Influence of Indo-Iranian Literature on Indian Literature E-mail




The post-Islamic introduction of Iranian literature into India begins with the reign of Sultan Mahmud-e-Ghaznavi who took the work of his father Saboktagin seriously and began the conquest of Northern India. Although the major aim of his expeditions were the propagation of Islamic faith and the capture of spoils of war, however, with these expeditions Farsi (the Persian language) began to penetrate into India.


With the defeat of Sultan Mas’ud-e-Ghaznavi from the Saljuk Turks, the successors of Mas’ud came to reside permanently in India and shifted, their capital to Lahore. We find three Iranian poets of the time settling in Lahore. These were Abul-Faraj Runi who died in 1099 in that city, Mas’ud Sa’ad Salman, a native of Gurgan who was imprisoned by his patron, Sultan Ibrahim Ghaznavi, for 12 years and died in 1131, and Hakim Sanaii of Ghazni, who is the first of the great mystic poets, who died also in Lahore in 1131 A.D.


Then we have a succession of poets, writers, historians who arrived into India during the Slave dynasty from 1206 to 1526. Among these one can mention Juzjani the author of "Tabaqat Nasiri", (1260), Mohammed Aufi of Bukhara who wrote "Lubab-al-Al-bab," the oldest biographical work in Iranian literature, and "Jawami’ al-Hekayat", Nizam addin Hassan Nizami Nishaburi (son of the famous Nizami Aruzi), Fakhruddin Mobarakshah the author of "Silsilat al-Ansab and "Adab-al-Harb".


In 13th and 14th centuries several noted poets flourished in India. Then comes Amir Khusro Dehlavi, the parrot of India, who won the title of the Indian Hafiz. He was the first Urdu poet, but he sometimes wrote mixed poetry, one line being in Farsi and the other in Urdu.


Before we come to the Golden Age of Iranian literature in India during the Mughal emperors, we must mention the patronage of Iranian literature by two Indian Muslim Kings. Kashmir was conquered from the Hindus by Muslims in 1339. One of the Muslim Kashmiri kings who promoted the diffusion of Persian literature in Kashmir was Zayn-al-Abedin (1417 - 1467). He was, like most Iranians, tolerant in religious matters. He ordered the translation of various works from Sanskrit, Arabic and other languages, into Farsi.


During the Slave dynasty, Farsi was indeed the language of the Court in Delhi. Ibn Battuta who traveled in India in the 14th century tells us how Farsi words and expressions were being used everywhere even in the most Southern parts of India and in Ceylon. (F. C. Davar, Iran and India through the ages, pp. 160-161)


However, the true Golden Age of Iranian literature in India came with the advent of the Mughals.


Babar was sixth in descent from Taymur, and had succeeded his father in the petty kingdom of Forghana at the age of 12. He was a Turk on his father’s side and a Mongol on his mother side. Early in his life, and three times, he captured the city of Samarqand and lost it. He was defeated by Sheibak-khan in 1510 A.D., but with the help of Shah Isma’il Safavi (who defeated and killed Sheibak-khan) and with the help of Iranian troops, Babar regained his lost cities.


However, soon not satisfied with this, he took advantage of the state of unrest in India, and through Panjab, entered into India defeating its unpopular king, Ibrahim Lodi.


Babar became king of India and soon built a great empire for himself and settled down in that vast continent. Unfortunately he did not rule long in India, and died four years after his conquest. His son Homayun was defeated and expelled out of India by Sher Shah Sur in 1540.


Again the Iranian King, Shah Tahmasp the son of Shah Isma’il came to his rescue and after giving him asylum for several years, he was sent back with Iranian troops to India in 1555 and regained his throne of Delhi from Sikandar Sur.


These two instances established a real concord between the two dynasties and led to progressive cultural relations between Iran and India. Iranian scholars, poets, artists, and statesmen, found in the Mughal Court appreciative patrons and soon they were attracted to India. This was enhanced by the change of creed in Iran. Safavids were fervent Shiites and most of their time was spent in the propagation of the new faith, fighting with the Sunni Ottoman Emperors.


Safavid Kings had little time for promotion of cultural pursuits. They were intolerant in religious matters and even Sufis who were not of Shi’a faith found no favor with the Safavid Kings. So most of the Sunni mystics and poets found their way to other appreciative courts such as Mughal court in Delhi or Ottoman Court in Istanbul. In Humayun’s court we come across two Iranian poets, Maulana Mohammed Qasim Kahi, and Mir Abdol Latif Qazvini.


According to the historian Badayuni in his "Muntakhib at-Tawarikh" in the court of Akbar, there were 167 poets, most of whom sang in Farsi or claimed Iran as their motherland.


Among poets and historians who worked in the court of Akbar one can name Faizi who translated an abbreviated version of the Mahab-harata as well as Lilavati into Farsi. His brother Abul Fazl wrote the famous "Akbar-Nameh." The poet Urfi came from Shiraz and the Iranian Mohammad Hussein Naziri came over from Nishapur to Agra but later settled down in Ahmadabad.


Another poet from Iran, Mulla Zuhuri of Torshiz arrived from Khorasan to India, settled down in Ahmadnagar and rose to the position of the poet-laureate of the kingdom. Ghazali, yet another Iranian poet with Sufi tendencies, being persecuted in Iran came to Deccan, and from there came to Akbar’s imperial capital and soon was appointed poet-laureate.


During Jahangir’s reign, one could mention brilliant Iranian poets like poet-laureate Mulla Ziyai Gilani, the poet-laureate Talib Amuli and Mohammed Sufi Mazandarani. Abu Talib Kalim Kashani and Haj Mohammed Jan Qudsi Mashhadi both became poet-laureates in the court of Shah Jahan. In his reign we can name another famous poet, from Shiraz, Mulla Ali Reza whose pen-name was Tajalli. We can also mention Sa’ib Isfahani, the greatest Iranian poet, between Jami and Qa’ani, who came to India for a short period.


Among the Iranian historians who were attracted to the Court of the Mughals, one may mention Khwandmir. He is the grand son of the well-known historian who wrote "Rauzat-us-Safa" and his main contribution in India was the great historical work called "Habib-al-Siyar." Another prominent historian was Muhammad Qasim Fereshta who came from Astrabad on the Caspian shore. He immigrated with his father to India and settled in Ahmadnagar and later in Bijapur. His famous historical work is the "Gulistan-i-Ibrahimi."


In Southern India also Iranian poets and scholars were received with favor and the progress of Farsi was not far behind its prevalence in the North. Sultan Ibrahim Adelshah of Bijapur was himself a scholar and poet and the poet Zahuri Tarshizi received favor in his court.


Maharaja Anandraj, the ruler of Vijayagram in the Madrass State, was himself a distinguished scholar and the greatest lexicon of Farsi, compiled to this date, was produced in his reign by Mohammed Badshah, and was entitled "Farhang-i-Anandraj" to commemorate the name of his royal patron.


One must not forget to add that not only the Mughal Emperors and their Iranian wives were patrons of Persian poetry, but they themselves composed poetry and recited them in profusion. From Babar, down the line we find among the kings themselves and their wives and daughters many who composed Persian poetry. Among these one can mention Homayun, Gulbadan Begum (the daughter of Babar), Salima Sultana (niece of Humayun), Jahangir, Dara Shukuh, Aurangzebe, Jahan Ara Padeshah Begum, Zibunnissa, and Noor-Jahan.


During Mughal reign in India, from the 16th to the 18th century, some of the most well-known statesmen, generals, and public workers came from Iran to India.


Among these one can mention, Nur Jahan the cultured Iranian lady who came to India with her father Gyiyath Beg E’etemad-ad-daula and her brother Asef khan, Nizam-al-Molk the founder of nizam Shahi dynasty of Deccan Hayderabad, Mahmud Gawan the brilliant minister of the Bahmani Sultans of South India, Hakim Abul-Fath the well known Physician and friend of Akbar, Alimardankhan the eminent general in the time of Shah Jahan, Sarmad the Sufi preceptor of Dara Shokuh, Ruhollah the finance minister of Aurangzebe, Mir Jumla, the famous general and right hand man of Aurangzebe.


Muslim India turned to Iran for inspiration in literature, art, refinement, culture, and the amenities of life. In political administration also as we have already seen the Mughal Emperors looked to the Iranian Court as their ideal.


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