Layla and Majnun (Persian: لیلی و مجنون)(English: Possessed by madness for Layla; Arabic: مجنون لیلی; (Majnun Layla)) is a love story that originated as poem in 11th Century Arabia, later was adopted by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi who also wrote “Khosrow and Shirin”. It is the third of his five long narrative poems, Khamsa (the Quintet).
Qays and layla fall in love with each other when they are young, but when they grow up Layla’s father doesn’t allow them to be together. Qays becomes obsessed with her, and the community gives him the epithet Majnun (مجنون, lit. “possessed”), the same epithet given to the semi-historical character Qays ibn al-Mulawwah of the Banu ‘Amir tribe. Long before Nizami, the legend circulated in anecdotal forms in Arabic akhbar. The early anecdotes and oral reports about Majnun are documented in Kitab al-Aghani and Ibn Qutaybah’s al-Shi’r wal-Shu’ara’. The anecdotes are mostly very short, only loosely connected, and show little or no plot development.
Many imitations have been contrived of Nizami’s work, several of which are original literary works in their own right, including Amir Khusrow Dehlavi’s Majnun o Leyli (completed in 1299), and Jami’s version, completed in 1484, amounts to 3,860 couplets. Other notable reworkings are by Maktabi Shirazi, Hatefi (d. 1520), and Fuzûlî (d.1556), which became popular in Ottoman Turkey and India. Sir William Jones published Hatefi’s romance in Calcutta in 1788. The popularity of the romance following Nizami’s version is also evident from the references to it in lyrical poetry and mystical mathnavis—before the appearance of Nizami’s romance, there are just some allusions to Layla and Majnun in divans. The number and variety of anecdotes about the lovers also increased considerably from the twelfth century onwards. Mystics contrived many stories about Majnun to illustrate technical mystical concepts such as fanaa (annihilation), divānagi (love-madness), self-sacrifice, etc. Nizami’s work has been translated into many languages.