From a recent announcement made in a speech by Mr Dinshaw Irani in Bombay, it is understood that the Government of His Majesty the Shah of Persia has decided to create a Chair in Dr. Rabindranath Tagore’s University of Visva-Bharati at Santiniketan, Bengal, and has also appointed, as the first incumbent of the chair, the Aqa Pur-i-Dawood of Rasht. A similar statement has also appeared in the Persian daily Shafaq-i-Surkh of August 22, 1932. An introduction of this great scholar and poet particularly to the Indian public will not be out of place.
During my visit to Persia I could not see him as he was in Germany at that time, and I know the poet only through correspondence. He very kindly sent me his photograph (reproduced here) from Berlin for insertion in my Persian book, now printing. Sukhanwaran-i-Iran, which gives sketches of the poets of modern Persia, with specimens of their poems, and contains a large number of interesting pieces of Mr. Pur-i-Dawood’s poetry.
The poet’s full name is Mirza Ibrahim Khan and he is usually known as Pur-i-Dawood, that is, “son of David”. He comes of a noble family of merchants and landholders of Rasht, the capital of the province of Gilan on the Caspian Sea. He was born in the year 1885. Finishing his primary education in Persian and Arabic at Rasht he came to Tehran where he learnt the art of ancient medicine (Tibb-i-Yunani) studying under the famous Hakim Mirza Mohammad HusainKhan, known as the “King of Doctors”.
- Mirza Ibrahim Khan Pur-i-Dawood
In 1908 he went to Syria via Baghdad. He learned French in the Laique School at Beirut and went to France in 1910 and acquired further knowledge of the French language for a year and a half. He then joined the University College of Law in Paris. During the Great War he went to Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey (Constantinople and Aleppo) and after that he sailed down the Euphrates and reached Baghdad where he edited for a time the journal Rastakhiz. After a short stay at Baghdad he went back to Constantinople. From here he went to Berlin where he stayed for a few years devoting his time entirely to Iranian studies. He spent many years in the study of the ancient history and culture of Persia. In 1923 he returned with his wife and a baby girl to his mother country, Rasht, and then, after a stay of two years at Rasht, he came to India in 1925. He stayed at Bombay for about three years where he wrote in Persian a commentary on the Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians. He again returned to Berlin in 1928 where he completed the second volume of a commentary on the Yashts, and he is now engaged in writing a commentary on the Khurda Avesta
Puri-i-Dawood is also a poet of great reputation. His Diwan Purandukht Nameh has been published by the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman of Bombay with English rendering by Mr. Dinshaw Irani. Besides this he has written other works, viz., the commentary on the Yashts (going under the name of Yasna literature) and the Gathas (songs of Zoroaster), and Iran Shah, Khurram Shah, etc.
Puri-i-Dawood thus combines in himself the best that Persia can afford to the world as an exponent of her culture, ancient, medieval and modern. He is a modern Persian, who has inherited the glorious Moslem culture of medieval Persia, one of the finest gifts which the spirit of Islam made to the world by working through the Aryan genius of Iran (the impact of this same spirit of Islam with the Aryan genius of India has given birth to the Moslem culture of Hindustan, and with the Aryan genius of Spain has similarly given to the world the Moslem art and culture of that country). He is moreover a child of the Iranian revival in Persia, which has made the Persians once more self-conscious about their national heritage of the pre-Moslem civilization and philosophy of Persia, as illustrated in the Achaemenian and Sassanian achievements and in the wisdom of Zarathustra. Persia has found that she can no longer neglect her pre-Moslem past as surely as she is conscious of her distinct contribution to the enrichment of Moslem culture. Pur-i-Dawood is therefore peculiarly fitted to represent the history and culture of Persia in an institution like the Visva-Bharati.
Pur-i-Dawood is a master of his own language, and of the earlier phases of it — Pahlavi, Old Persian and Avestan. His equipment in modern scholarship can be characterized as being quite rare even in Europe. He has a thorough knowledge of French and German, and knows several other languages, European and Indian. He is a poet of rare gifts and today he is one of the finest poets of Iran. The renaissance in modern Iran has found in him the best interpreter of the past glories of Iran to her sons and to the world at large. His poems breathe the modern spirit, and unlike the bulk of Iranian poems are not a mere copy of the phrases and sentiments of the classical poets, Firdausi, Saadi and Hafiz. But nevertheless it must be said that he worthily maintains the traditions of those great classical masters of medieval Persia.
One cannot but admire the choice of His Majesty Riza Shah Pahlavi who has decided to lend to India, as a choice gift from her sister-land of Persia, the temporary services of one of her noblest poets. India should be grateful to Rabindranath Tagore for having made this possible, and when Pur-i-Dawood arrives our scholars and teachers should be ready to take to the fullest an that he has to give to us of the deathless spirit of Iran, which has for seven centuries past been the dominating factor in the Islamic culture of India, and was an influence and an inspiration in the Hindu art and culture even before the advent of Islam in our motherland.
We can only conclude by giving a few specimens of Pur-i-Dawood’s poetry. The English renderings are, in the main, by Mr. Irani.
Help O God, cast a glance of favour, O Lord!
How and why so helpless are we? So destitute and cheerless, why are we?