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Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond


Persian poets and other artists were attracted to cultural centres in Iran and its neighbouring territories, where their talents were appreciated and financially rewarded. Many moved from place to place seeking patronage at prestigious courts. Others operated independently, like the minstrels of medieval Europe, as singers, musicians and poets for hire. These free-spirited and unorthodox poets wrote verse that sometimes advocated the abandonment of intellect and rationality in order to experience the ecstasy of absolute love.

Many poets belonged to Sufi brotherhoods, some of which reflected the organisation of the princely courts in their reliance on and devotion to a spiritual leader, the shaykh. Other individuals followed the Sufi path as wandering dervishes.

Sufism followed the mystical branch of Islam that emphasised the essential unity of religions and the centrality of love. It favoured direct experience of divine love, rather than the study of orthodox theology from books. The Sufi path, sometimes described as the ‘way’ or ‘ladder’, could either be one of slow progression through various stages or an experience of intense spiritual ecstasy, resulting in loss of self and submersion in divine unity.

The lover and beloved became the stock theme of the great mystic poets such as Rumi, Saʿdi and Hafiz, some of whom were prominent spiritual leaders of Sufi communities. Their poetic forms ranged from short rhymes such as the rubaʿi and medium-length lyrical verse such as the ghazal to longer narrative stories or spiritual compositions in rhyme, the masnavi. Increasingly, these were copied into beautiful manuscripts, often as highly ornamented as the poetry itself.

Love & devotion in the UK

The Bodleian Libraries is showing its own presentation of the Love and devotion exhibition at the Exhibition Room, Bodleian Library, in Oxford, England, between 29 November 2012 and 28 April 2013.

Learn more about how you can visit this exhibition on the Bodleian Libraries website.


Love and devotion: Persian Cultural Crossroads

This two-day conference held in April 2012 featured distinguished international guests and Australian specialists exploring cultural convergences in literature, the arts and architecture, history and philosophy within Persia's cultural sphere and Europe, from the 11th century to the present day.

For information on keynote speakers & topics discussed, visit our conference page

Visit the exhibition

The Love and devotion exhibition took place from 9 March to 1 July 2012. In-depth information about the exhibits and themes can be found on this website.

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