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What is at Stake in the Frame Story? A Timurid Reshaping of the Romance of Bahrām Gūr

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 August 2022

Marc Toutant*
Member of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris
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This article examines Mīr ʿAlī Shīr Navāʾī's Sabʿa-yi Sayyār (889/1484), a Chaghatay rewriting of Niẓāmī's Haft Paykar and Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī's Hasht Bihisht. In the prologue of his masnavī, the Timurid poet expresses harsh criticism against his Persian models. He targets his predecessors’ frame stories, and more specifically their depiction of Bahrām Gūr's behavior while listening to the seven nested narratives. In fact, Navāʾī's reshaping of the poem epitomizes several Timurid trends with regard to the Persianate cultural complex: a tendency toward standardization, as well as a keen interest in Naqshbandī Sufism. Incidentally, the latter aspect shows Jāmī's influence on the Chaghatay polymath's literary output.

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When an author rewrites the work of a predecessor, he may want to let the readers know his mind about his model. His decisions regarding the episodes to be kept, omitted, or modified may be significant enough to bear witness to his sentiment. Yet it is easier still when the writer makes no mystery of his judgment. This was the case when the Timurid polymath Mīr ʿAlī Shīr Navāʾī (844/1441–906/1501) produced his own version of Niẓāmī's famous Persian poem Haft Paykar (The Seven Portraits, 593/1197). In the prologue to his Chaghatay Turkish version, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār (The Seven Travelers, 889/1484), he not only criticizes Niẓāmī openly for his take on the story; he also rebukes Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī (651/1253–725/1325), who composed the earliest and major Persian variation, Hasht Bihisht (The Eight Paradises), in 701/1301.Footnote 1 Navāʾī addresses his readers directly:

nechä nawʿ ishni qïldïlar taqṣīr
gar tutarsen qulaq qïlay taqrīr
böylä tuhmat ki ʿaysh uchun Bahrām
yasadï yetti qaṣr surgalï kām
yetti iqlīm shāhïdïn yetti qïz
har biri luṭf u ḥusnï ghāyatsïz
yetti qaṣrï ichigä keltürdi
kām har kün biri bilä sürdi
ṭurfa bu kim chū boldï bāda-parast
qïldï aqshamgha tegrü öznï mast
uyqu kāmïn alurgha mastāna
shūkhlargha buyurdï afsāna
bu ʿajab kim alar daghï dedilär
qiṣṣa-khān qïzlarï magar edilär
tangdïn aqshamgha tegrü paydarpay
olki ichgäy qadaḥ tölä tölä may
anga khūd ghaflat oldï dāb u ṣifat
uyqusïgha fasāna ne ḥājat
bolsa ham ʿaql manʿ qïlmas mu
qiṣṣa aytur kishi tapïlmas mu Footnote 2
How their works [Niẓāmī's and Amīr Khusraw's] are marred by errors,
If you listen, I shall explain.
It is calumny [to say] that Bahrām for his delight
Had seven castles built to take pleasure.
Seven girls were the princesses of the seven climes,
Each extremely beautiful and graceful.
He brought them into his seven castles.
Each day he enjoyed the company of another.
It is strange that he loved wine so much.
Every evening he got drunk.
While drunk enough to fall asleep,
He ordered the seductive girls to tell a story.
It is astounding that they even told (their) tales!
Perhaps the girls were storytellers?
From dawn to dusk without respite,
He would drink cup after cupful of wine.
Unawareness became his second nature.
What need then for a tale to be lulled to sleep?
Wouldn't reason prevent such a thing?
Could he not find someone [else] to tell [him] stories?

How dare Navāʾī criticize the works of two such great poets? What Navāʾī criticizes in fact is the setup in which the Sasanian king Bahrām Gūr listens to the seven tales over a week in the seven domed pavilions. The plot of the fourth masnavī (long poem in rhyming couplets) of Niẓāmī's Khamsah (Pentalogy) is well known. The Haft Paykar (The Seven Portraits) or Bahrām-nāmah (The Book of Bahrām) recounts the legendary history of the Sasanian king Bahrām or Vahrām V (420–438/39). The eponymous portraits are those depicting the princesses of the “seven climes,” in other words, the seven regions into which the habitable world was typically divided in premodern geography. The young Bahrām discovers these portraits in his castle of Khavarnaq in Yemen, and falls in love with the seven princesses immediately. Succeeding to the throne of Persia, Bahrām marries them all. Each princess resides in a separate palace, and as the king visits them in turn over seven successive days, each entertains him with a different story. Bahrām's accession to the throne and his visits to the princesses make up the main narrative or the frame story of Niẓāmī's work. This frame story sets the stage for the telling of the seven tales, which constitute the embedded narratives.Footnote 3

Navāʾī scolds his two Persian predecessors for portraying the great Sasanian king as a drunkard who forced beautiful princesses to tell him stories while he was drunk enough to fall asleep. If one reads Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's depictions of these scenes, one has to admit that Navāʾī's scoffing is not entirely unfounded. Here is how Amīr Khusraw, for instance, recounts Bahrām's visit to the Indian princess in the black-domed pavilion:

shah ba-gunbad-sarāy-i mushkīn shud
khānah z-ū hamchū nāfa-yi chīn shud
māh-i hindū-nazhād-i rumī-chihr
khāst az khābgāh-i nāz ba-mihr
khidhmat-i khāṣṣ-rā miyān dar bast
kamar-i bandagī ba-jān darbast
z-avval-i bāmdād tā gah-i shām
ʿishrat u ʿaysh būd u bādah-vu jām
shah zi-mastī namūd raghbat-i khāb
ham zi-gul mast būd u ham zi-sharāb
jānash az zawq-i busah maftūn būd
mastī-yi nuqlash az may afzūn būd Footnote 4
The king went to the palace with the musk-colored dome.
The pavilion appeared to him like a Chinese pouch of musk.
The Indian moon [-like beauty] with her Byzantine face
Graciously stood up from her lovely bed.
She forced herself to serve him.
She girded the belt of the service to her soul.
From dawn to dusk
They took pleasure, and cups of wine.
Drunk as he was, the king expressed his desire to sleep.
He was drunk on this rose [-like beauty] and drunk on the wine.
His soul was charmed by the taste of kissing.
[But] the intoxication caused by the words was stronger than the wine.Footnote 5

In fact, several aspects of Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's poems unsettle the Timurid poet. First, he does not want to believe that Bahrām had the Seven Domes built merely for enjoyment. For him, there had to be a better justification for the construction of the monuments. Second, he considers it inappropriate for the storytellers to be beautiful princesses. Finally, he does not understand how Bahrām as a king could behave so coarsely. Navāʾī's reprimand is all the more significant since he was not in the habit of criticizing his models. Quite to the contrary, each masnavī in his own Khamsah usually includes a full chapter (bāb) dedicated to the praise of Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's works.Footnote 6 The Sabʿa-yi Sayyār is no exception, since in the sixth chapter, that is, two bābs before he expresses his criticism, Navāʾī pays tribute to his prestigious Persian predecessors, including a third poet named Ashraf Marāghī who had also composed a version of the romance.Footnote 7 We should therefore take Navāʾī's words seriously and not consider this merely as bravado with a view to showing off his ability to compete with his models.Footnote 8

Navāʾī's reproof of Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw focuses mainly on the frame story. It is not directed against the nested narratives. According to the Chaghatay poet, his Persian predecessors set up a frame story that is morally problematic.Footnote 9 Upon reading the poet's reproaches, therefore, the following questions arise: If Navāʾī disapproved of Bahrām's behavior towards the seven princesses and his relationship to pleasure and love generally, how should his own Bahrām differ in this regard? What kind of values should he embody?

What prompts Navāʾī to reshape the frame story is the desire to give a different image of Bahrām Gūr altogether. The Chaghatay poet wants to portray the king, before he enters the seven pavilions, not as a frivolous monarch who seeks nothing but entertainment, but as a man who suffers from lovesickness (dard-i ʿishq). For this reason, he justifies the building of the Seven Domes as a means to heal the king's sorrow. To do so, Navāʾī chooses not to end the romance between Bahrām and the young maiden, Dilārām, before the erection of the palace. Unlike his Persian predecessors, the poet turns the episode of the king's passion for the unfortunate handmaid, whom he had left to her fate after a hunting incident, into the overarching narrative of the masnavī. It is lovesickness that will allow the king to evolve spiritually until he finally reunites with his beloved after hearing the seventh tale. Only then is Bahrām able to show that he has become a perfect king.

By making lovesickness the major drive in the king's transformation, Navāʾī reveals the fact that he wrote his work under the influence of his own spiritual master, the leading intellectual figure of the Naqhsbandiyya brotherhood in Herat, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī (1414–92). Bahrām's kingship, at the end of the poem, epitomizes the model of sovereignty put forward by Naqshbandī Sufis at that time. Yet, when Navāʾī composed Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, he also had a real king in mind, to whom he intended to present his poem. The Chaghatay poet was in fact very close to the last great Timurid ruler, Sultan Ḥusayn Mīrzā Bayqara (r. 873/1469–911/1506), whom he praises in the prologue of his masnavī. Footnote 10 This could suggest that Navāʾī had devised his retelling of Bahrām's adventures as an opportunity to expose the king to Naqshbandī spiritual teachings.

Another Role for the Seven Domes

The body of Niẓāmī's masnavī consists of two parts: the account of Bahrām's life, which constitutes the frame story, and the seven tales told by his brides, which correspond to the embedded stories. The embedded stories therefore divide the king's romanticized biography into two unequal parts. The first and longest part recounts Bahrām's adventures before he visits each princess in the dome he has built for her. The second begins when the ruler emerges from the seventh dome and restores justice in his kingdom, after putting an end to his evil minister's abuses. Eventually, at the very end of the poem, the king disappears mysteriously into a cave during his last hunting expedition.

In the section preceding the building of the Seven Domes, Niẓāmī recounts Bahrām's birth and his upbringing; his prowess as a hunter; his accession to the throne of Persia; his war with China; and his marriage to the princesses of the seven climes. Within the frame narrative's first sequel of events, Julie Scott Meisami distinguishes two significant episodes, for they signal important stages in Bahrām's progress toward perfect kingship: his killing of a dragon, and his romance with a servant named Fitnah.Footnote 11 As we will see below, the story of Fitnah left a deep impression on Niẓāmī's successors.Footnote 12 Niẓāmī took up the anecdote from Firdawsī's Shāhnāmah, not without making significant changes.Footnote 13 Bahrām has a favorite handmaiden, whose name is no longer Āzādah, as in Firdawsī's great epic, but Fitnah. One day, the king wishes to demonstrate his ability in hunting, with a view to impressing his favorite. Unfortunately, Fitnah refuses to express her admiration. Infuriated, the king hands her over to one of his officers to be executed. The poor girl, however, induces the officer to spare her life. Having found shelter in one of his manors, she climbs up the staircase leading to a roof terrace every day, carrying a newborn calf on her shoulders. When the calf has grown into a full-size bull, the officer invites the king over. That day, the girl reenacts for Bahrām her incredible performance, determined to demonstrate the truth of her assertion that “practice makes perfect.” Thus, contrary to Firdawsī's account, the slave-girl is not put to death despite not reacting as the king wishes. She is eventually forgiven, and the king learns a lesson.Footnote 14

In his version, Amīr Khusraw cuts down his account of Bahrām's biography significantly.Footnote 15 However, he is careful to retain the romantic story between the king and his favorite slave-girl, whose name becomes Dilārām. While Niẓāmī only devotes three chapters (out of twenty-five) to describe Bahrām's romance with the maiden, in Hasht Bihisht the episode covers a good half of the frame story, namely two of the four chapters that lead to the telling of the first tale. The Indian poet makes substantial changes to the plot. He alters the incident that ultimately reconciles Bahrām with his lover, replacing Fitnah's display of physical strength with Dilārām's performance of spell-binding music. After the hunting incident, the king abandons Dilārām in the desert. She wanders for some days until she reaches a small village and meets a farmer who adopts her as his child. He teaches her music, and in particular the four musical modes known to have a magical effect on the listeners. One day, attracted by her fame, Bahrām goes to listen to her playing, unaware of her real identity. He sees a herd of deer mesmerized by the music and realizes that Dilārām was right in their prior argument over innate and learned skills. Eventually, Bahrām apologizes for his arrogance and marries her.Footnote 16

In a chapter written for Ehsan Yarshater's Persian Literature, Johann Christoph Bürgel devotes a few lines to the various Persian versions of the romance. After briefly recalling the story as recounted in Firdawsī's Shāhnāmah, Bürgel points out the narrative changes that occur in Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's poems. The scholar approaches the matter as the “transformation of a theme.”Footnote 17 Yet he merely notes the modifications without hypothesizing a rationale behind them, reserving his comments to suggest to the reader that one version has more “charm” and “flavor” than the other. However, one cannot help but think that Amīr Khusraw may have had other incentives beyond mere literary embellishment, to purge Niẓāmi's account of Bahrām's epic in this way. Though we may lack some elements fully to reconstruct the motivations behind Amīr Khusraw's abridgment, Navāʾī's critical rewriting may help us to understand them, since the Timurid poet follows his Indian model closely.Footnote 18 From the sequence of events leading to the building of the Seven Domes, Navāʾī retains the story of Dilārām alone. Like Navāʾī after him, Amīr Khusraw may have considered this love story to be of greater significance than the king's warlike feats. On the other hand, Navāʾī's recasting of Bahrām's incident with his favorite servant represents a sharp departure from both his Persian predecessors.

In Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's versions the anecdote of the king and the handmaid comes to a happy end before the seven tales are told. As a result, the building of the Seven Domes appears unrelated to this episode. However, the Timurid poet is not happy with the disconnect in the sequence of events. He criticizes his predecessors for claiming that Bahrām had the Seven Domes built merely to satisfy his sinful whims. Describing the king's treatment of the princesses in his predecessors’ versions, Navāʾī expresses his strong disapproval:

ḥukm qïlghay ki siz fasāna dengiz
demängiz ʿudhr ne bahāna dengiz
bolung uyghaghlïq ichrä farsūda
men bolay uyqu birlä āsūda Footnote 19
He [Bahrām] commanded: you, tell [me] a tale!
Do not refuse under any pretext!
Bear with fatigue and stay awake
While I will fall asleep!

The poet even feigns indignation:

böylä taklif kimsä qïlghay mu
ādamïdïn bu söz achïlghay mu Footnote 20
Would anyone make such a proposal?
Is there anyone to speak in such a manner?

Navāʾī cannot imagine that the Seven Domes were built to please an ignominious character. Consequently, he takes it upon himself to find a better explanation. His idea is to connect the edifice to the story of Dilārām. To do so, he extends the romance with the young maid to the point where it takes up the better part of the frame story (a little over ten chapters). The Timurid poet thus offers a very condensed version of Bahrām's biography, pushing back the king's feats into the background. In so doing, he follows Amīr Khusraw's abridgment while at the same time amplifying it. Most significantly, and unlike his two predecessors, he does not end the romance between Bahrām and Dilārām before the erection of the palace. In Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, when the king goes to listen to the first tale in the white-domed pavilion, he has not yet found his missing lover. Thus, Navāʾī connects the construction of the Seven Domes with Bahrām's inconsolable longing for Dilārām.

Under the pen of the Chaghatay poet, the romance takes on a whole new dimension. Right from the start of the dāstān (story), Navāʾī emphasizes the fire that consumes Bahrām. The first time the ruler sees his beloved is when Mani—the prophet of Manicheism, also famous for his skills as a painter—shows him the portrait he made of her. As soon as he sees the painting, Bahrām falls in love with Dilārām. Learning from Mani that she is the servant of a rich Chinese merchant, the king sends emissaries with instructions to buy the young lady who, in addition to being beautiful, also happens to be a talented harpist. Bahrām's feelings only grow deeper after meeting Dilārām. He cannot spend a moment without her by his side, and brings the beautiful harpist along on all his hunting expeditions. In this respect, Navāʾī's retelling of the hunting incident is again closer to Amīr Khusraw's version. As the maiden does not express admiration at the sovereign's hunting skills, he hands her over to a group of outlaws, who are instructed to abandon the poor girl in the desert, to be eaten by savage beasts. The next morning Bahrām is overcome with remorse. He orders his men to search for Dilārām. Since she is nowhere to be found, the king is gripped by grief and sorrow. He is no longer able to rule his kingdom.Footnote 21

As a remedy for his ailment, Bahrām's doctors decide to have the seven pavilions built. Each should be decorated in a specific color appropriate to the clime it epitomizes, for they are designed to host the princesses of the seven climes. The construction of the Seven Domes warms Bahrām's heart. To a certain extent, gazing at the pavilions helps the king overcome his grief. At night, however, Bahrām cannot get any sleep.Footnote 22 This prompts him to go and visit seven travelers, who soothe him with their tales. Thus, in Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, Bahrām is no longer a drunkard who summons his wives to entertain him with stories so that he may find sleep. He is now a man who suffers from lovesickness (dard-i ʿishq). Similarly, the storytellers are not seductive princesses, but travelers hailing from the seven climes, hence the title of the poem. This is how Navāʾī compensates for his predecessors’ allegedly problematic frame stories.

In Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's poems, the erection of the Seven Domes bears no connection to the episode of the handmaid. In Haft Paykar it is Shīdah who suggests the idea during a banquet celebrating Bahrām's many accomplishments. The wise and skillful architect advises Bahrām to live according to the stars and suggests that the Seven Domes be built. Each dome will be inhabited by a princess hailing from the astrologically related clime.Footnote 23 These princesses correspond to the seven idols (haft paykar) Bahrām gazes at in his Khavarnaq castle when he is inebriated. Needless to say, the king accepts the architect's offer without hesitation.Footnote 24 In this case, the decision to build the Seven Domes is also connected to the theme of love, but very differently from the Chaghtay masnavī. Footnote 25 Similarly, in Hasht Bihisht the building of the Seven Domes happens after Bahrām finds Dilārām again. The construction of the edifice is conceived as a means to bring the king back to his duties, since he spends all his time hunting.Footnote 26

Niẓāmī, Amīr Khusraw, and Navāʾī each provide a different justification for the building of the Seven Domes. The Timurid poet views them essentially as a means to heal the king's pain in the separation from his beloved. This narrative innovation implied that the poet had to postpone the episode of the reunion of Bahrām and Dilārām until after the telling of the seven tales, in the second part of the frame story. Yet Navāʾī may have felt that this narrative alteration did not suffice for his purpose. In addition to this enjambment over the seven tales, he also disrupts the traditional relationship between the frame story and the nested narratives.

A Subversive Use of the Frame Story Device

In Sabʿa-yi Sayyār the romance of Bahrām and Dilārām does not come to an end before the telling of the seven tales. The love story finds its happy ending within the sequence of events that follows the seven embedded narratives, namely in the second part of the frame story. But Navāʾī's narrative reorganization goes further still. Rather than the usual structure of an enclosing frame narrative and a coherent enclosed story, the Chaghatay poet chooses to transgress narrative boundaries. In fact, the last tale Bahrām is told in the seventh pavilion comes to interact directly with his own personal story, such that it allows for the happy reunion with his beloved. Navāʾī thus creates a mise en abyme that blurs the boundaries between framing and embedded narratives.

When Bahrām enters the white pavilion on the seventh day he meets the last traveler, a native of Khorezm. The storyteller tells the king that one day a Chinese merchant came to his country, with a handmaid who sang and played music. The handmaid was so talented that her music would drive the audience out of their senses, to the point that some listeners met their deaths. The king of Khorezm himself fell under her spell and decided to purchase the handmaid. The Chinese merchant having declined his offer, the ruler captured the maiden by force. Using a magical spell, however, the musician managed to put the king's men to sleep and to escape from the palace. Explaining that he would never force her against her will, the king invited Dilārām and her master to stay with him, as a father and daughter, to which they agreed. The storyteller, who was among the sovereign's entourage, explains that he himself decided to learn to play music with her. Since the traveler had lost his virility after absorbing too much camphor, he was allowed in the proximity of the handmaid. He soon became intimate with Dilārām and noticed that a deep sorrow filled her soul. Eventually, she agreed to disclose the reason for her sadness, on the condition that he leave the country forever after her confession. Her story runs thus: of Chinese origin, she became the servant of a rich merchant at a young age, following a conflict between two khans. The merchant took care of her as if she was his own child. He taught her music and she developed an exceptional talent, which added to her great beauty. Her fame soon spread all over China, to the extent that, one day, Mani painted her portrait without her knowing. As the traveler tells his story, Bahrām realizes that this is the portrait Mani showed him, and that the storyteller is talking about his own lover.Footnote 27

Owing to Navāʾī's narrative skills, Bahrām and the reader learn about the young lady's circumstances from her own mouth, since the traveler quotes her very words. Her story continues as follows: after being abandoned by Bahrām following the hunting incident, Dilārām wandered in the desert until she met her Chinese former master. The latter took her back under his wing but advised her not to return to the king, as she would put herself at risk. Instead, the master took the young lady to Khorezm, far away from Bahrām. The traveler's story throws the Sasanian king into ecstasy. He writes a letter to Dilārām. Now the two lovers can reunite at last, never to separate again until Bahrām's disappearance in the final chapter of the dāstān. Footnote 28

Thus, the last nested tale resolves the various narratives’ entanglements all at once, in a dizzying mise en abyme: Bahrām hears the account of his own deeds and learns about their unforeseen consequences. Most importantly, these revelations alone allow him to reunite with his beloved. Once an anecdote in Niẓāmī's masnavī, the romance between the handmaid and the Sasanian ruler has grown to become the guiding narrative in the poem. Dilārām comes out as a central character, and Navāʾī turns Bahrām's passion into the main topic of his text.Footnote 29 Lovesickness (dard-i ʿishq) lies at the core of the foundation of the Seven Domes, and becomes the driving force behind the gradual metamorphosis of the king. Whereupon, the whole narrative can be read as an illustration of the consequences of lovesickness, from both a spiritual and a political perspective.

Navāʾī's blurring of the boundaries between frame story and embedded narratives marks a willful subversion of the literary tradition and recasting of Bahrām's role.Footnote 30 In Sabʿa-yi Sayyār Bahrām is no longer the epic hero depicted by Firdawsī in his Shāhnāmah. Setting his feats aside, Navāʾī focuses entirely on the pain that seizes him as soon as he experiences true love. The Timurid poet blames his predecessors for not having taken advantage of these feelings. According to Navāʾī, Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw had extoled the adventures of a character quite undeserving of such a treatment altogether:

boldï farִzā bu nawʿ būʾlʿajab ish
būʾlʿajabraq yana bu ish bolmish
kim munungdek ikki waִhīd-i zamān
har bir öz waqtïda farīd-i zamān
böylä nādān uchun yazïp awsāf
anga qïlghaylar özlärin waִsִsāf
madḥïnï bīḥisāb yazghaylar
balki mawzūn kitāb yazghaylar Footnote 31
Suppose such a strange thing exists.
There is also an even stranger thing,
That such people as these two unique figures in their times [Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw],
Each irreplaceable in their times,
Sang the praise of such an ignorant,
And became his panegyrists!
They wrote innumerable eulogies of him,
They even wrote whole books of poetry!

In Haft Paykar and Haft Bihisht, Bahrām was an “ignorant” because he was deprived of the “fire of love” (ʿishq suzï). As Navāʾī puts it in the same chapter:

kim biräw mihrdin barī bolghay
baqma gar mihr khāwari bolghay Footnote 32
He who is deprived of love,
Do not grant him a look, even if he be the rising sun!

The point is that love, and more specifically the pain it causes, is precisely what makes Bahrām such a great monarch in the Chaghatay rewriting.

Lovesickness as the Source for Perfect Kingship

Why was Navāʾī so critical of his Persian models, and what drove him to implement such radical changes in his rewriting? To understand his reinterpretation of khamsah-navisī (the tradition of writing khamsahs), one should consider the influence Jāmī exerted on him. The great Persian poet ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī (d. 898/1492) was bound to Navāʾī by a deep friendship. In addition to being his lifelong correspondent, it is likely that Jāmī initiated Navāʾī into the Naqshbandī Sufi order in 881/1476, and remained his spiritual master (pīr) throughout his life.Footnote 33 We know that Navāʾī and Jāmī had regular conversations on intellectual topics,Footnote 34 and that they often sought one another's opinion on their own literary works.Footnote 35 In light of this fact, roughly at the time Navāʾī was composing Sabʿa-yi Sayyār (889/1484), Jāmī claimed in his own rewriting of the Alexander romance (Khiradnāmah-ye Iskandarī) that he would not rewrite the (pagan) story of Bahrām Gūr. “It is not my job to tell fairy tales (afsānah),”Footnote 36 he explains. To this he adds a few more bayts:

chū maʿmurah-yi ʿumr shud khāk-i tūd
zi-miʿmarī-yi Haft Paykar chī sūd Footnote 37
Since the edifice of life will turn into a heap of dust
Of what use is the architecture of The Seven Portraits?

Accordingly, when writing his own Khamsah, Jāmī replaces the story of Bahrām Gūr with Subḥat al-Abrār, a narrative better suited to Sufi matters.Footnote 38 It is very unlikely that Navāʾī would not have been influenced by his mentor's decision. Still, Navāʾī decided to keep the story of Bahrām Gūr.Footnote 39 Under these circumstances, it is as though Navāʾī had set as a condition for his own rewriting the idea expressed in Jāmī's Yūsuf u Zulaykhā, written a year before Navāʾī's Sabʿa-yi Sayyār:

dil fārigh zi-dard-i ʿishq dil nīst
tan bī dard-i dil juz āb u gil nīst Footnote 40
A heart free from lovesickness is no heart.
A body without a heartache is naught but clay and water.

In this distich, Jāmī pictures lovesickness as a critical driving force. In a mystical context, this means that no Sufi can travel along the path without experiencing such a feeling.Footnote 41 Understandably, therefore, Navāʾī's version of Bahrām's epic had to focus on the king's dard-i ʿishq. Lovesickness is the key element in Bahrām's spiritual evolution; it is, similarly, the key element in the narrative progress.

Navāʾī's depiction of the king's torments begins well before Bahrām meets Dilārām. As soon as he sets his eyes on her portrait by Mani, Bahrām is awestruck. Driven mad (divānah) with love, he cannot utter a word or take his eyes off the painting. “Love made the king an unfortunate man,”Footnote 42 the poet says. Following the hunting incident, even as Bahrām leaves the handmaid to her fate, the poet devotes a whole chapter to the description of his agony. His pain is so intense that he contemplates suicide. Navāʾī compares his body to “a mountain of pain” (kūh-i dard). He is a new Farhād, wandering in the desert in search of his beloved Shīrīn.Footnote 43 The warlord is forced to acknowledge his defeat against the evil that plagues him. As he describes his suffering, the poet gives the epic a lyric twist. As Bahrām bemoans his state, Navāʾī has him say:

menmüdürmen ki razm chūn tüzdüm
chīn sipāhïnï yolghuzun büzdüm
ʿishq chūn razm u kīn shiʿār etti
khaylï ṣabrïmnï tār u mār etti Footnote 44
Didn't I fight many a battle,
And crushed the Chinese army on my own?
[Yet] when love declared war
Its troops scattered my patience.

The episode recounting Bahrām's victory over the Chinese emperor (khāqān) in Niẓāmī's dāstān thus presents a very different face in the Chaghatay text: its recollection in these lines serve merely to disclose the king's vulnerability.

Yet the ruler's suffering is the sign that his heart is undergoing a process of purification. Once Bahrām enters the seven domed pavilions, he is ready for the spiritual progress driven by the stories he is told. One after the other, the storytellers guide the king on his path toward enlightenment, following a pattern inspired by the author's Persian models.Footnote 45 Bahrām's reaction upon hearing the last tale in the white pavilion demonstrates how radically he has changed. While he thinks only of rushing toward his beloved, his advisors restrain him, arguing that a king must show patience (ṣabr) and continence (qāniʿ) at all times. At this time the king is able to overcome his desires and heed their advice, despite the fire that consumes him: he writes a letter to Dilārām, in which he tells her that he, too, has experienced death since they parted. Their reunion will be the prelude of their spiritual resurrection. Bahrām sends another letter to the king of Khorezm, demanding that he set Dilārām free in exchange for a sizable reward. When Dilārām's equipage approaches the Sasanian ruler's palace, Bahrām goes out to meet her. When they finally come together, the king and his former servant both lose consciousness. This is the sign of the purity of their passion. The two lovers have been purified by the fire of their love. Interestingly, Navāʾī is careful to also recount Dilārām's torments, thus giving her as much prominence as the female protagonist in Layli and Majnun.Footnote 46

After their reunion, the color white, which is the color of the seventh pavilion, literally invades Bahrām's kingdom in its entirety. Like Amīr Khusraw before him, Navāʾī does away with the chapters in which Niẓāmī made the case that Bahrām has become a legitimate ruler by restoring justice in his kingdom. In the Chaghatay version the spread of the color white is enough to signal the king's transmutation: Bahrām has become a perfect king in the same way that he has become a perfect lover. From now on he will be entirely devoted to his wife, just as he will be devoted to his subjects.

In the epilogue of his masnavī, Navāʾī pictures himself at the court of his protagonist. He is the direct witness of Bahrām's speech on the transformative, if not alchemical, powers of love.Footnote 47 Of all the treasures he has acquired, there is not one he did not spend for the welfare of his people:

har ne ilgimgä tüshti ṣarf ettim
shāh-i darwīsh dahrdïn kettim Footnote 48
I spent everything that fell into my hand [for my people]
[And] left the world as a beggar king.

In addition to becoming a just king, as was already the case in Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's stories, Navāʾī's Bahrām also behaves like a beggar-king – a king able to conceive of power in powerlessness, and of sovereignty in the service of God and of his subjects. The concept of the beggar-king corresponds to Navāʾī's ideal of perfect kingship.Footnote 49 It was also the model of royalty propounded by the Naqshbandī Sufis.Footnote 50

An Illustration of the Naqshbandī Teachings

Not only did the Timurid poet seek to turn Bahrām's legendary biography into an illustration of Sufi enlightenment, he also lent the end of the story an explicit Naqshbandī overtone. In the last chapter of the dāstān Bahrām disappears during a hunting expedition, as in Niẓāmī's version. During this last outing the king kills so many animals that floods of blood run through the earth. Eventually the hunting ground turns into a huge swamp. As the blood of the slaughtered animals starts to shake the bottom of the earth, all living beings, beasts and hunters included, find themselves engulfed in a torrential rain. Bahrām himself is caught in the swirl. The world is “a dragon,” writes Navāʾī, “that engulfs everyone.”Footnote 51 To escape the torments of this world, one must thus follow the path of fanā (annihilation). Such is the poet's advice to himself:

ey Nawāʾī wujūd ḥarfïn unut
ʿadam olmaq bilä fanā yolï tut Footnote 52
O Navāʾī forget the letter of existence!
Turn to nothingness and embrace the path of annihilation.

The following chapter is entirely devoted to this theme. It focuses on the importance of detachment from a world characterized by transience and treachery. The fate of such great kings as Jamshīd, Alexander, and Bahrām serves as a warning. “Where is King Bahrām, who used to reign over the celestial sphere?”Footnote 53 the poet asks. For this reason, Navāʾī exhorts his readers to get their “ships” ready for the last journey:

ey Nawāʾī safargha ṭayyār ol
tā ki mumkindürür sabukbār ol
özlügüngdek aghïr yüking yoq bil
ol aghïr yükdin özni äylä yengil
chūnki ol yükni özdin etting kam
dūst kūyïda bil burunghï qadam
bal ki ol yükni chūnki salb etting
qadamïng ranja äylämäy yetting
waṭan ichrä safar biräw ki demish
anga taʾwīl gūyā bu emish Footnote 54
O Navāʾī prepare for the journey!
Come as lightly loaded as you can!
Know that there is no heavier thing than your being,
Alleviate yourself of this heavy load.
Since you've reduced the load of your being,
Know that this is the first step on the path towards the Friend.
Or rather, since you have disposed of that load,
You will reach Him without injuring your foot.
Travel in the homeland, as one said;
Let us regard these words as an interpretation of that saying.

Waṭan ichrä safar is the Turkic adaptation of the Naqshbandī principle safar dar vaṭan (travel in the homeland). These Naqshbandī “sacred words” (kalimāt-i qudsiyya) characteristic of the order to which Navāʾī belonged, entail the concept of an inward journey in which the seeker progresses in his own internal world.Footnote 55 Navāʾī uses Bahrām's tragic end as an illustration of the famous Naqshbandī principle.Footnote 56 Lovesickness detached Bahrām from the world and led him to sit on the throne of spiritual perfection. The king's reign can thus epitomize the model of sovereignty that Naqshbandī Sufis put forward. When Bahrām becomes oblivious of the necessity of such detachment from the world and embarks on one last hunting expedition, fate reminds him of these Sufi teachings in the cruelest way.


The explicit reference to the Naqshbandī principle at the end of Sabʿa-yi Sayyār uncovers the mystical turn in Navāʾī's rewriting of the romance. There is no ambiguity as to how the reader should understand the allegorical meaning of the narrative. It was much less obvious in Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's poems, the Sufi dimension of which remains open to debate.Footnote 57 In the Chaghatay version of his story, Bahrām accomplishes an inward journey, “a travel in the homeland.” The king's spiritual progress and his alchemical transmutation are conditioned by his intense and deep suffering. According to Navāʾī, who aligned himself with Jāmī's Sufi conceptions, no spiritual purification is possible without the pain of separation. In this regard, Navāʾī's atypical use of the frame story as a literary device can be explained by his desire to guide his reader's interpretation closely enough that no room is left for ambiguity. One can hardly imagine a better way to show that the seven tales should be read as exempla for Bahrām to heed, since the last tale is precisely that which enables him to reunite with Dilārām. Navāʾī's blurring of the boundaries between framing and embedded narratives makes the symbolic relationship between these two diegetic structures much more explicit than was the case in Niẓāmī's Haft Paykar or Amīr Khusraw's Hasht Bihisht. What is more, if it can be argued that, from a strictly literary perspective, the structure of framing and embedded narratives, including the special instance of mise en abyme, constitutes a “curiosity of literature,”Footnote 58 the Chaghatay poet's singular rearrangement makes his version of the narrative an even more fascinating enterprise.Footnote 59

In addition, it is worth noting that the dialogue Navāʾī engages with Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw through his rewriting closely reflects the Timurid attitude to the Persian cultural tradition generally. For some years now, scholars have highlighted a number of trends characteristic of the Timurid period with respect to the arts.Footnote 60 The Timurid penchant for standardization shown by Thomas Lentz and Glenn Lowry to prevail in the visuals arts also obtains in literature, as demonstrated by Paul Losensky in his seminal work.Footnote 61 While painters, calligraphers, and other artists were engaged in the preservation and propagation of the classical Persian poetic canon, Timurid poets put all their efforts into the definition and organization of the tradition's thematic and symbolic repertoire. In many respects, Navāʾī's reshaping of Haft Paykar corresponds to a form of standardization. By turning the anecdote of Bahrām and the handmaiden into the poem's main subject matter, the poet strengthened the narrative's unity of action considerably. From a diegetic point of view, the story becomes more cohesive and the connection between the frame story and the nest narratives is tightened. From a symbolic point of view, the entire story is placed at the service of a single, central element: the fire of love, which torments Bahrām and gradually causes his transmutation.

This last aspect brings us to the other significant trend characteristic of the period in which Navāʾī composed his imitation. At the end of the fifteenth century a growing interest in Sufism seemed to have gained a foothold at the royal court. The production of Sufi-inspired texts became more prominent, and copies were made in larger numbers in Herat, the capital of the Timurid empire.Footnote 62 Jāmī and Navāʾī played an important role in this process.Footnote 63 However, while the former, who was the leading intellectual figure of the Sufi brotherhood, never mentioned Naqshbandī principles in his poetry, his disciple did not refrain from citing them in his rewritings.Footnote 64 Navāʾī's explicit, didactic efforts could be explained by his desire to exert his influence on the last great Timurid ruler, Sultan Ḥusayn (r. 873/1469–911/1506), whom the poet praises in the prologue of Sabʿa-yi Sayyār.Footnote 65 Owing to his unique position at court, Navāʾī could act as the prince's counselor. Considering “the receptivity of Timurid princes to Sufi counsel and dictation,”Footnote 66 it is not unlikely that he envisaged his imitation of Haft Paykar as a Naqshbandī mirror for princes.Footnote 67

Ultimately, the above considerations lead us to conclude that Navāʾī's criticism of his predecessors in the prologue of Sabʿa-yi Sayyār was all but rhetorical. In the poet's eyes, important issues really were at stake in the frame story of Bahrām Gūr's romance; and from his perspective, something needed to be done to ensure that the edifice of Haft Paykar would not turn into a heap of dust.Footnote 68


1 Between 698/1298 and 701/1301, Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī composed a Pentalogy modeled around Niẓāmī's Khamsah. Amīr Khusraw's Khamsah is composed of Maṭlaʿ al-Anvār (Rising of Lights), Shīrīn u Khusraw (Shirin and Khusraw), Laylī va Majnūn (Layli and Majnun), Hasht Bihisht (Eight Paradises), and Āʾinah-yi Iskandarī (The Alexandrine Mirror).

2 For Sabʿa-yi Sayyār I use a manuscript of Navāʾī's Khamsa that was copied in Herat in 1485. This copy comes from the University of Michigan (Special Collections Library, Is., Ms. 450). In the MS Michigan 450, the Sabʿa-yi Sayyār begins on p. 531 and ends at p. 654. For the quotation, see p. 546.

3 “Somewhat after the scheme of the Arabian Nights,” as Browne points out (Browne, Literary History of Persia, 409).

4 Amīr Khusraw, Hasht Bihisht, 82–83.

5 All translations are mine. For the depiction of the same scene in Niẓāmī's text, see Niẓāmī, Haft Paykar, 146–47; and for the English translation, Nizami Ganjavi: The Haft Paykar, 105–08.

6 See Toutant, Un empire de mots, 331–49. Navāʾī's Khamsah is composed of Ḥayrat al-Abrār (Confusion of the Righteous, 888/1483), Farhād u Shīrīn (Farhad and Shirin, 888/1483), Laylī u Majnūn (Layli and Majnun, 889/1484), Sab‘a-yi Sayyār (The Seven Travelers, 889/1484), and Sadd-i Iskandarī (The Alexandrine Wall, 890/1485).

7 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 540–42. For a comparison between Ashraf Marāghī's poem and Navāʾī's Sabʿa-yi Sayyār see Hasanov, Navoiyning yetti tuhfasi, 20–29, 39–40, 49, 63.

8 Navāʾī's criticisms were pointed out by Soviet scholars as early as the late 1940s. However, since they tended to isolate the “old Uzbek poet” from any Persian influence, they eventually clouded his connection with the Persianate tradition: see Bertel's, “Navoi i Nezami,” 84–85; Bertel's, Navoi, 201–02. On the ideological dimension of the studies devoted to Navāʾī in Soviet Uzbekistan see Toutant, “Materialist Ideology.” The only study of Sabʿa-yi Sayyār in a Western language is Feldman's article “Genre and Narrative Strategies.” Feldman does not focus on the frame story but on the first embedded narrative, to discuss the treatment of the female character in this tale, whom the author compares to the major character in the poem Dilārām.

9 Despite this critique of his predecessors, Navāʾī was obviously well aware of the metaphoric and symbolic meanings attached to their work (such as the astral symbolism in Niẓāmī's Haft Paykar for instance). To some extent, Navāʾī's realistic approach to Niẓāmī and Amir Khusraw's frame stories may reflect an evolution of the readership of this type of poetry. Almost 300 years had passed since the composition of Haft Paykar and the socio-religious context for the reception of literature had changed. Most importantly, however, Navāʾī's criticisms serve his own specific literary agenda. The poet triggers a religion-oriented discussion with his readers right from the start, so as to prepare them to read his version as the illustration of a religious teaching (I will return to this point in the last section of this article; see in particular footnote 57).

10 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 547–50. Interestingly, in a work composed four years after Sabʿa-yi Sayyār and dedicated to the memory of the ancient kings of Persia, Bahrām Gūr is explicitly compared to Sultan Ḥusayn Mīrzā Bayqara for his warlike feats (see Navāʾī, Tārīkh-i mulūk-i ʿajam, 236). This shows that Navāʾī was somehow accustomed to using the mythical-historical figure of the Sasanian king as a model for the Timurid ruler.

11 Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry, 207.

12 On the importance of the romance between Bahrām and Fitnah in Haft Paykar see also Jambet, “Postface,” 354; Piemontese, “The Enigma of Turandot,” 127–29.

13 For a comparison between the treatment of the episode in Firdawsī and Niẓāmī's masnavīs see Meisami, “Fitnah or Āzādah?” For a discussion of other sources that could have inspired Niẓāmī see Seyed-Gohrab, “A Mystical Reading,” 188–89; Piemontese, “The Enigma of Turandot.”

14 Niẓāmī, Haft Paykar, 104–20, 134–46.

15 See Piemontese, “The Enigma of Turandot,” 141.

16 Amīr Khusraw, Hasht Bihisht, 47–71.

17 Bürgel, “The Romance,” 172–75.

18 When discussing his own practice of rewriting, Navāʾī uses the word tatabbuʿ. This word, which literally means “following step by step,” is one of many in the Arabic and Persian lexicon of imitation. Paul Losensky makes it clear that tatabbuʿ should be distinguished from involuntary imitation: in tatabbuʿ, he writes, the author makes himself a follower. However, Losensky still translates tatabbuʿ simply as “imitation” (see Losensky, Welcoming Fighānī, 101–114). Similarly, I have kept the word “imitation” to translate Navāʾī's tatabbuʿ practices. Along the same line of thought, when referring to Navāʾī's version of the story, I use “rewriting,” “retelling,” and “adaptation” interchangeably, as there is no need to discuss the technical distinctions attached to these terms in the context of this article. For a more detailed discussion of the practice of tatabbuʿ in Navāʾī's works see Toutant, Un empire de mots, 134, 268–80, 367–74.

19 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 546.

20 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 546.

21 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 553–68.

22 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 553–72.

23 See Krotkoff, “Colour and Number,” 101.

24 Niẓāmī, Haft Paykar, 141–44.

25 On the role of love in Haft Paykar see for instance Seyed-Gohrab, “A Mystical Reading,” 187; Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry, 182–83 and 226; Krotkoff, “Colour and Number,” 101.

26 Amīr Khusraw, Hasht Bihisht, 61–62.

27 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 630–36.

28 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 636–42.

29 Feldman evokes “the author's practice” of “restructuring the entire masnavī around a humble harpist” (Feldman, “Genre and Narrative Strategies,” 269).

30 It is interesting to note that Feldman also uses the word “subversion” when introducing the first nested narrative of Sabʿa-yi Sayyār: “While there is no mistaking the ultimately didactic intent of Navāʾī's tale, the reader cannot fail to observe certain more or less subtle subversions of expectations” (Feldman, “Genre and Narrative Strategies,” 243).

31 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 546.

32 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 546.

33 On Jāmī's influence on Navāʾī see Papas, “Individual Sanctity and Islamization,” 380–390; Toutant, “Evaluating Jāmī's Influence”; Ökten, “Jāmī,” 199–214; Algar, Jami, 40–61.

34 Some of their intellectual exchanges are described in the Khamsat al-Mutaḥayyirīn (The Quintuple Amazement), a work composed by Navāʾī after the death of Jāmī and dedicated to his memory. In this work the Chaghatay poet reveals that Jāmī taught him how to read the Lama‘āt of ʿIrāqī (d. 688/1289), as well as the Savāniḥ al-ʿUshshāq of Aḥmad Ghazālī (d. 517/1123 or 520/1126), to introduce him to the doctrine of Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240). See Navāʾī, Khamsat al-mutaḥayyirīn, 56.

35 Toutant, “Evaluating Jāmī's Influence,” 604.

36 Khiradnāmah z’ān ikhtiyār-i man ast / ki afsanahkhānī na kār-i man ast (“I want to write the Book of Wisdom / For to tell fairy-tales is not my job”): Jāmī, Masnavī-yi Haft Awrang, 928. On this matter see Toutant, “Evaluating Jāmī's Influence,” 608.

37 Jāmī, Masnavī-yi Haft Awrang, 928.

38 Jāmī's Haft Awrang (The Seven Thrones or The Constellation of the Great Bear) consists of seven masnavīs: Silsilat al-Dhahab (The Chain of Gold, between 872/1468 and 877/1472), Tuḥfat al-Aḥrār (Gift of the Free, 886/1481), Subḥat al-Abrār (Rosary of the Pious, 887/1482), Yūsuf u Zulaykhā (Yusuf and Zulaykha, 888/1483), Laylī va Majnūn (Layli and Majnun, 889/1484), Khiradnāmah-yi Iskandarī (The Alexandrine Book of Wisdom, 890/1485), and Salāmān va Absal (Salomon and Absal, 893/1488). In a section of the prologue of the Khiradnāmah-yi Iskandarī Jāmī explains that he wrote Tuḥfat al-Aḥrār, Subḥat al-Abrār, Yūsuf u Zulaykhā, Laylī va Majnūn, and Khiradnāmah-yi Iskandarī within the framework of Kamsah-navīsī. These five pieces thus compose “Jāmī's Quintet” (Jāmī, Masnavī-yi Haft Awrang, 927‒928). For a discussion on that specific topic see Bertel's, Roman ob Alexandre, 100–102; Bürgel, “Ğāmī's Epic Poem,” 417–19.

39 On Jāmī and Navāʾī's debates regarding which masnavī deserved to be rewritten and how, see also Erkinov, “La querelle.”

40 Jāmī, Masnavī-yi Haft Awrang, 593.

41 In this respect, Jāmī's conceptions align with classical Sufi interpretations. More specifically, the theme of suffering as a means of spiritual progress is developed in ʿIrāqī's Lamaʿāt, as well as in Aḥmad Ghazālī's Savāniḥ al-ʿUshshāq, two works that Jāmī explained to Navāʾī, according to the latter's Khamsat al-Mutaḥayyirīn (see note 34). On ʿIrāqī's interpretation of suffering see Feuillebois-Pierunek, “Désirer la séparation.”

42 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 556.

43 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 564. Navāʾī's Farhād-u Shīrīn depicts the torments and the tragic fate of Farhād, in love with the princess Shīrīn, who falls prey to King Khusraw Parviz's jealousy.

44 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 567.

45 In Haft Paykar, “at the beginning of each episode, in Seyed-Gohrab's words, each princess welcomes Bahrām to her pavilion and immediately starts to tell a sensual but didactic story” (Seyed-Gohrab, “A Mystical Reading,” 187). The seven princesses in Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's poems are therefore not only lovers, but also educators.

46 As Feldman puts it: “Thus the major female character of Navāʾī's masnavi becomes virtually an equal protagonist with Prince Bahrām, and she can no longer be compared structurally with Niẓāmī's Fitna” (Feldman, “Genre and Narrative Strategies,” 244–45).

47 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 646.

48 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 649.

49 On the concept of spiritual poverty in Navāʾī's works see Abduqodirov, Navoiy va Vahdat ul-vujud, 57–77.

50 See Papas, “Islamic Brotherhoods.”

51 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 644.

52 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 645.

53 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 646.

54 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 646 (emphasis added).

55 The idea of an inward journey as opposed to an outward one distinguishes the Naqshbandiyya from other Sufi brotherhoods, which had always encouraged the disciples to travel physically. On this particular point see Algar, “The Naqshbandi Order,” 134.

56 On the concept of safar dar vaṭan in Navāʾī's works see Olim, Naqshband va Navoiy, 140–79.

57 In Niẓāmī and Amīr Khusraw's narratives it is obvious that the king embarks on an ethical and spiritual journey (see for instance Meisami, “The Theme of the Journey”; Piemontese, “The Enigma of Turandot,” 130). However, the Sufi dimension of this journey is far from clear. In his Encyclopaedia Iranica entry on Haft Paykar, F. de Blois maintains that “although there are mystic (Sufic) traits in the narrative (notably in the story of the seventh victim) it is also misguided to regard it, with some, as a Sufic allegory. It is a work of art that is very firmly rooted in this world, and its ethical content is of essentially worldly, not religious, nature”: de Blois, “Haft Peykar,” 524. Ritter also refutes the interpretation of the masnavī as a Sufi text: see Ritter, “Review of The Haft Paikar,” 113. For the opposite viewpoint, see for instance Seyed-Gohrab, “A Mystical Reading”; Jambet, “Postface,” 351. As for Hasht Bihisht, the Sufi issue was even less an object of debate, since the poem was generally regarded as less serious and more entertaining than its model.

58 Puschmann-Nalenz, “Reconceptualisation of Frame Story,” 49–50.

59 On Navāʾī's narrative techniques see also Feldman's concluding remarks (“Genre and Narrative Strategies,” 274).

60 See Toutant, Un empire de mots, 183–314.

61 Lentz and Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision, 166; Losensky, Welcoming Fighānī, 145–54.

62 Milstein, “Sufi Elements,” 357–69.

63 The growing interest in Sufism at the time mirrors the rise of the Naqshbandiyya Sufi order in Herat. Here is what Hamid Algar writes about the importance of the brotherhood in the Timurid capital and the special role that Jāmī and Navāʾī played in its dissemination: “Saʿd ad-Dīn Kāshgharī (d. 866/1462) […] established for the Naqshbandīya in Herat a dominant position […]. Among the initiates of Saʿd ad-Dīn Kāshgharī was the great scholar, poet and mystic, ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān Jāmī, whose vast corpus of writing contains several treatises on the Naqshbandīya, and his colleague, ʿAlī Shīr Nawāʾī, the virtual founder of Chaghatay Turkish literature. It can even be said that the whole brilliant cultural life of Herat in this period stood under Naqshbandī patronage” (Algar, “A Brief History,” 19). On the importance of Sufism in Herat in the second half of the fifteenth century see also Algar, “Political Aspects”; Paul, Die politische und soziale Bedeutung der Naqšbandiyya; Paul, Doctrine and Organization.

64 This may have been prompted by the very nature of his Turkic-speaking readership, which was less familiar with Persian mystical poetry and perhaps in need of further clarification. For more conjectures on this issue see Toutant, “Evaluating Jāmī's Influence,” 637–39.

65 Navāʾī, Sabʿa-yi Sayyār, 547–50. Since Navāʾī also praised Khadīja Begim, who was the sultan's favorite wife, Feldman makes a parallel between the couple formed by Bahrām and Dilārām and that of Sultan Ḥusayn and Khadīja Begim (Feldman, “Genre and Narrative Strategies,” 269–75). About the close relationship between the Naqshbandī order and the Timurid dynasty see Algar, “A Brief History,” 10–16.

66 Algar, “Political Aspects,” 126.

67 On this topic see Toutant, Un empire de mots, 623–35.

68 We refer the reader to Jāmī's quotation cited above: “Since the edifice of life will turn into a heap of dust/ Of what use is the architecture of The Seven Portraits?”


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What is at Stake in the Frame Story? A Timurid Reshaping of the Romance of Bahrām Gūr
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