Philanthropist Bita Daryabari Extends Reach from Stanford University to the United Kingdom with $2M Endowment of Shahnama Project & Centre at University of Cambridge, England

Sixth Annual Stanford University “Bita Prize” to be Awarded to Acclaimed Writer Mahshid Amirshahi on November 15, 2013

"Giv sets fire to the hill of firewood," Shah Tahmasp Shahnama, folio 238 recto, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Tehran. (Photo: Business Wire)

SAN FRANCISCO--()--Global philanthropist and humanitarian Bita Daryabari is pleased to announce a new $2 million (US) endowment for the Shahnama Project, based in the Shahnama Centre at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England. (Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.) The Project was established by Persian Studies expert, Professor Charles Melville, and the Centre is directed by Dr. Firuza Abdullaeva. The benefaction will help fund the Project's continued research and study of the epic poem, the Shahnama or The Book of Kings by Abu'l-Qasim Hasan Firdausi, the emblematic text of Persian historical culture. With 50,000 verses, it is the longest composed poem by a single author.

Professor Melville says, “This magnificent endowment is important for several reasons. Firstly, it ensures that the Shahnama Project, started in 1999, can continue to develop and extend its ambitious aims to provide a rich and accessible resource for all those interested in Persian miniature painting and the arts of the book, as particularly exemplified in the outstanding tradition of Shahnama manuscript production. For the foreseeable future, the sustainability and growth of this project is assured, with all its potential for educational purposes and fostering awareness of Iran’s cultural heritage and its relevance today.”

The endowment will go towards work on enhancing and developing the Shahnama Project website (; staffing the Shahnama Centre; supporting travel for research and attending conferences; organizing workshops and events; maintaining and making accessible a reference library of scholarship on Persian literary and artistic culture, and preparing publications.

Prof. Melville adds, “In addition, Bita Daryabari’s gift ensures that Pembroke College, in many respects the home of Persian studies in the UK, will be able to foster teaching and research in Persian on a permanent basis; I can be confident that the legacy of E.G. Browne, A.J. Arberry and many others will continue to bear fruit from the vigorous promotion of Persian studies that this allows. Lastly, I hope that it will send a message to everyone concerned about Iran and the vitality and creativity of Iranian civilization across the millennia, that Cambridge means business and that our efforts of many lifetimes command the recognition and support that are essential for the welfare of this drastically under-resourced subject."

Daryabari says, "Shahnameh is a holy book for all Persians because it was written in pure Persian during a time when the language was being influenced by Arabic. This literary masterpiece reflects Iran's history, cultural values, its ancient religions, and its profound sense of nationhood. As a child growing up in Iran who read and heard about the heroes and heroines of Shahnameh, I feel it is my duty to ensure that future generations have the chance to hear these poems and stories that teach our children to take pride in their heritage and ancestry. Professor Melville has been the guardian of the Shahnameh and Persian literature in recent decades, and I want to thank him for keeping our poetry and literature alive."

Bita also created the Bita Daryabari Endowment in Persian Letters at Stanford University, where The Annual Bita Prize in Literature has become the most coveted prize in the realm of Persian letters. With this endowment, Stanford has been able to hire three full-time professors of Persian literature.

The Shahnama endowment occurs just as the Cyrus Cylinder is making its way around the United States for the first time in history. Daryabari co-sponsored the San Francisco exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder at the Asian Arts Museum of San Francisco, Aug 9 - Sept 22, 2013 ( Recognized as one of the most iconic objects of religious tolerance and multiculturalism, the Cyrus Cylinder (normally housed in the British Museum) has come to symbolize mankind's first document on human rights.

About the Shahnama Project & Centre

The national epic, Firdausi’s Shahnama narrates the history of ancient Persia (Iran), from the establishment of its first king at the dawn of time to the collapse of the Persian Empire in the early 7th century A.D. Completed in March 1010, the Shahnama is a revered and celebrated literary masterpiece of Persian mythology, legend, history and political culture.

Hundreds of manuscript copies of the Shahnama exist throughout the world today, the earliest dating from 1217. Many of these are accompanied by illustrations and miniature paintings that are among the greatest treasures of Persian art. The Shahnama Project aims to provide a comprehensive collection of these pictures and to investigate the relationship between them and the text they are illustrating. The Project also aspires to stimulate continued interest, analysis and research into the pivotal role this epic plays in Persian culture, as well as provide a roof under which its many related fields of study can be housed and accessed. It has hosted several conferences, published a series of volumes of collected articles, helped to organize an exhibition of Shahnama manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and arranged public lectures. The Centre, as well as holding the archive of images and records of Shahnama manuscripts, maintains a growing library of reference works on Persian art, manuscript catalogues and Shahnama studies, and welcomes visiting scholars to conduct research and present lectures.

For more information, please visit or

About Bita Daryabari

In less than a decade, arts advocate and global philanthropist Bita Daryabari has emerged as one of the most beloved and cherished leaders of the Iranian-American community. From the beginning of her professional life, her work has been accompanied by her avid interest in Arts & Humanities. She created the Bita Daryabari Endowment in Persian Letters at Stanford University, where the Annual Bita Prize in Literature has become a coveted prize in the realm on Persian Letters. In 2010, she founded Pars Equality Center—the only non-profit of its kind providing social and legal services to Iranian emigrants, refugees and asylum seekers—where she is also the executive director ( Her charitable Unique Zan Foundation is dedicated to supporting the education of women and children all over Western Asia—from building orphanages for Afghan children to schools in the Middle East ( Her Honors include the Ellis Island Medal of Honor (2012), the United Nations Appreciation Award for Outstanding Leadership, Commitment and Support of the UN and Achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (2011), PAAIA Philanthropist of the Year Award (2010) and Golden Gate University’s Alumni of the Year Award (2008).

About the Annual Bita Prize

Each November, the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies at Stanford University awards the Bita Prize for Persian Letters to an esteemed Iranian scholar, writer or artist. This year’s 6th Annual Bita Prize recipient is Ms. Mahshid Amirshahi, the acclaimed writer, essayist, and translator, who will be at Stanford on November 15, 2013, to accept her award, deliver a talk, and answer audience questions. The Bita Prize is intended to celebrate a life-time of singular accomplishments—and the luminaries who have won the award, from Simin Behbahani and Mohammad Reza Shajarian to Bahram Beyzaie and Houshang Seyhoon are a testimony to the richness of these accomplishments.

This year, with a new generous contribution from Daryabari, the Program will also present a Bita Award for Young Artists. The new Bita Award for Young Artists will identify the most promising young talents and recognize their achievements to help pave their way for even greater accomplishments. The Bita Award for Young Artists will be given each year, mid-March, as a reminder of Nowrooz (The Persian New Year) and the season of new beginnings.


The Burgett Group
Heather Burgett, 310-633-4801

Release Summary

Philanthropist Bita Daryabari Extends Reach from Stanford University to the United Kingdom with $2M Endowment of Shahnama Project & Centre at University of Cambridge, England


The Burgett Group
Heather Burgett, 310-633-4801