Praise of cities and edifices are an integral part of classical court panegyrics, yet what – or rather, who – is the ultimate object of praise in this genre? While Ghaznavid panegyrists famously relied on topical motifs to glorify the virtues of the king-builder, the inauguration of a public building, for instance, could become a chance to celebrate the harmony between the city, its inhabitants, and their natural environment. Persian architectural poetry is increasingly drawing the attention of scholars, from art historians to literary critics, yet these questions remain largely unaddressed: What does it mean to panegyrize a place, a structure, or a monumental artefact? Does praise of the building complement or distract us from praise of the patron-builder? Topical panegyrics – typically in qasida form, sometimes as mathnavi, occasionally as saqinama – complicate the notion of a singular addressee. The purpose of such poems lies particularly in the use of description and ekphrasis which, unlike in other panegyrics, number among their essential parts. By focusing on a selection of poets active in Iran and India between circa 1250 and 1650, the papers in this panel will address the relationship of form with function in topical Persian panegyrics composed in the pre-modern and early modern periods.
Before emigrating to India at the age of forty in 1580, Ẓuhūrī Turshīzī (d. 1025/1616) honed his poetic skills in literary circles throughout Iran, from his native Khorasan to Yazd and Shiraz. He was fully cognizant of all the latest fashions in early Safavid poetry, including the new genre of the sāqi-nāma (cupbearer’s song). Adapting the thematic structure of the traditional panegyric qaṣīda, the sāqi-nāma depicts the speaker’s struggle against mortality and search for self-identity, ending with the declaration of a new doctrinal or political allegiance. But when Ẓuhūrī came to write his own sāqī-nāma, he drastically reshaped the genre. Earlier sāqī-nāmas seldom exceeded 300 verses in rhymed couplets, but Ẓuhūrī’s unfolds luxuriously over 4,600 lines. This expansion results in large part from an elaboration of the final panegyric portion of the poem. Ẓuhūrī praises the Niẓāmshāhī ruler Burhān II (r. 999-1003/1591-95) by way of lengthy descriptions of the ceremonies, attendants, accoutrements, and buildings of his court at Ahmednagar. This paper will investigate precisely how the palace and its residents, furnishings, and rituals manifest the virtues and power of the royal mamdūḥ. Is the palace complex a metonymic extension of the royal body; is it a material realization of abstract attributes of his character; or is it a self-standing metaphor for his rule, the projection of a social order which the king governs, but which simultaneously governs his values, behavior, and representation? These relationships between the king and his self-constructed environment give nuanced articulation to the nature of power and authority in the political and poetic realm of Ẓuhūrī’s sāqī-nāma.