DEHḴODĀ, MĪRZĀ ʿALĪ-AKBAR QAZVĪNĪ

(ca. 1879–1956), scholar, poet, and social critic. In all his writing Dehḵodā was a perfectionist and a meticulous craftsman. He was a nationalist, outspoken in his convictions, indifferent to the wrath of powerful men, and a firm believer in Persian culture.

 

DEHḴODĀ, MĪRZĀ ʿALĪ-AKBAR QAZVĪNĪ (also known as Daḵow; b. Tehran, ca. 1297/1879, d. Tehran, 7 Esfand 1334 Š./26 February 1956; Figure 1), scholar, poet, and social critic. His father, Ḵānbābā b. Āqā Khan b. Mehr-ʿAlī Qazvīnī, a landowner in Qazvīn before moving to Tehran, died when ʿAlī-Akbar was only nine years old. ʿAlī-Akbar studied Arabic, jurisprudence (feqh), theology, and philosophy with Shaikh Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Borūjerdī for ten years; he also came under the influence of the liberal cleric Ḥājj Shaikh Hādī Najmābādī (Dehḵodā, 1334 Š/1955, p. 4). He was a member of the first class at the School of political sciences (Madrasa-ye ʿolūm-e sīāsī), which was opened in 1317/1899; he left without taking his first-year examinations but returned two years later (Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī II, pp. 71, 79). After graduation he was employed as secretary to Moʿāwen-al-Dawla Ḡaffārī Kāšānī, Persian ambassador to the Balkans, and went to Europe with him in 1321/1903; he remained there for two years, mainly in Austria, and returned to Persia in 1323/1905 (Dehḵodā, 1334 Š./1955, p. 4). In 1324/1906 he was engaged by Ḥājj Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Amīn-al-Żarb as interpreter for the French engineers who were building the highway between Khorasan and Tehran (“Do yādgār,” p. 178). After the promulgation of the constitutional decree in 1324/1906 Mīrzā Jahāngīr Khan Šīrāzī and Mīrzā Qāsem Khan Tabrīzī conceived the idea of publishing the newspaper Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl and hired Dehḵodā as editorial secretary and contributor, at a monthly salary of forty tomans (Taqīzāda, in Lōḡat-nāma, p. 395; see CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION ii, vi).

The constitutional period was an era of journalistic efflorescence. Most journalists, however, had no real writing skill, were ill acquainted with the world outside Persia, and lacked understanding of such concepts as freedom, equality, and constitutional government. The journals for which they worked often disappeared after the first few issues. Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, however, reflected its founders’ passionate devotion to liberal ideas. Dehḵodā, a gifted writer, was trained in political theory, and, thanks to his knowledge of French and his European travel, he also had a sophisticated understanding of world affairs. He was thus able, through his well-reasoned and clearly written political articles in Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, to attract a wide audience, particularly for his satirical series Čarand parand, which was the main reason for the the rise in the number of printed copies of the newspaper to a high of 24,000 (Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī II, pp. 249-50), far higher than those of even the best contemporary publications.

After the coup d’etat of Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah (1324-27/1907-09) in 1326/1908 Dehḵodā, fearing retaliation from the court and the reactionary clergy, joined several other notable constitutionalists in taking refuge at the British legation in Tehran (Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā II, p. 342; Taqīzāda, 1358 Š./1979, p. 76; Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī II, p. 262). Owing to the intervention of British officials, he received a safe-conduct and left for Baku and eventually Paris, where he remained for about a year and a half, until 11 Moḥarram 1328/23 January 1910. This exile was one of the most stressful periods of his life. Not only did the agents of the Persian government persecute his relatives and associates, but he himself was also suffering from depression and poverty (Dehḵodā, 1368 Š./1989, p. 803; Afšār, 1358 Š./1979c, p. 520; idem, 1359 Š./1980, p. 423), yet he never slackened in his literary and journalistic activity. From Paris he went to Switzerland, where in Yverdon he published a new series of Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, which appeared 1 Moḥarram-15 Ṣafar 1327/23 January-8 March 1909; it was printed in Paris (Dehḵodā, 1358 Š./1979a, p. 114). The cost of publication and smuggling copies to Persia, where distribution was not permitted, were high, but eager readers passed each copy from hand to hand (Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī II, p. 263). Nevertheless, Dehḵodā’s desperation reached such a point that he began to think of suicide. Instead, he went to Germany and resumed publication there, but again there were difficulties, and he moved on to Istanbul, hoping for assistance or employment from the Persian community there (Dehḵodā, 1368 Š./1989, p. 803; Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥya III, p. 101). With the help of Mīrzā Abu’l-Ḥasan Khan Moʿāżed-al-Salṭana, the head of Anjoman-e saʿādat, he, Ḥājj Mīrzā Yaḥyā Dawlatābādī, and Ḥosayn Dāneš undertook publication of a newspaper called Sorūš. It seems that Persian merchants living in Istanbul assumed the cost of the early numbers of this journal. Again, however, the difficulties of ensuring that copies reached Persian subscribers caused the cessation of publication after fourteen or fifteen issues (Raʿdī Āḏaraḵšī, p. 428; Moʿīn, p. 5; Reżwānī, pp. 504-05; Ṣadr Hāšemī, Jarāʾed o majallāt III, pp. 34-35).

After the overthrow of Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah Dehḵodā returned to Persia, on 11 Moḥarram 1328/23 January 1910 (Ṣadr Hāšemī, Jarāʾed o majallāt III, p. 25). In the same year he was elected by the people of both Kermān and Tehran to represent them in the Second Majles. His popularity in Kermān was owing to his criticisms in Čarand parand of the heavy-handed government of Fīrūz Mīrzā Noṣrat-al-Dawla (Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī II, p. 291; Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl nos 3, p. 4; 6, p. 5; 13, p. 4; 16, p. 5; 19, p. 4; 21, p. 4). In 1332/1914, with Persia in the grip of British and Russian occupation, Dehḵodā took refuge with the Baḵtīārī tribes in Čahār Maḥāl. After his return he served for a short period in the Ministry of education (Wezārat-e maʿāref) with the title “head of the secretariat” (raʾīs-e kābīna) and in the Ministry of justice (Wezārat-e ʿadalīya) with the title “head of the office of investigation” (raʾīs-e edāra-ye taftīš). In 1303 Š./1924 he was appointed director of the Madrasa-ye ʿolūm-e sīāsī, where he served until 1320 Š./1941 (“Sālšomār,” p. 429; Dehḵodā, 1358 Š./1979a, pp. xv-xvi, xix).

During his stay among the Baḵtīārī Dehḵodā conceived the idea of compiling an encyclopedic dictionary of the Persian language, and on his return to Tehran he applied himself to assembling the preliminary materials. He also continued his literary and scholarly activities, publishing articles in such journals as Īrān-e konūnī, Āftāb, and Dāneš (Dehḵodā, 1358 Š./1979a, pp. xii-xvi; Ṭabāṭabāʾī, p. 238).

In the atmosphere of strict censorship under Reżā Shah (1304-20 Š./1925-41) Dehḵodā put aside his political activities and devoted himself entirely to scholarly and literary work. The fruit of this period of his life includes the four-volume collection of aphorisms Amṯāl o ḥekam (4 vols., Tehran, 1304-11 Š./1925-32) and the first volume of his Loḡat-nāma, which appeared in 1318 Š./1939, as well as a number of scholarly articles on Persian literature and language. He continued to concentrate on the Loḡat-nāma through the first decade of Moḥammad-Reżā Shah’s reign (1320-57 Š./1941-79). In 1330 Š./1951 Moḥammad Moṣaddeq came to power, and the movement to nationalize the oil industry was gaining momentum; in the prevailing atmosphere of political excitement Dehḵodā once more turned to politics, joining the Anjoman-e havādārān-e ṣolḥ (Society of the supporters of peace), a group with socialist tendencies. Although the leaders of the Tudeh party (see COMMUNISM ii) sought to attract the support of well-known Persian cultural figures, Dehḵodā instead declared his support for Moṣaddeq (Bāḵtar-e emrūz, 23 Tīr 1332 Š./15 July 1953). After the coup d’etat of 1332 Š./1953 and the restoration of the shah to power, Dehḵodā withdrew entirely from political activity and devoted the rest of his life to the Loḡat-nāma. He was, however, interrogated several times on the allegation that he had been chosen president of the ruling council (Šūrā-ye salṭanatī) that was supposed to have been formed after the shah’s flight to Rome on 25 Mordād 1332/16 August 1953 (Dehḵodā, 1360 Š./1981b; idem, 1358 Š./1979a, p. xxi; Moḥīṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾī, p. 467). He is buried in the Ebn Bābūya cemetery in southern Tehran.

Although Dehḵodā never enjoyed wealth or affluence, he was always open-handed. He devoted the royalties from Amṯāl o ḥekam to subsidies for printing new books and for the care of the sick (Dehḵodā, 1358 Š./1979a, pp. xxiii-xxiv; Dabīrsīāqī, 1358 Š./1979, p. 455).

Social thought. Dehḵodā’s youth coincided with the last decade of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s rule, when, owing to the major role of the clerics in the successful campaign aginst the tobacco concession, new populist forces were unleashed in Persian politics (see CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION i). Religious leaders wielded considerable influence in everyday life, and many of them became prominent landowners (see CLASS SYSTEM iv). In the new liberalizing atmosphere after promulgation of the Constitution Dehḵodā, who had seen the effects of modernization in Europe and was well informed about the reformist ideas of Western thinkers and statesmen, strongly criticized the undue influence of the mullas, their intellectual rigidity, their corruption, and the blind obedience of the Persian people. His fierce attacks on the royalist Shaikh Fażl-Allāh Nūrī, who vehemently opposed reform movements and considered modern educational institutions “contrary to religious law” (ḵelāf-e šarīʿat), brought about the temporary suspension of publication of Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl (nos. 4, p. 6; 5, p. 2; 6, pp. 6-7; Dehḵodā, 1364 S./1985, p. 17-23, 314; Taqīzāda, in Lōḡat-nāma, p. 395; Torkamān, pp. 262-63).

Dehḵodā was a firm believer in equality before the law, regardless of religious belief (Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, no. 22, p. 3), and he fervently supported emancipation of women, particularly abolition of the veil (Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, no. 11, p. 6). Owing to his early exposure to the ideas of Najmābādī, he was convinced that, over the course of centuries, Islam itself had been unduly manipulated by religious jurists (šarīʿatsāzān). He himself, as one who had to earn his living, was aware of the difficulties faced by ordinary folk and the widespread injustices of the landlord-peasant system. Aside from his campaign against what he considered religious superstition, the greater part of his articles were written in support of the peasants and laborors. One of his most important proposals was for establishment of an agricultural bank, to which large landowners would turn over one-tenth of their holdings at a reasonable price, to be converted into small shares and transferred to the peasants, who would pay for them in installments (see, e.g., Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, nos. 18, p. 22, 19, pp. 1-2 , 21, p. 2).

Dehḵodā also wrote and translated a series of articles on the Russian Revolution, striving to familiarize his readers with social and political topics through explanation and criticism of the various political parties and factions involved. He was personally convinced that, in the conditions prevailing in Persia, the program of the Social democrats (Ejtemāʿīyūn-e ʿāmmīyūn) was most appropriate (Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, no. 28, pp. 1-4). After he was elected to the Majles he joined the Eʿtedālīyūn (Moderate) faction (“Sālšomār,” p. 428; Bāmdād, Rejāl II, p. 429; Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī II p. 320).

Prose and poetry. Dehḵodā’s prose enjoys a special distinction in the Persian literature of this century. His profound familiarity with Persian classical literature, both prose and verse; his prodigious store of current proverbs, partly derived from his work on Amṯāl o ḥekam; and his early involvement in journalism, with the concomitant need to attract large numbers of readers, all helped to develop a clearly understandable style far removed from the ornate artificiality that characterizes the prose of the Qajar period. His knowledge of French, though it brought him awareness of Western literature, never led him to adopt a “Western” coloration or to incorporate French borrowings into his own work. Even Čarand parand, which was filled with puns, ambiguities, allusions, and intimations (īhāmāt, kenāyāt, talmīḥāt), owed its success to the fact that it was intelligible to ordinary folk and at the same time entertaining to the intellectual elite and sophisticated men of letters. In Dehḵodā’s serious political articles convoluted and artificial expression is also lacking, though his editorials in Sorūš and his satirical pieces for Īrān-e konūnī do not have the same bite as the original Čarand parand series in Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl. The difference is so great in fact that some have suspected that the latter was actually written by Mīrzā Jahāngīr Khan (Moḥīṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾ). The pieces in the numbers of Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl printed in Switzerland were, however, written months after the execution of Mīrzā Jahāngīr Khan, and it therefore seems certain that Dehḵodā himself wrote them after what he called five months of silence (Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl [Yverdon], no. 1, p. 7). The disparity in tone may instead be attributed to the change in Dehḵodā’s own circumstances. He wrote for Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl as a member of the disenfranchised elements in Persian society, but six years later he had become a deputy to the Majles and himself a member of the ruling elite.

Although Dehḵodā was not primarily a poet and his poems are mainly exercises in versification, he has nevertheless earned a place in the history of contemporary poetry. His modest output includes ḡazalsand other pieces in the classical style, each written exclusively in the language of the time of the poet being emulated. For example, in “Līsak” (Dehḵodā, 1334 Š/1955, p. 113), which was composed in imitation of Rūdakī, there is not a single word or expression that was not in the Persian lexicon of the 10th century. Similarly, at the request of Ḥabīb Yaḡmāʾī he composed a poem in the style of Bahrāmī Saraḵsī (Yaḡmā 3, 1329 Š./1950, p. 81; Dehḵodā, 1334 Š/1955, p. 86). Some of these “imitations” are actually superior in lucidity, expository power, and elegance of expression to the originals, including even some from Saʿdī’s Būstān (e.g., Dehḵodā, 1334 Š/1955, pp. 119, 120, 31).

Dehḵodā also wrote a mosammaṭ and two maṯnawīs (in both Turkish and Persian; Dehḵodā, 1334 Š./1955, pp. 124-32), also in the popular (ʿawāmāna) manner. Because of his ingenious use of slang expressions his poetry includes the best examples of popular Persian verse ever written. A third group of poems consists of maṯnawīs in which he used allegory and narrative to expound his social ideas; as these pieces were aimed at the educated class, he did not hesitate to use all manner of allusions to the Koran and works of feqh and belles lettres, as well as archaic expressions. In Enšāʾ Allāh gorba ast (God willing it’s a cat!) his powerful portrayal of the mien and behavior of a hypocritical āḵūnd is almost without equal in Persian literature (Dehḵodā, 1334 Š/1955, p. 5). Among other literary works were annotations to the Dīvān of Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow (ed. S. N. Taqawī, Tehran, 1307 Š./1928, pp. 619 ff.), the Dīvān of Sayyed Ḥasan Ḡaznavī (ed. M.-T. Modarres Rażawī, Tehran, 1328 Š./1949, pp. 361-76), Loḡat-e fors (unpubl.), and the Dīvān of Ḥāfeẓ, which appeared in the journals Yaḡmā and Dāneš. He also wrote a biography of Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, edited the Ṣeḥāḥ al-fors (Yāḡmā 3, 1329 Š./1950, pp. 321-26, 366-70, 416-20, 480-85; Dāneš 3, pp. 197-202, 269-72, 371-78, 491-98, 549-54, 637-42) by Moḥammad b. Hendūšāh Naḵjavānī and the dīvāns of Manūčehrī Dāmˊḡānī, Farroḵī Sīstānī, Sūzanī Samarqandī, and (parts of) Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān (Moʿīn, 1335 Š./1956, pp. 295-301). Editing and publication of his monumental Lōḡat-nāma (q.v.) were completed after his death under the supervision of the late Moḥammad Moʿīn.

In all his writing Dehḵodā was a perfectionist and a meticulous craftsman. He was a nationalist, outspoken in his convictions, indifferent to the wrath of powerful men, and a firm believer in Persian culture (Dehḵodā, 1358 Š./1979c, pp. 912-14; Afšār, 1358 Š./1979c, p. 522).

 

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(ʿA.-A. SAʿĪDĪ SĪRJĀNĪ)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 18, 2011

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