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Historical relations between India and Iran

New Delhi-Tehran enter into new era of friendship and regional cooperation

Historical relations between India and Iran
India Iran

New Delhi: 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 evidence in favor of this assertion.


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 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. Inauthentic books of history some references have been made to the continuous relations of the two people during the days of the Medes, Pishdadiyan, and Kiwanian. In the holy book of Zoroastrians i.e. Avesta, too, mention has been made of North India.


Fortunately, since the Achaemenid period, we have authentic sources like the historical monuments of Persepolis. During the Achaemenid rule in the kingdom of Darius the Great 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 to confirm this view.


After the invasion of Alexander and the subsequent establishment of the Seleucid reign the relations between Iran and India weakened but 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 Sasanian period (224 – 651 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.


Some of the historical works have claimed that Bahram-e Gur (d. 438 CE) even came on a visit to India and the Iranian kings also chose some of the Indian women as their queens. Similarly there are several other examples of very close cultural relations in the pre-Islamic era such as the well-known translation of Panchatantra – the ancient Indian book of fables in Sanskrit into Pahlavi during the reign of Anushiravan, better known as Nowsherwan the Just, and the arrival of chess in Iran from India and sending of backgammon to India by Nowsherwan which was an invention of Bozorgmehr, Nowsherwan’s wise minister. There was also the presence of several Indian translators in the royal courts of the Sassanid and ever-growing commercial and trade relations between the two countries, followed by the constant trail of traders’ caravans.

(12) With the advent of Islam and the subsequent gradual conversion of the Iranians to Islam in 652 CE which led to the end of the Sassanid rule in Iran, Iran was annexed to the vast Muslim empire.
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 the 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.


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 Persian which had an effective role in the development and promotion of Persian in these territories.


Sheikh Ali Hujweri (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 a large number of poets, writers, scholars, and Sufis who flourished in India. Persian language and the Iranian culture reached the remotest corners of the subcontinent and scholars, theologians and artists from different parts of Iran like Tabriz, Isfahan, and Ray thronged the courts in India and received rich gifts and rewards.


The founders of four main Sufi orders of Chishti, Qadiriyya, Suhrawardiyya, and Naqshbandi who established these Sufi orders in India migrated from Iran to India. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti or KhwajaGhareeb Nawaz was an Iranian Muslim preacher, ascetic, religious scholar, philosopher, and mystic from Chisht in Khurasan, Iran. He settled down in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India in the early 13th-century, where he promulgated the famous Chishtiyya order of Islamic mysticism.


The first promoter of Persian (in the region) was the Sufi saint Seyyed Sharifuddin Bulbul Shah better known as Bulbul Shah Sohrawardi (d. 1327 CE) came to Kashmir.

(16) 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.

(17) The artisans also started (teaching and training in) Iranian arts.
The second king of Mughal dynasty in India was Humayun 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 Humayun 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. A Diwan in Persian is also attributed to him.


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.


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.

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 and the Jami’ Masjid in Delhi. The famous poets of his time are Abu Talib Kalim, poet-laureate of his court, Qudsi Mashhadi and Sa’eb Tabrizi.


Aurangzeb Alamgir succeeded his father Shah Jahan 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 in India.
The British period began in 1757 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. The Persian poets in India played an important role in the preservation and popularity of the Persian language in the subcontinent. After the independence of India in 1947, the Persian language is taught in all the leading universities in India.


As already mentioned, Persian had been the official language of India for centuries and during this long span of time, hundreds of books had been written by the scholars and poets of India on different subjects. The history of India of this period had been written invariably in Persian. In addition to 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 Upanishads were translated into Persian.


Even today many books of Persian language are translated into Urdu and other languages and the books are 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.


The relations between two brotherly countries India and Iran in real sense strengthened only after 1947 in the political, economic and cultural fields. India and Iran have unitedly fought of the menace and danger of terrorism and are cooperating closely with each other in this field.


The development of the most strategic Iranian seaport of Chahbahar located in the Sea of Oman by the Indian companies has brought together India, Iran, and Afghanistan in the close strategic bond of friendship and cooperation. The most strategic Iranian seaport of Chahbahar is the shortest route for the quick transport of Indian goods to Russia, Afghanistan, and Central Asian countries.


Hyder Reza Zabet is an expert on Indo-Persian relations

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