Ḵān-e Ārezu, Serāj-al-din ʿAli (ARTICLE 2)


ḴĀN-E ĀREZU, Serāj-al-din ʿAli (1688-1756), a Persian-language philologist, lexicographer, literary critic and poet from North India. In defending a Persian ḡazal stylistics that originated in the 1500s called “Speaking Anew” (tāza-guyʾi) against detractors, he sought to demonstrate that the trans-temporal and trans-spatial concept and criterion of “linguistic purity” (faṣāḥat) had always had local content specific to pedagogically trained peoples within a period and across periods. His legacy has been fundamental to Urdu literature.

It is important to note at the outset that the term Sabk-e hendi or “the Indian style” by which the poetic tradition here in question has been known since Moḥammad Taqi Bahār first used this term in the early twentieth century in his book Sabk-šenāsi (Bahār, 1942), has been discredited in recent scholarship (Faruqi; Kinra), because Bahār’s usage of this term bears culturalist and essentialist premises that projected 19th- and 20th-century national, territorial, and ethnic identities into the 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century Persian literary tradition designated by this term. This tradition, in fact, called itself tāza-guʾyi, a term here translated as “Speaking Anew” to capture the primarily stylistic sense it possessed for its practitioners and its recursive temporal relation to the earlier heritage of Persian poetry.


He was born in Akbarābād (Agra) to Sheikh Ḥosām-al-din, who was employed in the emperor Awrangzēb’s army and introduced Ḵān-e Ārezu to “hundred to two hundred distiches” of the Persian poetry of “the recent masters,” this introduction becoming what Ārezu later called his “poetic capital” (Ḵošgu, p. 313). Though Ḵān-e Ārezu did not compose poetry in Braj Bhasha and Urdu, he was clearly intimately familiar with these vernacular traditions that were flourishing in his milieu in courtly and non-courtly settings. Among the ample evidence for this is that he explained the copious quantities of verse attributed to Rudaki (d. 945) by comparing him to the similar case of the 16th-century Braj poet Sur Dās, explicating the genre in which Sur wrote (Ḵošgu, Staatsbibliothek, p. 11). And in 1880, he was remembered by the Urdu litterateur Moḥammad Ḥosayn Āzād  thus: “As long as all logicians will be called the descendants of Aristotle, all Urdu-speakers will continue to be called the descendants of Ḵān-e Ārezu” (Āzād, p. 115). If Ḵān-e Ārezu’s references to “Hendi of the books” or “scholarly Hendi” (hendi-e ketābi) are to what the modern historian Mozaffar Alam identifies as Sanskrit (Alam, p. 168), we may assume that his familiarity with this language and its literary traditions was, as in the case of most North Indian Muslim intellectuals, mediated by his knowledge of Braj Bhasha literature (whose aesthetics was a vernacular adaptation of Sanskrit literary aesthetics) rather than being direct.

In his entry on himself in his biographical dictionary (taḏkera) of Persian language poets, the Majmaʿ al-nafāyes, composed in 1750-51, Ḵān-e Ārezu took pride in his father’s descent from the Sufi poet saint Naṣir-al-din Maḥmud Čerāḡ-e Dehli  (d. 1356) and from his mother’s side from the 16th-century Šaṭṭāri Sufi Sheikh Moḥammad Ḡawṯ Gwāliyāri,  and, further back, from the great mystical Persian poet Farid-al-din ʿAṭṭār  (d. 1221), adding “In any event poetry came to me by inheritance” (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2006, pp. 23). This pride in lineage was one of several means by which he, like many of his contemporaries, bolstered his claims to literary authority in a context where Mughal courtly power was dispersing into provincial fiefdoms and competition had increased with Iranian and Central Asian immigrants for what patronage remained for Persian litterateurs (Chandra, pp. 278-92). Of his own education, Ḵān-e Ārezu says that until the age of five or six he had read no books in Persian apart from Saʿdi’s Golestān, Bustān, and Pand-nāma and, until he was fourteen, studied “the Arabic sciences” (Ḵošgu, p. 313).

After his father’s death in 1703, Ḵān-e Ārezu moved from Akbarābād to Gwalior, then returned to Akbarābād, and finally moved to Delhi in search of employment, joining the retinue of the Prince Moḥammad Aʿẓam, whose father, the emperor Awrangzēb, was then marching on the Deccan, a campaign in which Moḥammad Aʿẓam and therefore Ḵān-e Ārezu joined him. Ḵān-e Ārezu had spent nine months in the imperial army when the emperor died in 1707. He went to Gwalior, where he spent a while at his mother’s request before returning to Akbarābād, where he studied the Islamic rational and transmitted sciences under Mawlānā ʿEmād-al-din or Darviš Moḥammad. He had composed his earliest poetry at the age of fourteen during a visit to Mathura and had much of his early verse checked in Gwalior by Mir ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad Soḵan, Mir Ḡolām ʿAli Aḥsani, and, during his five years in Akbarābād, by such renowned poets of the time as Saʿdollāh Golšan, Mirzā Ḥātam Beg Ḥātam, ʿAẓamatollāh Kāmel, Moḥammad Moqim Āzād, Nāṣer ʿAli Serhendi, and others (Aṣḡar, p. 31). Ḵān-e Ārezu returned to Delhi around 1714, when, after a bloody succession dispute over the Mughal throne, Farroḵ Siar became emperor. Ḵān-e Ārezu then spent six years on imperial appointment in Gwaliyor, composing poetry and other texts. When Farroḵ Siar was murdered, Ḵān-e Ārezu returned to Delhi and, during the short-lived reigns of the subsequent three emperors, found employment for a year in Gwalior. In 1719, Ḵān-e Ārezu returned to Delhi during the reign of the emperor Moḥammad Šāh Rangile, staying there thirty-three years continuously except for a year spent in 1731 in a Mughal court of the Deccan (Ḵošgu, p. 319). While in Delhi, he entered into literary disputes with the famous Iranian émigré scholar Ḥazin-e Lāhiji  (d. 1766), whose disparagements of Mughal India, its Persian literary culture and the ethical dispositions of its people (Ḥazin, 1954, pp. 92-95; 1998, pp. 228-31), were crucial provocations for some of Ḵān-e Ārezu’s most significant works of criticism and philology. He was also tutored in his poetry by the prodigious mystical poet ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bidel  (d. 1720), in whose memory he later annually organized a poetic assembly in the city (Dargāh, pp. 44-45). It was during this stay in Delhi, too, that Ḵān-e Āerzu befriended the Hindu Persian-language poet and scholar Ānand Rām Moḵleṣ  (d. 1750), who, in his capacity as personal representative at court (vakil) to Esḥāq Ḵān Šuštari, who was the overseer (ḵān-sāmān) of the emperor Moḥammad Šāh’s domestic affairs, procured Ḵān-e Ārezu the rights to collect the revenues from a region near Akbarābād, a house opposite his own in Delhi, and a title (Aṣḡar, pp. 39-40). Among his long-time students in poetry was Bindrāban Dās Ḵošgu, whose first-hand account of Ḵān-e Ārezu in his biographical dictionary Safina-ye ḵošgu, to which Ḵān-e Ārezu himself added marginalia and a preface around 1745, remains the most reliable biographical account of his life.

Ḵān-e Ārezu served under Esḥāq Ḵān and then under both his sons. The younger son took Ḵān-e Ārezu to Lucknow after Nāder Shah  of Iran invaded North India in 1739, finding him employment under Navāb Šojāʿ-al-Dawla. Ḵān-e Ārezu died in Lucknow on 27 January 1756, having willed his body to be buried in Delhi, to which city his remains were transferred months later.


Ḵān-e Ārezu composed in most of the major Persian prose and verse genres of his milieu. In keeping with his various defenses of the Speaking Anew stylistics of the Persian ḡazal, his works bespeak his sense of literary solidarity with those who, since the early 1500s, had practiced this stylistics. He attempted to marshal such solidarity by honoring his fellow practitioners of the Speaking Anew ḡazal by his competitive responses (javāb) to their poetry on the one hand, while, on the other, authorizing this solidarity by his scholarly display and maintenance in various expository genres of hermeneutic familiarity with the works of “the old masters” whose literary precedents even his detractors considered exemplary.

Verse. Ḵān-e Ārezu authored seven Divāns, mostly comprising ḡazals, and five maṯnavis. Only one of these Divāns has been published. His first two Divāns contain poetry he wrote between when he was fourteen years old and forty and between forty and the end of his life, respectively. The third Divān is a competitive response to that of Moḥammad Qoli Salim-e Ṭehrāni (d. 1647), a Speaking Anew poet. The fourth Divān was a competitive response to that of Šafiʿā Aṯar (d. 1702), a Speaking Anew poet who never left Iran but whose Divān was immensely popular in India. This is the only Divān to have been published, as mentioned above. Its ḡazal distiches re-elaborate with denser metaphorical use of words from the same semantic fields (morāʿāt al-naẓir) and frequent paronomasia (ihām ) the tropes (mażmun, pl. mażāmin) deployed by Aṯar and the Persian ḡazal tradition. The fifth Divān is a competitive response to that of Bābā Faḡāni  (d. 1519), conventionally regarded within classical Persian literature as the progenitor of Speaking Anew. The sixth Divān comprises alphabetically organized ḡazals only until the end-refrain corresponding to the letter dāl in competitive response to the Divān of Kamāl Ḵojandi  (d. 1400). Ḵān-e Ārezu’s seventh Divān was a ḡazal-by-ḡazal competitive response to that of Aṯar-e Širāzi (date unknown), whose ḡazals, too, were widely popular in India of the period (Aṣḡar, pp. 52-54). In his entry on himself in his Majmaʿ al-nafāyes, Ḵān-e Ārezu mentions later compiling the third, fourth, and fifth Divāns into a single Divān (Naqavi, p. 336), further signaling his ambition to consolidate a trans-regional Indo-Iranian community of Speaking Anew poets.

A survey of his five maṯnavis, none so far published, also reveals his ambition to either elucidate the old masters or compete with Speaking Anew poets of the previous century:

1. A maṯnavi, begun between 1741 and 1748, in the same meter as that of the Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa wa šariʿat al-ṭariqa  of Sanāʾi  (d. circa 1130). That this work is incomplete, like Ḵan-e Ārezu’s Divān in competitive response to that of Kamāl Ḵojandi, suggests that he invested the greater part of his attention to the “old masters” in commentaries on them rather than in competition with them (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2004-06, p. 22).

2. Juš o ḵoruš (Upwelling and uproar) is a competitive response to Suz o godāz (Burning and melting) by Mollā Moḥammad Reża Nowʿi Ḵabušani (d. 1679-80), a prominent Speaking Anew poet (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-3, p. 50).

3. Suz o sāz (Burning and bearing) is a competitive response to Maḥmud o Ayāz by Zolāli Ḵvānsāri (Ḵan-e Ārezu, 2002-03, p. 50), relating the popular amorous plot of the Ghaznavid Sultan Maḥmud’s love for his slave Abu’l-Najm Ayāz . This text may also have been entitled Suz-e ʿešq (Love’s burning) (Raḥimpur, 2007, p. 342).

4. ʿĀlam-e āb (A world of water), which he dedicated to the ruler of Ahmadnagar  in the Deccan, Neẓām Šāh Borhān II, and composed in the sub-genre of the Sāqi-nāma (address to the cup-bearer) in competitive response to Ẓohuri-e Toršizi’s (fl. 1600s) Sāqi-nāma, is the most famous and much-imitated instance of this sub-genre (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-03, p. 50).

5. Ḡeyrat-e fasāna (The Envy of Stories), which he wrote between 1734 and 1753, is a competitive response to Qażā o qadar by Moḥammad Qoli Salim Ṭehrāni (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-03, pp. 50).

Correspondence.  Ḵān-e Ārezu compiled a collection of his letters in response to those of nobles, calling it Payām-e šawq. This has not been published.

Miscellaneous prose. Ḵān-e Ārezu composed two prose descriptions, one of the Indian festival of Holi called Golzār-e ḵiyal (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-03, pp. 50) and the other of ponds, fountains and fruits entitled Ābru-ye soḵan (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-03, pp. 50). He also authored a prose treatise on the rules of love called Resāla-ye adab-e ʿešq (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-3, pp. 50). Some of Ḵān-e Ārezu’s prefaces and letters may be found in Vārasteh Siyālkoti’s anthology of prose pieces, Ṣefāt-e kāʾenāt (The attributes of creation; Siyālkoti, 1878). With the exception of the last mentioned text, none of these prose texts have been published.


1. Ḵiābān šarḥ-e golestān-e saʿdi (The road: a commentary on Saʿdi’s Golestān): in his childhood Ḵān-e Ārezu began, but only resumed and completed thirty years later, a commentary called Ḵiābān on Saʿdi’s famous prosimetric work on ethical topics, Golestān (1258). In it he supplemented and emended two earlier commentaries from India on the same work by Mollā Nurollāh Aḥrāri and Mollā Saʿid Ṯattawi (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 1996). This commentary also gave him contexts in which to implicitly legitimize Speaking Anew localizations of “linguistic purity” by analogous demonstrations that Saʿdi, too, had construed this originally Arabic trans-temporal and trans-spatial concept and criterion in ways local to Persian. An example of this may be found in Ārezu’s gloss of the word ḵodā (God) as an abbreviation of ḵod-āyanda (the Self-Originating), the Persian translation of the Arabic philosophical term wājeb al-wojud (the Necessary Existent) associated with Muslim Peripatetic philosophy (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 1996, p. 4).

2. Serāj-e vahhāj (The brilliant lamp): a commentary and account of a disputation on the difficulties of a distich by Hafez  (d.1398) whose second hemistich is bāšad ke bāz binim yārān-e āšnā rā (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2004-06, p. 22). That Ḵān-e Ārezu chose to devote a separate, albeit brief, text to this topic signals, like the afore-listed commentary, the commentarial rather than competitive attention directed at poets regarded as “old masters.” This text remains unpublished.

3. Šarḥ-e qaṣāyed-e ʿOrfi (A commentary on the panegyrics of ʿOrfi Širāzi  [d. 1591]): the verses of this early Speaking Anew poet had become the topic of stylistic attack and defense since the seventeenth century. This commentary has not been published.

4. Šarḥ-e gol-e košti-e Mir Nejāt (A commentary on the Gol-e košti of Mir Nejāt): a commentary on a famous maṯnavi expounding wrestling techniques by a Safavid poet called Mir Nejāt-e Esfehani. Towards the end of Ḵān-e Ārezu’s life, a Persian-language poet who grew renowned in the next generation, Mirzā Moḥammad Ḥoseyn Qatil (d. 1817), claimed that it was Vārasteh Siālkuti (d. 1756) who had in fact authored this commentary and that Ḵān-e Ārezu had had it copied and claimed its authorship for himself in his Majmaʿ al-nafāyes. The modern scholar Seyyed Moḥammad Aṣḡar argues against this claim by noting that Nejāt completed his maṯnavi in 1751 after Ḵān-e Ārezu had completed his Majmaʿ, and that Ḵān-e Ārezu only composed his commentary on it between 1753 and 1754. Aṣḡar then infers that it was possibly Qatil’s loyalty towards Ḥazin-e Lāhiji’s end of the stylistic dispute with Ḵān-e Ārezu that led him to invent this charge of literary theft. This was also why, he notes, Qatil wrote a rebuttal of Ḵān-e Ārezu’s attack on Ḥazin’s distiches (Aṣḡar, pp. 58-60). If this imputation is accurate, then it is further evidence that the stylistic dispute between Ḵān-e Ārezu and Ḥazin continued to encode in pre-nationalist ways rival conceptions of literary community and their relations with ethnicity at least up to 1845, when Sheikh Emām Baḵš Ṣahbāʾi composed his criticisms of Ḵān-e Ārezu’s criticisms of Ḥazin’s distiches, calling it Qawl-e Feyṣal (The decisive word).

5. Šarḥ-e zolayḵā (commentary on Zoleyḵā): neither a copy of the commentary nor the work has been traced (Āzād, 1913, p. 224).

6. Šarḥ-e moḵtaṣar al-maʿāni (Commentary on ‘Gist of semantics’): a commentary on Saʿd-al-din Masʿud b. ʿOmar b. ʿAbdallāh al-Taftāzāni’s Arabic textbook by this name, standard in the curricula of the period, on the sub-discipline of semantics. No copy of the commentary has been found (Naqavi, p. 333).

7. Šegufa-zār (Field of buds): a commentary on the first part of the famous and much-imitated maṯnavi Eskandarnāma  (‘Alexander-book’) by Neẓāmi Ganjavi (d. 1209).

8. Šarḥ-e Eskandarnāma (commentary on the Alexander-book): a commentary on the second part of the above-mentioned Eskandarnāma. Here, too, as in his Kiābān, Ḵān-e Ārezu takes issue with points in earlier commentaries on the same text and often refers the reader to his dictionaries and treatises, signaling how coherent in motivation and inter-textual references he conceived his works to be even across decades. This and the aforementioned commentary were published as marginal notes to the 1878 edition of Neẓāmi’s text.


1. Tanbih al-ḡāfelin (Censure to the complacent): a criticism of each distich from a selection of four hundred by Ḥazin. Mostly, Ḵān-e Ārezu criticizes Ḥazin for formulations without authoritative precedent in Persian poetic history, defending his own prescriptions with exempla from the “the old masters” whose poetic authority was beyond dispute (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 1981).

2. Eḥqāq al-ḥaq (Administering justice): a distich-by-distich criticism of four hundred of Ḥazin’s distiches. No freestanding copy of this work seems to have survived,  though extracts of it may be found quoted in Sheikh Emām Baḵš Ṣahbāʾi’s Eʿlāʾ al-ḥaq (Upholding the truth, composed in the mid-19th century), and Fatḥ ʿAli Ḵān Gardizi’s Ebṭāl al-bāṭel (A refutation of errors, composed around 1755); both texts were composed in refutation of Ḵān-e Ārezu’s (Raḥimpur, 2007, p. 345; Aṣḡar, 1990, p. 63).

3. Dād-e soḵan (The equitable judgement of poetry, composed between 1741 and 1750). Mollā Šeydā Fatḥpuri (d. 1632-33) had written a criticism in verse of Moḥammad Jān Qodsi Mašhadi’s  (d. 1646) panegyric to Imam Reżā, Qodsi having been a noted Speaking Anew poet. Abu’l-Barakāt Monir-e Lāhuri (d. 1644), who declared his preference for the style of the “old masters” rather than the “recent ones,” had in turn evaluated and analyzed these criticisms in his rival verse. Ḵān-e Ārezu responded by evaluating the faults and merits of all three, defending the innovations of Speaking Anew. He wrote a preface, three introductions, and a conclusion to this work. The first of these introductions argues that competency in everyday, spoken Persian does not ensure freedom from error in poetic or literary Persian. The second argues that “authoritative innovation” (taṣarrof) in the use of Persian words by trained poets from India was as acceptable as equivalent innovations in the use of Arabic words had been by trained poets from Iran. In his third introduction he elucidates seven interpretive attitudes towards a poetic text based on seven groups of readers, the last and least defective group being poets. Interpretation of poetry that was “in keeping with the temperament of poets” was ideal but was often defective because of ignorance of authoritative poetic precedent. Thus the ideal reader of poetry needed such knowledge of literary history as Ḵān-e Ārezu himself furnished in his dictionaries and commentaries. This introduction thus offers a window onto the hermeneutics and cultural history of reading in his milieu (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 1974, pp. 9-14). These introductions also constitute the most condensed of his arguments in favor of pedagogy rather than ethnicity being the necessary qualification for poetic innovation. They also let us infer the increasing appearance from the mid-17th century onward of ethnicity as a criterion of literary community.

4. Serāj-e monir (A brilliant lamp/A lamp for Monir): a rebuttal of the afore-mentioned Monir-e Lāhuri’s criticisms in his Kārnāma (Chronicle) of the allegedly unprecedented poetic innovations of four early Speaking Anew poets, referring to exemplary precedents by old masters like Hafez, Neẓāmi, and Saʿdi in their defense. The four poets in question were ʿOrfi Širāzi (d. 1590), Ṭāleb-e Āmoli (d. 1626-27), Zolāli-e Ḵvānsāri (1600s) and Ẓohuri-e Toršizi (d.1600s). This work also contains a revealing defense of “semantic derivation” (aḵḏ) in poetry provided it was “based on creative emulation” (min ḥayṯ al-javāb) rather than “based on weakness and literary theft” (min ḥayṯ al-ʿajz wa’l-serqa) (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 1977, pp. 35-36).

5. Naqd bar divān-e Ḥākem-e Lāhuri (Criticisms of the Divān of Hākem-e Lāhuri): this work, apparently no longer extant in a freestanding copy and probably originally known by a title other than this one if any, comprises Ḵān-e Ārezu’s criticisms of Ḥākem-e Lāhuri’s Divān of poems, which the latter had lent him to evaluate (Raḥimpur, 2008, pp. 289-318). As in the aforementioned work, what remains as extracts from this work quoted in Vārasteh Siālkuti’s Javāb-e šāfi (The Decisive Answer, cited in Raḥimpur, 2008, p. 304) and Ḡolām ʿAli Āzād Belgrāmi’s defense of Ḥākem-e Lāhuri in his entry on him in his biographical dictionary, Ḵazāna-ye ʿāmera (The Burgeoning treasury, 1762-63, pp. 201-3) gives us a detailed sense of the logic and quality of poetic innovation Ārezu defended.


1. Serāj al-loḡāt (Lamp for Words): a dictionary, composed in 1734-35, as a guide to the vocabulary of the earliest Persian poets until ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi  (d. 1492). It contains some forty thousand Perso-Arabic words. Aiming to correct perceived errors in Farhang-e rašidi (1654) and Borhān-e qāṭeʿ (1651), two major Persian dictionaries of the previous century, it also culls many of their entries as well as those of other dictionaries. With Ḵān-e Ārezu’s commentaries on the works of “the old masters” like Saʿdi and Neẓāmi, it is an expression of the awareness in this period that the works of the old masters had grown estranged over time and needed commentarial and lexicographic supplements to remain intelligible.

2. Čerāḡ-e hedāyat (Guiding Lamp): a dictionary, forming the second part of the previous dictionary, of some five thousand poetic phrases Ḵān-e Ārezu did not find in the major dictionaries of his time and that were peculiar to the poetry of “the recent masters” or the poets of what he considered his age. Complementing its first part, this dictionary bespeaks the sense of historical newness that Ḵān-e Ārezu and some of his contemporaries shared. This dictionary has been published.

3. Navāder al-alfāẓ (Rare words, 1750): a dictionary Ḵān-e Ārezu authored by emending what he considered the erroneous entries in ʿAbd-al-Vāseʿ Hānsavi’s late 17th-century dictionary Ḡarāyeb al-loḡāt (Strange words) that provided thus far unknown Perso-Arabic glosses of some five thousand words shared by a group of languages (Haryānvi, Braj Bhasha, Urdu, Hindi, Khadiboli) spoken in the region of Delhi, words Ḵān-e Ārezu called “Hindi words” (loḡāt-e hendiya), using “Hendi” here as it was used in Mughal Persian texts to refer to any local Indian language (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2006, p. 24; Ḵān-e Ārezu, 1951). This work and Čerāḡ-e hedāyat both contain passing reflections on the concordance between some Persian and “Hendi words,” suggesting that something of the historical newness Speaking Anew formulated in Persian may have been related to a sense of the burgeoning poetic possibilities in the vernacular languages.

4. Zavāyed al-favāyed (An addition to benefits): a dictionary of Persian infinitives that Ḵān-e Arezu considered relatively unfamiliar. He modeled this work on ʿAbd-al-Vāseʿ Hānsavi’s second and eponymous dictionary Zavāyed al-favāyed (Supplement to Benefits) (Asḡar, 1990, p. 71; Raḥimpur, 2007, pp. 344-45).  This work, too, attests to Ḵān-e Ārezu’s sense of temporal depth with respect to the Persian of the old masters that seemed to him and some of his contemporaries to have grown estranged over time, necessitating such lexicographic updates. This text has not been published.

Linguistic and literary theory.

1. Moṯmer (Fruition): this is Ḵān-e Ārezu’s most conceptually articulated and lengthy exposition of his views on “the principles of the Persian language” (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 1991, p. 1). As such, it formulates the theoretical core of his various other particular engagements with the poetry of others. Ḵān-e Ārezu explicitly modeled this work on al-Mozher (The Flowering) by the philologist of Mamluk Cairo, Jalāl-al-din al-Soyuṭi (d.1505), a study of roughly equivalent topics with respect to the Arabic language. Ārezu divides his work into thirty-eight chapters on such topics as “An Exposition of the Words ‘Fārs’ and ‘Fārsi’,” “Unfamiliar Words That Have Been Established by the Utterances of Master Poets,” “Authoritative Innovations made by Persian-speakers in Arabic and Hindi,” “On the Outlandish and Strange,” and so forth. The burden of this work is to demonstrate the pedagogically attained equality of ideal speaking subjects of poetic Persian. To this end, he demonstrates that the contents of the trans-temporal and trans-spatial criteria of Persian linguistic purity had always varied across pedagogically trained speakers in each period and from period to period.

In this sense, his works written across decades, notwithstanding their more short-term motivations, complement each other as literary theory, its evidentiary base in literary history and poetry emboldened by both. Moṯmer and Mawhebat-e ʿoẓmā constitute Ḵān-e Ārezu’s explicitly conceptual and historicizing analyses of linguistic purity.

2. ʿAṭiya-ye kobrā (The great gift): this comprises the first exposition in the Persian language, as Ḵān-e Ārezu proudly notes, of “the science of metaphorics” (ʿelm al-bayān), one of the three standard sub-disciplines in Arabic of the discipline of “linguistic efficiency” (balāḡat) and devoted to an analysis of linguistic reference through varieties of metaphor (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-03, p. 51).

3. Mowhebat-e ʿoẓmā (The great gift): this comprises the first exposition in Persian, as Ḵān-e Ārezu again notes, of “the science of semantics” (ʿelm al-maʿāni) (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-03, p. 186). This and the previous work exemplify at the level of literary theory the temporality of Ḵān-e Ārezu’s relations with literary history, since they are based, like Moṯmer, on long-authoritative medieval Arabic textbooks on their topics which, in being explicitly invoked here as models, allow Ḵān-e Ārezu to authorize the innovations of Speaking Anew as retrievals from medieval Arabic. They also conceptualize what Speaking Anew poetry reveals at a stylistic level, namely that poetic innovation in this period consisted more in the invention of new metaphors and complex syntactical forms rather than in new figures of speech as in the past.

4. Meʿyār al-afkār (The touchstone of thought): apparently a study of Persian syntax and grammar (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2002-03, p. 50). No copy of this work appears to have survived.

Biographical dictionary.

Majmaʿ al-nafāyes (Gathering of souls, 1750-51): Ḵān-e Ārezu’s only biographical dictionary (taḏkera). It comprises alphabetically arranged entries on 1,735 poets, old, middle and recent. Ḵān-e Ārezu says that he intended this text primarily as an anthology of his favorite poetry and so expended relatively little effort on gathering biographical information on the poets he includes entries on (Ḵān-e Ārezu, 2004-06, p. 38). This text explicitly defines his ideal of literary community by its inclusions and exclusions, revealing that, despite the several Hindu men he counted as his students in poetry and philology and his laudatory entries on some of them in this text, this vision of his ideal community mostly comprised Muslim men, whether Indian, Iranian, or Central Asian, of noble descent.

Ḵān-e Ārezu’s legacy. Ḵān-e Ārezu died only a year before what popular Indian historiography considers the formal beginning of British colonialism, the Battle of Plassey of 1757. This date also marks one possible beginning of the end of the governmental life of Persian in India, as it came to be displaced over the next century by Urdu and then English. Ḵān-e Ārezu’s historicization of the conceptual constituents of literary purity and his defenses of Speaking Anew were remembered in Urdu not so much as formal lessons in literary theory as authoritative, scholarly validations, from Persian’s trans-local perspective, of the aesthetic locality of Speaking Anew stylistics in the Urdu ḡazal. Ironically, Ḵān-e Ārezu’s defense of such locality in Speaking Anew Persian poetry was followed by what the modern scholar Shamsur Rahman Faruqi has characterized as a loss of confidence among Indians with respect to Persian from the early 19th century onward (Faruqi, pp. 3-30), leading to a privileging of Persian phonemic traits in Urdu and thus to the marginalization from this date onward in Urdu literary culture of Braj-inflected Dakkani or South Indian Urdu literature because of its preponderance of retroflex and other non-Persianate phonemes. Among Ḵān-e Ārezu’s legatees in Urdu was his estranged step-nephew Mir Taqi-e Mir (d. 1810), canonized as one of the two greatest poets of classical Urdu. In Iran, the early 20th-century consolidation of a national literary canon rendered Ḵān-e Ārezu’s oeuvre “homeless” (Tavakoli-Targhi, pp. 1-15), though dictionaries authored by his students under his supervision such as Ānand Rām Moḵles’s Merāʾt al-eṣṭelāḥ (Mirror of Terms) came to be cited in nationalist lexicographical projects like ʿAli Akbar Dehḵodā’s Loḡatnāma. That Ḵān-e Ārezu’s own poetry remains mostly unpublished is a sign of the scholarly, rather than literary, nature of his reception. However, this, like any hermeneutic state of affairs, could change. As more of his unpublished or long out-of-print works and works by his respondents come to be edited and published in Iran, Pakistan,and India, they are likely to refine our understanding of Persianate literary culture of the 18th century and his place therein.




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Idem, Tanbih al-ḡāfilin, ed. M. A. Ekrām, Lahore, 1981.

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Idem, Ḵiābān: šarḥ-e Golestān-e Saʿdi, ed. M. N. M. Ḵān, Islamabad, 1996.

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Moḥammad Ḥoseyn Āzād, Āb-e ḥayāt: yaʿni mašāhir-e šoʿarā-ye ordu ke savāneḥ ʿomri aur maḏkur ki ʿahd ba ʿahd ki taraqqiyoṇ aur islāḥoṇ kā bayān, Lahore, 1907.

Ḡolām ʿAli Belgrāmi, Ḵazāna-ye ʿāmera, Kanpur, 1900.

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Idem, “Resāla-e vāqe‘āt-e Iran va hend,” in Rasā’el-e Ḥazin-e Lāhiji, Tehran, 1998.

Dargāh Qoli Ḵān Ḏo’l-Qadr, Moraqqaʿ-e Dehli, Hyderabad, n.d.; ed. and tr. into Urdu by Ḵaliq Anjum, New Delhi, 1993.

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Idem, Javāb-e šāfi, ed. S. Šamisā, Tehran, 2004.



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S. Chandra, Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court: 1707–1740, New Delhi, 2002.

Faruqi, S., “Unprivileged Power: the Strange Case of Persian (and Urdu) in Nineteenth Century India,” Annual of Urdu Studies, 13, 1998, pp. 3-30.

S. R. Faruqi, “The Need for a New and Comprehensive Persian Literary Theory,” at http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00fwp/srf/srf_persianlittheory_2009.pdf

 (last accessed on 4 March 2012).

R. Ḵātun, Aḥvāl o āsār-e Serāj-al-din ʿAli Ḵān-e Ārezu, New Delhi, 1987.

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(Prashant Keshavmurthy)

Originally Published: October 9, 2012

Last Updated: October 9, 2012