Mr. Darayas Kavina’s talk on Firdausi & Shahnama
Darayas Kavina, hails from Ahmedabad in Gujarat, the youngest of five brothers and one sister. Darayas is an arts graduate, an ex-banker, a father of two, a Mohammed Rafi aficionado, a classical tabla player and a former body builder.
Ask him about what led to his passion of the ancient Persian texts and that’s when the details start emerging. Like all young children, Darayas and his five siblings often begged their father, Hoshangji, for a late night story after dinner. What emerged, day after day, year after year, were a series of tales & epics from all faiths & religions, involving saints & sadhus, maharajas & mahatmas, peers & fakirs; and above all, the magnificent Persian epics – all narrated by the master raconteur, Hoshangji, in the ancient narrative tradition of oral story-tellers (now sadly extinct) and imbibed and absorbed by young Darayas, from the age of nine onwards.
Like many of his kind, all of Darayas’s talks are delivered purely from the heart without any written script. And like many artists he believes that it is often not the individual himself who is writing or painting or performing, but a higher power doing it for him. Often times, while compiling his father’s narratives in form of a book that he published some years ago, he would not recognize the next morning, what he had written the night before.
Having lost all their family wealth and possessions due to an unscrupulous business partner in early childhood, Darayas attributes all that he has today to his mild-mannered, deeply religious father, as well as his caring mother, Veera, who sold away her jewellery to educate her children. Shortly before he passed away, Darayas’s father handed him six volumes containing excerpts of scribblings that he was in the habit of jotting down, and said: “this is all I have to leave you. It is not money but far more precious, which no one will be able to steal from you.”
Interestingly – and rather unfortunately, Darayas says – while most religious texts have been written by people from their respective faiths; in this case, the Shahnama was written by a Muslim.
And that is what he is here to share with us.
A few words about Firdausi and the Shahnama itself: Firdausi or Ferdowsi, who lived from the year 940 – 1020, was a Persian poet and the author of the Shahnama. Except for his family name, Firdausi, which means ‘Paradisic,’ nothing is known for sure about his full name. He was also given the title of ‘Philosopher.’ He is celebrated as the most influential figure in Persian literature and one of the greatest in the history of literature itself. Little is known about Firdausi’s early life. He was born into a family of Iranian landowners and aristocrats, who flourished under the Sassanid dynasty, the last pre-Islamic dynasty to rule Iran. They saw it as their task to preserve the pre-Islamic cultural traditions, including tales of legendary kings. The Shahnama or Shahnameh, which means “Book of Kings,” is the world’s longest epic poem created by a single poet, and the national epic of Greater Iran. Consisting of some 50,000 couplets or two-line verses, it mainly tells of the mythical, and to some extent, historical past of the Persian empire; from the creation of the world until the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th century. Modern Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and the greater region influenced by Persian culture (such as Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and Dagestan) celebrate this national epic. The work is of central importance in Persian culture and Persian language; regarded as a literary masterpiece, and definitive of the ethno-national cultural identity of Iran. It is also important to the contemporary followers of Zoroastrianism, in tracing the historical links between the beginnings of the religion and the death of the last Sassanid ruler of Persia during the Muslim conquest, which brought an end to the Zoroastrian influence in Iran. An interesting little snippet here: the early Persians were known for the equal rights they bestowed upon their women. Firdausi supposedly completed writing the Shahnamah on 8th of March 1010 which is celebrated today as – Women’s Day. Co-incidence?? You decide!