Friday, February 20, 2004

The King Who Refused His Title

Born in Shiraz in 1705, Karim Khan was the founder of Zand dynasty in Iran. Of humble tribal origin, Karim Khan became one of the generals of his predecessor, Nader Shah. In the chaotic aftermath of Nader’s assassination in 1747, Karim Khan became a major contender for power but was challenged by several adversaries. In order to add legitimacy to his claim, he in 1757 placed on the throne the infant Shah Ismail III, the grandson of the last official Safavid king. Ismail was a figurehead king, real power being vested in Karim Khan, who never claimed the title of shahanshah (king of kings) but used that of vakil (regent). He believed that the Shah was just an ordinary person who lived among ordinary people. All the titles & razzmatazz meant nothing to him. He was deeply religious, & held the officials responsible for all the shortcomings in the society.
By 1760 Karim Khan had defeated all his rivals and controlled all of Iran except Khorasan, in the northeast, which was ruled by Shahrokh, the blind grandson of Nader Shah. During Karim Khan's rule Iran recovered from the devastation of 40 years of war. He made Shiraz his capital, constructing many fine buildings. Moreover, he reorganized the fiscal system of the kingdom, removing some of the heavy burdens of taxation from the agricultural classes. An active patron of the arts, he attracted many scholars and poets to his capital.
Karim Khan also opened Iran to foreign influence by allowing the English East India Company to establish a trading post in Bushehr, the Persian Gulf port (although this was later proved to be a bad mistake). In advancing his policy of developing trade, in 1775-76 he attacked and captured Basra, the Ottoman port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which had diverted much of the trade with India away from Iranian ports. The civil war that followed Karim Khan's death ended only with the final establishment of the Qajar dynasty in 1796. Karim Khan was a brave leader who restored peace to the kingdom after the strife following the collapse of the Safavid dynasty & the chaos towards the end of Afsharis' rule. He died in the year 1779 & at the age of 74. At the time of his power he built many of the famous monuments in Shiraz. Some of the most enchanting ones are Arge Karimkhan, Karmikhan Bath ( hammame vakil) and Vakil bazzar ( Bazzare vakil). To see the pictures I took last summer click on the name of the locations!

Picture of Karim Khan:

Pictures of Arge Karim Khan in Shiraz:

Pictures of Vakil Bath (hammame vakil):

Pictures of Vakil Bazar:

Pictures of Masjed Vakil:

An Ancient Persian Love story ( shirin and Farhad)

There is a place I know, high up in the mountains of Kurdistan. Where the crow roams freely and the snow finally meets the sun. Where you can fall wild like a mountain and run with a stone in your hand. This is where our story sleeps.
There was a brave man called Farhad, who loved a Princess named Shirin, but the Princess did not love him. Farhad tried in cain to gain access to the love-cell of Shirin's heart, but no one would dare betray the fact that a stonecutter loved a lady of royal blood. Farhad, in despair, would go to the mountains and spend his days without food, playing his flute sweet music in praise of Shirin. At last people thought to devise a plan to acquaint the Princess of the stone-cutter's love. She saw him once, and love which lived in his bosom also began to breathe in hers. But she dared not a mean laborer aspire to win the hand of a princess? It was not long, however, before the Shah himself heard the rumors of this extraordinary exchange of sentiment. He was naturally indignant at the discovery, but as he had no child other than Shirin, and Shirin was also pining away with love, he proposed to his daughter that her lover, being of common birth, must accomplish a task such as no man may be able to do, and then, and only then, might he be recommended to his favor.
The task which he skillfully suggested was that Shirin should ask her lover to dig a canal in the rocky land among the hills. The canal must be six lances in width and three lances deep and forty miles long!
The Princess had to convey her father's decision to Farhad, who forthwith shouldered his spade and started off to the hills to commence the gigantic task. He worked hard and broke the stones for years. He would start his work early in the morning when it was yet dark and never ceased from his labor till, owing to darkness, no man could see one yard on each side. Shirin secretly visited him and watched the hard working Farhad sleeping with his taysha (spade) under his head, his body stretched on the bed of stones. She noticed, with all the pride of a lover, that he cut her figure in the rocks at each six yards and she would sigh and return without him knowing.
Farhad worked for years and cut his canal; all was in readiness but his task was not yet finished, for he had to dig a well in the rocky beds of the mountains. He was half- way through, and would probably have completed it, when the Shah consulted his courtiers and sought their advice. His artifice had failed. Farhad had not perished in the attempt, and if all the conditions were in the attempt, and if all the conditions were in the attempt, and if all the conditions were fulfilled as they promised to be soon, his daughter must go to him in marriage. The Viziers suggested that an old woman should be sent to Farhad to tell him that Shirin was dead; then, perhaps, Farhad would become heart broken and leave off the work.
It was an ignoble trick, but it promised success and the Shah agreed to try it. So an old woman went to Farhad and wept and cried till words choked her; the stone-cutter asked her the cause of her bereavement.
"I weep for a deceased," she said, "and for you." "For a deceased and for me?" asked the surprised Farhad. "And how do you explain it?"
"Well, my brave man," said the pretender sobbingly, "you have worked so well, and for such a long time, too, but you have labored in vain, for the object of you devotion is dead!"
cried the bewildered man, "Shinin is dead?"
Such was his grief that he cut his head with the sharp taysha (spade) and died under the carved streamed into his canal was his own blood. When Shirin heard this she fled in great sorrow to the mountains where lay her wronged lover; it is said that she inflicted a wound in her own head at the precise spot where Farhad had struck himself, and with the same sharp edge of the spade which was stained with her lover's gore. No water ever flowed into the canal, but the two lovers were entombed in one and the same grave.
"There's a place where now the two lovers sleep. Side by side. Shirin and her Farhad. That place is very high up in the mountains of Kurdistan. And can only be reached when the snow comes washing down in spring. And stains blood red the cheeks of maidens. If you want to meet the two of them, you will have to ask the crow to take you there."

This writing is dedicated to all those whose hearts have been struck by love and to the one and only star in the sky of my heart....‘All else disappears when the thought of the beloved occupies the mind of the lover.’

To read other Persian love stories such as Laili and Majnun and Yusuf and Zoleykhah refer to:

Paintings of Shirin and Farhad: