India–Iran relations

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Iran-India relations
Map indicating locations of Iran and India

Iran

India
Seen here is Rabindranath Tagore as a guest of Iran's parliament in the 1930s.

India-Iran relations are the bilateral relations between India and Iran. During much of the Cold War period, relations between the Republic of India and the erstwhile Imperial State of Iran suffered due to different political interests—non-aligned India fostered strong military links with the Soviet Union while Iran enjoyed close ties with the United States.[1] Following the 1979 revolution, relations between Iran and India strengthened momentarily. However, Iran's continued support for Pakistan and India's close relations with Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War impeded further development of Indo–Iranian ties.[2] Relations between the two countries warmed in the 1990s when India collaborated with Iran to support the Afghan Northern Alliance against the Taliban.[2][3]

Even though the two countries share some common strategic interests, India and Iran differ significantly on key foreign policy issues. India has expressed strong opposition against Iran's nuclear programme and whilst both the nations continue to oppose the Taliban, India supports the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan unlike Iran.[4] Despite the decline in strategic and military links, the two nations continue to maintain strong cultural and economic ties. Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, India, continues to be a major centre of Shia culture and Persian study in South Asia. Iran is the second largest supplier of crude oil to India, supplying more than 425,000 barrels of oil per day, and consequently India is one of the largest foreign investors in Iran's oil and gas industry.[5]

In 2011, the US$12 billion annual oil trade between India and Iran was halted due to extensive economic sanctions against Iran, forcing the Indian oil ministry to pay off the debt through a banking system through Turkey.[6][7]

According to a BBC World Service Poll conducted at the end of 2005, 71% of Iranians viewed India's influence positively, with 21% viewing it negatively, the most favorable rating of India for any country in the world.[8]

History[edit]

Further information: India and Central Asia

Bronze Age civilisations[edit]

The Indus Valley (Harappan) civilisation, which is one of the oldest historically known civilisations, was located in India and Pakistan (ancient India), and was contemporary with the Proto-Elamite and Elamite civilisations in ancient Iran. The Indus people, and their ancestors, had trade links with Iran, the ancient civilisation of Mesopotamia, and Egypt/Nubia. At Susa in the western part of Iran, decorated pottery has been excavated which appears to be similar to those of the Kulli culture in the north-west of the Indian subcontinent. Indus seals have also been excavated at Kish, Sura and Ur. India, imported silver, copper, turquoise and lapis lazuli from Persia in return for ivory.[9] Further, the Elamo-Dravidian languages form an assumed language family that includes the ancient Elamite language of western Iran and the Dravidian languages of India (now found mostly in the south), suggesting a possible linguistic relationship between the Elamites and Harappans before the arrival of the Indo-Iranians speaking tribes from western Central Asia. The Elamo-Dravidian family, however, is in dispute, and scholars such as Elfenbein suggest a possibility of late arrival (c. 1000 CE) amongst segments of Brahui speakers from Central India.

Pre-Islamic Persia and Vedic civilisation era[edit]

The languages of the northern, western, central, and eastern regions of India belonging to the Indo-Aryan family have originated from the same source as the Iranian languages, namely the Indo-Iranian language family, that itself is a member of the Satem group of Indo-European languages. The Indo-Iranians were a semi-nomadic people originating from the Central Asian steppes, via the Oxus river valley, at c. 2000 BCE.[10]

Vedic Indian people referred to themselves as Aryas. The word Arya in classical Sanskrit means "noble".[11] Ancient central and northern India was also referred to as Aryavarta, meaning "abode of the Arya". Ancient Persian, such as Darius in his Behistun inscription, referred to themselves as (Ariya), from which the word "Iran" originates (such as Avestan Airyanam Vaejo meaning "expanse of the Aryans").

Vedic civilisation began in India around 1500 BCE, with the Rigveda being the oldest of the Vedas. The Rigveda was composed in Vedic Sanskrit, which is very similar to Avestan, the ancient language of the Persia Zoroastrian sacred text Avesta. According to the Vendidad (ch.1), the Ariya lived in sixteen countries, one of them being Hapta Hindu, which is the Avestan form of the Sanskrit Sapta Sindhu (Rigveda), meaning "seven rivers" and referring to the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Ancient Vedic religion and Zoroastrianism also have much else in common.

The Vedas and the Avesta include the performance of sacrifice (Sanskrit yajna or Avestan yasna) and the importance of priests. Many myths that appear in the Yasht part of the Avesta have their roots in ancient Indo-Iranian culture.[9]

Achaemenid Period and Maurya Period[edit]

The emergence of the Achaemenid empire in Persia, founded by Hakhāmaniš saw parts of northwestern subcontinent (modern-day Pakistan) come under Persian rule. Indian emissaries were present at the courts of Cyrus the Great or Kurush (590 BCE – 529 BCE), whose empire extended as far east as Gandhara and Sind. It is also believed that when Cyrus was threatened by Croesus of Lydia, he received military assistance from at least one Indian king.[12] Under Darius I or Darayava(h)ush (519 BCE – 485 BCE), inscriptions refer to Persian relations with India. The Behistun rock inscription (ancient Bagastana "place of Gods") dating back to 519 BCE includes Gandhara in the list of his subject countries. The epigraph of Nakhsh-i-Rustam shows India as the 24th province of his empire. It was believed to be the richest in Darius's empire. Herodotus tells us of the wealth and density of the Indus 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.
Herodotus also mentions the Indian contingent in the Persian armies consisting of infantry, cavalry, and chariots. Later, elephants are also mentioned.[13] Under Xerxes I or Khshaya-arsha, the successor of Darius, Indians (specifically from the northwest and Gandhara) fought alongside the Persian army against the Greeks in the battlefields of Plataea and Marathon.[14]

During the same time India saw the emergence of the Maurya Empire, which was led by Chandragupta Maurya of Magadha in modern-day Bihar. They were focusing on taking over Central Asia. Seleucus is said to have reach a peace treaty with Chandragupta by giving control of the territory south of the Hindu Kush to him upon intermarriage and 500 elephants. Mauryans were followers of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. At its greatest extent, the empire stretched to the north along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, and to the east stretching into what is now Assam province in India. To the west, it conquered up to modern day south eastern Iran.[15]

Achaemenian art and architecture had a significant influence on northwestern part of Maurya India. Even before the Mauryan period of history, there is heavy evidence of writing in northwestern India. It has been suggested that the idea of issuing decrees by Ashoka was borrowed from the Achaemenian emperors, especially from Darius. The animal capitals of pillars in Mauryan imperial art were the inspiration for Achaemenian pillars.[16] The use of this means of propagating official messages and the individual style of the inscriptions in ancient Iran and Greece is similar.

Trade expanded mainly because Achaemenids introduced coinage, which facilitated exchange. India exported spices like black pepper and imported gold and silver coins from Iran.[16] The grape, introduced from Persia with the almond and walnut, was cultivated in the Hindukush and western Himalayas.[17] One of the earliest Persian words for a coin is Karsha (also a small weight).[18]

According to Herodotus, Artaxerxes or Artakshathra exempted the inhabitants of four Babylonian villages from taxation in return for their breeding Indian dogs for hunting and war. Dogs are rarely mentioned with respect in ancient Indian literature and was rarely, if ever, treated as a pet. The exception occurs in the Mahabharata, when 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, because for the Zoroastrians, the dog was a sacred animal.[17]

In 330 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated Darius III. In the decisive battle of Gaugamela, Indus soldiers with fifteen elephants fought with Darius against the Greeks.[19] Alexander marched into South Asia after defeating the Persians. Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Mauryan dynasty, had friendly relations with the successor of the Macedonian conqueror in Persia. Seleucus Nicator, the Hellenistic ruler of Persia, sent Megasthenes as envoy of Hellenistic Persia to the court of Pataliputra in India, the seat of the Mauryas. Persian nobles were also present in the courts of Mauryan kings. Tushaspa, a Persian, was present during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya.

Under the reign of King Ashoka of the Indian Maurya Empire, Buddhism was helped to spread throughout the eastern region of Iran. A great number of Buddhist missionaries were sent to spread the teachings of Buddha, and rock edicts set up by Ashoka state that he sent some to his North-West territories, which included the eastern territories of modern-day Iran.[20]

Gupta and Sassanid Periods[edit]

The Sassanian period in Persia (226–651 CE) coincided with the Gupta period (308–651 CE) in India. The Sassanian monarchs maintained relations with the Gupta empire which was based in Pataliputra. Pulakesin, the ruler of the Deccan, was known in Persia,[citation needed] and there were frequent embassies between Persia and India. Trade flourished as Persian merchants acted as intermediaries in the flow of goods between India and Europe. One of the murals in the Ajanta caves near Mumbai depicts a Hindu king with men in Sassanian dress.[21] In the 6th century, sandalwood, magenta, shells, corals, pearls, gold and silver are said to have been traded between India and Persia.[22] 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.

Kushana and Gandhara art included of Parthian and east Iranian elements. Sassanian motifs are also visible in Gupta art. On the other side, the Indian peacock, dragons, cocks and spiral creepers adorn Sassanian monuments.[23] The tiles of the Harvan monastery near Srinagar have Sassanian-influenced decorations, signifying the extent of Sassanid influence in the Kashmir valley.[24]

According to the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi (11th century), the 5th century Sassanian king Bahram V requested Indian king Shangol to select 12,000 "Gypsies", or Indian musicians, and introduced them to Persia. These Gypsies are believed to be the ancestors of the Persian Gypsies. They propagated Indian music and dancing in Persia, and may have travelled further west to Europe in the next four to five hundred years. It is possible that these "Gypsies" are the ancestors of the modern Romani people in Europe. It is also believed that Bahram visited India in the 5th century. Persian poet Hakim Nizami Ganjavi has alluded to the Indian wife of king Behram in his famous work Haft Paikar (seven figures) indicating instances of inter-marriage.[21]

During the reign of the Sassanian king Khosrau (531–579 CE), the game of chess (Chaturanga in India) is believed to have been introduced to Persia (where it was known as Shatranj).[25] 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 armies – an elephant (rook), a horse (knight), a chariot or ship and four footmen (pawns).[26] Under Khosrau, Jundishpur was developed as a leading centre of Persian medicine, in which the Indian Ayurvedic system was syncretised with the Greek system propagated there by the Nestorian Christians. Burzuya, the physician to Khosrau, was sent to India to bring back works on medicine and searched for the so-called "elixir of life". Burzuya on his return is said to have brought stories of the Panchatantra with him.[27] The Panchatantra is an ancient collection of Indian fables, and it was translated from Sanskrit to Pahlavi by Burzuya, who called it Kalila-va-Demna. Also in the field of medicine, the Charaka Samhita, the famous Indian medical text by the physician Charaka was translated to Persian and then to Arabic in the 7th century. In the field of astronomy, an early Pahlavi book Zik-i-Shatro Ayar, which was an astronomical work based on Indian elements was translated into Arabic by Al-Tamimi.[28]

According to the Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes of the 6th century, there were churches in Kerala and Ceylon in the hands of Persian priests, supervised by a Persian bishop at Kalliana (perhaps modern Kalyan or Cochin). Indian Christians had embraced Nestorianism, which was then widespread in Persia. The Nestorians were active missionaries and crossed Central Asia to found churches even in China. These missionaries following in the wake of Persian merchants are believed to be chiefly responsible for establishing a Christian community in south India.[29]

Buddhist influence in Pre-Islamic Persia[edit]

Buddhism became widespread in Persia within a few hundred years of its emergence in India. Under the reign of King Ashoka of the Maurya Empire, Buddhism was helped to spread throughout Iran. A great number of Buddhist missionaries were sent to spread the teachings of Buddha, and rock edicts set up by Ashoka state that he sent some to his North-West territories, which included the eastern territories of modern-day Iran.[20] The Kushana king Kanishka in north India became a great patron of Buddhist faith. Kanishka patronised the Gandhara school of Greco-Buddhist art, which introduced Greek and Persian elements into Buddhist iconography. Buddhism became the religion of the east Iranian province of Khorasan through the Kushana emperors.[citation needed] The legendary biography of the Buddha in Sanskrit – the Buddhacharita – composed by Ashvaghosha – was translated into Khotanese, Sogdian and Parthian, followed by Pahlavi, then Arabic and other languages. In Iran, the story of Ibrahim ibn Adham, the prince who abandoned his kingdom to lead a religious life, is modelled on that of the Buddha.[30]

In Central Asia there was a mixture of languages, religions, and cultures, and, as Buddhism interacted with these various traditions, it changed and developedied Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity, and later Islam coexisted with Buddhism. For example, some of the Mahayana bodhisattvas, such as Amitabha, may have been inspired, in part, by Zoroastrianism.[citation needed] There is also evidence of some degree of syncretism between Buddhism and Manichaeism, an Iranian dualistic religion that was founded in the 3rd century CE. Zoroastrianism and Buddhism also came in close contact in northwest India.[31]

Buddhist architecture and imagery probably influenced and was influenced by its Persian counterpart, as Buddhism spread in Persia.[32] The blue of turquoise from Khorasan became the symbol of the 'mind by nature luminous' (cittam prakriti-prabhasvaram), and the spires of Buddhist monasteries were made of turquoise, as blue was the colour of meditation. The shades of blue porcelain created by the Buddhists of East Asia signified the subtle planes of contemplation. This tradition was adopted centuries later by the blue mosques of Persia.[32] The Jandial temple near Taxila was probably Zoroastrian.[33]

Paintings on the walls of the Alchi monastery in Ladakh (northern Kashmir) reproduced in detail Sassanian motifs on textiles. They can be seen in round medallions with mythical animals. The most ancient stringed instrument from Persia – a red-sandalwood five-stringed veena – has been preserved at the Todaiji monastery in Nara, Japan since the 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. The legend goes that as a child he once he saw a group of white-clad men and asked his father who they were. The king replied, "They are doctors and they protect people from diseases". He then 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.[34]

Buddhist literature also influenced early Persian compositions. Early Persian poetry created abstract mental forms recalling the grace of Buddhist statues. Up to 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.[34] The Parthians are said to have translated Sanskrit texts into Chinese. An Shih-Kao was a Parthian prince who became a Buddhist monk. He came to China in 148 CE 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 181 CE.[34]

Islamic conquest of Persia and pre-Sultanate period in India[edit]

In the 7th century, after the Persians lost the battle of al-Qādisiyyah in 637 CE to the Islamic Arab armies, the Sassanian dynasty essentially came to an end. Following this, a large community of Zoroastrians migrated to India through the Strait of Hormuz. In 712 CE, the Arabs under the command of Muhammad bin Qasim also invaded Sind from the west.

One Jadagu from Gujarat is said to have been a maritime trader with Iran.[35]

After Islam took over Persia, Zoroastrianism practically disappeared from the country. Some followers of the religion fled Persia and took refuge in western India. They were the ancestors of today's Parsees or Parsis in India. The Parsis began arriving in India from around 636 CE. Their first permanent settlements were at Sanjan, 100 miles north of Bombay. They are believed to have built a big fire temple at Sanjan in 790 CE with the fire they had brought from Iran with them.[36] According to the Parsees legend, a band of refugees settled first at Diu in Saurashtra and then at Thane near Bombay in the early 8th century.[36] Their connection with their co-religionists in Iran seems to have been almost totally broken until later in the 15th century. Even today, Parsis maintain a cultural relationship with Iran, travelling to the cities of Tehran, Yazd and Kerman in Iran for pilgrimage.

The century following the Arab conquest of Sind was one in which Hindu culture influenced Arab Islamic and Persian Islamic culture. The scientific study of astronomy in Islam commenced under the influence of an Indian work, Siddhanta, which was brought to Baghdad by 771 through translations.[37] In about 800 CE, the Indian mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata's treatise Aryabhatiya was translated into Arabic under the title Zij-al-Arjabhar. Before that, in 772 CE, Brahmagupta Brahmasphuta-Siddhanta and the Khandakhadyaka, were taken to Baghdad and translated into Arabic. The knowledge of Hindu numerals and the decimal place value system reached the Arabs along with other Indian mathematical-astronomical works rendered into Arabic in the 8th and 9th century, giving rise to the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.[38] In the 10th century, a Persian pharmacologist Abu Mansur Muwaffaq ibn Ali al Harawi of Herat wrote Kitab’l Abniya an Haq’iq’l Adwiya (book of Foundations of the True Properties of Remedies). Believed to be the oldest prose work in modern Persian, the book utilised material from Indian sources amongst others.[37]

The Sh'ubia movement in Iran preserved Iranian non-Arab traditions and also used their knowledge to translate Sanskrit works on mathematics, astronomy, medicine and other sciences into Arabic. They used their knowledge of Sanskrit grammar to systematise Arabic grammar. The Sahihs of al-Bukhari and the Sunan of al-Tirmidhi are collections of the Hadith, which in their Iranian version seems to have been influenced by Buddhist works. The Hadith begins with “Thus have I heard”, which is also the usual beginning of Buddhist scriptures (evam maya srutam). The term srutam implies historic sanctity and glory, as does the hadith, which for Muslims is on par with the Quran.[34]

Delhi Sultanate dynasties in India[edit]

In the 11th century, Islam came to India through the conquest by Mahmud of Ghazni of the Ghaznavid Empire, established by his father, Sebuktegin, a Turkic origin ruler. In 1160, Muhammad Ghori, a Turkic ruler, conquered Ghazni from the Ghaznavids and became its governor in 1173. Muhammad Ghori's successors established the Delhi Sultanate. The Turkic origin Mamluk Dynasty seized the throne of the Sultanate in 1211. Several Central Asian Turkic dynasties ruled their empires from Delhi: the Mamluk (1211–90), the Khalji (1290–1320), the Tughlaq (1320–1413), the Sayyid (1414–51) and the Lodhi (1451–1526). The subsequent form of Islam that reached India had a rich Persian influence. The art and architecture of Iran came to be associated with Islam. Ghaznavi brought along a number of poets, artisans and religious persons who settled down in India. Lahore in the Punjab became an important centre of Persian literature, art and mysticism. Ghaznavi's successors would be supplanted by the Ghorids, who would continue to patron Persian culture. The Ghorids would in turn be overthrown by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, who was raised by the chief Qazi of Nishapur.[39] In 1206, Qutub-ud-din founded the Delhi Sultanate and the Mamluk Dynasty. During the Delhi Sultanate, Turks, Tartars and some Arabs who had imbibed Iranian influence came to India. During the rule of the Khilji dynasty (14th century) several Persian scholars from Tabriz and Isfahan visited the royal courts in India.[40]

During the 11th century, Al-Biruni, believed to be a Shia Muslim of Iranian origin born in Khwarizm in northern Iran, visited India during the Ghaznavi period. He wrote his famous Kitab-ul-Hind in Arabic, which involved a detailed study of Indian customs, traditions and the Indian way of life. Earlier, many Indian works on astronomy, mathematics and medicine had been translated into Arabic during the early Abbasid period, and Al-Biruni, who was also very interested in astronomy and mathematics, refers to some of these texts. Biruni was a prolific writer, and besides his mother tongue, Khwarizmi (an Eastern Iranian language), Persian and Arabic, he also knew Hebrew, Syriac and Sanskrit.[41] He studied Sanskrit manuscripts to check earlier Arabic writings on India. Al Biruni composed about 20 books on India – both originals and translations, and a great number of legends based on the folklore of ancient Persia and India. He developed a special interest in the Samkhya Yoga traditions of Indian philosophy and the Bhagavad Gita. He was possibly the first foreign scholar to have seriously studied the Puranas, specially the Vishnu Dharma.[42] Biruni also rendered the al-Majest of Ptolemy and Geometry of Euclid into Sanskrit.[43]

The earliest evidence of Arabic-Persian influence on Indian astronomy is of the second half of the 14th century. Mahendra Suri, a court astronomer of the Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq (1351–1388), composed in 1370 a treatise entitled Yantraraja. Based on Persian knowledge, it described the construction and use of the astrolabe, an instrument developed by Arab astronomers. Another Indian astronomer who made use of Arabic/Persian knowledge was Kamalakara, who wrote a treatise on astronomy called Siddhanta-tatva-viveka. Later it was Sawai Jai Singh II who showed the greatest interest in Arabic/Persian astronomy.[38]

During this period, several Hindu and Jain religious and philosophical texts from Sanskrit and Prakrit were translated into Persian. These include the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Nalopakhyana (Nala and Damayanti), Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Vayu Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Harivamsa, Atharva Veda, Yoga Vashishtha, Sankara Bhasya, Atma Vilasa, Amrita Kunda, Prabodhacandrodaya and Vraja Mahatmya.[44]

The first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, traveled through Iran on his way to visit the Middle East and Mecca. In Khuram Shahr (Iran) Guru Nanak buried his Muslim friend Bhai Mardana. An Arabic inscription on a Shrine in Baghdad speaks of Guru Nanak's travels to Iran: "Thus lived he, lonely, devoted, thoughtful, for 60 years, sitting before the stone on which thy sacred feet had rested. And ere he left this house of avidya, he wrote these words on the stone: Here spake Baba Nanak to fakir Bahlol, and for these 60 years, since the Guru left Iran, the soul of Bahlol has rested on the Master's Word, like a bee poised on a dawnlit honey rose".[45]

Mughal-Safavid Period[edit]

Painting of Jahangir's Dream (around 1620) showing Shah Abbas I of Persia (left) and Jahangir, Moghul Emperor of India (right). The Lion and lamb represent peace and harmony.

In the 16th century, Babur, a Timurid descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan from Fergana Valley (modern-day Uzbekistan), swept across the Khyber Pass and founded the Mughal Empire, covering India, along with modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh[46] The Mughals were descended from Persianised Central Asian Turks (with significant Mongol admixture), on the other hand, Iran witnessed the rise of the Azeri Turkic, Safavid Empire. The intercourse between India and Iran was many-faceted, covering politics, diplomacy, culture, literature and trade. The language of the Mughal court was Persian. Mughal patronage of culture constantly attracted Persian scholars; talented Persians were absorbed in the expanding services of the Mughal empire.

The ties between the Safavids and the Mughals were marked by the alliance of Shah Ismail I with Babur and the friendship of Shah Tahmasp I and Humayun. The Safavids established Shia Islam as the state religion in Iran.[47] Babur, who was originally a Timurid from the Fergana Valley of Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan, received help from the Ismail I and established himself first in Kabul and then in Delhi and Agra.[48] Ismail also returned to Babur the latter's sister Khanzada Begum, who had been recovered by the Persians from Uzbeks at Merv. It is believed that during his occupation of Samarkand (1511–1512), Babur struck coins bearing Shia legends and the name "Shah Ismail Safavi". Babur was also an accomplished Persian poet and was a patron of Persian poetry. He invited Khwand Amir, a famous historian from Herat to join his court. He also selected Bairam Beg, a Shia, to be a constant companion to his son Humayun.[49]

Humayun, the son of Babur, after being defeated by the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, fled to Iran and was only able to return to India with the military help of the Iranian Safavid king Tahmasp I. On his way back, Humayun took over Kandahar from Mirza Kamran (his half-brother) with Persian help in 1545, but handed it over to the Persians as agreed, only to retake it later (the Persians retook Kandahar soon after his death in 1556). He then went on to take over Kabul. Humayun visited several other places including Sistan, Herat, Jam, Mashhad, Qazvin, Tabriz and Ardabil during his stay in Persia. There is an inscription of Humayun at Turbat-I-Jam dating back to 1544, wherein he alludes to himself as an "empty handed wanderer".[50] During his stay in Persia, Humayun had to accede to the demand of Shah Tahmasp of Persia to explicitly accept the Shia faith. On his return from Persia, he is believed to have reverted to being a Sunni.

Nader Shah's Invasion of India[edit]

Afsharid forces negotiate with a Mughal Nawab.

In 1738, Nader Shah, the Persian ruler of the Afsharid dynasty in Iran, conquered Kandahar, the last outpost of the short lived Hotaki dynasty. His thoughts now turned to the Mughal Empire in India. This once powerful empire was falling apart as the Hindu Maratha Empire made inroads on much of its territory from the south-west. Its ruler Muhammad Shah was powerless to reverse this disintegration. Nader asked for Afghan rebels to be handed over by the Mughals, but Mughal emperor refused. Nader used the pretext of his Afghan enemies taking refuge in India to cross the border and capture Ghazni, Kabul, Peshawar, Sindh and Lahore. He then advanced deeper into India crossing the before the end of year.

He defeated the Mughal army at the huge Battle of Karnal on 13 February 1739. After this victory, Nader captured Mohammad Shah and entered with him into Delhi.[51] When a rumour broke out that Nader had been assassinated, some of the Mughal troops attacked and killed Afsharid troops. Nader reacted by ordering his soldiers to plunder the city. During the course of one day (22 March) 20,000 to 30,000 Indians were killed by the Persian troops, forcing Mohammad Shah to beg for mercy.[52] Nadir Shah wished to visit Ajmer Sharif however Rajasthan was no more under Mughal Empire, as soon as Peshwa Baji Rao got news of this, he angered and ordered the Maratha army to march on to Delhi, seeing the hostile attitude of the Maratha army who were then fighting a war against Portuguese Empire in Goa and almost threw Portuguese out of Goa. Chinmaji Appa gave relief to Portuguese however snatch north and eastern Goa leaving only half of Goa for Portuguese. Seeing this Nadir Shah cancelled his plan of Ajmer visit and retreated back from delhi through Punjab route.[53] Chatrapati Shahu the grandson of Shivaji who was also called the adopted grandson of Aurangzeb also asked his Peshwa Baji Rao the most powerful general in South East Asia to march against Nadir Shah. After signing the treaty of Panji with Portuguese, Maratha army moved out of Goa where the rest of Maratha army from Pune joined this by the time Maratha Army reached Bundelkhand it was known that Persian army has vacated Delhi and wanted to avoid any confrontation with Maratha Empire specially against Baji Rao I. Though Marathas and Mughals were having strained relationship but the letter written by Baji Rao himself to his General Pilaji Jadon in Bundelkhand shows his intention of Marching towards Delhi--"I shall march to Northern India by regular stages. The Persian sovereign Tahmasp Quli has come to conquer the Hindustan and inhibit our Imperial expansion policy".[54][55]

In response, Nader Shah agreed to withdraw, but Mohammad Shah paid the consequence in handing over the keys of his royal treasury, and losing even the Peacock Throne to the Persian emperor. The Peacock Throne thereafter served as a symbol of Persian imperial might. Amongst a trove of other fabulous jewels, Nader also gained the Koh-i-Noor and Darya-ye Noor diamonds (Koh-i-Noor means "Mountain of Light" in Persian, Darya-ye Noor means "Sea of Light"). The Persian troops left Delhi at the beginning of May 1739. Nader's soldiers also took with them thousands of elephants, horses and camels, loaded with the booty they had collected. The plunder seized from India was so rich that Nader stopped taxation in Iran for a period of three years following his return.[56]

World's largest Zoroastrian population[edit]

Further information: Parsi

The world's largest population of Zoroastrians are the Parsi community in India. When the Islamic Arabs invaded Persia, the local population which was unwilling to convert to Islam or accept dhimmi status were persecuted to different regions of the world with western India being the most significant. They sought refuge in the western coast of India, ever since then India turned into their home holding the highest numbers of Zoroastrians of the world. In the modern era, the Parsi community have contributed significantly to India and Pakistan in the areas of politics, industry, science, and culture. Prominent Indian Parsis include Dadabhai Naoroji (three times president of Indian National Congress), Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, nuclear energy scientist Homi Bhabha, industrialist JRD Tata and the Tata family. The Queen rock star Freddie Mercury was an Indian Parsi born in Zanzibar. Zubin Mehta, a renowned conductor of Western classical music orchestras is also a Parsi originally from Mumbai.

Current relations[edit]

Empress Farah Pahlavi and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi meet India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during a state visit to India in 1970.

The two countries shared a border till 1947 and share several common features in their language, culture and traditions. Both South Asia and the Persian Gulf region continue to have strong commercial, energy, cultural and people-to-people links. Independent India and Iran established diplomatic links on 15 March 1950. There are about 8,000 Iranian students studying in India. India provides 67 scholarships every year to Iranian students under ITEC, ICCR, Colombo Plan and IOR-ARC schemes. every year around 40,000 Iranians visit India for various purposes. [4]

[57] India and Iran have friendly relations in many areas, despite India not welcoming the 1979 Revolution. There are significant trade ties, particularly in crude oil imports into India and diesel exports to Iran. Iran frequently objected to Pakistan's attempts to draft anti-India resolutions at international organisations such as the OIC and the Human Rights Commission.[58] India welcomed Iran's inclusion as an observer state in the SAARC regional organisation.

There is a small Indian community in Iran. There are Hindu temples in Bandar Abbas and Zahidan as well as a Sikh Temple (Gurdwara) located in Tehran,. They were built in the 19th century by Indian soldiers in the British Army. There are also small communities in India who trace their ancestry to Iran.

A growing number of Iranian students are enrolled at universities in India, most notably in Pune and Bangalore. The growing Iranian film industry looks to India's Bollywood for technical assistance and inspiration. The clerical government in Tehran sees itself as a leader of Shiites worldwide including India. Indian Shiites enjoy state support such as a recognised national holiday for Muharram. Lucknow continues to be a major centre of Shiite culture and Persian study in the subcontinent.

In the 1990s, India and Iran supported the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime. They continue to collaborate in supporting the broad-based anti-Taliban government led by Hamid Karzai and backed by the United States. The two countries signed a defense cooperation agreement in December 2002.[59]

In August 2013, while carrying oil in the Persian Gulf, Iran detained India’s largest ocean liner Shipping Corporation (SCI)’s vessel MT Desh Shanti carrying crude from Iraq .[60] But,Iran stood firm in its stand that the detention of the oil tanker was “purely a technical and non political issue”.[61]

Economic relations[edit]

Iran's trade with India crossed US$13 billion in 2007, an 80% increase in trade volume within a year.[62] Via third party countries like UAE this figure touches $30 billion.[63]

Oil and gas[edit]

In 2008–09, Iranian oil accounted for nearly 16.5% of India's crude oil imports.[64] Indian oil imports from Iran increased by 9.5% in 2008–09 due to which Iran emerged as India's second largest oil supplier.[65] About 40% of the refined oil consumed by India is imported from Iran.[66] In June 2009, Indian oil companies announced their plan to invest US$5 billion in developing an Iranian gas field in the Persian Gulf.[67] In September 2009, the Mehr news agency reported a Pakistani diplomat as saying "India definitely quitted the IPI (India-Pakistan-Iran) gas pipeline deal",[68] in favour of Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement for energy security.[69] Iranian officials however said India is yet to make an official declaration.[68] In 2010, US officials warned New Delhi that Indian companies using the Asian Clearing Union for financial transactions with Iran run the risk of violating a recent US law that bans international firms from doing business with Iranian banks and Tehran's oil and gas sector, and that Indian companies dealing with Iran in this manner may be barred from the US.[70] The United States criticises the ACU of being insufficiently transparent in its financial dealings with Iran and suspects that much of their assets are funnelled to blacklisted repressive organisations in Iran such as the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.[70] The United States Department of the Treasury also believes that Iran uses the ACU to bypass the US banking system.[70] On 27 November 2010, the Indian government, through the Reserve Bank of India, instructed the country's lenders to stop processing current-account transactions with Iran using the Asian Clearing Union,[70] and that further deals should be settled without ACU involvement.[71] RBI also declared that they will not facilitate payments for Iranian crude imports as global pressure on Tehran grows over its nuclear programme.[72]This move by the Indian government will make clear to Indian companies that working through the ACU "doesn't necessarily mean an Iranian counterpart has an international seal of approval". As of December 2010, neither Iran nor the ACU have responded to this development.[70]India objected to further American sanctions on Iran in 2010. An Indian foreign policy strategist, Rajiv Sikri, dismissed the idea that a nuclear armed Iran was a threat to India, and said that India would continue to invest in Iran and do business.[73]Despite increased pressure by the US and Europe, and a significant reduction in oil imports from Persian oil fields in 2012, leading political figures in India have clearly stated that they are not willing to stop trade relations altogether. To the contrary, they aim at expanding the commodity trade with the Islamic republic.[74]

Renewed increase in oil imports[edit]

While overall, India’s total volume of imported crude has only been rising slightly from 3.2 million b/d in 2009-10 to 3.44 million b/d in 2012-13, imports from Iran have basically been fluctuating around 250,000 b/d from 2012 to 2013 and thus rising proportionally due to a halt for Iranian exports to Europe.[75] The recent detainment of an Indian tanker by Iranian officials is unrelated to the oil embargo,[60] but in an effort to save over USD 8.5 billion in hard currency, and realizing a 180-day waiver from US sanctions, India plans to increase Iranian imports by 11 million tons for 2014, in addition to the two million tons of crude oil shipped from Iran by June 2013, up 21.1 % from last year.[76]

India's nuclear vote with Iran[edit]

India, despite close relations and convergence of interests with Iran, voted against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005, which took Iran by surprise. A "welcoming prospect" Ali Larijani was reported as saying: "India was our friend".[77] Stephen Rademaker also acknowledged that India's votes against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency were "coerced":[78]

"The best illustration of this is the two votes India cast against Iran at the IAEA. I am the first person to admit that the votes were coerced."

The USA considers support from India – which is on 35-member board of Governors at the International Atomic Energy Agency – crucial in getting a sizeable majority for its proposal to refer the matter to the Security Council for positive punitive action against Iran. Greg Schulte, US ambassador to the IAEA, said "India's voice will carry particular weight...I hope India joins us in making clear our collective concerns about Iran's nuclear program". Schulte did not deny that the Indo-US nuclear deal was conditional to India supporting the US on the Iran issue. Appraising of the situation vis-a-vis Iran, a senior U.S. official told the New York Times that The Indians are emerging from their nonaligned status and becoming a global power, and they have to begin to think about their responsibilities. They have to make a basic choice..[79]

The Bush administration, however, recognised India's close relations with Iran and tempered its position, stating that India can "go ahead with a pipeline deal involving Iran and Pakistan. Our beef with Iran is not the pipeline."[80]

Infrastructure[edit]

A highway between Zaranj and Delaram (Zaranj-Delaram Highway) is being built with financial support from India.[81] The Chabahar port has also been jointly financed by Iran and India.[82] India is helping develop the Chabahar Port, which will give it access to the oil and gas resources in Iran and the Central Asian states. By so doing, India hopes to compete with the Chinese, who are building Gwadar Port, in Pakistani Baluchistan.

Iran plans to use Chabahar for transshipment to Afghanistan and Central Asia, while keeping the port of Bandar Abbas as a major hub mainly for trade with Russia and Europe.

India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to give Indian goods, heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan, preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar.

Work on the Chabahar-Milak-Zaranj-Dilaram route from Iran to Afghanistan is in progress. Iran is, with Indian aid, upgrading the Chabahar-Milak road and constructing a bridge on the route to Zaranj. India's BRO is laying the 213-kilometer Zaranj-Dilaram road. It is a part of India's USD 750 million aid package to Afghanistan.

The Chabahar port project is Iran's chance to end its US-sponsored economic isolation and benefit from the resurgent Indian economy. Along with Bandar Abbas, Chabahar is the Iranian entrepot on the North-South corridor. A strategic partnership between India, Iran and Russia is intended to establish a multi-modal transport link connecting Mumbai with St. Petersburg, providing Europe and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia access to Asia and vice versa.

India and Iran are discussing building a gas pipeline between the two countries along the bed of the Arabian Sea to bypass Pakistan, using the Chabahar port. Both the countries are pondering the delivery of natural gas produced in Turkmenistan with Indian assistance to north Iran while the Islamic Republic will send natural gas from its southern deposits to Indian consumers. This pipeline is conceived by India to replace the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the negotiations for which have dragged on due to the worsening of relations between India and Pakistan.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Chopra, R.M. Indo-Iranian Cultural Relations through the Ages. published by Iran Society, Kolkata.
  • Chopra, R.M. Indo-Iranian Cultural Relations in the 20th century. Indo-Iranica Vol.57 (1–4)
  • Clawson, Patrick. (2005). Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6. 2005. MacMillan.
  • Multiple authors (2004). "India". Encyclopædia Iranica.  (series of entries that cover Indian history and its relations with Iran)
  • Keddie, Nikki; Matthee, Rudolph P. (ed.). (2002). Iran and the Surrounding World: Interactions in Culture and Cultural Politics. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-98206-3.
  • Tikku, G.L. (1971). Persian poetry in Kashmir 1339–1846. ISBN 0-520-09312-7
  • Section on Persian literature in India: Rypka, January (1968). History of Iranian Literature. Reidel Publishing Company. OCLC 460598. ISBN 90-277-0143-1
  • Chopra, R.M., "The Rise Growth And Decline of Indo-Persian Literature", 2012, published by Iran Culture House, New Delhi and Iran Society, Kolkata. 2nd Edition published in 2013.

External links[edit]

Embassies

Further Reading