ZARIRI, ʿAbbās


ZARIRI, Moršed ʿAbbās (b. Isfahan 1909; d. Isfahan 1971), noted storyteller (naqqāl). He was orphaned at early childhood and grew up in poverty in the troubled years of World War I. Lonely and helpless, he joined the rank of itinerary dervishes in his early youth and traveled with them to many towns and villages, as well as, some neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Oman, singing the praises of the Shiʿite Imams. To make a living in these years, he was involved in different professions like bookbinding, traditional medicine, as well as, making instruments, such as the compass and Qeblanamā (a device that points the direction to Mecca) Zariri was deeply interested in story telling since his childhood, and mastered the techniques by attending performances of distinguished eulogists of his time in Isfahan, Tehran and other cities. (Zariri, Introduction p. xxvi). He was trained by masters like Hājj Moršed ʿAbbās Eṣfahāni, the outstanding dervish of the late Qajar period (Homāʾi, p. 39). After years of traveling, Zariri settled in Isfahan, and performed for over three decades in the most popular coffee houses of the city, such as Golestān in Čahār-bāḡ. The audience were mesmerized by his charismatic and strong voice. He often managed to further augment the impact of his performance upon his audience by resorting to dramatic feats.

Zariri like most other eulogists of his era, was functionally illiterate. He memorized and recited whatever he heard from other storytellers and scroll-writers. However, he became literate towards the end of his life, embarked upon collecting scrolls and recording the recitations of his predecessors, and added what he himself had reconstructed during his performances (Zariri, Introduction, p. xxviii). He managed to compile a manuscript of approximately 1,000 pages (27 × 18 cm) starting with the tale of Kayumarṱ (See GAYOMART) and concluding with the story of Eskandar (See ALEXANDER THE GREAT and ESKANDARNAMA).

Zariri’s account of Iranian heroic (pahlavāni) tales, although different in many ways, occasionally approximated Ferdowsi’s narration in Shah-nāma (Book of Kings). Zariri’s omnibus is more a blend of different epic narrations, such as Garšāsbnāma (The Book of Garshasb), Sāmnāma, (The Book of Sam) Farāmarz-nāma (The Book of Faramarz), Bānou-Gošasbnāma (The Book of Lady Goshasb), and Borzu-nāma (The Book of Borzou),with additions and embellishments introduced by himself or his predecessors. Ferdowsi’s lines of poetry, and passages from other Persian epic poetry are quoted intermittently, interspersed with accounts or sayings from the Prophet or his companions already incorporated into Shiʿite theology and jurisprudence. Finally, lyrical poetry from great masters of Persian poetry is also included. The language, exposition and synthesis in Zariri’s narration is quite distinguished from other conventional literally works of prose (Zariri, p. 49). Zariri’s compilation is only comparable to Haft-laškar (Seven Legions), the popular anonymous naqqāli manuscript written during Nāṣer-al-Din Shah era. Zariri calls his manuscript Ketāb-e mostaṭāb-e naṭr-e šāhnāma (The outstanding account of Book of Kings in prose) on the cover and Zariri-nāma (Book of Zariri) on the back page (Zariri, p. 31).

The story of Rostam o Sohrāb, published in one volume, is among a few short extracts from Zariri’s manuscript that has already been published in literary magazines, while a complete edited version will be available soon. Furthermore, an audiocassette recorded from one of the performances of Rostam o Sohrāb by Moršed ʿAbbās is available and is to be reproduced as a compact disk (CD) to accompany the book. Finally, the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Art (vezārat-e farhang va honar) commissioned Šāhroḵ Golestān to produce a film from the same performance.



Jalal-al-Din Homāʾi, “Šāhnāma-ye Ferdowsi, šāhkār-e soḵanvari va soḵandāni,” in Ferdowsi va adabiyyāt-e ḥamāsi, Majmuʿa-ye soḵanrāni-hā-ye noḵostin jašn-e tous, Tehran, 1974, pp. 17-43.

Moršed ʿAbbās Zariri. Dāstān-e rostam o sohrāb, ed. Jalil-e Doostkhah, Tous Publishers, Tehran, 1990.

See also Jalil Doostkhah, “Taḥlili az dāstān-e kāva-ye āhangar be ravāyat-e naqqālān dar dastnevešt-e Zariri” Iran-nāmeh, 10:1, 1991, pp. 122-144; republished in Hamāsa-ye Iran, yādmāni az farāsu-ye hazāra-hā, 2nd Ed., Agah, Tehran, 2000, pp. 235-251.

Idem, “Taḥlili az baḵši az dāstān-e garšāsp be ravāyat-e naqqālān dar dastnevešt-e Zariri" Jong-e Isfahan, 5, 1967; pp. 99-106.

Idem, “Šāhnāma-ye naqqālān: degardisa-i az ḫamāsa-ye Iran yā sāḵtāri jodāgāna", in Hamāsa-ye Iran, yādmāni az farāsu-ye hazāra-hā, pp. 151-165.

idem, "Naqqāli, honar-e dāstāsarā-ye melli" in Jong-e Isfahan, No. 3, 1966; pp. 73-78.

Idem, “Shahnameh and the Oral Epic Traditions,” in Iran & the Caucasus V, pp. 157-62, Tehran, 2001.

Anonymous manuscript, Haft laškar:Ṭumār-e jāmeʿ naqqālān az Kiomars tā Bahman , ed. by Mehrān Afšāri and Mehdi Madāyeni, Pažuhesgāh-e ʿolum-e ensāni va moṱāleʾāt-e farhangi, Tehran, 1998.


2 December 2003

(Jalil Doostkhah)

Originally Published: July 20, 2003

Last Updated: July 20, 2003