New Perspectives on Historical Ties Between Iran and India

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


Alexander Jabbari


Room 26
Wed, 2016-08-03 16:00 - 17:30


by Stephan Popp / Austrian Academy of Sciences

In the state of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58), obligatory gifts (pēshkash) were required whenever an officer was called to court, and especially when he hoped to be promoted, moreover at Naurōz and the emperor’s birthday. Such pēshkashes represented the official’s status and could influence his career if the emperor was impressed. The emperor usually emphasized successful promotions by giving a ‘favour’ (ʿināyat) to the official. These ‘favours’ ranged from ceremonial daggers to elephants with silver howdahs, reflecting the rank and the performance of the official. Shah Jahan standardized these ‘favours’ so that they acquired the function of graded military decorations instead of signs of an actual favour of the emperor. For other than his father Jahangīr, Shah Jahan wanted his administration focus not on his personality but on his function as the emperor, and he emphasized that he valued performance over proximity.
This paper will trace the gifts to and by select officers of Shah Jahan as a mirror of their career, by drawing on the chronicles and taking background information from Mughal biographies (Maâthir ul-'umarâ, Zâkhirat ul-khavânîn). It will demonstrate a development towards a more bureaucratic and less patrimonial state in the thirty years of Shah Jahan's reign through the treatment of its high military ranks and ask for consequences on cultural development in Mughal India.

by Mana Kia / Columbia University

This paper examines the figure and role of the Indian friend in late 19th-century Persian language modernist writings, specifically by Fath ‘Ali Akhundzadah, Jamal al-Din “al-Afghani,” and the Calcutta-based Persian newspaper, Habl al-Matin. These writings drew on older Persianate ideas of the central role of friendship in moral refinement and ethical behavior to put forth modern visions of self and collective association. This process posed a self that was Iranian but identifiable according to Persianate notions of collectivity, allowing for simultaneous broader affiliations with Muslims, Indians and Asians. That the intimate friend involved in this process of Persianate self and collective constitution was Indian suggests the need to consider Iranian and Indian modernity as part of an interconnected process informed by the lingering memory of a shared Persianate past and new modes of engagement up to the early 20th-century.

by Kaveh Yazdani / International Institute of Social History

Zoroastrianism became the state religion of Persia during the Sasanian Empire (224-651). But at least since the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) and up to the Arab conquest of Persia in 651, Zoroastrianism constituted the religion of the majority of the Persian population. At least from the 10th century onwards, the Zoroastrians or Zartoshtian had begun migrating to north-western India. The Zoroastrian priests of India and Persia were in some contact since the 15th century, but more intense relationships emerged during British rule. In India, Parsis were the first modern capitalist class and industrial entrepreneurs. They were one of the first advocates of “westernization” and among the wealthiest and most educated Indians in the 19th century. In contrast, by the mid-19th century, Persian Zoroastrians were living in abject poverty and as a marginalized minority. It was by no accident that in 1853, some Parsis of Bombay established “The Society for the Betterment of the Living Conditions of Zoroastrians”.
On the basis of so far untapped primary sources, the following research questions will be touched upon: What was the legal position and social status of Persian Zoroastrians compared to their Muslim country-people? What did the economic activities of Zoroastrians consist of? What was the population size of Zoroastrians living in Persia and what kind of occupations did they follow? What kind of commercial activities did they pursue and what do we learn about the merchant community in general and individual Zoroastrian merchants in particular? What were the consequences of Zoroastrian flows of migration on the socio-economic structure of Persia between 1853 and 1925? Why did Indian Parsi interests in Persia suddenly flower in the 1850s? What are the reasons behind the second revival of Parsi interest in Persia in the 1920s? And how did the Parsis legitimize their initiatives? Who were the “Parsi enthusiasts” of the 1920s traveling to Persia or supporting the cause of Persian Zoroastrians from abroad? What kind of institutions did the Indian Parsis help to work, develop and sponsor? How did the Persian Zoroastrians benefit from these activities? Did Parsi patronage also have any wider impact on the late 19th and early 20th century socio-economic structure of Persian society?

by Alexander Jabbari / University of California, Irvine

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Iranian literary scholars sought to bridge the gap between traditional forms of knowledge and literary history-writing (viz. the tazkira tradition) and ‘modern,’ European approaches to science and historiography. Across the border in British India, Indian scholars belonging to the same Persianate tradition, but now writing in Urdu, were engaged in the same.

When interaction between Persian and Urdu is considered, it has most typically been seen as unidirectional, with the former influencing the latter by providing loanwords, literary models, and so on. However, reality has been somewhat more complicated. Indian scholars writing in Urdu such as Shibli Nu‘mani and Muhammad Husayn Azad are rarely acknowledged in narratives about Iranian literary modernity, yet they were cited prominently by such Iranian scholars as Muhammad-Taqi Bahar and Zayn al-Abidin Mu’taman. Iranian literary scholars saw some of their Indian counterparts as having successfully combined the best aspects of the traditional Islamic sciences with the best of what European methodologies had to offer; this was attractive to Iranian nationalists and modernizers in the Pahlavi era, who hoped to do the same.

The aim of this paper is to examine the connections between the development of new, ‘modern’ literary scholarship in Iran and India, highlighting the little-known impact of Indian scholars on the Iranian literati, and arguing for a more complicated relationship between Persian and Urdu than what has most often been suggested.