from primordial times to the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th century, in three successive stages: the mythical, the heroic or legendary, and the historic.

ferdowsi began the composition of the Shahnameh’s approximately 100,000 lines, a work several times the length of Homer's Iliad, in 977, when the eastern Iran was under Samanid rule.

The Samanids had Tajik-Aryan affiliation and were sympathetic to preserving the Aryan heritage.

ferdowsi took 33 years to complete his epic, by that time the rule of eastern Iran had passed to the Turkoman Ghaznavids.

The shahnameh was written in classical Persian, when the language was emerging from its Middle Persian Pahlavi roots, and at a time when Arabic was the favoured language of literature.

As such, ferdowsi is seen as a national Iranian hero who reignited pride in Iranian culture and literature, and who established the Persian language as a language of beauty and sophistication.

ferdowsi himself wrote: “The Persian language is revived by this work.”

ferdowsi married at the age of 28 and eight years after his marriage - in order to provide dowry for his daughter – started writing the shahnameh .

While the legendary poet was working on his epic poem, Khorasan came under the rule of Sultan Mahmoud, a Turkoman Muslim and consolidator of the Ghaznavid dynasty.

ferdowsi sought the patronage of the Sultan and wrote verses in his praise.

Sultan Mahmoud, on the advice from his ministers, gave ferdowsi an amount far smaller than he had requested and one that he considered insulting.

He had a falling out with the ruler and fled to Mazandaran seeking the protection and patronage of the court of the Sepahbad Shahreyar, who, it is said, had lineage from rulers during the Zoroastrian-Sassanian era.

In Mazandaran, ferdowsi wrote a hundred satirical verses about Sultan Mahmoud, verses purchased by his new patron and then expunged from the Shahnameh’s manuscript.

Nevertheless, the verses survived.

An example: “Long years this shahnameh I toiled to complete, That the King might award me some recompense meet, But naught save a heart wrung with grief and despair, Did I get from those promises empty as air! Had the sire of the King been some Prince of renown, My forehead would surely have been graced by a crown! Were his mother a lady of high pedigree, In silver and gold I'd have stood to the knee! But, being by birth not a prince but a boor, The praise of the noble he could not endure!”

ferdowsi returned to Tous to spend the final years of his life forlorn.

Denied royal patronage, he died – probably in 1020 at the age of 85 - proud and confident that his work would make him immortal.

Prof Mojtaba Maghsudi of Iran’s State University said ferdowsi had become a way of life for the Iranian people.

“He is immensely popular with the Iranians but he has a global recognition too. His words have been translated into several languages,” he told The Nation.

Prof Maghsudi said ferdowsi taught people “how to behave and how to live. His writings are kept at every house including mine.”

He said Dr Jalal Kazazi of the Allama University in Tehran had dedicated his life to teach only ferdowsi across the world.

“He [Dr Jalal Kazazi] tries not to speak any other language and uses the same classical Persian attributed to ferdowsi . For this many call him ferdowsi II,” Maghsudi said.

The professor believed the world needed to learn from ferdowsi “how to live,” adding: “Everyone must read this great poet.”

 

 

Shafqat Ali