FORṢAT-AL-DAWLA (b. Shiraz,Ṣafar 1271/November 1854, d. Shiraz, 10 Ṣafar 1339/23 October 1920), pen name of the poet, scholar, and artist Mīrzā Moḥammad-Naṣīr (or Naṣīr-al-Dīn) Ḥosaynī Šīrāzī, also known as Mīrzā Āqā and Mīrzā-ye Forṣat (FIGURE 1).

Forṣat began his education at the age of six, and by the age eleven he had mastered Persian and learned Arabic and the elementary sciences. Then he studied theology, Islamic jurisprudence (feqh), and Koran commentary with the well-known scholars of the time in Shiraz. He also studied medicine for a short time at the encouragement of Ḥājj Sayyāḥ, a friend of Forṣat’s grandfather, who was passing through Shiraz (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” pp. 17-19). His principle mentor, however, was Shaikh Moḥammad Mofīd Dāvar Šīrāzī, who had the greatest influence on his intellectual development and whom Forṣat has repeatedly praised in his poetry (Dīvān, pp. 293-95, 313-16, 474-75). Forṣat studied a variety of subjects with him for over ten years starting at the age twelve and chose the pen name (taḵallosá) Forṣat at his suggestion (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” pp. 14-17; Āṯār-e ʿAjam, ed. Rastgār, text, p. 42). While still studying with Mofīd, he acquired a cubicle of his own in Madrasa-ye Ḵān in Shiraz, where he studied and taught. His quest for learning led him to study modern sciences, including physics, geology, astronomy, and biology, during the time (1323-26/1905-8) that he was staying in Tehran (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” p. 147). He studied music with Mahdī Khan Monta ẓem-al-Ḥokamāʾ Ṣolḥī and was one of the first to advocate the use of notation for Persian music. He mentioned his intention to devise a notation system, like the one used in in the West (ba hamān rasm o ḵoṭūṭ o noqāṭ-e maʿmūla-ye Orūpā), for Persian music and add it to his Daryā-ye kabīr (Boḥūr al-alḥān, Intro., pp. 29-32). Forṣat was proficient in English, teaching and translating it, and had some basic knowledge of French and Hindi.

Forṣat was among the first Persian scholars of modern times to entertain a serious interest in the language and history of ancient Persia. After learning the basics of cuneiform script from Henryk Dunlop, the representative in Shiraz of the Dutch commercial enterprise, J. C. P. Hotz & Zoon, and an unnamed Italian “merchant” who happened to be sojourning in Shiraz, Forṣat continued his linguistic study with the German linguist Oscar Mann and eventually wrote the Naḥw o ṣarf-e ḵaṭṭ-e Āryā on the cuneiform script (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” p. 123; Āṯār-e ʿAjam, ed. Rastgār, I, Intro., p. 22-23, II, p. 885). According to Forṣat himself, Mann sent a copy of this treatise to the German chancellor, who rewarded Forṣat with a cigarette box embossed with a crown studded with diamonds (see the letter appended to the Dīvān, p. 543). Forṣat also learned some basic Pahlavi and the Greek alphabet from a certain Mr. Blackman, who worked as a technician (sīmkaš) for the Indo-European Telegraph Company (Āṯār-e ʿAjam, ed. Rastgār, I, pp. 244-45).

Forṣat’s father, Mīrzā Jaʿfar Baḥjat (1221-96/1806-79), was also a poet, as was his grandfather, Mīrzā Kāẓem Šorafā (d. 1235/1820-21), and his great-grandfather, Mīrzā Naṣīr Jahromī (or Eṣfahānī, d. 1191/1778), author, and the chief physician (ḥakīm-bāšī) at the court of Karīm Khan Zand. Forṣat’s father was a painter and an illuminator (moḏahheb) of books, and so Forṣat began his education in these arts with him at age eleven. He began by collecting and copying print reproductions of western works until he was able to paint on his own. Through painting he supported his parents, brothers, and his dependents (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” p. 14). He was especially talented in the art of portraiture, and his primary expertise was in pen-and-ink drawing (sīāh qalam). Some of his works were purchased by interested Europeans and some decorated the palaces of the Qajar king and princes (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” pp. 14, 26; Āṯār-e ʿAjam, ed. Rastgār, II, p. 989). His skill in painting enabled him to make a living on occasion as a geodesist and a topographer, which involved traveling to various villages and cities, making paintings of their historic or archaeological sites, gathering information, and drawing maps. His Āṭār-e ʿAjam (q.v.)is the product of such endeavors. Forṣat was also skilled in calligraphy and handicrafts, including the making of pen cases, chess boards, and other crafts. His clientele included Qajar elites. Later in life he learned photography from Mīrzā ʿAbd-Allāh ʿAkkās-bāšī and became an accomplished photographer (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” p. 147).

Forṣat also traveled to India and Iraq. In India, then the center for the publication of Persian books, he published some of his own works as well as those of others. In 1303/1886, on a pilgrimage trip to the ʿAtabāt (q.v.), he met Sayyed Jāmāl-al-Dīn Asadābādī Afḡānī (q.v.), who was in Būšehr on his way to Tehran, and who strongly influenced Forṣat’s ideas about the political situation in Persia and the need for major changes in the system of the government, including the establishment of a parliament. He expounded the details of this meeting in the introduction to his Dīvān (pp. 29-49, 106-16).

His encounter with Sayyed Jamāl-al-Dīn was probably the main cause that made him politically active. In 1223/1905 he went to Tehran by the invitation of Prince Malek-Manṣūr Mīrzā Šoʿāʿ-al-Salṭana, who desired to study philosophy with him. He stayed in Tehran for four years (1905-8), witnessing the events in Tehran until the bombardment of the Majles. He joined the Constitutionalists and received some military training. He was a friend of Jahāngīr Khan Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, the publisher of the daily Ṣūr-e Esrāfīl, and for a while lived in a house belonging to him. His activities eventually led to his arrest and looting of the house he was living in, but he was saved by the swift action of his friend Jahāngīr Khan (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” pp. 123, 146-47, 150-53, 157-58). During this same period Forṣat had audiences with Moẓaffar-al-Dīn Shah Qājār (r. 1313-24/1896-1907), whom he praised in two panegyrics and received from him the title Forṣat-al-Dawla (Dīvān, 424-25, 337-39; “Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” p. 149). In 1326/1908 he was appointed the first director of the Shiraz branch of the Department of Education (Edāra-ye maʿāref), where he returned from Tehran and founded the Anjoman-e maʿāref which worked with him as an advisory body for the reorganization of the existing educational system. He personally visited various region of Fārs, where he arranged for the establishment of modern schools, and also made arrangements for the education of tribal children by assigning a teacher who would travel with the tribe (madrasa-ye sayyār). Before long he was appointed the first head of the new Department of Justice (ʿAdlīya) in Shiraz without relinquishing his responsibilities at the Department of Education. He soon, however, found it prudent to resign his position at the former and to concentrate his efforts at the latter. He never received any wages or compensation for his services at the Department of Education, all the time using his personal resources to pay for the expenses incurred (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” pp. 166-68, 172-75). In 1331/1913 he published sixteen issues of the newspaper Fārs (q.v.) in Shiraz. He received from the government in 1334/1916 the golden medal for excellence in scholarship, but he himself wondered whether it was for the recognition of his social and cultural services to the state without receiving any financial compensation (Dīvān, appendix, p. 553). Twice in Shiraz, when factional rivalry erupted into open warfare and bloodshed (in 1328/1910 during the clash between the Qašqāʾī and the Ḵamsa tribes, and in 1334/1916 when the German Consulate in Shiraz was thought to be the instigator of the unrest), Forṣat acted as intermediary and peacemaker (“Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” pp. 175-77; Dīvān, appendix, pp. 547-52).

Forṣat died of a chronic kidney and stomach illness in 1339/1920 at his home in Shiraz and was buried at the eastern corner of the tomb of Ḥāfeẓ(Ḥāfeẓīya) next to that of Ahlī Šīrāzī (q.v.). Forṣat was a humble man who lived and dressed simply and never married. He lived in seclusion towards the end of his life, avoiding company but always obliging if he was called on for assistance. His desire for reviving Persian culture and tradition was coupled with his eagerness for learning the cultural and scientific revolutions of the modern world and introducing his countrymen to them.

Works: Āṯār-e ʿAjam,his best known work, is a collection of more than fifty drawings of various historical sites of Persia, especially Fārs (Bombay, 1313/1895-6). It is, in effect, a travelogue comprising detailed, first-hand biographical information about the elite of Fārs, sources on the history of the region as well as its geography. The second edition, edited by ʿAbd-Allāh Ṭehrānī, appeared in Bombay in 1975. Two more editions appeared in 1983 in Tehran. The most recent edition is by the Manṣūr Rastgār Fasāʾī, with an introduction by the late Moḥammad Qodsī Šīrāzī (pp. 987-90). Aškāl al-mīzān, on logic (Bombay, ca. 1322/1905); Naḥw o ṣarf-e ḵaṭṭ-e Āryā wa moḵtaṣar-e joḡrāfīā-ye Hendūstān, two books in one (Bombay, 1322/1904); Boḥūr al-alḥān (q.v.), a collection of poetry selected for singing with an introductory essay on Persian music and its affinity with Persian prosody; Dīvān, also called Dabestān al-forṣa, a collection of 10,000 verses of his poetry in Persian and Arabic, including qaṣīdas, ḡazals, qeṭʿas, tarjīʿ-bands, etc. In poetry, Forṣat was influenced by his master, Shaikh Mofīd. In his poetry and prose, especially in those that are in the pure Persian (fārsī-e sara), Forṣat makes frequent allusion to pre-Islamic Persia. Daryā-ye kabīr, a collection of poetry and prose in ninety-two parts, on the edition and painting of which Forṣat spent the last two years of his life. It emulates the Kaškūl of Shaikh Bahāʾ-al-Dīn ʿĀmelī (q.v.); the unique manuscript of this is kept in the Ḥāfeẓīya Library in Shiraz; Monšaʾāt, an independent, extensive collection in Persian and Arabic, a segment of which is published in Forṣat’s Dīvān; Maṯnawī-e hejr-nāma; Tafṣīl-e enqelāb-e mašrūṭīyat (excerpts published as part of “Aḥwāl-e moʾallef, pp. 149 ff.); Šaṭranjīya (on playing chess); and Maqālāt-e ʿelmī wa sīāsī, 2 vols., I, Bombay, 1322/1904; II, Tehran, 1325/1907; ed., Monšʾāt-e Mo ʿtamed-al-Dawla Farhād Mīrzā, Bombay, 1321/1903 (?).


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

Fasāʾī, ed. Rastgār, s.v., index. Moḥammad-Naṣīr Forṣat Šīrāzī, “Aḥwāl-e moʾallef,” (autobiography) in idem, Dīvān/Bostān al-Forṣa, Bombay, 1333/1915, pp. 10-186.

Idem, Boḥūr al-alḥān dar ʿelm-e mūsīqī wa nesbat-e ān bā ʿarūż, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966.

Idem, Āṯār-e ʿAjam, ed. M. Rastgār Fasāʾī, 2 vols., Tehran, 1377 Š./1998.

Mīrzā-Naṣīr Jahromī, Maṯnawī-e pīr o javān, ed. Ḵ. Zaʿīmī, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976.

R. Ḵāleqī, Sargoḏašt-e mūsīqī-e Īrān, 2 vols., Tehran, 1333-35 Š./1954-56, I, pp. 185-89.

Ḵayyāmpūr, Soḵanvarān, pp. 442-43.

Ṣadr Hāšemī, Jarāʾed o majallāt IV, pp. 60-61.

Shaikh Mofīd Dāvar, Merʾāt al-foṣaḥā, ed. M. Ṭāwūsī, Shiraz, 1371 Š./1992.

“Naḵostīn naqqāš-e bāstānšenās-e Īrān,” Faṣl-nāma-ye honar, no. 16, 1367 Š./1988, pp. 67-83.

Y. Ḏokāʾ, “Ḵolāṣa-ī az moqaddama-ye Boḥūr al-alḥān,” Šeʿr o mūsīqī dar Īrān, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987, pp. 114-22.

(Manouchehr Kasheff)

Originally Published: December 15, 1999

Last Updated: January 31, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. X, Fasc. 1, pp. 100-102