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High in the wild reaches of Kurdistan is a place called Arbil, a strangely beautiful landscape of broad, empty plateaus, and brown windswept hillsides. On some days, the north wind seems to sing in a strange, keening voice as it blows through the rugged stones and short shrubs that fill this land. The people who dwell there call it Farhad-nay, the flute of Farhad. It is said that once all the great poets and bards of ancient Persia came here to hear the song of the wind, and it was the voice of the wind that gave their poems what beauty they had.

But Allah alone knows all.

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The world is alight, alight with my beloved's glow, for my heart has found the one it has longed for. I wandered over land and sea searching for the one my heart loves, and now my heart has found him. He has filled the emptiness in me with the light of his love, and the world is alight with his glow, for he is in everything I see.
      -- Khusrau Dehlavi

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Many generations ago, the mountains were home to a young girl called Shirin, the daughter of the lord of Arbil. From a very early age, it was known that Shirin would grow to be a beautiful woman, perhaps the most beautiful woman in all Persia, and her father deemed that none less than the Shahenshah, the emperor of Persia, would be fit to wed her. For her sake, he turned his citadel into the mountains into a palace of beauty, and named it Qasr-e-Shirin, Shirin's castle.

In the citadel, there also lived a boy named Farhad, the son of the lord's stonemason. In the ordinary course of things the two would never have met, for commoners do not consort with the noble-born even when they dwell in their shadow. But fate plays strange games with our lives, and one day when Farhad was roaming the mountains, he saw a strange, beautiful animal. It was a deer, a stranger in that land of foxes and hawks. It was hurt, and limping. Farhad gently caught it, and took it home, where he nursed it to health.

When news of the deer reached the ears of the little princess, she wanted it. Farhad's father did not dare be the first to refuse a demand of the daughter of the lord of Arbil and despite Farhad's tears and pleas, the deer was given to Shirin. But Farhad complained to the lord of Arbil himself of the theft. The lord would not deny his daughter what she desired, but he granted a concession to Farhad. He was permitted to visit the deer every day. So every day, Farhad went to the gardens of Qasr-e-Shirin and he and Shirin played with the deer. And then they were too old to play, but still Farhad came, and he and Shirin would sit together under the spreading shade of the trees and talk long into the dusk, while the deer gamboled about the lawn unheeded. One day, the lord of Arbil saw them as they walked together in the garden. And with a sudden shock, he realised that they were no longer children.

That day, Farhad was banned from the citadel, and all Shirin's entreaties and tears only hardened her father's resolve. And then Farhad thought of how Shirin's hair was blacker than the wing of a raven, yet glistened brighter than the moonlight on the river Alwan that flowed through the gardens of Qasr-e-Shirin. A thousand unimagined thoughts and a thousand unspoken words welled in his heart. He climbed to the top of the mountains of Zagros, and played the words he could not say on his flute. They say that such was the power of his song that the north wind stopped to listen, and ever since then, its voice carries only the song of his flute. That day, it carried the song down the mountain, to the citadel and the balcony where Shirin stood in lonely desolation.

She climbed the mountain following the song, and found him there, by a pile of rocks on the mountain, his flute singing its song of separation and grief to the winds. There they swore to be true to each other, and there they met in secret every day, and planned for the day when they would be wed. For they were in love, in that true, deep love that only comes once in a hundred generations.

But it is not for us to shape the path of our life, for fate plays strange games with us. And Allah alone knows all.

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The clouds weep as I part from the one my heart loves,
as I part my heart from the one who keeps it.
The clouds weep as we two stand, saying farewell.
Now I weep alone. The clouds are gone. My love is gone.
      -- Khusrau Dehlavi

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On a bright spring morning, the emperor of Persia rode alone through Kurdistan, near the mountains of Arbil. A fox darted across the horse's path. The horse stumbled, and reared into the air. As the emperor struggled to calm it, from out of the air, a hawk swooped down with outstretched talons, nearly brushing the emperor's head. The horse reared again, and fell. The emperor fell beneath it.

Shirin was standing at her balcony that bright spring morning, when the emperor fell and was borne into Qasr-e-Shirin. A song to her beloved was in her heart, and her eyes were bright as her hair flowed behind her in the morning breeze. The emperor's tired gaze fell upon her as he was borne into the citadel, and his heart was lost.

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The day Shirin's betrothal was announced, Farhad came to the hall of the lord of Arbil, and demanded that the emperor relinquish Shirin's hand in his favour. When the emperor heard the story, he turned away. He was a brave man, and would have fought a thousand rivals for Shirin, but he sensed that a fight with Farhad would be futile.

He turned to Farhad, and said, "Let it not be said that the Shahenshah failed to show justice. Prove your love for Shirin, and she will be yours. Dig a canal through the hill Bisotun with your pickaxe, wide enough for six lances and deep enough for three. Make my court sparkle with water as Takht-e-Jamshid did. Do not return till you have done that. Then you shall have Shirin."

The court laughed, for Bisotun is a huge mountain, over 1200 metres tall and six kilometres long. But Farhad said nothing and, shouldering his pickaxe, he set out for the mountain. Shirin wept to see him go. "He sends you on an impossible task, only to part us, and I shall never see you again." Farhad smiled gently, and said, "He believes it to be impossible, and I believe it to be possible. Wait for me. In the hour that you hear the water dance in the fountains in the royal court, wait for me."

And then he was gone.

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The yellow mustard blooms in every field, mango blossoms shyly spread their petals, cuckoos chirp on every branch. The maidens begin to adorn themselves with the first flowers of spring, bangles jingle brightly on their arms. But my door is dark, awaiting the footsteps of the one my heart loves. So many long years have gone by since the day he promised to return.

And now, once again, the yellow mustard begins to bloom.

      -- Khusrau Dehlavi

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They say that the birds of the air and the wild animals of the hills became his friends as he toiled alone on the top of Bistoun. The moles tunneled through the mountain when he stopped, and the birds broke stones with their beaks. They say Bisotun itself was moved by the songs he sang by day and played on his flute at night, and yielded its paths to him. They say the djinns and angels came to his aid, carrying stones and mud away as he slept at night. But Allah alone knows all.

And one day, the royal court awoke to the bubbling song of fountains that had lain silent for the reign of a hundred kings.

The emperor was troubled, for by his word he was pledged to give Shirin to Farhad, and that he would not do. So, leaving his court, he went to the cave where the Old Woman of the Hills dwelt, and sought her advice.

"It is not a good deed you plan, king", the old woman said. "But if you wish to proceed, here is what you must do. Tell Shirin that you will send an escort of honour to meet Farhad, so that she does not rush out to meet him. In the meanitme, separate the youngling of every animal from its mother. Reunite them when you see Farhad coming."

The emperor did this. As Farhad neared the court, he heard the loud wailing of the mothers as they were reunited with their offspring. His footsteps quickened, till saw the emperor standing at the gates of the city waiting for him. "Why this wailing, sire", he asked, "and why is my Shirin not here to meet me?" With tears in his eyes, the emperor embraced him, and said, "Shirin is dead. She fell down the stairs this morning as she ran to meet you."

For one endless moment, Farhad stood there unmoving, uncomprehending. Then he broke free of the emperor's arms, turned around, and ran. Away, far away from the city whose very sight was now painful to him.

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The fair one lies on her couch,
her dark curls are scattered on her face.
Go, Khusrau, go back home,
for darkness wraps the world, and it will never lift.
      -- Khusrau Dehlavi

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Farhad ran through the dusty plains and hills, till he was far from the city. There he stopped, and turned to his pickaxe. "Through all these days, my friend, you alone have never left my side. Now I ask you to do a last thing for me. Take me back to Shirin." He raised the pickaxe and brought it down on his breast.

Through the day, Shirin stood at her balcony, waiting for her love to arrive. But he did not come. Shirin waited till dusk fell and the stars rose. Then as the cold north wind began to blow, she heard the faint notes of a flute calling her, as it had called her to a hillside in Arbil so many years ago. Wrapping a cloak about her, she left the palace and followed the wind. It led her out of the city, and through the plains and hills. And there, in the cold moonlight, she saw the place where Farhad lay dead.

The sorrow of Shirin in that hour was so great that even the poets do not speak of it. But when some hours had passed, she dried her tears, and taking up Farhad's pickaxe, brought it down on her breast.

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In Arbil, it is said that when the grief-stricken Shahenshah came to recover the bodies of Shirin and Farhad, he did not find them. Some say the lord of Arbil took them away, and interred them side by side in Qasr-e-Shirin. Others say that Shirin's last song reached the vaults of heaven and the guardian of Paradise himself was so moved that he sent his servants to bear the two lovers to his realm where they live forever, free from the sorrows and cares of this life.

But Allah alone knows all.


Arbil is today a small town in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of northern Iraq. It is in the area that was worst hit by the Iraqi chemical bombings against the Kurds.

Qasr-e-Shirin in Iranian Kurdistan was obliterated by Iraqi bulldozers during the war with Iran. Some portions have been rebuilt, but no trace of the ancient town remains.