Senmar Sacrificing Session by Bahram Beyzai

Senmar Sacrificing Session, written by Bahram Beyzai in 1998, is a play narrating the tragic story of Persian- Roman architect who built Khawarnaq.

Building Khowarnaq by Kamal ud din Behzad
Building Khowarnaq by Kamal ud din Behzad, kept in British Museum, London

The play starts with some black-worn men bumping into a corpse. They surprisingly realize that the corpse belongs to Senmar. The renowned Persian-Roman Architecture who was assigned by the sultanate of al-Hirah, al-Nu’man I ibn Imru’ al-Qays, to build a palace in a desert. While they were talking to each other disparaging the wisdom and knowledge, Senmar rose and began telling his story.

I, Senmar, rise to recount my fall

As I was falling, I was close to Heaven rather than earth

In that unbelievable instance, Between Heaven and Earth-

To the air stripping away beneath me

And the world that opens his mouth under my feet

Yes, between the two worlds, I was counting the bricks

That I pieced them together with my hands

And each brick thousand times

In terror ask with wide open mouth: Why? Why? Why?

The ruler of al-Hirah ordered to fall Senmar from the palace he himself built. Al-Nu’man, who has been ruling the al-Hirah for some times, thinks to build a palace for himself. Tired of being sultanate of sands, he dreams of having a palace paralleled with the Sassanid Persian King, Yazdegerd I in Ctesiphon. He confessed his inability of architectural knowledge, while he boasted his craftsmanship in weaving tents made of Camel’s hair.

The arrival of the Persian King in the upcoming winter propelled Al-Nu’man to hide his inferiority and show his glory.

Are we less than Persia?

They are the Lords of the world and proud of it

Lest they look at us as inferiors!

Illustration of Senmar by Baran Sedighian

Senmar promised Al-Nu’man to build better palace than Persian kings, called “Khawarnaq”. Senmar demands golds for the palace, but Al-Nu’man could not bring himself to pay such a large amount of golds and workers. Seeing the sultan’s stinginess, he asked people help. Each who cuts a Cedar could keep the branches. Each who makes hundred bricks can take ten for himself. Infuriated by his shrewdness, Al-Nu’man accused Senmar of wasting and dedicating his resources to peasants.

He asks Senmar’s reward for building Khawarnaq that reputation has already spread throughout the realm. He replied “nothing”. He offers his own camel, his best horse, seventy of his best goats and above all his youngest daughter to Senmar. However, it was in vain. He refused all.

Senmar: I build this building for the sake of building.

One day Al-Nu’man dashed into the working place like wild cow seeing red withering with pain of his last dream. He dreamt that his father appeared in his palace asking to show the vast desert and the cedars which were used for making the palace. He felt humiliated by his father’s reproachful eyes for losing his long kept heritage. Senmar proposed stop working on Khawarnaq; however, Al-Nu’man’s eyes couldn’t let go of this magnificent palace. the situation went ugly when the elders of the tribes and courtiers reproached him for choosing a stranger over his own tribe member and warning him against Senmar’s popularity over himself. Khawarnaq belongs to Senmar who won people hearts, not Al-Nu’man. Meanwhile, Senmar fell in love with his youngest daughter at a first sight and now Khawarnaq was an excuse for staying close to her, despite her absence.

Senmar's Sacrificing Session Bahram Beyzai - The Seven beauties
Senmar felling in love with Al Nu’man’s youngest daughter

Once he tried to leave al-Hirah to visit his sick father, but Al-Nu’man broke his legs out of fear of losing him forever. With broken legs he couldn’t ride a horse to Rome. The next group who couldn’t tolerate Senmar’s progress and success were al-Hirah’s local architectures. They openly criticized the sultan’s decision, choosing Senmar as the architect, as belittling Arabs before the Persians. After all, he has no Arab blood in his body. They even warned him of building more magnificent palace than Khawarnaq for someone else after finishing his task in here. Maybe for Persian king.

Oscillating between keeping his heritage or seeking new palace, he finally ordered to kill Senmar by throwing him off his own building. After his death, Al-Nu’man slowly came to himself and realized his mistake. He stood against the elders to defend Senmar’s endeavor to make seven-domed palace out of this barren land. Al-Nu’man accused them of laziness and idleness.

Human cannot stop thinking and working

Khawarnaq is our endeavor fulfilled

Is it not better to know us by endeavor rather than idleness?

Senmar's Sacrificing Session Play Bahram Beyzai
Senmar’s Sacrificing Session illustration by Baran Sedighian

Khawarnaq shows what could have been built before

But we didn’t.

You hold a mirror before our idleness

In this mirror, we are only braggers

Who haven’t moved an inch for a century!

Senmar draws Al-Nu’man’s attention to the pictures on the walls of Khawarnaq where a man is depicted under an elephant’s feet. He prophesied that a sultan of your sons will pay for my blood in future. The play ends with arrival of King of Persia and Al-Nu’man hearing of the elephants’ trumpet.

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