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Leyli and Majnun

part 3

leyli parvanehye khoda

The popularity of the theme following Nezami’s Leyli o Majnun. Poetic citations ascribed to Majnun, and anecdotes about his love occur in Persian and Arabic texts before the appearance of Nezami’s romance.

 But Nezami’s Leyli o Majnun changed the image of Majnun decisively from the twelfth century onwards. Despite its simple structure and plot, the romance is among the most imitated works in Persian, and in other languages under Persian cultural and literary influence, such as Pashto, Urdu, Kurdish, and the Turkic languages. There are numerous ‘imitations’ (nazira s) of the romance. In his statistical survey of famous Persian romances, Hasan Zulfaqari enumerates 59 ‘imitations’ (nazira s) of Leyli o Majnun as the most popular romance in the Iranian world, followed by 51 versions of ?osrow o SHirin, 22 variants of Yusof o Zoleyha and 16 versions of Vameq ol Adrak. S. Asadollayev names 80 poets who have written versions of Leyli o Majnun. J. E. Bertel’s names 20 Persian, one Chaghatay Turkish, three Azari, 14 Ottoman Turkish, and one Kurdish version of Nezami’s poem (Izbrannye Trudy, pp. 275-313). Basing their poems on Nezami’s, these poets adopted the poem’s meter, several narrative elements and Nezami’s innovations in his lengthy prologue. One important innovative element is Nezami’s introduction of a saqi-nama section, in which the poet treats themes such as the world’s transience, the licit nature of wine in the religion of love, asceticism, and death, in the form of an address to a cupbearer (saqi). All these themes are then elaborated in the narrative.

Several imitations of this romance are original literary works in their own right, treating aspects of Majnun’s love not treated by Nezami. The first emulator was Amir Khosrow Dehlavi, who completed his Majnun o Leyli in 1299 and dedicated it to his mystical teacher, Nezam al-Din Owliya, and to the ruler of Delhi. Amir Khosrow’s romance differs on many points from Nezami’s. It is much shorter (only 2,660 couplets) and is less imbued with mystical ideas. Amir ?osrow introduces several new motifs, including the prognostication of an astrologer about Majnun’s madness at the beginning of the story, Majnun’s marriage to ?adija, daughter of the chieftain, Nowfal, and Majnun’s conversation with a nightingale.Abd-al-Rahman Jami’s version (completed in 1484) amounts to 3,860 couplets and is dedicated to Obayd-Allah Asrar (d. 1498), the Naqshbandiyya Shaikh. Jami’s treatment relies heavily on the Arabic anecdotes, several of which are treated as mystical allegories. Majnun does not fall in love at a young age with Leyli, but with another girl. He is disillusioned about love until he later meets Leyli. Two other imitations of the romance are by Maktabi of Shiraz and Hatefi (d. 1520): these became popular in Ottoman Turkey and in India. Sir William Jones published Hatefi’s romance in Calcutta in 1788. Hatefi’s romance (2,065 couplets) contains several innovative elements: for instance, Majnun loves beautiful women at a young age; when Leyli and Majnun are going to be united, a raqib appears who wants to kill Majnun but (like the hand of Jeroboam) it is mysteriously paralyzed (like Jeroboam too, he asks for forgiveness); Nowfal falls in love with Leyli and dies when he attempts to poison Majnun. In one episode, Majnun walks barefoot in the snow, and in another saves a cypress tree which is about to be felled, by ransoming it: from then on, people call the cypress ‘free’ (sarv-e azad). In another episode, in order to see Leyli, Majnun pretends to be a poor, blind man who accidentally trips and falls into her tent.

In addition to its numerous imitations, the popularity of the romance following Nezami’s version is evident from the references to it in lyrical poetry and mystical ma?navi s.

Before the appearance of Nezami’s romance, there are no more than ten allusions to Leyli and Majnun in Persian divans, but there are 36 in Sadi’s Divan, 52 in Khaju of Kerman’s, and 106 in Rumi’s Divan-e SHams. The number and variety of anecdotes about the lovers also increased considerably from the twelfth century onwards. Prior to Nezami, poetic allusions in Persian Divan s were about Majnun’s intense love, as in the following verse by Rudaki (p. 45): “Those who possess the attributes of Leyli are not aware of our state / a mad lover (majnun) knows what the state of Majnun is.” There are several allusions to Majnun’s weeping, by poets such as Manuehri, Moezzi, and Rabia Qozdari, from whom we may cite the following line: “Are Majnun’s eyes behind the cloud / that the roses assume the color of Leyli’s cheeks?” Baba Taher of Hamadan refers to the couple as an epitome of mutual love: “How sweet is love when it is mutual, / for one-sided love is all pain of the brain. // Although Majnun had a distraught heart, / Leyli’s heart was more distraught than his.” There are many references to Majnun’s suffering, and his melancholic and agonized state. Other characteristics referred to include Majnun’s loneliness, his masochistic love, and his deprecation of the material world. Allusions to Leyli usually point to her beauty or to love as the coiffeur of Leyli’s locks (for a detailed list of these references see Seyed-Gohrab, 2003, pp. 69-74).

Anecdotes about Majnun’s love appear in various contexts and their number too grows considerably from the twelfth century onward. While Sanai recounts only one anecdote in his ?adiqa in the following century, Farid-al-Din Attar (d. ca. 1221) recounts 25 anecdotes in his three most popular works, the Ilahi-nama,Mosibat-nama, and Manteq al-Teyr. The increase in these anecdotes can be partly attributed to a direct reading of Nezami’s romance and a desire to expand it, but it appears that poets and mystics also tended to transfer any extreme behavior of lovers, and any case of unconditional love, to Majnun. An example of such an attribution is the anecdote about a king who summons Majnun to his court, asking him about Leyli’s beauty. When the king then summons Leyli and sees how ugly she is, he asks Majnun how he could be so infatuated with her. Majnun answers that the king should view Leyli through Majnun’s eyes. A similar tale is told about the Udri pair Buthayna and Jamil, at the court of Abd-al-Malek b. Marwan. Attar, Sadi and Rumi recount this anecdote but alter the names to Majnun and Leyli. In the centuries that followed, many such anecdotes were incorporated in imitations modeled on Nezami’s romance.

To be continued ...


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