Khusraw and Shirin

Like a number of the great Persian romantic narratives, the love story of the Sāsānian king Khusraw II (r. 590-628 AD) and Shīrīn, the Christian princess from Armenia, is based on figures recorded in Firdawsī's Shāhnāmah. It was reworked at the end of the 12th century by the poet Niẓāmī and included in his Khamsah (Quintet). Niẓāmī presents his much-embellished account of the lengthy courtship of the pair and its eventual tragic conclusion as a journey of personal and spiritual transformation. The selfish hero-king evolves into an idealised lover in his quest for union with his beloved. Niẓāmī's version was, in turn, reworked by later writers, such as Amīr Khusraw (d. 1325) of Delhi, who acknowledged his debt to his Persian predecessor in his text.

In this fabled narrative, the romance begins before the pair meet: they fall in love after receiving physical descriptions of each other. Khusraw travels to Armenia to find the beautiful and accomplished woman who has captured his soul. At first they enjoy a period of rapturous love, but the vagaries of fate intervene and keep them apart for some time. Khusraw marries more than once during this period, and through the plot's twists and turns the rivals for his and Shīrīn's respective affections end their own lives. Reconciled, the couple enjoys a more mature and deep love, but tragically their happiness is transient. Their earthly union ends when, after neglecting his royal duties, Khusraw is assassinated by an enemy. After this, Shīrīn takes her own life.

Love and Devotion exhibition poster
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