Thursday, January 19, 2012

Daastaan - e - Amir Hamza and Hamzanama

A sketch I made quite a few years back, copied out from a miniature painting on Dasatan - e - Amir Hamza, an epic story of the trials and deeds of prophet Muhammad's uncle Hamza. All Islamic sources unanimously agree that the real Hamza idb Adb Al Muttalib, the Prophet's coeval uncle , died in the Battle of Uhud in 625 A.D. However Hamza's swashbuckling-hero-like qualities and the narratives of real journeys he may have made all over the Middle East, Iran, Turan and the Indian Sub-Continent have lived on in the tradition of Dasatan - e - Amir Hamza in Persian literature and other literatures which have a Persian influence.

This illustration shown above has been copied from one of the greatest illustrated books ever produced, the Hamzanama of Emperor Akbar. This book is a truly phenomenal piece of work. The 15 years long production of Akbar's Hamzanama is considered to be a seminal event in the history of Indian art as it initiated the radical propelling of the tradition of Mughal miniatures to the top echelons of world art. While on the Mughal subject,  it is interesting to note that the different Hamza epics frequently refers to Amir Hamza as Sahib - i - Qiraani, which means Lord of the Fortuitous Conjunction. This title was also used by Mughal chroniclers for their founder Timur. I have written a post on the titles used by Timur here. This takeover of Hamza's title by Timur or assigning of a common title to both personalities for reasons of providing an association is something which has always intrigued me.

Stories from Dastan - e - Amir Hamza are regularly performed on the Indian Sub-Continent and in South-East Asia by dastangoi performers and are quite popular with various groups of audience. Be sure to check out a Dastangoi performance of Dastan - e - Amir Hamza whenever you get an oppourtunity, it's worth it.
I didn't want to write much about the Dastan - e - Amir Hamza as it really is quite popular; I just wanted to share my love for a wonderful fantasy story. The following websites give a lot of information about this great epic:

Wikipedia on Dastan - e - Amir Hamza

Smithsonian Institution - Highly recommended, very beautiful and visual website which uses images from the original Hamzanama of Akbar to introduce the story. The illustration above is also on the introduction page of the Smithsonian Institution's website.

Victoria & Albert Museum holds Akbar's Hamzanama. This website gives some details of the book and also provides a glimpse of the great book.

An academic discussion on the format, size and nature of Akbar's Hamzanama. Here (website) and (pdf)

Tilsim - e - Hoshruba - Nice website on a late 19th century Urdu recasting of  Dastan - e - Amir Hamza by Indian writers who vastly expanded and changed the original premise of the Dastan. This work has been recently translated into English.

You can read more about the great Dastangoi art tradition here

And here's a fantastic Dastangoi performance I shot in Feb 2012