Safavid Qa??dah: a Poetic Genre for Legitimizing Power

By seyede khoshkhoosani
Submitted to Session P5009 (Politics, Culture, and Everyday Life in Safavid Poetry and Prose, 2017 Annual Meeting
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The majority of Safavid literature, including the qasidahs, has remained unexplored. The literary production of the Safavids (1501-1736), according to Iranian scholars such as Muhammad Taq? Bah?r and Ja‘far Mahj?b, was written during the period of literary “decline”. These two scholars, who have greatly influenced the views of Western academics on the 16th-17th – century Persian literature, believed the poetry of Safavids to be “corrupted in language and image”; and therefore unworthy of study. In my research, I challenge this representation. I argue that Safavid qa??dahs bear significant historical value, as they demonstrate the political legitimacy and ideological beliefs of the monarchical rule of the Safavid dynasty.

This paper focuses on the creation of new discourses of authority and sacral kingship in the 16th-17th century Safavid qa??dahs. It examines various patterns of political legitimacy as articulated by Persian poets to express, reaffirm and redefine Safavid political theology of divine right that bestowed sacral charisma onto Shah Ism?‘?l and his progeny. Through the analysis of the images of kingship and power in Persian qa??dahs, I identify the shifting aspects of political legitimacy from Persianate ideas of legitimacy to later Timurid-Shi‘i aspects. I argue that these qa??dahs defied the dominant, orthodox representations of political authority in Islam that foregrounded the terrestrial aspects of kings. Safavid poets avoided such worldly characteristics to the effect of distinguishing their Shi‘i Safavid rulers from their Sunni-Muslim neighbors. By drawing on Timurid and Shi‘i themes, as well as moving away from the previous stifling notions of Persianate kingship, Safavid poets depicted their patrons not as the rulers of the Persian lands, but as the supreme leaders of all Muslims, Sunni and Shi‘ia.

To achieve this, the poets presented the Safavid kings as spiritual, everlasting beings whose authority rested on their elevated lineage and their humble character. This has been demonstrated in expressions such as muravvij-i ma?hab-i ?aq-i (the propagator of the right religion) ghul?m-i bi-ikhl?s-i ‘Al? (the true servant of Imam ‘Ali), kalb-i ?st?n-i ‘Al? (the dog of Ali’s threshold), along with the expressions that emphasized the Safavids’ ?asab (achievements by personal abilities). These expressions metaphorized and elevated the terrestrial king as otherworldly. In conclusion, by analyzing the patterns of political legitimacy in Safavid qa??dahs, this paper sheds light on the neglected but important historical aspects of the qa??dahs that elaborate the poets’ perspectives about the shi‘i kings.