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The Cultural Relation Between Iran And India History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

A review study on cultural relation between Iran and India can show more exchanged cultural elements between two countries during centuries. It can be a wide area from before history, when Aryan became two parts and immigrated to different places in Iranian plateau and Indus Valley. The relation could trace until, when India falls into colonization period. At that time the official language in India was Persian which, is today Iranian national language. The common points led business and cultural trade between two nations. ‘For instance the first Persian printing machine established in Calcutta by Charles Wilkins (1749-1836) in 1781 that designed type for publications of books in Persian and was appointed as translator of Persian and Bengali to the Commissioner of Revenue and as superintendent of the Company’s press.’ [1] Newspapers opened a new window to this relevancy. Later was published more Persian papers in India, which led Iranian into Constitutional Revelation by the newspaper Habl Al-Matin which, published in Calcutta from 19 December 1893 until 9 December 1930, by Sayyed Jalal al Din Moʾayyed al Eslam Kasani (1863-1930).

The daily Habl Al-Matin was a liberal, reformist, and patriotic newspaper, publishing news and political commentaries. ..The freedom of the press enjoyed in Persia following the establishment of the Constitutional government prompted Habl Al-Matin’s management in Calcutta to launch a daily newspaper in Tehran. [2] 

The Iranian communities in India were close to court and some them known as different Identify in these countries, for instance; Mirza Abu Taleb Khan (1752-1806) is one of the travelers to Asia, Africa, and Europe. ‘Following his European sojourn, Abu Taleb’s remarkable Shi’ite pilgrimage through present day Turkey and Iraq further enhances his meditation on the encounter between Islam and European modernity’ [3] . He published his itinerary in Persian Safarnameh E Talebi (Travels of Talebi) in London, 1814, and reprinted by Sona Publications, New Delhi, 1972. This book was a remarkable rescue to familiar Iranian to European life’s picture. In Iranian literature he introduces an Iranian who has ken speckle by origin of his father, Isfahan. Iranian called him Mirza Abu Taleb Isfahani which his family name refers him to be from Isfahan a large city locates in center of Iran. [4] In other hand he introduced as an Indian Travelers who ‘followed his father into the service of the Muslim rulers of that region, the Nawabs of Awadh. The political vicissitudes of eighteenth century India, however, caused the family to decamp to Bengal, where Abu Taleb encountered the administration of the British East India Company, then beginning to establish its rule in that province.’ [5] It indicates at the same time a person known as two different nationalities. There could be more examples of these kinds of similarities which could examine close relations of two nations.

The similarities could be seen also in modern theatre stream, because of origin of New Theatre was from the Europe which put away traditional theatre and made a new form on inexperienced platform. However the study could make clear similarities when examine from a wide view point to modern theatrical courses in both countries, but by examine details of evolution of modern theatre and recognize the differences, then can draw a clear picture of evolution quality of modern theatre in two countries. The picture indicates the new theatre how could forward in seam stream but different situation and cultural platforms. The progressive of both countries gloated to such words; freedom, nationalism, criticism, etc. and reflected of such of those crucial identification in Modern theatre, however the different background of traditional theatre and social understanding, led them to approach different point for theatre at end. This chapter has effort to examine and describe those points.


Examine of traditional theater’s place in front of folkway, helps to better understanding of the backgrounds texture of performing arts in this research. Before preceded to the development of modern theatre in Iran and Bengal, a glance study will made a clear picture, because the traditional theatre in Iran and India has a long history but different background and stood up on different belief systems. Origins of traditional theatres are not clear but in continue, it seems religion was the major factor of driving traditional theatre in content and directions. According to evidences, religion ceremonies and rituals were based on performing activities. Richard Schechner indicates the theatre could have a ritual origin;

‘Rituals are performative , They are acts done and performances are ritualized , they are codified, repeatable actions… Rituals emphasize efficacy: healing the sick, initiating neophytes, burying the dead, teaching the ignorant, forming and cementing social relations, maintaining (or over throwing) the status quo, remembering the past, propitiating the gods, exorcising the demonic, maintaining cosmic order. Theatre emphasizes entertainment; it is opportunistic, occurring wherever and whenever a crowd can be gathered and money collected, or goods or services bartered. Rituals are performed on schedule, at specific locations, regardless of weather or attendance.’ [6] 

At Beginning in Iran, religion was rose on worship of one god, Ahoora Mazda. Zoroaster was the prophet and brings the Ahoora Mazda’s messages through the holy book Avesta. Some part of the book performed caroled as dialogue.

‘As such the dialogues of the Avesta (ca. 1000 BeE) may be considered as a source for, if not a form of, this ritual religious drama as may ‘Taziyeh-Khvani’ or Shi’ite religious tragedy.’ [7] 

In following Zoroastrian glorified the god with more vocal rituals and less performing. Religion did not try accepting and allowing propagating ritual performance which latter reduced performing activity from religious rituals.

‘Over time some of these contextual ritual enactments became divorced from their religious meaning and they were performed throughout the year.’ [8] 

The Music accepted by Zoroastrian, as a soul purifying, but religion had no idea about theatre, which was performed in court as entertainment for king.

‘The official in charge of the artists at Sassanid court was the Khoram-bakhsh (the joy-giver), who responsible for all entertainment, including minstrels, storytellers, musicians, and acrobats…It may be inferred from these Chinese descriptions that similar performances also must have taken place at the Sassanid court, where allegedly 12,000 maidens served at the court of Parviz as singers, dancers.’ [9] 

Latter after Islamization of Iran, new religion had not ‘especially’ good idea about performance. In Islam, whatever leads the man towards God and goodness is lawful, whatever leads them towards the devil, and badness is unlawful. Thus cannot say that the theatre is lawful or unlawful in Islam. In fact, this opinion is depends on the theatre’s message, function and content. In addition, the effect of those ideas is visible clear during Constitutional Revolution, which will discuss about in next discussion. In this period unlawful music and theatre were legal for kings who nobody could claim against him.

‘Like the Sassanid kings the new Islamic rulers of and in Iran also amused themselves with the performances of minstrels, singers and musicians, as well as acrobats, magicians and animal trainers. The Arab caliphate and the courts of its provincial governors drew heavily on Iranian models of amusements, culture and court protocol.’ [10] 

However, society was a suitable bench which clergies could expand the power of religion against unlawful’ entertainment. The commentary on the holy book, Quran, caused to make the strong distance between theatre and religion. Thus the secular performance falls to cheap value and may prohibited in front of religion, but merely theatre as tragedy like Taziyeh, became lawful for spread religious massages across the country.

‘Religious epic storytelling received an enormous boost with the establishment of Shiism as the state religion of Iran in 1501. At that time, most of the population of Iran was not Shiite, although there was general veneration for the Shiite Imams. However, the Shiite message needed to be out there to win souls as a necessary complement. .. What Shiism needed was a ritual built on existing beliefs that would be attractive and had the potential to mobilize the masses, for Sunnis still had the numbers in the early 1500s.’ [11] 

Nonetheless, secular and happiness entertainments were ignore in front of ‘Sharia’, which leads performers and spectators to hell at end. Although the Taziyeh had a polytheistic value for some fanatical Shiite leaders and they did not accept any kind of performance.

‘In the mid-twelfth century an Islamic ‘Book of Mirrors’ point out that singing should not be done by women and children, not be accompanied by the harp, lute and Iraqi flute, and not contain any obscenities.’ [12] 

Based on those beliefs, traditional theatre especially secular kinds continued in the narrow road. Scholars were strange in touch of traditional theatre as well as in such manners there is no theory effort for understand of theatre aspects by scholars. [13] 

In the opposite side, India presents a different picture, because Architect of Theatre is religion itself. Drama descended from heaven, then developed and protected by Gods which society accepted all kinds of theatre forms with showing admirer and passion. It does not need much effort to prove the traditional theatre is so close to religious direction in India. Bharata in his book Natyashastra describe a myth story, what was the main purpose of creating of drama by Gods, and then why they sent it to earth for humankind.

‘Indra, delegated by the other gods, approached the throne of the Godhead, and said: “O Brahma, we wish to feast our eyes and ears on a dramatic spectacle; deign to create the merry play for our enjoyment.” And the Creator nodded graciously, and fell into a profound meditation. And out of the Divine Thought sprang the Natya Veda, that is, the Veda of the Theatre.’ [14] 

In fact, the story is not far from real beliefs, because Hindu religion did a perfect effort to support of theatre at whole dimensions. In next centuries, theatre in India gained the powerful effect in all society levels, which had religion signification. It is a point that shows a major different between outlook of traditional theatre in Iran and India. In addition it notice in India exist a complex theories, methods and classifications ideas around theatre in the Natya shastra which is the holy book of performers. Bharata in the book clearly disclosed the secret, that theatre brings massage of mercy from Gods to humankind. This idea caused the writing of Natua Shastra, which contents powerful Theory behind theatrical elements.

‘These are ‘include diverse topics like dramatic premise, characters, auditorium, poetics, acting, language, dance, song, instruments, costumes, the religious ceremony to be performed before opening of the act, different types of drama, poetics, style and abilities required of different characters like the stage manager, comedian, courtesan, lead actor and actress.’ [15] 

In India, Traditional performance had a good fortune than in its neighborhood country, Iran. Experts in India drive theatre in contemplated ways that drawn by previous scholars. They believed happiness is the main platform of performance and evils should be away on stage.

‘Bharat Muni desired that drama should also become instrumental in leading to intellectual and spiritual development of spectators apart from providing them entertainment.’ [16] 

In opposite way in Iran the theatre itself had a diabolic sprite, for instance; Justin Perkins (1805-1869) who was the first American missionary during his activities at the Iranian city Orumiyeh, reported on April 11, 1835:

The Persians are not very fond of such [i.e., theatrical] entertainments. A German ventriloquist was here, not long ago, and the people ascribed his performance to the direct agency of the devil and treated him with corresponding abhorrence. [17] 

In Iran tragedy form of theatre had endured by religion, but Bharata ignored presentation of tragedy content on ‘holy’ stage. Playwrights should choose dramatic theme, from historical or mythical stories with some modifications and love be, the major theme of mostly all the plays. Drama also supported and respect religious-societal manners, so mention in Natya Shastra: The hero, the king and Brahmins speak in Sanskrit while women and lowly people speak in Prakrit language.

‘It is thought that when Brahma created the Veda of drama, he gave this gift to the sage, his hundred sons the task of putting this form into practice. Drama was to represent people from all walks of life and be accessible to all. Its aim was to educate and teach by dramatizing stories that could hold people attention through their depiction of the experiences of life in all its diversity, from war to sexual sensuality. It was to otter “good counsel” and “guidance to people’ [18] 

Following of Gods’ mercy, Bharata Muni describes 15 types of drama ranging from one to ten acts. The principles for stage design are laid down in some detail. Individual chapters deal with aspects such as makeup, costume, acting, directing, etc. ‘Rasa’s (emotional responses) gives wide-range expression ability to actors , so dimensions of a perfect life can be performing on stage according those methods, which considered in Natya Shasta. Actors could touch spiritually of behind reality of theatre and get close to hero’s life with following orders. In opposite of India, in Iran newer existed the classification theory to drive theatre in a certain way. The Taziye which grew under religious consider, developed by audience passion and of religion-government support and it forwarded to next generations. Actors were not professional and had not theatrical knowledge that joined just for religious passion.

In India Gods and Goddesses are present on stage, through those stories that perform on stage. Visibility of holy’ incarnations of Goddesses creates a powerful connection between spectators and actors as medium, which seems entirely of stage as temple. Hence, the stage became a worship place and Gods mercy became present at the time in that particular place.

‘The Gods and the Goddesses, being dancers themselves, have been passing the art of the heavenly dance through many other human channels, whose aptitude, understanding, and personal idiosyncrasies naturally varied from person to person. [19] 

In the Taziye actors called Shabih,(Imitation) that mean who pretend to show Imitation of somebody else.

‘The word Shabih, which is the formalist definition, is more comprehensive than the word Taziyeh, but both have approximately the same connotation (Religious Tragedy and Mourning). Thus, the players in Taziyeh are called Shabih as imitation is an element of their performance.’

Actor (Shabih) does not make close internal feeling with the character, so make the distance between itself and character during whole the time of performance. Stage is battlefield between holiness and evil, thus Shabih cannot approach one of those extreme. He is just a man on the earthy ground. The Play cannot help him to get close to sky’ but let him to see suffered of the holy man and his family then crying. Hence may God forgiveness him for his sins after this earthy life. Thus, actors and audience are just spectators who see a story of battlefield between extreme of holy and evil. They stay on ground and there is not mercy at the time of performance but merely its hesitation situation about the sadness story.

Those points show the different approach and definition of traditional theatre in both countries. These basic and feature of traditional theatre in both countries indicate different level of consider in confrontation of performing arts to social beliefs. Traditional theatre in Iran understood as the earthy universe art. Theatre cannot help to gain any spiritual level in the earthy life which may also spoil the incorporeal gathered. However, in India performance came down from heaven as gift of Gods for humankind and performing or observation of the theatre can flaming the religious passion as spiritual experiment.


One of the important different points between two researches areas is Political-Social situation before penetrated of western theatre in consider areas. When new theatre imported to Iran, Qajar dynasty ruled across the country. Naser al Din Shah was the fourth king of Qajar dynasty (1848-1896), also two more Qajar kings ruled under political hurricane until next dynasty, the Pahlavi (192-1979). Naser Al Din Shah and his first prime minister, Amir Kabir had a major role in establishment of western modernization.

He [Naser al Din Shah] curbed the secular power of the clergy, introduced telegraph and postal services, built roads, opened the first school offering education along Western lines, and launched Iran’s first newspaper. He was the first Iranian to be photographed and was a patron of photography who had himself photographed hundreds of times. [20] 

Before Naser Al Din Shah, his progenitor Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834) sent a diplomat and few students to Europe. Mirza Abu’l Ḥasan Khan Ilchi, was first diplomatic envoy to England in 1809 since the 1600s. When he entered at England could not believe that much of advanced methods of technology and liberal activities. In that time he observed the huge different between both countries such as industries, culture and arts. He wrote a diary under the title of Ḥayrat-name-ye sofara (The Book of wonder), in ‘which he marveled at the amenities of modern western life’ [21] . It was not only his consider but also Naser Al Din Shah fell in the same stream during traveled to Europe.

In England Mirza Abu’l-Ḥasan began to learn English and became able to converse in it. His progress is shown by two letters written to an anonymous English lord which were published in The Morning Star of 29 May 1810. The letters give an interesting insight into the mind of Mirza Abu’l-Ḥasan and his ideas on English society… Apart from a number of official letters, Ḥayrat-name-ye sofara is the only work written by Mirza Abu’l-Ḥasan … The book is written in the usual florid style of the period and illustrates many of the incidents … Five portraits of Mirza Abu’l-Ḥasan were painted during his European journey. [22] 

Although by such as contact with west, exist the political idea between intellectuals and elite in critic of the king’s power which was defined before as shadow of God on the earth. Freedom, parliament and election were new words; which slowly spread its definition behind the modernization process by the Shah.

‘In the later years of his rule, however, he [Naser al Din Shah] steadfastly refused to deal with the growing pressures for reforms. He also granted a series of concessionary rights to foreigners in return for large payments that went into his own pockets. In 1872, popular pressure forced him to withdraw one concession involving permission to construct such complexes as railways and irrigation works throughout Iran. In 1890 he made an even greater error in granting a 50-year concession on the purchase, sale, and processing of all tobacco in the country, which led to a national boycott of tobacco and the withdrawal of the concession.’ [23] 

Apart the observing progressive style life in Europe also Iranian traveler, consider on theatrical subject. Mirza Abul Hassan’s book offer remarkable observations on the contemporary performance cultures of London. He presents complex discussions of opera and ballet at the King’s Theatre and a performance of King Lear at Covent Garden.

‘During his stay in England, Mirza Abu’l-Ḥasan was invited to many plays and operas. After attending the opera of Sidagero al the King’s Theatre in December 1809, he remarked: Dancers and sweet-voiced singers appeared one after the other to entertain us, acting and dancing like Greeks and Russians and Turks.’ He found pleasing the well-disciplined crowed at the theater. ‘It is amazing that although 5000 people may gather in the theater, they do not make a loud noise. On that night a historical ballet entitled Pietro II Grand by Signor Rossi was performed.’ [24] 

Before Mirza Abu’l-Ḥasan also the traveler Mirza Abu Taleb Khan Isfahani who mentioned before, during 4 years in 1799-1803 traveled to Europe and Asia. He considers on theatre subject in his book ‘Safar Name Talebi’;

‘Mirza Abu Talib viewed the visit to playhouses as “sensual employment” (Mashghalte-Nafs) and wrote a detailed description of a playhouse in Dublin, explaining the arrangement of the stage, seats, spectacles, and spectator. He even drew a detailed blueprint of the playhouse. He was often accompanied to play- houses by Miss Garden, whom he described as a “fanatic in religion and used to the habits of old London,’ [25] 

In addition Students who sent to Europe by Iranian kings, in return expanded the western idea in own country. Most of them charmed at new culture so they tried to change Iran’s face as development country.

‘Mirza Saleh Shirazi, was one of the first students to be sent to London, wrote admiringly of his host country, showing the ways and means of new developments occurring in England. Like many after him, he returned to Persia to play a pioneering role in introducing western ideas and establishing modern institutions such as a newspaper in Persia. [26] 

This kind of contact with western countries, made passions elite, and educate people imitating of western method in all kind of society and culture levels. The radicals’ idea also rose during that time. Akhond zadeh the first playwright in western style had radical progressive ideas in numerous cases. He wrote the proposal in 1863, which defend, of changing Persian alphabet into Latin alphabet. He claimed this helps to forget superstitions and traditional background then as soon as possible approach the modernity. His idea never accepted by rulers but he invited a new alphabet to persist on his way. Those documents indicate, those Iranian who travelled to Europe were passion in theatre as progressive aspect. However, it was not possible to expand them passion of theatre into public. Thus new theatre had limited perform for court and aristocrats families. The Shah was the major supporter of this theater style. He describe his observation the theatre in England in his diary;

After eating dinner, the sun was still up, and we went to the theater. There were many people in the streets. When we arrived at the theater, we ascended many steps, passed through the lobby, and sat in the box in front of the space where they performed plays. It is a large theater, one of the structures of the Emperor Nicholas. It has six levels, and in each level, there were women and men. There was a large chandelier hanging from the middle of the theater. . . . The curtain went up and a strange world appeared. [27] 

When Naser Al Din shah return from Europe, decided to change, so import western techniques and Ideas. He was charming of western arts, especially photograph and theatre. As discussed in Iran’s chapter then he ordered a European style theatrical hall in 1852 but until 1873 not used. New theatre imported to Iran through of court for king’s entertainment. Armenians also tried imitation of western theatre but it could not affect the Muslim society, which was the major community, and ignore such as activities.

There was not only court sponsored Modem Theater in Tehran, for the Armenian community also continued with its theatrical activities. In the evening of February 21, 1887, a number of Iranian officials, most of them attached to foreign embassies as well as a number of Armenian merchants and craftsmen and other people attended a theatrical performance at the Armenian school. [28] 

In Iran, new theatre from entrance, the first performance in Dar al Fonun it took more than 30 years until become an active broadcast in public. In following during Mashrooteh the point had turn and new theatre fall down into society and tried to gain approaches among public activities.

In other hand, India had different situation during time of appearance of western theatre. England expanded his colony across the country by established government followed of business purpose. Western technologies such as newspapers and print machines imported by Englishman. Western system education that established became the chance to get familiar with western for Indian who lived in upper casts.

British, introduced the British legal and justice system, organized a formidable civil service, provided modern military training and organization to a largely medieval army, re-organized the antiquated tax system which had continued since Emperor Akbar (circa 1600), set-up an export and import system largely for their own benefit but never the less as a basis for future trade, built one of the world’s greatest water irrigation system in Pakistani Punjab, created a rail and road network to facilitate transportation but also to feed the growing import/export trade, extended the old education system to include universities and colleges of higher learning and introduced the western dress code in India. [29] 

India experimented the whole modernization changes under power of colonization. They have no choice to accept or refuse of that kind of development. These development drove under force of foreigners who has no idea but only thought themselves benefits. England prepares those developments for its benefit because without developed India, they could not exploit more of the colony treasures. Englishmen became symbol of western and expansionist thus whatever was belonged to them could not accept as Indian quality. It is easy to imagination Indian people of that time how much passion for freedom’ what was the same in Iran. However here is big different between definition of the word ‘freedom’ in Iran and India. The ‌Bengali’s desire to be free reflected behind the modern theater which could trace from beginning until indolence.

In trying to subvert political theatre, the history of Bengali theatre has been distorted. Its historical context has not only been left un-discussed but also ignored, to the detriment of re-interpretation of our theatre history. We have seen historical treatise being written where Rabindranath Tagore’s contributions have been directly linked to Sisir Kumar Bhaduri’s and then has been traced to Shombhu Mitra and Bohurupee.

Although freedom could achieved when the British who were the main junction of west to India, abandoned the country and kept them idea for themselves only. Rich tradition was the gravity point for Indian which finally The Quite Movement could follow and led India to the indolence. The powerful of these ideas could visible in the leader of movement Gandhi’s life;

He saw the villages as the core of the true India and promoted self-sufficiency; he did not support the industrialization programs of his disciple Jawaharlal Nehru. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn he had hand spun on a charkha. His political enemy Winston Churchill ridiculed him as a “half-naked fakir”. [30] 

In Iran as discussed in previous discussion, freedom was an imported quality which destroyed power of king who was defined as shadow of God in throughout the history. It was passible only in following the western ideas and aspects in all levels such as politic, which reduce the king’s power and establish parliament, culture, science, education, etc. Iranian elite people had no time for understood and critics of the wests progressive aspects, then adapted into Iranian social values as will discuss latter. Although there were fights between religious- traditional ideas and improvement ideas, which some time changed direction of democracy. Thus, Iranian in general accepted the freedom which could be passing merely through the western’s thought. Because traditional thought had supported the king as such manners which inverse also king was the rel

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