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The Timurid Period

This period began with the invasion of Khorāsān and Sistān by Teimur (Tamerlane) in the year 782 AH/1380 AD and came to an end in 907 AH/1501 coinciding with the beginning of the reign of the Safavid King Shah Esmā’il. This period, and particularly the second half of the 9th century AH that came to be known as the “Period of Shāhrokh”, is the period in which poetry and patronage to the literati became widespread. However, in spite of all the efforts on the part of Shāhrokh and his successors like Soltān Hosein Bāyqerā and despite all the patronage extended to the men of literature as well as artists by Amir Alishir Navā’i and the Herat royal court, not much progress was witnessed during this period. The main reason behind this phenomenon was that the literary men of this period had chosen to focus their attention on writing commentaries on the works of the earlier scholars and poets. Another feature of the literary works of this period was that many writers had alleged others with stealing their literary works and had repeatedly made complaints against the incompetence and negligence of the calligraphers. 

Poetry: There was an astonishing rise in the number of poets in this period who hailed from all the strata of society. During this period, poetry had become an indispensable part of the daily lives of even the common people, and irrespective of their professions, people spent their free time in composing poems and in arranging their divāns. However, despite the existence of a large number of poets, the only outstanding one belonging to this period was Nur al-Din Abd al-Rahmān Jāmi (817-898 AH/1414-1493 AD).

Jāmi was the last of the poets of the Timurid period and the greatest one after Hāfez. Besides being a poet he was also a mystic, a man of literature, a great research scholar of his period, and the leader of the Naqshbandiyeh school of Sufism and the creator of a variety of works, both, in prose and poetry.

Owing to a lack of a centralized and unified rulership, the Timurid period witnessed a decline in the area of the composition of odes and instead there was a significant increase in the area of ghazals as well as ballads that were composed for the royal courts. The other features of the odes of this period include the dominance of ghazals as well as a tendency on the parts of the poets to boast about their genealogies and their youthful achievements, who like the poets of the 6th-8th Centuries AH/12th-13th Centuries AD took great pride in reveling over their skills in composing lengthy odes with a number of opening verses.

The most important and widespread form of poetry during the Timurid period was the ghazal. The most remarkable features of the romantic ghazals of this period were the expressions of despondency, lamentation, and despair on the part of the lover and his willingness to go through all kinds of humiliation, insult, disloyalty, and torment at the hands of his beloved. These expressions were widely used in the works of all the poets of this period, including in the poems composed by the Ottoman, Turkmen, and Timurid kings and statesmen, revealing a rather out of the ordinary relationship between the contents of the ghazals and their otherwise mighty composers.

During the Timurid period, owing to the repeated defeats of the Iranians at the hands of the various yellow-raced tribes, the grounds for producing works like national epics were wiped out. Nevertheless, in continuation of the trends of the earlier poets of the 7th and the 8th Centuries AH/13th and 14th Centuries AD, the composition of historical epic poems in description of the victories of the Timurid warriors and emirs prevailed. Similarly, the trend of producing a kind of religious epic based on the life stories of the great personalities of Islam began during this period. The most important religious epic of this period was the “Khāvarān-Nāmeh” of Ibn Hesām which is a work describing the journeys and battles of ‘Ali ibn Abi Tāleb (‘a).

Moreover, during this period the trend of composing romantic poems and ballads with short moral lessons and philosophical and ethical contents was widespread. The composers of such works were considered as the followers of “Nezāmi”. From among such mathnavis, mention can be made of the “Nāzer va Manzur” and the “Delrobāyi” of Kātebi (839 AH/1435 AD), the “Hosn va Del” of Fattāhi Neishāburi (852 or 853 AH/1448 or 1449 AD) and the “Yusuf va Zoleykhā” and “Leyli va Majnun” of Jāmi.

Matters relating to erfān (Gnosticism) and tasawwuf (Sufism) dominated the poetic works of this period and it was especially common to employ Sufi terms and phrases in ghazals as a poetic tradition. The most important poets of this period to have composed Gnostic works were Shāh Ne’matollāh Vali, Qāsem Anvār, and Jāmi. However, the Gnostic influence in the poems was more an indication of the ethical values of the people of those times rather than being a form of guidance on the spiritual journey (seyr va soluk) and even the Sufi teachings found in the poems of this period touched upon matters related to guidance on religious obligations.

During the Timurid period, a tendency towards the composition of riddles and a kind of humorous poetry popularly known as the “At’amah va Aqshamah” (Food and Clothing) had emerged and the poets of this period had experienced two new literary trends. 

Riddles: The composition of riddles which was the most widespread form of poetry in the Timurid period was more a test of the intelligence and wit of the listener rather than being a literary style. Sini Neishbāuri and Amir ‘Ali Shir Navāyi were particularly famous for composing riddle poems. However, during the course of this period the composition of riddles reached a phase where it began taking up great amounts of time and far-fetched imagination for finding solutions to them.

At’amah va Aqshamah (Food and Clothing): The At’amah va Aqshamah comprised a kind of humorous poetry in which, besides providing responses to the poems of the earlier poets, the poet takes it upon himself to employ the names of foods, eatables, drinks, and clothing in his works. The most important poets of this kind of poetry from the Timurid period were Bes’hāq At’amah and Nezām al-Din Mahmud Qāri Yazdi.

Prose: During the course of the Timurid period, Persian prose continued to face the decline and degeneration that had begun in the earlier period and even the patronage and support extended by the Timurid princes to the composition of literary works did not succeed in eliminating this declining trend. The works surviving from the Timurid period reveal the limited talent, short-sightedness, negligence as well as a lack of research on the part of the writers of this period. A great number of grammatical and terminological mistakes – to be found up to this day in the Persian language – are the legacy of the style of writing of the writers of the Timurid period.

Although the Persian prose-writing of the Timurid period is not of much literary worth and value, its variety of style is undeniably noteworthy.

The historiography of this period is the natural continuation of the movement that began in this area during the Mongol period, and therefore, historical works in different fields, including general and specialized history, belonging to the Timurid period have survived. From among such works, mention can be made of the “Zafarnāmeh” of Hamdollāh Mostofi.

The most important focus in the prose-writing of the Timurid period was in the field of biography-writing. Some of the biographical works that have survived from this period are among the most famous and outstanding efforts in this field in the Persian language. From among the biographical works of the writers of this age, mention can be made of the “Tazkirah al-Sho’arā” (Biographies of the Poets) of Dolatshāh Samarqandi (896 or 900 AH/1491 or 1495 AD), the “Majāles al-Oshshāq” (The Gatherings of Lovers) attributed to Soltān Hosayn Bāyqarā, and a chapter of the “Bahārestān” of Jāmi which has been dedicated to the life-stories of poets.

From among the biographies attributed to the Sufis of this period, the most important works include the “Nafahāt al-Ons Min Hazarāt al-Qods” of Nur al-Din Abd al-Rahmān Jāmi and the “Rashahāt Ayn al-Hayāt” of Fakhr al-Din ‘Ali Safi Kāshefi. Similarly, two valuable biographical works on the lives of the ministers of the Timurid period entitled, the “Āsār al-Vozarā” written by Sayf al-Din Hāji Nezām Aqili and the “Dastur al-Vozarā” written by Ghiyās al-Din Khwāndmir have survived.


* source: Ghamar, Aryan "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.569 – 570

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