KĀR-NĀMA-YE BALḴ, a short maṯnavi by Sanāʾi of Ghazna (d. 1131), containing panegyric as well as satirical verses addressed to, or describing, people from various layers of Ghaznavid society. As in his other maṯnavis, Sanāʾi uses the meter ḵafif-e mosaddas-e maḥḏuf in the Kār-nāma. The presence of a strong element of satire in the poem accounts for the alternative title, Moṭāyeba-nāma (Book of satire), used in some manuscripts, although it is certainly not the original title.

This poem—the first that Sanāʾi wrote in the maṯnavi form—is a topical work written shortly after he had left Ghazna (see ḠAZNI) to seek new patrons at Balḵ (Balkh), which was at the time within the Saljuq domain. As most of the persons eulogized in the poem were living in the Ghaznavid capital, the poet’s intention could have been to prepare the ground for an eventual return there. The exact date of its composition is not known, but the terminus ante quem must be 1115, the year of the death of Sultan Masʿud (III) b. Ebrāhim, who is the first person praised in the poem. Belonging to the genre of topical poetry, it bears similarities with a few other works written in the same meter by Sanāʾi’s contemporaries, and in particular with an untitled maṯnavi by Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān (d. 1121) describing, in a similar vein, the court of the Ghaznavid viceroy at Lahore (Divān II, pp. 787-817; de Bruijn, pp. 196-200). These poems all share a common concern with important matters in the professional careers of the poets themselves.

Availing himself of a device often used in poems couched in an epistolary mold, Sanāʾi begins by invoking the services of the wind, urging it to return to Ghazna to survey the society that the poet has just left behind. The panorama is arranged according to the social status of the persons described (cf. de Bruijn, pp. 39-56 for a detailed account). It opens with the praise of the Ghaznavid Sultan and the princes of his house; followed by that of the offi - cials serving in the administrative offices of the realm, the Divān. The poem then moves to the parade ground, the meydān, of the Ghaznavid army and its commanders, and then proceeds to mention the eunuchs of the palace. One of the officials Sanāʾi addresses directly is Ṯeqat-al-Molk Ṭāher b. ʿAli, the head of the Sultan’s department of correspondence (divān-e rasāʾel/enšāʾ) and one of the poet’s most important patrons in his early years. His plea, the most poignantly personal lines in the poem, is on behalf of Sanāʾi’s own father,  dam, beseeching the dedicatee to take the old man under his care. The survey continues with the depiction of representatives of the religious establishment. Several of these had already been recipients of his panegyrics in the early years of his career in Ghazna.

In contrast to the high praise heaped upon these theologians, jurists, and preachers, the lower clergy from the countryside and Sufi impostors (in particular a group of female devotees) are severely chastised, though the latter are clearly distinguished from the true seekers of the  mystical path. Of special interest is Sanāʾi’s description of the literary scene, which he ironically calls “the world of the soul” (ʿĀlam-e ruḥ). This section culminates in the depiction of a banquet attended by poets, among whom praise and satire are distributed evenhandedly. The names of most of these poets are not recorded elsewhere, with the exception of the ʿAlid poet Šaraf-al-Din Moḥammad Nāṣer, whom Sanāʾi singles out reverently as “a candle amongst the descendants of the Prophet.” Sanāʾi wrote a panegyric to him; and a qaṣida by Moḥammad Nāṣer himself is cited in ʿAwfi’s anthology Lobāb al-albāb (II, pp. 267-70; see also de Bruijn, p. 56; de Blois, V, pp. 420-21). The lines containing the name of the well-known poet ʿOṯmān Moḵtāri of Ghazna (d. after 1119) occurring in the printed text, is undoubtedly a spurious insertion (cf. Maṯnavihā-ye ḥakim Sanāʾi, pp. 168-69). Many of these minor poets were probably Sanāʾi’s professional rivals during the early stages of his career. Following this sketch, Sanāʾi relates his perilous journey north over the Hindu Kush and the problems he encounters in this new environment in search of a suitable patron until he eventually encounters a certain ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid, an otherwise unknown figure, to whom the poem is finally addressed.

The length of the Kār-nāma-ye Balḵ varies substantially in the different manuscripts containing Sanāʾi’s poems. As no critical edition of the text has yet been established, the number of lines cannot be given exactly. The oldest extant copy, preserved in the Istanbul manuscript Bağdatlı Vehbi (No. 1672, dated 552/1157), has 433 lines, which is probably close to the original length. In spite of its brevity, the poem can be regarded as a significant specimen of topical poetry offering an interesting view of a medieval court poet at the outset of his career, as well as providing, more specifically, a key document for the biography of Sanāʾi himself.



Moḥammad ʿAwfi, Lobāb al-albāb, 2 vols., ed. E. G. Browne and M. Qazvini, London and Leiden, 1903-06.

François de Blois, Persian Literature. A Bio-bibliographical Survey V, London, 1994.

J. T. P. de Bruijn, Of Piety and Poetry: The Interaction of Religion and Literature in the Life and Works of Hakim Sanaʾi of Ghazna, Leiden, 1983.

Ḥakim Majdud b.  Ādam Sanāʾi, Maṯnavihā-ye ḥakim Sanāʾi, ed. Moḥammad-Taqi Modarres Rażawi, Tehran, 1969, pp. 142-78 (unsatisfactory critical edition).

Idem, Kolliyāt-e ašʿār, Kabul, 1978, pp. 256-76 (facsimile ed. of an old ms. in the Kabul Museum).

Masʿud-e Saʿd, Divān, ed. Mehdi Nuriān, 2 vols., Isfahan, 1985.

(J. T . P. de Bruijn)

Originally Published: December 15, 2011

Last Updated: April 24, 2012

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