Ruins of Istakhr, ancient Zoroastrian city



1.     Introduction

2.     Azar  Kaivan

3.     The  Kaivan School

4.     Mir Findiriski  and  Baha al-Din Amili

5.     The  Desatir

6.     Dabistan-i  Mazahib  and  the  Sipasiyan

7.     Jivanji  J.  Modi  and  Dastur  Dhalla

8.     Other  Philosophers  and  Mystics



1.   Introduction

The standard interpretation of Suhrawardi's influence has generally been heavily disposed to an emphasis upon Safavid era events associated with the "School of Isfahan." One reason given is that "the illuminationist school of Suhrawardi provided the basis upon which an esoteric interpretation of Shi'ite Islam could be formulated." (1) Yet outside Iran, the spread of Suhrawardi's ideas is known to have affected India through diverse channels. The Zoroastrian extension of this phenomenon is rarely awarded profile. (2)

An exception to the general neglect was the inclusionist attitude of Henry Corbin, who proved liberal in crediting the relevance of a significant Zoroastrian trend contemporary with the "School of Isfahan." (3) Azar Kaivan (d.1618) is described by Corbin as the founder of the Zoroastrian ishraqi school. The French scholar assessed the literature of this school as being dominated by ishraqi doctrine and terminology, and in terms of being the "Zoroastrian response" to the project of Suhrawardi, "which was the revival in Islamic Iran of the philosophy of Light taught by reputed sages of ancient Persia." (4)

Corbin's stress upon a revival of ancient Persian thought has elsewhere been deemed an exaggeration. (5) However, the Zoroastrian ishraqis are tangible enough; an investigation is appropriate. They are variously designated in the sources as Sipasiyan (Sipasis), Abadiyan (Abadis), Azariyan (Azaris), and Kaivaniyan (Kaivanis). That list is not exhaustive.

Prior to Corbin's reassessment, Zoroastrian ishraq (illuminationism) was very frequently viewed out of context, and sometimes in condemnatory terms. Even very recently, this subject has tended to be ignored as an alien factor by some commentators on Islamic philosophy.

It is not known exactly how Zoroastrian ishraq came into existence. The version of Corbin remarks upon the synchronism between Kaivan and the School of Isfahan. Corbin considered this factor to be partially explained by "the strong cultural and spiritual contacts between India and Iran" created by the religious reform of the Mughal emperor Akbar (rgd 1556-1605). "This helped produce a sort of philosophical and mystical revival in the Zoroastrian milieu" (Corbin, "Azar Kayvan," Encyclopaedia Iranica online). The explanation is unsatisfactory in view of the report, found in the Dabistan-i Mazahib, that the contemplative lifestyle of Azar Kaivan began during his formative years in Iran. The synchronism ought therefore to be explained in terms of Iranian events, not in terms of Indian events.

2.  Azar  Kaivan

Azar Kaivan (d.1618), a native of Fars (Persia) province, remains a basically obscure figure. He hailed from Istakhr, north of Shiraz; Istakhr was an ancient Zoroastrian city then reduced to a village by Islamic oppression of the older religion.



Istakhr is evocative in the Persian heritage. Only a short distance north of Persepolis, Istakhr was closely related to that royal centre, apparently being part of the urban settlement originally surrounding the site of royal palaces during the Achaemenian era. Istakhr is believed to have flourished during the subsequent Parthian era.

Istakhr retained importance during the Sassanian era, commencing in the third century CE. The city was at first the capital during the reign of Ardashir I (before the capital moved to Ctesiphon). The sacred fires of Istakhr became renowned; this city was the major urban and religious centre of Persia. Istakhr fell to the invading Arabs in 648-49 CE, suffering much damage and loss of life at that time. Shiraz was founded a few decades later, becoming the major Islamic city of Fars.

The eclipsed Istakhr remained a stronghold of Zoroastrianism, now an oppressed minority religion. Over the generations, several massacres of the population are reported to have occurred. The harassment climaxed in the eleventh century CE, when a local feud between a courtier and a landowner involved Muslim soldiers "who demolished and pillaged the remaining buildings, leaving the city a mere village with no more than a hundred inhabitants" (A. D. H. Bivar, "Estakr," Encyclopaedia Iranica online).

At the surviving village of Istakhr, Kaivan "spent the first thirty or forty years of his life in contemplation." (6) His birth has been assigned to the period between 1529 and 1533. He emigrated to India with his disciples circa 1570. His version of ishraq antedated the so-called School of Isfahan. Kaivan emigrated from Fars before Shah Abbas I (rgd 1588-1629) came to the throne, and well before Mir Damad (1561-1631) commenced his theological and philosophical career at the Iranian capital of Isfahan. (7)

"Already as a young boy, Azar Kayvan showed signs of his calling to the contemplative life" (Corbin, "Azar Kayvan"). Making allowances for hagiological flourishes, the impression conveyed is that of a young Zoroastrian who "received the teaching of the ancient sages" through an illumination believed to involve "dream visions," to use Corbin's phrase. The father of Azar Kaivan was Azar Gashasp, a very obscure entity who might have been a mobad or priest. If Kaivan was trained as a priest in his early years, the indications are that he forsook any ancestral calling, instead living in an ascetic manner reminiscent of Sufis.

Kaivan is reported to have studied at a madrasa (college), possibly at Shiraz rather than Istakhr. The situation is vague. An Islamic college is not an impossible venue here; two of his disciples were learned Zoroastrians familiar with Arabic, and at least one of these men was on close terms with liberal Muslim scholars. Kaivan's visionary prowess is said to have given him the ability to make exceptional replies to the questions asked of him at this obscure establishment. He accordingly gained the sobriquet of Zhu'l-ulum or "master of the sciences."

We are insufficiently informed of his prowess in the sciences. A precocious Zoroastrian could have learned Arabic under favourable circumstances, and accordingly conversed with the Muslim literati. Kaivan probably resolved to negotiate the customary differences between Zoroastrians and Muslims, a divide insisted upon by the Zoroastrian priests (mobads) quite as much as by the Islamic jurists. Confirmation of this theory tends to be found in the Dabistan-i Mazahib, a seventeenth century Persian work which relates that Muslims came to ask for Kaivan's advice on spiritual matters when he still lived in Fars. The petitioners must have regarded him highly, not as an alien "fire worshipper," which was how even the most learned Zoroastrian priests were habitually regarded by Islam.

Kaivan appears to have emphasised that the Shi'i Muslims had incorporated "a great many elements of their ancient Zoroastrian faith" (8) into the Shia religion. He attributed the Shi'ite vilification of the first two Caliphs to a feeling of resentment that the Arabs had attacked the religion of the Persian ancestors and destroyed their monuments.

The Kaivan circle commenced at Istakhr, assimilating ishraqi philosophy in their "mid-way" ground between Islam and Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians would obviously have felt an affinity with the lore of "ancient Persian sages" mentioned by Suhrawardi, and also the Zoroastrian angelology appearing in the latter's Hikmat al-Ishraq. A knowledge of Arabic would likewise have secured familiarity with the Peripatetic tradition as mediated by Muslim philosophers.

The Zoroastrian disciples, who accompanied Kaivan to India, appear to have included a number of mobads or priests. However, their occupation is unlikely to have been sacerdotal after joining this ishraqi grouping, which became known as Sipasiyan according to the Dabistan. The "Azar Kaivan school" was in existence for many years before the "School of Isfahan" materialised. The Kaivan circle exercised a non-official role contrasting with the establishment milieu of hikmat (philosophy) exponents within Shi'ism.

The reason for emigration is obvious enough, meaning flight to a less oppressive and more pluralistic environment than the one controlled by Safavid monarchs. The Zoroastrian existence in Iran was afflicted. The diminishing number of Zoroastrians was caused by their low social status in the shadow of Islam. They lost an urban presence, and were despised as guebres (fire-worshippers) by the Shi'ite ulama. The legal system of Iran was strongly biased in favour of the Islamic majority, a situation involving for Zoroastrians "a constant threat of hooligan attacks, with robbery, rape, and sometimes murder." (9) During the Safavid era, the oppressed minority were subject to demands for unpaid forced labour, a plight associated with Isfahan. See Iranis and Parsis.

Entrance gate to Fatehpur Sikri

Kaivan was partial to the policy of religious tolerance furthered by the Mughal emperor Akbar and his advisers in India. (10) Fatehpur Sikri became the focus of an ecumenical trend. Construction of this new "palace city" was commenced in 1571. Fatehpur Sikri became Akbar's capital for a time, though later abandoned in 1585, when the court moved to Lahore. Corbin complained that "no one has sufficiently emphasised the influence of the ishraqi doctrine of Sohravardi in the spirit of this ecumenicism" (Corbin, "Azar Kayvan," Encyclopaedia Iranica online). The same scholar was obliged to observe that Kaivan does not seem to have had any direct contact with Akbar's court, instead setting up residence at Patna (in North India). Although Parsi mobads and dasturs were represented at the assemblies of Akbar, the Zoroastrian ishraqis appear to have remained quite aloof from court life.

Over five centuries before, Ibn Sina (d.1037) is known to have presented himself at court finely dressed in brocaded robes, linen turban, and leather boots, with female slaves being another acquisition. In contrast, the Kaivani disposition was ascetic and retiring. Suhrawardi was somewhere in between, being an ascetic who gained court patronage at the end of his life.

Kaivan and his disciples chose to avoid "all contact with the profane" (Corbin, "Azar Kayvan"). They were evidently not interested in making converts to a system of belief. "They advised people to keep and to deepen their own religion" (art. cit.). Kaivan may have encouraged the affinity with Hindu ascetics that is associated with his followers; the extent of his own contact with the Hindu population is uncertain. The doctrinal latitude of his school is definite.

Azar Kaivan is reported to have gained experiences in which the teaching of diverse ancient sages was transmitted to him; an affinity with Greece and India, and not merely ancient Iran, is implied. The experiential factor of recovering wisdom from the past was at the root of Zoroastrian ishraqi thinking, leading to a pronounced liberality of outlook. Kaivan's contemplative stature was commemorated in the Mukashafat-i Kaivan, one of the Persian works transmitted by his disciples. (11) Some think that the core of this work, describing a visionary journey, was composed by Kaivan. The author is named in certain sources as Mobad Khuda Jui (d.1631), who hailed from Herat and who joined Kaivan in Fars.

Kaivan apparently remained at Patna until his death at about eighty-five years of age. The date of his demise has been variously estimated as 1609 and 1618, the Parsi scholar Jivanji J. Modi having opted for the later date. His teaching appears to have been largely oral, and may not have been identical to subsequent formats amongst his disciples. There is a lack of evidence for the nineteenth century belief that Kaivan was a dastur or high priest, which is very misleading (section 7 below).

The title of Dastur, applied by enthusiastic Parsi writers, (12) is superfluous to the subject. The impression was given, in a later era, that Kaivan was a representative of the orthodox form of religion as a practising cleric. Even if his father was a mobad, (13) Kaivan himself seems to have retired completely from any priestly role.

The real significance of Kaivan's lifestyle was not assimilated by many nineteenth century Parsi enthusiasts of the literature involved. He moved at a radical tangent to the routine activities of dasturs who led the Zoroastrian community. For instance, these high priests fostered an attitude that Muslims were juddins (those of another religion), and therefore a source of defilement and unfit to be associated with. This attitude matched the Islamic contempt for Zoroastrians as guebres or gaurs, a stigma having the connotation of "infidels."

In eighteenth century India, Zoroastrian priests and laymen were still maintaining an attitude of religious discrimination towards both Hindus and Muslims. As late as 1857, to take a meal cooked by a Muslim was considered a breach of the Zoroastrian purity laws; in this instance, two miscreants were forbidden to enter any place of worship until they had performed a ritual ablution (barashnom) to offset the contaminated food. The orthodox idea was to keep the faith untainted by avoiding juddins. The children of Parsi fathers and Hindu mothers were deemed unfit to receive the kusti rite, (14) which confers Zoroastrian identity.

The Zoroastrian ishraqi literature afforded an alternative focus to the dogmatic texts of clerical Zoroastrianism. Liberals of the Kaivan school bridged the substantial gap between Zoroastrianism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity; their policy was exactly the opposite of the prohibitions against juddins.

There are variations of emphasis, amongst scholars, in the description of Kaivan's objective. Ishraq is not invariably viewed as the dominant component. Kaivan and his circle derived information from Zoroastrian texts in New Persian, and also Islamic reports of Zoroastrians. This data was combined with Sufi and ghulati ideas, especially those of the Nuqtavi and Nurbakhshi Orders, thus creating a "new cosmopolitan Zoroastrian religious order" (Sheffield 2015:538-9). The Kaivan circle called this new tariqa the Abadi tradition. The designation derives from the prophet Mahabad, whom the Kaivan circle interposed as a legendary originator in a cyclical pattern of history outlined in their works. There are several other names attaching to this tradition, including Azari and Sipasi.

A primary concern was to negotiate the constricting dominance of the Islamic ulama, an incentive shared with Abu'l Fazl Allami (d.1602), the chief adviser of Akbar. Kaivan is believed to have emphasised that, "with the coming of the Islamic millenium, the dispensation of the Arabs and Islam had come to an end, and a new period of Persian superiority was beginning" (Sheffield 2015:538). Allami was eventually executed at the instigation of Prince Salim (subsequently Emperor Jahangir), to the dismay of Akbar. Allami promoted the theme of suhl-i kull (peace with all), which meant heresy to more insular plans of courtiers and clerics.

Kaivan is credited with having spent twenty-eight years in meditation during his early life in Fars. His role was very different to that of Dastur Meherji Rana of Navsari, a contemporary who figured tangibly in annals of the Mughal court. During the 1570s, Akbar consulted this dastur on the matter of Zoroastrian beliefs, and invited him to a discussion held at the Mughal court between the followers of different religions. The contribution of Dastur Meherji Rana was apparently influential in prompting Akbar to inaugurate a sacred fire, at the court, in emulation of the ancient Persian kings. This gesture was related to the freedom of worship insisted upon by Akbar and his advisors. Much speculation has attended that development.

The Parsis of Navsari honoured Meherji Rana by conferring upon his descendants the permanent office of dastur. (15) Although a good and learned man, he was apparently not concerned with anything but orthodox doctrine and ritual practices. The duties of his office did not generally involve any acquaintance with non-Zoroastrians.

3.  The  Kaivan  School

In some respects, the tag of "Zoroastrian ishraq" is misleading. Other conceptual elements were also involved. Furthermore, the Kaivan school expanded to accomodate a number of Muslims (Corbin says seven), two Jewish rabbis, a Hindu, and a Christian. However, Zoroastrians were in the majority; a number of them were apparently mobads, i.e., members of the priestly class. The role of a working priest seems very unlikely in the case of these men, after joining Kaivan, whose teaching was not in the idiom of orthodox Zoroastrianism. Some of them are described as emulating the lifestyle of Indian yogis, a far cry from any sacerdotal career.

A number of the Kaivanis wrote treatises, only some of which have survived. Learning was valued by this school. Nevertheless, gnostic or illuminationist abilities were the priority. Kaivan himself evidently deemed the contemplative life to be more important than exercises in Peripatetic logic. There is no indication that he resorted to kalam (theology). No didactic treatise exists in his name.

At least two Zoroastrian disciples of Kaivan were learned in the "Islamic sciences," which they transmitted within their school. Both of these men bore the name of Farzaneh Behram; one of them is called "junior" to distinguish him from his namesake. Farzaneh Behram ibn Farshad, the junior, was fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Hindi (he died at Lahore in 1638). He reputedly translated into Persian all the Arabic works of Suhrawardi. This is clear indication of ishraqi affinities within the Kaivan school. There is no evidence of any formal curriculum, existing elsewhere in Shi'i sectors of hikmat (philosophy).

The senior Farzaneh Behram (ibn Farhad ibn Isfandiar) met Kaivan at Patna. He credited Kaivan with having opened his path to the inner worlds. He is reported to have been fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Pahlavi. Before emigrating from Iran, he had been in close contact with Jamal al-Din Mahmud, a follower of Jalal al-Din al-Dawani (1427-1502). The lastmentioned was a learned Muslim who became qazi (judge) of Fars, and whose many writings included a commentary on Suhrawardi's Hayakil al-Nur (Temples of Light). The situation of a Zoroastrian savant being in close contact with a Muslim counterpart explains the reported learning of the former in "Islamic sciences." (16)

Farzaneh Behram senior (d.1624/5) composed the lengthy work in Persian known as Sharistan-i chahar chaman. This was described by Corbin in terms of "the type of work in which the insertion of the philosophy of ishraq into the sacred history of the prophets of ancient Iran is already an accomplished fact" (Ency. Iranica online). The Avesta and other traditions were here interpreted in accordance with the ishraqi philosophy. The mythology of ancient Iranian "prophets" was a favoured component of Kaivan school literature, juxtaposed with the traditional history of Darius, Alexander, and later kings. The mythology took for granted the antique Iranian origins of Azari or ishraqi philosophy; Zarathushtra and other ancient sages feature alongside monarchical lineages. In this way, the Kaivan school escaped doctrinal servitude to orthodox priestly Zoroastrianism and also the domination by Islam.

The author of the Sharistan wished to negotiate the erroneous assumptions hindering appreciation of ancient Iranian achievements. Farzaneh Behram questioned the validity of prevalent Islamic views about the genesis of humanity, and challenged the belief that Arabs were superior to Persians (Tavakoli-Targhi 2001:89). The Sharistan legends are "interspersed with historical episodes involving various members of the [Azari] sect as they enter into debates with some of the leading religious thinkers of Safavid Iran and Mughal India" (Sheffield 2015:539). These thinkers include Baha al-Din Amili, Mir Damad, Mir Findiriski, Fath Allah Shirazi, Fayzi, and Abu'l Fazl Allami. The association of these entities with the Kaivan circle, confirmed by the Dabistan, is a relevant reminder of inter-religious links that could so easily be obscured.

One of the references from modern Muslim scholarship is: "Adhar Kaywan and his disciples were deeply influenced by the teachings of Suhrawardi and considered themselves to be ishraqis; the Dabistan al-madhahib in fact mentions several figures of this school by name as being ishraqis." (17)

According to Corbin, Suhrawardi conceived of himself as "the resurrector of the wisdom of ancient Persia." (18) Interpretations have differed. Kaivan is also associated with this theme, and not in any nationalistic context. Kaivan eluded any particular set of religious auspices; the author of the Dabistan did not identify him as a Zoroastrian or as a Sufi. His school is there called Sipasiyan or Yazdanian; any link with orthodox Zoroastrianism is generally considered tenuous. Sufis were covered in a different section of the Dabistan, being associated with Islam.

While the Shi'ite reformulators of ishraqi philosophy added the "Twelver" lore of Imams, the Zoroastrian ishraqis emphasised the lore of ancient "prophets" or sages, thus glorifying pre-Islamic Iran. The Kaivan school seem to have been cordially disposed to Sufism, or at least the liberal manifestations of that phenomenon. Some affinities are perhaps evident with the attitude attested in an unusual Persian commentary on Suhrawardi's Hikmat al-Ishraq, a commentary composed by Muhammad Sharif Nizam al-Din al-Harawi. This work was written in 1600. Harawi is thought to have been "probably an Indian Chishti Sufi."

Harawi made an attempt to compare ishraqi teachings with Advaita Vedanta, which is explicitly mentioned. His Anwariyya offered a partial translation of, and commentary on, the second part of Hikmat al-Ishraq, emphasising the metaphysical and visionary dimensions of that treatise, not the logical components. The Anwariyya is said to draw heavily on the earlier commentary of Qutb al-Din Shirazi (d.1311), while adding a "a great many examples from popular mystical sources," (19) especially Rumi's Mathnavi. The mystical interpretation of Harawi often finds an identity with the teachings of Sufi masters, in the vein of "this argument lends support to gnostic views." (20) The liberal orientation of the commentator is evident in his favourable references to "Indian sages and Brahmins," whom he had personally consulted. Suhrawardi's discussion of eternal time was compared by Harawi to the Hindu theme of yuga.

The Kaivan school similarly extended the experiential (dhawqi) aspect of ishraq into a strong affinity with Hindu sages, and perhaps to a greater degree, being unencumbered by considerations of tariqa affiliation. Suhrawardi's Arabic format had fleetingly referred to Indian sages and Budhasaf (a name thought to represent Buddha). The Sipasiyan (Zoroastrian ishraqis) were on close terms with Hindu yogis and ascetics like Balik Natha and the entity described as Chatur Vapah, (21) while the author of the Dabistan even contacted a Tibetan Buddhist. (22) The Kaivan school was clearly intent upon avoiding the climate of theological dogma existing in both Zoroastrianism and Islam.

The Zoroastrian members of the Kaivan circle adapted themselves amicably to the Indian environment, to the extent that they created for themselves a reputation for affinities with Hinduism. This liberalism subsequently annoyed conservatives like Dastur Dhalla, a twentieth century Parsi scholar. Kaivan is said to have emphasised principles of ahimsa (non-violence) and to have taught reincarnation (though in precisely what form is uncertain). On the basis of the Dabistan, some interpret the reputed vegetarianism of the Sipasiyan as having extended only to a prohibition upon eating the flesh of domesticated animals such as the cow or horse, as distinct from wild hunted animals. (23) However, this grouping may have been more thorough in their scruples, perhaps reminiscent of the reputed highest grade of pre-Islamic magi, who were reported by some classical authors (e.g., Porphyry, Diogenes Laertius) to abstain from all meat. (24)

That obscure grade of ancient magi may have been renunciate elderly priests like the two mentioned in the Denkart. The Greek lore about the magi of Iran is often dismissed as gossip by historians. However, a reference in the Pahlavi Denkart Book VI is significant.

The sixth book of the Denkard contains an anecdote describing two aged mobadan [Zoroastrian priests] who lived in seclusion and simplicity - much as Zoroaster is alleged in Greek tradition to have lived - chanting the Avesta and eating only vegetable food. (25)

This neglected detail probably applies to the Sassanian era. At that period, some Zoroastrian priests evidently resorted to the contemplative lifestyle in their old age, a feature reminiscent of brahmanical ashrama codes in India. "Worldly" Zoroastrianism might therefore have harboured an ascetic contingent. The late in life approach was evidently not enough to satisfy Azar Kaivan, who became a contemplative ascetic at an early age, perhaps similar to the example of Suhrawardi.

4.   Mir  Findiriski  and  Baha al-Din  Amili

The non-Zoroastrian disciples of Azar Kaivan reputedly included two prominent Muslims in the "School of Isfahan." Mir Abu'l Qasim Findiriski (c. 1562/3-1640/1) was an unconventional Peripatetic philosopher, keen to comprehend Sanskrit texts and to contact Hindu sages. He travelled to India, where he apparently lived as a recluse for seven years. (26) Some scholars have tended to view him as a Sufi. If this is correct, then he was one of the more complex figures in that category.

Mir Fendereski remains a mysterious and enigmatic figure about whom we know very little.... His notes on the Persian translation of the Mahabharata (the Razm-nama) and on the philosophical text Yoga-Vasishtha complaining about the quality of the translation suggest a familiarity with Sanskrit. He was thus among a group of Persians who moved to the Mughal court in particular to engage with Indian thought.... a number of works are attributed to him and remain on the whole unstudied. (Sajjad H. Rizvi, "Mir Fendereski," Encyclopaedia Iranica online)

Perhaps even more striking is the inclusion in Kaivani annals of Baha al-Din Amili (1547-1621/2), the eminent Shi'i mujtahid known in Iran as Shaikh-i Bahai. The Dabistan provides a report, given by Farzaneh Behram ibn Farshad, relaying that Amili's meeting with Kaivan "was so successful that the Shaikh considered himself as belonging to Azar Kayvan's circle." (27) The impression conveyed is that the visitor became a disciple; he can certainly be counted as an admirer. Corbin observed that this connection is a little known feature of Amili's life.

A close friend of Mir Damad, Amili is known to have been influential in the trend known as "School of Isfahan." One of his students was Mulla Sadra; the context was theological rather than philosophical. However, Amili was a man of polymathic learning and very different to some of the later mujtahids (divines). There are different versions of events in his life. He was born at Baalbek in Syria, but moved to Iran with his Shi'i father; his erudition gained the admiration of Shah Abbas I, who appointed him to the prestigious position of Shaikh al-Islam at Isfahan. Amili advocated a policy of expanding the prerogative of ulama, but resigned his post after a brief period, possibly in response to attacks from rival clerics. He thereafter spent a number of years travelling outside Iran. However, he kept returning; some say that he probably did not leave Isfahan after 1610. His travels and range of learning impart a complexion to his career that does not fit the typical profile of a legist.

Amili is described as "the greatest mathematician and astronomer of his period." (28) He was one of the last eminent members of the ulama class who were outstanding mathematicians; with but few exceptions, the ulama subsequently ceased to be interested in the mathematical sciences, with the consequence that this branch of knowledge rapidly deteriorated in theological colleges.

Amili, a theologian and scientist, has also been implicated as a Sufi, an issue which has met with varying reactions. "Despite the subsequent apologetics of some Imami scholars, it is clear that Bahai had distinct Sufi leanings, for which he was severely criticised" by the later mujtahid  Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (E. Kohlberg, "Baha al-din Ameli, Encyclopaedia Iranica online). Amili appears in the chain of transmission of both the Nurbakshi and Nimatullahi silisilas, proof of his popularity in dervish annals. On some of his journeys, Amili wore dervish garb; a suggestion has been that this habit was part of a strategy to conceal his Shi'ism while travelling in Sunni territories. His anthology Kashkul contains much material on the early Sufis, while in his Risala fi'l wahda al-wujudiyya, he refers to the Sufis as true believers and calls for an unbiased assessment of their utterances, even referring to his own mystical experiences.

Yet at the same time, Amili emphasised a strict adherence to the religious law (sharia) as a prerequisite for the tariqa (Sufi way), condemning "antinomian" mysticism. (29) He wrote a satirical work (Mush wa gurbah) "in which he condemned and dismissed the decadent type of Sufism of the more popular sort although he himself was a Sufi." (30) On the basis of Kashkul and his poetry, another assessment of Amili reads: "There can be no doubt that he was deeply attracted to, and a notable practitioner of, the mystical path." (31)

The positive encounter between Amili and Kaivan may be considered significant. Amili was attempting to escape the formalities and pressures of a professional theological career in the Safavid capital. In Kaivan he found a gnostic Zoroastrian who appears to have lived like a contemplative Sufi, an entity free from sacerdotal and legalistic preoccupations. Kaivan does not appear to have been content with ishraq as "rational demonstration." He was not "gnostic" in the sense associated with the Shi'ite ulama and the madrasa (college) system of education. The Kaivan school is often dismissed as having no importance by comparison with the Sadrian school of theology and philosophy. However, an alternative argument can be maintained in face of the madrasa system imposed by monarchs and jurists.

The dogmatic clerical opponents, of both Sufi mysticism and Greek philosophy, were entities like Mulla Muhammad Tahir Qummi (d. 1688), who composed two treatises against Sufis and philosophers (al-hukama). The context was "appropriation of the faith by the clerical establishment through a visceral denunciation of philosophy and mysticism." (32) The hatred of both "antinomian" mysticism and "Greek" logic decodes to theological bias of an increasingly entrenched and inflexible kind. The iron fist of the Shi'ite theological hierocracy eventually caused the forced conversion and savage massacre of Zoroastrians at Isfahan in 1699, the afflicted minority being eliminated in a single day. A mosque was built over the ruins of a fire temple. "On a smaller scale similar events must often have taken place." (33)

A relatively minor manifestation of affliction befell the philosopher Muhammad Sadiq Ardistani, who "was harassed, persecuted and forced to leave Isfahan." (34) That event also occurred during the oppressive rule of Shah Sultan Husayn (rgd 1694-1722).

5.   The  Desatir

While Azar Kaivan is strongly associated with the literature of Zoroastrian ishraq, he does not appear to have been an author in this respect. A feasible interpretation is that one of his disciples requested the composition of several extant works of this school, apparently after the death of Kaivan. The obscure Kaikhushru ibn Isfandiar is described by Corbin as the "spiritual successor" of Kaivan. This disciple was mistakenly believed by much later Parsis to have been the son of Kaivan (possibly because of erroneous associations with traditional priestly roles). Much of the literature of his associates claims to be the work of ancient sages, the authors being content to regard themselves as "translators." This idiosyncracy is related to themes found in the Desatir, a "pseudo-Pahlavi" work whose author is unknown. Henry Corbin assigned this work to the Kaivan school, which is very likely but not definite. Corbin called for due critical editions of the entire "Zoroastrian ishraqi" corpus.

The Kaivan school output had nothing to do with priestly rites. This corpus has been described as "neo-Zoroastrian." According to Corbin, the interests of the Kaivan school relate to a visionary lore, linked with the alam al-mithal or subtle world, involving experiences that were expressed by means of stories and genealogies. "The disciples of Azar Kaivan believed that they received in visionary encounters the teachings of the ancient sages of Persia, Greece, and India, and as a result their literary productions belong to a type of hierology quite familiar in other systems of gnosis" (Encyclopaedia Iranica online).

When antique texts are studied in isolation from their original setting, very often what happens is a distortion of the intentions involved in composition. After initial praise from Sir William Jones and others, the Desatir was "quickly relegated to oblivion as a cheap apocryphal trick" (art. cit.) by many Western scholars. Jones had mistakenly considered the Desatir to be an ancient work complementing the Avesta. Corbin commented: "Although it [the Desatir] has nothing to do with the theology of the Avesta... it does have all the interest of the sort of book that could blossom forth in the entourage of Azar Kayvan" (art. cit.).

An irony is perhaps that the author, or authors, of the Desatir were trying to produce a rival to the Avesta. Their outlook avoided dogmatic sacerdotalism. The ishraqi mobads appear to have been ex-priests committed to a contemplative lifestyle. Others in this school had a different background, such as the merchant Shidosh ibn Anosh, and they were probably not writers. (35)

Corbin was the first Western scholar to evaluate the Desatir (36) or "book of prophets" in the context of ishraqi philosophy. Refusing to treat this work as a forgery, he stated: "It is of the greatest interest to the philosopher, since it is evidence of the diffusion of ishraqi philosophy, of which it bears unmistakeable traces." (37)

The Desatir includes two languages: an undeciphered script and a Persian text. The Persian "translation" and commentary claims to mediate mythical prophets of ancient Iran beginning with Mahabad. Corbin emphasises a transposition into Persian of some ishraqi terminology in Arabic. The undeciphered "original" language may simply have been a dialect used by Zoroastrians, or possibly a cipher language, or some other recourse. Whatever the case here, the Desatir was misunderstood by the Theosophical Society, who used that work to promote "esoteric" confusions in the late nineteenth century.

A due perspective is required. Ishraqi idioms were here part of an innovative format created by dissident Zoroastrians. The elaborate "Bible" of the Iranian prophets was intended to convey a sense of perennial wisdom antedating Zarathushtra. The successive prophets from Mahabad to the "Fifth Sasan" (who was attributed to late Sassanian times) are said to have taught a form of esoteric religion prevailing through the ages in Iran. The Desatir is thought to have circulated within the Kaivan school during the seventeenth century, and was certainly a source for the author of the Dabistan. The Azari context had been lost by the nineteenth century, when a new wave of Parsi enthusiasts adopted a faulty interpretation. Western Theosophists like Colonel Olcott likewise had no key to the Desatir, and misinterpreted this text as a testimony to an "Occult Science" supposedly concealed in Zoroastrian rituals.

One hostile assessment of the Desatir stated that "the spirit of the work was wholly remote from the rational, practical one of orthodox Zoroastrianism." (38) There was nothing very rational in the dubious practicality of the purity laws formulated by the Zoroastrian priesthood. Those laws had emerged in the late Avestan text known as Vendidad. The Zoroastrian ishraqi emphases on "self-denial, fasting and solitary meditation" (39) have been derided; however, these are conceivably more compelling than rituals. The Kaivan circle created an alternative mythology to that of contemporary Rivayats composed by the Zoroastrian priests. The exponents of the "religion of Hushang" (ayin-i Hushang), glorified in the Desatir, were sidestepping dogmatic sacerdotalism, a recourse which does not make them irrational or inferior. The due sociocultural context is so often banished from theological arguments.

The Desatir and related Kaivani texts have been described as "neo-Mazdean," in the sense of incorporating ishraq into a Mazdean or Zoroastrian cosmology. "Combining erudition and imagination, they [the Kaivani authors] tried to recover the suppressed memories and marginalised views of ancient Persians." (40) This literary situation included the ingenious attempt of Behram ibn Farhad, in the Sharistan, "to reverse the Islamication of pre-Islamic Persian historical memory, and to fashion a glorified Iran-centered past." This endeavour has to be understood in the context of an oppressed Zoroastrian minority who were explicating their cultural heritage. However, their reversal is viewed "as conjectural as the attempt of [much earlier] Muslim historians who refashioned the Persian historical accounts by placing them in the all-encompassing frame of Biblico-Quranic historical imagination." (41)

The Mazdean cosmology of the Kaivan circle elaborated a theme of sixteen pre-Islamic sages, including Mahabad and Zartusht (Zarathushtra). Alleged epistles of these entities are presented in the Desatir. The Kaivani authors wished to purify Persian of Arabic words, a strategy indicative of their aversion to Islamic religious and cultural dominance. The cosmology involved a format of cosmic cycles covering a vast sequence of time, very different from the chronology found in Islam and other monotheistic religions. Kaivani works "involved a revolutionary expansion of time, a temporal expansion that was seriously considered in Europe only with the 1830 publication of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology" (Tavakoli-Targhi 2001:88).

The Desatir is viewed by some scholars as a sixteenth century text. The nineteenth century popularisation of Desatir themes has been described in terms of a "proto-nationalist" conceptualism. The factor of a full blown "Persian nationalism," appearing by the early twentieth century, was a development far removed from the Mughal era trends.

6.  Dabistan-i  Mazahib  and  the  Sipasiyan

A Persian text, known as the Dabistan-i Mazahib, (42) is the major source on the Kaivan circle (or school). This work is anything but standard Zoroastrian fare. The anonymous author is sometimes identified as "Mobad Shah," a pen name associated with Mir Zhul-faqar Ardestani (his last name actually Azar Sasani, a detail supplied in Ernst 2019:35). Another identity early proposed (by Sir William Jones) was the poet Muhsin Fani Kashmiri, an attribution now much less convincing. A third candidate is Kaikhusrau ibn Isfandiyar, the "spiritual successor" of Kaivan. The Dabistan translator Anthony Troyer supposed that the author was "an orthodox Sufi" (Ernst 2019:42). As a consequence of these diverse attributions, much confusion has resulted. The Dabistan author is variously described by modern scholars as a Zoroastrian or a Shi'i Muslim. (43) He was apparently affiliated to the Kaivan school, or Sipasiyan as he calls them, from his early years.

The Dabistan is generally liberal in tone, being expansive in coverage of religions and sects; the treatment extends (though very unevenly) to Hindus, Jainas, Sikhs, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, philosophers, and Sufis. The chapter on Sufism has been criticised for an eccentric universalist disposition. The chapter on Islam has been criticised for distortions in reporting. The author was evidently averse to the type of insular Sunni Islam promoted by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Much of the book appears to have been written during the latter part of the reign of Shah Jahan (1628-57). (44)

The information about Azar Kaivan, found in the Dabistan, is fragmented, but nevertheless relevant. The author was personally acquainted with a number of Kaivan's disciples, recording some firsthand information about them. The author himself appears to have been born in Patna about 1615. During his adult years he lived in several different parts of India, including Kashmir; he apparently travelled for the purpose of studying different religious traditions. In 1649 he moved to the Kalinga region on the eastern shore of India; in this connection, a suggestion is that he was escaping harassment from the Sunni ulama. (45)

The author's name does not appear in the Dabistan. This identity may have been omitted because of the religious intolerance that hallmarked the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707). This was a time when heretical views could reap the penalty of death, the liberal policy of Akbar having been undermined and reversed.

Assessments of the Dabistan have varied. Some scholars have given the work credence as an unusual attempt to present information about different religions. There are also drawbacks. Some bizarre idioms, plus imaginary persons and events (in the first chapter), are featured. The chapter on the "Parsis" includes the Kaivan school, Mazdakites, and Zoroastrians. Also profiled are obscure Persian sects untraceable elsewhere; the coverage of these conveys a sense of lore rather than history. "The beliefs attributed to adherents of these sectarian 'communities' correspond closely to those of ancient Greek philosophers, Sabeans, and Hindus." (46)

The Dabistan author adapted and copied works of other writers. He was heavily dependent on informants for his description of Christianity and Judaism. As might be expected, the information on Tibetans is limited. Nevertheless, an interview with a Tibetan Buddhist was conducted in a manner that seems unique to the Kaivan school. The first Christian missionary to enter Tibet was the Jesuit Antonio de Andrade, who reached West Tibet in 1624. A generation later, in 1661, two Jesuits briefly sojourned at Lhasa, one of these being Johann Grueber, whose account of the Tibetan sacred city "served as the basis for Athanasius Kircher's inaccurate and hostile description of Tibetan Buddhism in his 1667 China Illustrata" (Donald S. Lopez Jr. and Thubten Jinpa, Dispelling the Darkness: A Jesuit's Quest for the Soul of Tibet, Harvard University Press, 2017, pp. 1-2). The Dabistan author was more open-minded.

A century later, the Jesuit missionary Ippolito Desideri (1684-1733) stayed at Lhasa for several years from 1716. Desideri, an Italian, was the first Western scholar of the Tibetan language. He learned Buddhism from Gelukpa monks, but refuted their doctrines in polemical works that he composed in Tibetan. He also wrote Notizie Istoriche del Thibet (Historical Notices of Tibet), in which he condemns Tibetan Buddhism. Desideri was strongly averse to Buddhist teachings that conflicted with Christianity (Trent Pomplun, Ippolito Desideri and Madhyamaka, 2018).

In a rather lavish idiom, the Dabistan author refers to the Kaivan circle (or school) in terms of the Sipasiyan, the Yazdaniyan, the Azar Hushangiyan, and the Abadiyan. The term Yazdan reflects the Zoroastrian background. However, this school evidently regarded themselves as being something distinct from orthodox Zoroastrianism. The Dabistan author is viewed as a Kaivani affiliate, because "the text throughout is interlarded with Azar Kayvani ideas and modes of expression." (47)

Hagiological flourishes, in the Dabistan, trace the ancestry of Kaivan's mother to the Sassanian monarch Khusrau Anushirvan, popularly believed to be a just monarch in Arabic annals (he should not be confused with the legendary Kayanian king Kay Khusrau). Kaivan's father Azar Goshasp bears a name synonymous with ishraq; he is awarded an exotic ancestry traced through Sasan the Fifth, a fictitious sage (appearing in the Desatir) associated with the reign of Khusrau Parviz, another Sassanian monarch. This putative ancestry harked back to the Kayanian kings, and finally to Mahabad, a mythical figure of the Desatir whom Corbin compared to the primordial Adam. It is unnecessary to believe that Azar Kaivan himself sported such an ancestry. However, some of his idioms may have been elaborated by followers. The Dabistan author appears to have been a first generation follower. There is no certainty that he was mirroring Kaivan's perspective on all points.

The Dabistan chapter on the Sufis is markedly liberal, affording a contrast to the author's more laboured comments in the chapter on Islam. His outlook does not reflect conventional Sufism. He describes Sufis as being scattered among all nations, and even promotes them in the context of Hindu terminology such as jnani. The author cites an informant, whom he names as Subhani (Troyer's "Sabjani"), to the effect that teaching of the "pure Sufis" is the same as that of the ishraqis. The equivalence is modified, however, by an accompanying reflection: "The Sufis have now mixed their creed with so many glosses that nobody finds therein the door to the rules of the prophet and the ancient saints." (48) This assertion is found in a very imperfect nineteenth century translation.

7.  Jivanji  J. Modi  and  Dastur  Dhalla

l to r: Jivanji  J.  Modi, Maneckji  N.  Dhalla

During the twentieth century, two eminent Parsi scholars expressed their views about the Kaivan school. They exhibit contrasting approaches.

Sir Ervad Jivanji J. Modi (1854-1933) was a learned Parsi priest, considered to be the greatest living authority on the history and customs of the Parsi community. He wrote a learned article on the Kaivan school that served to clarify some issues. For instance, he pointed out that the popular stylism of Dastur, applied to Azar Kaivan, was a later embellishment. Modi observed that this priestly title does not appear in either the Dabistan or the Sharistan of Farzaneh Behram. The tag had been conferred by nineteenth century Parsis suffering from hindsight. This caveat was insufficient, however, to prevent the clerical misnomer from persisting even amongst scholars.

Modi deduced that the beliefs of Kaivan and his disciples "were somewhat Sufistic with a mixture of some Indian practices of Yoga." (49) He did acknowledge the existence of ishraqi philosophy, but not in any thorough manner necessary to throw due light upon textual idioms. Modi was inclined to find some Sufi concepts reflected in conventional Zoroastrian works. Significantly however, he found no parallel in Mazdean orthodoxy to the ascetic traits and transmigration teaching of the Kaivan school. (50)

The other modern Parsi account came from the pen of Dastur Maneckji N. Dhalla (1875-1956), being markedly hostile. Although a reformist opposed to excessive ritualism, Dhalla wrote disapprovingly: "The Parsi priesthood could not satisfy the wants of such ecstatic enthusiasts [the Kaivan school]; they revolted from authority, and set about thinking for themselves." (51) He observes that Kaivan "lived for years in seclusion far from the public gaze." (52) Dhalla asserts disparagingly, of some Kaivani books, that "their philosophical dissertations mostly reproduce the teachings of Greek philosophy." (53) That should read ishraqi philosophy. However, Dhalla was apparently unfamiliar with the relevant term.

This zealous high priest was evidently annoyed by the claim of Kaivan school mystics that the orthodox Zoroastrian scriptures concealed esoteric teachings to which adepts held the key. (54) Dhalla argued that Kaivani teachings were based upon "the earlier doctrines of Sufism and developed under Hindu mystic influences." (55) Dastur Dhalla's attack on the Dabistan included an accusation that "the whole fabric of the ascetic and unworldly life is in direct antagonism to the active, and, in the best sense, worldly spirit of the Mazdayasnian faith." (56)

Dhalla was a high priest of Karachi who had gained a Ph.D. in America. He doubtless believed that his credentials were of sufficient weight to vanquish the heretical ascetic philosophers. Dhalla's contribution was more well known than that of Modi, and accordingly more influential. Fortunately, his purge did not succeed. Currently there is perhaps more interest than ever in the rejected party.

8.  Other  Philosophers  and  Mystics

Dastur Dhalla did not share the psychological orientation of an obscure Sipasi saint, namely Perah Kaivan, who is described by the Dabistan author as revealing himself "in the dress of every sect." (57) Apparently a Zoroastrian, this liberal mystic visited the Sikh Guru Hargobind shortly before the latter's death in 1645; the Guru is said to have recognised him, and accordingly showed him great respect. Yet because of this deference, the visitor departed, wishing to avoid the limelight.

Perah Kaivan is said to have adopted the garb of Hindu renunciates while in Gujarat, there encountering some Vaishnava ascetics who were followers of Krishna. They had a mark branded upon their hand and arm, the mark of Vishnu, which they believed would enable Vishnu to recognise them as his own. Perah observed that corpses were burned, emphasising that the soul would bear no such mark (of burning) for Vishnu to recognise. (58) One may deduce that, although Perah had adopted vairagi garb for some purpose, he would not concur with beliefs he considered untenable.

Several contemporary philosophers were described by the Dabistan author on the basis of his personal acquaintance with them. They do not appear to have been active within the Kaivan school. One of them was a Zoroastrian ishraqi, namely Hakim Herbad, originally from Fars. He settled in Lahore, leading an austere life and composing verses in Persian, Arabic, and Hindi. Hakim Mirza also hailed from Fars, being described as a sayed, an ishraqi, and a vegetarian; this entity was contacted at Kabul in 1643-4. Corbin comments approvingly that these men had made Suhrawardi's Book of Hours "the scripture for their own personal spiritual practice." (59) Again, a compelling point is that the practice bridged the gap between different religious backgrounds.

At large, however, division was the rule in Mughal society. A man who encountered this problem to a fatal degree was Sarmad, an Armenian Jew executed in 1660-1. Muhammad Said Sarmad, who early lived at Kashan, was the descendant of a family of Jewish rabbis; he apparently mastered the Hebrew language and rabbinical literature. He later studied Christian scriptures and also gained tuition from both Mulla Sadra and Abu'l Qasim Findiriski. Subsequently, he journeyed to India during the 1630s; the Dabistan indicates that he came under Kaivan school influences. At some point, Sarmad became a convert to Islam, while retaining the habit of freethinking which he assimilated from Findiriski.

Kaivani influences are implicated in Sarmad's adherence to vegetarianism; he declared that he would never make the pilgrimage to Mecca, a journey that would involve taking the life of an innocent animal. By the time he became a close associate of the liberal Mughal prince Dara Shikoh circa 1654, Sarmad was a qalandar type who went naked. A hostile Muslim writer, Sher Khan Lodi, refers to him as a lunatic; the disdain was perhaps aroused because Sarmad ridiculed formal prayers of the ulama, and also sectarian Sufi discourses.

The European travellers Manucci and Bernier observed Sarmad roaming naked about the streets of Delhi. However, he wore a loincloth when appearing in courtly company. Nudity, a practice associated with Hindu ascetics, annoyed some of the Muslim divines. Other issues were also involved in the orthodox displeasure, including Sarmad's allegiance to Dara Shikoh, who was tragically executed in 1659, at least partly because of his sympathy with Hindu religion. This event was instigated by the insular ulama who advised the emperor Aurangzeb.

The puritanical emperor is reported to have sent Mulla Abdul Qawi to persuade Sarmad to desist from the habit of nudity, associated so strongly with Hindu holy men. Sarmad refused to conform, instead retorting with the pun "Satan is Qawi." This was a head-on collision with the fundamentalist camp; the ulama were stridently anti-Hindu. The offended Mulla Qawi seems to have reported very adversely about the nonconformist. Sarmad was afterwards beheaded by the establishment, whose intolerance was lethal. The underlying reason for his removal from the scene was apparently his critique of Aurangzeb, whom Sarmad evidently viewed as the tyrannical murderer of the liberal Dara Shikoh.

Sarmad became a legendary figure. In transiting "from oppression to freedom," (60) via his death, he may be aligned with the general aversion of the Kaivan school to dogmatic horizons of religion. The Zoroastrian ishraqis must have felt relieved to escape from other oppressive situations represented by the ghetto at Isfahan, where from about 1608, Shah Abbas I pressed into service, as menial labourers, many unfortunate Zoroastrians from Yazd and Kirman. That population had to live in simple houses, reflecting their poverty and social inferiority in the shadow of Islam, which meant the ulama and the aristocracy. The limited opportunities of these underdogs were a blessing by comparison with their fate in the last Safavid reign, when the Shi'ite ulama instigated a grim programme of forcible conversion in 1699. Tragic Zoroastrians, who refused to comply with the bigoted theologians, died defenceless at the hands of fanatical and merciless swordsmen.

Dogmatic religion and imperial tyranny are well known problems. One can also strongly query the assessment of Zoroastrian ishraqi themes by British Empire scholarship of the nineteenth century. The Kaivan circle were deemed "dupes and knaves" (61) by the British historian William Erskine, who was writing in 1818. A drawback with such bias is that, for several generations, the writings of colonialists about Asiatic history and religion too often amounted to misrepresentation. The real knaves were the Empire bloodsuckers of India, whose mercantile activities and convenient assumptions about cultural superiority, were so frequently exploitive and superficial. Their fond beliefs, about "Enlightenment" and Empire prowess, contributed to complacent colonial thinking and enforced injustices.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

March  2012 (last modified May 2021)


(1)   Mehdi Amin Razavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination (Curzon Press, 1997), p. 122.

(2)   The History of Islamic Philosophy, edited by Professors S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman, does not refer to the Zoroastrian extension. A very brief reference appears in Amin Razavi, Suhrawardi and the School of illumination, p. 137, conveying that in India the Hikmat al-Ishraq "was translated into Sanskrit and welcomed especially by the Zoroastrian community." The name of Azar Kaivan can only be found in a footnote (ibid:144 note 35), which states that the influence of Suhrawardi is strong among the Zoroastrian community because ishraqi ideas were spread in India by the "mysterious Zoroastrian priest" Azar Kaivan.

(3)   Henry Corbin, En Islam iranien Tome 2: Sohravardi et les Platoniciens de Perse (Paris: Gallimard, 1972), pp. 354ff. Nevertheless, Corbin's relatively brief coverage still gave the impression that Zoroastrian ishraq (illumination) was a minor trend in the Iranian vista. Cf. Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom: A Study of the Kaivani Gnostics (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988). In that book, I adopted a description of this tradition in terms of Kaivani-ishraqi groups. However, in the Dabistan-i Mazahib, the Kaivan school is designated Sipasiyan (also other names).

(4)    Henry Corbin, "Azar Kayvan," Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 3 (1989), p. 183, available in the online version.

(5)   John Walbridge, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks (State University of New York Press, 2000), pp. 223-4.

(6)    Corbin 1989:184 col. 2.

(7)    The dateline proposed by J. J. Modi for the emigration was circa 1581-5. In contrast, Corbin states "around 1570" (art. cit., p. 184 col. 2). Even the later date was prior to the accession of Shah Abbas I, with whose reign the "School of Isfahan" is closely associated. I cited Modi's dating in From Oppression to Freedom, p. 87.

(8)    Corbin 1989:185 col. 1.

(9)    Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism: Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour (Mazda Publishers, 1992) p. 158.

(10)  The milieu of Akbar is notable for an openness to representatives from different religions, who included Parsi priests, Hindus, Jains, and Christian monks. For the view of Jesuit participants, see The Commentary of Father Monserrate on his Journey to the Court of Akbar, trans. J. S. Hoyland (Oxford University Press, 1922; repr. New Delhi: AES, 1992). Three missions from Goa were despatched to the court at the request of Akbar; the Jesuits were disappointed that the monarch did not become a convert. The editorial comments state that the Jesuits must have appeared to Akbar as intolerant as the orthodox Muslim divines, especially in view of the inquisition at Goa, of which he must have heard. The most obvious influences upon Akbar were Zoroastrianism and Jainism. His reverence for fire is thought to indicate his respect for Zoroastrianism. Extant are the names of six Jain instructors of Akbar; from 1578 onwards until the end of his reign, there were always one or two of these at the court, where the freethinking courtier Abu'l Fazl Allami was prominent. Akbar also had a high opinion of Sikhism; he strategically placed the Sikhs in a religious discussion with the Hindu priests who feared them. The first Jesuit mission arrived at Fatehpur Sikri in 1580; theological discussions with Muslim divines "were marked by great bitterness" (ibid:vii). Father Monserrate came from Lisbon; his journal is marked by bitter attacks upon Islam. Akbar seems to have admired the Jesuit zeal for poverty and chastity (ibid:51). Abu'l Fazl Allami was friendly towards the Jesuits, but other Muslims were alarmed at the attention which Akbar gave to teachers of different religions. See also S. A. A. Rizvi, Religious and Intellectual History of the Muslims in Akbar's Reign (New Delhi, 1975).

(11)  According to Jivanji J. Modi, the Mukashafat "may be taken as containing a writing of Azar Kaiwan himself, because, it is a commentary on a work of Azar Kaiwan." See Modi, "A Parsee High Priest (Dastur Azar Kaiwan, 1529-1614 A.D.) with his Zoroastrian Disciples in Patna, in the 16th and 17th century A.C.," Jnl of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute (Bombay 1932), 20: 1-85, p. 21. The Mukashafat (Revelations) was certainly influential amongst Parsis. There were diverse speculations about the Kaivan school works amongst nineteenth century Parsis. Contrasting with Corbin, one version refers to a commentary written by Kaikhushru ibn Isfandiar, the obscure successor of Kaivan. This document is sometimes known as the Jam-i Kaikhushru. See Daniel J. Sheffield, "Primary Sources in New Persian" (529-542) in Stausberg, Michael, and Vevaina, Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw, eds., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism (Oxford: John Wiley, 2015), p. 539.

(12)   Modi 1932:32, conveys: "Mr. B. B. Patel, in his Parsi Prakash (Vol. 1, p. 10), speaks of Azar Kaiwan as a Dastur. We have not the authority of the Dabistan or the Sharistan-i Chahar Chaman to speak of him as such. But Mobad Fardunji Marzban, in his translation of the Dabistan, began speaking of him as Dastur.... Then others followed suit." In 1928, Meher Baba described Kaivan as the "last true true dastur," which may be regarded as a qualification of the orthodox term. Meher Baba (1894-1969) was an Irani Zoroastrian born in India. He may be associated with some aspects of the Kaivani phenomenon; however, he was not concerned to promote Kaivani literature, being completely independent in his exposition.

(13)   Kaivan is described as "the mobad from Fars" in J. R. Russell, "On Mysticism and Esotericism among the Zoroastrians," Jnl of the Society for Iranian Studies (1993) 26: 73-93, p. 87.

(14)   Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (Routledge, 1979), p. 193.

(15)   Ibid:182-3. In more general terms, the receptivity of Akbar to Zoroastrianism has often been discussed. There is a tradition that Azar Kaivan had a long conversation with Akbar during the 1580s. See Makhanlal Roychoudhury, The Din-I-Ilahi or the Religion of Akbar (University of Calcutta, 1941), p. 150.

(16)   Corbin 1989:185 col. 2. Cf. Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, pp. 103-4. Hayakil al-Nur(Temples of Light) is a minor Arabic philosophical treatise of Suhrawardi, gaining commentaries from Jalal al-Din Dawani (d.1502) and Ghiyath al-Din Mansur Dashtaki (d.1541). See A. K. S. Lambton, "Al-Dawani," The Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 2 (new edn), p. 174; B. H. Siddiqi, "Jalal al-Din Dawwani" (883-8) in M. M. Sharif, ed., A History of Muslim Philosophy Vol. 2 (Wiesbaden 1966). Dawani studied theology at Shiraz, where he ultimately gained the role of professor at a madrasah. He became qazi of Fars, and is credited with over seventy works. Some say that he was a Peripatetic, or primarily a Peripatetic. His most famous work was modelled on Tusi's ethical treatise Akhlaq-i Nasiri, though ornamented with Quranic verses and Sufi utterances. Another of his works, Al-Zaura, has been described as a critical evaluation of kalam, philosophy, and Sufism from the ishraqi viewpoint. Yet his version of Hayakil al-Nur has been described in terms of "popular syncretistic philosophy" (H. Ziai, "The Illuminationist Tradition," in S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy Part 1, Routledge 1996, p. 471). Dawani was criticised by Dashtaki, an Imami scholar who apparently debated with his senior at the age of fourteen. See John Cooper, "From al-Tusi to the School of Isfahan" (585-96) in Nasr and Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy Part 1, p. 593. Dashtaki's output covered both Quranic commentary and the Peripatetic heritage; he has been viewed as a precursor of the "School of Isfahan." His commentary on Hayakil al-Nur has been described as "not an important theoretical work but... indicative of Suhrawardi's widespread impact" (Ziai, art. cit., p. 471). Another scholar has said of Dashtaki: "His works offer a perfect representation of ishraqi philosophy and particularly influenced Mulla Sadra, for whom he was often mistaken" (Amin Razavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination, p. 123).

(17)   Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia, ed. M. Amin Razavi (Curzon Press, 1996), p. 164. See also ibid:152-3 note 73; Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, p. 83.

(18)   Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy, trans. L. Sherrard (London: Kegan Paul International, 1993), p. 220.

(19)    Ziai, "The Illuminationist Tradition," p. 470.

(20)   Ibid, who clearly deemed Harawi's text to be lop-sided in the attention given to "the fantastic side of Illuminationist philosophy" at the expense of logical analysis.

(21)   Modi 1932:9; Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, pp. 109-10; Shepherd, The Resurrection of Philosophy (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1989), p. 159.

(22)   Shepherd 1989:161.

(23)   J. R. Russell, "On Mysticism and Esotericism among the Zoroastrians," p. 88.

(24)    Ibid.

(25)    Ibid:89. Some traditional data provides a basis for viewing Zarathushtra in a more ascetic or contemplative light than is generally envisaged. One modern commentator says: "According to some he began to observe strict silence at the age of seven; and a long solitary period of initiation was subsequently spent in the wilderness, where he lived in a mountain cave on a snowclad peak, subsisting solely on curds and milk." See E. M. Butler, The Myth of the Magus (Cambridge University Press, 1948; repr. 1993), p. 23. Professor Butler relied upon Zoroastrian sources, including the Zartusht-Nama, which he deemed to contain certain features that "were probably traditional, but may also have suffered contamination from Hebrew, Greek and Christian sources" (ibid:21).

(26)   S. A. Arjomand, "Religious Extremism (Ghuluww), Sufism and Sunnism in Safavid Iran: 1501-1722," Journal of Asian History (1981) 15: 1-35, p. 23; Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, pp. 89ff.

(27)   Corbin 1989:187 col. 1.

(28)   Nasr, Islamic Intellectual Tradition, p. 243, conveying that Amili "spent many of the last years of his life travelling with the dervishes and visiting various Sufi masters," also that he expired while returning from the hajj. Nasr calls Amili "an outstanding Sufi," also describing him as the leading architect of the Safavid period. Amili is said to have been respected by the various factions of jurists, hakims, natural historians, logicians, and Sufis. This polymath wrote a treatise on algebra and several on astronomy, in addition to various religious and poetic works (ibid:244).

(29)   E. Kohlberg, "Baha al-Din Ameli," Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 3, pp. 429-30; Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Spiritual Movements, Philosophy and Theology in the Safavid Period" (656-97) in The Cambridge History of Iran Vol. 6 (Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 666ff; C. E. Bosworth, Baha al-Din al-Amili and his Literary Anthologies (Manchester: Journal of Semitic Studies Monograph no. 10, 1989).

(30)   Hamid Dabashi, "Mir Damad and the founding of the 'School of Isfahan', " (597-634) in Nasr and Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy Part 1 (1996), p. 631.

(31)   John Cooper, "Rumi and Hikmat: Towards a reading of Sabziwari's Commentary on the Mathnawi" (409-33) in Leonard Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: from Its Origins to Rumi (London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1993), p. 418.

(32)    Dabashi, art. cit., p. 631.

(33)    Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism: Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour (1992), p. 158.

(34)    Dabashi, art. cit., p. 632.

(35)    Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, pp. 111-12, 115-16.

(36)    See Mulla Firuz bin Kaus, trans., The Desatir, or the Sacred Writings of the Ancient Persian Prophets (2 vols, Bombay 1818; second edn, Bombay 1888). See also Corbin, En Islam iranien Tome 2, pp. 356-7.

(37)    Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy, p. 330.

(38)    Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (1979), p. 198.

(39)    Ibid. The context of aspersion evoked from me a comparison of Kaivan with Zarathushtra in Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1, pp. 295-6, in an attempt at equality. My brief references to Kaivan producing poetry (ibid:296, 375) were a literary substitute for what is so difficult to convey - the so-called "visionary" experiences mentioned in the sources. Those experiences were believed to involve the assimilation of teaching from Iranian, Greek, and Indian sages of the past. However incredible such themes may sound, they are striking testimony to a non-dogmatic perspective that crossed ideological ravines and bridged cultural divides. More easily assimilable is the fact that Kaivan's influence produced the fairly substantial collection of poetry composed by Mobad Shah (about 3,000 couplets). That collection, known as the Divan-i Mobad, was preserved in the public library at Patna, and perhaps ought to be better known. The Divan expresses similar beliefs to those found in the Dabistan, including praise of Zarathushtra and the Desatir. See S. H. Askari, "Dabistan-i Madhahib and Diwan-i Mubad" (85-104) in F. Mojtabai, ed., Indo-Iranian Studies Presented for the Golden Jubilee of the Pahlavi Dynasty of Iran (New Delhi, 1977).

(40)   Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (New York: Palgrave, 2001), p. 87. This significant interpretation also relays a theme that Fath Allah Shirazi (d.1588), a learned Sufi and adviser of Akbar, was among the "most influential students" of Azar Kaivan. The same scholar cites the Dabistan claim that Akbar's key assistant Abu'l Fazl Allami (d.1602) was a "total believer" in Kaivan (ibid). See also Tavakoli-Targhi, "Contested Memories: Narrative Structures and Allegorical Meanings of Iran's Pre-Islamic History," Iranian Studies (1996) 29:149-175. Professor Tavakoli-Targhi refers to the Kaivan school as a "neo-Mazdean intellectual movement." The writings of this school are described as "Iran-centered neo-Mazdean texts" (Refashioning Iran, p. 87).

(41)   Tavakoli-Targhi (2001), pp. 91-2, reminding that "in early Islamic historical writings, the termination of Sassanian rule signified the moral superiority of Islam" (ibid:xiii-xiv). Cf. John Walbridge, The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi and Platonic Orientalism (State University of New York Press, 2001), pp. 91ff.

(42)    A problematic translation exists in D. Shea and A. Troyer, The Dabistan or School of Manners (3 vols, Paris: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, 1843). This has many errors. See note 48 below.

(43)   See Fath-Allah Mojtabai, "Dabestan-e Madaheb," Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 6 (1993), p. 533 col. 1, stating that "the author seems to have belonged to a Persian Shi'ite family." Evidence for this is derived from both the Dabistan and the Divan of Mobad Shah. However, some influential scholars like Charles Rieu were inclined to think that the Dabistan author was a Zoroastrian, a deduction apparently supported by his "outsider" account of Islam. See Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, p. 148 note 43. My attempt to cover alternative possibilities was emphasised in my reflection: "Though my own conclusion is that Mobad Shah was a Zoroastrian by birth, I will not be dogmatic on this point; he could have been a very liberal Muslim of Persian blood" (The Resurrection of Philosophy, p. 208). According to Professor Tavakoli-Targhi, the Dabistan was "arguably written by Azar Kayvan's son Kaykhusraw Isfandyar" (Refashioning Iran, p. 88). The same commentator emphasises that there is no scholarly consensus about authorship of the Dabistan (ibid:171 note 64). See also Carl W. Ernst, "Situating Sufism and Yoga," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (2005) 15 (1):15-43. Professor Ernst refers to Mobad Shah as a Zoroastrian author, and describes the Dabistan in terms of "a highly complex philosophical and mystical treatise, in which Sufism, Ishraqi Illuminationism, and strands of Indian religious thought and practice (including yoga) form the basis for an original mystical reinterpretation of Zoroastrian tradition" (ibid:40).

(44)   Mojtabai 1993:532 col. 2, citing Rieu's Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum Vol. 1, defining the period 1645-58. Cf. Corbin 1989:184 col. 2, who says the Dabistan was written during the reign of Aurangzeb, though prior to the death of Mobad Shah in 1670.

(45)   Mojtabai 1993:533.

(46)   Ibid. The Sabeans, associated with Harran, are a complex subject. For a few comments, see Suhrawardi as Neoplatonist.

(47)   Mojtabai 1993:534.

(48)   David Shea and Anthony Troyer, The Religion of the Sufis (London: Octagon Press, 1979), p. 70. This abridged translation of the Dabistan derives from a much earlier three volume work, marred by numerous errors. Cf. Carl W. Ernst, "The Dabistan and Orientalist Views of Sufism" (33-52) in Jamal Malik and Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh, eds., Sufism East and West: Mystical Islam and Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Modern World (Leiden: Brill, 2019). Professor Ernst is very critical of the nineteenth century translation by Anthony Troyer. For instance: "One can only assume a Freudian slip on the part of Troyer, who thus pushed the eclectic and universalist interpretation [of the Dabistan] even further than his source by inventing Yogic interlocutors out of thin air" (ibid:44). The main target of Ernst is the Dabistan chapter on Sufism. "The highly abstract characterisation of Sufism in this chapter identifies it primarily as a philosophical teaching that is only tangentially connected to Islam" (ibid:46). Ernst duly corrects the Troyer rendering of the dervish Subhani's name as Sabjani. Subhani was one source for the Dabistan author. Subhani "reaffirms the notion that Sufis are really Ishraqis and then describes himself as part of the school of Ibn Arabi via Qunawi, all of whom are Platonists [in the disputed chapter]" (ibid:45). Professor Ernst concludes with a pointed criticism: "The persistence of the notion of universalist Sufism in various forms until today is a testament to the persuasiveness of its original formulation, even if the original source is now forgotten" (ibid:49).

(49)   Modi, "A Parsee High Priest with his Zoroastrian Disciples," p. 63.

(50)   Ibid:75ff.

(51)   Maneckji  N. Dhalla, History of Zoroastrianism (Oxford University Press, 1938), p. 464.

(52)   Ibid:465.

(53)   Ibid.

(54)   Ibid:466.

(55)   Ibid:467.

(56)   Ibid:469. Cf. Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, pp. 76-7.

(57)  Shea and Troyer, trans., The Dabistan Vol. 2, pp. 192-3, describing Perah as one of the Yazdaniyan, a reference to participants in the Kaivan school.

(58)   Ibid:280, 192.

(59)   Corbin 1989:185 col. 2. In From Oppression to Freedom, p. 117, I referred to Hakim Herbad as Hirbed.

(60)   Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, pp. 118ff., 122ff., 134; S. A. A. Rizvi, Muslim Revivalist Movements in Northern India in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Agra University, 1965), pp. 343-4, 366ff. See also Bikrama Jit Hasrat, Dara Shikuh: Life and Works (second edn, New Delhi: Manoharlal, 1982).

(61)   Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom, p. 173, citing W. Erskine, "On the Authenticity of the Desatir," Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay (1820) 2: 342ff.