The tragic life-story of King Khosrau Parvez – part 6

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Roj Gosh Mah Dae, 1381 Yz.

In the meanwhile, the deposed king passed the one month cleansing his soul, offering payers to the Almighty who had raised him so high and now broken him. Despite all the luxuries and servants available to him, Khosrau Parvez remained closeted with his wife Shirin, only eating the food that was lovingly cooked by her.

As this sorry state of events continued, there were a few members of the court of Khosrau Parvez who still remembered their real King and his large hearted rule. One of these was the great musician Barbad, the Jahromi. This amazingly gifted musician maybe regarded as the Tansen of Khosrau Parvez’s court. His beginnings were, however, very humble. In the early years of the King’s reign, the court musician was a person called Sargash who was an accomplished artist. However, Barbad had a natural talent and virtuosity which was unrivalled. When Sargash heard Barbad playing, he realized that if ever the King heard him, his own position in the court would be in danger. So he bribed the guards at the palace door to ensure that Barbad was never allowed entry to the King’s court. In this way, despite many attempts, Barbad could not have access to the King’s ear.

There was a gardener of the King’s court who took pity on Barbad. He confided to him that the King would visit a particular garden in the palace complex on the occasion of Navroze. The two hatched a plan and Barbad dressed up in completely green clothes to hide himself. He then climbed a tall and dense cypress tree in the garden where the King was expected, along with his beloved Tanbur (a stringed, long stemmed harp). The gardener ensured that the royal party was seated near the tree. As night fell and the festivities started, Barbad began to play the harp from the hidden confines of the cypress. As the beautiful notes reached the King’s ear, he was astounded at their musical genius and lyricism. [The beautifully illustrated Shah Nameh manuscript below shows the scene, with the tall cypress tree and Barbad hidden in it with his Tanbur. The King is shown seated under the Royal Canopy. Illustrated manuscripts like these are today worth millions of dollars. A greedy collector bought such a manuscript and to the horror of all Shah Nameh lovers, broke it apart and sold each illustrated page for more than what he had paid for the entire manuscript!]

As the King’s courtiers tried to find out who was playing the instrument, Sargash, who was present there tried to placate the King by saying that perhaps nature itself was playing for the King on this important day! Hearing this false flattery, Barbad immediately changed the tune and began playing a warrior song! Now the King became aware that something was up. The guards were handed lamps and they went around the complex but could still not find the hidden one. Soon thereafter, Barbad began playing a popular tune called ‘green within green’. The King could no longer hold himself and exclaimed: ‘find this genius so that I may fill his mouth and lap with jewels and make him the court musician.’

On hearing the King’s words, Barbad descended from the cypress tree and revealed himself, bowing down before the King and asking for mercy as he explained the reason for his having entered the palace complex in this manner. The King scolded Sargash for his dishonesty and appointed Barbad as the King of the court’s musicians. Under King Khosrau Parvez’s patronage, Barbad displayed his true genius. He totally revolutionized Iranian music by arranging its order and melody based on the Zoroastrian calendar. Thus there were seven main ‘Royal Modes’ (Khosrovani, or Thaat in Hindustani classical music) named after the 7 Amesha Spentas (the first seven days of the Zoroastrian calendar). From these seven, 30 derivative melodies (called Lahn, equivalent to Indian Ragas) were derived, corresponding to the 30 Roj of the Zoroastrian calendar. Further 360 lyrical melodies (called Dastan) were derived from the Lahn. Much of modern Persian music is still derived from this ancient musical system. In this manner, the 38 years of glorious rule of King Khosrau Parvez were marked with great celebrations and concerts in which Barbad was the center of attention.

Now, as the King lay under house arrest and the weakling Shirooy was seated on the throne of Iran, a great bitterness and sorrow arose in Barbad’s heart. He was filled with melancholy that the royal Patron who had supported him for so many years was now reduced to this status. Barbad’s undying love and affection for Khosrau Parvez was so intense that the musician could no longer bear to enter the court of the weakling King. He wandered away from the court, and after a few day’s travels arrived at the palace of Mahrespand, where Khosrau Parvez was imprisoned with his wife Shirin.

Standing outside the palace and taking his beloved Tanbur in his hand, Barbad began singing one of the most melancholic dirges he had composed, in the Pahlavi language. ‘O King of Kings! Where is your majestic court and your dignity! Where your lustrous Khoreh and your amazing fate! Where is your Royal Crown and the Kayanian cummerbund? Where has your strong muscular body and amazing strength disappeared, with which you ruled over the entire empire with such an iron fist! Why is your luminous court and the glittering harem today filled with darkness? Where are your ungrateful musicians, who used to sing and play with such outstanding beauty in your days of glory? Where is your magnificent robe, studded with diamonds and rubies, where is that stately horse Shabdiz without whom you would never ride out to battle? Where is it all gone, what has happened to our country? Where are the lakhs of battle hardened soldiers and the thousands of elephants and horses? Is there no one to speak in favour of my King? O what secrets does Time hold in her bosom – propelling one from the dirt to the highest levels and then reducing them to dirt again!

‘O citizens of Iran! Listen to these words of mine! When the King of Kings is treated this way, what future do we all have? Do not therefore be overjoyed by your little successes, for soon greater failures will come your way! O King of Kings! I wish you success in your days of darkness! May your enemies be ever defeated! This life of mine is now worthless without the beneficent gaze of my King! Therefore, in the name of God, in the name of my beloved King, in the name of Navroze and Meherangan, in the name of my pure religion, I hereby swear that I shall never ever sing again, I shall never ever play my instruments again!’

Saying so, this most patriotic and gifted musicians of all times took out a small dagger from his coat, and with the amazing courage of his conviction derived from religious and devotional fervor, Barbad chopped off the four fingers of his right hand – with which he had made such magic with his lyre. Clutching the chopped off fingers in the fist of his other hand, he went back to his residence and lighted a huge bonfire in which he threw his most precious musical instruments – the lyre and tambour, the sitar and saz. From that day onwards till the day he died shortly thereafter, Barbad never uttered another word and passed his last days in silent lament of his beloved King and his ill-starred destiny.

Readers of Frashogard, let your hearts be filled with pity and sadness as the magnificence of King Khosrau Parvez now comes to an end in a most treacherous manner.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram