BUZORG-MEHER and the game of Chess

The Shahnameh by Firdausi Toosi is a wonderful treasure trove for us Zoroastrians. It contains information about Iranian and Zoroastrian religion, history, practices, ethics and morals in a simple, beautiful poetic language. One of the tales in the Shahnameh is about the wise and witty minister of king Noshwerwan Adel by the name Buzorg-Meher.


Buzorg-Meher was very much like Birbal, the wise minister of Mughal emperor Akbar. Birbal lived 400 years ago and Buzorg-Meher lived 1400 years back. Both came from humble backgrounds and were discovered under similar extraordinary circumstances by the kings who recognized their genius from a very early age. Both belonged to priest families. Whenever their kings were in difficult situations, or whenever the honour of their country was at stake, they were to the rescue. However, both were unfortunate as the king was often displeased with them and punished them. Both were imprisoned, but were later released when the king realised their mistake.

3 Dreams

Iranian, kings usually had dreams which came true. Sometimes they were clear and sometimes there was  a message hidden behind the dream. Once, king Noshirwan had 3 dreams. In the first dream, he saw a pig sitting next to him on his table and having food and he was helpless to do anything about it. In the second dream he saw a small well with two big wells on either side. The small well in between kept on asking for water from the bigger wells and they kept giving. When the big wells were empty they asked the smaller well, which was now full, to give water, but the smaller well refused to give water and the two wells dried up. In the third dream he saw a cow drinking milk from her calf. He had these dreams repeatedly for several nights. He was intrigued as he was not able to understand what the dreams were trying to tell him. None of his ministers or priests were able to help.


Then the king sent his minister all over the country to find someone who could explain the meaning of the dreams. Finally, Azad-Sarva, one of the ministers reached the city of Marva. There he found a young boy of 14 in a Madressa (a priestly school) who was willing to explain the dream, but only to the king. The name of the boy was Buzorg-Meher Bokhtagan. Azad-Sarva took him to the king where the young Buzorg-Meher explained the significance of the dreams to the king.


For the first dream, he explained that the pig represented a man who had stealthily entered and was staying in the Queen’s palace. At first the king could not believe it, but after investigations, young Buzorg-Meher proved to be correct. For the second and third dreams, Buzorg-Meher explained them as portends for the bad times to follow. In the second dream the central well signified the child and the side wells the parents. The parents would give everything to bring up the child, but later the child would not look after the parents. The third dream indicated that in times to come parents would not be ashamed to exploit their children and live off their income.


King Noshirwan was highly impressed at the interpretations of the young Buzorg-Meher. He immediately realised that the boy would be an asset to his kingdom. He made arrangements for his stay and education at the palace. Soon Buzorg-Meher became an indispensable part of the king’s cabinet. Swiftly, by sheer dint of his wit and wisdom, he rose to the ranks of the chief minister in a short while.


The game of chess

Devasaran, the Indian King of Kanoj, sent an emissary to Iran with the game of chess to king Noshirwan. He challenged the Iranian king to unravel the game and explain the name, function and move of each piece. If he was successful he would double the revenue he was giving. If he was not, he would have to write off all his taxes.


The king asked all the wise man in his kingdom to try and unravel the game. None was successful. Only Buzorg-Meher was able to unravel the game. He then played the game with the Indian emissary 12 times and defeated him every time.


Then as a challenge for the Indian King, Buzorg-Meher devised the game Nev-Ardashir (Backgammon) which was sent to India as a challenge. Nobody in India was able to solve the game and hence the Indian king had to pay a huge tribute.

King Noshirwan had regular conferences with his ministers. Since Buzorg-Meher was the Chief Minister, he often gave wise counsels to ministers. In these meetings the recurring topics of discussions were related to destiny, fate, life, impermanence of the world and fragility of the soul.


Buzorg-Meher not only preached but also practiced these philosophies. It was due to his patience, faith and persistence that he was able to hold on to sanity when he was wrongly imprisoned by the king. But then the king would need him again and so he released him and without any grudge he would help the king once again.


Traits of 4 animals

Buzorg-Meher gave lots of importance to knowledge and wisdom. He used to say that a person desiring knowledge should have the traits of the four animals. These four animals us these traits to get food, humans should use these traits to seek knowledge.


The four animals are the crow, pig, dog and donkey. Like the crow one has to wake up early, like a pig one has to always be hungry for more, like a dog one has to be faithful to the master who provides, and like a donkey one has to be ready to work hard and bear lots of burden to get what they want.


Dreams about prophet Mohammad

In the later years of king Noshirwan’s reign, he had two terrifying dreams, which Buzorg-Meher very ably interpreted. In the first dream, the king saw that the sun setting and moon rising during the day, and a ladder with forty steps going high in sky and spreading light around the world.  Buzorg-Meher interpreted the dream as the appearance of a prophet 40 years hence among Arabs, and people from all religions going to him, which would be a great threat to Zoroastrian religion and Iran.


In another dream much later, the king saw great devastation after an earthquake in which his palace at Ctesiphon is destroyed. Buzorg-Meher interpreted this as the beginning of the period of great difficulties for the Sasanian empire.


Death of Buzorg-Meher

The great Buzorg-Meher’s end came in a very tragic manner. Hormazd, the son of king Noshirwan wanted to be the king. He suspected that Buzorg-Meher was not well disposed towards him and was favourable to someone else and so he had him and some other ministers killed.


Buzorg-Meher is fondly remembered by historians and poets like Sadi, Masudi, Maskuye, Tha’alibi and Nizam-ul-Mulk. His ethical and moral teachings are found in the Pahlavi books ‘Handarz-ī-Vazurg Mihr’ and ‘Vicharishn-ī-Chatrang.’ Through his books and his wisdom he not only influenced the Iranians but also the Indians, the Romans and the Arabs.