India Iran Historical Links

India Iran Historical Links

India & Iran – Age Old Ties

Part I

India and Iran : Common Homeland, common linguistic and racial Past
Contacts between Achaemenian Persia and India
Contacts between Sassanian Persia and India
Buddhist influence on Persia
Continuing contacts (2nd to 7th century AD)

Part II

Advent of Islam
Sufism – Spiritual interaction between India and Iran
Mughal-Safavid Period
Spread of Persian literature and poetry in India
Persian influence in the field of art and architecture
Decline in direct Indo-Iranian links
Continuing Contemporary Links

India & Iran – Age Old Ties

"Few people have been more closely related in origin and throughout history than the people of India and the people of Iran"
– JawaharLalNehru[1]

“I used to dream of a Persia where bulbuls made love to the roses, where in dreamland gardens poets sat around their wine cups and invoked visions of ineffable meanings. But now that I have come to your country my dream has been formed into a concrete image that finds its permanent place in the inner chamber of my experience … I have visited Sa’di's tomb; I have sat beside the resting place of Hafiz and intimately felt his touch in the glimmering green of your woodlands, in blossoming roses. The past age of Persia lent the old world perfume of its own sunny hours of spring to the morning of that day and the silent voice of your ancient poet filled the silence in the heart of the poet of Modern India”

– Rabindranath Tagore, 09 May 1932.[2]

The peoples of India and Iran, two ancient neighbouringcivilisations, have enjoyed close historical links through the ages. They had a common homeland and share a common linguistic and racial past. Over the several millennia, they interacted an enriched each other in the fields of language, religion, arts, culture, food and other traditions. Today the two countries enjoy warm, friendly relations and cooperate in a wide range of fields.

Part I

Prehistoric times

1. It is believed that before 2000-3000 BC, the inhabitants of modern Iraq and southern Iran as also the people of west and north west India came from the same region. Later, around 1500 BC Aryan tribes from north invaded and defeated these people and marched further to south Asia.[3] During the pre-historic times (around 3000 BC), the people of Kulliculture (North West Indian borders) excelled in making small boxes of soft stone, delicately engraved with linear patterns. At Susa (west Iran) a few pieces of painted pottery have been found which appear to be similar to the wares of the Kulli people. In the hills of Baluchistan, where the people of Nal and Zhob cultures built their little villages, the Barhuis, though ethnically now predominantly Iranian, speak a Dravidian language (spoken in South India).[4]

2. There seems little doubt that the Indus Valley civilization had contacts with the contemporaneous civilizations of Iran and Mesopotamia. There is a striking similarity between some of the designs and seals. There was trade between the coast of southern Iran and India through the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Some Indus seals have been excavated at Kish, Susa and Ur in Iran. The Harappan people are believed to have imported silver, copper, turquoise and lapis lazuli from Persia and Afghanistan.[5] Iran supplied silver, gold, lead, zinc, turquoise to ancient India. Ivory was imported from India.[6]

India and Iran : Common Homeland, common linguistic and racial Past

3. On the basis of linguistic evidence the people who arrived on the southern slopes of Alborz mountains in North Iran and in Western Iran, are regarded as having originally been along the Indo-Iranians who for a long period shared a common tradition while living as Nomads in the Central Asian steppes. Eventually the two linguistically related groups separated and migrated southwards. The Iranian group moved into the highlands of Iran through the flat passable area south-east of Caspian Sea, while the Indian tribes migrated into the Indian sub-continent.[7]

4. It is believed that Indians and Iranians belonged to one single family before the beginning of the Indo-Aryan civilisation and lived together with a common language for many centuries in pasturelands of Oxus valley in Central Asia (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakstan).[8] This common habitat was either around the upper reaches of the Tigris where the Zob meets it or in the vast doab of the rivers Vahvi-Datiya and Ranha (the Oxus and Jaxertes). [9]The first Aryan migration into India and Iran took place around 2000 BC. In Iran, as in India, the impact of the Aryans was to prove ineffaceable and founded a long enduring tradition.[10] These people brought with them their patrilinear system, their worship of sky gods, their horses and chariots.[11] In the second millennium B.C. there was close agreement between the language and mythology, religious traditions and social institutions of Indians and Iranians on the one hand and those of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans and Slavs on the other. For a considerable period after their separation from their western kinsmen, the Indians and Iranians are believed to have lived together. [12]

5. The scriptures Vedas (of the Indian Aryans) and the Avesta (of the Iranians) both agree on the cause, which led to the migration of the Aryans from their original homeland (called AiryanaVaejo in Avesta). In the Vedic account, it is a flood of water that is referred to and in the Avestan account it is a flood of snow and frost. The praleya signifying snow or frost is derived from pralaya or deluge in Sanskrit by Panini. That there was a huge flodd in pre-historic ties in some parts of the then known world is proved by Semitic sources which seem to have borrowed their account from Aryan sources. The name of the person who escaped this disaster is Noah, according to them (more correctly Nuh as in Arabic which is a contracted form of Manuh, nominative form of Manu). In both Indian and Iranian versions, he is the son of the same person – Vivasvat or Vivanghat. According to the tradition of the Vendidad, the ancestors of the Iranians lived in 15 other countries turn by turn. One of these was Haptahindu, i.e. Saptasindhu, the cradle land of Indo-Aryan civilization. [13]

6. Indian or Indo-Iranian groups who worshiped the Vedic deities were found in and to the north of Syria in the middle of the second millennium B.C. Prof. S.A. Cook writes “In what may roughly be called the 'Mosaic’ age, viz, that illustrated by the Amarna letters and the “Hittite” tables from Boghaz-Keui, Palestine was exposed to Iranian (Old Persia) or Indo-European Persian Empire…. In the Mosaic Age, Varuna, the remarkable ethical God of ancient India, was known to North Syria.” [14] In the 14th century BC, there appeared in North East Syria, a people called Mittani, whose kings had Indo-Iranian names and whose gods were very similar to the Aryan gods – Indara (Indra), Uruvna (Varuna), Mitira and Nasatiya. Some other chiefs in Syria and Palestine also had Indo-Iranian names.[15]

7. India is mentioned in the Avesta and there is some description of north India in it. In the Rig Veda there are references to Persia – the Persians who were called Parshavas and later Parasikas, from which the modern word Parsi is derived. The Parthians were referred to as Parthavas.[16]

8. Old Persian language was a member of the Indic branch of the Indo-European languages. Related to it was Zend of Avestan, the language of the earliest Zoroastrian text, which was later, divided into two distinct branches – Indic and Iranic.One later developed as Sanskrit and the other as Persian. [17]

9. The name of India has come from Iran through a long relay – Iranic to Greek to Latin to English and finally to India with its dominance of English. India is a Greek word written 'India in the Greek alphabet and pronounced Hindia. It comes from Hindos 'the river Indus’ from the old Persian Hindu, the Persian pronunciation of the Sanskrit Sindhu. (In Avesta and old Persian an initial s was pronounced h).[18]

10. Similarly, the name Iran is related to Sanskrit Arya (noble). The ancient Persian also used the name 'Arya’ and the word survives in the word 'Iran’. Iranians are one of three peoples of the world who have called their countries 'Land of Nobility’ or 'The Noble Land’. Iran is the Avesta word airya 'noble’ with the toponymic suffix –an, denoting a geographical area. The name of Ireland is Eire in Irish language and aire means 'noble’ in Irish. Aryavarta is the sacred land bounded on the north and south by the Himalaya and Vindhya mountains, and extending from the eastern to the western sea. The name Iran and Aryavarta are close relatives and denote the abode of the excellent ones, the noble and respectable people, those faithful to their land. The Persian speaking Aizerbajan is the ancient word aryanamvajah 'the power of the Aryans’, which celebrates the emerging sway of the Iranians in the second or third millennium BC.[19]

11. Sanskrit and Avesta have a common basic vocabulary and common grammar. The name of HaptaHendu (land of seven rivers) is mentioned in Avesta whereas Ariya (the name of Persia) is mentioned in the Vedas.[20] In the Rig Veda, the Persians were called Parshavas and later Parasikas (from which the modern word Parsi is derived).

12. The ancient Iranians invoked the good mind, the good spirit VohuManah (Vasumanah in Sanskrit). The word vohu is vasu in Sanskrit. Its superlative form is vashishta (the personification of right). The modern Persian Bahisht is AvestaVahishta and Sanskrit Vashishtha (in English best).[21] Some other words with apparent common roots are -




asha (arta)


atar (fire, atish)




aseman (sky)


danu (river)


manah (mind)


pitar (sather)


masyanam (of mortal men)


yasna (sacrifice)



13. River Sarasvati became the province Haraxvaiti in Avesta. The river Rasa became the district Rangha in Media now Rai near Tehran. Avesta has the river Varan, which refers to Varanasi situated on the confluence of Varana and Asi rivers. Avesta mentions the river Haroyu which is Saryu flowing near Ayodhya. The HaptaHendu of Avesta and SaptaSindhu of Rigveda is Punjab.[22]

14. The Persian word Khuda goes back to AvestaHvada, which is svadha in Sanskrit (inherent power). The Avesticbara survives in the name of Baghdad and it is Sanskrit bhaga or better known bhagavan).[23]

15. AvesticKshathra and Sanskrit Kshatra become in modern Persian Shahr and Hindi Khatri/Khet. Avesticdugh and Sanskrit dugdha change into dugh and dudh. Avesticbratar and Sanskrit bhratri change into Persian baradar and Hindi Bhai. Avestichvar or khvar and Sanskrit svara become Persian khur (of Khurshid) and Hindi sur.[24] Sanskrit dha (set, make), bhr (bear), gharma (warm) are Avestan and old Persian da, bar and garma. Sanskrit pra (forth), putra (son) are Avestanfra and puthra. [25]

16. h replaced s in Iranian except before non-nasal stops and after I, u, r, k; Sanskrit sapta (seven), sarva (all) are Avestanhapta and haurva. Iranian also has both xs and s sounds, Indo-Aryan has only ks. Avestanxsayeiti (has power, is capable), saeiti (dwells) are Sanskrit ksayati and kseti.

17. There is much in common between the Vedic religion and Zoroastrianism. The core of these religions was sacrifice, centred on fire. The earliest religious texts of Indo-Aryans (principally the Rig Veda dating back to 1300 to 900 BC) are indispensable for making historical reconstructions of the development of Iranian religion.[26] Gatha, the hymns of Prophet Zoroaster, included in a part of the Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, suggests a close link with the ancient Indian hymns, the Rig Veda of c. 1700 B.C. This is the period prior to the migration of Nomadic tribes into Iran and India.[27]

18. The hymn of Gayatri resembles the Gatha of the ancient Iranians. The vedic ritual of Agni and the Avestic ritual of Atar were similar. The Hindu Gods and Goddesses like Indra and Bhadrika resemble Ahura Mazda and Mithra.[28] During the Vedic period, gods were divided into two classes the devas and the asuras (In Iranian daevas and ahuras). In India devas came to be more powerful than the asuras and the latter word eventually took on the meaning of a demon. In Iran the reverse took place and the daevas were denounced as demons by Zoroaster. They still survive as such in the divs of Persian foklore, especially though Ferdowsi's epic Shah Nameh).[29]

19. Vedic and Persian religions (both Aryan) mingled in Gandhar, where stood the Indian city called Taxila by the Greek. By the age of Darius (6th century BC), the most refined of its cult had evolved into what was later known as Zoroastrianism – a dualist religion accounting for the problem of evil in terms of struggle of a good with an evil god.[30] To this day, there are close similarities in the Persian festival of Nowruz (Iranian New Year) also celebrated by Parsis in India and Holi as both are centred towards fire.

20. The Indo-Iranian element in later Hinduism is chiefly found in the initiatory ceremony (upanayana) performed by boys, a rite both in Hinduism and in Zoroastrianism that involves the tying of a sacred cord. The Vedic god Varuna, now an unimportant sea god appears in the Rigveda as sharing many features of the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord"); the hallucinogenic sacred drink soma corresponds to the sacred haoma of Zoroastrianism.[31] Varuna was known as an Asura, a term also applied to lesser gods, which in later Hinduism came to mean a class of demons, but which in Persia was adopted by the Zarathustra in its local form as part of the title of the great god of light – Ahura Mazda. Varuna may have been the high god of the Indo-Iranians before the two peoples divided. Varuna was first and foremost a king, an emperor sitting in a great palace in heavens often with associated gods around him. Most important of these was Mitra, a god with some solar characteristics. He was represented in the Zoroastrian pantheon and was also widely worshipped in the Roman Empire under the Greco-Iranian name Mithras.[32]

21. The Iranian Surya (sun god) wearing a long coat with a sacred girdle and knee-high boots was worshipped by Indian kings. He had a special name Mundirasvami and the word Mundira is found in ancient Iranian texts from Khotan. The Modhera temple in Gujarat and Munirka village in Delhi remind of the name Mundira. The Sun God at Konarak, Orissa is famous in his Iranian drapery and boots. The royal priests of this royal surya were of Iranian descent like SakadvipiyaBrahmanas, or Mishra (in which th of AvestaMithra became sh).[33]

22. Both Vedas and Gathas have no place for idols or temples. Both enjoin the maintenance of fire and performance of sacrifice (Sanskrit yajna and Avesticyasna). Their priests have common duties and names.

23. The four varnas (classification of society) of India developed out of very early Aryan class divisions. Some stratification existed in many Indo-European communities. Ancient Iran had four pistras (classes), comparable in some respects to those in India.[34] The four-fold classification of society into priests, warriors, peasants and artisans appears in the Vedas, the Gathas and Yasna and Ferdowsi's Shah Nameh (which mentions their designations as Amuzian, Nisarian, Nasudi and Ahnukishi.[35]

24. The system of four yugas (ages) was similar to the doctrine of four ages that existed in ancient Persia. The system was also prevalent in ancient Greece.[36] The Iranians, like the Indians, believed that the world was divided into seven regions or karshvar (keshvar in modern Persian, which means country).[37]

25. There is a word in the Gathas – asha – that appears in a variety of forms – asha/arsh/eresh/arta/ereta. The last variant is near to the rita of the Rig Veda. For both Avesta and Veda, this word means the order of the world, the law of the man. Law and order seems to be the fundamental concepts of the Aryans.[38]

26. The myths that appear in the part of the Avesta known as Yasht include some tales of very ancient pre-Zoroastrian origin, probably belonging to the pagan Indo-Iranian era. Many of these myths re-appear in the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), an epic in rhyme by the Poet Firdowsi, which was completed in A.D. 1010. The greatest hero of Iranian mythology was undoubtedly Yima (Jamshid of the Shahnameh.) As YimaKhshaeta, King Yima, he belongs to the Indo-Iranian traditions. The Indian equivalent, the Vedic Yama, chooses to die and becomes the Kind of the dead. [39]

27. There are several parallelisms between medical, physiological and pathological doctrines of the Ayurveda and those of the Avesta in its surviving texts represented by the Vendidad, the Yasna and the Yashts.[40] The Persian word din (religion) is similar to dhena of the rigveda where it means 'speech reflecting the inner thoughts of man’. Its Avesta equivalent is daena, a common word in Gathas meaning inner self of man.[41]

28. The Samba-purana relates that Samba, the son of Krishna, had been afflicted with leprosy and was restored to health by the grace of Sun God whose worship was performed by Iranian priests called Maga. The Maga priests were the famous Magoi or Magi – Zoroastrian priests who spread the worship of fire and Sun and erected temples at Taxila and Multan.[42] The Bhagvat-Puran calls the sacred girdle of Sun priest avyanga, which is the Avestanaiwyanghana. Samba built the sanctuary of Mitravana on the banks of Chenab. There were Sun temples on the banks of Yamuna. [43] The Maga Brahmins and the Gandhara Brahmins of North India, as well as BrahminiMagis of the South were all of Iranian origin.[44]

29. Commerce between the mouth of the Indus and the Persian Gulf was unbroken down to the Buddhist times. There is evidence of trade between the Phoenicians of the Levant and western India as early as 975 B.C. Trade between the Indus Valley and the Euphrates seems to be very ancient.[45]

Contacts between Achaemenian Persia and India

30. By around 1000 BC, Indians and Persians had established themselves as distinct cultural and racial entities with their boundaries meeting at Kabul and Sistan.[46]

31. The founder of the Achaemenian dynasty in Persia was Hakhamanis (Sakhamani in Sanskrit, meaning one who has allies/friends – Hakha/Sakha of crystalline fidelity - mani). During the Achaemenian period, some parts of northwest India came under Persian rule. Indian emissaries were present in the courts of Medes and Emperor Cyrus in 550 – 529 BC.[47]

32. One of the great Achaemenian emperors was Cyrus. His correct name in the inscriptions is Kurus (Kuru of Aitareya-brahmana and Mahabharat in Sanskrit). Kuru is described as a country of everlasting happiness beyond the most northern ranges of the Himalayas. Cyrus founded the imperial capital of Pasargadae or Pars-gard (the seat of Persians). Gard is Garta in Sanskrit, which means a seat. Garta or Karta later came to mean capital as in Jakarta.[48] The audience hall of the Achaemenian emperors was called apadana. Its Budhist parallel is Avadana.[49]

33. Darius, the third ruler of the Achaemenian dynasty, sent an expedition to India. Three of his inscriptions refer to his relations with India. The Behistun rock inscription (ancient Bagastana 'place of Gods’ or Sanskrit 'Bhagasthana’) dating back to around 518 BC includes Gandhar in the list of his subject countries. Here Darius refers to his language as Aryan.


[50] The Persepolis inscription mentions Punjab as a part of the Persian empire. The epigraph of Nagsh-i-Rustam shows India as the 24th state of his empire. When Cyrus the Great was invaded by King Croesus of Lydia in Greece, a contemporary Indian king is believed to have rendered military assistance to the Iranian emperor.[51]

34. The Indian province of Darius was the richest in his empire and the most populous. Herodotus tells us of the wealth and density of the Indian population and of the tribute paid to Darius: 'The population of the Indians is by far the greatest of all the people that we know; and they paid tribute proportionately larger than all the rest – (the sum of) 360 talents of gold dust’ (equivalent to over a million pounds sterling). Herodotus also mentions the Indian contingent in the Persian armiesconsisting of infantry, cavalry, and chariots. Later, elephants are mentioned.[52] One-third of gold that flowed into the imperial treasury of Iran came as a tribute from India. Indians clad in white cotton cloth fought in the armies of Xerxes on the battlefields of Plataea and Marathon against the Greeks. Of the two scripts employed in India, one had evolved from Armaic, which the Achaemenian scribes employed.[53] Indian mercenaries roamed the coasts of Caspian and skirmished with the Scythians. The Khudrakas of the Ravi were deployed beyond the Hindukush.[54] The Achaemenians brought rice from India to be planted in the Near East.[55] It is also believed that cane sugar was first used by man in Polynesia from where it spread to India. In 510 BC the Emperor Darius found in India "the reed which gives honey without bees", which he then brought to Persia.[55a]

35. It is believed that the Greek philosopher Pythagoras may have obtained his doctrine of metempsychosis(transmigration, or passage of the soul from one body to another) from India, mediated by Achaemenian (6th-4th century BC) Persia (although similar ideas were known in Egypt and were also present in Greece before the time of Pythagoras). The Pythagorean doctrine of a cyclic universe may also be derived from India.[56]

36. Darius-I killed Gaumata, a pretender to the Persian throne, in 522 BC to become the Persian emperor. Gaumata (one who considers cow as mother) is used till today in Hindi to mean cow the mother.[57]

37. Xerxes (5th century BC) succeeded his father Darius-I to the Achaemenian throne. His avestic name was Khshayarsha (ruling over heroes), which was Hellenised as Xerxes. His army included Pathans and Bactrians from India. He invaded and defeated the Greeks.[58] According to Herodotus, a detachment Indians fought in the Persian army against the Greeks at Plataea.[59]

38. Not surprisingly, administrative and political nomenclature in northern India at this time reflected that of western and Central Asia. The Persian term for the governor of a province, khshathrapavan, as used by the Achaemenians, was Hellenized into "satrap" and widely used by these dynasties. Its Sanskrit form was ksatrapa.[60]

39. Darius assigned a Greek navigator Skylax of Casyanda to make a voyage from the mouth of the Indus river to Egypt.

40. Achaemenian art and architecture had a significant influence on India. Before the Ashokan period of history, there is no evidence of epigraphy in India.[61] It has been suggested that the idea of issuing decrees by Ashoka was borrowed from the Achaemenian emperors, especially from Darius (though the tone and content of Ashoka"s edicts are different). The pillars, with their animal capitals (fine examples of Mauryan imperial art), are influenced by Achaemenian pillars.[62]The use of this means of propagating official messages and the individual style of the inscriptions both suggest Persian and Hellenistic influence and India under the Mauryas was certainly more continually in touch with the civilizations to the west than ever before. At Kandahar, Ashoka left instructions in both Greek and Aramaic.[63]

41. In 330 BC Alexander defeated Darius III. In the decisive battle of Gaugamela a small contingent of Indian soldiers with fifteen elephants fought with Darius against the Greeks. [64]Alexander the Great after destroying the Achaemenian empire marched into India. Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Mauryan dynasty, had friendly relations with the successor of the Macedonian conqueror in Persia. SeleucusNicator, the Grecian ruler of Persia, sent Megasthenes as the envoy of Hellenistic Persia to the court of Patliputra in India. Commercial and cultural relations between Persia and India continued.[65] Persian nobles were conspicuous in the courts of Mauryan kings. Tushaspa, a Persian, was present during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. The Kharoshti script was introduced by the Persian officials in the northwestern frontier province and continued to be in use till the 4th century AD.[66]

42. Towards the end of 1st century BC, a line of kings with Iranian names, usually known as Pahlavas, gained the brief suzerainty of North West India. According to legend, St Thomas brought Christianity to the kingdom of one of these rulers – Gondophares.[67]

43. Trade expanded mainly because Achaemenians introduced coinage, which facilitated exchange. India exported spices, black pepper and imported gold and silver coins from Iran. [68] The grape, introduced from Persia with the almond and walnut, was cultivated in the wetsren Himalayas.[69] One of the earliest Indian words for a coin is Karsa (also a small weight), which is of Persian origin.[70]

44. According to Herodotus, the Persian emperor Artaxerxes (5th century BC) exempted the inhabitants of four Babylonian villages from taxation in return for their breeding Indian dogs for hunting and war. The dog is only once mentioned with respect in ancient Indian literature and was rarely, if ever, treated as a pet. The exception occurs in the Mahabharata, where the five pandavas and their wife Draupadi take their dog with them on their final pilgrimage to heaven, and the eldest brother Yudhisthira refuses to enter without his faithful friend. It has been suggested that the episode shows Iranian influence, for with the Zoroastrians, the dog was a sacred animal.[71]

Contacts between Sassanian Persia and India

45. The Sassanian period in Persia (226-651 AD) coincided with the Gupta period (308-651 AD) in India. The Sassanian monarchs maintained relations with the Patliputra based Gupta empire. The name of Pulakesin, the ruler of the Deccan, was known in Persia. It was usual to exchange Embassies between Persia and India. Iranian traders acted as commission agents to deliver Indian goods to European ports. One of the murals in Ajanta caves near Mumbai depicts a Hindu king with men in Sassanian dress.[72]

46. During the reign of Shahpur (310-379 AD) in Persia, Indian physicians were invited to practice medicine along with Greek and Iranian physicians in Jundishpur Hospital in southern Kuzestan province of Iran.[73]

47. In Kushana and Gandhara art, Parthian and east Iranian elements are visible. Sassanian motifs are abundant in Gupta art. Also Indian peacock, dragons, cocks and spiral creeper adorn Sassanian monuments.[74] The tiles of Harvan monastery near Srinagar testify to the Sassanian influence on the Kashmir valley.[75] The Kushanas became affluent through trade, particularly with Rome. They issued large number of gold coins, which exhibit the figures of Greek, Roman, Iranian, Hindu and Buddhist deities.[76]

48. The borderland areas of Kabul, Kandhar and Seistan, which were often politically parts of India, were the meeting place of Indians and Iranians. In later Parthians times they were called 'white India’. Referring to these areas the French savant, James Darmesteler says “Hindu civilization prevailed in those parts, which in fact in the two centuries before and after Christ were known as white India”.[77]

49. The Ranas of Udaipur, the head of the Sisodia clan of the Rajputs are believed to have veeb Iranians originally who came to India towards the end of sixth century. The Pallavas (Parthians, Sanskrit – Pahlavas) are also believed to have originated from Iran. Pulkessin II, the Ruler of Badami sent an Embassy to Khusro II (Parviz) in A.D. 625 and a return Embassy to his court is the subject a beautiful fresco in a cave at Ajanta. [78]The name Gujarat itself has associations with the Gujar tribe of Iran that inhabited the region of Gujistan near west of Caspian Sea. These people are believed to have entered India around 6th century A.D. [79]

50. After the conquest of Alexander, the nobles of Saurashtra and Kutch acknowledged the suzerainty of the Parthians and later the Sassanians. The history of Gujarat from A.D. 78 to A.D. 400 is shown as Kshatrapa (Satrap) period. Nahapana (Parthian), Chashtana, Jayadaman, Rudradaman, Tushasp, Suvisakha were some of the rulers of this period. Over time the rulers assumed Hindu names. [80]

Buddhist influence on Persia

51. In the 1st century BC, Kanishka, the ruler of northwest India, became a great patron of Buddhist faith. Buddhism began to spread to Central Asia and the Far East. Kanishka patronized the Gandhara school of Buddhist art, which introduced Greek and Persian elements into Buddhist iconography.[81] By the end of 3rd century AD, Vasudeva, one of Kanishka's successors was defeated by the Sassanian king Shahpur I and northwest India came under Persian influence.

52. Buddhism became the religion of the east Iranian province of Khorasan through the Kushana emperors. The legendary biography of Buddha in Sanskrit – the Buddha Charita – composed by AshvaGhosh was translated into Khotanese and then into Sogdian and Parthian – old Persian idioms, then into Pahlavi and into Arabic and other languages. IbnBabaviah of Qom in his work Akmal al din waTamam al Nimah included a story based upon the Persian version of the above story by ZakariyaRazi. The legend of Balohar and Budasaf became a part of European and Asian literature. In Iran, the story of Ibrahim ibnAdham, the prince who abandoned his kingdom to lead a religious life, is moulded on the model of Budha.[82]

53. During the Sassanian era, Mani, a scion of the Ashkanian family preached a syncretic religion combining elements of Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian faiths. He claimed to be the incarnation of the Buddha.[83]

54. In Central Asia there was a confusing welter of languages, religions, and cultures, and, as Buddhism interacted with these various traditions, it changed and developed. Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity, and later Islam all penetrated these lands and coexisted with Buddhism. For example, some of the Mahayana bodhisattvas, such as Amitabha, may have been inspired, in part, by Zoroastrianism. There is also evidence of some degree of syncretism between Buddhism and Manichaeism, an Iranian dualistic religion that was founded in the 3rd century AD.

55. In north west India, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism came into close contact. The Zoroastrian doctrine of the Saviour (Saosyant) probably influenced the idea of the future Buddha, which later became part of the orthodox belief.[84]

56. The temples, monasteries and the monuments, which dotted Khorasan, must have in some ways influenced the early architecture of Persia.[85] The blue of turquoise from Khorasan in east Persia became the symbol of the 'mind by nature luminous’ (cittamprakriti-prabhasvaram). The spires of Buddhist monasteries were made of turquoise, as blue was the colour of meditation. The shades of blue porcelain created by the Buddhist masters of East Asia reflected the subtle planes of contemplation. This tradition was centuries later taken over by the blue mosques of Persia.[86] The Jandial temple near Taksasila was probably Zoroastrian.[87] Ivory plaques, originally fastened to the lids and sides of furniture and boxes, found at the Kushana site of Begram, 80 km north west of Kabul are Indian in inspiration.[88]

57. Paintings on the walls of Dukhang of Alchi monastery in Ladakh reproduced in detail Sassanian motives on textiles. They can be seen in round medallions with mythical animals. The most ancient stringed instrument from Persia – a red-sandalwood five-stringed vina – has been preserved at the Todaiji monastery in Nara, Japan since 8th century. It is decorated with a Persian motif in mother-of-pearl inlay and represents a cultural exchange between the Persian and the Buddhist world. The Tibetan histories of medicine relate that Jivaka the physician to Lord Buddha was born as the son of King Bimbisara. Grown up, one day he saw a group of white-clad men and asked his father: “Who are they”. He said: “They are doctors and they protect people from diseases”. He wished to become a doctor and he asked his father for permission. King Bimbisara sent him to Taxila. These white-clad men were Iranians, who were famous physicians as attested by Sanskrit texts.[89]

58. Early Persian poetry, creation of east Persians, cultivated abstract mental forms recalling the grace of Buddhist statues. (Till the 11th century Persian poetry came from Khorasan, Sogdiana and adjacent areas, which were once steeped in Buddhism). The metaphor of Bot (Buddha) was constant and exclusive in early Persian poetry. The facial type of bot-e-mahruy (moon-faced statue) was the norm in Persian paintings and poetry. Bahar is both spring and a monastery (vihar). The Persian raghe for sloping hill refers to the location of vihars on top of a hill with gentle slopes.[90]

59. The Parthians of east Iran and Central Asian Iranians translated Sanskrit texts into Chinese. An Shih-Kao was a Parthian prince who became a Buddhist monk. He came to China in 148 AD and translated 95 Sanskrit works on Buddhism into Chinese. 55 of them are still available in Chinese Tripitaka. Another Parthian prince An Huen translated two Sanskrit works into Chinese in AD 181.[91]
Continuing contacts (2nd to 7th century AD)

60. According to Shahname of Ferdowsi (11th century AD), the 5th century AD Sassanian king BehramGur requested Indian king Shangol to select 12,000 gypsies - expert Indian musicians – and introduced them into Persia from India.These gypsies are believed to be the ancestors of the Persian gypsies. They propagated Indian music and dancing in Persia and travelled to all parts of the world from there. There are remarkable similarities in the language of European gypsies (Romani) and Indo-Aryan languages. It is also believed that BehramGur visited India in 5th century AD. Persian poet Hakim NizamiGanjavi has alluded to the Indian wife of king Behram in his famous work Haft Paikar (seven figures) indicating instances of inter-marriage.[92]

61. During the reign of Sassanian king Noshirvan (531-576 AD), scientists and other scholars were exchanged between Persia and India. During the same period, the game of chess (Chaturang in India) is believed to have been introduced in Persia from India (known as Shatranj).[93] Later, when Persia was conquered by the Arabs, the game quickly spread all over the middle east and then to Europe. The original game was played on 64 squares (astapada) with a king piece and pieces of four other types, corresponding to the corps of the ancient Indian army – an elephant, a horse, a chariot or ship and four footmen.[94]

62. Under Noshirwan, Jundishpur was developed as a leading center of Persian medicine, in which Indian Ayurvedic system was syncretized with the Greek system propagated there by the Nestorian Christians. Burzuya, the physician to Noshirwan, was sent to India to bring back works on medicine and searched for elixir of life. Burzuya on his return brought stories of Panchatantra with him.[95] The Jundishpur school of medicine continued its active existence and after the Arab conquest of Persia, exerted a great deal of influence on the development of Arabian medicine.[96]

63. Panchtantra, the collection of Indian fables – instructions about conduct of one's affairs, was translated from Sanskrit to Pehalvi by Burzoy-e-Tabib who called it KalilavaDemna. From Persia it travelled to the west. Abdullah ibnMuquaffa translated this Pehalvi text into Arabic. There exist several versions of the text in Persian written by Rudki (10th century AD), Nasrullah bin Mohd bin Abdul Hamid Munshi (15th century AD) and a version by Abdul Fazal (16th century AD). The later Arabian Nights owes several of its stories and themes to India. [97]

64. In the 6th century, sandalwood, magenta, shells, corals, pearls, gold and silver were traded. Several Indian translators are believed to have been present in the Sassanian royal courts.[98] Bam, in south-east Iran, was a major commercial and trading town on the famous Spice Road, a major tributary of the Silk Road, that connected trade routes from India through Iran to Central Asia and China.

65. Around 7th century AD an Arabic translation from a Persian version of the CharakaSamhita, the famous Indian medical text, was made during this phase. Another early Pahlavi book Zik-i-ShatroAyar an astronomical work based on Indian elements was translated into Arabic by Al Tamimi.[99]

66. According to Christian Topography of Cosmos Indicopleustes of 6th century AD, there were churches in Keral and Ceylon in the hands of Persian priests, supervised by a Persian bishop at Kalliana (perhaps modern Cochin). Indian Christians had embraced the Nestorian heresy, which was then widespread in Persia. The Nestorians were active missionaries and their monks had crossed Central Asia to found churches in China. These missionaries following in the wake of Persian merchants are believed to be chiefly responsible for establishing Christian community in south India.[100]

Part II Contd

Information on this page does not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India


[1] 'Discovery of India’, by Jawaharlal Nehru.
[2] 'Reflections on cultural encounters: India and Iran’, paper by MushirulHasan.
[3] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 69.
[4] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham,1967, p14
[5] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham,1967, p19
[6] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 68.
[7] 'Persian Myths’ by VestaSarkhosh Curtis, British Museum Press 1996, p7.
[8] 'The Indo-Iranian relation”, SaeedNafisi (New Delhi), 1949, p 349.
[9] `The Impact of Iran on Ancient Indian Politics and Culture’ paper by B.S. Upadhyay.
[10] 'The Penguin History of the World’ by J.M. Roberts, 1987, p 166-167.
[11] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham,1967, p30
[12] 'Eastern Religions and Western Thoughts’ by S Radhakrishnan, Oxford University Press, 1992, p 118-119.
[13] `The origin and Early History of Indo-Iranian Peoples’ paper by P.L. Bhargava.
[14] 'Eastern Religions and Western Thoughts’ by S Radhakrishnan, Oxford University Press, 1992, p 157-158.
[15] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham,1967, p30
[16] 'The Discovery of India’ by Jawaharlal Nehru, Oxford University Press 1992, p 147
[17] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 65.
[18] 'India and Iran : A Dialogue’ paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra (also 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham,1967, p1)
[19] 'India and Iran : A Dialogue’ paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra(also 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham,1967, p29)
[20] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 68.
[21] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra. (also Britannica web site)
[22] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[23] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[24] 'Indo-Iranian relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 3.
[25] Britannica web site
[26] Britannica web site
[27] 'Persian Myths’ by VestaSarkhosh Curtis, British Museum Press 1996, p8.
[28] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 68.
[29] Britannica web site
[30] 'The Penguin History of the World’ by J.M. Roberts, 1987, p 169.
[31] Britannica web site.
[32] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 238
[33] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[34] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 138
[35] 'Indo-Iranian relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 3.
[36] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 324
[37] 'Persian Myths’ by VestaSarkhosh Curtis, British Museum Press 1996. p 19.
[38] 'Indo-Iranian relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 2.
[39] 'Persian Myths’ by VestaSarkhosh Curtis, British Museum Press 1996. p 10, 24, 25.
[40] 'A Concise History of Science in India’, edited by D.M. Bose, INSA Publications, 1989, p 46.
[41] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[42] 'Indo-Iranian relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 4.
[43] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[44] `The History of the parsees of India’ paper by P.P. Balsara.
[45] 'Eastern Religions and Western Thoughts’ by S. Radhakrishnan, Oxford University Press, p 121.
[46] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 70.
[47] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[48] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[49] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[50] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[51] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 69.
[52] 'The Discovery of India’ by Jawaharlal Nehru, Oxford University Press 1992, p 147.
[53] 'Indo-Iranian Relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 4
[54] 'Impact of Iran on Ancient Indian Politics and Culture’ paper by B.S. Upadhyay.
[55] 'The Penguin History of the World’ by J.M. Roberts, 1987, p 169.
[55a] '"
[56] Britannica web site.
[57] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[58] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[59] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 49
[60] Britannica web site.
[61] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 70.
[62] Britannica web site.
[63] 'The Penguin History of the World’ by J.M. Roberts, 1987, p 399.
[64] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 49
[65] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 70.
[66] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’, paper by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 69.
[67] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 49
[68] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’, paper by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 70.
[69] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 196
[70] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 222
[71] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, p 196
[72] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 71.
[73] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 71.
[74] 'Indo-Iranian relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 10.
[75] 'Some Iranian Sufi traditions & their impact on the evolution of Indo-Muslim culture’, paper by MohdIshaq Khan.
[76] Britannica web site
[77] 'Discovery of India’ by Jawaharlal Nehru, Oxford University Press, 1992, p148.
[78] ` The History of the Parsees of India’ paper by P.P. Balsara.
[79] 'Iran and Gujarat – Political and Cultural Relations’ paper by C.R. Naik.
[80] 'Iran and Gujarat – Political and Cultural Relations’ paper by C.R. Naik.
[81] Britannica web site.
[82] 'Indo-Iranian Relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 5.
[83] 'Indo-Iranian Relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 5.
[84] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, 1967, p 276
[85] 'Indo-Iranian relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 10.
[86] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[87] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, 1967, p 357
[88] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, 1967, p 382
[89] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[90] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[91] 'India and Iran: A Dialogue’, paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra.
[92] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 71.
[93] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 72.
[94] 'The Wonder that was India’ by A L Basham, 1967, p 210
[95] 'Indo-Iranian Relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 5.
[96] 'A Concise History of Science in India’, edited by D.M. Bose, INSA Publications, 1989, p 46.
[97] 'Indo-Iranian Relations’ by Dr. Tara Chand, p 5-6.
[98] 'Iran and India: Age old Friendship’ by Abdul Amir Jorfi, India Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1994, p 72.
[99] 'A Concise History of Science in India’, edited by D.M. Bose, INSA Publications, 1989, p 48.
[100] 'The wonder that was India’, by A.L. Basham, 1967, p 345.

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