Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Tavern Keeper

Today is being spread the feast for the tavern-keeper's son.1

— Hafiz

Meher Baba's father, Sheriar, was born in Khūzestān Province, Iran in 1853 to a poor Zoroastrian family. When he was 13 years old he left home and became a wandering dervish. After many years a voice in the desert told him he would find what he sought through a son. Sheriar then traveled to India where he joined the Parsi community in Poona, married, and opened a Toddy shop. Toddy is a kind of inexpensive wine, also called Palm Wine. The toddy business eventually expanded into a small chain of taverns. Thus Sheriar became literally a tavern keeper. Merwan (Meher Baba) worked in his father's taverns as a young man, serving wine and encouraging visitors not to drink too much.

Those who are familiar with the poetry of the great 14th century Persian Sufi poet Hafiz, are aware that his poetry speaks of 'the tavern-keeper' and 'the tavern keeper's boy.' Following are some discussions of the term "tavern-keeper" in the works of Hafiz - its meaning and origin.

"The title which Hafiz gives to the Tavern-keeper is Pir-i-Maghan-literally, the Old Man of the Magians. The history of this title is an epitome of the history of Persian faiths. It indicated primarily the priest of the first of Persian religions, that of Zoroaster. When the Mahommadans invaded Persia, and the preachers of the Prophet supplanted the priests of Zoroaster, their title fell into disrepute, and was degraded so far that it came to mean only the keeper of a tavern or caravanserai. But in this sense it gradually regained the honourable place from which it had fallen; for the keepers of such places of resort were, for the most part, men well acquainted with the "ways of the road and the hostelry." In their time they may themselves have served travellers upon their journey; they had heard and learnt much from the wayfarers who stopped at their gates, and they were able to guide others upon their journey, sending them forth refreshed and comforted in body. And here the Sufis took up the ancient name and used it to mean that wise old man who supplied weary travellers upon life's road with the spiritual draught of Sufi doctrine which refreshes and comforts the soul." (Teachings of Hafiz, Gertrude Lowthian Bell, 1897, Translator's Preface)

"Wine being prohibited by the Mohammedan law, the taverns appear to have been, on the installation of Islam as the state religion of Persia, clandestinely established in out-of-the-way places, such as ruins (hence the common name kherabat, ruins, for tavern) of old buildings, and especially in the deserted temples of the Magians or Zoroastrian fire-worshippers (hence ‘Temple’ or ‘Convent of the Magians’ = wine-house); hence the expressions ‘Cup of the Magians,’ ‘Wine of the Magians,’ etc."
(Odes from the Divan of Hafiz, Richard Le Gallienne. Note by Mr. John Payne. pp. 25-26)

"We have already noted the presence of a large Zoroastrian community in Shiraz during the Buyid period, but by the time of Hafez four centuries later, it survived only as a convention in his poetry with its reference to Zoroastrian priests (mogh, pl. moghan) and in expressions such as kharabat-e-moghan (tavern), pir-e-moghan (tavern-keeper), and mogh-bachcheh (tavern-keeper's boy). The drink-shops of Hafez's time would have been in the hands of other non-Moslems, either Jews or Christians."
(Shiraz in the Age of Hafez: the Glory of a Medieval Persian City, John W. Limbert, p. 52)


1. Attributed to Hafiz by the Australian Sufi leader and poet Francis Brabazon in Stay With God, 3rd edition p. 86. Have not been able to determine which ghazal and translation Brabazon relied upon. Brabazon writes, "More or less a direct 'lift' from Hafiz" (SWG, 3rd ed, Endnotes, p. 163)

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