Country & History

Persian Literature

Contact Us

Art Arena

Arts & Crafts

Writer's Corner

Visitor's Book


Parthian and Middle Persian
Written Literatures

Previous Page

The Rise and Development
of Persian Literature

General Features of
Persian Literature

Next Page

Persian Bar

When (New) Persian literature finally found royal patronage, and social and political circumstances made possible the tenth-century renaissance, Persian society had undergone far-reaching transformations. Persia was now part of the Muslim world, a world in which Arabic was the lingua franca. Middle Persian script had been given up for the Arabic alphabet and a number of Arabic words had entered the language. It was now fashionable to write poetry, like the Arabs, in quantitative meters (based on the number and length of the syllables) and the adaptable Persians proceeded to apply the rules of Arabic prosody to their favorite meters, making them even more strictly quantitative than Arabic ones. Blossoming first in Greater Khorasan (an area which is now part of Iran, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian Soviet Republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), Persian poetry soon evolved into a pervasive literary force. Far exceeding the geographical boundaries of the Iranian plateau in its dominance, it provided a literary model for the entire eastern half of the caliphate. This penetration was accelerated, and became particularly widespread after 1258, when the Mongol armies occupied Baghdad and put an end to the long-lived Abbasid caliphate. For some five centuries the caliphate in Baghdad had provided a focal point of religious and cultural unity in the Islamic world. With its disappearance, Muslim countries were left practically free to go their separate ways and cultivate their own idiosyncrasies. In the western half of the Islamic world, namely Arabia, the Levant, Egypt, and North Africa, Arabic continued as the cultural and administrative language. In the eastern half, however, including Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and India (as well as Anatolia), Persian performed the same function, and its literature benefited from a great many talents nurtured in these countries....

....Persian was introduced into India in the tenth century by Mahmud of Ghazna, who led many raids into the subcontinent and occupied the Punjab. His descendants continued to rule in northwestern India until 1168. They were followed by other Muslim houses, mostly of Turkish or Afghan origin: the Ghorids, the sultans of Delhi, Kashmir, Gujarat, and Bengal; the Bahmanids of North Deccan, and others. They extended Muslim rule, and with it Persian language and culture, to most parts of the subcontinent, as far east as Bengal and as far south as Hyderabad. Although for the most part these dynasties were not ethnically Persian, they were so culturally and therefore became propagators of Persian language, literature, and way of life. In the meantime a large number of dedicated Muslim missionaries from Persia and Central Asia, as well as other Islamic lands, were active in India. Most notable among these were Persian or Persian speaking Sufi mystics, whose saintly bearing and passionate preaching were important elements in the conversion of many Indians to Islam and in the spread of Persian language and culture. They also laid the foundation for a number of Sufi orders. Persian lyric poetry has always been popular with the Sufis as a symbolic expression of their love of the divine and their longing for union with God. Therefore the Sufi brotherhoods and their hospices also became instruments for cultivating Persian poetry among the Muslim Indians. The patronage of Persian literature in India reached its culmination with the Mogul emperors (1526-1858), whose reign constituted a golden age of Indo-Persian literature. Some of the emperors, like Homayun and Jahangir, as well as many Mogul princes and princesses, governors, nobles, and high officials, were not only enthusiastic sponsors and promoters of Persian letters but they wrote Persian poetry themselves. The court of Akbar (1556-1605) was studded with a large number of poets who wrote in Persian. An indication of the extent and popularity of Persian poetry in India may be seen in the notices of poets by Qane Tatavi and Khalil Tatavi, who mention 719 Persian poets in Sind province alone. Indeed, under the Moguls, India (rather than Persia) became the center of Persian literature. A large body of Persian poetry, historical works, mystical treatises, literary criticism, biographies of poets, works of theology and Koranic literature, and numerous Persian grammars and lexicons were produced in India during this period, many of these works still unpublished.

In Turkey, Persian was first sponsored by the Seljuks of Rum (1077-1307), who introduced Persian culture into Anatolia. When the Ottoman Turks penetrated Asia Minor in the thirteenth century, they found that "Persian literature and Persian culture ruled supreme." The Ottomans soon absorbed the Seljuks into their ranks and readily embraced this culture; they even took Persian models as their guides when they encouraged the creation and growth of Turkish poetry. Thus, in the words of E. J. W. Gibb, they "forthwith appropriated the entire Persian literary system down to its minute detail." For five and a half centuries the Ottoman sultans, like the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks, and many other ruling Turkish houses before them, were patrons of Persian letters.

Between the fifth and the nineteenth centuries, Persian was the literary and cultural language of most of the Islamic countries east of the Tigris and north of the Fertile Crescent. More important, its influence was such that poems written in the native languages of these regions - Turkish, Urdu, Azeri Turkish, and Chagatai - were modeled after Persian poetry in form, outlook, and imagery. Such poems are similar to their Persian counterparts in sentiment, concepts, and content, and differ in language only; even so, they are replete with words and phrases borrowed from Persian and, by extension, from Arabic.

Thus in the vast regions where Persian literature was patronized, it was a mere ethnic or linguistic accident whether the poet wrote in Urdu, Sindi, Turkish, Chagatai, Pashto, or Persian; the poetic ideas and images were the same, and the characteristics of the poetry of any of these languages, except the folk idioms, are the same. In other words, Persian poetry was written not only in Persian, but in Turkish, Urdu, and Chagatai as well. Therefore, in a discussion of Persian letters our scope extends beyond what was written in the Persian language to encompass works by those who thought in Persian when it came to literature, irrespective of their native tongues and ethnic origins.


The Development
of Iranian Literatures

Return to top

The Development of Iranian Literatures Top of page

Copyright shall at all times remain vested in the Author. No part of the work shall be used, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the Author's express written consent.

Copyright© 1999 K. Kianush, Art Arena