Hakim Abu ‘l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tousi (935–1025 CE), or Firdawsi, was a highly revered Persian poet and the author of the epic of Shahnameh (the Persian “Book of Kings”), which is the world’s longest epic poem created by a single poet, and the national epic of Iran and the Persian-speaking world.
His great epic the Shahnameh, to which he devoted most of his adult life, was originally composed for the Samanid princes of Khorasan. During Ferdowsi’s lifetime this dynasty was conquered by the Ghaznavid Turks, and there are various stories in medieval texts describing the lack of interest shown by the new ruler of Khorasan, Mahmud of Ghazni, in Ferdowsi and his lifework.
Ferdowsi is said to have died in poverty and embittered by royal neglect, though confident of his and his poem’s ultimate fame.
The Shahnameh or The Epic of Kings is one of the definite classics of the world. It tells hero tales of ancient Persia. The contents and the poet’s style in describing the events takes the readers back to the ancient times and makes he/she sense and feel the events. Ferdowsi worked for thirty years to finish this masterpiece.
An important feature of this work is that during the period that Arabic language was known as the main language of science and literature, Ferdowsi used only Persian in his masterpiece. As Ferdowsi himself says “Persian language is revived by this work”.
Many modern Iranians see him as the father of the modern Persian language. Ferdowsi in fact was a motivation behind many future Persian figures. One such notable figure was Reza Shah Pahlavi, who established an “Academy of Culture” in Iran, in order to attempt to remove Arabic and Turkish words from the Persian language, replacing them with suitable Persian alternatives.
In 1934, Reza Shah set up a ceremony in Mashhad, Khorasan, celebrating a thousand years of Persian literature since the time of Ferdowsi, titled “Ferdowsi Millenary Celebration”, inviting notable European as well as Iranian scholars. Ferdowsi’s influence in the Persian culture is explained by the Encyclopedia Britannica:
The Persians regard Ferdowsi as the greatest of their poets. For nearly a thousand years they have continued to read and to listen to recitations from his masterwork, the Shah-nameh, in which the Persian national epic found its final and enduring form. Though written about 1,000 years ago, this work is as intelligible to the average, modern Iranian as the King James Version of the Bible is to a modern English-speaker. The language, based as the poem is on a Dari original, is pure Persian with only the slightest admixture of Arabic.
Ferdowsi was buried in his own garden, burial in the cemetery of Tous having been forbidden by a local cleric. A Ghaznavid governor of Khorasan constructed a mausoleum over the grave and it became a revered site. The tomb, which had fallen into decay, was rebuilt between 1928 and 1934 by the Society for the National Heritage of Iran on the orders of Reza Shah, and has now become the equivalent of a national shrine.
The mausoleum of Ferdowsi is composed of a white marble base, and a decorative edifice erected in honor of this Persian poet. The tomb uses mainly elements of Achaemenid architecture. The construction of the mausoleum as well as its aesthetic design is a reflection of the cultural and geo-political status of Iran at the time.