Folio from Khamsa-i-Nizami

22.3225 (332 folios)

Folio from Khamsa-i-Nizami

22.3225 (332 folios)


Script – Nastaliq
Language – Persian

The Khamsa-i-Nizami is a masnavi (collection of poems) by poet Nizami. A famous classic of Persian literature, it consists of five poems: Makhnul Asarar (not dated), Khusru-wa Shirin (1584 ce), Haft Paikar (1584 ce), Laila Majnu (1583 ce), and Sikandar Nama (not dated). Among these, only Haft Paikar is illustrated.

Haft Paikar is the story of Prince Behram, the son of Yazdegar, King of Persia. He was an expert in the game of hunting and achieved the title Gur – wild ass – after killing a fighting lion and wild ass with one arrow. Later he married seven beautiful princesses from different countries. He then ordered his most talented architect Shideh to build a palace for each of the seven princesses. Shideh, true to his abilities, built seven palaces with different coloured domes constructed according to the positions of the planets and their respective colours. Behram decided to visit the princesses one by one according to the day of the week, and requested each of them to tell him a story.

The seven stories told by seven princesses reflect seven different stages in the philosophical journey of human life. Behram first visits the princess in the black pavilion, which symbolizes the mystery of god hidden by the veil of ignorance. His journey ends at the palace of Princess Diroste, which is white, a symbol of divine purity and unity.

The colophon pages of the manuscript do not mention the name of the scribe. However, the notes in Persian before the beginning of the second and third masnavi give information about the owner of the book in a later period. It seems that in the mid-17th century this book was in the possession of a Mughal noble who took it with him on the expedition to Kandahar led by Prince Muhammad Aurangzeb. The study of these notes yields very interesting information about the movements of the royal army and the distances covered. After this, the manuscript seems to have gone into the possession of one Karam Ahmed Saheb. The text on the last page of the manuscript says: “Karam Ahmed Saheb purchased this manuscript and now it is his property whoever claims it will not have any good”.The seal on this page is illegible.
The painting illustrates the visit of Behram Gur to the red Pavilion of Princess Nasrin, the daughter of the ruler of the slaves. The day is Tuesday which is ruled by the planet Mars. A haloed Behram Gur is shown seated inside the pavilion with the princess. Both wear Persian-style robe and headgear. The feast time is over and now Princess Nasrin is telling Prince Behram a story in the company of her five maids.

Intricate jali windows add to the grandeur of the palace and provide a suitable backdrop for the couple. The rendering of the human figures and decorative elements are inspired by Safavid paintings, but the heavy shading on the chin and the general posture are Indian influences.
The headgear worn by Princess Nasrin is worth discussing here. The cloth cap with a golden diadem, an elongated and curved tailpiece, and a scarf hanging behind the head can be compared very well with the painting of a princess in a Tabriz album in the collection of Harvard University Art Museum.

The princess here is wearing a similar but more refined version of the headgear with the addition of a golden finial and a pearl strap. This type of headgear appears in early Safavid court paintings and is later copied in a simpler form in late-16th-century paintings. The headgear of Behram is also inspired by Safavid-style paintings.

Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection.


Indian Miniature Paintings

Object Type

Miniature Painting


Ink and opaque watercolour on paper






Dated ah 992 = 1584 ce




Folio 21.7 x 16.3 cm, painting 6.1 x 12.5 cm