Did you know that there was a book about Queen Shirin, the Armenian queen of Khusrau II? Neither did I. She is remembered in the Shahnameh of Firdausi, but her story is better remembered because of the poet Nezami‘s treatment of her story. Some of you may be more familiar with that widespread tradition of Shirin’s legendary idealised, tragic love affair with Fahrad, who lost Shirin to Khusrau when he was condemned by the king to carve stairs out of the cliffs of Behistun (the famous rockface into which Achaemenid and later Sasanian kings carved their monuments).
Their story became part of the literary traditions of the Near East, central Asia and India. (You can even pick up an echo of their story in the film Kama Sutra, which incidentally happens to star one of the great Bollywood heroine-actresses Rekha and was directed by the accomplished Mira Nair.) Speaking of Bollywood, Shirin Fahrad (1956) is an Indian adaptation of the tale starring the great screen legend Madhubala, who also played the female lead in the masterpiece Mughal-E-Azam.
The story of Fahrad and Shirin is one of those timeless stories of pure, unfulfilled love, and so serves as a natural reference for both the yearning of ghazals and the laments of the khagher of Sayat Nova, including one of his most memorable, Fahrad mirats Shirinn asats, which includes this nod to another famous pair of lovers:
Medjloomi nman man im gali, earen ervats im.
Like Medjloom I am wandering, I am grieved by my beloved.
Sayat Nova, like Shirin, laments because of the love that he cannot have:
Sayat Noven im, endoor goolam dardires arbab.
I am Sayat Nova, that’s why I cry, my griefs are unbearable.
Fahrad and Shirin appear again in another Sayat Nova poem, whose first line is Khabar gnats blbooli mot (The news went to the nightingale). The poem is a dialogue between the nightingale and the rose, a common symbolic representation of the lover and beloved in this genre, and at one point the rose says:
The pick killed Fahrad, the dagger remains for you, Shirin.