FAYŻĪ, ABU’L-FAYŻ (b. Agra, 5 Šaʿbān 954/24 September 1547 [Dīvān, f. 78b]; d. Lahore, 10 Ṣafar 1004/15 October 1595), Mughal court poet, also known as Fayżī Fayyāżī, who wrote mainly in Persian. His family was descended from a Yemeni who had settled in Sind in the 15th century; in the early 16th century Fayżī’s grandfather moved to Nagaur in Rajasthan, where the poet’s father, Shaikh Mobārak (911-1001 /1505-93), was born. The latter had a strong inclination to spiritual pursuits, but his broad religious views brought him into conflict with orthodox clerics. Fayżī received instruction from his father in such traditional subjects as religion, philosophy, grammar, science, and medicine. In about 975/1567 he entered the Mughal court through the intervention of Khan-e Aʿẓam Mīrzā ʿAzīz Kōkā (Cat. Bankipore II, p. 203; Noʿmānī, III, pp. 37-38), foster brother of Akbar (963-1014/1556-1605). He served as tutor to Akbar’s three sons, Salīm (afterward Emperor Jahāngīr, 1014-37/1605-27), Morād, and Dānīāl. He also became a trusted companion of the emperor himself and was included in official deliberations and military expeditions. When Akbar decided to inaugurate a syncretistic religion (the dīn-e elāhī “divine faith”) he appointed Fayżī to its advisory council. Some critics have even alleged that the poet was a major influence in Akbar’s religious evolution (Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ [Calcutta] I, p. 333; Nafīsī, Naẓm o naṯr I, p. 363). In 997/1589 Fayżī received the title malek al-šoʿarāʾ. In 999/1591 he led an embassy to Borhānpūr in the Deccan to induce its ruler to accept Akbar’s suzerainty. Although Fayżī’s official rank was lower than those of many court officials, his influence transcended theirs.
Fayżī was a man of generous habits and kind disposition. For example, he helped the poet ʿOrfī, newly arrived from Persia, to gain access to Hakīm Abu’l-Fatḥ Gīlānī (d. 997/1588-9), a prominent dignitary of Akbar’s court and ʿOrfī’s first patron in India (Ṣafā, Adabīyāt V/2, p. 845). When the historian ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾūnī incurred Akbar’s displeasure, Fayżī interceded on his behalf (Badāʾūnī, Montaḵab III, pp. 418 ff.), despite Badāʾūnī’s unfriendliness to him. Fayżī was influenced by mysticism and attracted to Sufi saints; he wrote two poems to the celebrated mystic Farīd-al-Dīn Ganj-e Šakar (q.v.; Dīvān, fols. 277b and 278a).
Fayżī’s learning was extensive and varied. Beside Persian, his primary language, he knew Arabic and Sanskrit. His library is said to have contained 4,600 volumes (Badāʾūnī, Montaḵab III, p. 421; 4,300 according to Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ, tr. Beveridge, I, p. 517), which were transferred to the imperial library after his death; they included works on literature, philosophy, science, religion, and medicine. His interest in medicine went beyond intellectual curiosity; he also treated patients (Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ [Calcutta] I, p. 514). He was a prolific writer and is said to have composed 101 works, of which only a few are known or extant. Apart from poetry, he wrote a work in Arabic on ethics (Mawāred al-kalam “Stages of words,” distinguished by the absence of dotted letters in the text; an exegesis in Persian on the koran, completed in 1002/1594 (Ṣawāṭeʿ al-elhām “Rays of inspiration”; Lucknow, 1306/1888), also without dotted letters; and at Akbar’s request a Persian translation of a Sanskrit treatise on arithmetic and geometry entitled Līlāvatī (Nosḵa-ye Līlāvatī, Calcutta, 1242/1827). He left a large number of letters, which his nephew Nūr-al-Dīn Moḥammad ʿAbd-Allāh compiled after his death under the title Laṭīfa-ye Fayyāżī “The wit of Fayyāżī” (Fayżī, 1973).
According to Badāʾūnī (Montaḵab, p. 415), Fayżī’s poetic career stretched over forty years , which would imply that he began when he was eight years old. Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that he was productive. Although estimates vary, his total extant output runs to several thousand verses.
Fayżī is said to have been a pupil of Ḵᵛāja Ḥosayn of Marv (d. 979/1571-72), most likely in poetry-writing (Badāʾūnī, Montaḵab III, p. 250). Around 994/1585 he put together a collection of his poems (presumably a selection) which he named Ṭabāšīr-al-ṣobḥ "Prelude to the dawn”; it contained some six thousand verses. Later manuscripts of his Dīvān, which are more complete, contain twice that number, including examples of all the main traditional forms of Persian poetry. Among them the qaṣīdas (odes) and ḡazals (lyrics) occupy a central place. In the former the poet focused on didactic, biographical, and panegyric subjects; they are frequently long and sometimes pedantic, with a great deal of Arabic vocabularly, and can be difficult reading. One of the most important examples, Našīd al-safar “Song of the journey” (Dīvān, fols. 78a ff.), is an autobiographical work, covering the period until two years before his death. His panegyrics were often based upon personal or historical events, so that the praise seems almost incidental; in an outstanding example of this type Fayżī described his first audience with Akbar (Dīvān, fols. 35a ff.). In contrast the ḡazals are refined and clearly written; their content varies from simple expression of feeling to more complex philosophical conceits. The imagery is sober and reflects a scrupulous choice of similes and metaphors. Fayżī composed elegies on the death of his mother and three-year old son (Dīvān, fols. 101b ff., 105b ff.), both distinguished by their pathos.
In addition to his Dīvān, Fayżī wrote two independent maṯnawīs, Markaz-e adwār “The center of circles” (994/1585; MS London, British Library, Add. 23,981), concerned with moral and mystical ideas, and Nal o Daman (1003/1594; ed. Tehran, 1335 Š./1956), based on an episode in the Sanskrit Mahabhārāta. He intended originally to compose five, on the model of Neẓāmī’s Ḵamsa, but the remaining three, Solaymān o Belqīs, Akbar-nāma, and Haft kešvar, were left incomplete at his death. Markaz-e adwār remained in loose pages until Fayżī’s younger brother Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllamī (q.v.), the famous Mughal chronicler, compiled them two years after the poet’s death.
Šeblī Noʿmānī ranked Fayżī together with Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavī (q.v.; 651-725/1253-1325) as one of the two outstanding Persian poets born in India (Noʿmānī, III, p. 28). Although Fayżī received little recognition in Persia, his work found a hospitable reception in Turkey, where it exercised considerable influence on Ottoman Turkish lyric poetry (Gibb, I, p. 129, III, pp. 247-48).
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Originally Published: December 15, 1999
Last Updated: January 24, 2012
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Vol. IX, Fasc. 5, pp. 457-459