The Value of a Text: The poems of Hafiz

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As I was wandering through the Mughal exhibit at the British Library I briefly viewed the various texts, pictures, and pieces of art as I passed them; however, when I saw this book I stopped. The first thing that caught my attention was the elaborate drawings that dominated the margins of the page, and then I noticed the description of the object. It was then and there that I decided that this would be the object I would write about. This book, with its beautiful calligraphy and its adorned margins, was a copy of the poems of Hafiz of Shiraz.

Having read some of Hafiz’s poems for class, I found this book fascinating. Reading the description of this object; I found that this books history was just as interesting. The book was originally copied by Sultan ‘Ali Mashhadi, who was one of the most greatest calligraphers in Iran. The manuscript eventually was moved to the Mughal library where the emperor Jahangir had his artists add the beautiful pieces of art in the margins.

What I found most interesting about this object was that it was not an Indian book, but rather a book in Persian by a famous Persian poet that was adopted by the Mughals. I think this was included in the exhibit to show how the Mughals adopted the culture and artwork from Muslim Persia as a connection to the Muslim world. The Mughal empire was a Muslim empire in a predominately non-Muslim part of the world. The poems of Hafiz were famous, and Jahangir only had his artists embellish the especially valued manuscripts. Furthermore, this manuscript lasted through different times and cultures. Hafiz lived in the 14th century, and the text was copied sometime around the beginning of the 16th century before finally finding its way to the Mughal court in the 17th century. In a way this object was used to connect the Mughals to the cultures and traditions of Muslim Persia.        

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9 thoughts on “The Value of a Text: The poems of Hafiz

  1. It is so beautiful, I also looked at this one for a while. The poetry was definitely taken seriously in the courts and by the way they displayed them it is shown. Having Persian influence in the Indian Mughal court is interesting to see, the crossing of ideas and objects through different states is important, even today.

  2. The idea of one cultural taking an idea and making it one’s own is an interesting concept. At what point does something you have taken and transformed for yourself becomes your own?

  3. I remember looking at this book and really wondering what the next page looked like. We’re seeing probably less that 1% of the object. It’s a gorgeous book. It probably was beautiful even before it was further embellished.

  4. Thomas, this post was really interesting to read. I appreciated your description of the elaborate drawings on the book, and the history behind this text is quite interesting as well.

  5. I think its really great how you talk about the transmission of a book from one dynasty to another. I also loved the book and remember being really intrigued by the illustrations!

  6. This book has been more places than I have been and it doesn’t have legs… or access to airplanes. Ok, but seriously, I remember running into you while looking at this book and it was such a good choice. It was really impressive in the row of these beautiful books each with a collection of poems from these great poets.

  7. interesting piece. such a big book. interesting how this item encompasses so many different cultures somehow.

  8. Here comes my Harry Potter geek: for any really hardcore Potter fan, the artwork of Mary Grande Pre for the US editions of the books is as distinctive as the stories themselves. It’s just not quite the same when you don’t have that opening chapter artwork. But it’s not in the British versions of the text–the covers are even different. This is the same sort of thing that is going on here.

  9. I love the way that this book has a story of its own as it travelled from one continent to another. It is a beautiful book that has been played with in order for it to come to life.

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