SANĀʾI, Majdud b. Ādam Ḡaznavi, Persian poet, celebrated especially on account of his homiletic poetry and his great influence on the development of mystical literature (born and died in Ghazna, ca. 1087/1130, for further details see below). He normally used 'Sanāʾi' as a pen name in his poems, but very occasionally he also used his first name Majdud, or Majdud-e Sanāʾi for the same purpose. His usual pen name may have been derived from Sanāʾ-al-Mella (The Splendor of the Community), one of the honorific epithets of the Ghaznavid Sultan Masʿud III b. Ebrāhim (r. 1099-1115), although the poet’s precise relationship to his court remains unclear. In some of the oldest manuscripts of his works the konya Abu'1-Majd is mentioned; but it is uncertain whether this was already added to his name during his lifetime. Other honorifics are undoubtedly posthumous additions, for instance Ḥakim (the Wise), a common epithet for learned poets, and Ḵātam al-šoʿarā (Seal of the Poets), echoing the famous epithet “Seal of the Prophets” of the Prophet Mohammad.


The chronology of his life can only be established approximately. The precise dating of his birth (437 A.H./1045-46) in an early 9th/15th-century chronicle (Faṣiḥ al-Din Ḵwāfi, Mojmal, p. 166) is most unlikely.  It may be assumed that he was born at Ghazna (see ḠAZNI), the residence of the Ghaznavid dynasty at around 1087, and that he did not embark upon a literary career before 1099, the beginning of Sultan Masʿud III’s reign.  The possible dates for his death in biographical sources range between 1126 to 1193 CE. The most likely year is 525 A.H./1130, mentioned in Nafaḥāt al-ons of Jāmi and several other late sources (cf. de Bruijn 1983, p. 23). This would mean that the frequent references to old age in his poems should not be taken too literally.

Sanāʾi already acquired a great reputation as a religious poet during his lifetime.  Soon after his death, his undiminished fame created a demand for details about his personality and mode of life. A number of anecdotes with hagiographical features are already recorded in medieval sources. Often they are evidently derived from elements in his opus not originally intended as autobiographical statements. they usually depict him as a solitary mystic, inhabiting ruined places (ḵarābāt) and cemeteries, wandering around in his bare feet, and radically renouncing all attachments to this world. Sometimes he was associated with other antinomian dervishes. The most famous anecdote relates a confrontation with a radical ascetic nicknamed “drinker of dregs” (lāyḵvār) whom he met one night when he was on his way to the Ghaznavid palace to present a panegyric to the Sultan. The rebuke by this destitute drunk, who was lingering on the ash heap of a public bath, affected Sanāʾi so deeply that he at once abandoned his career as a court poet and embarked upon the path of Sufism (see further de Bruijn 1983, p. 3-15, “The traditional view”).

this famous story has often been interpreted as marking a radical change in the poet’s life, which could explain the striking contrast between secular and religious elements in his work. Despite the lack of a coherent narrative of Sanāʾi’s life, there are enough references to the historical context in his poems to allow a reconstruction of his biography in its broad outlines. these data point to a division of his biography into three periods. the first and the last were spent in his native Ghazna. During the middle period he lived in Khorasan, apparently wandering from one city to another. 

Nothing much is known about his social background and formal education beyond the fact that according to a prose introduction to the Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa his father Ādam was a teacher (moʿallem). From his own statements in the topical poem Kārnāma-ye Balḵ (A Memoir from Balḵ) and in his panegyric qaṣidas, it appears that in his early years he was a minor professional poet, who was in contact with different groups in Ghaznavid society, but apparently not with the Sultan himself. We find among his patrons state officials, military men, members of the Islamic clergy as well as scholars, scribes and poets. An influential patron was undoubtedly Ṯeqat al-Molk Ṭāher b. ʿAli, the head of the sultan’s department of correspondence (divān-e enšāʾ), who was also a patron of the contemporary poet Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān. In the Kārnāma, Sanāʾi asks Ṯeqat-al-Molk to take care of his old father after his departure from Ghazna. In view of the subsequent development of his literary career, the poems he wrote for leading Islamic scholars belonging to the Ḥanafite School of Islamic jurisprudence (see HANAFITE MAḎHAB) were equally important. These clerical patrons included ʿAbd-al-Vadud b. ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad, the chief judge (qāżi) of Ghazna, and two members of a family of prominent ʿolamā, father and son Ḥaddādi. The poems addressed to them contain the first specimens of the homiletic poetry for which Sanāʾi would later become renowned. His closest associates, however, were the poets flocking around the Ghaznavid throne. With the two most celebrated poets who were present in Ghazna during Sanāʾi’s earlier years he had a special relationship, but he did not include them among the poets mentioned in the Kārnāma: Masʿud-e Saʿd, of whose poems he made a collection on the orders of Ṯeqat-al-Molk (de Bruijn, 1983, p. 43), and ʿOṯmān-e Moḵtāri, whom he called his “master” (ostād), and served as a copyist. The latter tried to further Sanāʾi’s career by introducing him to a potential new patron (de Bruijn, 1983, pp. 55-56). Another poet he mentions with respect is Šaraf-al-Din Moḥammad-e Nāṣer, a sayyed of Alid descent, whom he calls “a candle among the Prophet’s descendants” (Šamʿ-e nabiragān-e rasul).

The Kārnāma contains, besides a panorama of the social circles in which Sanāʾi moved, an account of his journey across the Hindu Kush to Balḵ (Balkh), a city outside the Ghaznavid territories and not a royal residence. However, he does not specify why he had to leave his hometown. If he expected to find better chances there for patronage, he must have been very disappointed. It seems that he was even forced to flee from Balḵ and try his luck elsewhere in Khorasan. His subsequent stay in the city of Saraḵs (Sarakhs) was far more successful. Here Sanāʾi met with the person who became his most important patron and gave a decisive new turn to his poetical career: the Emām Seyf al-Ḥaqq Abu'l-Mafāḵer Moḥammad-e Manṣur, a Ḥanafite scholar who, as a chief judge (qāżi al-qożāt), must have been a figure of some political clout in Saljuqid Khorasan. He was, moreover, an Islamic preacher (vāʿeẓ) of some renown. He preached to his followers in a ḵānaqāh (sufi hospice) the foundation of which was hailed by Sanāʾi in an occasional poem (Divān, ed. Modarres-e Rażavi, 1962, p. 1074, qeṭʿa nr. 92). Sanāʾi wrote several other poems for Moḥammad b. Manṣur. He speaks about him not only as a social protector, from whom he sought material support, but also as a spiritual guide. The most remarkable of these compositions is the allegorical mathnavi, Seyr al-ʿebād elā’l-maʿād (The Journey of the Faithful to the Place of Return). This short poem contains, apart from the visionary account of the poet’s development as a human being, a lengthy eulogy of Moḥammad-e Manṣur. Sanāʾi further wrote a stanzaic poem and a few qaṣidas honoring this patron. These poems show that at this stage his own particular kind of homiletic discourse in poetry had been fully developed. It is evident that the great turning point in his career must be situated in Saraḵs. From this point onwards his reputation began to spread far beyond his immediate environment. There are indications preserved in some early manuscripts of his Divān that the poet also visited other cities in Khorasan, in particular Nishapur and Herat. In the latter town, he met with descendants of the great Sufi sheikh ʿAbdallāh Anṣāri and exchanged poems with them. This is in fact the only contact of his with a Sufi community for which there exists reliable evidence. However, there is no ground for the traditions, to be found in some sources, that link Sanāʾi either with the Češtiya order or the spiritual guidance of the 13th century mystic Yusof al-Hamadāni. His inclusion as a sheikh in the Sufi affiliations is certainly unhistorical (pace Gramlich, 1965, p. 8).

The reasons for his return to Ghazna are not known. However, this move again signified a remarkable change in his career. While he was still in Khorasan, Sanāʾi had acquired a reputation as a writer of religious poetry, for which there apparently existed a lively interest among the ruling classes, who hitherto had mainly patronized secular poetry. For the first time in his career, Sanāʾi drew the attention of a royal patron when the Ghaznavid Sultan Bahrāmšāh invited him to join his court. Although he clearly stated his determination to stay aloof from all worldly attachments, he nevertheless started to compose a major didactical mathnavi as well as a number of short poems for this sultan. For the year of his death, which must have occurred in Ghazna, later sources offer a wide range of years. The most likely is 11 Šaʿbān 525 A.H./9 July 1131, mentioned in a notice describing the last day of his life, which eventually became attached as an appendix to a prose introduction to the Ḥadiqa. From the 9th/15th century onwards, this dating dominated in the biographical notices of Sanāʾi in the taḏkeras.

His tomb in Ghazna, marked by a structure erected in modern times, has for centuries been a place of pilgrimage. Among the famous pilgrims to his grave were the Mughal prince Dārā Šokōh (d. 1659) and the great Indian poet Muhammad Iqbal, who wrote about his visit in 1936 in his poem Mosāfer (The traveler).  Also in the 1930’s, the Persian poet and scholar Malek-al-šoʿarāʾ Bahār inserted in his prison poem Kārnāma-ye zendān (A Prison Memoir) the account of a dream in which he had an encounter with Sanāʾi and expressed his indebtedness to him as one of the greatest didactic poets of the past. (For further references to the sources used for this biographical sketch, see de Bruijn, 1983, in particular chapters 4-6).


The poetical works of Sanāʾi include the entire range of forms current in classical Persian poetry. It is very unlikely that the poet himself prepared a collection of his shorter poems, composed at different places and circumstances. The Divān of Sanāʾi in its modern printed editions is in reality the outcome of a complex textual transmission stretching over several centuries. Numerous alterations have been made to the collection of his works, as well as in the individual poems. At various occasions unauthentic material must have been mixed with the poet’s genuine text.  Even the most ancient extant manuscripts do not provide a sufficient basis for a reconstruction of the original corpus. Most probably small volumes of poems brought together at different times and places constituted the oldest forms from which subsequently larger collections were assembled (on the textual transmission of his lyrical poems, see further de Bruijn, 1986). Traces of varying strains of textual tradition can be detected in the earliest sources that are still accessible.  They show great variations as far as the order of the poems, variant readings, and the number of verses are concerned. The oldest dated copy of Sanāʾi’s Divān is contained in the manuscript of his collected works Velieddin 2627 (now in the Bayezit Library, Istanbul), which was copied at Herat in 683-84 A.H. /1284-85. Unquestionably early, but not dated, is the Divān that is contained in the kolliyyāt manuscript that was kept at the Kabul Museum before its building was pillaged and destroyed during the upheavals of the past few decades in Afghanistan. Its present whereabouts are unknown, but fortunately it had been published in a facsimile edition in Kabul in 1977. These two manuscripts as well as other ancient sources were used by Moḥammad-Taqi Modarres-e Rażavi for his second, revised edition of the Divān (Tehran, 1962).  A full inventory of the corpus of lyrical poems handed down in the name of Sanāʾi and a critical examination of this tradition remain a desideratum (see further de Bruijn, 1983, pp. 91-112; Zanolla, 1999). In the Istanbul manuscript Velieddin poems in different lyrical forms have been arranged in an order that is mainly based on the nature of their contents. The Kabul manuscript and other copies of the same age follow a different principle of arrangement, with a few sections marked by generic indications, such as madḥiyyāt, “poems of praise” of a secular kind; zohdiyyāt, “ascetic poems,” mostly fairly long homiletic qaṣidas without dedications; and qalandariyyāt, poems characterized by the use of antinomian motives.  The characteristic qalandari imagery found in the last group of poems refers to the debauchery of beggars, gamblers and drunks, who linger on in houses of ill-repute called “ruined places” (ḵarābāt). These images are used to symbolize an attitude of radical detachment from the world. They contributed greatly to the stock of imagery of classical Persian ghazals, including in particular the rendi element in the poetry of Hāfez (cf. de Bruijn, 1992, pp. 75-86; Lewis, EIr., s.v. Hāfez viii; Šafiʿi Kadkani, 2007). There is also the group of the ḡazaliyyāt, containing some 400 poems, which is of considerable interest as the earliest major collection of this kind of poems by a single poet known in the history of classical Persian poetry. It provides fundamental material for a historical enquiry into the development of the Persian ghazal (cf. de Bruijn and Yarshater EIr. s.v. Ḡazal; Zanolla 1997, 1999). There are further groups of strophic poems (tarjiʿāt and tarkibāt), and a sizeable collection of occasional poems (moqaṭṭaʿāt) and quatrains, all bearing the hallmark of Sanāʾi’s poetical idiom. Some of his homiletic qaṣidas became widely known at an early date as they are quoted in sources from the first few centuries after the poet’s death,

though most poems deal with religious subjects, specimens of purely secular poetry are by no means absent, not even among his later poems. Even the religious poems often contain eulogies to his contemporaries from various professions among the social elite. there are clear statements showing the poet's dependence on the material support of patrons throughout his career.

As a writer of mathnavis, Sanāʾi is best known for his long didactic poem, which is usually known by its Arabic title Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa wa-šariʿat al-ṭariqa  (The Garden of Truth and the Law of the Right Path). Alternative titles to be found still in early manuscripts are Faḵri-nāma (perhaps derived from one of the honorifics of Sultan Bahrāmšāh to whom the poem was dedicated) and lastly Elāhi-nāma (The Divine book), the title under which the poem was known to Jalāl-al-Din Rumi and his entourage. The textual history of this famous but seldom read poem, is even more complex than that of the Divān. It appears that the poet must have died before he could give the poem its final form. At least one early version, however, was prepared during the poet’s lifetime for the Ghaznavid Sultan Bahrāmšāh and his heir-apparent and son Dowlatšāh. In the oldest redaction that can still be reconstructed, Sanāʾi’s didactic discourse culminated in a lengthy eulogy of the Sultan dealing with several aspects of the ethos of the righteous Islamic ruler. There are also allusions to the troubled beginnings of Bahrāmšāh’s reign in 1117, when he could only win the war of succession against his brother Malek Arslān by seeking the aid of the Saljuq ruler Sanjar. Subsequently, panegyrics to other grandees of Ghazna in the Bahrāmšāh period were added to the poem.

 A copy of the short version has survived in the manuscript Bağdatlı Vehbi 1672 (now in the library of the Süleymaniye mosque, Istanbul), which was copied at Konya on 7 Šawwāl 552/12 November 1157, and a small number of other ancient copies, in particular the Kabul manuscript mentioned before. It contains about 5000 distiches, i.e., approximately half the amount of the lines found in most later copies of the poem containing a longer version of this mathnavi (cf. the analysis of the two versions in de Bruijn, 1983, pp. 119-139). A critical edition of the shorter version was published by Maryam Ḥoseyni (Tehran, 2003; reviewed by de Bruijn, Persica 20, 2005, pp. 173-79), with an extensive introduction. This edition is based mostly on the manuscripts of Bağdatlı Vehbi and Kabul.  It seems very likely, however, that not all the lines missing in the shorter version are spurious.  Probably a great number of these lines, including several anecdotes, were left behind by the author before he could assign a proper place to them in the text of an enlarged redaction of the mathnavi. For the text of the longer version the edition by Modarres-e Rażavi (1950) should still be consulted  as it contains almost all the lines that have ever been included in manuscripts of the Ḥadiqa (see, besides de Bruijn,1983, and the introduction in the Ḥoseyni ed., the review by Hellmut Ritter in Oriens 5, 1952, pp. 190-92).

The textual tradition has preserved a few documents which indicate that intensive editorial work was done on the poem soon after the first version was completed, including a rough copy (mosavvada) of 10,000 couplets prepared by the poet to be sent to Kwāja Borhān-al-Din, a scholar from Ghazna who lived in Baghdad, after the poem had come under attack for its alleged pro-Alid tendencies. After Sanāʾi’s death, Bahrāmšāh ordered a certain Moḥammad b. ʿAli al-Raffāʿ to make yet another redaction. As a result of these initial rearrangements, as well as of subsequent editorial interference, the Ḥadiqa was transmitted in several different forms. As late as the 17th century the Indian scholar ʿAbd-al-Laṭif al-ʿAbbāsi made an attempt to harmonize the various traditions of the text; he also wrote a commentary under the title Laṭāʾef al-ḥadāʾeq men nafāʾes al-daqāʾeq. A few other commentaries were composed as well (listed in J. Stephenson, reprint 1975, Introduction, pp. xxi-xxv). One of the selections made from the poem, which is sometimes entitled Laṭifat al-ʿerfān, has been ascribed to Sanāʾi himself as well as to the mystical poet Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār but its real author is probably Neẓām-al-Din Maḥmud  Ḥoseyni Širāzi, a poet of the 15th century also known by the pen-name of Dāʾi.

The Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa is usually regarded as the first specimen of a mystical mathnavi in Persian literature and has had a considerable impact on later writers in the same genre, notably on Jalāl-al-Din Rumi, whose Mathnavi-ye maʿnavi was composed after the example given by Sanāʾi’s poem when his pupils requested him to make a similar poem (cf. de Bruijn, 1983, pp. 10-11).  The great number of manuscripts known to exist bears witness to an immense popularity lasting throughout the centuries. It is a didactic poem conceived as a continuing discourse on a wide range of ethical and religious subjects. In the early Faḵri-nāma version, the vague outline of an allegory, comparable to that of his earlier work Seyr al-ʿebād elā’l-maʿād, appears when the poet tells of a meeting with a spiritual guide, who is the personification of the Active Intellect. In later redactions this feature was almost obliterated and replaced by a division of the text into chapters. The text contains numerous references to philosophy and the sciences and has therefore often been called an ‘encyclopaedia of Sufism,’ a misleading qualification since these elements are always subordinated to the didactic discourse on religious and ethical topics. The same applies to the embedded anecdotes and exempla, which take a far less important part in Sanāʾi's poem than they do in the works of subsequent writers of Persian didactic mathnavis.  In the shorter version of his poem, Sanāʾi inserted only a limited number of anecdotes to illustrate and enliven his homily. They were moreover mostly very brief, often not longer than a dialogue of two or three lines. In the longer version, however, their number was greatly increased and the stories are, moreover, far more elaborate. Among them is the famous tale of the elephant and the blind men of Ghur (Ḡur), directly or indirectly derived from a Buddhist source. It is also narrated by Rumi in the Mathnavi-ye maʿnavi; however, here the inquisitive inhabitants of Ghur are not blind but are examining the elephant’s shape in a dark room (Rumi, Mathnavi iii, lines 1259-68; cf. de Bruijn,1992, pp. 79-93). Several other writers have related the same story, both in Arabic and Persian, including the philosopher and litterateur Abu-Ḥayyān Towḥidi, and the mystics Mohammad Ḡazāli and 'Aziz-al-Din Nasafi (see Modarres-e Rażavi, Taʿliqāt, 1965, pp. 104-07; Meier 1946).

Sanāʾi left two other mathnavis written on a much smaller scale.  The oldest poem of these is Kārnāma-ye Balḵ, sometimes also called Moṭāyaba-nāma (Book of jest). This is a purely secular poem of no more than 433 couplets. It was written in the city of Balḵ shortly after Sanāʾi had left Ghazna. In a mixture of eulogy and satire, this topical poem praises or censures people who were the poet’s patrons and associates during his early years in Ghazna, reviewing them in the order of their social status. The second, Seyr al-ʿebād elā’l-maʿād (The Journey of the Devotees to the Place of Return) is one of Sanāʾi’s most interesting works. Two-thirds of the poem’s 800 couplets describe the development of the narrator's soul in the allegory of a spiritual journey. From his conception onwards, he climbs up the ladder of existence, partly under the guidance of the Active Intellect. He reaches the goal of this quest when he meets with the preacher Moḥammad b. Manṣur, his actual patron during his stay at the city of Saraḵs, and his praise fills the remaining part of the poem. Seyr al-ʿebād is written in a tersely enigmatic style with only few explanations provided in the text. Stylistically it shows a resemblance to philosophical allegories in Arabic, such as Avicenna’s allegory Ḥayy ebn Yaqẓān and the Loḡz Qābes, based on a Greek text, The Tabula of Cebes, which was attributed to Plato by the litterateur and philosopher Abu ʿAli Aḥmad Meskavayh. An anonymous commentary is extant in a few manuscripts, the oldest version of which is contained in the manuscript Nâfiz Paşa 410 (now in the library of the Süleymaniye mosque in Istanbul), dated 674 A.H./1275.

All genuine mathnavis of Sanāʾi were written in the meter ḵafif-e maḥḏuf, which, through his example, became one of the most frequently used metrical patterns for didactic mystical poetry (cf. de Bruijn, 1994, pp. 35-43). In the same meter, a number of other short mathnavis can be found in manuscripts of his collected works, which are all falsely attributed to this celebrated name. Some of these were the works of other poets, which were manipulated in order to pass them off as genuine texts by Sanāʾi. The ʿEšq-nāma (The Book of Love) appears to be a verse commentary on Aḥmad Ḡazāli’s Savāneḥ, composed by ʿEzz-al-Din Maḥmud Kāšāni (ed. A. Mojāhed, Tehran, 1993), and Ṭariq al-taḥqiq, a Sufi poem written in imitation of the Ḥadiqa by Aḥmad Naḵčevāni, who probably lived in the 14th  century. The attribution to Sanāʾi is probably not earlier than the 16th century (cf. Utas, 1973; 1978). To another group of pseudo-Sanāʾi texts belong Taḥrimat al-qalam (The consecration of the Pen) and ʿAql-nāma, (the Book of Reason), both appearing for the first time in the Velieddin manuscript of the complete works (the late 13th century), but seem to have been deliberately composed in imitation of Sanāʾi’s genuine texts. Another poem under the title ʿAql-nāma is also known as Sanāʾi-ābād and seems to have been written by a poet named ʿAbbāsi who probably lived in the 16th century.  The Ḡarib-nāma  (Book of the Exiled) has turned out to be an abridged version of Bahrām va Behruz, a mathnavi by Kamāl-al-Din Bannāʾi (see further Utas, 1973; de Bruijn, 1983, pp. 113-18). A volume of all the short poems attributed rightly or wrongly to Sanāʾi was published by Modarres-e Rażavi (Tehran, 1969).

A small collection of letters by Sanāʾi was published by the Indian scholar NaḏAḥmad (Makātib-e Sanāʾi, Aligarh, 1962). there are two prose introductions to his works containing his name as the author. One of these, which is in fact the same text as the introduction by Moḥʿal-Raffāʾ, is undoubtedly spurious.

Sanāʾi’s great impact on Persian mystical poetry has given rise to the view that he was a prominent Sufi himself. there is little historical evidence to substantiate this view. the principal patrons of his art were Islamic scholars, many of whom were also renowned preachers. the kind of poetry that made Sanāʾi famous consists of poems composed for the use in the gatherings where the faithful were admonished by such preachers. Franklin Lewis has proposed a classification of the ghazals into a series of generic categories corresponding to different types of performances (Lewis, 1995, pp. 438 ff.). On the other hand, Julie Scott Meisami regards Sanāʾi primarily as a poet who expounded in his verse the ethics of  the court, although admitting that “his ghazals perhaps best exemplify the blend of courtly elements and spirituality so characteristic of the genre…” (Meisami, 1986, p. 152). 

The fact that the patrons whom he found among Islamic scholars were nearly all  Sunnis adhering to the Ḥanafi School of Islamic law, makes it very unlikely that the poet was a Shi’ite, as alleged by some critics during his lifetime and many more in later centuries. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that he was deeply devoted to the Alid family, especially to ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, whom he regarded as an exemplar of Islamic piety, without however drawing any political conclusions from this. It is also significant that he combined his praise of ʿAli with that of the other early Caliphs and of the founders of the two largest Sunni schools of Islamic law, Šāfeʿi and Abu Ḥanifa. The predominantly homiletic style of his religious poetry fits perfectly the social environment where he found his most important patronage, i.e., the Sunni ʿolamā who supported the rule of the Ghaznavids and the Saljuqs. With its particular blend of ethics, wisdom, mysticism, the praise of the Prophet and other great men of Islam, it appealed to the community of the Muslims at large and not just to the more restricted circles of the Sufis.

This also explains the varied use made by later generations of his verse. The traces of the impact of the works of Sanāʾi are abundant and can be found already among his contemporaries. Among the very first sources that contain quotations from his poetry is a purely secular work, the Persian translation of the animal fable book Kalila wa Demna  which Abu’l-Maʿāli Našr-Allāh Monši wrote about 1145 for Sanāʾi’s royal admirer Sultan Bahrāmšāh.  Among the lines cited by Našr-Allāh is a full story from the Faḵri-nāma / Ḥadiqa in which the poetess Mahsati appears (cf. F. Meier, 1963, pp. 49-53). Also remarkable are the quotation of his verses by prominent mystical writers who were his contemporaries: Aḥmad Ghazāli (d. 1126), the author of the treatise on love, Savāneḥ, mentioned above, ʿAyn-al-qożāt Hamadāni (executed 1132) in his letters, and Aḥmad Meybodi who began to write his Sufi commentary on the Qur’an in 1126. In these early cases, however, it cannot be entirely excluded that the quotations from Sanāʾi’s poems were later additions to manuscripts of these works. More certain is the use made by the mystics Ruzbehān Baqli of Shiraz (d. 1209) and Šehāb-al-Din Sohravardi (executed 1191). The former based the allegorical chapter introducing his treatise on mystical love, ʿAbhar al-āšeqin  (Narcissus of the Lovers), on a passage derived from  the Ḥadiqa, the latter handled in the same way lines by Sanāʾi in his own treatise on love, Moʾnes al-ʿoššāq (Companion of the Lovers) and in other Persian prose works of his. In both instances there can be no doubt that these citations were original elements of the writings of these mystics. In the popular Sufi textbook of the early 7th/13th century by Najm-al-Din Dāya, Merṣād al-ʿebād min al-mabdaʾ elā’-l-maʿād (The Path of the Faithful from the Place of Origin to the Place of Return) Sanāʾi was the author of one-third of the poetical lines cited in this text (de Bruijn, 1983, pp. 11-12 and notes). All this points to a very profound interest in Sanāʾi as a purveyor of poetical texts expressing religious topics that could be exploited in various ways by later writers of quite different persuasions.

Even more striking is the impact that Sanāʾi made on the poets who directly followed the tradition he had initiated. According to an often cited line attributed to Jalāl-al-Din Rumi, “ʿAṭṭār was the soul and Sanāʾi his two eyes: / We came in the footsteps of Sanāʾi and ʿAttār.” This statement is not in fact found in Rumi’s own works but was coined by his son Solṭān Valad, and repeated with some variations in several of his ghazals (cf. de Bruijn, 1976, p. 35). It expresses quite accurately the spiritual lineage in which Rumi, the members of his family and his spiritual associates placed themselves as mystical poets. The wider spectrum of  Sanāʾi’s influence on the development of Persian poetry in the 6th/12th and 7th/13th centuries could be marked by mentioning many more names, such as ʿEmādi Rāzi Šahriyāri, who would have met with Sanāʾi in Ghazna, and the Shi’ite poet Qevāmi of Rayy, Jamāl–al-Din and his son Kamāl-al-Din Esmāʿil in Isfahan, and above all Ḵāqāni in the Caucasian land of Shērvān who boasted of being himself a “second Sanāʾi.”



J. T. P. de Bruijn, Of Piety and Poetry: the Interaction of Religion and Literature in the Life and Works of Hakīm Sanā’ī of Ghazna, Leiden, 1983. Contains an extensive bibliography; Persian tr. Mehyār ʿAlavi and Moḥammad Javād Mahdavi as Ḥakim-e eqlim-e ʿešq, Mashhad, 1999.

Idem, “the Transmission of Early Persian Ghazals,” in Manuscripts of the Middle East III, Leiden, 1988, pp. 27-31.

Idem, “the Qalandariyyāt in Persian Mystical Poetry,” in The Legacy of Mediaeval Persian Sufism, ed. Leonard Lewisohn, London and New York, 1992, pp. 75-86.

Idem, “Comparative Notes on Sanāʾīand ʿṭṭār,” in Classical Persian Sufism: From its Origins to Rumi, ed. by Leonard Lewisohn, London and New York, 1993, pp. 361-79.

Idem, “the individuality of the Persian metre khafîf” in Arabic Prosody and its Applications in Muslim Poetry, ed. by Lars Johanson and Bo Utas, Stockholm, 1994, pp. 35-43.

Idem, “the stories of Sanâ’i’s Faxri-nâme,” in Mélanges offerts à Charles-Henri de Fouchécour, ed. by C. Balaÿ et al, Tehran, 1995, pp. 79-93.

Idem, Persian Sufi Poetry. An introduction to the mystical use of classical poems, Richmond, UK, 1997. 

Yad-Allāh Jalāli Pendāri, “Revāyathā-ye nādorost az ašʿāe Sanāʾi” (Erroneous readings of Sanāʾi’s poems), in Našriyye-ye Dāneškade-ye adabiyyāt va ʿolum-e ensāni-ye Dānešgāh-e Tabriz 35, 2003, pp. 23-62.

Franklin D. Lewis, “Reading, Writing and Recitation: Sanāʾī and the Origins of the Persian Ghazal,” Ph.D. dissertation, Chicago University, 1995.

Julie Scott Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry, Princeton, 1987. 

Fritz Meier, “Zur Geschichte der Legende von den Blinden und dem Elefanten,” in Eranos-Jahrbuch 14, 1946, . 174-80.

Idem, Die schöne Mahsati, Wiesbaden, 1963.

Modarres-e Rażavi, Taʿliqāt-e Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa, Tehran 1965.

Awḥad al-Din Rāzi, Ḥakim-nāma yā Ejtemāʿ-e ʿallāma be-enżemām-e Ḏeyl-e Seyr al-ʿebād va ašʿār-e digar-e u, ed. Naṣr-Allāh Purjavādi, Tehran, 2005.

Sanāʾi, Seyr al-ʿebād elā'1-maʿād, tr. into Italian with introduction and notes by Carlo Saccone as Viaggio nel regno del ritorno, Parma, 1993.

Idem, Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa wa šariʿat al-ṭariqa (Faḵri-nāma), ed. Maryam Ḥoseyni, Tehran, 2003.

Moḥammad-Reżā ŠafiʿKadkani, Tāziyāna-ye soluk. Naqd va taʿlil-e čand qaṣida az Ḥakim Sanāʾi, Tehran, 1993. 

Idem, Qalandariyya dar tāriḵ, Tehran, 2007. 

Bo Utas, Ṭarīq ut-taḥqīq, A critical edition, with a history of the text and a commentary, Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies Monograph no. 13, Lund, 1973.

Idem, A Persian Sufi Poem: Vocabulary and Terminology, Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies Monograph No. 36, London and Malmö, 1978.

Esḥāq Toghyāni, Šarḥ-e moškelāt-e Ḥadiqa-ye Sanāʾi (An Explanation of the Difficulties of Sanaee’s Hadigheh), 4th printing, Isfahan, 2007.

Valentina Zanolla, Sana’i. Concordance and lexical repertories of 1000 lines, (Lirica Persica 13), Venice, 1997.

Eadem, “gazal di Sanā’ī nei manoscritti piu antichi. Testi, collazione e concordanze,” 3 vols., Ph. D. dissertation, University of Naples, 1999.

(J. T. P. de Bruijn)

Originally Published: May 17, 2012

Last Updated: May 17, 2012