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Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Bahram Gur

At the turn of the 13th century, the great poet Nizami, from Ganja in north-west Persia, compiled five of his poetic works into one volume, the Khamsa (Quintet). Some of his most beautiful descriptive passages in rhyming-couplet form convey the epic romance of one of these works, known as Haft Paykar (Seven portraits).

Haft Paykar recounts the tale of Bahram Gur, a figure based on the Sasanian Persian king Bahram V (r 420–38 AD). He was nicknamed gur (onager or wild ass) because of his love of hunting. Literary episodes highlight not only his skill as a hunter but also his amorous adventures and feats of bravery.

While still a prince, Bahram Gur is sent to Yemen to learn the art of kingship. During his time there, he lives in the legendary palace of Khawarnaq, where he finds a room decorated with portraits of seven beautiful princesses from the seven regions of the known world.

The prince falls in love with all of them, and after becoming king of Persia he marries all seven and builds each her own coloured palace within the royal complex. These pavilions reflect the colour of the region from which each has come, the planet that presides over her destiny and the day of the week on which he intends to visit her.

The narrative then relates Bahram Gur’s visits to the seven pavilions and the stories with which the beautiful ladies entertain him, in the same way that Sheherazade holds her master spellbound in the 1001 nights. Scholars have interpreted the textual and visual imagery of Nizami’s story as an allegorical representation of the seven spheres of heaven and the seven stages of the spiritual journey of those who follow the mystical path.

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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