First Iranian Female Narrator of Shahnameh

On the Occasion of Upcoming International Women’s Day

Most Iranians regard Ferdowsi as the greatest of their poets and for many years they have continued to read and to listen to recitations from his masterpiece known as the Epic Book of Kings (in Persian: Shahnameh), in which the Iranian national epic found its final and enduring form. To the Iranians, Shahnameh is the history of their country’s glorious past, preserved for all time in sonorous and majestic verse.

Storytelling (in Persian: Ghesseh Khaani, Naghali), a dramatic performance accompanied by traditional Iranian music, is thought to be a pivotal element in Iran’s traditional forms of narration. Selected epics by Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh are the primary sources for narration in Naghali and some believe the art form is an ancestor of Iran’s dramatic arts that is deeply rooted in Persian culture. Naghali was infused into our culture in the alleys and coffee houses (in Persian: Ghahveh Khaaneh) where men recited sorties of Shahnameh for men, since those houses used to be men’s favorite haunts in those formative years. In older times, men were the narrators of these epics, but gradually over the years and particularly over the last 30, women seem to have found an interest in naghali.

In this article the epic story of Gordafarid and the life story of Fatemeh Habibizad as the first Iranian female narrator of Shahnameh will be briefly studied.

The Epic Story of Gordafarid
Gordafarid is one of the heroines in the Shahnameh, an enormous poetic opus written by the famous Iranian poet Ferdowsi around 1000 AD. She was a champion who fought against Sohrab (another Iranian hero who was the commander of the Turanian army) and delayed the Turanian troops who were marching on Persian Empire.

Here is a part of the epic story of Gordafarid as documented by Professor Ehssan Yar-shater: “But one of those within the fortress was a woman, daughter of the warrior Gazhdaham, named Gordafarid. With not a moment’s delay she dressed herself in a knight’s armor, gathered her hair beneath a Roumi helmet, and rode out from the fortress, a lion eager for battle. She roared at the enemy ranks, “Where are your heroes, your warriors, your tried and tested chieftains?”

View the full text of Persian text of the above story here.

Her Life
Fatemeh Habibizad was born in Ahwaz (a city in southwestern Iran, the capital of the Khuzestan province) in 1977. Her nickname is Gordafarid. She is a graduate of the Cultural Heritage University of Tehran. Though she has been trained as an archaeologist, she currently teaches Shahnameh Narration (in Persian: Naghali-e Shahnameh) at the University of Fine Arts in Tehran.

Gordafarid started to narrate the epic book of Ferdowsi in the year of 2000. She officially narrated Shahnameh on May 15, 2005 on the occasion of Ferdowsi Day. On that occasion, she narrated the epic of Sohrab and Gordafarid at the Kerman University in Kerman, a province in the south-east of Iran. In addition to Iran, Fatemeh Habibizad had also several performances on narration of Shahnameh in various cities of Europe, and North America.

Here is a link to Gordafrid’s story and to a part of her Shahnameh Narration.

Her Remarks
Here are some remarks made by Fatemeh Habibizad:

1. I was always interested in the art of narration and enjoyed watching various kinds of narrations and curtain reading. I attended the performances of Master Valiollah Torabi and I began reciting after a year.

2. Narration requires long study and hard work. It is not a simple reading. A narrator must know the Shahnameh well, must be well aware of the techniques of narration, and should do research in the various fields of fiction, myth, and epic poetry. You must really train yourself and must have a grasp of what you are narrating.

3. Although the characteristics of the narrator are mainly masculine qualities, I feel I bring a unique way of narrating stories to the role.

4. The narrators must use their voice and mime actions to bring an extra element of drama to the performance.

5. Iran’s geographical location means that it has experienced a turbulent history full with invasions and bloodshed, perfect for epic tales of heroism.

6. It is not all about ancient warriors and there are also love stories.
7. The stories of Shahnameh are also enjoyed in neighboring countries.

1. Few years ago, Farahnaz Karimkhani, an Iranian female in Sanandaj (a city in northwestern Iran, the capital of the Kordestan province), claimed that she performed Shahnameh Narration years before 1979. She did not however consider herself as the first active female narrator of Shahnameh and in an interview she admitted that, “After the revolution, I put naghali aside and never practiced it again”.

2. In 2008, a 34-minute documentary film entitled as “The Legend of Gordafrid” was shown in Tehran and some cities in Europe and attracted the attention and admiration of a wide range of audiences. The film which tracked the story of Fatemeh Habibizad (Gordafarid) as the first Iranian female narrator of Shahnameh was produced and directed by Hadi Afarideh.
3. In 2010 when Fatemeh Habibizad visited the USA, Nazi Kaviani posted online a photo essay and a documentary on Gordafarid which interested many people who were anxious to know more about the art of naghali and the narration of the epic stories of Shahnameh.

Fatemeh Habibizad surely selected an appropriate nickname as Gordafarid, a symbol of courage and wisdom for the Iranian women. Bravo Gordararid!

Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD

Afarideh, H. (2008): Online Report on the documentary film of the legend of Gordafrid.
Amini Najafi (2008): Online Interview with Fatemeh Habibizad (in Persian).
Kaviani, N. (2010): Online Photo Essay and Documentary on Gordafarid.
Payvand Website (2008): Online Article on “Gordafarid, Iran’s First Woman Storyteller”.
Saadat Noury, M. (2007): Online Article on “First Female Narrator of Shahnameh”.
Saadat Noury, M. (2011): Various Articles on Persian Culture & First Iranians.
Tehran Times Website (2010): Online Report on “Iran’s first female naqqal appeared 30 years ago in Sanandaj”.
Various Sources (2011): Online News on Fatemeh Habibizad.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2011): Online Notes on Storytelling, Narration, One-person show, and Gordafarid.
Yar-shater, E. (1998), The Lion and the Throne: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Korea: Mage Publishers.


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