INDIA xiv. Persian Literature




The amount of Persian literature composed in the Indian subcontinent up to the 19th century is larger than that produced in Iran proper during the same period (Schimmel, p. 1). From the very beginning of the Muslim invasion of northern India, Persian, as the language of the Ghaznavid court, gradually achieved the status of the most prestigious language of an increasingly large region, whose subjects were mostly Indian and the rulers predominantly Turkish. The reputation of the Ghaznavid court in Lahore (or “little Ghazna” as it was sometimes referred to) as a literary center shifted, after the Ghu-rids’ (q.v.) territorial successes, to the new capitals of Multan and Delhi (1192). After the foundation of the Delhi Sultanate (q.v.) in 1206, the munificence of its rulers attracted many poets and scholars from Persia and Central Asia. Persian literary trends were thus assimilated and refashioned in the complex and intricately multi-layered cultural milieu of India. The mystical brotherhoods (esteemed by the population and influential within the court, especially the Češtiya, q.v., which supported music and poetry) and a hub of syncretistic beliefs had a strong impact on the way Persian developed as a literary medium in the different regions of India. With Moḥammad Toḡloq’s decision to transfer Delhi’s cultural elite to his second capital, Daulatabad (the medieval Deogiri, 1327), the influence and prestige of Persian culture spread further south. Under enlightened sovereigns and governors, like the Bahmanid (q.v.) minister Maḥmud Gāvān (1411-81), the Muslim courts that flourished in the Deccan (q.v.) between the 14th and 17th centuries became flourishing centers of cultural production in Persian as well as in Arabic. After Timur’s invasion (1398), which marked, especially for northern India, a deep hiatus in cultural activity, the age of the first six Mughal rulers (1525-1707) represented the heyday of Indo-Persian literature; it was replenished by fresh waves of talented émigrés from Safavid Persia and by increasing Hindu participation in Persian writing, particularly with the advent of Lōdi (Lodi) rule (1451-1526), when the knowledge of Persian language and literature began to filter through to the Hindu administrative class.

Akbar’s (q.v.) reign, besides being the apogee of literary production, was also, thanks to his own munificence as well as the patronage of ministers such as ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Ḵān-e Ḵānān (q.v.), the most significant period of cultural and literary exchange between the Muslim and Hindu worlds, with a remarkable number of works being translated from Sanskrit into Persian and vice versa. With Awrangzēb (q.v.)—who suppressed the last great syncretistic experience when he put his elder brother Dārā Šokuh (q.v.) to death (1659)—the anti-Hindu and even anti-literary attitude of the empowered, orthodox Naqšbandi order found its political arm, thus progressively undermining the basis of cultural production. Later, a dearth of patronage and discontinuity of contacts between India and Persia led to the decline of Indo-Persian literature. After contributing enormously to the birth of Urdu language and literature, Persian, which had been the official language of the empire from 1582 to 1835, was ousted by English.

For about eight centuries Persian represented “the strongest factor in the unity and coherence of the Muslims of the subcontinent” (Bausani, p. 65) and, one may add, even of the entire elite taken as a whole. Every branch of Persian literature was present in India, with a remarkable proclivity for new experiments and innovations in new literary genres producing original contributions, both in content and form. The profusion of traditions and beliefs in India provided a fertile ground for poets and writers who used the potentials of Persian and its range and malleability to the full in exploiting these initially discordant features. The Persian work of one of the first masters, Amir Ḵosrow of Delhi (q.v.; 1253-1325)—who referred to himself as a Turkish Indian (Tork-e hendustāni), as indeed he was—covers almost all the literary genres with a stamp of ingenuity and originality with few equals in all Persian literature.

Indian book production and publishing activity deserve a special mention. Indo-Persian ateliers rapidly achieved high standards, bringing forth numerous innovations in the arts of calligraphy, manuscript illumination, and bookbinding. Moreover, with the introduction of lithography in the 19th century, India became the main center for the production of Persian books and journals.

Lyrical poetry. The court poetry in India was, as it had been in earlier decades in Iran itself in such courts as those of the Samanids and the Ghaznavids, characterized by the preeminence of the qasida (panegyric ode). The first renowned master in this form was Abu’l-Faraj Runi (q.v.; d. 1091), who spent most of his life in Lahore as the panegyrist of Sultan Ebrāhim b. Masʿud and Masʿud III. His divān influenced Anwari’s (q.v.) art. His younger rival, Masʿud Saʿd-e Salmān (b. Lahore, 1046; d. Ḡazni ca. 1121), was a great innovator, inaugurating the genre of ḥabsiyāt (prison poems), of which there are many later examples in Indo-Muslim literature; prison also appeared as a theme in the poems of Ḡāleb and many writers of the British period (Schimmel, p. 11). Masʿud also introduced the Sanskrit genre of the bārāmāsa, poems describing the seasons and the months of the year. Of Indian origin were both Tāj-al-Din Reżā (d. after 1265), the panegyrist at the court of Iltutmeš (1210-36), and Šehāb-al-Din Maḥ-mera, the panegyrist of Rokn-al-Din Firuzšah (1236) and an acknowledged influence on Amir Ḵosrow. Šehāb was the first to introduce spiritual themes within the spectrum of the qasida. The qasida still found original interpreters in the various courts, such as Badr Čāči (q.v.; d. 1346), renowned for his abstruse and recondite style, which was much appreciated by Sultan Moḥammd b. Toḡloq and highly prized by the subsequent literary tradition. However, it is in the art of the ḡazal (lyric) that Indo-Persian poets produced their most subtle innovations. Ḥasan Sijzi (ʿAlā-e Sanjari, d. 1336) and Amir Ḵosrow, both very close to the Češti circle of Neẓām-al-Din Awliāʾ in Delhi, are counted among the founders of the Indo-Persian ḡazal. Whereas Ḥasan was called “the Saʿdi of India,” because of his sweet, monothematic lyrics, the creation of a didactic style in which an entire proverbial phrase or sentence is encapsulated within each verse of a ḡazal may be ascribed to Amir Ḵosrow. More generally, in Ḵosrow’s lyrical work one can detect the first traces of what would later become the typical Indian Style (sabk-e hendi). As well as lyrical poetry, he also wrote excellent panegyrics for many of the sultans and governors under whose rule he worked.

It is not surprising that the conceptual and refined Indian Style found its first home and produced its finest products in a land where a widespread and highly recondite, mystical background was combined with typically courtly literary activity. Through Ḥasan-e Dehlavi passes a more mystical line in Indo-Persian poetry, which can be considered apart, including names like Qoṭb Jamāl-al-Din Aḥmad Hānsawi (d. 1260), Šāh Bu ʿAli Qalandar (d. 1323), and the later Masʿud Beg (d. 1397), a former courtier of Firuzšāh Toḡloq who later devoted himself to Sufism and a life of meditation, and Moḥammad Gisuderāz (q.v.; d. 1422), the Češti holy man of Golconda, close to the Bahmanid court. On the other hand, there were numerous poets belonging to the courtly line, particularly in the heyday of the Mughal empire with the great inflow of poets from Persia. At the munificent court of Akbar (1556-1605), Ḡazzāli of Mašhad (d. 1572) was the first poet-laureate (malek al-šoʾarāʾ), followed by Fayżi (q.v.; Abu’l-Fayż, also known as Fayżi Fayyāżi, 1547-95), who introduced historical themes into his lyrical works and was, like Abu’l-Qāsem Kāhi (d. 1580), an ardent follower of the din-e elāhi (Divine faith). Fayżi’s impeccable but cold and somewhat impersonal technique was often contrasted with the more emotional and personal style of the qasidas of ʿOrfi of Shiraz (d. 1591), as the two antithetic but co-existing components of Mughal poetry. During this age many Hindu poets writing in Persian earned great fame, such as Rājā Manohar Dās and Bhupat Rāʾi Sawāʾi Biḡam (Gorekar, pp. 76-77). Among the great and renowned poets of Jahāngir and Šah Jahān’s courts, Ṭāleb of Āmol (d. 1626), Qodsi of Mašhad (d. 1656), and Abu Ṭāleb Kalim (d. 1650) deserve to be mentioned, as well as Sāʿeb of Tabriz, (d. 1677), who spent six years in India. In this lively context, the so-called Indian Style consolidated its main features into the light lyrical structure: a new kind of imagery, more free in abstractions and connections; a more open poetical language, filled with new coinages, popular expressions, and even foreign words, especially from Hindi; a wider sphere of subjects conveying moral themes, social criticism, philosophical and theological arguments (Šafiʿi-Kadkani, pp. 151-64). Close to Dārā Šokuh’s circle were Čandra Bhān Barahman (q.v.; d. 1661), the Hindu author of simple verses, far from the vogue of the Indian Style, and Sarmad (d. 1659), a Jewish convert to Islam and the author of numerous mystic quatrains. After the austere reign of Awrangzēb, who abolished the title of the poet-laureate, poetry took refuge either in an increasingly abstract world of recondite imagery, or adopted a more personal and introspective mood. The Indian Style reached its peak with Ḡani Kašmiri (q.v.; d. 1661) and his highly polished gnomic poetry, with Nāṣer ʿAli Serhendi (d. 1697) composing intensely spiritual Sufi poems, as well as ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bidel (q.v.) of Patna (d. 1721), among the most celebrated authors in Persian literature, enlivening his vast poetical oeuvre of lyrical works with an original philosophy based on the combination of modern naturalistic queries and a deeply personal attitude to mystical experiences and meditation (Bausani, 1958, pp. 59-61, 76-86; Šafiʿi-Kadkani, 1988, passim). At the end of the emigration period, Moḥammad ʿAli Ḥazin Lāhiji (d. 1766) was the last renowned poet to leave Persia for India. With the arrival of the British and the growing need for a native response to the encounter with European culture, Indo-Persian poetry gradually left its role, which passed into the hands of Urdu literature, by that time more popularly rooted in the new social context. Mirzā Asad-Allāh Khan Ḡāleb (q.v.; d. 1869), “the last classical poet of India” (Gorekar, p. 82), whose work is an “uninterrupted elegy on the end of the Mogul power in India” (Marek, p. 731), wrote both in Persian and Urdu, as did the progressive thinker Moḥammad Eqbāl (q.v.; Muhammad Iqbal, d. 1938), the incarnation of the final phase with his deeply political poems.

Narrative and didactic literature. It was in India that a new development of great significance in the history of Persian narrative poetry first appeared: Amir Ḵosrow’s response (jawāb) after about a century (1298-1301) to Neẓāmi of Ganja’s Ḵamsas (five narrative poems), there-by establishing a vogue which lasted until the dawn of the 20th century. The five poems of Amir Ḵosrow drew on Neẓāmi’s themes with a high degree of refashioning. The two ḵamsas were often regarded as an organic pair, as the manuscript tradition shows; in many codices they are presented together, one written on the margins of the other. The two ḵamsas gave birth to a line of literature that was most widespread in the subcontinent, as well as in Timurid and Safavid Persia (see Ḵān, passim). Amir Ḵosrow’s Hašt Behešt, was, moreover, the first Persian book to be directly translated into a modern European language (Italian, Venice, 1557; see Piemontese, pp. 143-61). Most of the Indo-Persian poets wrote some maṯnawi besides their lyrical divāns. The didactic maṯnawi was drawn on many times, in imitation of Neẓāmi’s Maḵzan-al-asrār and Amir Ḵosrow’s Maṭlaʿ-al-anwār, as was the romantic maṯnawi, in the wake of Leyli o Majnun and Ḵosrow o Širin. The epic of Alexander the Great (Eskandar-nāma) was rarely taken up (in the Mughal age by Ḥosayn Sanāʾi Mašhadi, d. 1588, and Badri [Badr-al-Din] Kašmiri, q.v., as a section of his immense Rosol-nāma, about 1580). It was usually replaced by poems in praise of later or contemporary sovereigns, in the same way that Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma often was imitated; that is, writing was directed towards the legitimization of new dynasties by praising their deeds and forging lineages connecting them to great monarchs of the past. Such works therefore fall more under the rubric of historiography than of literature.

As a result of cultural exchange on Indian soil, many an author composed Persian maṯnawis based on folkloristic Hindu subjects. Among the early ones, Ḥasan-e Dehlavi wrote the Ešq-nāma, or Ḥekāyat-e ʿašeq-e nāgōri, based on a tale from Rajasthan. There are numerous examples in the Mughal age: Nal o Daman by Fayżi, taken up from a theme in Mahābhārata, Suz o godāz by Nawʿi Ḵabušāni (d. 1610), written for Ḵān-e Ḵānān in Borhān-pur, and Rat padam by ʿAbd-al-Šokur Bazmi of Kanauj (d. 1662). From Sanskrit literature many collections of stories were translated into Persian. The Persian model of this genre had, moreover, already appeared in India four centuries earlier: the Jawāmeʿ-al-ḥekāyāt wa lawāmeʿ-al-rewāyāt, completed by Moḥammad ʿAwfi (q.v.) at Iltut-meš’s court in Delhi (1228). The Ṭuṭi-nāma or Jawāher al-asmār, of Ẓiāʾ-al-Din Naḵšabi Badāʾuni (d. 1350) collected 52 cyclic stories on morality arranged on the basis of Sanskrit text. Under Akbar Persian versions of the two great Indian epics were made: the Mahābhārata (Razm-nāma), and the Rāmāyana. Fayżi (Fāʾeżi) was probably the translator of Kathāsaritsāgara (The ocean from the rivers of storytelling), by the Kashmiri poet Somadeva; and the popular Singhāsan battisi (Thirty-two throne stories) had several versions. In the late Mughal age the didactic tradition of maṯnawi acquired a new philosophical and scientific dimension in Bidēl’s works (ʿErfān, Ṭelesm-e ḥeyrat, and Ṭur-e maʿrefat) and later went through Ḡāleb’s religiosity (a maṯnawi on the Prophet Moḥammad’s prophethood), culminating finally in Eqbāl’s maṯ-nawis, explicitly inspired by Rumi’s Maṯnawi-e maʿnawi, as well as by European literature. His most celebrated work is Jāvid-nāma, a journey of initiation into the other world in the form of a maṯnawi interspersed with ḡazals.

Historiography. As this topic is treated at length in its own entry (see xvi. below), only a brief sketch will be given here to delineate the relationship between historiography and literature. Indian traditional culture was lacking in the concept of historiography. This genre was introduced by the Muslim conquerors; under the patronage of the rulers who were themselves Turkic in origin, it flourished in Persian and produced in India an enormous amount of historical chronicles. As for universal histories, the Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣeri of Menhāj al-Serāj Juzjāni (d. 1260) is one of the earliest Persian universal histories, compiled for Sultan Nāṣer-al-Din Maḥmud of Delhi (1246-1266), narrating events from the Creation to the Mongol invasion. The Tāʾriḵ-e Moḥammadi was composed by Moḥammad Behāmād Ḵāni for the Kālpi sultans in the 15th century. From the Mughal age it is worth mentioning the Tāʾriḵ-e ilči-e neẓāmšāhi, written by Ḵur-šāh b. Qobād al-Ḥosayni, ambassador to Shah Ṭahmāsp’s court, covering the years up to 1562, and the Tāʾriḵ-e alfi, commissioned by Akbar for the year 1000 of the Hejra (1591-92) from a group of savants, among whom ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni (q.v.; d. 1615) was the most distinguished. It is in local histories that Indo-Persian historiography offered its most significant contributions, in the wake of the Ghaznavid and Ghurid traditions. A favorite Indo-Persian contribution was the chronicle in verse, probably the outcome of an extension of eulogistic qasida or of commemorative epigraphs. Comprehensive histories of Muslim India were written in this form, such as two works composed for the Deccan’s Bahmanid dynasty: ʿEṣāmi’s (q.v.) Fotuḥ al-salāṭin (1351) for the first ruler ʿAlā-al-Din Ḥasan (1347-58), concerning the period from the Ghaznavids to the time of the Bahmanid defection from the Toḡloqs (middle of the 14th century), and the Bahman-nāma by Āḏari of Esfarāʾen, for Aḥmad I Wali (1422-36). A Šāh-nāma was written for Moḥammad Toḡloq and is ascribed, somewhat doubtfully, to Badr Čāči. The tradition of historical chronicles in verse lasted to the early 19th century and the Jārj-nāma (The book of [King] George) by Mollā Firuz b. Kāus. The five historical maṯnawis of Amir Ḵosrow, by contrast, were dedicated to single figures, and they are often interspersed with lyrical verse to break the sequence of the double-rhymed verses. Besides the Āšeqa on ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Ḵalji’s son, and the Toḡloq-nāma on Giāṯ-al-Din Toḡloq, the Noh sepehr was also an original amalgam of historical, ethnological, and scientific speculations. Many epic poems dedicated to Mughal emperors, such as the Jahāngir-nāma of Ṭāleb of Āmol, and the Šāhjahān-nāma of Abu Ṭāleb Kalim, followed the same pattern.

In prose, relevant general histories of India were written in Akbar’s time: the Ṭabaqāt-e akbari of Neẓām-al-Din Aḥmad of Herat (d. 1594), which began with the Ghaznavids, and ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni’s Montaḵab al-tawāriḵ, which was strongly critical of Akbar’s religious policy. The famous Golšan-e ebrāhimi was composed by Ferešta for Ebrāhim ʿĀdelšāh of Bijāpur in the period 1606-23. As an example of a history in prose devoted solely to a single dynasty, one could mention the important Tāʿriḵ-e firuzšāhi, written by Żiāʾ-al-Din Barani (q.v.; d. after 1360) for Firuzšāh III Toḡloq (1351-88), which deals with the history of the Sultanate from 1265 to 1357. Following the author’s death, it was completed by the Fotuḥāt-e firuzšāhi of Šams-e Ṣerāj ʿAfif, devoted entirely to Firuz’s reign. Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllā-mi (q.v.; d. 1602), Fayẓi’s (Fāʿeżi) brother and intimate friend and supporter of Akbar, wrote two important historical works, the Akbar-nāma on his emperor’s life and reign and the Āʾin-e akbari, on the socio-economical and institutional situation of the empire. After Mir Ḡolām-ʿAli Āzād’s numerous works (d. 1786), the last relevant historical text is usually considered to be the Siar al-motaʾḵḵerin of Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Ḵān Ṭabāṭabāʾi, covering the period from Awrangzēb’s death to 1781. A particular sub-genre in Indo-Persian historiography is that of autobiography, to which belong the memoirs of Bābor (written in Turki but translated soon afterwards into Persian by Ḵān-e Ḵānān), and that of Jahāngir. Also to this genre one may ascribe some original philosophical, naturalistic, or literary treatises filled with notes and accounts on the authors’ lives, such as Čandra Bhān Barahman’s Čahār čaman, or ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bidel’s Čahār ʿonṣor. Many actual autobiographies were composed between the 18th and 19th centuries, including the Taḏkerat al-aḥwāl of Ḥazin Lāhiji (q.v.; 1742). As to the genre of taḏkera dealing with brief biographies of poets with selections from their poems, the first extant example comes from India: ʿAwfi’s Lobāb al-albāb, composed (1220) at Uččh at the court of Nāṣer-al-Din Qabāja, for his vizier, ʿAyn-al-Molk. There was subsequently a great proliferation of the genre in all regions where Persian was the main literary language. Several taḏkeras were composed in India especially after the beginning of the decline of the role of Persian poetry in the 18th century. While the heart of Indo-Muslim literary production gradually shifted from Persian to Urdu, scholars took it upon themselves to preserve a historical record of a literary tradition on the wane. A Hindu author, Lakšmi Narayān Šafiq (d. 1745), composed two important biographical anthologies of poets: Gol-e raʿnā, dealing with the poets of Indian origin writing in Persian, and Šām-e ḡaribān, about poets of Persian origin who had settled in India.

Belles-Lettres. Critical analysis of the Persian language and literary styles in India began early, and its development there was unequaled. As an important branch of literary as well as administrative style, epistolography also flourished. Amir Ḵosrow’s Eʿjāz-e ḵosravi is a masterpiece in this genre, and can be described as a wide-ranging treatise on the rhetorics of prose literature. Collections of letters by eminent figures were very common, for example the Riāz al-enšā by the Bahmanid minister Maḥmud Gāvān. With the institution of the Mughal chancellery, Indo-Persian epistolography achieved a particularly high status, at the crossroads of Persian, Turkish, and Indian administrative traditions (Mohiuddin, passim). The Badiʿ al-enšāʾ of Maulānā Yusofi, munshi (monši) to the emperor Homāyun, became very popular, and a noteworthy collection of documents redacted for Akbar by the historian Abu’l-Fażl was published by his nephew as Mokātabāt-e ʿallāmi (1606). In later Mughal times, when Persian emigration was over, epistolography became an almost exclusive prerogative of the Hindu eclectic community of the Kāyasthas (Ahmad, 1969, p. 87). However, the greatest legacy of India in the field of linguistic inquiry into Persian was the production of dictionaries. This commendable activity was already flourishing in peripheral regions during the 15th century. At that time the ʿAdāt al-fożalāʾ (1419), which arranged Persian words in alphabetical order with sentences quoted from earlier poets, was compiled by Badr-al-Din Moḥammad of Delhi for the sovereigns of Dhār, and the more wide-ranging Šaraf-nāma-ye ebrāhimi (1448) was redacted by Ebrāhimi Qawām Fāruqi for the king of Bengala, Bārbakšāh. Increasing Hindu interest in Persian under the Lodi reign led to the realization of some important new dictionaries. The Toḥfat al-saʿādat (or Farhang-e sekandari), a work of Żiāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad, registered many compounds for the first time (1510). The Muʾayyed al-fożalāʾ (1519), a work by Šeyḵ Moḥammad b. Šeyḵ Lād of Dehli, was divided according to the derivation of words from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. From the Mughal era, the Farhang-e jahāngiri, a benchmark in this genre, had actually been commissioned by Akbar from Jamāl-al-Din Ḥosayn Inju but was completed only in 1612. By the middle of the 17th century the Borhān-e qāṭeʿ (q.v.) of Moḥammad Ḥosayn b. Ḵalaf of Tabriz, dedicated to ʿAbd-Allāh Qoṭbšāh of Golconda, appeared, as did the Farhang-e rašidi, of ʿAbd-al-Rašid Tattavi, which “constitutes the first essay of a critical nature in Persian philology” (Tauer, p. 431). In the 18th century, the increasingly complicated poetical style made new lexicographic works necessary, like Monši Moḥammad Bādšāh’s Farhang-e ānandrāj, and the enormous work, Tek Čand Bahār’s Bahār-e ʿajam.

Religious literature. Indo-Persian originality in the religious literary field was due to the convergence of two different factors. On the one hand India had been a favorite destination of Muslim Sufis and missionaries from early times, with some important brotherhoods taking root there. On the other, the Muslim conquerors constantly had to face different religious identities: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, as well as Christianity and Zoroastrianism. So, although the traditional orthodox (Sunnite or Shiʿite) theological literature was produced there, it is in the mystical and syncretistic literature that India made its greatest contribution to religious thought and literature. The most ancient Persian treatise on Sufi doctrine was written on Indian soil, the Kašf al-maḥjub by Hojviri (q.v.; popularly known in India as Dātā Ganjbaḵš), who was born in Ḡazni but settled and died in Lahore (ca. 1071). The Sufi literature in India was usually more pragmatic than theoretical in substance: the malfuzāt (collected sayings of the saints) compiled by Ḥasan-e Dehlavi (fawāʾed al-fuʾād); the maktubāt (letters of guidance on mystical doctrines and practices); and the numerous hagiographical lives of Sufi masters, particularly from Moḥammad Toḡloq’s reign onwards. Court intellectuals were also involved in these literary undertakings, such as Sekandar Lodi’s poet Jalāl Ḵān Jamāli (d. 1536), author of the collection Siar al-ʿāre-fin, which started with Muʿin-al-Din Češti and ended with his spiritual teacher, Samāʾ-al-Din Kambuh. At Mughal courts some important Sanskrit texts were translated into Persian, such as the Yoga Vāsiṣṭha and the Bhagavadgītā (by Abu’l-Fażl). Fifty chapters from the Upaniṣad texts were translated by Dārā Šokuh, with the title Sirr-e Akbar (The greatest secret or The secret of Akbar). Aiming at the unification of Islam and Hinduism, Dārā left numerous writings on Sufi subjects, from the Ḥasanāt al-ʿārefin, belonging to the malfuzāt line, to the Safinat al-awliyāʾ and the Sakinat al-awliyāʾ, basically collections of hagiographies. His most important book is the Majmaʿal-baḥrayn, a comparative essay that strives to find points of contact between Hinduism and Islam. Of later theologians, the works of the Naqšbandi leader Aḥmad Serhendi (d. 1624), and those of the reformer Šāh Wali-Allāh of Dehli (d. 1762), author of the most celebrated Persian translation of the Koran, were in different ways original and very influential also out of India.

Sciences. It was particularly in India that Persian language became widely used as a means of scientific transmission—a role that in the Muslim world was traditionally given to Arabic. According to a first partial survey of the manuscripts concerning scientific issues conserved in the Indian libraries, 1,671 works are in Persian, whereas 1,219 are in Arabic. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, India witnessed a renaissance of scientific studies, by that time declining elsewhere in the Muslim world. More than innovative research, these studies were rather the reorganization of the existing Muslim scientific heritage, in part compared with the contribution of the Hindu tradition. A main result was the production of important Sanskrit-Persian technical dictionaries (Casari and Speziale, 2001). For mathematics, apart from some relevant commentary on classic texts, the most significant effort is represented by the translations of Lilāvāti (1587, on arithmetic, by Fāʾeżi) and Bijagaṇita (1635, on algebra, by ʿAṭāʾ-Allāh Rašidi), both Sanskrit works by Bhāskara (12th century). For astronomy, more important than a handful of translations from Sanskrit was the zij literature. The oldest Indo-Persian zij (Zij-e nāṣeri written for Sultan Nāṣer-al-Din Maḥmud, 1246-1265) was even earlier than the renowned Zij-e ilḵāni compiled by Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi’s group of scholars (1271). However the most famous Indian zij was the later Zij-e moḥammad-šāhi (1728), drafted under the guidance of Amber’s Maharaja Jay Singh, and widely diffused in Central Asia. In medicine too a remarkable amount of literature in Persian was produced. The first known text of the so-called yunāni (Greek) medicine was the Persian translation of Biruni’s pharmacopoeia Kitāb al-ṣaydana, by Abu Bakr ʿOṯman of Kašān under Iltutmeš. The medical texts in verses of Yusof b. Moḥammad, working under Bābur and Homā-yun, were well known. The greatest development was reached under Šāh Jahān. The Ṭebb-e dārā-šokuhi, the last important medical encyclopedia realized in the Islamic world, was dedicated to the king’s son by the author, Nur-al-Din Moḥammad of Shiraz. Great systematic treatises were also later written by the famous doctor Akbar Arzāni (Ṭebb-e akbari, 1700).

The knowledge and analysis of Indo-Persian literature is still severely limited by the difficulties of access to the enormous amount of manuscripts conserved in the Indian libraries. Moreover, only a relatively small number of studies have been devoted to Indo-Persian literary topics, particularly when compared to the magnitude of the literature itself. However, the originality and importance of Indian contribution to the history of Persian literature, which is to be seen in almost every branch of literary production, deserves further and more thorough researches.



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(Mario Casari)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 27, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 48-53