Imagining Hāfez: Rabindranath Tagore in Iran, 1932

In: Journal of Persianate Studies
Afshin Marashi University of Kansas

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In April and May of 1932, Rabindranath Tagore traveled to Iran on an official visit. He had been invited to Iran as the official guest of Rezā Shah Pahlavi. Using an array of primary source material, this article examines the cultural, political, and ideological implications of this trip for the emerging discourse of nationalism in interwar Iran. The article argues that Tagore’s visit played an important part in promoting the new official nationalism of the Pahlavi state. The emerging interwar ideology of “Pahlavi nationalism” sought to dissociate Iran from the Abrahamic-Islamicate “civilizational ethos” that was now understood to have long dominated Iranian culture, and instead sought to associate Iranian nationalism’s claim of cultural authenticity to a newly emerging notion of “Indo-Iranian civilization” rooted in the pre-Islamic culture of Zoroastrianism and Aryanism. Tagore’s visit to Iran was seen as an opportunity for his Iranian hosts to present him to the Iranian public as a living personification of this newly conceived idea of national authenticity. The public ceremonies and pronouncements that accompanied Tagore during the four-week trip all reinforced this basic message. The paper therefore argues that the Tagore visit to Iran was closely tied to the Pahlavi state’s policy of cultural nationalism.

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