Persian poet’s 700-year-old manuscript, signed by Shah Jahan, at Asiatic Society

KOLKATA: He expressed the spiritual experiences of a mystic, in love with his beloved. In his own enchanting way , he wove themes of ambiguity into his poems. “A poet for the poets”, Hafiz immortalised words intimate, playful and hopefully real.

Now, nearly 700 years after the Persian great’s death, Asiatic Society has stumbled upon his handwritten manuscript -the ‘Divan-i-Hafiz’ -which is one of the very few such surviving manuscripts in the world. If that was not enough, the manuscript also contains an unpub lished ghazal.

The news has sent the rich world of Persian literature into a tizzy and many scholars were recently in the city to catch a glimpse of the ma nuscript and take a closer look at its lines.

Apart from the beautiful calligraphy , the manuscript bears the signature of Shah Jahan and his gold insignia. Hafiz lived and wrote much before the time of Shah Jahan, but the insignia means that the manuscript had landed in the Mughal emperor’s library , scholars said.
Asiatic Society has proudly displayed the manuscript in its museum, though it will not be kept in the open for long, considering its antique value and fragile condition.

Researchers discovered the `Divan-i-Hafiz’, yellow and brittle with age, while going through the works of Mirza Ghalib for an event on the occasion of the 220th birth anniversary of the PersianUrdu poet. Historian Ramkrishna Chatterjee, also the publications secretary of Aaiatic Society , said: “When our Persian scholars went through it, they were stunned.This was an original handwritten manuscript by Hafiz, who was nearly 500 years older than Ghalib. We started hunting for reference material to authenticate the manuscript.While we consulted Persian scholars who vouched for the authorship of the ghazal collection, we had to know how this manuscript reached us.”

Persian scholars from institutes all over the world participated in the Mirza Ghalib event. “Finding Hafiz’s manuscript was an additional gain. We had never expected to see it here.

We have read the unpublished poem `Beham Dillah Ke Bazam… Dedane Ruiyat Moiasser Shud…’ (Thank God, I have the honour of looking at your face again).

This will make scholars of Persian literature make a beeline for the Society to catch a glimpse of this manuscript,” said Syed Akhtar Hussain, associate professor of Persian at Jawaharlal Nehru University and president of the acclaimed Institute of Indo-Persian Studies. A similar handwritten manuscript is preserved at Khuda Baksh Library in Patna, he said.

“Since this Divan bears the signature of emperor Shah Jahan, it naturally adds to the authenticity of the manuscript. Hafiz wrote about 500 ghazals in his own hand. After his death, some of his students co pied his manuscripts for greater dissemination. The earlier copies are also considered to be authentic, but since this one contains an unpublished ghazal, its authenticity is unquestioned,” said Ahmad KarimiHakkak, professor of Persian literature at the University of Maryland.

The question researchers are asking is why the manuscript bears the signature of Shah Jahan although Hafiz lived and wrote much before the Mughal Empire. “Successive Mughal courts, right from the time of Humayun, have collected original manuscripts of Persian poets and Hafiz was naturally the most coveted figure. Mughal emperors would even gift manuscripts to other rulers and libraries were looted during wars. This is how manuscripts travelled,” Hakkak explained.