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NASIR KHOSRAU (Nasiri Khusru)

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Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 248 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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NASIR KHOSRAU (Nasiri Khusru), Abu Mu`in-ed-din Nasir b. Khosrau (1004-1088), whose nom de plume was Hujjat, the first great didactic poet of Persia, was born, according to his own statement, A.H. 394 (A.D. 1004), at Kubadiyan, near Balkh in Khorasan. The first forty-two years of his life are obscure; we learn from incidental remarks of his that he was a Sunnite, probably according to the Ilanifite rite, well versed in all the branches of natural science, in medicine, mathematics, astronomy and astrology, in Greek philosophy, and the interpretation of the Koran; that he was much addicted to worldly pleasures, especially to excessive wine drinking. He had studied Arabic, Turkish, Greek, the vernacular languages of India and Sind, and perhaps even Hebrew; he had visited Multan and Lahore, and the splendid Ghaznavide court under Sultan Mahmud, Firdousi's patron. Later on he chose Mery for his residence, and was the owner of a house and garden there. In A.H. 437 (A.D. 1045) he appears as financial secretary and revenue collector of the Seljuk sultan Toghrul Beg, or rather of his brother Jaghir Beg, the emir of Khorasan, who had conquered Mery in 1037. About this time, inspired by a heavenly voice (which he pretends to have heard in a dream), he abjured all the luxuries of life, and resolved upon a pilgrimage to the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina, hoping to find there the solution of all his religious doubts. The graphic description of this journey is contained in the Safarnama, which possesses a special value among books of travel, since it contains the most authentic account of the state of the Mussulman world in the middle of the filth century. The minute sketches of Jerusalem and its environs are even now of practical value. During the seven years of his journey (A.D. 1045–1052) Nasir visited Mecca four times, and performed all the rites and observances of a zealous pilgrim; but he was far more attracted by Cairo, the capital of Egypt, and the residence of the Fatimite sultan Mostansir billah, the great champion of the Shi'a, and the spiritual as well as political head of the house of 'All, which was just then waging a deadly war against the 'Abbaside caliph of Bagdad, and the great defender of the Sunnite creed, Toghrul Beg the Seljuk. At the very time of Nasir's visit to Cairo, the power of the Egyptian Fatimites was in its zenith; Syria, the Hejaz, Africa, and Sicily obeyed Mostansir's sway, and the utmost order, security and prosperity reigned in Egypt. At Cairo he became thoroughly imbued with Shia doctrines, and their introduction into his native country was henceforth the sole object of his life. The hostility he encountered in the propagation of these new religious ideas after his return to Khorasan in 1052 and Sunnite fanaticism compelled him at last to flee, and after many wanderings he found a refuge in Yumgan (about 1o6o) in the mountains of Badakshan, where he spent as a hermit the last decades of his life, and gathered round him a considerable number of devoted adherents, who have handed down his doctrines to succeeding generations. • Most of Nasir's lyrical poems were composed in his retirement, and their chief topics are—an enthusiastic praise of 'Ali, his descendants, and Mostansir in particular; passionate outcries against Khorasan and its rulers, who had driven him from house and home; the highest satisfaction with the quiet solitude of Yumgan; and utter despondency again in seeing himself despised by his former associates and for ever excluded from participation in the glorious contest of life. But scattered through all these alternate outbursts of hope and despair we find precious lessons of purest morality, and solemn warnings against the tricks and perfidy of the world, the vanity of all earthly splendour and greatness, the folly and injustice of men, and the hypocrisy, frivolity and viciousness of fashionablesociety and princely courts in particular. It is the same strain which runs, although in a somewhat lower key, through his two larger mathnawis or double-rhymed poems, the Rushanainama, or " book of enlightenment," and the Sa'adatnama, or " book of felicity." The former is divided into two sections: the first, of a meta-physical character, contains a sort of practical cosmography, chiefly based on Avicenna's theories, but frequently intermixed both with the freer speculations of the well-known philosophical brotherhood of Basra, the Ikhwan-es-safa'i, and purely Shi'ite or Isma'ilite ideas; the second, or ethical section of the poem, abounds in moral maxims and ingenious thoughts on man's good and bad qualities, on the necessity of shunning the company of fools and double-faced friends, on the deceptive allurements of the world and the secret snares of ambitious craving for rank and wealth. It concludes with an imaginary vision of a beautiful world of spirits who have stripped off the fetters of earthly cares and sorrows and revel in the pure light of divine wisdom and love. If we compare this with a similar allegory in Nasir's diwan, which culminates in the praise of Mostansir, we are fairly entitled to look upon it as a covert allusion to the eminent men who revealed to the poet in Cairo the secrets of the Isma'ilitic faith, and showed him what he considered the " heavenly ladder " to superior knowledge and spiritual bliss. The passage, thus interpreted, lends additional weight to the correctness of Dr Ethe s reconstruction of the date of the Rushanainama, viz. A.H. 440 (A.D. 1049), which, notwithstanding M. Schefcr's objections, is warranted both by the astronomical details and by the metrical requirements of the respective verses. That of ccurse does not exclude the possibility of the bulk of the poem having been composed at an earlier period ; it only ascribes its completion or perhaps final revision to Nasir's sojourn in Egypt. A similar series of excellent teachings on practical wisdom and the blessings of a virtuous life, only of a severer and more uncompromising character, is contained in the Sa'adatnama; and, judging from the extreme bitterness of tone manifested in the " reproaches of kings and emirs," we should be inclined to consider it a protest against the vile aspersions poured out upon Nasir's moral and religious attitude during those persecutions which drove him at last to Yumgan. Of all the other works of our author mentioned by Oriental writers there has as yet been found only one, the Zddelmusdfirin or " travelling provisions of pilgrims " (in the private possession of M. Schefer, Paris), a theoretical description of his religious and philosophical principles; and we can very well dismiss the rest as being probably just as apocryphal as Nasir's famous auto-biography (found in several Persian tadhkiras or biographies of poets), a mere forgery of the most extravagant description, which is mainly responsible for the confusion in names and dates in older accounts of our author. See Sprenger's Catalogue of the Libraries of the King of Oudh (1854) ; H. Effie, " Nasir Chusrau's Rushanainama," in Zeitschrift der deutsehen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, xxxiii., xxxiv., 1879–188o; E. Fagnan, " Le Livre de la felicite," in vol. xxxiv. of the same journal, 643-674; Ch. Schefer, Sefer Nameh, public, traduit et annote (Paris, 1881), and by Guy le Strange in Pilgrims' Text Society (1888); H. Effie, in Gottinger Nachrichten, 1882, pp. 124-152, Z.D.M.G., 1882, pp. 478-508; and Geiger's Grundriss der iranischen Philologie ii. p. 278; Fagnan in Journ. As. 7th see. vol. xiii. pp. 164 seq., and Rieu, Cat. Pers. MSS. in Br. Illus., concluded that the poet and the pilgrim were different persons. The opposite view was developed by Ethe. (H. E.)
End of Article: NASIR KHOSRAU (Nasiri Khusru)

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