BOT, a term which appears frequently in poetry with meanings ranging from an idol in the literal sense to a metaphor for ideal human beauty. These senses are found in the earliest surviving poetry and have been used continually since then. In its literal sense it is used in descriptions of pre- or non-Islamic lands and times, as in Saʿdī’s line: botī dīdam az ʿāj dar Sūmanāt / moraṣṣaʿ čo dar jāhelīyat Manāt (I saw an idol in Sūmanāt / bejeweled as was Manāt in the age before Islam; Būstān, ed. R. Alioff, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968, p. 230), and in moralizing poetry such as Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow’s mard-e nekū ṣūrat-e bī ʿelm o šokr / sū-ye ḥakīmān be ḥaqīqat bot ast / /mard maḵᵛān hīč a bota-š ḵᵛān az ank / čūn bot bā qāmat o bī qāmat ast (A handsome man lacking in wisdom or gratitude / in the eyes of wise men is an idol / / Don’t call him a man, but call him an idol, for / like an idol, he has a shape but is worthless; Dīvān, ed. N. Taqawī, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960, p. 66).
As a metaphor for beauty, bot has aspects of exoticism, remoteness, sumptuousness, irresistible attraction, and danger. It is often associated with Central Asia, as in Rūdakī’s rūy be meḥrāb nehādan če sūd / del be Boḵārā vo botān-e Ṭarāz (What use in facing the prayer niche / for the heart looks to Bukhara and the idols of Ṭarāz (Rūdakī,Āṯār-e manẓūm, ed. Y. Braginskiĭ, Moscow, 1958, p. 474), or Ḥāfeẓ’s bot-e čīnī ʿadū-ye dīn o delhāst / ḵodāvandā del o dīn-am negahdār (The Chinese idol is the enemy of the faith and of hearts; / O God, preserve my heart and my faith!; Dīvān, ed. M. Qazvīnī and Q. Ḡanī, Tehran, 1320 Š./1941, p. 166). The idol can be a Turk, as in Rudākī’s Gol-e bahārī, bot-e tatārī / nabīd dārī, čerā nayārī (You are a spring flower, a Tatar idol / you have the wine, why don’t you bring it?; op. cit., p. 491).
Idols are made by idol makers (botgar, bottarāš), the most famous of whom is Āzar, said to be the father of Abraham (Koran 6:74). ʿOnṣorī says: Bot-e man del barad ke ṣūrat-e ūʾst / āzarīvār o ṣoṇʿ-e Āzar nīst (My idol carries away hearts because her face is as if made by Āzar, but Āzar did not make her; Dīvān, ed. Y. Qarīb, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, p. 14). In descriptions by the Ghaznavid court poets nature is often personified. Because it creates flowers and trees, it is likened to an idol maker, as in ʿOnṣorī’s Bād-e nowrūzī hamī dar būstān o botgar šavad / tā ze ṣoṇʿ-aš har deraḵt-ī loʿbat-ī dīgar šavad (The spring breeze scatters pearls and becomes an idol maker / until each tree becomes another idol; op. cit., p. 45), or Farroḵī Sīstānī’s Māh-e farvardīn jahān-rā az dar-e dīdār kard / abr-e farvardīn zamīn-rā por bot-e Farḵār kard (The month of Farvardīn has made the world worth seeing / the clouds of Farvardīn have filled the earth with idols from Farḵār; Dīvān, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1335 Š./1956, p. 427). This image is extended to include the worshippers of idols, frequently called shamans. Rūdakī says: Bot parastī gerefta-īm hama / īn jahān čūn bot ast o mā šaman-īm (We have all begun worshipping idols / the world is like an idol and we are the shamans; op. cit., p. 535). The image of the idol worshipper was often used by mystical poets such as ʿAṭṭār in discussing the kinds of love: pas az mastī-e ʿešq-am gašt maʿlūm / ke nafs-e man bot o man bot parast-am (After becoming drunk with love, it became apparent to me / that my soul is an idol and I am the idol worshipper; Dīvān, ed. T. Tafażżolī, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, p. 391). Likewise from Sanāʾī: Tawba-ye man jaẓʿ o laʿl o zolf o roḵsār-at šekast / dī ke būdam rūzadār emrūz hastam bot-parast (Your eyes and lips and locks and cheeks have broken my repentance / Yesterday I was fasting, today I am an idol worshipper; Dīvān, ed. M. Moṣaffā, Tehran, 1336 Š./1957, p. 381).
Idols were thought to be located in temples (bot-ḵāna, bot-kada) which were metaphors for rich and beautiful places, but which were also liable to destruction by militant conquerors bent on spreading Islam among unbelievers. An example of the first sense is in Farroḵī Sīstānī’s description of a magnificent Indian city: čegūna jā-ī, jā-ī čo būstān-e eram / čegūna šahr-ī, šahr-ī čo bot-kada-y[e] Farḵār (What sort of place? A place like the garden of Eram / What sort of city? A city like the idol temple of Farḵār; op. cit., p. 64). In another place the poet combines garden and idol imagery in an elaborate metaphor: Bāḡ bot-ḵāna gašt o golbon bot / bada ḵᵛārān-e golparast šaman (The garden became an idol temple and the rose bush the idol / the wine drinkers were the rose-worshipping shamans; ibid., p. 307). Sultan Maḥmūd of Ḡazna was congratulated on his return from Somanāt by Farroḵī: botān šekasta vo bot-ḵānahā fakanda ze pāy / ḥeṣārhā-ye qawī bar gošāda lād az lād (Idols were smashed and idol temples thrown down / strong fortresses were conquered wall by wall; ibid., p. 34). This practice also has a metaphorical connection with idols as images of beauty. Šahīd Balḵī says: Vaʾgar to-rā malek-e hendovān bedīdī mūy / sojūd kardī o bot-ḵānahā-š bar kandī (And if the king of the Hindus were to see your hair / he would prostrate himself and raze his idol temples; Lazard, Premiers poètes I, p. 68; II, p. 35). Of all the images based on bot, the one of great and irresistible beauty is the most frequent.
(William L. Hanaway, Jr.)
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 4, pp. 389-390