THE SAGA OF THE SHAHANSHAS: ADI F. MERCHANT: BHAVAN’S BOOK UNIVERSITY: PAGES 250: PRICE RS 675/-
“I've reached the end of this great history
And all the land will talk of me:
I shall not die, these seeds I've sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave,
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim
When I have gone, my praises and my fame.”
(Concluding verse of Shahnameh composed by Toosi)
Known as Abu ‘I-Quasim Firdausi Toosi or just as Firdausi, he was a Persian poet and gained fame as the author of Shahnameh. He has the distinction of being the sole composer of the world’s longest epic poem consisting of about 60,000 couplets written in early modern Persian and even longer the Illiad and Odyssey. Shahnameh literally means the name of kings. In his work which took 35 years to complete he covered the entire gamut of Persian history beginning with the creation of the world till the complete takeover of Persia by the Arab invaders. The Shahnameh is an impressive monument of poetry and historiography. It is essentially the poetical recast of what Firdausi and his predecessors regarded as the account of Persia's history.
Three main dynasties of Persia were covered by Toosi. They were the Peshdaad, Kayaan and Sasanid. Toosi was a person with outstanding ethical values and emphasized the avoidance of all negative human attributes and championed high human values for the upliftment of humankind. He lived for 80 years (940-1020 AD). Commissioned by the King, to undertake this humongous epic, he worked on it with all the passion in him but died heart-broken due to the measly amount that he was paid for this monumental task. Though the king tried to recompense him for the shabby treatment meted out to him by sending him gold coins and other gifts, it was too late in the day. His daughter with the little money Toosi had earned built a memorial for her father in his native village.
Adi Merchant has done an outstanding job of bringing alive the history of Persia to the present generation in his latest book. When Adi sent the book to me, I had strong reservations of reading a book on Persian history and I thought that I would be better off reading more about our own Indian history. After reading the first few pages on a flight, the book literally gripped me and then I ended up reading page to page with great excitement and suspense. Written in a simple and lucid style, the author has taken great pains to undertake extensive research to chronologically trace the rise and fall of what was a great empire in the annals of human civilization. The book traces the Persian history from the time of Kaiomars who founded the Persian nation and from then onwards the succession of kings and queens have been graphically portrayed by the author for their military strengths, nobility, pride, egos, weaknesses and their final annihilation. The battle scenes have been so realistically depicted in the book by the author that I felt that I was watching the dramatic battles and wars in reality.
Some kings like Jamsheed played God, Faridoon was a just and generous king, Minuchehr was kind and munificient, Naudar was cruel, Kai Kaus proud and foolish and the unforgettable Rustom and Sohrab saga, which all of us must have heard about in our younger days was thrilling to read. Kai Khusru, Lohrasp, Gushtasp, Bahman, Humai the first queen of Iran, Darab, Dara and Sikandar (Alexander the Great), Khosroes, Nooshirwan and Mazdak, and it was Khusraw Parwiz who had the misfortune of presiding over the beginning of the end of the great Persian dynasty caused by the invasion of the Arabs. Finally, the roaming King of Iran, Yazdigird III fled to Khuraasaan and he was killed in 652 AD. Thus ended the saga of the Shahanshas on a most tragic note.
The main message that the Shahnameh of Firdausi tries to convey is the idea that the history of the Persian Empire was a complete and continuous whole; it started with Kaiomars, founder of the Persian nation, and ended with his fiftieth scion and successor, Yazdigird III spanning over nearly six thousand years of history of Persia. Firdausi took upon himself the enviable task to prevent this history from being lost to future Persian generations. It is largely his effort to preserve the memory of Persia's golden days and transmit it to the younger generation so that they could learn and try to build a better world.
Adi Merchant must be complimented for the excellent work he has produced for the younger generation not so familiar with Persia’s ancient history. I strongly recommend this book to them. It is a monumental and majestic work on the history of Persia and narrated very fascinatingly. I had to often go back many pages and come forward again to keep my mind in sync with the author’s pace. The book has several interesting sketches and colour pictures of the emperors which enrich the book further.
We in India know how the Zorastrians who fled Persia due to the persecution by the Arabs landed on our West Coast at Sanjana in the 8th century and continued to keep their faith in Ahura Mazda and also have kept the holy fire unextinguished. Known as Parsis (from Persia), they continue to contribute immensely to India which they have adopted as their own.