Semitised Iran, Aryanised India

There had once been a comment on this blog that the Kashmiris were more Aryan in cultural heritage than the Persians (even if the genetic contribution was the same). At the time I was a bit surprised but in retrospect when I think to modern Persian identity and the Iranian super-strate on top of it (what is Iran; the plateau, the people or the language family?), it’s astonishing to see that most of the influences are Safavid.

When I deconstruct my Persian national identity apart from the Sassanians, Achaemenians and Zoroastrians; it’s really to do with Sa’adi, Ferdowsi and Hafez. The evolution of Persian culture, under the rubric of Islam, has been so complete that as an example even the most hardcore Persian nationalists wouldn’t dare mess with the alphabet.

The Persian language, which is absolutely fundamental to Iranian identity, has wrapped itself around the Arabic alphabet. The pride in the “Aryan racial heritage” is at best correlated with being light skinned etc (in the West lots of Iranians like to bandy about being Aryan to fit in; good for them). However the Aryan heritage doesn’t really figure in a substantial way about what it means to be Persian.

In contract to India where the Aryan heritage is dominant and uninterrupted, constantly tussling with the Arabic-Abrahamic faiths (Islam is equally Arabic as it is Abrahamic; to be a part of the House of Islam is to accept that Arabs are primus inter pares, not exactly equivalent to Brahmins).

Of course Persian is an “Aryan language” but to deny its Semitisation and the glories that the Arabic infusion brought; as well as being the lingua franca (in a literal sense Persians has always had some similarity to France & French culture; is Iran the France of West Asia?) of the Great Gunpowder Empires.

The irony of course is that while Iran is an explicitly Aryan term; India probably is not. While Sindhu is a Sanskrit name for sea, it’s origins are obscure (am to be corrected).

44 thoughts on “Semitised Iran, Aryanised India”

    1. Razib . . . I love you man. So please don’t get your yourself killed. [Okay you kind of have a slight point . . . but make sure I am far away when you tell an Iranian that. :LOL: :LOL:]

      1. I’m only part-Pars so the Paki side loves all things Arabic; thank you Pak studies for a thorough conditioning!

        It’s interesting though that even God speaks to our Persian Prophets, (s)he routinely slips back into Arabic. A divine tongue indeed..

      2. if you’re name is ali or mohammed don’t fucking talk to me about how you aren’t an arab. khosrow would think you’re an arab, with your arab beard and arab god and arab name.

      3. i have told iranians that. they kind of laugh and don’t say anything.

        if they want to talk about how they aren’t arab, i just say “what’s your name ALI. what’s your name!”

      4. AnAn, you are correct. There were times over the years when I prayed for Razib’s safety, considering how he tells it like it is. I am from an older generation and long time reader since Sepia Mutiny. 🙂

        1. I think all the crazies are in the Old World; people are far too woke (I love that word) in the New World to care about such stuff, though I would recommend King Khan stay away from Tehrangeles for a little while. Even I raised my eyebrows at some of his comments!!

          I can only deal with one Persephobe in my life; Lady V, BP is my safe space loll!

    2. Aryans sell pageviews; giving our readers what they want matey..

      Allah & Aleph have been kind to Pars; it allowed her culture far wider than it ever would..

      The Achaemanian were multi-culti, the Parthians Hellenistic and the Sassanins insular/nationalistic. It was the imperialistic vehicle of Islam that allowed Persian culture to disperse as it did (of course one has to thank Father Ferdowsi for salvaging Iran & the Persian language in the first place & his Turkish patrons)..

      My point of course, while meandering, is that the “Aryan”
      Component is a infinitesimal portion of Persian identity apart from the race element, which is anyway infested with Reza Shah’s Nazi leanings..

      It’s interesting how the Aryans had such different; east & west of the two Dashts ..

        1. @Razib,
          Curious. Momentarily ignoring spirit for flesh, is there more total R1a in India than Iran only because there are more Indians than Iranians, or does India also have a higher percentage of R1a in its population than Iran has in its?

          1. The Aryan weren’t nearly as impactful west of dasht-e-lut and dasht-e-kavir as they were “trans-dasht” (the other side of the desert..

  1. I would propose something similar to greeko roman heritage as well, west is xtian.

    1. no. christianity absorbed greco-roman heritage. christians use alphabets from antiquity, not hebrew ones (though both derive from Phoenicia). the % of hebrew names is probably lower in west than ‘ali’ or ‘mohammed’ in iran.

      one can make the argument though that post-abbassid islam was highly persianized….

      1. The beliefs are incompatible no matter what christians say, this is deception and they actually do admit so, evangelists in India will put up statues of baby ganesh in hands of mary. There is a fundamental incompatibility of beliefs, you wouldnt say that because many Indians are using english therefore we have absorbed greeco roman views as well, but infact us being polytheists makes us more compatible. The primary aim of Christianity is to spread the faith, the language ,dress, music,metaphors or presentation,philosophy all are part of the effort in doing so.
        That doesnt mean greco roman heritage is compatible with christianity. One could point to Indonesian muslims still watching mahabharat, but mahabharat is Hindu epic.

        1. shorter razib: your model of what a religion is is too spare. it’s a made up human meta-representation. you can’t decompose it so simply as you do.

          well, you can. but don’t expect it to predict the arc of history 😉

          1. 1)The dynamics of how things actually work out~ History in general
            2) The stories people tell/belief ~how people think,remember in the present
            3)Political action we take looking at above two. ~what we actually do in present

            Change requires dealing with the dynamics and the stories people tell. All I am pointing out is the hypocrisy in monotheism, difference between monotheism and polytheism.

  2. A few thoughts:

    1) It’s the Perso-Arabic alphabet (not the Arabic alphabet). For example the letter “pe” doesn’t exist in Arabic (so Arabs call Pakistanis “Bakistani”). This letter does exist in Farsi and from there it went into Urdu.

    2) I don’t think the fact that many Iranians have what Razib is calling “Arabic” names (which I would call “Muslim” names) is necessarily a big problem. The country is called the Islamic Republic of Iran. It defines itself as a Shia state. Obviously there are lots of guys named “Ali”. There are also lots of guys named Dariush. One of my Farsi teachers was named Meherdad (which is not a “Muslim” name). Just because they are proud of being Shia doesn’t mean that they can’t be proud of Persian culture. Nauroz is their national holiday and it’s got very little to do with Islam.

    3) I disagree with Zach. I don’t Iranians uncritically love all things Arab. When I took Farsi in DC, I learned that the word for “thank you” is “Merci” (which is of course a French word). When you have the perfectly good “Shukran” (or “Shukriya” as we say in Urdu), why replace it with a European word? Perhaps my Farsi teacher just didn’t like Arabs. But I think there is a sense in which Iranians see themselves as being distinct (and in their opinion better) than Arabs. They wouldn’t be wrong because they are certainly more cultured. Persian was the official language of South Asia’s Muslim empires, not Arabic.

    4) I don’t think having a beard or being named “Ali” makes one Arab. There are lots of Pakistanis named “Ali”. We are not Arab. The Arabs never let South Asian Muslims forget that our ancestors used to be Hindu. This is of course anecdotal because I have never been to Saudi (and am not much interested in going).

    1. To paraphrase Maz Jobrani; it’s all in the accent (say that in a fobby Iranian way, like the cat!)

      When I think of Amir, Ali, Mohammed, Reza or Hossein (I don’t know how many Persians carry Muslim names but then I’ve been with so many Bahá’ís) it’s pronounced so differently.

      So I can never say Shaheryar the Persian way since I used to say that the Pakistani way. However I can’t say Nasim (which is a man’s name in Pakistan I believe) in a Pakistani way but only in a Persian way (which is a Woman’s name in Iran).

      When I was young, some Pakistani family friends who were staying with us in Paris, wanted to thank my mother for her hosting and asked me what “thank you” was in Farsi, I replied it was Merci.

      He disagreed and after asking around he found out the original word, “tashakor” (which you constantly hear in Istanbul). There are two others and my Farsi isn’t so good (post revolution most Persians study Arabic as an extra language so they are able to distinguish what’s an Iranian word from An Arabs one). So I never forget “tashakor.

      As for the anti-PAK sentiments in the Gulf I remember I was sitting with my friend and his friend in Dubai. I was mentioning that Arabs looked down on Pakis etc and they both laughed at me; apparently the Emirates loved Pakistanis. I’m of course talking about the young yuppie class, we then proceed to meet another Pakistani girl (who was divorced) who liked my friend but had brought along her Omani admirer.

      1. You are right about “tashokar”. It is of course “Shukran” in Arabic and “Shukriya” in Urdu. Though nowadays a lot of Pakistanis say “Jazak Allah”. But my Farsi teacher (his name was Abbas by the way) was pretty clear that in Tehran most people will say “Merci”.

        I would guess that most Persians carry “Muslim” names since the majority are Shia. They of course pronounce the names differently. “Fatimeh” instead of “Fatima” like in Pakistan.

        How does one say “Shaheryar” in the Persian way? Emphasis on the “yar”? Would names like “Jahanzeb” and “Aurangzeb” be considered Persian names? If I ever had a son, “Jahanzeb” would be a name that would be under strong consideration. It means “Ornament of the World”. I also like “Khurram” which I think is Farsi.

        1. Do they carry Muslim names? Maybe I’ve been skewed by the fact that most Persians I grew up around were Zoroastrian Bahais whose names came from
          The Shahnameh.

          The irony is of course Pakistanis & Indian Muslims also carry around Shahnameh names; Zeb is Arabic but Jahan and Saurabh are Persian so is Khurram.

          Remember Urdu doesnt have Persian words but Dari (medieval Persian) borrowings.

          Also in modern Iran there’s a lot of re-Arabisation back; the Revolution was about installing a Hindi Ayatollah instead of Aryamehr..

          Iran is a pendulum

          1. Jahan and Saurabh are Persian

            By “saurabh” perhaps you mean “sohrab”? “saurabh” (fragrant) is Sanskrit.

          2. Sorry my phone autocorrected / I meant Aurang (interesting it defaulted again to Saurabh)..

            I think Sohrab is a Persian name but can’t recall. It’s not common (I don’t have Facebook friends with the name but a friend a friend) and according to Wikipedia means “red”, which is what the original Persians may have looked like (red-faced)..

          3. 92.5 % of Iranian Muslims are Shia (according to Wiki) so I would be surprised if they didn’t carry “Muslim” names (if we are talking about names coming from the Quran or Shia names).

            I don’t want to start another controversy but “Dari” is just another name for Farsi. It’s only because of Afghan nationalism that we can’t say they speak Farsi in Afghanistan 🙂 It’s like how “Hindustani” has been divided into Hindi and Urdu.

          4. 92.5 % of Iranian Muslims are Shia (according to Wiki). So it is no surprise that they carry “Muslim” names (if we are talking about Quranic names or Shia names). Of course there are lots of Iranian Muslims with native Persian names like “Rustam”.

            I don’t want to start another controversy, but Dari is just another name for Farsi. It’s only because of Afghan nationalism that we can’t say they speak Farsi in Afghanistan. It’s just like how “Hindustani” has been divided into Urdu and Hindi 🙂

          5. There are two daris. Zarthushti Dari (my grandmother speaks it) and Afghani Dari is a more conservative form of Persian than Iranian Persian..

            Controversy is good 🙂

          6. You are right that Dari is a more conservative form of Persian. Modern Persian continued to evolve in Iran.

            That’s why a word like “bazurg” which means big in Farsi means old in Urdu.

            I was at some event in DC where the speaker said that Dari is basically Farsi and Afghanistan used to be part of “Greater Iran”. I’m sure the Afghans in the room were not particularly pleased to hear that.

            Are Dari and Farsi mutually intelligible? Can a speaker of one understand the other without two much difficulty?

          7. My mastery of Urdu & Persian is very sub-par; LV laughs at my accent (and she learnt her Hindi in Chennai of all places lol).

            However I am very comfortable speaking Urdu or Persian to Afghans since they all have funny words and accents.

            When was Afghanistan politically united with Iran; except the bits that were “Khorasan.” The Mongols did scramble the map somewhat..

          8. Well Herat was part of Iran at some point. And the Mughals and the Safavids were constantly fighting over Kandahar.

            “Modern state of Afghanistan was part of Sistan and Greater Khorasan regions, and hence was recognized with the name Khorasan (along with regions centered on Merv and Nishapur), which in Pahlavi means “The Eastern Land” (خاور زمین in Persian).[91]

            Nowadays region of Afghanistan is where Balkh is located, home of Rumi, Rabi’a Balkhi, Sanāī Ghaznawi, Jami, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari and where many other notables in Persian literature came from.

            ز زابل به کابل رسید آن زمان
            From Zabul he arrived to Kabul
            گرازان و خندان و دل شادمان
            Strutting, happy, and mirthful
            —Ferdowsi in Shahnama

            There is considerable influence of Iranian-speaking peoples in Pakistan. The region of Baluchistan is split between Pakistan and Iran and Baluchi, the majority languages of the Baluchistan province of Pakistan are also spoken in Southeastern Iran. In fact, the Chagai Hills and the western part of Makran district were part of Iran till the Durand Line was drawn in the late 1800s.

            Pashto which is spoken in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA of Pakistan and Afghanistan is an Iranian language.”

        2. shɒːh-ær-yɒːr

          ɒː as “o” in “cop”
          æ as “a” in “cat”

          “khorram” is Farsi. Cognate with Sanskrit su-rama (well-pleasing), i.e. enjoyable or happy.

  3. While Sindhu is a Sanskrit name for sea, it’s origins are obscure

    Not quite. The primary meaning in RV is “river , stream” and used in both masc and fem noun forms, whence the region sapta sindhava (borrowed as is into Avestan). Use for referring to seas is secondary derivation.

    The word is a derivative of Sanskrit 1st conj. root morpheme “sidh” (to go, move, flow) which itself has iron-clad PIE etymology *kedh. Cognate with Latin cedere (to go from, proceed, yield). The verb is not attested in Old Persian, but then there’s not much of OP left unfortunately.

      1. You are welcome. My remark that it was “unfortunate” is not schadenfreude but out of genuine sadness at the loss of human cultural heritage.

        E.g. Alexander’s destruction of Persepolis after a night of binge-drinking was an act of significant barbarity, which Greek records state he regretted later. Diodorus on the sacking and pillaging of Persepolis:

        It was the wealthiest city under the sun and the private houses had been filled for a long time with riches of every kind. The Macedonians rushed into it, killing all the men and plundering the houses, which were numerous and full of furniture and precious objects of every kind. Here much silver was carried off and no little gold, and many expensive dresses, embroidered with purple or with gold, fell as prizes to the victors.

        But the great royal palace, famed throughout the inhabited world, had been condemned to the indignity of total destruction. The Macedonians spent the whole day in pillage but still could not satisfy their inexhaustible greed. […] As for the women, they dragged them away forcibly with their jewels, treating as slaves the whole group of captives. As Persepolis had surpassed all other cities in prosperity, so she now exceeded them in misfortune.

        1. Alexander was overhyped; because Perspepolis was destroyed we have pretty good ruins. What’s left of Athens or Sparta 😉

          Silver lining in everything and all that !!

          I feel Hindus, Jews and other minorities who didn’t have an extensive medieval or late medieval history of glory & greatness revert very strongly to the “ancients.”

          1. I feel Hindus, Jews and other minorities who didn’t have an extensive medieval or late medieval history of glory & greatness revert very strongly to the “ancients.”

            Some kernel of truth to that, esp in modern Hindus. Not sure about the Jews though.

          2. Apart from Khazaria; Jews, Greeks, Hindus, Armenians, Balkans didn’t really wield political power in the early modern late medieval age when so much nation building was on going.. the prisoners of the Gunpowder Empires, which is why Turkey-Iran-Pakistan rely on that legacy for national coherence.

            Pakistan without the Mughals would be a complete farce so would Iran w/o Safavids and Turkey w/o Ottomania

          3. I find nothing to disagree with that arc of history you describe and the respective versions of national consciousness.

            What I meant by being not sure of Jews is that I don’t think they harp on about “ancients” like Hindus are wont to do. Some fundo Jews do go on about biblical prophesies, but so do fundo Christians.

            Put it this way, when a third of all Nobel Prize winners are from your community, you don’t need to rest on the laurels of ancients or medievals.

          4. Well Israeli national identity rests on an ancient claim on the land / Israeli & Ashkenazi Jewish identity diverge of course.

          5. I was speaking of Jews, not Israel. Most Jews aren’t Israelis. A very accomplished (primarily Western) culture that really has none of the ancient/medieval-ancestor psychoses that many modern Indians do.

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