Pard-e Khane by Bahram Beyzai

Pard-e Khane

Pard-e Khane by Bahram Beyzai is a play about the miserable life of Sultan’s wives in harem who plot to assassinate him. At the royal playhouse inside the heavily guarded royal harem, a number of women, also wives of Sultan, are responsible for entertaining the sultan with play-acting. They are prisoners who know different art and above all art of acting.

Pard-e Khane Bahram Beyzai
Pard-e Khane in Sultan’s Harem

Pard-e Khane: The deaf, the dumb and the blind

Pard-e Khane begins with a story of arresting three men at night in a bazaar. Happy to capture the thieves, sheriff surprises to find them disabled; a deaf, a blind and a dumb. After telling what miseries they have endured, the sheriff asks for the godless wrongdoer. The blind replies,

The killer you are seeking is, Less than a God, but above the people; A head upper than the heads and a master of masters; His power is from gold and his gold from power; He who destroyed our village brick by brick; His simple brick layers are now under the brick.

Sheriff says that “these words are only fit for the conqueror of the epoch, whom I am his lest servant”. It is better no to let him, Sultan, to hear these bunch of lies. All of a sudden a curtain is drawn and the head of eunuch, Sandal, with is heavy large stick appears and asks to stop the play.  

Sadgis is Leaving Pard-e Khane

Sandal breaks the news that, Sadgis should wrap of her stuff for she is swapped with a fourteen-year-old girl, Nosal, of Sultan’s former enemy and today’s friend. Upon hearing the news, her health begins deteriorating and as a result she passes out. In the meantime, Sandal also reveals that three men breach into the Sultan palace with the intention of murdering him. They are about to be killed. The wives insist on killing them instead of the eunuchs from the sultan and sultan agrees.

Nosal and Rika Jan

Nosal, the soon-be-bride of the sultan appears pale, agitated and scared. She quickly recognizes the three men; his father, brother and fiancé, Rika Jan. In an improvised act, she picks up the dagger and plunges it into Rika Jan’s heart so he could not see her misery. They are buried outside in the yard. Later on Goltan washes her body and soul from the illness and the haunting dream of her fiancé’s death.

Bahram Beyzai plays
Nosal in white dress in Goltan’s arms

Sultan’s Secret Letter and Assassination Plot

Goltan gather pard-e Khane members to tell them a bitter truth. In a royal sealed letter, the sultan commands to kill all the wives provided that he loses the battle and killed. Stunned to hear that, the members of Pard-e Khane decide to hatch an assassination plot against sultan. The plot is this: since the new bride does not undergo a body search upon her wedding night, Nosal could carry a dagger beneath her cloth and kill the sultan as he killed his fiancé. All agree to swear upon it except Nosal. She is too frightened to murder the sultan.    

Death of Sogol, Kafor and Shadi  

The eyes of sultan inform that a stranger from outside has entered the harem. He finds his way inside in disguise; wearing woman’s cloth. As Sandal was describing the punishment waiting for the lawbreaker, Kafor the eunuch grows pale and Sogol passes out. The former is beheaded and later is killed. Sultan sends a Narenj, bitter orange, to Shadi as a sign of call up to sultan’s chamber. She refuses to go because of her monthly menstruation. However, Sandal proves it wrong as he writes down the date. Sultan orders to put her in a fire and demands that women wash themselves in the water heated by the burning of the body of her. No one did it but Goltan.

Last act: Conquering Sultan

The sultan asks the member of Pard-e Khane to play the conquering act of Sultan up on a wedding night within fourteen days. However, he changes his mind and one night appears in harem and demands the play. Goltan demands real sword, spear and archer to enhance the believability of the play and sultan agrees. She further asks the sultan to participate in a play by pretending to die to see the real and unreal servants. The king accepts and the women stab him one by one. After revealing the Sultan’s letter to all, Goltan urges the harem members to spread the word that the Sultan dies of natural death. They are free to leave the harem. “Beyond these wall is a road, even in darkness.

Pard-e Khane Playhouse Members

Goltan: formerly known as Bidokht (Daughter of God) is an orphan whose mother died in Harem when she was only five. Although, Goltan is the chief trainer of royal wives, she has never seen anything beyond the walls. She is the master of musical instruments, calligraphy, dancing, polo, archery, poetry and astrology. She has a four-year-old kid who she has never seen. Sultan names her Goltan (To have a body like flower).

Pard-e Khane - Persian play

Nosal: is called Ghazal. She is fourteen-year-old girl whom the enemy of the Sultan, Ghanom Khan, bestows to Sultan as a peace offering. She kills his beloved, Rika Jan, with a dagger. Since she is young and new, she is named Nosal.  

Sadgis: formerly known as Gisou Khanoum (A lady with longhair) sent to the Sultan’s ex-enemy as a peace gift. She was the wife of a castle keeper in borderline. Sultan sent her husband into a war. In the middle of battle, sultan sent a letter to either step down from your position or divorce your wife. He chooses to keep his position.

Reyhan: formerly known as Taban Khanoum (Shinning lady) was a princess. The sultan attacked their castle and took her a present.

Nargol: formerly known as Golnar (Flower of fire) was a Zoroastrian who was given by mobeds to Sultan to stop harassing and killing them. The Sultan inverse her name from Golnar to Nargol.   

Loli: formerly known as Tavous (Peacock) was taken to harem by accident. While she was stealthily peeking at the sultan’s army over the wall, she was noticed by the guard. They took her to marry the Sultan. Once she felt blue, she began to sing. So, the sultan named her Loli, singer.

Asal: formerly known as Kheir Banoo (Blessing Lady), she was married and had a kid. While they were guest in a village, some guards approached and asked his husband who has enjoyed the prima nocta, droit du seigneur. They took her as a wife to the sultan. Her nuptial night sweetened the sultan, so she was named Asal, sweet honey.  

Tatar Khanoum: formerly known as Yakhma Khanoum confessed that she herself wanted to be sultan’s wife. She told herself that the musketeers of Circassian would sell me one day, so it was better to live where there are foods and blessing. In order to do so, he tricked the guards by showing herself instead of her sister.

Shadi (literally means happiness): formerly known as Chagal Banoo (Beautiful Lady) was deceived by an old haggard. An old lady appeared on her door and praised her beauty. She was supposed to marry to a Pahlavan. But, she was wrong. The man, the doorman of the sultan’s palace, sold her for a piece of fabric. Thanks to Sultan’s happiness, she was named Shadi.  

Ilnaz: formerly known as Khonbas Khanoum (Bloodshed stopper) was a woman who stopped the bloodshed between the nomadic tribes. The nomadic tribes rebel against the Sultan, but they failed. His bother, the chief of the tribe gave her as a present to stop the war. He named her Ilnaz, beauty of tribe.  

Sanam: formerly known as Tondar Khanoum (Tornado Lady) was a Christian princess who was taken as a hostage to stop Georgians from attacking the sultan kingdom. She knew how to use sword and horse. She was agile and sportive. Now, the fire of her heart is gone out, so she turned into a statue, an idol.

Pard-e Khane Play Review

Pard-e Khane, like most works of Bahram Beyzai, centers around women and their miserable position in male-centered society of Iran. They play according to the given role.  In here, women are not only victim of oppressive power of Sultan, but also prisoners of a theater play. Interior world of Pard-e Khane is a world where women are just passing players from one show to another, or from one harem to another one. In fact, the acting and playing never ends. Pard-e Khane, in Foucauldian discourse, is a panopticon where wives are constantly watched and controlled by eunuchs in order not to think about the outside world let alone to escape. However, this very act of playing could be used as a useful tool shifting power. This is what Bidokht did successfully. The liberation of women, in this play, is achieved through the art, the art of acting. Through acting, an unreal representation of real world, the wives kill the “Less than a God, but above the people” to liberate themselves from the panopticon-like harem to enter the real world outside.

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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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