Muhammad ‘Ali Lahiji, whose poetic penname was “Hazin” (or “afflicted with grief”) was born in Isfahan in January 1692. He claimed descent from Shaykh Zahid Gilani, the spiritual guide of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili, the progenitor of the Safavid Sufi order, whose leaders later became the Safavid rulers of Iran (1501-1722). Hazin’s ancestors were scholars and landowners in Lahijan, a town in the northwest Iranian province of Gilan. His father migrated to the Safavid capital of Isfahan as a young man for further education, where he remained and married. As a young man Hazin traveled to and studied in and around Isfahan and Shiraz, where he studied the traditional arts and sciences (including literature, theology, philosophy, Arabic, jurisprudence and rhetoric) with various learned men of late Safavid Iran. He lived through the Afghan siege of Isfahan in 1722, though his younger brothers, extended family and many of his friends perished. He then spent the next twelve years traveling through the cities of Iran, the Iraqi shrine cities, and to the Hejaz, where he performed Hajj. Fearing for his life, in 1734 he sailed to the Sindhi port of Thattah from Bandar Abbas after being implicated in the murder of Nadir Shah Afshar’s unpopular governor of Lar. From there he traveled through Sindh and the Punjabi cities of Multan and Lahore, from where he made his way to Delhi.
Hazin was best known as a poet. He was a controversial figure in Delhi, who lampooned the Mughal king and court, as well as denigrated the land of India, its people and the Persian of many of its poets. He also refused to visit the court or receive the Mughal emperor. This failure to participate in the social exchanges of elite society in the imperial capital was deemed a particularly egregious violation of ethical conduct by some in light of his acceptance of an enormous financial grant from the Mughal court. In spite of such behavior, he had many defenders of his literary position and admirers of his poetry among both Indian- and Iranian-born Persians. His most famous opponent was Siraj al-Din Khan “Arzu”, the literary scholar and poet, whose aesthetic views were formative of emerging Urdu poetic stylistics. In addition to a divan (poetry collected in 1743) and tazkirah (a biographical compendium of poets written in 1752), Hazin was the author of a memoir (1742) detailing his life and the political turmoil of the time, terminating with Nadir Shah’s sack of Delhi and the death of the last Safavid prince at the hands of Nadir Shah’s son in 1739. His written works are defined by the theme of the pain of exile, particularly distinguished by the way in which he likens his life in India as a kind of death, where home is lost forever with the fall of Safavid rule in Iran.
One of the first of what would be a mass exodus of literati from Delhi to the regional kingdoms after the death of Muhammad Shah, in 1748 Hazin moved to Benares, where he lived until his death in 1766. He was later remembered as a Sufi, and his tomb venerated by the local people. Hazin’s poetry continued to be highly regarded in India, where even a hundred years later, the great Urdu and Persian poet, Mirza Asadullah Khan “Ghalib”, regarded him as one of the great masters of Persian poetry.