Lyrics of Shahnameh

The version of the Shahnameh that the Bakhtiari sing as a lamentation is totally different from the existing version of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. The traditional singers choose some part of the text of the original Shahnameh and add new verses in the beginning, middle or the end of their singing. The singers normally have a notebook where they note the parts of the Shahnameh that are popular amongst the Bakhtiari. Then they create new texts in the form and style of the Shahnameh regarding the personal characteristics of the deceased, his tribe and his faith or information that the family of the deceased gives them. In these new lyrics of the Shahnameh we can understand and find the notion of the hero and heroism. In these kinds of lamentations we can always recognise the trace of the existing Shahnameh.

Bakhtiari Shahnameh recitation as lamentation, performed by Master B. Ahmadi, funeral ritual of a male Bakhtiari, inside a local mosque, Masjid Suleyman, Khuzestan, Iran, June 2003 © P.Khosronejad

The Bakhtiari’s Shahnameh lamentation lyrics mostly describe scenes which are very prominent in tradition. It should be mentioned that the nomadic way of life inevitably created certain responsibilities for the men of the tribe, which have become fixed in the society’s mentality, including the supervision of the tribe’s affairs, defending the women and children against wild animals, thieves and highwaymen, and taking care of the cattle. Scenes of war, such as those of the pahlavans (heroes) and khans (chiefs) of the tribes with enemies, wild animals and nature are the most popular subjects of Shahnamehkhani. As we are within the context of the funeral tradition and ceremony, one should expect that in the end our hero will die. The lyrics talk about or with the deceased (pahlavans, khans) and sometimes there is a very impressive dialogue between the singer and the deceased.

The Bakhtiari’s Shahnamehkhani helps to bring families and clans closer together and to strengthen the social group. The social function of Shahnamehkhani rites is not limited to the death of individuals, and these cultural practices produce a high level of emotion, and reinforce the attachments that hold society together. They give  the Bakhtiari a comforting sense of immortality, while at the same time reassembling the group that has been temporarily disrupted by the death of one of its members.

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