The Growth of Civilizations in India & Iran

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Item Code: NAF912
Author: Iran Habib
Publisher: Tulika Books
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9879382381037
Pages: 292
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 340 gm
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About The Book

About The Book


This volume originated in papers presented at a panel on the historical relationship between India and Iran, organized under the auspices of the Aligarh Historians Society at the 62nd session of the Indian History Congress, Bhopal, 2001.


In the natural process of the development of national histories, these is the recurring danger that one's grasp of the past could become so insular that many large movements which could not be restricted to modern territorial boundaries might escape proper attention. The essays in the present volume are an effort to explore how much the growth of civilization is India and Iran owes to what each of these countries has received from the other, and to bring out how much of their history we will miss if we overlook the heritage they share.


About The Author


Iran Habib, Professor Emeritus of History at the at the Aligarh Muslim University, is the author of The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1963; rev. edn 1999), An Atlas of the Mughul Empire (1982), Essay in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception (1995), Medieval India: The Study of a Civilization (2007), and co-author (with faiz Habib) of Atlas of ancient India History (2012). He has co-edited The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume 1 (1982), and UNESCO's History of Humanity, Volume IV and V and History of Central Asia, Volume V. He is the General Editor of the people's History of India series, and has authored eight monographs in this series: Prehistory, the Indus Civilization, The Vedic Age (with V. Thakur) Mauryan India (With V. Jha), Post-Mauryan India, Technology in Medieval India, Indian Economy 1858-1914 and Man and Environment.


Introduction: A Shared Past


The close relationship between the Indian sub-continent and the Iranian world (that is, the zone of Iranic languages) is determined to a great degree by facts of geography. The mountainous barrier that India from the rest of Asia is the most forbidding in the north, stand the Great Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. On the west the barrier forms really the eastern edge of an extensive stretching across Afghanistan and Iran to the Mediterranean; is here that the mountain-wall has the most numerous and convenient gates leading into and out of India. The dry zone in which it excludes the presence of forests, which on the eastern Indian frontier makes passage so difficult.' It is on the plateau we have spoken of at the speakers of the Iranian languages, notably, Persian (including Tajik) Pashto, Baluchi, and Kurdish, live. In terms of modern political boundaries, the countries of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, with part of Turkey and Pakistan, mainly constitute this Iranic world while India's western mountain ranges have formed a natural barrier for it (pre-1947 India, that is), the mountains' relatively easy passages have always created conditions for cultural and commercial contacts across them; and the attempt in the following essay is to show that the mutual access provided by these has played an important part in the formation of civilizations on both sides of the barrier.


India and Iran in Prehistory


By the onset of the geological epoch of Pleistocene, nearly two million years ago, the geographical setting we have described was more or less fixed. True, there have been some lifts, much erosion, the advances and retreats of ice sheets and glaciers and shifts of sea-coasts as the Ice Ages came and went; but these for our present purpose are of little moment. The main fact is that from two million years ago onwards the Iranian plateau provided the routes into India by which successive human species, the Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Horno sapiens sapiens (the Anatomically Modern Man) arrived here from Africa. The latter continent seems, on the present evidence, to have been the main powerhouse for the evolution of human species throughout the Pleistocene. With the likelihood that the earliest fossil bones (of 1.7 million years ago) at Dmanisi, Georgia, are those of the Homo habilis (and not of Homo erectus, as previously thought), the same species must be deemed to be the author of the Oldowan tools found at Riwat, near Islamabad, in Pakistan, dated to about two million years ago. Nearby, the Potwar Plateau has yielded flaked pebble tools, dated 1.6 million years ago. Since these are apparently the earliest flaked pebble tools to date, we can imagine that the technique now diffused in the direction opposite to that of the arriving species. In Iran the earliest flaked pebble tools go back to no more than 800,000 years ago (in Keshef-rud valley, north-eastern Iran). On the other hand, the Acheulian tools (characterized by the hand-axe) are found in the Potwar Plateau no earlier than 700,000 years ago, while at the Omo Sites and Konso in East Africa, these, associated with Homo erectus, go back to twice that age. A diffusion from Africa, through West Asia and Iran, to India may be assumed, though it is true that there appear to be no Acheulian sites en-route as early in time as the finds in the Potwar Plateau.


The arrival of the Anatomically Modern Man can be dated with slightly greater precision than his precursors. Outside of Africa, his presence is established around 100,000 years ago in Palestine, but within South Asia there is good fossil evidence for him no earlier than 31,000 years ago, in Sri Lanka. Finds of microliths take modern human settlement in Sri Lanka further to 35,000 years ago. One can therefore assume that the modern human arrived in India through Iran during the long period 100,00035,000 years. For our imagination to play upon it, the story is complicated by the intervention of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (the Neanderthal Man), a human with a heavy jaw, thick forehead ridge and robust body, but with nearly as large a cranium as that of the modern human. Neanderthal skeletal remains are found in Palestine, Syria and Iran about 60,000 years ago. In Western Iran the Neanderthal fossils were recovered from two sites, at Shanidar (60,000 years ago) and Bisitun (in association with the Neanderthaler's characteristic 'Levallois Mousterian' tools). A Neanderthl fossil, with Levallois tools has been found at Teshik Tash in Uzbekistan, and a possible one (again with Levallois tools) at Darra-i Kur in North 'Afghanistan. The Neanderthal Man had evolved in Western Europe out of Homo Erectus some time before 200,000 years ago and survived there until 30,000 years ago. His expansion into West Asia and Iran up the borders of India took place probably 50,000 years ago, and suggest that there was a Neanderthal wave from Europe behind the wave of modern human expansion out of Africa. In Palestine there is some evidence of even a mixed population of Neanderthalers and modern humans; and one can, perhaps, conjecture that as the Neanderthalers spread eastward through Iran they became increasingly assimilated (or eliminated) by the previously existing modern human populations whom they encountered. Survivals of Levalloisian techniques, as, for example, at Mula Dam in Maharashtra (dated 31000 years ago), are possibly the result of such assimilation. For the present, however, the speculation about any possible Neanderthal presence in India, cannot be pursued any further, despite the tantalising evidence from Iran, Transoxania and Afghanistan.


Once our modern human species had established itself in India, the next important shift in techniques was probably the one to microliths, which enabled stone tools to be fixed to wooden or bamboo handles. For this we have to turn southwards, since, as we have noted, is in Sri Lanka that microfiches have been dated to a time as early as 34,000 years ago; and the more developed 'geometric' microliths are also found there as early as 28,000 years ago. These are the earliest dates for microliths in South Asia, and some of the earliest in the world. A case could, perhaps, be cogently made for a northward diffusion, reaching Afghanistan some 16,000 years ago, since microliths have been reported from levels of this date at Aq Kupruk. Similar dates are assigned to the cultures producing microliths (including geometric microliths) in Iran (the Zarzian culture, 15000 to 12,000 years ago) and the Levant (Geometric Kebaran Complex, 14,500 to 12,500 years ago).' A westward transmission from South Asia to West Asia via Iran is thus not impossible.


Iran and the Origins of the Indus Civilization


A major point in social evolution in the Old World came with what V. Gordon Childe called the Neolithic Revolution, marked by the arrival of agriculture and pastoralism. Where the change occurred earliest was in the arid zone, extending from Egypt to the Indus basin, where steppes and deserts alternate with oases and alluvial river valleys. So far as we can judge, agriculture appeared first of all in the Jordan valley in West Asia, possibly as early as 12,000 years ago (10,000 BC) and almost certainly by 8,000 BC. Wheat (einkorn and emmer) and barley, pulses and flax had by now been domesticated. Pastoralism came soon after: the first domesticated animals were sheep and goats, their domestication beginning in Western Iran, around 7000 BC. The presence of domesticated sheep and goats at Aq Kupruk in Northern Afghanistan, dated 10007500 BC, would be still earlier; but some doubts have been raised about the stratification worked out for the site.


In view of this evidence, the dramatic discovery of Mehrgarh as the earliest site of the Neolithic Revolution needs to be set in its proper context. Mehrgarh, administratively within Baluchistan, is situated below the Bolan Pass in the Kachi Plain, an extension of the Indus basin. Around 7000 BC two species of six-row barley, as well as two-row barley, and einkorn and emmer wheat began to be cultivated here. The possibility exists of a local wild two-row barley having been domesticated, but such local innovation is much less likely for wheat. Given the early dates for wheat and barley cultivation in the Levant, a diffusion of cereal agriculture eastwards from that area across Iran is the more probable process, especially in the light of the early cultivation of barley and wheat (before 6000 BC) at Jeitun in Turkmenistan, just, north of the Iranian Plateau. Mehrgarh gives evidence of goat domestication at its earliest levels, and by c. 5500 BC the indigenous zebu (humped cattle: Bos indicus) had also been domesticated. This suggests that once the domestication of sheep and goats had been mastered, the technique could be applied at different centres independently to the bovine species as well. (The subsequent domestication of the water buffalo in India offers another such example of technique-extension).


While there is little doubt that it was essentially the diffusion of agriculture across the Iranian plateau that triggered the neolithic revolution in the Indus basin, there were also crops that Iran and West Asia, in turn, received from India at a subsequent stage. The history of cotton has been pushed to a very early date, by the discovery of charred cotton seeds at Mehrgarh, datable to around 5000 BC. But, then, 'cotton fibres adhering to textile impressions in time plaster', were found at the site of a pastoral camp in eastern Jordan, placed within the rather long time-range of 44503000 BC. It is likely, therefore, that cotton cultivation had travelled much westwards, from the Indus basin across Iran in the fourth millennium BC, if not earlier.


At a later stage, the same happened with rice. Rice of the arsenic kind (Oryz sativa) arrived in India traveling from China (where its cultivation was established by 5000 Bc), possibly via Thai and Myanmar. By the third millennium BC it was cultivated in 'n and central India. It is reported from Harappa in the Panjab Gulkial in Kashmir around 2000 BC.' Rice cultivation soon crossed the Indus, and there is good evidence for Oryz sativa from the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan from around 2000 BC onwards.' In Swat we are already on the eastern margin of the Iranic world; and it is therefore surprising that rice cultivation should not have spread into Iran for a full two millennia that followed. The question has, indeed, been raised whether Iran proper at all taken to rice cultivation before the Arab conquest of the seventh century AD.


Iran and the Indus Civilization


In Gordon Childe's scheme the Neolithic Revolution was followed by the Urban Revolution, based on a larger production of agriculture surplus and the development of various craft techniques, such as the use of the potter's wheel, the making of fired bricks, copper and bronze metallurgy, wheeled cart, etc. For a long time, the Indus Civilization (c.25002000 BC), obviously sharing many craft techniques with Mespotamia, had yet seemed to stand alone, so as to suggest that in every major respect it had indigenous origins. The geographical gap has however, now been very largely filled by further archaeological discoveries. First of all, the eastern line of influence of the Proto Elamite culture, with its principal seat at Susa (in the Mesopotamian part of southwestern Iran), has been extended much farther towards the Indus basin, with the unearthing of a Proto-Elamite tablet at Shahar-i Sokhta, in Sistan on Iran's border with Afghanistan, and the discovery of Proto-Elamite pottery at Miri Qalat in western Baluchistan. Secondly, there has been the discovery of a whole new civilization in the Helmand basin (southern Afghanistan and Iranian Sistan) with its great urban centre at Shahr-i Sokhta, just mentioned. The civilization also embraced a smaller town, Mundigak, near Kandahar. While the beginning of the Helmand Civilization is placed slightly earlier than that of the Indus Civilization, it was still largely contemporaneous, extending from c. 2600 to c. 2100 BC.' Clearly, all these developments towards urbanism in Mesopotamia, Iran, Afghanistan and the Indus basin, could not but be interlinked, though it is very difficult for us to say which feature of its own social or economic life, a particular culture achieved independently for itself and which it imported from outside. By the much earlier dates for its urbanization as well as for earlier attainment of the art of writing, Mesopotamia must still have precedence over all other parts of the region; and this being the case, the importance of the Iranian Plateau as the intermediate zone between Mesopotamia and the Indus basin must be given due importance when we consider the factors behind the evolution of the Indus Civilization.


The last statement may be deemed to need qualification in that the sea route between Mesopotamia and the Indus basinthe country which to the Mesopotamians was known as 'Meluhha' also became important with time. Since the monsoons were not yet discovered, the seafaring ships were forced to hug the coasts, but the sea route still bypassed the Iranian Coast. The Indus ships, leaving the last Indus port on the Baluchistan coast, namely Sotkakoh (guarded by the Indus fortress of Sutkagen-dor near the Pakistan-Iran border), sailed across the Gulf of Oman, to anchor in havens in Oman, such as Ras al-Junayz. Oman was known in Mesopotamia as the country of 'Magan'. The ships then entered the Persian Gulf and made for the ports of 'Dilmun', the part of Arabian coast and islands extending from Bahrain to the island of Faylakah, off Kuwait. Thereafter they sailed up the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to trade with Mesopotamian cities. Why the southern Arabian coast of the Gulf was preferred by these ships to the northern or Iranian (which was not the case in medieval times, when the Persian ports such as Hormuz and, later, Bandar Abbas, were the ports of call for most Gulf ships) needs to be considered. The reasons might have been navigational, commercial or even political in nature: we just do not know. However, whether Iran was concerned in the seafaring or not, we must remember that the main period of trade between the Indus Civilization and Mesopotamia was between 2350 2000 Bc; there is no evidence of the sea trade existing on any scale during the centuries when the Indus Civilization was evolving out of the early (or pre-) Indus cultures, c. 32002500 BC. Earlier relations between the two regions must, therefore, have been overland; and there Iran could not have been by-passed.


These remarks may be regarded as a rather sketchy prelude to professor K.M. Dhavalikar's study (in this volume) of India-Iran contact prehistory. The reader will see that he comprehensively considered the items traded between Iran and the Gulf countries, on the hand, and India, on the other, during the period of the Indus civilization He concludes that while the commerce dwindled after the of the Indus Civilization, it did not entirely disappear. It is significant that he reaffirms Professor H.D. Sankalia's thesis about the channel-spouted cups of the chalcolithic site of Navdatoli (southwestern Madhya Pradesh), having earlier analogues in those of Tepe Hissar and Sialk in Iran.








Introduction: A Shared Past



India Iran Contacts in Prehistory



Glimpses of Indo-Iranian Connections in Earliest Times



The Rgveda and the Avesta: A Study of their Religious






India, Greece and Iran: A Cultural Triangle



Technological Exchanges between India and Iran



in Ancient and Medieval Times



The Mughal Empire and the Iranian Diaspora of the



Sixteenth Century



Iranian Ideological Influences at Akbar's Court



Iranian Influence on Medieval Indian Architecture



Persian and Mughal Painting: The Fundamental Relationship



Sharing the 'Asiatic Mode'? India and Iran



Global Networks of Exchange, the India Trade and the



Mercantile Economy of Safavid Iran



The Message of Iqbal in Persian and Urdu Poetry



Reflections on Cultural Encounters: India and Iran









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