BADĪHA-SARĀʾĪ, composition and utterance of something improvised (badīh), usually in verse.

Among the Arabs, poetic improvisation (ertejāl, a term used in Persian also) was practiced and admired from pre-Islamic times (Nicholson, pp. 75, 418, 436). Among the Iranians, it has been a mark of poetical talent and skill. It has long been customary to declaim poems at official ceremonies, private celebrations such as wedding feasts, and in modern times school speech days and also mourning assemblies. For these occasions, appropriate poems are composed or improvised and pieces from the classics are recited. The custom has added excessive bulk to the dīvāns of many poets. Neẓāmī ʿArūżī in his Čahār maqāla (written ca. 550/1155) calls it the “highest pillar” (rokn-e aʿlā) of poetical skill, which every poet should master (p. 57). He quotes robāʿīs by ʿOnṣorī, Moʿezzī and Azraqī, and a qeṭʿa by Rašīdī, which those poets extemporized, as well as five bayts which he himself wrote and uttered before the wine bowl had been passed around twice (pp. 57, 68-69, 71, 74, 85; Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia II, pp. 37-39, 336, 339-40). The epigrammatic robāʿī and the qeṭʿa in one of the mosaddas meters are most often used, but more difficult forms and meters are attempted. In the 1970s, the Shah ʿAbbās Hotel at Isfahan employed a poet who could in minutes produce a qaṣīda for an occasion or guest. At the Eighth Congress of Iranian Studies at Kermān 25-30 Šahrīvar 1356/16-21 September 1977, a mošāʿara (poetic contest) was held in which the contestants improvised even quite long poems. Political and social verse, which in the twentieth century has sometimes swayed public opinion, was for the most part written for newspapers and periodicals (notably the humorous Tawfīq 1317 Š./1938-1352 Š./1973), but was also improvised at meetings.

In both classical and folk music, singers have freedom to improvise the lyric (taṣnīf) and the melody within the appropriate dastgāh (musical mode), although in the past few decades they have generally chosen taṣnīfs composed by others. ʿĀref Qazvīnī composed taṣnīfs which echo his own and his audience’s feelings about topics of the day. These were either composed at short notice or improvised.



Neẓāmī ʿArūżī, Čahār maqāla, ed. M. Qazvīnī and M. Moʿīn, 3rd ed., Tehran, 1333 Š./1954.

R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, London, 1907, repr. Cambridge, 1930 and 1953.

E. G. Browne, The Press and Poetry of Modern Persia, Cambridge, 1914.

Rūḥ-Allāh Ḵāleqī, Naẓar-ī be musīqī, Tehran, 1316 Š./1937.

Ella Zonis, Classical Persian Music, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1973.

ʿĀref Qazvīnī, Kollīyāt-e dīvān-e Mīrzā Abu’l-Qāsem ʿĀref Qazvīnī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958.

Search terms:

 بدیهه سرایی badihe saraee  badeheh saraee  


(F. R. C. Bagley)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 22, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 379-380