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Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Khusrau and Shirin

Like a number of the great Persian romantic narratives, the love story of the Sasanian king Khusrau II (r 590–628 AD) and Shirin, the Christian princess from Armenia, is based on figures recorded in Firdausi’s Shahnama. It was reworked at the end of the 12th century by the poet Nizami and included in his Khamsa (Quintet).

Nizami presents his much-embellished account of the lengthy courtship of the pair and its eventual tragic conclusion as a journey of personal and spiritual transformation. The selfish hero-king evolves into an idealised lover in his quest for union with his beloved.

Nizami’s version was, in turn, reworked by later writers, such as Amir Khusrau (d 1325) of Delhi, who acknowledged his debt to his Persian predecessor in his text.

In this fabled narrative, the romance begins before the pair meet; they fall in love after receiving physical descriptions of each other. Khusrau travels to Armenia to find the beautiful and accomplished woman who has captured his soul. At first they enjoy a period of rapturous love, but the vagaries of fate intervene and keep them apart.

Khusrau marries more than once during this period, and through the plot’s twists and turns the rivals for his and Shirin’s respective affections end their own lives. Reconciled, the couple enjoys a more mature and deep love, but tragically their happiness is transient. Their earthly union ends when, after neglecting his royal duties, Khusrau is assassinated by an enemy. After this, Shirin takes her own life.

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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