Indo-Persian culture

"Indo-Persian culture" refers to those Persian aspects that have been integrated into or absorbed into South Asian culture, and in particular, into North India and parts of modern-day Pakistan.

Persian influence is introduced to India with the Islamic empires in India, especially with Delhi Sultanate from the 13th century, and in the the 16th to 19th century Mughal Empire.

Persian was the official language of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and their successor states, as well as the cultured language of poetry and literature. Many of the Sultans and nobility in the Sultanate period were Persianised Turks from Central Asia who spoke Turkic languages as their mother tongues. The Mughals were also from Persianized Central Asia, but spoke Chagatai Turkic as their first language at the beginning, before eventually adopting Persian. Persian became the preferred language of the Muslim elite of north India. Muzaffar Alam, a noted scholar of Mughal and Indo-Persian history, suggests that Persian became the lingua franca of the empire under Akbar for various political and social factors due to its non-sectarian and fluid nature. The influence of these languages on Indian apabhramshas led to a vernacular that is the ancestor of today's Urdu and Hindustani and to a high degree also of Pashtu.

Indo-Persian Culture in Contemporary India and Pakistan

The decline of Indo-Persian culture is not only controversial but problematic, particularly since Indo-Persian culture has helped produce certain composite traditions within the subcontinent that survive to this day, of which the Urdu language and literature is notable. The legacy of Indo-Persinate culture moreover can also be seen in much of the Mughal architecture within Lahore, Delhi and Agra, latterly of which the Taj Mahal is world renowned. In many ways, the absorption and assimilation of Persian or Persianate culture within India may be compared to the gradual (if sometimes problematic) absorption of English, British or Western culture generally of which the English language is perhaps the most notable and controversial within both India and Pakistan today. The influence of Persian language moreover may be seen in the considerable proportion of loan words absorbed into the vernaculars of the north and north-west of the subcontinent including Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Kashmiri and Pashto.

History of Indo-Persian Culture

With the presence of Muslim culture in the region in the Ghaznavid period, Lahore and Uchh were established as centers of Persian literature. Abu al-Faraj Runi and Masud Sad Salman (d. 1121) were the two earliest major Indo-Persian poets based in Lahore. The earliest of the "great" Indo-Persian poets was Amir Khusrao (d. 1325) of Delhi, who has since attained iconic subcontinent within the subcontinent as, among other things, the "father" of both modern Hindi and Urdu literature.

The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Era

Indo-Persian culture flourished to varying degrees alongside Turkish or Turkic culture during the period of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526). The invasion of Babur in 1526, the end of the Delhi Sultanate, and the establishment of what would become the Mughal Empire would usher the golden age of Indo-Persian culture with particular reference to the art and architecture of the Mughal era.

The Mughal Era to the British Raj: Persian persisted as the language of the Mughal regime up to and including the year 1707 which marked the death of the Emperor Aurangzeb, generally considered the last of the "Great Mughals". Thereafter, with the decline of the Mughal empire, the 1739 invasion of Delhi by Nadir Shah and the gradual growth of European power within the subcontinent, Persian or Persianate culture commenced a period of decline although it nevertheless enjoyed patronage and may even have flourished within the many regional "empires" or kingdoms of the subcontinent including that of the Sikh "Maharaja" Ranjit Singh (r. 1799-1837).

Persian as a language of governance and education was abolished in 1839 by the British and the last Mughal emperor Bahadhur Shah Zafar, even if his was rule was purely symbolic or ceremonial, was overthrown in 1857 by the British.

Further, C.E. Bosworth wrote about the Central Asian´s Persian (Tajiks->Ghurids) influence on India: "...The sultans were generous patrons of the Persian literary traditions of Khorasan, and latterly fulfilled a valuable role as transmitters of this heritage to the newly conquered lands of northern India, laying the foundations for the essentially Persian culture which was to prevail in Muslim India until the 19th century..."

After the British Raj

Given that the Mughals had historically symbolized Indo-Persian culture to one degree or another, the overthrow of Bahadhur Shah Zafar and the institution of the British Raj in 1858 may be considered as marking the end of the Indo-Persian era, even if, after 1857, Persian would still retain an audience and even produce commendable literature such as the philosophical poetry of Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938).

Further reading

  • Waris Kirmani. Dreams Forgotten: An Anthology of Indo-Persian Poetry. (Aligarh, 1984)
  • Nabi Hadi. Dictionary of Indo-Persian Literature. (New Delhi, 1995)


See also

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