In preparation for the Karabakh Foundation's upcoming DVD release of the Silk Road's performance rendition of Nizami's Haft Paykar: Seven Beauties epic poem, we thought it would be a good idea to shed some light on this significant Azerbaijani poet. Nizami Ganjavi combined philosophy and poetry with history and legend to create a literary legacy that resonates to this day. Born around 1141 A.D. in Ganja, Azerbaijan, his birthplace is reflected in his name because Ganjavi means "from Ganja". Nizami received an exemplary education that included science, mathematics, Islamic theology, history, philosophy, ethics, and Persian and Arabic literature. His education is often reflected in his poetry, which he began to write at the age of thirty.
Nizami’s literary career began with short form poems, such as gasida, gazal, and rubai, which were compiled into an anthology. Unfortunately, very few of the reported 20,000 poems included in his Divan survived, leaving scholars with scant literature from his early literary years. Consequently, Nizami is best known for his Khamsa, or “Quintet”. Each of the five epics composing his Khamsa are written with a unique meter. Scholars cannot pin down the exact years of completion, but can give approximate dates: Treasury of Secrets (1174-1175), Khosrow and Shirin (1180), Leyli and Majnun (1188), Seven Beauties (1197), and Iskander-Nameh (1203).
Known as a poet, scholar, and philosopher, Nizami is recognized for using his poetry to examine the development of mankind in society. Nizami’s work developed during an interesting period in Persian literature because poets at the time began to break away from traditional poetry that focused on the elite. With the rise of a new urban middle class, people were more interested personal struggles and tragedies of individuals. Nizami’s subjects reflected this as his characters were often trying to balance their adherence to social restrictions while also maintaining a sense of individual identity. His romantic epic poems are full of passionate emotion and philosophical commentary on humanity. While all of his epics are based on Persian and Arabic history and legends, he re-works the story into new creations.
Nizami’s influence on literature lasted long after his death. He was a major proponent in the use of vernacular language in poetry, introduced new style concepts, and founded a new literary form. His literary impact spanned Iran, Turkey, Central Asia, and India, where poets imitated Nizami’s Khamsa in form and theme. Later poets such as Jami, Amir Khusro, Alisher Navoi, and Fuzuli were all heavily influenced by Nizami. As a notable figure in the Eastern Renaissance of the twelfth century, Nizami’s poetry is still honored and studied today in Azerbaijan and throughout the East.
Written by Athena Smith, Karabakh Foundation Cultural Affairs Coordinator
Boyle, J.A., editor. "Poets and Prose Writers of the Late Saljuq and Mongol Periods." The Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.
Kerimli, Teymur. "Nizami-Poet for all Humanity." Visions of Azerbaijan.