How Persian Culture has influenced South Asia

Dating back over 2,500 years ago, Persian culture and its empire has influenced countries such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

How Persian Culture has influenced South Asia

many Pakistanis, Indians and Afghans today will have Persian ancestors

While the term Persian is widely used to describe Iranians, it happens to encompass a larger range of countries such as Turkey, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to name a few.

As a result, many Pakistanis, Indians and Afghans today will have Persian ancestors and a heritage originating in what we now know as Iran.

Centuries of invasions and migration has allowed Persian culture to incorporate many ethnicities and cultures and spread its influence in different ways.

DESIblitz examines music, art, language and literature to show just how much of an impact Persian heritage has on other Asian cultures across South Asia.


How Persian Culture has influenced South Asia

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that medieval Persia has influenced traditional music in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh through the use of particular instruments and singing styles.

Throughout the Persian empire, music played a pivotal role in the various dynasties. For example, during the time of Alexander the Great, music played an important role in religious ceremonies and royal courts.

Instruments such as harps, flutes and other windpipe instruments were very popular in this era.

In the 5th century of the Indian monarch, 12,000 Indians were sent to Persia to showcase Indian music. It is at this point in history where Persian and Indian cultures interconnected through music.

Also, Northern India is still heavily influenced by Persian culture such as the style of Sangeet Hindustani. Indian singing styles that are melodious and lyrical like Qawwal have Persian influence in them as well.

Also, the Indian instrument ‘tabla’ was created with the influence of Persian instruments such as the ‘tombak’, which is still widely used in Iran.

Clearly, medieval Persia and its music had an effect on other countries and how they have used these instruments and styles to create their own traditional music as well as pop music in today’s society.

Art and Architecture

How Persian Culture has influenced South Asia

Art throughout the Persian empire included calligraphy, architecture, paintings and sculptures. The style for each of these had a huge impact on other cultures and countries.

Countries such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been able to adapt these styles and make them unique to their own country.

Centuries ago in Persia, the most beautiful architectural designs were for religious temples, mosques and tombs for kings.

The most famous ruins to remain in Iran is Persepolis which dates back to around 500 BC and is considered a main attraction for tourists due to its historical significance.

Persian culture had an influence in the Bamyan region in Afghanistan. Located in the centre of the country, this region had huge historical importance as it was where Persian, Chinese and Greek cultures infused together.

It was in the 3rd century that the Persian empire expanded to Afghanistan and once it was invaded, it left behind some stunning artwork.

Additionally, Mughal-style artwork in India from 16th-18th century was heavily influenced by Persian culture. Historical sites such as Agra Fort in Uttar Pradesh and Great Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi are examples of this style.

The Taj Mahal was also built during the Mughal period, making it a product of Persian culture as well due to its grandeur and intricacy.


How Persian Culture has influenced South Asia

In Iran, the main language that over half the population speak is Farsi. This language has been adapted in Afghanistan where their own dialect, Dari, is used.

Considering the power that the Persian empire had over Afghanistan up until the 18th century, it is of no surprise that Afghan culture is heavily impacted by Persia.

What’s noticeable is that if Iranians and Afghans are among one another and speaking in their own dialects, they are able to understand each other and communicate with little problems.

As well as influencing the language in Afghanistan, Farsi is said to have influenced Urdu. This is mainly spoken in Pakistan and 6 states in India. Once Pakistan became independent, it made this Persian-inspired dialect its national language.

Other languages inspired Farsi include Pashto, mainly spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Punjabi and Gujarati, both of which are spoken in India.

During the Mughal empire in India, Farsi was made the official language. It is of no surprise that many dialects spoken today can be traced back to this language.

In regards to Farsi in contemporary society, it is spoken by over 100 million civilians based in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as well as minority groups in India and Pakistan.


How Persian Culture has influenced South Asia

Being one of the oldest forms of literature in history, Persian literature has had a wide influence across the Asian countries.

Prominent poets such as Rumi and Hafez still have a huge impact on people today and their work is regularly recited and celebrated.

Rumi’s work has successfully brought Iranians, Iraqis, Turks and Pashtuns together, showing how greatly appreciated he is by a vast number of people.

Despite being born in Afghanistan in the 13th century, Rumi predominantly wrote in Farsi but also incorporated Turkish, Arabic and Greek in his writing, which is what makes him so universally loved.

His work has also influenced Turkish, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu literature and has been translated into several languages for hundreds of years.

Hafez has had an incredible impact on Iran and Afghanistan, including a national day to celebrate his life (October 12). His work is used for fortune-telling during Persian celebrations.

Also, many Iranian and Afghan composers use Hafez’s work for songs such as ‘Ay Padeshah-e Kooban’, and ‘Gar-Zulfe Parayshanat’.

The most famous story to originate from Persia is One Thousand and One Nights which is about a young queen trying to delay her own execution by telling her husband, the king, a gripping new tale each night in order to keep him intrigued.

Considering Shakespeare described Persia as “land of the Sophy” due to its famous Sufi writers, Persian literature has had global recognition and is still something people hold dear to them.

Encompassing a vast period of time, the Persian empire made its way to India, Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan.

Through music, art, language and literature, each of these countries were heavily influenced by Persian culture and it still has an impact on contemporary society.

This influence is particularly apparent in Northern India through its music, architecture and the creation of the Indo-Persian culture as well as Afghanistan with its own dialect of Farsi.

Overall, it is interesting to see how centuries of invasion has had an effect on different cultures and created common aspects that a lot of Asians can recognise and appreciate.

Sahar is a Politics and Economics student. She loves discovering new restaurants and cuisines. She also enjoys reading, vanilla-scented candles and has a vast collection of tea. Her motto: “When in doubt, eat out.”

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