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Preserving the Persian Cultural Legacy: The Story of the Golha and Golistan Projects

The Golha (Flowers) radio programmes, broadcast on Iranian National Radio (1956 –1979) and available to all radio listeners, were arguably the most influential cultural phenomenon of 20th-century Iran, They comprise approximately 1680 programmes, of literary commentary and declamation of poetry sung to musical accompaniment interspersed with solo musical pieces and popular ballads. The Golha programmes were the brainchild of Davoud Pirnia, a one-time Assistant Prime Minister, enthusiastic patriot, and scholar with a deep love for Persian culture and its rich literary and musical traditions. He retired from political life in 1956 and for the next eleven years devoted himself to the Golha. 


The foremost literary, academic, and musical talents of his day collaborated and supported Mr. Pirnia. The careers of the greatest Iranian vocalists of the twentieth century were launched on the Golha programmes. The programmes themselves preserved the vernacular and classical traditions of Persian music and poetry, which were under threat from influences both inside and outside of Iran.

Complements of Golistan archive 


Mr. Pirnia produced five different categories of programme: ‘Perennial Flowers’ (Golha-yi javidan, up to 157), ‘Particolored Flowers’ (Golha -yi rangarang, 481), ‘A Green Leaf’ (Barg-i sabz, 312), ‘A Single Rose’ (Yik shakh-i gol, 465), and ‘Desert Flowers’ (Golha-yi ṣaḥra’i, 64. Mr. Pirnia retired in 1967 and, in 1972, Hushang Ibtihaj, created the programme ‘Fresh Flowers’ (Golha-yi tazeh, 201). 


The Golha marked a watershed in Persian culture. Previously when music was performed in public, performers were branded as street minstrels. Because of the high literary and musical quality of the Golha, public perception of music and musicians in Iran shifted and performers began to be referred to as maestros, virtuosos, divas, and artists. During the 1950s and 1960s when illiteracy in Iran was at 85%, the Golha accustomed people to hearing good poetry and music, re-introducing more than 700 poets, from the ancients to the moderns, thus reinvigorating interest in classical Persian literature. 


The “Golha Project” began in 2005 with the support of the Department of Music at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS) and a grant from the British Library Endangered Archives Programme. In July 2007, a digital copy of the Golha archive was deposited in the British Library’s World Sound Archive.


The second phase of the “Golha Project,” an encyclopaedia of Persian music and poetry based on the Golha radio programmes (www.golha.co.uk), contains all the audio of the programmes, biographies of the performers and authors, photographs, musical notation of the songs, and transcriptions of the poetry. It is freely accessible to all and searchable by programme name, number, singer of the avaz and tarana, lyricist, poet of the avaz, first line of the song or poem, song title, instrument, musician, composer, poet, poetic genre, dastgah or avaz and gusha of the music performed, etc. The Golha website has become a unique cultural resource for students and lovers of Persian music and literature with 4,000,000 visitors and 37,000 registered users. The site is also being used in most Persian studies departments in colleges and universities throughout Europe and North America.

Complements of Golha project archive 


Building on the success of the Golha Project, we are embarking on a sister project, “Golistan,” (www.golistan.org), a world resource for all the performing arts of 20th- century Iran. The Golistan Project will include solo performances by 20th-century virtuosos, radio plays, regional (mahali) music, 78-rpm recordings, film, theatre, and dance, as well as printed materials and journals related to the performing arts in Iran. All content will be indexed and made searchable with key rubrics and will be freely accessible as the Golha radio programmes currently are.


These important artistic works were created during the time when Iran was coming to grips with modernity and they provide a unique insight into this process. Unless we can put together a resource for the performing arts of 20th-century Iran, this important aspect of Iran’s intangible cultural heritage will be lost.

To preserve this legacy we have established a not-for-profit organization based in southern California… Anyone wishing to support the Golistan Project can contact us at Info@golistan.org or Jane@golistan.org

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