QĀSEMI-e ḤOSAYNI-e GONĀBĀDI

QĀSEMI-e ḤOSAYNI-e GONĀBĀDI, Moḥammad Qāsem (d. 982 /1574), poet and scholar of the Safavid period.

LIFE

Much biographical information about Qāsemi’s early life remains ambiguous. His name has been mentioned as Moḥammad Qāsem (Āḏar Bigdeli, p. 61), and that of his father as ʿAbd-Allah, who was known as Amir-Sayyed Gonābādi (Amir ʿAlišir Navāʾi, p.139; Ṣafā, 1993, V/2, p. 718). He lived in the district of Jonābaḏ (see GONĀBĀD), in Khorasan (Rāzi, II, p. 311;), and he has been variously referred to as Jonābaḏi, Jonābadi, Gonābādi or Gunābādi. In a letter ascribed to him and extant in a manuscript collection entitled Maṯnaviyāt, he refers to himself as Qāsemi-e Ḥosayni-e Jonābadi of a sayyed descent, originally from Tabriz (Maṯnaviyyāt, folios 251 and 535; see also Golčin-e Maʿāni, p. 421). According to Nafisi, Qāsemi was among the descendants of Shah Qāsem Anvār, a noted Sufi poet (Nafisi, I, p. 508). His date of birth has not been mentioned in any source, and no details are available on his education. However, according to Qāsemi himself, he was “fully engaged in learning and concentrated the entirety of [his] effort on acquiring knowledge, especially mathematics, in which case [his] thinking soared to the firmament” (Maṯnaviyāt, p. 251). Sām Mirza Ṣafavi (p. 39), Vāleh Dāḡestāni (p. 1782), and Aḥmad ʿAli Aḥmad (p. 136) considered him as prominent in knowledge, piety, intelligence and wisdom, and first in poetry, prosody, riddles, and mathematics.

Qāsemi considered himself a disciple of ʿAbd-al-Allāh Hātefi, the nephew of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi and the author of Teymur-nāma, whose style was often emulated by later poets (Bernardini, 2004, p. 56; Moẓaffar, p. 644; Ṣafā, 1982, p. 6). Qāsemi credits Jāmi as the most skilled in the composition of maṯnavi (Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, pp. 167, 351; for a history of the origins of this imitative literary form see Ṣafā, 1995). Qāsemi studied mathematics and logic with Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Manṣur Daštaki Širāzi (Abrahams, p. 2), a scholar and philosopher who served for a brief period as one of two adrs (chief clerical overseers) under the Safavid Shah Ṭahmāsp I (Sanbhali, p. 270; Ṣadiq Ḥasan Khan, p. 326; Ṣafā, 1993, V/2, p. 718). Following what was a family tradition, Qāsemi took employment as a kalāntar, but he soon delegated the position to his brother Amir Abu’l-Fatḥ (Sām Mirza, p. 39) and opted instead for a life of asceticism (see DARVĪŠ). He also crafted his estate, estimated at about two thousand tomān at the time, into an endowment to the shrine of ‘Ali b. Musā al-Reżā in Tus (Rāzi, II, pp. 311-14).

Qāsemi spent a few years at the court of Shah Esmāʿil I and, upon the king’s death, joined the court of Shah Ṭahmāsp I (Ṣafā, 1993, V/2, p. 718), who is best remembered for his patronage and revival of Persian adab and cultural life. According to a farmān (decree), which appears on folio 3 of Afżal al-tavāriḵ (q.v.) and is inserted immediately after the narrative of the accession of Shah Ṭahmāsp on 19 Rajab 930/23 May 1524, Qāsemi was appointed the court’s poet laureate (Malek-al-šoʿrāʾ) and the shah’s special companion at royal assemblies. “This arrangement of material is clearly intended to emphasize the timing of Qasemi’s appointment which coincided with the Shah Ṭahmāsp’s accession or soon after” (Abrahams, p. 5; see also Melville,  2006). Although the precise duration of his tenure at the court of Shah Ṭahmāsp is not known, Qāsemi is certain to have completed his book while still attached to it in 1534.

However, with Shah Ṭahmāsp’s escalating religious fervour, and his distaste for the arts and literature that he had previously patronized, many artists and poets found themselves seeking refuge in India—an exodus that would continue for the remainder of the Safavid period (Matthee, 2008). Qāsemi, who was not properly rewarded by the king for his Šāh-nāma-ye Navvāb-e ʿĀli, which he had composed in praise of Ṭahmāsp I himself, traveled to Bhakkar in Punjab in his final years. There he composed a eulogy in motaqāreb meter (see ʿARŪŻ), entitled Šāh-nāma-ye Ḵāni (Qomi, I, pp. 443-46), in praise of the local emir, Sultan Maḥmud Khan. (For the life and reign of Sultan Maḥmud Khan, see Badāʾuni, II, p. 121; Tatavi and Āṣef Khan Qazvini, pp. 740-41; see also Abrahams, pp. 11-12.) Qāsemi’s anger at his unfair treatment by Shah Ṭahmāsp is documented in both primary and secondary sources (Rumlu, p. 462; Ṣafā, 1364: 718, 72).

Although many manuscript copies of Qāsemi’s works have survived, not much biographical information is available on his final years. Qāsemi, as set out in his introduction to the Zobdat-al-ašʿār, also traveled to Najaf and Mecca (Maṯnaviyāt, p. 535; Golčin-e Maʿāni, p. 442). An encounter with Qāsemi in Kashan has been recorded by ʿAlā-al-dowla Qazvini in his Nafāyes-al-maāṯer, as reported in Āgā Aḥmad ʿAli Aḥmad’s (ca. 1783-1873) Haft Āsmān (p. 136).

WORK

Qāsemi was a prolific poet with many of his works extant. The introduction to his Zobdat-al-ašʿār (Maṯnaviyāt, p. 535) enumerates his works in the following order:

(1) Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma. The book, also known as Šāh-nāma-ye Qāsemi, is a versified historical narrative in rhymed couplets in praise of the conquests of Esmāʿil I, composed upon the order of his son Ṭahmāsp I. As substantiated in most extant manuscripts of the book, Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma consists of 4,352 lines (see Monzavi, IV, pp. 2956-58). Qāsemi himself counts 4,000 couplets in the book: “The lace of this magnificent jewel/ is four thousand [couplets] / Endowed with an ocean of blessings/ a slight addition would be permissible” (Bovad ʿeqd-e in gowhar-e ābdār / ze ru-ye ʿadad čār-bāra hezār / az ānjā ke daryā-ye feyżam ʿatāst/bar ān andaki gar fozudam ravāst; Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, p. 357).

According to Qāsemi himself the composition of the book was completed ten years after the death of Esmāʿil I in 1533: “If you graciously spare the head of naẓm [“verse”] / you shall be led to its date" (Be loṭf az sar-e ‘naẓm’ agar bogḏari/ ravān pey be tāriḵ-e ān āvari). Should one omit the first letter in the word naẓm, that is, spare its head, the sum of the numerical values of the remaining two consonants is 940, or 1534 in the Gregorian calendar. (For numerical values associated with the Semitic alphabet, see ABJAD.)

Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma can be divided into twenty-one segments or chapters. It begins with the customary brief passage in praise of the Prophet and his descendants, a florid eulogy of Esmāʿil I, several lines in praise of Ṭahmāsp I, the patron of the work, as well as Ebrāhim Mirza Ṣafāvi, the grandson of Esmāʿl I and the son of the learned and resourceful prince, Bahrām Mirza, who is also remembered as a patron of the arts. There are also verses in praise of Hātefi, and Amir Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Nuri Kamāl, a vizier of Ṭahmāsp I and a member of the Nur-kamāliya order, whom Qāsemi addresses as Ḥażrat-e Āṣef-panāhi. Then follows the accounts of Shah Esmāʿil’s life, his many battles, including the battles with the Turkmans and the Uzbeks, and his conquest of Baghdad. The work ends with a number of couplets on the demise of Esmāʿil I, and a “Sāqi-nāma,” in praise of wine and cupbearers, as well as an index of Qāsemi’s works. The large manuscript production of the book attests the widespread attention it had received. (For a provisional list of the manuscripts of the Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, see Bernardini, 2003, pp. 17-18; see also Fehrest-vāra-ye dast-nevešthā-ye Irān, ed., Moṣṭafā Derāyati, Tehran, 2010).

Qāsemi’s well-crafted descriptions of battle scenes and figures in a refined and non-convoluted language in his Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, coupled with his use of innovative similes and metaphors, have inspired a critic to praise his poetry as a shining star in the gloomy nights of Iran’s literary decline under the Ṣafavids (Salmāsizādeh, p. 1519). However, the imagery he employs, although exquisite, more befits lyrical poetry than that of a historical epic and is often rendered in conflict with the scenes he describes (Šafiʿi-Kadkani, p. 199). Golčin-e Maʿāni, quoting from Taḏkera-ye Ḵolāṣat-al-ašʿār by Mir-Taqi-al-Din Kāšāni (d. 1607), holds that the recurrence of inaccessible similes and stories in Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma exact a toll on the flow and fluency of the poem (Golčin-e Maʿāni, p. 417). Renditions of mythological, astronomical, folkloric, and religious themes abound in the book. Passages in praise of the Shiʿite Imams, in particular ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, are rendered with utmost passion (Keyhāni, pp. 9-11). Some of his verses are colored with philosophical overtones and border on parables and proverbs (Šāh Esmāʿil nāma pp. 381-84).

(2) Šāh-nāma-ye Navvāb-e ʿĀli. After completing Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, Qāsemi undertook the composition of Šāh-nāma-ye Navvāb-e ʿĀli in praise of Ṭahmāsp I himself and titled the two versified chronicles together as Šahanšāh-nāma (Maṯnaviyāt, p. 521; Ṣafā, 1982, p. 7). It begins with praise for the Prophet, a description of the Prophet’s celestial ascent (see Meʿrāj), a panegyric for Ṭahmāsp I, a brief section on reasons for composing the work, and it continues with forty segments on Ṭahmāsp I’s life and reign. Among the insightful parts of the book are Qāsemi’s discussion of domestic political events and Ṭahmāsp I’s conflicts with the Qezelbāš commanders in their pursuit of power; the Uzbek attack by ʿObayd-Allah Khan to conquer Khorasan and Ṭahmāsp I’s heroic recovery of the conquered lands; his battle against the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (d. 1566); the account of how Suleiman’s son, Bāyazid, sought refuge at Tahmāsp I’s court, and how he was eventually handed over to his brother, the later Sultan Salim II (see OTTOMAN-PERSIAN RELATIONS i).

Šāh-nāma-ye Navvāb-e ʿĀli consists of 5,569 couplets and most probably was completed in 1543 (Ṣafā, 1982, p. 7; Ḵazānadārlu, p. 470). It is preserved in a manuscript of Maṯnaviyāt dated 981/1573 and housed in the library of the Shrine of Imam Reza (folios 387-533). No print edition of the book is available.

Qāsemi’s renditions of the major events during the reigns of Esmāʿil I and Ṭahmāsp I, as held by a critic, “bear traces of political use of history put in practice by the Timurid and Safavid sovereigns during the 15th-17th centuries” (Bernardini, 2003, pp. 7-8). Lines of his Šāh-nāma are quoted as references in historical texts, including Aḥsan-al-tavāriḵ by Ḥasan Beg Rumlu (pp. 40-41), Tāriḵ-e Ilči Neẓām-Šāh by Ḵoršāh b. Qobād-al-Ḥosayni (pp. 9-10), and Javāher-al-aḵbār by Budāq Monši-e Qazvini (p. 39; see also Šāh Esmāʿil nāma, pp. 191, 196-97).

The book also offers significant information on the city of Qazvin, its horse riding arena, and Ṭahmāsp I’s wedding ceremony, as well as biographical data on some noted princes and figures (Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, pp. 156, 183, 269; Maṯnaviyāt, pp. 415, 451, 455, 459, 517, 521). Mention should also be made of Qāsemi’s glorified depiction of wine and winedrinking ceremonies, either as separate passages in the text or as three to four lines in praise of cupbearers and singers at the end of the different chapters of the book (Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, pp. 346-50, Maṯnaviyāt, p. 529; see also Faḵr-al-Zamāni-e Qazvini, pp. 173-80; Keyhāni, pp. 11-14). The recurrent appearance of musical terms in the book displays Qāsemi’s familiarity with music and musical instruments. The book also includes passages in praise of spring (Bahāriya), as well as several elegies.

(3) Leyli o Majnun. A narrative poem of 2540 lines in hazaj meter (1570), the book is an imitation of Neẓāmi Ganjavi’s Leyli o Majnun, and revolves around unrequited love. It begins with passages in praise of the Prophet and the Shi’ite Imams and is dedicated to Ṭahmāsp I. Copies of the manuscript are housed in the library of the Shrine of Imam Reżā in Mašhad (no.8383), the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (Ṣafā, 1993, V/2, p. 723), and the Central Library of the University of Tehran (Ḵazānadārlu, pp. 472-74). As indicated in his preface to the Zobdat-al-ašʿār, Qāsemi was later commissioned by Abu’l-Fatḥ Mirza, the king’s nephew, to compose a second version of Leyli o Majnun—a book that he considers as a second eye to the first narrative (Golčin-e Maʿāni, p. 422).

(4) Guy o čowgān (The ball and the polo stick). Also known as Kār-nāma, the book, a maṯnavi in hazaj meter, was commissioned by Ṭahmāsp I in 1540; it includes passages in praise of religious figures, description of the sky and the earth, as well as Shah Ṭahmāsp’s playful engagement with the game. The book, although allegorical in may ways, does not seem to be inspired by Mowlānā Maḥmud ʿĀrefi Heravi’s Hāl-nāma (1438), which is also known as Guy o čowgān and tells the tale of a dervish’s pure love for a prince which ends in the dervish’s self-immolation at the prince’s feet. A copy of the manuscript is housed at the library of the Shrine of Emām Reżā in Mašhad (No. 8383), and a second one at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (Ṣafā, 1993, V/2, p. 723).

(5) Ḵosrow o Širin. Commissioned by Sām Mirza, and completed in 1543, Ḵosrow o Širin is an imitation of the second book of Neẓāmi’s Ḵamsa and chronicles in refined language the love story of a Persian king and an Armenian princess. It is composed in hazaj meter and comprises 3,000 couplets. Copies of the book are available in the Bibilotheque Nationale in Paris, the Central Library of the University of Tehran, and the Malek National Library in Tehran.

(6) Šāhroḵ-nāma. A narrative poem in motaqāreb meter, the work was commissioned by Tahmāsp I in 1543; it chronicles, in 5,000 lines, the life of the Timurid prince Šāhroḵ (r. 1405-47). A copy of the book is housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (Ṣafā, 1993, V/2, p. 721), and another in the British Library (Rieu, II, p. 661).

(7) ʿOmdat-al-ašʿār. Qāsemi mentions in his preface to the Zobdat-al-ašʿār (p. 422) that he composed the ʿOmdat-al-ašʿār during his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1557. The library of the Shrine of Imam Reżā in Mašhad houses an extant copy of the book.

(8) Zobdat-al-ašʿār. The Zobdat-al-ašʿār (1568), a compendium of didactic and mystical poems in sariʿ meter, is an imitation of Maḵzan al-asrār, the first narrative in Neżāmi’s Ḵamsa, to which Qāsemi, in his preface to the book, also refers as Javāb-e Maḵzan al-asrār. The book, as again indicated by Qāsemi in his preface (Maṯnaviāt, folio, 535) is inspired by Salmān-e Sāvoji’s Jamšid o ḵoršid (see JAMŠID II. IN PERSIAN LITERATURE). The library of the Shrine of Imam Reżā in Mašhad houses a copy of the book.

The influence of Neẓāmi and his Eskandar-nāma on Qāsemi’s poetic corpus is attested to by his language and syntax, and more significantly by his inclusion of numerous lines in praise of the Prophet and his ascension, as well as the recurrent appearance of passages in praise of wine and wine cupbearers throughout his work (Ṣafā, 1995, p. 366). Qāsemi himself is the first to acknowledge Neẓāmi’s impact on his poetry: “Very much like Neżāmi, I am an upholder of the verse / I am an admirer of the second Alexander” (Neẓāmi-ṣefat naẓm rā bāniyam / ṯanā-ḵˇān-e Eskandar-e ṯāniyam; Šāh-Esmāʿil-nāma, p. 166, line 615).

In addition to works of verse, Qāsemi wrote an introduction (moqaddama), in prose, to the Zobdat-al-ašʿār, in which he enumerates his works (Maṯnaviyāt, p. 535). There is a letter written by Qāsemi to Akbar I  the Mughal emperor of India (see also AKBAR-NAMA), in Haft Āsmān, p. 137, by Āḡā Aḥmad ʿAli Aḥmad, an Indian-born scholar of Persian language and literature and the founder of Madrasa-ye Aḥmadia in Calcutta, in which Qāsemi introduces his works to the Indian king. The letter comprises an account of his works of verse and bespeaks his unease with the reception of his poems by the dignitaries of the time. Qāsemi’s simple and unadorned prose provides an antidote to the long and rhymed sentences by which the literature of the period is generally recognized.

Sām Mirza Ṣafavi’s Taḏkera-ye toḥfa-ye Sāmi includes several quotes from biographers and scholars of the period, including Amir ʿAlišir Navāʾi, Amin Aḥmad Rāzi, Loṭf-ʿAli Aḏar Bigdeli, Mir-Ḥosayndust Sanbhali, and Āḡā Aḥmad-ʿAli Aḥmad, in which they praise Qāsemi as a poet of “high aptitude” and “exalted thoughts,” as well as a “treasure-trove of concepts,” unrivaled in “eloquence, similes and metaphors” (Sām Mirza Ṣafavi, p. 39).

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(Jaʿfar Šojāʿ Keyhāni)

Cite this article:

Jaʿfar Šojāʿ Keyhāni, “QĀSEMI-e ḤOSAYNI-e GONĀBĀDI,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/qasemi-hosayni (accessed on 20 September 2016).