Peace as reflected in Persian literature

Last updated text on May 07, 2010 – By K.N. Pandit

Universal peace is a much sought requirement of contemporary world. Urgency for peace arises out of fear of raging conflict and clash on the one hand, and the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction on the other. In a sense humanity is sitting on a powder keg.

The question is this: Will conflict and clash get uprooted from a world tormented by greed and selfishness?  This never happened in the annals of past human history. Doest that mean that we shall have to put up with the phenomenon.” 

But what is needed in this precarious situation is awareness about the magnitude of destruction a nuclear holocaust will cause. It is from this consciousness, if not from moral constraints, that a craving for global peace arises: it is this consciousness in human beings, which great prophets, philosophers and savants have insistently stressed upon generation after generation. This is what Zoroaster, the law giver of ancient Iranian nation conceptualized nearly three thousand years ago. The struggle between the forces of light and darkness, the forces of Angara Mainu and Ahriman have been in constant conflict to rule the destiny of mankind.

Ancient Iranians did not lose the hope of light dominating over darkness.  They remained glued to the idea that at the end of the day mankind shall move away from darkness and enter the realm of light, il al zulamat min an nur

From ancient times to present day, Iranian mind symbolized light with peace.  Therefore those who seek light actually seek peace. This has been the unfailing guiding principle of Iranian thinkers, philosophers, poets, writers and intellectuals in all ages and generations.

About Farsi literature, it may be said that in all its genres like prose, poetry, historiography, biography, commentaries, fiction etc. it is among the finest literatures of the world, both for the richness of ideas and freshness of idiom.

In Farsi literature, generally stress has been laid on preserving peace through the instrument of dialogue. Dialogue is what removes doubts and misunderstandings, and opens the path for securing peace. Dialogue is among the fundamentals of desk book rules of democracy.  The finest peace of dialogue in the great epic Shahnameh is the one between prince Isfandyar and the epic hero Rustam in which the latter pleads Isfanndyar with great force of logic and emotion to abjure conflict and return to the path of peace.

What we today call ‘Universal Discourse’ as the means of letting peace prevail, is what Ferdowsi meant to convey precisely in his much quoted (or miss-quoted) verse:

Pay-e mashwarat majlis arastand
Nishastand o goftand o barkhastand

Imagine, the great Ferdowsi composing the heroic adventures of many a Titan in his remarkable epic in which fighting and killing and lynching are common themes,  on coming to talk of humanism also touches our delicate sentiments and says:

Mayazaar muri kih daneh keshast
Kih jaandard o jani shirin khashast

This is the finest example of Iranian concept of peace. Even Gandhi, the apostle of peace, would have saluted Firdowsi for his intense humanism on hearing this verse.

The urge of Iranians to adopt peace as the instrument of statecraft is explicitly reflected in the desire of Kianian king  Khusrav Pervez in ordering procurement of the famous Indian work of statecraft namely Panchatantra and getting it translated first into Pahlavi and later on into Farsi under the title Kalileh wa Dimneh. By strange coincidence, the same work was abridged and reproduced during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar under the name Ayar-e Danish for the courtiers and celebrities at the helm of state affairs.

The essence of this work of immense international fame lies in the vast realm of wisdom, sagacity, deftness and tolerance extolled for use in handling statecraft. These are the instruments of peace.  With craft and psychological approach a tiny jackal can blunt the fury of a roaring lion and pin him down to destruction.

Peace and sensible statecraft are the core themes of a major Farsi work on statecraft, namely Siyasat Nameh of Nidhamu’l- Mulk Tusi. He lived at a time when Iranian power was at its height under the Seljuq ruling house. The famous and powerful ruler Malikshah, though a veteran warrior, yet was essentially desirous of resolving issues through peace and amity.  In a sense we find his parallel in Akbar, the great Mughal Emperor of India in 16th century. Both were patrons of men of letters and erudition. Both were assisted by viziers and courtiers famous for their worldly wisdom and the sense of dire consequences of war and animosity.

Farsi literature is enormously rich in poetry. Its richness comes from wisdom and experience of the poets. The greatest among them, Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Sa’adi, Amir Khusrav, Hafiz, Bedil, Ghalib, Bahar, Parvin, Nima, Nadirpur, Furogh, Khaleeli, Laiq Sherali  and others, to name only a few, have, one and all, given priority to peace as the reliable instrument of  conducting affairs of life.

What more proof of Iran’s dedication to peace can be produced than that of an immortal couplet from the Golistan of Shaykh Sa’adi remaining inscribed in beautiful nastaliq on the frontispiece of a building in the UN complex in New York:

Bani adam aeza-e yak paykarand
Kih dar afrinish ze yakgovharand
Chu ozvi be dard award ruzgaar
Digar ozv ha ra na manad qaraarkr

And then the stern  warning:

Tu kaz mehnat-e digaran beghami
Na shayadkih namaat nihand admi

I fervently hope that world leaders who come together in New York regularly to debate the destiny of mankind at the UN, will take into account in all earnestness this warning note of a great wise man.

Maulana Jalalu’d-Din Rumi Balkhi, the greatest of Farsi Sufi poets and the author of celebrated Mathnavi is a fine example of humanism and a universalism of exceptional commitment. Laiq Sherali, the peoples’ poet of Tajikistan says of him:

Nadidam hech insani, darego,
Ki chun Mavlai Balkh insan parastad
In the same vein, Hafiz of Shiraz, known to all lovers of Farsi poetry as the “Tongue of the Invisible” (lisanu’l-ghaib) has a glorious record of giving peace its due importance in the affairs of men.  The concept of sulh-e kul meaning universal peace lies at the root of his thought, and as a great artist, he has put it in his typical and inimitable poetic idiom.

Aasayish-e do giti tafsir-e in do harf ast
Ba dostan murawwat ba dushmanan madara

Wofa kunem o jafa kashem o khush bashem
Kih dar tariqat-e ma kafrist ranjidan

Shukuh-e taj-e sultani kih bim-e jaan daro darj ast
Kulah-e dilkash ast amma ba dared sar nami arzad

Bedil, whom Iqbal Lahori considers the greatest of Indian Farsi poets, is an embodiment of Indo-Iranian spirit of universal peace within and outside one’s self. Sufism, or to be precise, Iranian Sufism, from which Bedil has drunk deep, is essentially a major and a massive peace movement launched by Iranian intellectuals, thinkers and humanists as early as the second century of hijra. How could a Sufi, who believes in the concept of Unity of Being think of wars and strife?  Greed for worldly possessions is at the root of strife, as the Buddha said. This is precisely what Bedil advocated:

Hirs qaneh nist Bedil warneh asbab-e mu’aash
Anchih ma dar kar darim aksarash dar kar nist

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, the celebrated Farsi and Urdu poet of Delhi was destined to live in a cataclysmic period of Indian history when the freedom war of Indian nationalists met with disaster at the hands of the colonial power in 1857 A.D.  It marked the liquidation of the three and a half centuries – old Mughal rule. In that sordid turmoil, Ghalib, being in the last phase of his life, was indicted in conspiring against the foreign rulers. The war against his compatriots had made him bitter and he abhorred conflict and clash for supremacy. This perception is adequately reflected in his verses as well as prose writings like letters, history and essays. Try to analyze this poem in historical background:

Aye zauq-i nawa sanji bazam ba kharosh awar
Ghaughay-i shabikhuni bar bungah-e hosh awar

Maliku’sh-Shu’ara Muhammad Taqi Bahar of Iran was witness to the catastrophic events of World War I.  The sufferings of war victims left a deep and depressing impression on his mind, which he did not hesitate to reflect with full conviction. His famous poem titled Jogd-e Jang (The Owl of War) beginning with the verse

Fughan ze jogd-e jang o murgvaye u

is a strong proof of how the Iranian mind expressed its resentment to and deep dislike for senseless wars that destroy valuable human lives and property. Another poem of Bahar titled Damavand is an excellent example of symbolism that denounces dictatorial, hegemonic and arbitrary rule.

The group of Farsi poets who came after Parveen and Neema, almost all of them carried deep in their mind the dreadful impressions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the reasons why almost all of them insisted on individual introspection and promotion of inter-societal consciousness is that they believed in intrinsic good within a man. They believed that with reinforced character and personality, war-mongering could be defeated by the strength and solidarity of vast public opinion. While Forogh took on the evil embedded within human mind and drawing succour from unfavorable social environs, Khaleeli of Afghanistan reminiscences classical values and standards of social behaviour as anti-war panacea.  And finally, Laiq Sherali, the Wordsworth of Tajikistan, shows himself to us as an innocent child of nature yearning for peace and tranquility in world so that he and his people could enjoy the bountiful nature of his motherland.

Tormented by the fratricidal war of 1991-1995 in Tajikistan, Laiq gave out the poignant lament from the depth of his soul:

Hameh tire ki dar tirdan dared,
Ba qalbi man biyandazed,
Ba jani man furu rezed,
Hamin yak qalbi man amajgahi tiraton boshad,
Valekin jani mardum dar amon boshad.
Agar man bimiram hech baki nist.
Farda Madari tajik
Hazran Laiq laiqtari az man biyarad baz.
Basa mushfiq, base ashiq,
base sadiqtari az man biyarad baz

To sum up, we can say with confidence that the corpus of Farsi literature is an immortal source of hope and encouragement for human beings all over the world. The high level of Iranian intellectualism never allowed mundane ideas gain a toehold in the thinking process of that society. But I need to add a word of caution. Although Farsi literature vehemently and persistently advocates recourse to peace and dialogue, it never permits us to succumb to blackmail and intimidation. The evil is to be resisted while the truth is to be spoken.  Advises great Ferdowsi:

Sokhan goftan o ranjish ain-e mast
‘Anan o sanan bakhtan din-emast

It will be reminded that the essential importance of the great Mathnavi of Maulana Rum lies not only in empirical interpretation of Quranic teaching, but more in the message of renaissance and revival of faith of the nations of his day annihilated and battered by the calamitous onslaught of Mongol hordes. Peace in his view is not only in supporting and promoting good but also in resisting the evil.

Friends, the world today has been dragged to the powder keg of destruction. Greed and avarice dominate the mindset of the powerful. This is a dangerous and disastrous trend. It has to be arrested. Weapons of mass destruction are not an alternative to the process of dialogue and discourse. We are answerable to our future generations. Let us prove ourselves worthy of holding their trust. The monster of war has to be banished from the minds of all if peace is to prevail.

The End.

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