NAẒIRI NIŠĀPURI, Moḥammad Ḥosayn, Indo-Persian poet of the late 16th and early 17th centuries (b. Nishapur, ca. 1560–d. Ahmadabad in Gujarat, between 1612 and 1614). Naẓiri left his native city of Nishapur as a young man after the death of his father. Though he traveled to western Persia as a merchant, he was already an accomplished poet when he met the literary biographer Taqi-al-Din Kāši in 1584 in Kashan, where Naẓiri honed his skills exchanging verses with experienced poets of the city, such as Ḥātem, Šojāʿ, and Reżāʾi (Golčin-e Maʿāni, pp. 37-48, 218-32, 160-75). Shortly after this meeting, Naẓiri migrated to India, where he became the first Persian-born poet to join the court of the great Mughal statesman and literary patron ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Ḵān-e Ḵānān. Over the next decade, Naẓiri established himself as a master poet, composing many panegyrics in honor of the Ḵān and often enjoying his legendary largesse. Through ʿAbd-al-Raḥim, Naẓiri was introduced to the imperial family, though he did not enter the inner circle of Akbar’s literary establishment. He performed the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1593-94. When Naẓiri was waylaid by Bedouin brigands, he called on the aid of Akbar’s foster-brother, Moḥammad-ʿAziz Aʿẓam Ḵān, who also happened to be in the Hejaz at this time and whose conquest of the citadel of Juna Naẓiri had earlier celebrated (Divān, Ṭāheri, pp. 345-51, 423-27).
When Naẓiri returned to India, he settled in Gujarat and without severing ties completely, he gradually distanced himself from the court of Ḵān-e Ḵānān. Naẓiri is said to have felt slighted when ʿAbd-al-Raḥim referred to him in passing in a postscript to a letter of thanks addressed to another poet, Anisi Šāmlu; in a qaṣida (panegyric ode), Naẓiri complains that Ḵān pays no respect to those who have served him longest (Divān, Ṭāheri, p. 328). This falling out was in part a pretext; Naẓiri’s growing wealth and fame had opened up many financial and literary opportunities that would have been curtailed by too close an attachment to one patron. A letter survives in which ʿAbd-al-Raḥim mocks Naẓiri’s taking up the life of a gentleman farmer (Kārvān-e Hend, II, pp. 1455-56). But according to the literary historian Awḥadi of Balyān, who was present in Gujarat during the poet’s later years, Naẓiri prospered in his agricultural and commercial enterprises and became a wealthy man. He continued to be much in demand as a “freelance” poet, writing panegyrics not only for the Ḵān, but also for Prince Morād and Jahāngir, who summoned the poet to Agra in 1610. Now a member of the urban elite, Naẓiri built himself a princely mansion and contributed to the support of the poor. He was also an active literary patron, receiving poets newly arrived from Persia into his home. He died sometime around 1613 in Ahmadabad and was buried in a mosque he had built near his home. Having lost a brother, an infant son, and a daughter during his life, he was survived by three daughters and his son-in-law, the poet Mir Fāyeż.
Naẓiri was a powerful and aggressive player in the highly competitive literary world of early Mughal India. Even in his earliest poem to Akbar, he criticizes the plague of no-talent pretenders at the monarch’s court (Divān, Ṭāheri, p. 391). He attacks ʿOrfi, his rival, for the attention of Ḵān-e Ḵānān, as the “acme of ignorance and stupidity” (Divān, Ṭāheri, p. 452). In one of his ḡazals (p. 266), he recommends that Ṣufi of Māzandarān be hung with his own clerical robe. On the other hand, he displayed great generosity to poets who showed proper deference to his position. He promoted the careers of many younger poets such as Tajalli of Kashan and Nādem of Gilān and was a deserving object of their praises (Kārvān-e Hend, I, pp. 205-06 and II, pp. 1399-1405). Naẓiri’s appeal on behalf of Ḡani of Asadābād ironically cost this poet his life by reminding Akbar that he was still alive in prison. Naẓiri was orthodox in matters of religion. He disparages Akbar’s ecumenical Din-e elāhi in a panegyric to Prince Morād (Divān, Ṭāheri, p. 361). His responses to Bābā Feḡāni indicate his leeriness of the ecstatic and visionary aspects Sufism and suggest his preference for a religiosity of repose and equanimity (Losensky, pp. 254-89). A tarkib-band (a strophe-poem in which each stanza ends with a different verse and rhyme, see Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia II, pp. 39–41) in twelve stanzas, one dedicated to each of the twelve imams, leaves no doubt of Naẓiri’s Shiʿite affiliation. Toward the end of his life, Naẓiri took up the study of Arabic, hadith, and Koranic exegesis.
A year or so before his death, Naẓiri compiled a divān of some 12,000 verses and had it delivered to ʿAbd-al-Raḥim’s library for preservation. Though Naẓiri never attempted the narrative maṯnawi, his qaṣidas provide a lively chronicle of his life. The tarkib- and tarjiʿ-band are his preferred form for elegy, and his poems mourning the deaths of his family members, of Prince Morād, and of his fellow poets Ṯanāʾi and Anisi are among the finest examples of the genre in the period. His reputation, however, is based primarily on his ḡazals. As suggested by his pen name, Naẓiri was an assiduous practitioner of naẓira-guʾi (writing a reply to an earlier poem utilizing the same meter and rhyme scheme): He modeled his qaṣidas after the works of Anvari and Ḵāqāni; in the ḡazal, he shows a preference for the works of Saʿdi, Bābā Feḡāni, and above all, Ḥāfeẓ. More than most poets of the age, Naẓiri felt the literary achievements of the past to be a burden rather than a resource (Losensky, pp. 207-11). Naẓiri was well respected by both his contemporaries and later readers. Even the great proponent of the so-called “literary return” (Bāz-gašt-e adabi), Āzar Bigdeli, who treats most Safavid-Mughal poets with undisguised disdain, praises Naẓiri as “a truly incomparable poet” (Divān, Moṣaffā, p. 627). Compared to other poets of his age, Naẓiri was painstaking in his adherence to earlier standards of poetic diction, and his language is distinguished by a fluent, musical clarity. Based on a comparison of parallel poems by Naẓiri and ʿOrfi (written in response to ḡazals by Feḡāni), Āli-Reżā Ḏakāwati Qarāgozlu (1993, 80-84) concludes that Naẓiri is a tradition-bound, conservative poet.
Though Naẓiri’s poetry occasionally utilizes the conceptualistic metaphors characteristic of the emerging šiva-ye tāza (‘fresh style’), for the most part, he shuns the bold, risky experimentation of his contemporaries. Some of his ḡazals propound an ethically oriented, circumspect mysticism. But Naẓiri’s greatest strength, as Šebli-Noʿmāni has suggested (III, p. 122), may lie in his amatory lyrics. Many of these poems reveal his training in the maktab-e woquʿ, the ‘realist school’ of poetics that emerged in Safavid Persia in the sixteenth century and that turned away from Sufi symbology to depict the encounters of flesh-and-blood lovers, their evasions, ploys, delights, and disappointments. In the following verses (a response to Bābā Feḡāni), the speaker seems at once an active participant and a detached observer:
če ḵoš ast az do yakdel sar-e ḥarf bāz kardan
soḵan-e goḏašta goftan gela-rā darāz kardan
gahi az neyāz-e panhān naẓari be-mehr didan
gahi az ʿetāb-e ẓāher negahi be-nāz kardan
aṯar-e ʿetāb bordan ze del-e ham andak andak
be-badiha āfaridan be-bahāna sāz kardan
How sweet it is for two to open their hearts as one,
to speak of the past, to linger over complaints.
To catch now a glimpse of love through hidden yearning
and then to spy coy beckoning behind apparent reproach.
To erase bit by bit traces of bickering from one another’s heart
to concoct banter, to improvise excuses. (Divān, Ṭāheri, pp. 270-71)
The meeting between two former lovers and the unresolved tensions between them is concisely and deftly portrayed in series of short, well-balanced phrases. In this regard, Naẓiri is perhaps better regarded as a culmination of the poetics of the maktab-e woquʿ than as a forerunner of the literary trends that would shape Persian poetry over the next two centuries.
For a listing of the manuscripts of Naẓiri’s divān, see Monzawi, Nosḵahā, III, pp. 2578-81. His kolliyāt was first published in a lithographed edition with a marginal commentary in Lucknow in 1874, and his ḡazals were published separately in Lahore in 1920 (both with later impressions). There are two modern print editions: Divān-e Naẓiri-ye Nišāpuri, ed. Maẓāher Moṣaffā, Tehran, 1961; and Divān-e Naẓiri-ye Nišāpuri, ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Ṭāheri, Tehran, 2000. Major taḏkera sources have been collected in Divān, Moṣaffā, pp. 617-45; the notes to Meyḵāna, ed. Golčin-e Maʿāni, pp. 785-95; and Kārvān-e Hend, II, pp. 1449-56.
Secondary literature. Mollā ʿAbd-al-Nabi Faḵr-al-Zamāni Qazwini, Meyḵāna, ed. Golčin-e Maʿāni, Tehran, 1961, pp. 785-800.
Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia, IV, pp. 252.
ʿAli-Reżā Ḏakāwati Qarāgozlu, “Firuza-ye šeʿr, šeʿr-e firuza: naẓari bar divān-e Naẓiri-ye Nišāpuri,” Keyhān-e Farhangi VI, no. 12, Feb.-March 1990, pp. 28-30.
Idem, Gozida-ye ašʿār-e sabk-e hendi, Tehran, 1993, pp. 80-93.
Aḥmad Golčin-e Maʿāni, Maktab-e woquʿ dar šeʿr-e fārsi, 2nd ed., Mašhad, 1995.
Ḥamida Ḥojjati, “Naẓiri-ye Nišāpuri,” in Ḥasan Anuša, ed., Dānešnāma-ye adab-e fārsi, IV, Tehran, 2001, pp. 2573-576.
Paul Losensky, Welcoming Fighānī: Imitation and Poetic Individuality in the Safavid-Mughal Ghazal, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1998.
Eva Orthmann, ʿAbd or-Raḥīm Ḫān-e Ḫānān (964-1036/1556-1627): Staatsmann und Mäzen, Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, 206, Berlin, 1996, p. 51.
Munibar Rahman, “Naẓiri,” in EI ². Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit., p. 301.
Ṣafā, Tāriḵ-e adabiyāt, V/2, pp. 897-916.
Moḥammad Šebli Noʿmāni, Šeʿr al-ʿajam, tr. Moḥammad-Taqi Faḵr-e Dāʿi Gilāni, 5 vols., Tehran, 1956-60, III, pp. 112-38.
Originally Published: July 20, 2004
Last Updated: July 20, 2004