Khosrow Parviz discovers Shirin bathing in a pool
Khosrow and Shirin" (Persian: خسرو و شیرین) is the title of several Persian epic poems. The essential narrative is a love story of Persian origin, which is found in the great epico-historical poems of Shahnameh and which is based on historical figures that were elaborated and romanticized by later Persian poets. Variants of the story were also told under the titles "Khosrow and Farhad", "Farhad and Shirin" and "Dilan and Perry" (Persian: ديلان و بري).
"Khosrow and Shirin" depicts the love of Sassanian king Khosrow II towards an Armenian princess, Shirin. It recounts the story of King Khosrow’s courtship of Princess Shirin, and the vanquishing of his love-rival, Farhad, by sending him on an exile to Behistun mountain with the impossible task of carving stairs out of the cliff rocks.
Shirin eventually consents to marry Khosrow after several romantic and heroic episodes, including his rescue of her from a lion by killing the animal with his bare hands.
The story relates a love affair that takes place in a historical setting: the deposition, imprisonment, and blinding of the Persian Sassanian king Hormizd (579–590 CE), during an insurrection led by two maternal uncles of Prince Khosrow, who was designated to become king and probably party to the rebellion; the accession of Khosrow to his father’s throne (590 CE); the uprising of the army commander Bahram Chobin against the new king; and Khosrow’s flight to the Byzantine Empire to seek help from Emperor Maurice (582–602 CE). These events are documented in the historical sources, and narrated in detail in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh.
Popularity in Persian literature
Khosrow Parviz discovers Shirin bathing in a pool
There are many references to the legend throughout the poetry of other Persian poets including Farrokhi, Qatran, Mas'ud-e Sa'd-e Salman, Othman Mokhtari, Naser Khusraw, Anwari and Sanai. Nizam al-Mulk mentioned that the legend was a popular story in 1022.
Although the story was known before Nezami, it was brought to its greatest romantic height by him. Unlike the Shahnameh, which focuses on the history, kingship and battles of Khosrow, Nezami decided to focus on the romantic aspect of the story.
When the Seljuq Sultan Tugrul II requested a love epic from the poet without specifying the subject further, Nezami picked on the story of lovers Khosrow and Shirin, a theme set in his own region and based on at least partly historical facts, through an aura of legend already surrounded it.
Nezami Ganjavi (1141-1209) himself considered it the sweetest story in the world:
“ The tale of Khosraw and Shirin is well known
And by Truth, there is no sweeter story than it.
It is believed to be one of the better works of Nezami and his first wife Afaq died after it was completed. Many versions of Nezami's work have been retold. The story has a constant forward drive with exposition, challenge, mystery, crisis, climax, resolution, and finally, catastrophe.
Besides Ferdowsi, Nezami's poem was influenced by Asad Gorgani and his Vis and Ramin. which is of the same meter and has similar scenes. Nezami's concern with astrology also has a precedent in the elaborate astrological description of the night sky in Vis and Ramin. Nezami had a paramount influence on the romantic tradition, and Gorgani can be said to have initiated much of the distinctive rhetoric and poetic atmosphere of this tradition, with the absence of the Sufi influences, which are seen in Nezami's epic poetry.
According to the Encyclopedia Iranica: "The influence of the legend of Farhad is not limited to literature, but permeates the whole of Persian culture, including folklore and the fine arts. Farhad’s helve supposedly grew into a tree with medicinal qualities, and there are popular laments for Farhad, especially among the Kurds (Mokri)."
Orhan Pamuk's novel, My Name is Red (1998), has a plot line between two characters, Shekure and Black, which echoes the Khosrow and Shirin story, which is also retold in the book. The novel uses the Turkish spelling of Koshrow's name, Husrev.
The tale has been retold by countless Sufi poets and writers in South Asia, usually under the name of "Shirin Farhad". It is a standard tale used in Punjabi Kisse. The story has been put to film five times in India and Pakistan: 1926, 1931, 1945, 1956 and 1975.
The tale was used as the inspiration for a 2008 Iranian film, Shirin, made by Abbas Kiarostami. In this formally unusual film, the story is told via the reactions of an audience of Iranian women as they sit watching the film in a cinema. The viewer has to divine the story by only ever seeing these emoting faces and listening to the film's soundtrack.
The song was also referenced in the Jonathan Richman song "Shirin and Farhad"
Dilan and Perry
Layla and Majnun
Yusuf and Zulaikha
Romeo and Juliet
^ Chelkowski, P. "Nezami's Iskandarnameh:"in Colloquio sul poeta persiano Nizami e la leggenda iranica di Alessandro magno, Roma,1977). pp 10: "The Persian legend of Alexander the Great seems to overshadow all of the other fantastic Alexander stories not only in the tale of the successful accomplishment of many a "mission-impossible" but especially concerning the nature of his career. In Iran he rose from the stature of a damned evil conquerer of the country, to that of a national Iranian hero king, and even more, to that of the great prophet of God, preparing all the nations for the true religion. Yet the Persian legend of Alexander is very little known in the Western world."" pp 13: "Nizami was a typical product of the Iranian culture. He created a bridge between Islamic Iran and pre-Islamic Iran and also between Iran and the whole ancient world. His great humanism, strong character, sensibility, drama, colorful description of nature, rich language, and the poetic genius created a new standard of literary achievements and captured the imagination of countless imitators". pg 17: "In the case of previous romances of Khosraw and Bahram, Nizami dealt with national Iranian heroes, though from pre-Islamic times. In the tale of Layla and Majnun, the Arab nationality of the lover is of no importance since the story is based on a simple Arab folktale which was later absorbed and embellished by the Persians". pp 19: "Alexander was glorified by the Muslims as a divine agent, a prophet-king and the blessed conquerer of the lands that were to become the stronghold of Islam. To some Muslims, Islam was a realization of Alexander's "koine" --- a commonwealth where people could live in harmony and in peace of heart and mind. In this atmosphere attempts were made to make out of Alexander not only a Muslim but a Persian as well". pg 21: "However, it was not Tabari directly, but Ferdowsi who was Nizami's source of inspiration and material in composing Iskandarnameh. Nizami constantly alludes to the Shahnameh in his writing, especially in the prologue to the Iskandarnameh. It seems that he was always fascinated by the work of Firdawsi and made it a goal of his life to write an heroic epic of the same stature. pg22: "It seems that Nezami's favorite pastime was reading Firdawsi's monumental epic Shahnameh (The book of Kings)". pg 22: "In fact, although Alexander conquered Iran, he was soon conquered by Persian customs and ways of life. In many aspects he was so overwhelmed by Persian civilization that he became more Persian than the Persians. He tried to make a blend of the Greek and Persian civilization --- even genetically, when he sponsored mass marriages between his troops and Persian women. He himself married Roxane (Rowshanak) the daughter of the Sogdian prince -- not the daughter of Darius the Third, as both Firdawsi and Nizami believed. Like Alexander, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and other people who overran the Iranian plateau also came under the spell of Persian culture. Foreign invaders remained to become contributors and patrons of Persian art and culture. To give one example, some of Nizami's benefactors were of Turkic stock."