Shajarian the King of Iranian Avaz

  January 17, 2024   Read time 3 min
Shajarian the King of Iranian Avaz
Mohammad Reza Shajarian was born in Mashhad on September 23, 1 940. He grew up in a family of religious singers and became a child prodigy of Qur'an recitation, performing live before large audiences and in his later teens on local radio broadcasts.

He pursued the autodidactic study of avaz while working as a school teacher in Mashhad before heading to Tehran in 1967, where he studied with a range of prominent, senior masters and became a regular artist on national radio and television programs through the 1970s. Shajarian became the top classicial artist in Iran in the period following the 1979 Revolution, developing his mature style and making a series of brilliant and highly successful cassette albums. He began touring regularly outside Iran in the late 1980s in ever widening geographical circles. Coupling his touring with the release of wide-distribution CDs on Western labels, his profile was truly global through the 1990s and 2000s, when he received prestigious awards and distinctions from various global organizations, and his audience expanded beyond that of the Iranian diaspora.

The historical and functional roots of contemporary avaz (though not its present style) lie in the great tradition of Persian classical poets, extending from Rudaki (ninth/tenth century) through Jami (fifteenth century) and continuing into modern times. Viewed crossculturally and historically, the legacy of this poetic tradition is without equal in the field of world literature in terms of both quality and quantity. The strong tradition of Sufism throughout Iranian history and the intrinsic flexibility of the Persian language are key factors in forging the remarkable poetic genius of the Iranian people. Poetry often had an exterior courtly function but has been and is still appreciated by people of all walks of life throughout the centuries, functioning simultaneously on various levels according to the multiple layers of meaning (iham) woven into it and an individual's subjective perception.


Among other things, Persian poetry is a form of innocuous diversion or escape, an art form of aesthetic beauty and inspiration, a venue for individual artistic expression, and an emotional outlet for both the author and audience. It is a platform for social commentary, political critique, and resistance, a tool for propaganda, a means of flattery and elite patronage, a commodity for entrepreneurship and possible income. This poetry functions as a source of erotica, a conduit for narrating stories, myths and history, a promoter of moral-ethical principles, a personal oracle, a transmitter of wisdom, religious doctrine, and mystical knowledge. It is also a fertile springboard for creating music, as well as a source of shared metacultural identity amongst a diverse multicultural complex of Iranian peoples and those within their sphere of influence, which comprises the vast stretch of Eurasia wherein Persian poetry has been revered and cultivated.

The word adab entails a variety of things and is variously defined as: "literary humanism"; that which is "concerned with the etiquette of being human" ; or as the "ideal refmement of thought, word, and deed", the latter triad has deep Iranian roots, resonating with ancient Zoroastrian tenets. Dabashi maintains that as an important medium of adab, the tradition of Persian poetry and prose constitute a primary common denominator unifYing the great diversity of cultures-from Central Asia, India, China, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan to the furthest outreaches of the Ottoman empire and sub-Saharan Africa-that make up the abstract, politicallyconstructed boundaries of "Persian" identity, the imagined community of Iran.

Indeed, Anderson's seminal study identifying this sense of imagined community as being integral to nationalism notes that ''there is a special kind of contemporaneous community which language alone suggests-above all in the form of poetry and songs". The great post-Enlightenment rise ofNew World and later European nationalism was due in large part to the rise of vernacular languages and their mediation via print capitalism. But in Iran adab, especially in the form of poetry both memorized and in manuscript, had already been serving the purpose of linking a heterogeneous, spatially dispersed group of people for many centuries.

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