Iran and India

US President Trump has ordered the denial of visas to anyone travelling to the US from Iran. Iran is a nation that has deep cultural ties with India. What those ties are exactly however is a matter of some debate.

For instance Iran has the tomb of Babur, who in the 16th century established the Mughal Empire in India. A descendant of Genghis Khan, Babur entered India with artillery far superior to any seen in the sub-continent. While still in his teens, he defeated Ibrahim Lodhi, the last emperor of the Delhi Sultanate to lay claim on a large chunk of North India. Babur however, never grew accustomed to this country and preferred his native Persia. His successors however integrated with the indigenous culture and the Mughal Empire is primarily remembered as of the Indian sub-continent.

babur

Babur

Going back even further to the dim reaches of antiquity, we find the Rig Veda. This is estimated to have been composed sometime around 1500 to 1200BC probably somewhere in the North-West of the Indian sub-continent near the Indus river (all these are estimates because no-one is sure how long the Vedas remained an oral tradition and the exact location and the time and location of their composition is hotly debated today). The Rig Veda is a composition of hymns and prayers to the glory of the Devas. In school, where Sanskrit was compulsory, I once tried to read a copy but found the language impenetrable and the translation pointless.

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Rig Veda

Anyway, the Devas are the deities who run the cosmos and maintain divine order with forces like wind, rain and fire. They are led by an amoral lightening bolt wielding king by the name of Indra (Greek and Roman mythology enthusiasts will doubtless recall Zeus and Jove also wielded the same weapon) whose exploits are celebrated in song.

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16th century Nepalese depiction of Indra

The Devas are locked in constant struggle against the Asuras who are portrayed as greedy, scheming and ignoble monsters bent on usurping power from the righteous and virtuous Devas. So what has all this to do with Iran? Well, they have similar legends only in their version, the virtuous god is Ahura who has to constantly fend off the evil Devas. Both Indian and Iranian cultures claim to be derived from an Aryan (this was before the term developed noxious Nazi associations) heritage. Remember this the next time somebody uses the phrase “bad guys” or “they are out to get us“.

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3 responses to “Iran and India

    • Thanks for bringing up the importance of fire, I should have mentioned it. The problem is that the nature of fire use seems somewhat different in the Vedic and Zoroastrian traditions. I am not sure about the role of fire in pre-Zoroastrian Iran. I’ll have to check up on that.
      The contemporary scene was very well described by Dr. Christine Fair in her lecture given at Pune https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OPE4h8Mhb0.

      • Actually, the similarities are striking- the early Zoroastrian belief that fire is a purifier survived into Hinduism, even into the present day – fire personified is named pavak in Sanskrit (and other Indian languages)- literally “he who purifies”

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