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Reciprocal Enrichment between Iran and India

Full text of speech by: Dr. Haj Seyyed Javadi in The Indo-Iran seminar on “Dialogue among Civilizations”
New Delhi, 16-21 Nov. 2000
The chairman, learned scholars, ladies and gentlemen
It is a great honor for me to participate in this Indo-Iran seminar on “Dialogue Among Civilizations” which is an inevitable need of the present world at the beginning of the 21st century. The title of my paper is “Reciprocal Enrichment Between Iran and India From Historical Point of View.”
It is a well-known fact that there have always been connections, relations, interchanges and borrowings between great civilizations which have enriched each other.
The age long historical relations between the Iranians and the people of the Indian subcontinent date back to a very remote past. In the splendid civilization of Mohenjodaro and the Sindh Valley which flourished between 2500 and 1500 BC, there are visible signs of relationship with the Iranian civilization. The ancient relics, earthenware and the marked resemblance in their designs and patterns are strong evidences in favor of this assertion.1
This civilization is followed by the arrival of the Aryans in this land. Although the factors which lead to this mass migration are yet not fully known but the various similarities found in the legends and religious texts of the two peoples allude to such connection. Some of the scholars are of the opinion that Sanskrit, Old Persian and Avestan languages are the sisters born of the same mother.2 In authentic books of history some references have been made to the continuous relations of the two people during the days of the Medes, Pishdadiyan and Kiyanian. In the holy book of Zoroastrians i.e. Avesta, too, mention has been made of North India.3
Fortunately since the Achaemenid period we have authentic sources like the historical monuments of Persepolis4 which prove that some parts of the subcontinent were among the tributaries of the central government of Iran, a fact given in detail by Herodotus in his famous historical work.5 During the Achaemenid rule the kingdom of Darius the Great expanded up to Punjab and the artisans, craftsmen and traders traveled from Iran to India and from India to Iran and even in some battles between Iran and Greece the Indian soldiers fought as a part of the army of Achaemenid. The relics of Persepolis too confirm this view.6
After the invasion of Alexander and the subsequent establishment of the Seleucid reign, Sindh and some other parts of the Indian subcontinent, which were till then under the dominance of the Achaemenids, came under the sway of the Seleucid. 7 Following the fall of the Seleucids and foundation of the Parthian rule (228 CE), the relations between the two people were further enhanced, while the Safavid period (226 – 652 CE) provides an excellent example of cultural affinity between them.
This reciprocal enrichment continued and there was an exchange of visits and even inter-marriage came in vogue between the two peoples. As the great poet of Iran Ferdowsi has related in Shahnameh, (The Book of Kings) the Sassanid king Bahram-e Gur who was a man of festivity, hunting and music, requested the Indian king Shangol to select ten thousand expert singers and musicians and send them to Iran so that they teach the art of Indian music and Iranians may learn Indian musical tunes and the Indian king did so.8
Some of the historical works have claimed that Bahram-e Gur (d. 438 CE) even came on a visit to India9 and the Iranian kings also chose some of the Indian women as their queens10 Similarly there are several other examples of very close cultural relations in the pre-Islamic era such as the well-known translation of Panch Tantra – the Indian book of fables into Pahlavi during the reign of Anushiravan, better known as Nowsherwan the Just, and the arrival of chess in Iran from India11 and sending of backgammon to India by Nowsherwan which was an invention of Bozorgmehr, Nowsherwan’s wise minister.12 There was also the presence of several Indian translators in the royal courts of the Sassanids13 and ever-growing commercial and trade relations between the two countries, followed by the constant trail of traders’ caravans. 14
With the advent of Islam and the subsequent gradual conversion of the Iranians to Islam particularly after the extermination of Yazdgerd III, the last Iranian king in 652 CE which led to the end of the Sassanid rule in Iran, Iran was annexed to the vast Muslim empire. Iranians who embraced Islam with an open heart left no stone unturned in their efforts for the spread and propagation of this divine faith. One of the earliest steps taken in this direction was their joining the armies of the Arab commanders. At first in 664 CE, they joined the army of Mahlab b. Ali Safrah who went upto Peshawar, Khurassan, Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass.15 Later they joined the army of Muhammad bin Qasim Saqafi for the conquest of Sindh in 712 CE.16 Muhammad bin Qasim had a short sojourn at Shiraz17 before embarking on his historical mission and naturally his army consisted of a number of Iranian converts of Islam. Thus Islam entered the Indian subcontinent via Iran.
It may, however, be remembered that Islam could not easily find a root in the hearts of Indian people. Although a part of the subcontinent was conquered by Muhammad bin Qasim, yet Islam existed there only in name.18 It was only afterwards that Islam spread gradually through Iran by the Iranians until the Ghaznavid period (962 – 1186 CE) which assumed the position of a point of contact.
Amir Nasiruddin Sabuktagin entered India 986 CE and conquered Peshawar19 and after him his son Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (1030 CE) made a series of invasions on India. The Ghaznavid armies were accompanied by thousands of Iranian scholars, writers, poets and physicians who brought with them the Persian language, customs and traditions and this led to the serious and all out impact of Iranian culture on the Indian culture. So the Iranian culture was effectively grafted on the Indian soil and consequently the ever-existing cordial relations between the two people were further enhanced. It is also considered as the beginning of the influence of the Persian language which developed more and more with the passage of time.
The rulers of Iranian origin ruled the subcontinent for about 800 years starting from the Ghaznavid period to the British period, i.e., up to the year 1857 CE from when the British rule in undivided India began and lasted upto the year 1947 CE, the year India and Pakistan were declared separate independent states.
During these eight centuries, the rulers played an important role in the promotion and spread of Persian language and literature and consequently the Iranian culture.
During the reign of Ghaznavids (962 – 1186 CE) and particularly Mahmud Ghaznavi, a number of the people of different trades and professions including craftsmen, theologians, poets, writers, astronomers and astrologers represented the Islamic Iranian civilization20 in the subcontinent and Lahore assumed the position of an important center of Persian knowledge, literature art and mysticism. Likewise, the number of those who were engaged in the propagation of Islam for the sake of attaining divine favor also increased day by day.
Keeping in view the historical – intellectual traditions of this region, the mystics and Sufis played a very important role in the dissemination of Islam in these areas. They compiled a number of books and treatises on Islamic Sufism in Persian21 which had an effective role in the development and promotion of Persian in these territories.
Sheikh Ali Hojviri22 (d. circa 1099 CE) the renowned Sufi author of Kashf ul-Mahjub arrived in Lahore in 1040 CE, and wrote the first work on Islamic Sufism in Persian prose which is considered to be the earliest book written in Persian in the Indian subcontinent.
Among the large number of poets, writers, scholars and Sufis who flourished in the Indian subcontinent under the patronage of the Ghaznavids, the first poet who compiled his Diwan in Persian was Abul Faraj Runi who was born and brought up in Lahore. 23
The first Persian poetess of this period was Rabi’a, daughter of Ka’b Quzdari. Jami has mentioned her among the Sufi women of her time.24 According to some she belonged to the suburbs of Balkh but now it is established that she belonged to the area of Sindh which was also spelled as Khuzdar or Quzdar.25
After the Ghaznavids, the Ghoris ruled India from 1186 CE until the year 1206 CE26 who extended their dominion to Bengal along with the influence of Persian.
Thereafter the five dynasties known as the Sultans of Delhi ruled this region and Mohammad Aufi the famous writer of the well-known Tazkerah of poets Lubab ul-Albab and another book Jawami’ ul-Hikayat lived under the patronage of Sultan Nasiruddin Qabachah.27 Amir Khosrow and Khwaje Hassan Dehlavi were patronized by Ala’uddin Mohammad, son of Ghiyasuddin Balban.28 The author of Nuzhat ul-Khawatir says that he invited Sheikh Sa’di to Multan29 and also adds that in his court were always recitations of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh of Khaqani and Anwari, the Khamsa of Nezami and the poetry of Amir Khosrow. After the Ghoris and Maluks (1206 – 1290 CE) the Khiljis (1290 – 1320 CE) ruled the Delhi Sultanate and during the reign of Islam, too Persian language and the Iranian culture reached the remotest corners of the subcontinent and scholars, theologians and artists form different parts of Iran like Tabriz, Isfahan and Ray thronged the courts of the Khilji kings and received rich gifts and rewards.30
The Tughlaqs 1320 – 1414 CE were the third dynasty of rulers who ruled over Delhi and during this period Persian language became very popular among the people.
Ibn-e Batuta who visited Delhi 1333 CE and was appointed Qazi (judge) of the city, in his Safarnama (Travelogue)31 mentions a strange and interesting event, which alludes to the extraordinary influence of the Persian language. Ibn-e Batuta says that, in one of the cities of this area, he saw a Hindu woman whom the people wanted to burn alive with the body of her deceased husband. He saw the woman exclaiming in Persian:
“Do you want to frighten us from the fire, I known that he is fire. Leave us alone!”
It was during the Tughlaq period that the first missionary of Islam and also the first promoter of Persian (in the region) Seyyed Sharifuddin Bulbulshah Turkistani better known as Bulbul Shah Sohrawardi (d. 1327 CE) came to Kashmir.32
After him Mir Seyyed Ali Hamadani (1313 – 1383 CE) in the company of 700 persons from among his disciples and friends including some artisans entered Kashmir and started providing religious guidance and instruction which naturally accompanied greatest promotion and spreading of Persian language among the people and rulers of Kashmir.33 The artisans also started (teaching and training in) Iranian arts.
The fourth and fifth dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate were the Sadat and the Lodhis (1414 – 1415 CE and 1415 – 1526 CE respectively) and during their rule in addition to the nobles, elite and soldiers even the common people who till then kept themselves away from learning Persian engaged themselves in learning how to read and write the Persian script.
Anyhow the golden period after the invasion of Teymour was of the Mughal emperors who ruled this subcontinent from 1526 CE to 1857 CE. The founder of this dynasty Babur (Zahiruddin) whose mother tongue was Chughatai Turkish loved Persian and would also some times compose poetry in this language.
There were a large number of poets in Babur’s court.34
The second king of this dynasty was Homayun (Nasiruddin) who after the defeat at the hands of Sher Shah Suri Afghan fled to Iran and as a result of military help by Shah Tahmasp Safavi, was able to return to India accompanied by a number of Iranian scholars and poets. It was during the reign of Homayun that due to the acquaintance and long stay of himself and his family in Iran, the number of poets, writers, scholars and Sufis who migrated to the subcontinent increased gradually. He too composed poetry in Persian.35 A Diwan in Persian is also attributed to him.36
Akbar Jalaluddin ruled for about half a century. He was unparalleled as regards to the special attention paid and interest taken by him in Persian poetry and his patronage of Iranian scholars. In this period, Iranian poets migrated to the subcontinent in great numbers. Akbar for the first time appointed a poet as poet-laureate in his court. His first poet-laureate was Ghazali Mashhadi, who was followed by Faizi Akbarabadi. Some of the nobles of his court like Abdur Rahim Khan-e Khanan, also made an important contribution in the development and spread of the Persian language and the Iranian culture.37
Following the marriage of Jahangir Nuruddin to Nur Jahan, the daughter of an Iranian noble, Mirza Ghiyasuddin Beg Tehrani, the influence of Iranian language and literature in this subcontinent increased considerably. The Iranian art and architecture also gained extensive popularity.
Shahjahan Shahabuddin’s period is characterized by the glory of Iranian culture and art in the subcontinent. The Iranian architecture and Persian inscriptions on the various buildings became extensively popular in the subcontinent. A large number of forts, gardens and mosques were built during his period, like the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Jami’ Masjid in Delhi and the Shalimar Garden in Lahore. The famous poets of his time are Abu Talib Kalim, poet-laureate of his court, Qodsi Mashhadi and Sa’eb Tabrizi.
Aurangzeb Alamgir succeeded his father Shahjahan and although he had little interest in poetry, Persian prose did make a lot of headway. Ruqqa’at-i-Alamgiri (the letters of Alamgir) written by him are a brilliant example of Persian essays. His daughter Zebun Nisa is known for her Persian poetry and her Persian Diwan is available even today.
After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal power also declined and his eleven successors could not keep the vast empire intact. Persian however retained is popularity. Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (d. 1869 CE) belonged to this period. Ghalib is a distinguished poet of Persian and Urdu.
The British period began in 1866 CE and this imperialist rule left no stone unturned in destroying even the last remnants of Persian in this area but all their endeavors failed at least in the sphere of Persian poetry. Poets writing in Persian like Shibli Numani, Gerami and most of all, Allama Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal played an important role in the preservation and popularity of the Persian language in the subcontinent.
After the independence of India and Pakistan till this day the Persian language has been constantly on the wane but it has not completely banished.
As already mentioned, the sweet language of Persian had been the official language in this region and during this long span of time hundreds of books had been written by the scholars and poets of the subcontinent on different subjects. The history of this period had been written invariably in Persian. In addition of anthologies and Diwans of poetry, Persian dictionaries are among the most important works compiled. There have been more than one hundred dictionaries compiled in this area. Many translations had also been done and even religious books of Hindus like Ramayana, and Upanashids were translated into Persian.
Even today many books of Persian language are translated into Urdu and other languages and the books written in the subcontinent are rendered in Persian. The process of cultural exchange between the two nations has continued and it is hoped that this dialogue between the two civilizations will further enhance.
Note and References:
1. Hekmat Prof. Ali Asghar, Sarzamin-i-Hind, Tehran University, Tehran, 1337, 1958, p. 36.
2. Shehabi, Khorasani Ali Akbar, Rawabit-i-Iran-o-Hind, Tehran, 13161 1937, p, 58. Also see foreword by Prof. Mohammad Moqaddam on Dr. Ba Haider Shahryar Naqvi’s Farhang Nevisiye Farsi dar Hind-o-Pakistan, Ministry of Education, Tehran, 1341/1962, p. 19.
3. For example see Farsnameye Ibn-I-Balkhi, edited by R.A. Nicholson, Cambridge, 1921, 25, 28, & 50, Masudi, Muruj-al-Dhahab, Beirut, 1965, II, p. 132, Maqdisi, al-Bad’ va al-Mamalik, Persian tr. By Ibne Savaji, published by Iraj Afshar, printed at Tehran University, Tehran, 1961, p. 32.
4. For further information see Mustafavi, Mohammad Taqi, and Sami Ali, Takht-i-Jamshid, Shiraz, 1995, pp, 39, 63, 70 & 88; and Persian Tr. by Dr. Abdullah & others, Franklin, Tehran, 1973.
5. History of Herodotus, Persian Translation by Dr. Hedayat, Tehran University, Tehran, 1960-61.
6. S.M.R. Jalali Naini Hind Dar Yek Negah, Shirazeh Publication, Tehran, 1997, p. 7.
7. Tabari, Mohammad Jarir, Tarikh, al-Umam va al-Muluk, Leiden, 1964, I, p. 66; Ibn-i-Miskawayh, “Tajarib al-Umam,” Leiden, 1909, I, p. 153.
8. Hind Dar Yek Negah, Tehran, op. Cit. p.8.
9. Ibn-i-Balkhi, “Farsname”, op. Cit., p. 97.
10. “Mujmal al-Tawarikh” by an unknown author, published by Malik al-Shu’ara Bahar, Tehran, 1939.
11. Mustaufi, Hamdullah, “Tarikh-i-Guzide”, Tehran, 1983.
12. Hind Dar Yek Negah, op. cit., 9.
13. Ali b. Mohammad b. Bal’ami, “Tarikh-i-Bal’ami,” Tehran, 1962, pp. 1098-1099.
14. Shustary, A. M. A., Outlines of Islamic Culture, Lahore, 1966, I, pp. 30-31.
15. Akram, Dr. Sayyid Mohammad, Maqalat-i-Farsi, Lahore, 1971, p. 36.
16. Kufi, Ali, Fath Nameye Sind, Delhi, 1939, p. 174. Also see Zuka ullah, Shamsul Ulama’ Maulavi Mohammad, Tarikh-i-Hind, (Urdu), Delhi, 1907, I, p. 186.
17. Mustaufi, Hamdullah, Nuzhaat-al-Qulub, Tehran, 1957, p. 111; Ibn-i-Khurdazbeh, al-Masalik va al-Mamalik, Leiden, 1906, p. 131.
18. Panahi, (Dr.) Ali, article in Maqalat-i-Farsi, op. cit., p. 36.
19. Hindushah, Mohammad Qasim, Tarikh-i-Firishte, Nawal Kishore, Lucknow, p. 18.
20. Seddiq, Isa, (Dr.) Tarikh-i-Farhang-i-Iran, Tehran, 1952, p. 113.
21. Aufi, Mohammad, Lubab al-Albab, Tehran, 1958, p. 71. Also see Ahmad, Zuhuruddin (Dr.) Pakistan Mein Farsi Adab, (Urdu), Lahore, 1964, I, p. 38.
22. Al-Hujviri al-Jallabi, Abu Hasan Sayyid Ali b. Usman, alias Data Ganj Bakhsh. His tomb, full of (divine) lights, is in Lahore. It has been throughout history flourishing and glittering, and even now it entertains devotees and visitors. It has a number of Persian inscriptions. For further information about the biography of Hujviri, see Rahman Ali, Tazkera-I-Ulama-i-Hind, Lucknow, 1916, p. 59.
23. For further information see Safa, Zabihollah (Dr.), Tarikh-i-Adabiyyat-I-Iran, Tehran, 2nd Ed., 1984, II, pp. 470-71.
24. Ibid., I, p. 449.
25. Ahsan, Abdul Shakur (Dr.), article. “Farsi Sarmayeye Farhangiye ma” in the book Farsi dar Pakistan, Lahore, 1971, p. 22.
26. Ahmad., Khwaja Nizamuddin, Tabaqat-i-Akbari, Calcutta, 1927-31, I, p. 37.
27. For further information, see Aufi, Mohammad, Javami al-Hikayat, Tehran University Publication, 1956, Introduction by Dr. Mohammad Mo’in.
28. Sarwar, Ghulam (Dr.), Tarikh-i-Zaban-i-Farsi, Karachi, 1962, p. 73.
29. Nowshahrvi, Abu Yahya Imam Khan, Nuzhat al-Khawatir, Urdu tr. By Lukhnavi Abdul Hayy, Lahore, 1967, p. 33.
30. Afif Shams-Siraj, Tarikh-i-Firuzshahi, Jamia Usmania, Hyderabad Deccan 1938, I, p. 352.
31. Ibn-i-Batuta, Safarname, Persian tr. By Mohammad Ali Movahhed, Tehran, 1958, II, p. 462.
32. For further information, see Riyaz, Mohammad (Dr.), Ahwal-o-Asar-i-Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, Iran-Pakistan Persian Studies Center, Islamabad, 1991, p. 46.
33. Ibid., pp. 48-49.
34. Fakhri Herati, Persian tr. Majalis al-Funun, Tehran, 1944; Browne, E.G., Literary History of Persia, Cambridge, 1956, pp. 445-428; Hindushah…, Tarikh-I-Firishte, op. cit., I, pp. 353, 396.
35. Tarikh-i-Firishte, op. cit., I, p. 243.
36. Rezavi, Sayyid Sibte Hasan [Dr.], Farsi Guyan-i-Pakistan, Iran-Pakistan Persian Studies, Center Islamabad, 1974, I, p. 25.
37. Isfahani, Mirza Mohammad Taher, Tazkeraye Nasrabadi, Tehran, 1938, pp. 55-56.

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