Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf | Monography or Translations of known period | Fables and Tales | Survey | Perso-Indica

Fables and Tales

Monography or Translations of known period
Niẓām Tabrīzī, Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf

‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī Ṭālib Niẓām Tabrīzī, known as Niẓām al-Wā‘iẓ, was an historian and scholar of the Jalāyirid (1335-1432) and the early Timurid (1370–1507) periods. He served three sultans, the Jalāyirid rulers Uways I (r. 1356-1374) and Aḥmad (r. 1382-1410) and then Tīmūr Lang (r. 1336-1405). He is also believed to be the famous Niẓām al-Din Šāmī, or Niẓām Šanab Ġ̣āzānī, the author of the Ẓafarnāma-yi Šāmī, a book on Timur’s conquests and kingdom. According to some accounts, he was born in 740/1339-1340, in šanab or šām, a quarter today located in Tabriz (Iran). His death occurred somewhere around 812/1409, and he probably completed Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf between 790-800/1388-1398 in Baghdad, the capital of the Jalāyirid sultanate. He dedicated his work to sultan Aḥmad (Dānišpažūh 1341š./1962, pp. 90-91; Īmānī 1380š./2001, pp. 37-43).

Niẓām Tabrīzī’s Bilawhar wa Buyuḏasf is the rewriting of a Persian translation of an Arabic version of the story about the life of Buddha and the way he reached enlightenment following the teachings of Bilawhar. It is not clear which Arabic version was used. For what concerns the Persian translation, the translator’s name is left blank in the manuscript of Malek Library. The scribe probably intended to fill it later with red ink (šangarf). But the name of the translator is mentioned in the manuscript copy of Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf preserved in London as “Sirāj al-Millat wa al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ġaznawī”. The work of Sirāj al-Dīn al-Ġaznawī was the base of Niẓām Tabrīzī’s version (Ms. London, British Library, British Museum 13214, see Gimaret 1971, p. 45). Gimaret suggests that he could have been an author of the 5th/11th or 6th/12th century, connected with the Ghaznavid court. He remarks that his name is similar to that of the poet Muḫtārī who was called “Sirāj al-Dīn ‘Uṯmān ibn Muḥammad Ġaznawī” (d. before 516/1122-1123) (Gimaret 1971, pp. 44-45). However, this identification is quite doubtful, in particular as Gimaret points out that the celebrated poet of Ghazna, Sanā’ī (d. ca. 1087/1130), a companion and a contemporaneous of Muḫtārī, names him Ḥakīm abū ‘Umar ‘Uṯmān ibn ‘Umar Muḫtārī in the title of a laudatory poem (qaṣīda) in his praise (see Sanā’ī Ġaznawī, 1388š/2009, pp. 481-485). Moreover, the name mentioned in the preface of the London manuscript mostly recall that of Sirāj al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Sajāwandī, who was also called al-Ġaznawī (d. ca 600/1204), a ḥanafī scholar and the author of al-Sirajiyya, a book on inheritance share according to Ḥanafī jurisprudence. (see Ibn Quṭlūbuġā 1413/1992-1993, p. 245).

It is not clear whether Sirāj al-Dīn’s text had a preface. Niẓām Tabrīzī’s preface includes praises to God, to prophet Muḥammad and his descendants, to sultan Aḥmad, and an account of the reason behind the rewriting of the text (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 1-10). Niẓām Tabrīzī expressly says he had access to a copy of Sirāj al-Dīn’s translation in sultan Aḥmad’s library and he defines it as “a treasury of knowledge and manners” (ganjīna-yi ḥikam wa ādāb). However, according to him Sirāj al-Dīn has exaggerated in using rhyming prose (saj‘), verbosity,\ and presenting rhymed sections which are repetitions of the same in prose. Therefore, Niẓām Tabrīzī decided to make an abridgement of Sirāj al-Dīn’s translation; then sultan Aḥmad ordered him to write a preface to his work in order to distinguish it from the earlier translation. Niẓām Tabrīzī claims to have made a “sound epitome” (ḥusn-i iḫtiṣār) of the book. Moreover, he also explains that he has made some changes and deliberately added subject-matter of his choice to the original text (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, p. 10).

The content of the work and its general structure follow those of other versions and narratives of the story of Bilawhar wa Būdāsaf, such as the Arabic version of Ibn Bābawayh (d. 381/991) (see Gimaret 1971, p. 45; Mujtabā’ī 1383š./2004, p. 533). Nevertheless, there are some differences between Niẓām Tabrīzī’s text and other versions. Unlike the customary tradition in Persian and Arabic literature, the name of the prince has not been mentioned as Būḏāsaf or Ūzāsaf but as Buyūḏasf. It is not clear whether the name has been changed by Sirāj al-Dīn or Niẓām Tabrīzī. According to Muḥammad Rawšan, it is a variant form of Būḏāsaf (Rawšan, 1381š./2002, p. xiii).

In comparison with other accounts, Sirāj al-Dīn and Niẓām Tabrīzī’s versions omit some short stories and conversations (Nawḏarī 1385š./2006, pp. 55-64) and add a few parts. There are at least two added parts which do not seem to exist in other versions. The first is a conversation at the beginning of the story before Buyūḏasf faces the three signs of sickness, old age and death. The conversation takes place between one of the courtiers who has turned to an ascetic and Buyūḏasf’s father, called either Čunayš, Ḥunayš, or Ḫunayš, which seems similar to the name Junaysār used in the Ismā’īlī version in Arabic (probably written between 129-279/ 750-900, it is called “Ismā’īlī” because it was found among Ismā’īlīs of India; however, there is no relation between this version and Ismā’īlī doctrines, see Gimaret 1971). The conversation deals with moral and philosophical subjects which are not linked to the story. Because of their close similarities with other books, we can say they are taken from other sources, as to the ascetic’s explanation of the “five outer senses” (ḥawāss-i ḫamsa-yi ẓāhirī) which is similar to the philosophical explanation of the five senses found in Muḥammad ibn Maḥmūd Hamadānī’s ‘Ajā’ib-nāma, a book on cosmography and marvels of creatures written between 555-562/1160-1167 (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002 p. 25-27, Nawḏarī 1385š./2006 p. 66).

The second instance is found in the chapter where Bilawhar’s training has come to the end and he decides to leave Būḏāsaf. Sirāj al-Dīn, the translator of the book, says that: “Bilawhar’s training has come to its end, but because the main reason of translation is warning the unaware and guiding aspirants (tanbīh-i ġāfilān wa iršād-i mustaršidān), I asked a few questions of my choice from the prince and the response from Bilawhar” (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 277-278). This digression from the original story is presented as an explanation of the “kinds of happiness” and the “manners of obtaining knowledge” (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 279-326). The number of verses of this chapter is smaller in comparison with other chapters. One may also notice some similarities between this part and the contents of the chapter on “practical wisdom” (ḥikmat-i ‘amalī) of the Aḫlāq- i nāṣirī of Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274) (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 294-296).

The Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf is written in a style similar to that of the Kalīla wa Dimna by Naṣr Allāh Munšī (12th century) and the Sindbād-nama by Ẓahīrī al-Samarqandī (12th century). The text is intermingled with Persian and Arabic allegories and verses of poets. Sanā’ī’s verses in particular are quoted more than forty times (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 16, 35, 44, 51, 56-58, 65-66, 68). Other passages include quotations, among the others, from Persian poets such as Faḫr al-Din As‘ad Gurgānī (11th century), Nāṣir Ḫusraw (d. 481/1088), ‘Umar Ḫayyām (d. ca 526/1131), Anwarī (12th century), Ḫāqānī (12th century), Qawāmī Ganjawī (6th century/12th century) Niẓāmī (d. 605/1209), Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 672/1273), Sa‘dī (d. 690/1291-2) and from Arabic poets such as al-Ḥuṭaī’a (d. ca 40/661), al-Mutanabbī (d. 354/965) and al-Sarī al-Raffā’ (d. 362/973) (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 61 and 210 for Gurgānī; pp. 134, 169, 210 and 259 for Nāṣir Ḫusraw; pp. 21 and 156 for Ḫayyām; pp. 194 and 263 for Anwarī; p. 14 for Ḫāqānī; p. 258 for Qawāmī Ganjawī; p. 1 and 118 for Niẓāmī; pp. 67, 69, 156, 211 and 228 for Rūmī; p. 6 for Sa‘dī; p. 69 for Ḥuṭaī’a; p. 56 for al-Mutanabbī; p. 38 for al-Sarī al-Raffā’). Another interpolation is the account of the “idiot who wanted to buy a donkey” (ablah-i ḫar ḫar) which is a well-known story in Arabic and Persian literature and is also found in the ‘Uqalā al-majānīn of Nīšabūrī (d. 406/1015-1016) and Risāla-yi dilgušā of ‘Ubayd Ḏākānī (d. 772/1370-1371) (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 163-164, Nīšabūrī 1387/1967, p. 119, ‘Ubayd Ḏākānī 1343š./1964, p. 241).

A specific feature of Niẓām Tabrīzī’s version is its strong Islamic and Shiite perspective. It should be mentioned that Jalāyirid rulers had Shiite tendencies to some extant (see Yūsufīfar 1394š./2015, p. 352) and Niẓām Tabrīzī was most probably sympathetic to the Shiite elements in Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf. This perspective is also suggested by his other book, Mujadwalī dar ḏikr-i ‘itrat-i nabī, which includes a short history of the prophet and the twelve Imams. Besides the praises of Muḥammad and his descendants in the preface, in many cases the story is highlighted with quotations from the Quran and the ḥadīṯ. Moreover, several ḥadīṯs ascribed to the Shiite imams are mentioned. For instance, the text frequently refers to poetical verses and prayers in Arabic ascribed to the first Imam, ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661, see for example, Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, p. 95; cf. Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd 1385/1965, p. 57), and it mentions some poetical verses attributed to the fourth imam, Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (d. ca 95/713-714, see Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, p. 39; cf. Ibn al-‘Asākir 1415/1994-1995, p. 407). Ḥadīṯs attributed to sixth imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765) and to the tenth imam ‘Alī al-Naqī (d. 254/868) are also quoted (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, pp. 120, 55; cf. Mas‘ūdi 1409/1988-1989, p. 11). However, the text does not mention the names of the imams and of other Muslim scholars from which quotations are made, such as the names of Muslim poets.

Furthermore, the omission of certain parts can be seen as a choice to exclude materials which did not agree with the Islamic viewpoint, such as the story (drawn from the Buddhacarita) of the pregnancy of Buddha’s mother, relating that she felt a great white elephant had fallen in her womb (see Aśvaghoṣa 1972, p. 20; see also, Gimaret 1971, p. 66). This story is also omitted in the Arabic version (Kamāl al-Din wa Tamām al-Ni‘ma) of the Shiite scholar Ibn Bābawayh. Niẓām Tabrīzī’s version even skips certain parts which are kept in Ibn Bābawayh’s narrative and by other scholars, such as the part on Yūḏāsaf sitting under the bodhi tree (Ibn Bābawayh 1363š./1984, p. 637; see also Majlisī 1349š./1970, p. 339). On the other hand, Nawḏarī argues that certain Manichaean or Anti-Manichaean elements are also present in Niẓām Tabrīzī’s version. Besides Bilawhar and his companions’ solitude and vegetarianism, Niẓām’s version relates the story of the Sassanid emperor Shapur I (r. 240-270), who accuses Mani of destroying the world and threatening the extinction of humankind (Niẓām Tabrīzī 1381š./2002, p. 74). Nevertheless, this story is not mentioned in Ibn Bābawayh’s and the Ismā’īlī Arabic versions (Nawḏarī 1385š./2006, p. 72-78).

These variations suggest that Niẓām Tabrīzī’s Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf - or Sirāj al-Dīn’s translation on which it is based - have been produced for an Islamic environment and probably for a Shiite readership. It is not clear to what extent these features are due to Niẓām Tabrīzī’s rewriting or if, at least in part, they were already present in Sirāj al-Dīn’s translation. One may also raise the question if, besides the reason claimed in the preface, there were also other reasons behind Niẓām Tabrīzī’s rewriting, and if these could have included the production of a more Islamized version of the story. The reason for the rewriting given by Niẓām Tabrīzī is not entirely convincing. He explains in the preface that he wanted to simplify Sirāj al-Dīn’s artificial and rhythmic prose. However, his own style is the ornate prose (naṯr-i fannī or naṯr-i maṣnū‘) which includes elaborated devices, studied elegance (takalluf) and verbosity (īṭnāb). This style was quite common among authors contemporary to Niẓām Tabrīzī and he uses it also in other of his writings, such as the Rīyāż al-mulūk which is a Persian translation of the Sulwān al-muṭā‘, the Arabic mirror for princes written by the Sicilian scholar Ibn Ẓafar a-Ṣiqillī (12th century).

i) Place of copying; ii) Period of copying; iii) Copyist; iv) Commissioner;
v) Information on colophon; vi) Description of miniatures/illustrations; vii) Other remarks; viii) Information on catalogue(s)

London, British Museum, 13214, ff. 107

, ii)

between 801- 803/1399-1401

, iii) Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī Ṭālib Tabrīzī, known as Humām Ṭabīb (the author’s brother), vii)

This manuscript is included in an anthology with other works including the Sulwān al-muṭā‘


Tehran, Malik Library, 4187, ff. 123

, ii)

ḏū’ al-qa‘da 810/ 7 April – 6 May, 1408

, iii) Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī Ṭālib Tabrīzī, known as Humām Ṭabīb, viii)

Afšār-Dānišpažūh, 1354š./1975, vol. 2, p. 59


Edition:  Bilawhar wa Buyūḏasf,

Muḥammad Rāwšan, ed.

, Tehran, Mīraṯ Maktūb - Markaz-i bayn al-milalī-i guftigū-yi tamaddunhā/International Center of Dialogue among Civilizations, 1381/2002, pp. 483. 

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Masoud Faryamanesh

Originally published: 20 July 2019
How to quote this article:

Faryamanesh, Masoud, 2019, "Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds.

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Main Persian Title: Bilawhar wa Būḏāsaf
English Translation of Main Persian Title: Bilawhar and Būḏāsaf
Approximate period of composition: 1388-1398
Place: Middle East
Other Languages of Work: Manichaean script,  Manichaean script
Dedicatee: Aḥmad Jalāyir 
Commissioner: Aḥmad Jalāyir