Nur Ali Elahi

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Fast Facts
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Ostad Elahi, Kuchek Ali
Main Countries of Activity: 
Date of Birth: 
September 11, 1895
Place of Birth: 
Jeyhounabad, Iran
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 
October 19, 1974


Nur Ali Elahi (or Ostad Elahi var. Nūr ‘Alī Ilāhī, Nour Ali Elahi, Persian: نور علی الهی - استاد الهی) (September 11, 1895 - October 19, 1974) was a spiritual thinker, musician, philosopher and jurist who dedicated his life to investigating the metaphysical dimension of human beings.

The early years

Elahi was born in Jeyhounabad, a small Kurdish village near Kermanshah.His father, Hajj Nematollah (1871-1919), was a mystic and poet who was a leader of the Ahl-e Haqq and revered as a saint.From early childhood, he led an ascetic, secluded life of rigorous discipline under his father's supervision with a special focus on mysticism, music, and ethics. In addition to religious and moral instruction, he received the classical education of the time. It was during his youth, devoted to study and contemplation, that he established the basis of his philosophical and spiritual reflections.

By the time his father died in 1919, Elahi had concluded that the time for classical spirituality had come to an end, and that the quest for spiritual development could no longer take place in the tranquility of ascetic seclusion. Instead, Elahi believed that spirituality had to be practiced within the context of an active and productive life in the midst of society. Thus, at the age of twenty-four he left behind a contemplative life to test his ethical principles in the crucible of society. Eventually settling in the capital city of Tehran, he cut his long hair, shaved his beard, replaced his traditional robes with a Western-style suit, and entered the civil service.

Judicial career

A few years later, as the country was undergoing extensive governmental reforms that included the establishment of an entirely new judicial system, Elahi enrolled in the newly formed National School of Jurisprudence. He finished a three-year curriculum in just six months, and he graduated with distinction in 1934.

Elahi then embarked on a 23-year legal career, which began with his first assignment as Justice of the Peace in Larestan, and culminated in his appointment as Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals and the High Court of Criminal Appeals of Mazandaran. He retired in 1957 at the age of 62 and settled in Tehran.

Throughout his legal career, Elahi devoted time to his personal studies and research, especially in philosophy and theology. This period of metaphysical investigation helped him to formulate his later works.


Elahi's philosophy addresses questions about the origin and nature of human beings, their role and responsibilities in the world, and their ultimate destination. His work highlights the duality of man as both a material and spiritual being, and reasserts the importance of their metaphysical dimension. He believed that self-realization requires more than mere reflection, and that spirituality, like any science, must necessarily be grounded in verifiable experiences. Elahi's written and oral teachings are thus the direct result of his personal experiences and not just philosophical reflections.


Elahi began to gradually reveal his system of thought after his retirement from the judiciary in 1957. It was during this period of his life that he wrote and published two scholarly works in the fields of religious science and authentic spirituality, as well as an extensive commentary on his father's writings. The practical aspect of his thought, on the other hand, was conveyed mostly in the form of oral teachings and instruction to close friends and acquaintances who considered themselves adherents of his philosophy. Two volumes of his sayings have been published to date on the basis of notes transcribed by these students.He also authored several manuscripts that remain unpublished, including "Kashf Al-Haqa'iq" (Unveiling of the Truths), which describes the genesis of the universe and the role of human beings.

In 1963 Elahi published his first book, Borhan al-Haqq (Demonstration of the Truth), a theological work which presented for the first time an authoritative historical account of the mystical order of the Ahl-e Haqq, including its development, fundamental principles, and sacred rites, which until then had been kept secret. The book also addressed the esoteric aims shared in common by the Qur'an, Islam, and the Ahl-e Haqq.

In 1966 he published his second work, Haqq-ol Haqqâieq (Commentary on the Book of the Kings of Truth), a commentary on his father's epic poem that expounded upon the determination of places and dates, the historical accuracy of certain events cited therein, and the concept of divine manifestation.

His third and final published work, a philosophical treatise titled Marifat ol-Ruh (Knowing the Spirit), was published in 1969 and addresses the existence and immortality of the soul, as well as the soul's gradual process of maturation and perfection.


For Elahi, music was primarily a means of engaging in contemplation and prayer. He never performed in public and did not make any recordings of his music in a professional setting.

Elahi's music is rooted in a tradition involving the rhythmic recital and invocation of sacred texts in devotional gatherings, accompanied by various instruments such as the tanbour (an ancient lute), the ney (reed flute) and the daf (frame drum).

Elahi began playing the tanbour at the age of six and was recognized as a master of the tanbour by the age of nine.He would eventually revive this ancient art, composing over 100 original pieces that he used as the basis for his improvisations.His musical ornamentations and complex playing technique, which for the first time involved the use of all five fingers of both hands, as well as his physical modifications to the instrument itself - namely, the doubling of the higher string so as to dramatically increase its expressiveness - earned him a reputation as an innovator of this art form and a master of the tanbour.

Since the commemoration of his centennial in 1995, nine CDs of his music have been released.The bulk of the original recordings were made on basic mono tape recording equipment during the 1960's and '70's in the context of informal gatherings with family and friends. These tapes were then digitally remastered and restored.

One of the characteristic aspects of Ostad Elahi's music was the use of improvisation, in which he would weave together pieces of diverse tempo and rhythm while maintaining a coherent whole.One such piece, Improvisations in Baba Jalili in the fourth followed by the Suite Zang-e Shotori in the second, found on the CD Destinations (Le Chant du Monde, 2008) exemplifies this aspect. Here, Elahi shifts back and forth between several different melodies and mixes the rhythm of one melody into that of another.

Ostad Elahi's tanbour playing was also known for its use of complex ornamentations as well as the density of the notes, with up to 12 notes being played per second at times.These features are apparent in Suite Sahari from the CD The Celestial Music of Ostad Elahi (Le Chant du Monde, 2004), a melody which was played at dawn to awaken dervishes for prayer.


Nur Ali Elahi's memorial, a place of pilgrimage located in a small town called Hashtgerd some 70 km west of Tehran.

During the latter part of his life, Elahi was surrounded by individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests: the atheist who came for a debate, the musician who sought advice on some technical point, the scholar who wished to broaden the scope of his research, the simple villager or seeker who sought spiritual guidance. He welcomed them all, always taking time to address each of their concerns.

Elahi died on October 19, 1974 at the age of seventy-nine. A memorial, which continues to be visited by thousands each year, was erected in his memory in Hashtgerd, a rural town located on the outskirts of Tehran.

After his passing in 1974, his philosophy and teachings were continued by his son, Prof. Bahram Elahi (b. 1931), a former pediatric surgeon and medical school dean who has written several books analyzing and elaborating upon this line of thinking.

History of the title "Ostad Elahi"

Born with the name "Fatollah", Nur Ali's childhood nickname was "Kuchek Ali".At the age of eleven, he went through a spiritual transformation during an ascetic retreat with his father, who subsequently changed the child's name to "Sayyed Nur Ali".In 1941, while working as an attorney general in Khorammabad, Nur Ali legally changed his family name to "Elahi" in 1941.

After he died in 1974, his sister Malek Jan Nemati assumed responsibility for continuing his legacy. In accordance with the custom of referring to elders with deference, Malek Jan referred to her brother with the title "Hazrat Ostad" for the next twenty years as she continued explaining his teachings.



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