(1127-1186/1199), major Persian poet and prose writer.



i. Life

The date of Ḵāqāni’s birth can be deduced from a chronogram (Divān, p. 64, v. 13) and is corroborated by other references in his Divān (Reinert, 1964-65, pp. 126-28). Born to a Muslim father and an initially Nestorian mother who had converted from Christianity to Islam (Toḥfat al-ʿErāqayn, pp. 215-16), he was a product of the culturally complex milieu of the Caucasus. Attached to the local court of the Šervānšāhs and residing at their capital Šamāḵa (Shamakha) for the major part of his life, he dedicated a substantial number of his panegyrics either in the form of a qaṣida or a strophic poem (tarjiʿband) to its rulers Manučehr and his son Aḵsetān (see AḴESTĀN), who succeeded him in 1160 (Kouymjian, 1974, p. 344), as well as to two of their female family members and a couple of others related to their court. The Šervānšāhs bore the title ḵāqān, from which Ḵāqāni derived his pen name (taḵalloṣ). A large number of other rulers, officials, scholars, and shaikhs were also among the dedicatees of his poems (see below). The only reliable source for his life is his own work. Although there are accounts of him in biographical works on poets (taḏkeras) from ʿAwfi onwards (Storey/de Blois, V/2, p. 398), the information offered by them, when not confirmed by findings in Ḵāqāni’s own works, cannot be considered as trustworthy. The exact date of his death remains uncertain, ranging from 1186 to 1199 in different taḏkeras, and other sources are also inconclusive. (See Sajjādi, 1977, pp. 150-51, on an inscription on a gravestone being a forgery; Storey/de Blois, V/2, p. 386, on a qeṭʿa [occasional or topical poem] cited in Joveyni’s Tāriḵ-e jahāngošā; Afšār, Introduction to Ḵatm al-ḡarāʾeb, p. ix, n. 1, quoting Šafiʿi-Kadkani on a prose notice found in a 14th century miscellany with 591/1195 as the death date.) One cannot consider as authentic traditional stories that describe Abu’l-ʿAlāʾ Ganjavi, another poet at the court of the Šervānšāhs, as either Ḵāqāni’s teacher or father-in-law, and the poet Falaki as being a fellow pupil with Ḵāqāni. Both poets are mentioned in Ḵāqāni’s works, but he does not refer to these particular facts (Storey/de Blois, V/2, pp. 247-48).

From a long passage in the Toḥfat al-ʿErāqayn (pp. 217-21) we learn that Ḵāqāni had received his early literary and scientific training from his uncle Kāfi-al-Din ʿOmar, a physician who died when Ḵāqāni was twenty-five (lunar) years old. This passage from the Toḥfat al-ʿErāqayn may, for once, offer us relatively unambiguous information, but in most cases, his poems, although rich in autobiographical details and historical references, should be used as a historical source with due caution. Poetical statements, taken out of their context, and disregard of the use of rhetorical figures such as hyperbole, have led biographers astray more than once. Jan Rypka’s entry on the poet in History of Iranian Literature contains several examples of this (Beelaert, 1995, pp. 55-57). More recently, Ḡaffār Kandli’s work (see bibliography) shows little awareness of the caution required in using poetical source material. The letters of Ḵāqāni that have come down to us (see below) represent only a fraction of those he must have written, and offer only occasional biographical help.

Nevertheless, with the material at hand, it is possible to identify some other important events in Ḵāqāni’s life, but the actual chronology must remain mostly provisional, and even the relative chronology is anything but certain. There is, however, sufficient evidence to support the idea that Ḵāqāni was a precociously sophisticated poet, and several poems can be dated to his early youth, before he was twenty-five years old. In a short self-praise (faḵriya) poem in couplet form (Divān, p. 913), Ḵāqāni proclaims that he is not yet twenty (do dah) lunar years old, but that he surpasses others in accomplishment (fażl). There seems to be no poem that can be dated with absolute certainty from after 1185, but even so his poetical career of some forty years, yielding only poems of high quality, is impressive.

A periodization of his life can be roughly established, with such landmarks as his first pilgrimage to Mecca (ḥajj; around 1156), the death of the Šervānšāh Manučehr (1160), the death of his first wife and his son Rašid-al-Din (ca. 1175), his second ḥajj (apparently in the same year), and his subsequent retirement from court life to live in Tabriz. Important in Ḵāqāni’s life was his yearning for a journey to Khorasan, and it is the subject of several of his poems. This yearning was for reasons both of devotional (such as visiting the sanctuaries of Imam Reżā and the mystic Bāyazid Besṭāmi, Divān, p. 406, vv. 11-13 and p. 910, v. 14) and of more personal nature (such as his dissatisfaction with Šervān, Divān, p. 744, v. 11). It seems that on two occasions his wish was almost fulfilled, but only once, after 1175, did he set out on an actual journey, and this too was aborted after reaching Ray.

Ḵāqāni’s relationship with the two Šervānšāhs did not run a smooth course, and in many of the qaṣidas dedicated to them he gives vent to feelings of discontent (Beelaert, 2002, pp. 69-71). Some poems can plausibly be taken as referring to actual imprisonment, possibly twice in his life. Not all references to an ‘imprisonment,’ however, are to be taken literally: they may refer also either to the impossibility of leaving ‘the prison house’ of Šervān (ḥabsgāh-e Šervān), due to personal circumstances, or to the oppressive nature of social life at court. His famous qaṣida beginning Falak kažrowtar ast az ḵaṭṭ-e tarsā (Divān, pp. 23-28; tr. and commentary Minorsky, 1945; commentary occupying an entire monograph by Kazzāzi, 2007), dedicated to a Christian (see below), may be a brilliant example of a literary genre in which he excelled, namely the ‘prison poem’ (ḥabsiya), but the intercession asked for concerns a permission to visit Jerusalem (there is no proof that he ever did), and not a plea for release from imprisonment.

Dedicatees (mamduḥs). All in all some thirty-five persons are dedicatees of Ḵāqāni’s qaṣidas and tarjiʿāt (listed in the Introduction to the Divān, pp. xxxiv-li); dozens of others were the dedicatees of shorter poems and addressees of letters. These people came broadly from the region he lived in, namely Šervān (Shirvan), Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, eastern Anatolia, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran, as well as from faraway Khorasan.

Foremost, Ḵāqāni dedicated poems to the Šervānšāhs Manučehr and Aḵsetān and two women of the court, Manučehr’s sister, ʿEṣmat-al-Din, and Aḵsetān’s wife, Ṣafwat-al-Din, who seem to have interceded on his behalf. His mamduḥs include some famous rulers from other dynasties as well, such as the Saljuqids Moḥammad b. Maḥmud (r. 1153-1159) and Rokn-al-Din Arslānšāh b. Ṭoḡrel (r. 1161-1176); the Ildegozid (see ATĀBAKĀN-E ĀḎARBĀYJĀN) Qezel Arslān (r. 1186-1191), the dedicatee of Ḵāqāni’s poems when he was still the governor of Azerbaijan as the “king of the West” (malek-e maḡreb) during the reign of his brother Jahān-Pahlavān; and the Ḵᵛārazmšāh Atsïz Ḡarčaʾi (r. 1127-56). Other mamduḥs belonged to minor dynasties, such as the ruler of Darband, Sayf-al-Din Moẓaffar b. Moḥammad (r. ca.1136–ca.1164-70). Important among his mamduḥs, in the last period of his life, was Šams-al-Din Maḥmud b. ʿAli, who, as a raʾis, was in charge of Arjiš (near Lake Van) on behalf of the king of Armenia (Šāh-e Arman).

Some of his mamduḥs have not yet been identified with certainty. Important among these is Noṣrat-al-Din Leyālavāšir (or Keyālavāšir), an eṣfahbad, said by Ḵāqāni to rule in Māzandarān, and who is in most manuscripts the dedicatee of one of his most ambitious qaṣidas (pp. 133-40, with bar-afkanad as radif; extensive commentary, occupying an entire monograph by Kazzāzi, 1989). Ḵāqāni dedicated to him a number of other poems, including a long qeṭʿa, thanking him for the substantial award of two thousand dinārs (pp. 922-24), and mourned him in another qaṣida (on him, see Kandli, 1995, pp. 396-99). The most famous case of a mamduḥ whose identity has been debated for a long time is the Christian ruler “‘Ezz-al-Dawla,” to whom Ḵāqāni dedicated his ḥabsiya beginning with Falak kažrowtar referred to above. He had been identified by Minorsky (1945) as one of the Byzantine Comneni, Andronicos I; other Comneni, namely prince Isaac (d. 1152) and Manuel I, had been suggested as well. These identifications now seem doubtful since Kandli (1969, p. 340 and 1970, pp. 50 ff., esp. 53) drew attention to the fact that he has to be identical with a person Ḵāqāni mentions in one of his letters (Monšaʾāt, p. 15, letter to Nāṣer al-Din Bākuʾi; about him see below) as Bāqer Qamāʾen (or Qemār) Zākāni. In this letter the person is called miāna-ye ʿeqd-e gowhar-e Boqrāṭiān, with the implication therefore that he was affiliated to the Georgian Bagratids.

Ḵāqāni also dedicated poetry to a number of officials attached to other courts. Among them is the well-known Bahāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad, head of the correspondence department (divān-e enšāʾ) of the Ḵᵛārazmšāh Tekeš. For Ḵāqāni the most important among these officials was Jamāl-al-Din Mawṣeli, the well-documented vizier of the Zangids in Mosul. A man born and raised in Isfahan, perfectly bilingual in Persian and Arabic and well-known for his generosity towards the ḥaramayn, Mecca and Medina. He was the dedicatee of Ḵāqāni’s only mathnawi, Toḥfat al-ʿErāqayn, which has a pilgrimage as subject (see below), as well as of one qaṣida and a number of shorter poems (Beelaert, 2000, pp. 115-25). With some of these dedicatees, Ḵāqāni may only have had a formal and official relationship; and he may have dedicated poems to them for solely pecuniary motives, but one has the impression that he strove to find people worthy of his praise and that perhaps, as in the case of Jamāl-al-Din Mawṣeli, there was also a bond of friendship with some of them.

It is in his relationship with eminent religious figures and men of learning that we see the clearest evidence of close personal ties. For instance, Ḵāqāni seems to have been much attached to a shaikh residing in Ganja, Nāṣer-al-Din Bākuʾi (d. probably not much later than 1163), to whom he dedicated several poems and whose death he mourned in a number of elegies. A long letter to him (Monšaʾāt, pp. 1-18) has also survived. With Najm-al-Din Simgar, a Sufi master who had a ḵānaqāh in Darband, to which Ḵāqāni retired at least once, he seems to have had a more intimate relation as well. Ḵāqāni praises him extensively in one of his qaṣidas and in the Toḥfat al-ʿErāqayn (pp. 226-30). He also mentions him in some letters, and one letter was written from Ebn Simgar’s ḵānaqāh (Monšaʾāt, pp. 293-96). Many of the figures not belonging to any officialdom but mentioned by him do not appear in any other sources.

Ḵāqāni appears to have had relations with other poets of his time, some living far away, although this is not always referred to directly by him. He does indeed refer to Rašid-al-Din Waṭwāṭ (among others, qaṣida, pp. 29-31) and Falaki (a qeṭʿa mourning his death, pp. 918-19), but he mentions neither Aṯir-al-Din Aḵsikati (q.v.; d. ca. 1211) nor Jamāl-al-Din Eṣfahāni (d. ca. 1192), although they cite him or his poetry in their divāns (e.g., among others, Aḵsikati, qaṣida, pp. 64-65; Jamāl-al-Din, qaṣida pp. 85-88).

Bibliography: See at end of part II.

(Anna Livia Beelaert)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 20, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 5, pp. 522-523