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Rustam - Guru Sahiban


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Gurfateh !

Here is a very fine painting of Rustam on his horse Rakhsh, slaying a dragon. Rustam is the Great Hero of the Persian Epic 'Shahnama' - written by Firdaus in around AD 1010.

In the painting dated around 1780 - you can see the white elephant of the Shah, which broke loose but was hit with a mace and killed by Rustam when he was just 10 years old.

Rustam is shown slaying a dragon, in his hand is a bifurcated sword - perhaps a Zulfikar sword ?, what makes this painting, perhaps a folio from a copy of the 'Shahnama', even more interesting is the presence of an image of Guru Nanak Sahib and perhaps an image of Guru Arjan Sahib.

The picture appears in B N Goswamy's book - but he gives no explanation of why the images of the Guru Sahiban, albeit drawn on the folio at a later stage, would appear on a painting of Rustum.

I have my own theory, it is just that a personal theory / idea - I believe perhaps this copy of the Shahnama was made for a Sikh. It must be remembered the Guru Sahiban were well versed in Persian - Guru Nanak had a Persian teacher and Guru Gobind Singh was well versed in all the Persian Classics as shown in the Zafarnama and their Bani. Persian was also the Court Language of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

I have been told that Guru Gobind Singh Ji's Baaj (Falcon) was named 'Rustam' - after the Hero of Firdaus' epic 'Shahnama' - taking all that into account perhaps the presence of the image of the Guru Sahiban is not that unusual.

What do you think ? - please add your views

Enjoy the Pictures

Rustum , Folio from Firdaus' 'Shahnama' - Circa 1780 - E India - Samrai Collection.

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Detail - Guru Nanak Sahib

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Detail - Guru Arjan Sahib

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Detail - Rustam

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The Shah's elephant

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*Pictures from - 'I see no stranger - Early Sikh art and Devotion' - B N Goswamy , Caron Smith - RMA Mapin - 2006

Ranjit Singh 'Freed'

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Thanks you so much veer ji, you have provided 2 very invaluable and rare pictures of a Sikh Rabab (as modified by Guru Nanak Dev Ji) and a puratan Saranda (not Siranada, Nepalese Sarangi, and the many other variations people claim to be Saranda today).

With regards to Rustam Ji, I think that they were one of the many influences that moulded the St. George legend.... no surprise as St. George is said to have been born in Turkey/Persia and even to have fought for the Persian King, until he declared his loyalty to the Christ (one version of history) and was tortured to death.

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Guru Gobind Singh refers to Rustum/Shahnama in Zafarnama, in which there is a refference to "Nihangs". I have a document at home which is a translation of the Shahnama done by the husband of the curator of the V&A Mueseum.

If i get a chance ill scan it in and upload it.

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Guest Javanmard

During the times of the Gurus there was a renewed interest in the Shahnamah among all Persian speaking people. It was in many ways the language of the educated and the elite. Our Gurus being themselves great examples of refinement and culture spoke Persian. It even seems to me that there is a language hierarchy in gurbani for different audiences. Sadhu Khari for most people, Braj for those more fond of traditional Indic culture and finally Persian for the really advanced. Proof of this is the incapacity by mos Sikhs to understand the Persian sections unless they read a satik and even then when they pronounce it or sing it it gives catastrophic results!).The ghazzaliat of Bhai Nand Lal and the Persian sections of Sarabloh Guru Granth Sahib contain great esoteric teachings that are not accessible to most people and require not only a good knowledge of Persian but also a good knowledge of Shi'ism and Sufism. These writings were certainly destined to the elite who made the effort to understand them.

Guru Gobind Singh mentions Firdausi in his Zafarnamah. Interestingly enough his two letters appear in the context of similar letters written to Aurangzeb by Shah Abbas II , the Safavi emperor of Persia. He threatens Aurangzeb with invading India if he doesn't stop persecuting Shi'as and Sufis and ridicules Sunnism thus challenging Aurangzeb. The Safavis themselves were very fond of the Shahnamah and the iconography found in this painting dates from the Safavi period. Rustam is depicted in exactly the same way in Safavi miniatures. The Safavis being ghuluww Shi'as saw themselves as inheritors of the both the Shi'a and Zoroastrian traditions of chivalry. The system of the zurkhaneh in Iran shows how these two worlds perfectly blend in. One actually shouldn't be surprised as the Khalsa initiation rituals are practically the same as those of Iranian Shi'a Sufi orders: the initiate, vested in the tunic of spiritual poverty, drinks sweetened water from a bowl often stirred with a knife or a sword. This ritual came down from Ancient Persia as a chivalry ritual and was continued by the Prophet (pbuh) and Imam Ali (as) themselves. See Corbin: A Shi'a Liturgy of the Grail.

Interestingly enough Guru Gobind Singh 's description of Hemkunt has more to do with similar accounts in the Shahnamah (of mystical kings living in mountains surrounded by seven peaks or seven doors) than with Indic mythology of which the Sanatanis are so fond of. In fact the inclusion of Indic mythology in the Sikh narrative can only be understood in the context of the progressio harmonica found in the writings of Shahabuddin Sohravardi. If anything the struggle between Durga and the demons is the Indic equivalent of that of the Fravarti against the demonic forces in Zoroastrian literature. These of course have been included in mystical Shi'ism because they represent the cosmic struggle in which the Imams take part in.

To find the Gurus in such a painting is actually not so surprising.

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