Poetry and Families

Preliminary reflections on the Divan of Muhammad Kujuji (788/1386)      [DYNTRAN WORKING PAPER 16, September 2016]

By Christoph WERNER

Placing poetry and families side by side evokes the idea of kin groups of writers, poets and literary artists whether brothers, sisters or other close relatives: in modern European literature the Brontë sisters or the Mann family easily come to mind. With regard to specimens of classical Persian literature, the tazkira genre of biographically arranged anthologies offers many examples of professional and amateur poets who are bound to each other not only through professional, geographical or confessional ties and networks, but who are also directly related to each other.

The following reflections, however, attempt to move one step further and try to look at poetry as a tool to forge family identity on various levels, as well as to create and shape forms of authority. Poetry thus is much more than elegant and well-crafted literature; it is an additional quality that shapes links of power, authority and culture between extended family units. This is particular true for all forms of panegyric poetry; still, the borderlines between genres might become blurred, especially when it comes to mystically inspired poetry, as is the case for many poets of the 8th/14th century.

Two families in Azerbaijan, with its political centre Tabriz, shared a particularly close relationship during this time. The Jalayirids, as one of several post-mongol dynasties and ruling families in the second half of the 14th century, were both politically successful and avid patrons of the arts. The Kujujis have been characterized as a mystic order (Gronke 1993), and more recently as a religious movement and a wide-spread family unit which was able to transform their origins and background from rural Sufism into political and economic power, wealth and prestige (Werner, Zakrzewski, Tillschneider 2013). The Jalayirids and the Kujujis, to their mutual benefit, formed an intimate symbiosis on the local and regional level.

The respective heads of these two families were Shaykh Uvays Jalayir (d. 776/1374) and Shaykh Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Kujuji (d. 795/1393). The proximity they obviously felt towards each other was expressed nevertheless inside the existing hierarchies. Shaykh Uvays was a powerful military leader with an acknowledged turco-mongol lineage and ancestry, exercising hegemony over a territory that stretched over large parts of Western Iran, Anatolia and Iraq, connecting the cities of Tabriz and Baghdad at the same time. During his lifetime he could also rely on his three sons, who further epitomized the perception of the Jalayirids as a ruling family. Partly because of their tribal background, the Jalayirids were not deeply involved in the urban fabric of Tabriz, their nominal capital. For this they relied strongly on local notables such as the Kujuji shaykhs.

Shaykh Muhammad Kujuji had been able to build on the spiritual heritage of his ancestor, a rural Sufi master from the village of Kujuj or Kujaj, who had been a contemporary to Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili, the founder of the Safavid order in the 13th century. His impressive charisma had helped him to acquire followers and teach his own brand of mystic philosophy (Lewisohn 1996), but only his descendants managed to turn this capital into worldly gains. Already the father of Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Kujuji, Ibrahim Kujuji, had acquired large landed estates and urban properties, and his son continued this tradition, finally establishing a large mosque-madrasa-khanaqah complex in Tabriz that was very well endowed.

Muhammad Kujuji’s relationship with Shaykh Uvays emulated a Sufi master-disciple relationship; in fact the sources report that he was present at the ruler’s death bed and that he acted as his counsellor and privy on numerous occasions. Thus, Shaykh Uvays addressed him as “my father” in the legal attestations of the impressive Kujuji vaqf deed from 782/1380, and while this is to a certain degree a rhetorical convention, it still can be taken as a powerful symbolic statement. This closeness was also expressed in Shaykh Kujujis poetry, most of it of panegyric content, dedicated to Shaykh Uvays.

The love for poetry, especially of the courtly type with mystic undertones, is an interesting addition to the character of Shaykh Uvays and finds a continuation in the patronage to book art and miniatures exercised by his son Shaykh Ahmad Jalayir who also composed a large divan of his own. The most prominent court poet under the Jalayirids was undoubtedly Salman Savaji, whose masterful panegyric poems praising Shaykh Uvays set a high standard and were instrumental in promoting Jalayirid dynastic legitimacy and ideology (Wing 2016, p. 136-39).

Shaykh Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Kujuji’s poetry, in contrast, has received rather varied reviews. The best known evaluation of him as a poet stems from the anthology by Dawlatshah Samarqandi, who cites one of his appealing, mystically inspired ghazals and lauds him in his biographical entry as a mystic and scholar (‘arif, muhaqqiq, salik) who has lived during the lifetime of Shaykh Uvays and his son Sultan Husayn. He also mentions his flourishing, splendid convent (khanaqah) and anachronistically attributes the office of Tabriz’s shaykh al-islam to him (Dawlatshah Samarqandi, p. 310). Much more sceptical, and mocking the poetic talent of Shaykh Muhammad Kujuji is the report given by the historian Mirkhvand about a famous Dichterwettstreit that took place in 778/1376. The Muzaffarid ruler Shah Shuja had just conquered Tabriz and decided to stay over the winter. On his invitation, the notables and poets of the city gathered and presented him specimens of their literary production. The panegyric qasidas by the former Jalayirid court poet Khvaja Salman Savaji were particularly well received by Shah Shuja‘ who still appreciated the poems by Yusuf Shah, but found the work by Muhammad Kujuji rather mediocre (Mirkhvand, 2:756).

In fact it has been difficult to verify Shah Shuja‘s judgement, since very little of Shaykh Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Kujuji’s poetic oeuvre has been available for perusal. While the literary talents of Salman Savaji are beyond doubt and his impressive divan is readily available, the same is not true for Muhammad Kujuji. Muhammad ‘Ali Tarbiyat in his dictionary of famous scholars and poets from Azerbayjan had reported that a had seen the divan of Shaykh Kujuj-i Tabrizi in the Rashid Efendi library in Istanbul (Tarbiyat 1935, p. 290).  This divan was said to be dated to the year 787/1385 and to contain panegyric qasidas in praise of Shaykh Uvays, with a total size of more 10,000 verses. Since 1935, however, nobody has had a chance to take a closer look at this manuscript.

Manuscripts can disappear, but they can also resurface, and in the case of the divan of Shaykh Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Kujuji it is good news that this manuscript did not get lost and that the poetry of Khvaja Shaykh Kujuji can now receive the praise or critique it deserves (I am indebted to Arham Moradi for his help in locating this manuscript and his valuable comments on this working paper). The manuscript is now kept as part of the Reşid Efendi collection of the Süleymaniye Yazma Eser Kütüphanesi, under the old registration no. of 771. It contains 123 numbered folios and is written in a crude early form of nasta’liq. The manuscript is dated 10 Zi al-qa‘da 788 (=11th December 1386), and thus stems from the lifetime of the author. Whether this is indeed the manuscript reportedly seen by Tarbiyat cannot ultimately be decided. The date is close to the one given by Tarbiyat, but the number of bayts is clearly less: with approximately ten verses on a page, we arrive at a very rough estimate of perhaps 2.500 bayts for this divan. The penname (takhallus) used in the divan is that of Kujuj (sometimes also Kujuji) and what follows is a preliminary look at this collection.

The colophon of the manuscript reads as follows:

تمّت دیوان شیخ الاسلام الاعظم الاعلم قدوة المحقّقین سلطان المشایخ فی العالمین غیاث الحقّ والدنیا‌ والدین مغیث الاسلام والمسلمین خواجه شیخ الکججی خلد الله تعالی ظلال عاطفته علی العالمین حرّره العبد الضعیف المذنب المحتاج الی رحمت الله تعالی حسین بن حیدر بن محمود المکّی فی یوم الاثنین عاشر ذی القعده سنه ثمان و ثمانین و سبعمایه الهلالیه.

The divan of the greatest and most learned shaykh al-islam, a model of scholars, sultan of shaykhs in all worlds, Ghiyath al-haqq va-l-dunya va-l-Din, aid to Islam and muslims alike, Khvaja Shaykh al-Kujuji, may God the exalted eternally uphold the shade of his affection over the creation, has reached its end; this has been written by the humble servant, the sinner who is in need of the clemency of God the exalted, by Husayn b. Haydar b. Mahmud al-Makki on Monday, 10 Zi al-qa‘da 788 (11th December 1386).

Fig. 1: The colophon of Ms Reşid Efendi 771, “Divan-i Kujuj”, dated 788 h.q.


Whether this divan can be regarded as a representative collection of Muhammad Kujuji’s poetic works is difficult to decide. The famous ghazal quoted by Dawlatshah Samarqandi (Ma dar ghamat ba shadi-yi jan baz nangarim) at least is not included (Werner 2015, p. 87-88). A closer comparison with the selection of poems by Shaykh Muhammad Kujuji reproduced in the monumental collection Khulasat al-ashar by Mir Taqi al-Din Kashani from the Safavid period (Bashari 2010) will certainly prove useful.

The divan now at our disposal begins with two poems in praise of God and the prophet, moving on to a number of smaller poetic fragments (qitas) on basic religious and mystic key concepts that can be read as a didactic masnavi. They carry titles such as “Explaining the attachment of the lower soul to the body(Fi bayan taalluq al-nafs bi-l-badan, folio 7v) or “The glory of divine knowledge” (Fi sharaf al-marifat, folio 11v). The apparent banality of some of his statements, emphasize the didactic intention and use of these stanzas, the latter example begins with the verse:

اشرف علم علم معرفت است           وانک دارد بلند منزلت است

The noblest science is the science of divine knowledge – whoever possesses it, has reached a high mystic station

This mystic-didactic excursus also functions as an introduction to the main theme of Kujuj’s divan, praise of the Jalayirid ruler Shaykh Uvays. On folio 12v begins the panegyric section devoted to him under the heading Fi mada’ih al-sultan al-maghfur, anara Allah burhanahu mu’azzan, clearly remembering the praised ruler as deceased. Most of the following poems graphically mark and emphasize the verse that contains the name of the mamduh, which allows for a quick scan of epithets of praise. Thus the first poem points out Shaykh Uvays as follows:

معز دولت و دین ظل کردگار اویس          که کوس دولتش از مصر تا خطا زده‌اند

Who honours state and belief, the Shadow of God, Uvays – the drums of his dominion resound from Egypt to China (f. 13r)

Further examples reiterate similar constructions:

شهریار مملکت سلطان اویس             آنک در مدحش روان آمد قلم

The ruler of the realm, Sultan Uvays – the pen became fluent in his praise (f. 37v)

سلطان معز دنیا و دین شیخ اویس آنک             از سعی اوست ملت اسلام‌ را نظام

The Sultan, who honours world and belief, Shaykh Uvays – through his endeavours order came to the nation of Islam (f. 39v)

A longer section (folio 43r-112r) contains short ghazals of usually seven bayts, with varying, but dominantly mystic themes. At the end of this collection, as already standard in the structure of a divan at this time, we find a selection of his quatrains (rubaiyat, folio 117v-122r). Interspersed are also some couplets of fahlaviyat (thanks to Arham Moradi for pointing this out).

Interesting is a distinct selection of poems that apparently constitutes both a posthumous poetical dialogue between Shayh Ghiyath al-Din Kujuji and Shaykh Uvays as well as rather personal and sentimental remembrances of a friendship lost (folio 112v-117r). Striking is the insertion of several ghazals composed by Shaykh Uvays himself, under the pen name of ‘Shaykh Uvays’, which are framed (and answered?) by ghazals written by Shaykh Kujuji. This inclusion evokes on first glance that of an intimate conversation between two poetic friends, which is enhanced by the closing poem that laments the silence which ensued after the passing of Sultan Uvays (also Tarbiyat, p, 289), beginning with the verse:

بعد دارای جهان سلطان معز الدین اویس       بر کجج یکبارگی شد بسته ابواب سخن

After the ruler of the world Sultan Mu‘izz al-Din Uvays – the doors of discourse were suddenly closed  on Kujuj (f. 117r)

Fig. 2: The heading of a ghazal by Shaykh Uvays in the Divan-i Kujuj, folio 113r
Fig. 2: The heading of a ghazal by Shaykh Uvays in the Divan-i Kujuj, folio 113r


In conclusion and to return to the question of families and poetry, the comparison between the professional court poet Salman Savaji and the lay poet, Sufi master and political advisor Muhammad Kujuji points at one crucial difference. Savaji gained his recognition, income and reputation from his poetic proficiency and adeptness, Shaykh Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Kujuji, in contrast, was able to build his influence on what his family had achieved over several generations in the local urban context of Tabriz. There is no immediate need to rank the quality and ingeniousness of Shaykh Kujuji’s poetry. For him, poetry – perhaps in addition to independent literary inclinations – was a supplementary social and political tool to strengthen the link between two families, the Kujujis and the Jalayirids. With his pen name Kujuj he successfully inscribed his family name into the dynastic family tradition of the Jalayirids.

Christoph Werner (September 2016)

Quoted Bibliography:

  • Bashari, Javad, “Divān-i sarayandagan-i qadim dar dastnivis-i taza‘i az Khulasat al-ashar,” Ayina-i Pazhuhish, no. 120, 1388 (2010), p. 2-31.
  • Daulatshah Samarqandi, Amir b. ‘Alā’ al-Daula Bakhtishah, The Tadhkiratu ‘sh-Shu’rá’ (“Memoirs of the Poets”), ed. Edward G. Browne, London: Luzac, 1901.
  • Gronke, Monika, Derwische im Vorhof der Macht: Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte Nordwestirans im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart: Steiner, 1993.
  • Lewisohn, Leonard, “Palasi’s Memoir of Shaykh Kujuji, a Persian Sufi Saint of the Thirteenth Century,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series 6 (1996), p. 345-366.
  • Mirkhvand, Muhammad b. Khvand Shah Balkhi, Rauzat al-safa, ed. ‘Abbas Zaryab, 6 vols. in 2, Tihran: ‘Ilmi, 1375 (1996).
  • Savaji, Salman, Kulliyat-i Salman Savaji, ba tajdid-i nazar-i kulli va afzudan-i qasida-i masnu ba nuskha-ha-yi jadid, ed. ‘Abbas‘ali Vafayi, Tihran: Sukhan, 1389 (2010).
  • Tarbiyat, Muhammad ‘Alī, Danishmandan-i Azarbayjan, Tihran 1314 (1935).
  • Werner, Christoph, Vaqf en Iran: Aspects culturels, religieux et sociaux, Paris: Association pour l’avancement des études iraniennes, 2015
  • Werner, Christoph, Daniel Zakrzewski, Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, Die Kugugī-Stiftungen in Tabriz: Ein Beitrag zur Geschiche der Galayiriden, Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2013.
  • Wing, Patrick, The Jalayirids: Dynastic State Formation in the Mongol Middle East, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
To quote this publication:

Werner, Christoph, “Poetry and Families: Preliminary reflections on the Divan of Muhammad Kujuji (788/1386)”, DYNTRAN Working Papers, n° 16, online edition, September 2016, available at: http://dyntran.hypotheses.org/1542


Cite this blog post
Sandra Aube (2016, September 27). Poetry and Families. DYNTRAN: Dynamics of Transmission. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://dyntran.hypotheses.org/1542

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.