The Teahouse at a Glance
Iraj Bashiri

copyright, Bashiri 2000

In building the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse, Khujandi architects have synthesized the prominent elements of Dushanbe teahouses into one delightfully unique structure. Here, the ornate patio and colonnades of the teahouses are summarized into a wooden patio, one that can better weather the Colorado climate. The wooden patio then, as time permits, is decorated with plants and flowers to produce the color and attraction of the blue tiles of the original. Similarly, the large, ornate tile tapestries of Rohat and Faroghat are divided among a number of beautifully executed tile motifs to accommodate windows, a necessity for Boulder that Dushanbe can do without. In fact, Dushanbe teahouses are open spaces, in spite of the threat of rain, sun, and other elements to their delicate art work. Sa'odat teahouse has a beautiful fountain in front and a nice pool of clear water inside. The fountain is decorated with a number of small statues on its rims and a relatively larger one at the center. In the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse, this fountain is moved inside and used as the focal point of the structure. Using dexterously executed bronze statues of Nizami's seven beauties. For those knowledgeable of Iranian culture, the statues set off a world unlike any created in fiction or in real life.

Well-known for territoriality and regionalism, Tajiks clearly mark the boundaries of their property with cultural markers. In the case of the teahouse, a bit of artistic work is added so that even those passing the teahouse on the right side of Boulder Creek feel they are a part of the structure. Verses from the "Ruba'iyyat" of Omar Khayyam, fancifully calligraphy on tile, decorate the pavement. The bridge at the end of the pavement is decorated with bird motifs reminiscent of Attar's "Conference of the Birds."

To the left of the Creek, beside the teahouse, there are three distinct places. At the far end is placed a large dig, astove and large pot complex, wherein the chef can prepare Ash [pronounced aash], a favorite rice dish with meat and carrots. The middle part is used for entertaining guests who prefer the outdoors, and the forefront, under the patio, is an outdoor samovarkhona. The leftmost side of the structure, similar to the right side, is reserved for outdoor activities.

Climbing the stairs and entering the teahouse proper, at eye-level, there is the fountain centerpiece and its surrounding bronze statues. Looking past the plants that place the fountain in a natural setting, seven statues, one in the center, the other six facing it, present themselves. One lingers a while here viewing and appreciating the craftsmanship involved in the creation of each.

Looking around, three of the corners are given to guests, the fourth serves as the samovarkhona or the place where tea is made and from which it is brought to guests. Two topchons, fully decorated and covered with corpas and balishes are set aside for family gatherings and larger groups. The third corner has a typically Tajik, low miniature tables and chairs with delicate designs and dexterous workmanship. The rest of the floor is given to western-style tables and chairs. Here the tables are placed strategically near one of the twelve beautifully carved wooden pillars, or by a magnificent wall hanging, or an original Tajik painting, or sumptuously rich, decorative art on plaster, an Oriental specialty.

Engaged with surface designs, the guests do not really get a chance to see the very thing that makes the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse or, indeed, any Tajik teahouse, a unique structure, the ceiling. Unlike conventional ceilings, the ceiling of the teahouse is not flat and is not accentuated with expensive chandeliers. Rather, it is comprised of a series of vaults, each decorated differently but all using tiles in bright red, green, and blue colors and geometric and floral designs. Lighting for the ceiling is mostly produced by apertures that allow natural light into the structure.

The ceiling panel for the entrance vault carries the words "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great), in the Arabic script and 1998, the date of the inauguration of the teahouse. The last panel, facing the entrance, carries the following text in the Cyrillic script: "Tajik master builders from the city of Leninabad," followed by the names of the builders in ornate Cyrillic. As the eye wanders, other Tajik names associated with the construction grace the vaults.

Teahouses in the Middle East and Central Asia are a man's home away from home. They are gathering places where mostly men sit around, drink tea and discuss affairs. The affairs can be very close to them such as the lives of their friends and the community, or they can be social, political, or cultural events of the present or the past. In this latter context, telling stories assumes a special significance in the life of the teahouse. The exploits of Rustam, from Firdowsi's Shahname, for instance, are a favorite.

For the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse, the designers have chosen the life and works of the prisoner of Ganja, Nizami, as the main topic of conversation. His "Quintet," especially the "Seven Beauties," has a special international flavor. Its forceful imagery instantly materializes the outside world within the teahouse with only the first few words of the narrator. Indeed, the seven beauties are placed strategically at the center to take us to the world of Nizami and of his lovable characters.

Nizami's Life and Works

Jamal al-Din Ilyas Ibn Yusif Nizami Ganjavi was born around 1140 in Ganjah, in the present-day republic of Azerbaijan.1 There are also reports that Nizami could have been born in Qum, Iran, and migrated to Ganjah at a later date. He died after AD 1202, possibly in 1205. He was buried in a special mausoleum subsequently destroyed by the elements. During the past century, however, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan has refurbished the poet's mausoleum.

Nizami's father, Yusif, was a civil administrator and a devout Muslim. His mother, Ra'isah, was of Kurdish extraction. The family must have been well-off because, although an orphan, Nizami received an excellent education in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, jurisprudence, music, and the arts all of which he skillfully incorporated into his poetry.

Nizami traveled very little. In fact, he refers to himself as "The Prisoner of Ganjah." For this reason, the geography he uses in his poetry must be accepted with a grain of salt.

Nizami married three times. His first wife, Afaq, a Kipchak slave girl, was sent to him by Fakhr al-Din Bahramshah, the ruler of Darband, as a part of a larger gift. She became Nizami's first and most beloved wife. The wife who gave Nizami his only son, Muhammad, could well also be the inspiration for Shirin in "Shirin and Farhad." Afaq died after "Khusrau and Shirin" was completed. Muhammad was seven at the time. Strangely enough, Nizami's other wives, too, died prematurely--the death of each coinciding with the completion of an epic, prompting the poet to say, "God, why is it that for every mathnavi I must sacrifice a wife!"

Not being a court poet, Nizami's name does not appear in the annals of the dynasties of his time. He preferred to remain independent both in belief and in artistic expression. In his works, he synthesized the heroicness of Firdowsi, the fatalism of Khayyam, the humanism of Sana'i, the lyricism of Unsuri and Farrukhi, and the eroticism of Gurgani. He does not use women as mere decoration pieces as some poets did; rather, his women are strong, subtle, and virtuous as well as tender, passionate, and enchantingly beautiful. They possess sharp, educated intellects. Similarly, his language is like the language of Firdowsi, not base, tasteless, or vulgar as was the language of many who at the time tackled the subjects of love and intimacy.

Nizami's body of works consists of a divan (collection of poems) of which only a small portion is extant and a khamsah (quintet). His Khamsah consists of the following five romances of which only "The Seven Beauties" is discussed in some detail here: