Date posted: May 8, 2020.
Date posted: May 8, 2020.
The following piece has been compiled and adapted from material supplied by the Aga Khan Museum; it incorporates notes by Dr. Ulrike al-Khamis, the Museum’s Director of Collections and Public Programs.
From Mecca to Toronto
On display for the first time in Toronto is a 100-year-old silk fragment from a hizam — part of a ceremonial draping that covers the Ka’ba, Islam’s holiest site to which millions of Muslims made the annual pilgrimage on Friday August 9, 2019.
The Ka’ba is draped in a black ceremonial covering known as the kiswa, and around the upper part of the kiswa runs the hizam — an ornamented belt embroidered in silver and silver-gilt thread with Qur’anic verses relating to the pilgrimage.
This hizam is one of the Aga Khan Museum’s most significant textiles and is on special display until September 9, 2019. Measuring eight metres long and nearly one metre tall, it once belonged to a kiswa that measured 47 meters and was made in Cairo around the early 20th century.
As one of the most prominent kiswa ornaments, the hizam traditionally runs the length of the Ka‘ba’s upper perimeter. The inscription here contains verses 27-29 from chapter 22 (Al-Hajj) of the Qur’an:
“And proclaim to mankind the hajj. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant mountain highway. That they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days, over the beast of cattle that He has provided for them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor who have a very hard time. Then let them complete their prescribed duties and perform their vows, and circumambulate the Ancient House.”
The roundels contain further Qur’anic references that mention ‘God the Eternal’ as well as the Prophet Muhammad.
The Ka‘ba receives a new drape every year during the pilgrimage season. After it ends, the kiswa is taken down, divided and either gifted to dignitaries or sold to raise money for charity.
Note: The museum is open everyday from 10 am to 6 pm (8 pm on Wednesdays). It is closed on Mondays, except holiday Mondays.
19th/20th Century Views of Ka’ba
Date posted: August 7, 2019.
Last updated: August 15, 2019.
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Two magnificent buildings, the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre, and their adjoining Aga Khan Park on Wynford Drive in Toronto are celebrating the 50th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon with an extraordinary two-day festival on July 20-21, 2019 featuring live music, food fair, artisan market and family friendly activities. Here is a summary of what has been planned.
Date posted: July 19, 2019.
By MALIK MERCHANT
The Aga Khan Park became the new Jurassic Park on Friday, June 7, 2019 for the 4th game of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors. At the half-way stage, the two teams were almost on par and there was every possibility that the previous strong performances in the 3rd quarter by the Warriors would be repeated and overwhelm the Raptors. Instead, it was the Raptors who came out strong and dominated the quarter, leading them to win with a final score of 105-92, with the superb Kawhi Leonard contributing 36 points. The Raptors are now leading the best-of-seven 3-1, and can close the series on Monday June 10, 2019, at their home court, the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Previous commitments took me to Ottawa and I watched the game with my daughter Nurin at a restaurant in Ottawa’s Byward Market Area, enjoying macaroni & cheese, burger, salad & fries just before the game.
I was trying to find out what was going on at the Aga Khan Park, and I was excited to learn that the venue was jam-packed with hundreds of basketball enthusiasts. I learn that 2400 fans were at the game. The game was also shown at several Ismaili Jamatkhanas across the Greater Toronto Region, and also at the Ottawa Jamatkhana.
Canada’s excitement of the Raptors being in the finals for the first time in their franchise history has reached monumental proportions and mini outdoor “Jurassic Parks” have sprouted replicating the legendary park outside the Raptors Scotiabank Bank Arena.
One cannot imagine the kind of excitement that will be generated on Monday, June 10, 2019, should the Raptors wrap up the series and become the NBA Champions for the first time in their 24 year history. No NBA finals have ever been played North of the USA Border.
Date posted: June 9, 2019.
Last updated: June 10, 2019.
By MALIK MERCHANT
The Toronto Raptors have taken a 2-1 lead in their NBA Finals against defending champions Golden State Warriors with a convincing 123-109 victory in Game 3 played on Wednesday, June 5, at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Game 4 will also be played in Oakland, before the series returns to Toronto for Game 5 on Monday June 10.
Across Canada excitement of the Raptors being in the finals for the first time in their 24 year franchise history has reached monumental proportions and mini outdoor “Jurassic Parks” have sprouted replicating the legendary park outside the Raptors Scotiabank Bank Arena.
A new one Jurassic Parrk will come alive on Friday, June 7, 2019 at the Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park for Game 4. The beautiful Aga Khan Park on 77 Wynford Drive lies between the iconic Aga Khan Museum and the glass-domed Ismaili Centre. The two beautiful buildings attracted more than 8,000 visitors when they participated in Toronto’s recent Doors Open Event.
The game will be projected on the museum’s front wall. Judging from a light show that I attended in December 2018, there will be spectacular unobstructed views from the entire length of the wall as well as from spaces around the front and central ponds of the Aga Khan Park.
The tip-off time for the 4th game is 9 PM (Toronto time), and the pre-game show is expected to commence at 8:30 PM. The Museum will be offering delicious snacks and refreshments for sale.
The natural surroundings of the museum and the gentle sounds of the running pond water at the Aga Khan Park offer a comforting and relaxing ambience. However, that spell of stillness will be broken as hundreds of passionate and excited fans converge into the grounds of the Aga Khan Park and throw their full-support behind Toronto Raptors, arguably Canada’s most successful sporting franchise in the past 24 years.
Date posted: June 5, 2019.
Last updated: June 6, 2019.
Date posted: May 27, 2019.
For 4 evenings, the Aga Khan Museum ran a repeating 15 minute video segment highlighting some of its programs and events on its main entrance wall. Approximately 4,000 people visited the museum during the light show held from December 27-30, 2018 between dusk and 9 PM…. MORE
Date posted: January 1, 2019.
Editor’s note: In Part II of a special series on the 49th Ismaili Imam’s visits to numerous countries that he undertook during 2015, we cover India (April), Canada (May) and Greece (September). Please click A Marvellous Collection of Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visits to Canada, India and Greece.
Written a thousand years ago, Ferdowsi’s Shahnama or The Epic of the Kings tells the story of the Iranian people from the time of the world’s creation. National epic, landmark in world literature and a profound expression of the Iranian soul, Ferdowsi’s masterpiece is still read and recited throughout Iran.
I. THE EPIC OF THE KINGS, AN INTRODUCTION
By Nahal Tadjadod
In a square in Teheran, the capital of Iran, there is a statue of Ferdowsi [or Firdawsi, Firdausi etc, Ed.) where the poet holds his Epic of the Kings (Shahnama or Shahnameh, Ed.) in his hand and gazes at the peaks of the Alborz mountains. When I was young, my parents often took me to this place and while they looked on attentively I recited these lines by Ferdowsi:
“I have toiled painfully these thirty years. I have restored Iran to life by my verse. Henceforth I cannot die; for I live, having broadcast the seeds of my verses.”
These words were engraved in the memory of the child I was then and I know that they have shaped my innermost identity. There is nothing astonishing in that. For a thousand years Ferdowsi’s poem has been read, recited and copied in Iran. Even today it is recited in the cafés. Early on it became our national epic.
Why has it always been so popular? Not because of the originality of its subject the history of ancient Iran from the time of its first mythical king to the last sovereign of the Sassanid dynasty in the seventh century AD nor because of the novelty of its content. “What I will say, all have already told,” Ferdowsi claimed. The poet transmitted; he invented nothing. He drew on old oral traditions and on ancient texts such as the Avesta, a holy book of the eighth century BC, or reworked somewhat earlier tales on the same theme.
The First Masterpiece of Persian Literature
This immense poem of 50,000 couplets appeared in the tenth century, at a key moment in the history of Iranian culture. Since the fall of the Sassanids, the literary language of Iran had been Arabic. Middle Persian, the main vehicle of Sassanid civilization, was disappearing. At this moment, a young literature in an Iranian idiom-Persian emerged in the east. Ferdowsi’s poem would be its first masterpiece.
The Epic of the Kings does not describe the deeds of a single hero or king nor even a long adventure. It begins with the creation of the world and relates the history of fifty reigns on three distinct planes: the mythical, the epic and the historical.
The first part relates civilizing myths. The Pishdadians, the “first created”, teach men to clothe themselves, to work metal, to master fire, to tame animals and to organize themselves in society. After ruling for 700 years, King Jamshid, succumbing to pride, has to yield his throne to a demoniac creature, the tyrant Zahhak who will rule for a thousand years. His malign power will finally be conquered by the justice-loving Faridun. These heroes, who personify the conflict between the forces of darkness and light, constitute a religious theme which is typically Iranian.
The second, longest and most truly epic part of the poem evokes the reign of the Kaianid kings. Here, in the centrepiece of the poem, light has triumphed. Rostam is the champion of all the heroes who live at the Kaianid court. Prodigiously strong, loyal to his king and faithful to his country, he is the terror of the enemy. This period is marked by interminable wars against Turan, a central Asian country whose ruler Afrasiyab is the sworn enemy of Iran.
In the final part, the poet presents a number of historical figures but in a rather fantastic light. He gives a notable account of the conquest of Alexander the Great (Sekandar), based on the Alexander legend of the Orient. The ending, even closer to history, tells of the exploits of the Sassanid rulers until the end of the dynasty.
Faridun and Zahhak: The Just man and the Tyrant
The story of Zahhak the tyrant, told in the first and most brilliant part of the poem, extols the sufferings of a martyred people.
The courageous but wayward son of King Mardas, Zahhak is led astray by Eblis, the devil. After making a pact with Eblis, Zahhak usurps the throne. Revealing himself to the king in various forms, the devil extends his power further each day. One day Eblis presents himself in the guise of a cook. “The diet is not varied,” he says, “for flesh is not eaten,” and he wishes Zahhak to eat all kinds of viands, both birds and quadrupeds. When the devil, who has gained Zahhak’s confidence, embraces him, a black serpent thrusts its head out of each of the tyrant’s shoulders. Whenever he cuts them off they sprout anew like two branches of a tree. Then Eblis appears again, this time disguised as a physician, and proposes as a remedy that Zahhak should eat two human brains each day.
Thus for a thousand years the demons cause evil to reign and no one dares talk openly of good. But one night Zahhak dreams that he is laid low by a young prince who strikes him with a bullheaded mace and drags him in chains to Mount Damavand. Plunged in darkness, the world was as black as a raven’s wing. The tyrant consults the Mubads, the Zoroastrian priests, who read the stars and tell him that his vanquisher, who is not yet born, will be called Faridun. “He will hate you, for his father will die at your hand and you will also kill the cow that will serve him as nurse. To avenge the cow he will take up the bull-headed mace.”
Mad with anxiety, the king hunts everywhere for traces of Faridun. The blessed child is born at the same time as the most marvellous of cows. He is entrusted by his mother to the keeper of the park where the nurse-cow lives, and is nourished with her milk. One day Zahhak hears of the park and the cow, kills the fabulous animal and rushes to Faridun’s house. He finds no one there. Overcome with fear, Faridun’s mother has taken her son to Mount Alborz.
At the age of sixteen Faridun learns of his origins from his mother and decides to fight the tyrant. In anguish Zahhak convokes all the elders of the land to seek their support. “I desire you to subscribe to a proclamation on my behalf that as commander in chief I have sown no seed but that of uprightness…and that I would never fail to maintain justice.” All consent except one man, Kava the Blacksmith, who rises in protest. “I am Kava, seeking for justice. Most of the wrong done to me comes from yourself. It is you who constantly thrust the lancet into my heart. Why do you inflict harm on my children? I had eighteen alive in the world, and now only one remains.”
Overcome with astonishment and fear, Zahhak restores the man’s remaining son to him and asks him in exchange to add his testimony to the proclamation. Kava reads the proclamation, tears it into pieces, and tramples them underfoot.
Kava leaves the palace and the people crowd around him. Fastening a blacksmith’s leather apron to a spearhead, he calls on the people to free themselves from the tyrant’s yoke. Followed by a multitude of the stout-hearted, Kava the liberator sets out in search of Faridun, who agrees to lead the popular rising. The people of the city and the army mass before the palace, whose guards dare not resist. Faridun rides into the palace without striking a blow and seizes the royal crown. Attacked by Zahhak, the young prince shatters Zahhak’s helmet with his bull-headed mace. At that instant the angel Sorush appears and stops Faridun killing Zahhak. “Do not strike him down,” he says. “His time has not yet come. Tie him securely inside the mountain.” Faridun then drives the tyrant into the mountains and wishes to strike off his head, but the angel Sorush appears again and tells him to leave the captive in fetters on Mount Damavand to endure an eternal agony.
Ferdowsi: A Poet of Human Grandeur
In the person of Faridun, an era of enlightenment and justice succeeds a long period of obscurity and tyranny. Here Ferdowsi returns to pre-Islamic traditions; he takes this idea of an eternal combat between good and evil from Zoroastrian eschatology. The interminable wars between Iran and Turan are the reflection of this. But Ferdowsi does not profess a naive dualism. He shows that these two principles coexist in everyone: human beings can do good as well as spread evil.
Thus, after a thousand years of tyranny, light and good seem to triumph: the new king, mandated by heaven, serves his people devotedly. But evil persists, it has not ceased to exist. This is what the angel means when he twice prevents the tyrant from being put to death. Zahhak is finally fettered on the summit of Mount Alborz as if to show by his existence that the victory of good over evil has not yet been won.
Ferdowsi bases his poem on the implacable force of destiny. This quintessentially epic theme echoes the sense of fatality which is so deeply anchored in the Iranian soul. And yet his characters are still men, torn and tortured by doubt and sensitive to the misfortunes of the age. They are to be pitied rather than condemned. Zahhak, the bloody tyrant, the symbol of cruelty, does not act freely; he has, after all, sold his soul to the devil. He is merely an instrument. As a great tragic epic poet, Ferdowsi thus creates terrible situations in which a man is led to kill his brother, or a father kills his son. Links of kinship add grandeur and resonance to the combat waged by the individual against higher forces.
The Epic of the Kings is still a living epic for Iranians because it is profoundly in tune with the Iranian soul. The Iranian peasant, even if he can neither read nor write, responds to the exploits of Rostam, the hero par excellence, and weeps to think of his sufferings when he is compelled to kill his own son to defend his country. Neither good nor ill will lastfor ever: the finest thing is to leave good deeds to be remembered by.
Ferdowsi’s voice still speaks to us across the ages.
The above piece has been adapted from the September 1989 issue of The Unesco Courier which was dedicated to “Great Epics, Heroic Tales of Man and Superman.” Please visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco-courier/.
Quotations from the Shahnama in this article are taken from the translation by Reuben Levy which was published as The Epic of the Kings by Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, 1967) and features in the Unesco Collection of Representative Works.
II. THE STORY OF HAFTVAD AND THE WORM
Story from the website of the Aga Khan Museum
In this tale the daughter of Haftvad is spinning cotton with her female friends one day outside the village and discovers a worm in her apple. She decides to keep the worm, regarding it as a lucky charm, and places it in her spindle case for safekeeping. She asserts that the worm will help her to spin greater quantities of cotton than she ever has before, and to her friends’ amazement her boast is realized. With each day she spins greater quantities of cotton and nurtures the worm by feeding it pieces of apple. When her father, Haftvad, learns of this, he takes the worm to be a good omen and over time it grows to fill a custom-made chest, and then a stone cistern. After five years, it is as large as an elephant and has to be housed in a fortress. As the worm grows, so do Haftvad’s fortunes. When King Ardashir learns of this, he becomes jealous and suspicious and plots to kill the worm. Eventually, Ardashir succeeds in penetrating the fortress and kills the worm by pouring molten lead down its throat. The tale ends with the deaths of Haftvad and his sons, vanquished by Ardashir’s army. This painting, one of a few signed works in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp I, is among the last added to the book. A signature, reading “Dust Muhammad painted it” (savvarahu Dust Muhammad), combined with written sources, identifies the artist as Dust Muhammad Musavvir or Dust-i Divana. Although the implications of the signature remain unclear — did he design the composition and/or execute the painting in whole or in part? — the painting is one of the strongest in Shah Tahmasp I’s Shahnameh. The vignette of Haftvad’s daughter spinning cotton at the lower left activates the pictorial narrative, but the remainder of the painting is conceived as evidence of Haftvad’s good fortune. The village, an aggregate of many finely made buildings, bustles with the activities of daily life. A muezzin makes the call to prayer as two figures sit atop a building consulting books with the tools of a scribe set down beside them. Elsewhere in the village, figures transport bundles of wood gathered from the countryside and carry sacks of goods, while a butcher serves a customer. The painting is replete with many other details of the everyday and depicts the elements of its extra-urban landscape with equal depth and complexity.
Date posted: Monday August 17, 2015.
For more on the Ferdowsi and the Shahnameh please also visit:
LETTER FROM PUBLISHER
By Abdulmalik Merchant
I have lived in Ottawa for almost thirty years, and as a lover of magazines and newspapers I have been a weekly visitor to two great and noteworthy magazine stores in the downtown area, “The Globe” in the Byward Market area and “Mags & Fags” on Elgin Street, as well as “Brittons” located in the dynamic and eclectic shopping district in the Glebe neighbourhood. Brittons abruptly closed its doors earlier this year, with a notice posted on the door that stated, “Due to changing times our business is no longer economically viable.” Mathematically, these stores have been visited by me alone approximately 1300 times! I have seen Prime Ministers, Bank of Canada Governors, ambassadors, politicians of every party and famous writers at these stores. Also, I may add that the idea for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There was conceived from a special issue of American Heritage magazine that I had acquired at Mags & Fags during the 1980’s.
Mags & Fags on Elgin was my favourite all along, not because of (Cuban) cigars or anything like that, but for the sheer number of magazines and newspapers that it carried from around the world. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s the magazine store even kept provincial and regional newspapers from around Canada, various USA States, as well from Africa (Al-Ahram, Egypt), the Middle East (Kayhan, Iran) and South East Asia. Gradually, over the years with the advent of the internet, the demand for newspapers declined, as did their availability at Mags & Fags. However, it remained the preeminent magazine store in Ottawa.
The store has undergone a major transformation, and the entire magazine holding is now on one side of the wall, and not as dominant as it once was. Almost 80% of the shop is now dedicated to specialty cards and gift items. I lamented this change to one of the store managers on duty recently, who told me that sales of magazines and newspapers have declined substantially because of their on-line availability. The exceptions, though, are luxury and specialty magazines covering travel, fashion, history, as well as arts, culture and science. Some of these magazines are incredibly beautiful and bold and, because of demand, continue to generate adequate revenues, keeping the magazine section robust.
Among the specialty or luxury print magazines that I came across this weekend at Mags & Fags, is the current July-August issue of Hong Kong’s “Arts of Asia” which carries an elaborate piece on the Aga Khan Museum with a collection of fantastic photos from the museum’s Islamic Art collection (for on-line piece, please click on first image shown below, but note that the downloadable PDF file available via the second column of the “editorial” page is huge at 15MB).
Earlier, I had purchased the May 2015 issue of the Canadian “Azure” magazine dedicated to the City of Toronto, with a nice piece on the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre (for on-line article, please click on second image below).
While I am happy to provide readers with links to the on-line articles, on a personal note I would say that the on-line versions do not do justice to their print counterparts which are alluring, and a joy to turn and read from page to page, and cover to cover. The magazines I have listed should be available at good magazine stores or newsagents in your area, and I might add that Chapters-Indigo has expanded its magazine section considerably in the last few years. The cover price of Arts of Asia is US$20.00 (selling in Ottawa for C$21.00), and Azure is under $10.00.
My weekly rendezvous with magazines and newspapers at Mags & Fags, the Globe and Chapters-Indigo will continue, and I hope to provide readers with information on outstanding print magazines that carry fine pieces on the Aga Khan Development Network and its agencies, as well as the Ismaili Imamat and the admirable Ismaili community, of which I am a proud member. To familiarize yourself with the Ismailis and His Highness the Aga Khan, please visit the websites http://www.theismaili.org, http://www.akdn.org and http://www.iis.ac.uk. An outstanding resource and referral blog for all things Ismaili is http://www.ismailimail.wordpress.com, a private initiative.
Date posted: August 8, 2015.
Last updated: August 9, 2015.