As legend has it, once upon a time, Sassanid prince Khusrau II, a charming and handsome young man, had a friend Shahpur, who was a painter of outstanding skill.
Shahpur told Kusrau about a princess he had encountered on his travels. Mahin Bano, the widowed Queen of the Kingdom, and Shireen, the Princess and Heiress to the Armenian throne.
Shireen, a well-educated noblewoman, was famed for her intelligence as well as her beauty. As fate would have it, Khusrau fell in love with a woman he had not met, only heard of. He asked Shahpur to travel back to Armenia, take Shireen in confidence, and make her fall in love with him, as he had made Khusrau fall in love with her.
Shireen used to visit the lake within the palace compound every day with her friends. She watched as Shahpur gazed at them and turned her mundane daily routine into a masterpiece on canvas. Shahpur had caught Shireen's eye, and she was very curious about him. A few days later, he went to Shireen and told her everything. He gifted her a portrait of Khusrau.
In her excitement, with her heart full of happiness, Shireen could not get a wink of sleep at night. She told her aunt that she was going out for a hunt, mounted her black mare Shabdez, and left the palace.
Back at the Sassanid Court, Khusrau had fallen out of favour with his father, the Shah. Court intrigues lead to the house imprisonment of the young prince at a faraway fort.
Shireen and Khusrau crossed ways with one another as Shireen bathed near a canal that the prince passed by. However, neither recognised the other. Nor Shirin nor the Prince were dressed as royals.
When Khusrau reached Armenia, he was given a warm welcome at the Armenian Court. However, soon after he got there, he received the news that his father had passed away. With the Shah now deceased, the throne was Khusrau's to claim.
When Khusrau learned that Bahran, a conspirator, had usurped the throne, he decided to stay in Armenia. In a turn of events, Shireen and Khusrau crossed paths once again in a forest. After journeying to Armenia together, and consulting Mahin Bano, Shireen and Khusrau decided to tie the not.
However, the marriage would have to wait as Khusrau had more important matters to attend to: the matter of the Sassanian throne. He made his way to Rome, imploring King Caesar for a military alliance.
Caesar agreed on two conditions, the first of which was that Khusrau ties the knot with his daughter, Mary. The second condition was that Khusro does not remarry, for Christian tradition forbids it. Khusrau married Mary, and secured the alliance. He marched against Bahran, and successfully took back his crown. Whilst Khusrau and Shirin remembered one another, they decided not to meet.
Mahin Bano, too, passed away soon after Khusrau had regained his position as the Sassanid Shah, and Shireen was crowned the Queen of Armenia. Deprived of her love and having lost her mother, Shireen craved companionship, which she found in Farhad. A stone carver, architect, and sculptor, Farhad had once helped Shireen across the lake on horseback when her horse had suddenly become agitated and was refusing to step into the water. Ever since the incident, Farhad had fallen in love with her.
The word of the love affair between Shireen and Khusrau soon found its way to Mary's ears, making her furious. Shireen on the other hand passionately hated Mary. As fate would have it, Mary did not have long to dwell on her anger for Shireen soon outmanoeuvred her. An Armenian spy at the Sassanid Court poisoned Mary, killing her. Khusrau could have now married Shireen, but he did not deem himself worthy of her after betraying her. He had also caught a whiff of Farhad.
He invited Farhad to his court and gave him happy tidings. Khusrau told Farhad that he would allow and bless his union with Shireen. However, the condition was that Farhad will have to construct a canal over the mountain. On the foot of the mountain, on the other side, was a pasture, at Ispahar. Shireen wanted to build a palace there, with a pond nearby.
After that, Farhad worked day in and night out to construct the canal some twenty kilometers long, all my himself. Little did Shireen know that Farhad was whispering her name countless times, in a state of semi-consciousness, exhausted and burnt out.
Khusrau was irked when he learnt that Farhad had not died due to the exhaustion of sheer labour, and he may succeed. He put in place another scheme. Along with some of his viziers and companions, he found an old woman. He prepared her to pass on a message to Farhad.
The hag replied that she would do so. She demanded that when she journeys to give the message, in the areas nearby, the young must be kept away from their mothers, including children, as well as goats, camels, and cows.
Khusrau agreed, and the hag went to see Farhad. Farhad asked her, "I have heard strange voices. It has been happening since early morning. It sounds like sobbing. What is going on?"
"Don't you know what happened, child?" the hag asked.
"No, I do not," he replied.
"Shireen met an accident and is no longer with us. Our Queen is dead."
Farhad felt as if the ground had been snatched away from his feet. He struck himself on his head with one of his tools, and his bleeding, lifeless body rolled down the hill.
As soon as Khusrau found out that Farhad was dead, he travelled to Armenia and asked Shireen for her hand. Whilst he was travelling, news of the incident with Farhad also travelled to Shireen. She declined Khusrau's offer of marriage.
Meanwhile, Khusrau's son, Shervi, found out about Shireen, the incident with Farhad, and that his father was travelling to bring home a new bride. He plotted a coup, and overthrew his father. News of the coup demanded Khusrau to return to court immediately, but Shervi ordered his arrest as soon as he entered Persian territory. Shervi then travelled to the Armenian court to mark Shireen as his Queen, out of spite for his father.
News of Khusrau's arrest cast a dark shadow on Shireen's world. She had lost her mother, the man who truly loved her, Farhad, as well as the man she had loved for so many years, Khusrau.
Shireen mulled over the consequences of Khusrau's selfishness, and the karma he had created for himself. Perhaps, he was no better than Caesar, the villain of Shirin and Khusrau's romance, for he had done the same, if not worse, to what Shirin and Farhad may have potentially shared.
She suddenly realised that she no longer loved Khusrau. It was Farhad she wished to be reunited with. She rode to the mountain where Farhad had been working and hiked to the exact spot where he had killed himself. From there, she threw herself to her death.
The people, well aware of what had ensued, dug up Farhad's grave and buried Shireen with him. In death, the lovers were united for eternity.
The Legend of Shireen Farhad, whilst most commonly known for being a Persian folktale, is also a part of Brahui and Balochi oral tradition. Nizami is often accredited as the first poet to have adorned the legend in poetry.