Indians and Iranians have shared four or five millenia of language. The resplendence of our conscience was draped in shared words and inflexions, ideas and noble ideals, incantations and weaves of the mind. Mitra, Vivasvat, even Rama Hvastra ‘Rama with Superweapons’ remain in the eternity of our memories. Like Aryavarta, Iran means “The Land of Nobility”. The Iranians have always been in India. Samba the son of Lord Krishna, was cured of leprosy by iranian priests. We have trod long distances in forgotten millenia to give names to rivers, like Danube from Danu ‘River’ which occurs both in the Rigveda and Avesta. The personal Physician of Lord Buddha, Jivaka, had studied under white-robed Iranians.
The Iranian statue of Surya or Sun-God wearing a long coat, with a sacred girdle, and knee-high boots, has been worshipped by Indian kings. He had a special name Mundira-svami and the word Mundira is found in Iranian texts from Khotan. The Munirka village in Delhi and Modhera Sun Temple in Gujarat remind of the name Mundira. The Sun God at Konark, Orissa in Iranian drapery and boots is famous. The Royal Priests of the Royal Surya were of Iranian descent like Sakadvipiya Brahmanas or Mishra, in which the fricative th of Avesta Mithra has become sh.
The blue of the turquoise from Khorasan became the symbol of the ‘Mind by nature luminous’ (cittam prakriti-prabhasvaram), The spires of Buddhist monasteries were made of turquoise, as blue was the colour of meditation. The shades of blue porcelain created by the Buddhist masters of East Asia reflected the subtle planes of contemplation. This tradition was taken over by the blue mosques of Persia. The flowing tide of our hearts came to a stop when the Persians failed to defend their proud dwelling. Thwarted, they looked to India the land of their cousin culture. The 19th century has happily uncovered the song of the spring hidden beneath forgetting, and we have awoken to the beauty of absence and silence of the Zoroastrian legacy.
Three peoples of the world have called their countries ‘Land of Nobility’ or ‘The Noble Land’. Iran is the Avesta word airya ‘noble’ with the toponymic suffix - an denoting a geographical area. Thus, Iran means ariya +- an ‘the Noble Land’. The name of Ireland is Eire in their language and aire means ‘noble’ in Irish. Aryavarta is the sacred land bounded on the north and south by the Himalaya and Vindhya mountains, and extending from the eastern to the western sea. The name Iran is thus a close relative of Aryavarta and it denotes the abode of the excellent ones, the noble and respectable people, those faithful to their land. The Persian speaking Aizerbajan is the ancient word aryanam vajah ‘the power of the aryans’, which celebrates the emerging sway of the Iranians in the second or third millenium BC.
The name of Darius is Darya-vahush in his inscriptions. It means ‘he who holds firm the good’ (Sanskrit dharaya-vasuh). He proudly proclaims in his Inscription of Naks-i-Rustam: “I am Darius, the great king, king of kings, .. a Persian, the son of a Persian, an Aryan, of Aryan lineage” (Parsa Parsahya puthra Ariya Ariya–cithra). The Iranians have always invoked the good mind, the Good Spirit, Vohu Manah (Vasu Manah in Sanskrit). The good kingdom (Vohu Khshathra) was the personification of divine majesty and dominion on earth. The world vohu (vasu in Sanskrit) gives the superlative form vahishta as in Asha Vahishta (Rita Vasistha), the personification of right. The modern Persian bahisht is Avesta vahishta, Sanskrit vasishtha, and the English word ‘best’. In modern times, His Imperial Majesty Shahinshah was Aryamehr ‘the Glory of the Aryans’. The word Arya refers to nobility of birth, goodness of mind, high ethical standards and faithfulness to the Land. Max Muller used the word Aryan as equivalent to Indo-European or Indo-Germanic, and later on it acquired a racist connotation.
Indian and Iranian cultures are ‘Cousin Cultures’. They have been a closely linked linguistic family known as Indo-Iranian. In 1754 a young Frenchman Anquetil du Perron came to Iran and India to collect manuscripts of Avestan texts. After hard labours of ten years he published the first translation of the Avesta in three volumes in 1771. Sir William Jones claimed that du Perron had been duped and they were worthless fabrications. After half a century, Sanskritists took up the study of the Sacred Books. In 1826 the Danish scholar Rask proved the authenticity and antiquity of the Avesta on the basis of Sanskrit. Sanskrit scholars in France, Germany and England laid the solid foundations of Avestan studies on a comparative linguistic and historical basis.
Indians and Iranians shared geographic names: River Sarasvati became the province Harahuvati in Avesta and Arachosia in Greek. The river Rasa became the district Rangha in Media, now Rai near Tehran. The Rigvedic word danu for river was danu in Avesta. In the onward march of Indo-Iranians, danu the general word for a river became proper names of specific rivers like Don, Dnieper (danu apara ‘the Don beyond’), and Danube (Latin Danu-vius).
Sanskrit and Avesta have a common basic vocabulary and common grammar. The word Asha (or Arta) is Rita in Sanskrit, Atar ‘fire’ is Atharva, Yima is Yama the Controller of the Universe, Mithra is the Sun. Common words like aspa=ashva, dushman=durmanas, asman ‘sky’ is Sanskrit ashman ‘sky’. Yasna 9.5 on the Golden Age of Yima says:
In the reign of princely Yima
There was neither cold, nor heat.
Old age was not, death there was not,
Nor disease, the work of demons.
The sun walked with the father
Fifteen years old each in figure,
Long as Vivanghvat’s son, Yima
The good shepherd, ruled as sovereign.
The Avestan text goes :
yimahe khshathre aurvahe
noit aotem angha, noit garamam
noit zaurva angha, noit marathyush
noit arasko daevo-dato
pita puthrashca raodaeshva
yavata hshayoit hvathwo
yimo vivanguhato puthro.
The entire flow, the rhythm of the metre and the vocabulary – all are so close to Sanskrit. The last line speaks of Yama as the son of Vivasvat ‘the Shining Sun’. Vivasvat is the father of the famous law-giver Manu, who is known as Manu Vaivasvata ‘Manu the Son of Vivasvat’.
There were four major ecumenes in the ancient world : Indian, Iranian, Greek and Chinese. The Greek oikos ‘abode, dwelling’ conveys the intimacy of the home, its warmth and affection, while the suffix menes denotes ‘becoming’. The areas that were becoming Iranised, where Iranian languages were spoken and Iranian ways were followed was the Iranian ecumene. The Iranian ecumene stretched from the frontiers of the Greek–speaking world to the borderlands of China, touching northwestern parts of India and kingdoms of Iranian-speaking peoples on the Southern Route of Central Asia leading to the Tun-huang commandery of the Chinese. The Parthians of Eastern Iran and the Central Asian Iranians have bequeathed a rich legacy of Iranian dialects, and literary remains of a once flourishing intellectual tradition.
Cyrus the Great (Kurush in Old Persian, Kuru in Sanskrit) ruled from 559 to 530 B.C. and created the sprawling Persian empire. He was master of Western Asia. The Old Testament (Isaiah 45.1, 13, 44.28) calls him anointed and His shepherd. He freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon so that they returned to Jerusalem. He favoured the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem, which was done by Darius the Great in 538 BC. Cyrus founded the imperial capital of Pasargadae or Pars-gard ‘the seat of the Persians’. Gard is the same word as Sanskrit garta which means a seat. In later times, gard or karta came to mean capital, for example, in the word Jakarta ‘the Capital of Victory’ (jaya-karta). This word travelled far and wide with the saka traders.
Daiva Inscription of Xerxes says: “Great god is Ahuramazda who created this earth, who created yonder heaven, …. who made Xerxes the king,… king of this earth far and wide…. By the will of Ahuramazda these countries of which I am king are far away from Persia…” The countries are named, and among them are Armenia, Parthia, Bactria, Babylonia, Egypt, Ionia, Ethiopia, Arabia, Gandhara, Sindh, etc He was educated by his father Darius I to rule a world empire and hence his name Khshayarsha ‘ruling over heroes’, which was Hellenised as Xerxes. He invaded Greece, destroyed the allied front of Greek city-states at the Thermopylae Pass, and Athens was taken. The vanguard of his army included Pathans and Bactrians from India. He exercised control over the majority of Greeks themselves. The Greeks were stunned and Herodotus wrote the history of Persian Wars to find out the causes of their defeat. Alexander the Great was to avenge the Greek reverses at the hands of the Persians. It was the beginning of European imperialism. Socrates the sage preceptor of Alexander the Great represented Europe as a sovereign princess and Asia as her handmaid, and said that Asiatics are born to be slaves.
The Iranians have been coming to India since very ancient times. The Samba-purana relates that Samba, the son of Krishna, had been afflicted with leprosy. He was restored to health by the grace of the Sun-God, whose worship was done by Iranian priests called Maga. He built the sanctuary of Mitravana on the banks of the Chenab River. The Maga priests were the famous Magoi or Magi. The Bhagavata-purana calls the sacred girdle of the sun-priests avyanga which is the Avestan aiwyanghana. Two more requisites of their cult varshman and patidana are barasman and paitidana in Avesta. These priests used the Avestan Mihr Yasht and used parahoma the beverage of soma-juice mixed with milk in their cults. There were sun-temples on the banks of the Yamuna river, and a very famous sanctuary at Multan which was visited by Hsuan-tsang in 641 and he wrote a vivid description of it. The female companions of Mithra, Ashi and Chista, were placed in front of the Sun-God as Sri and Mahashveta=Saravati. Mahashveta means ‘Very White’ and reminds of the white complexion of the Iranians and the Spitama (Shvetatama) family of Prophet Zarathushtra.
The Iranians had close relations with China. The historic mission of Chang Chien who travelled through Ferghana and Sogdiana in 128 BC observed that the wealthy are fond of drinking wine in the same manner as their horses relish alfalafa. The Chinese envoy took the seeds of both. The Son of Heaven was the first to plant the wine and alfalfa in fertile soil. Grape wine was thus introduced into China. Chinese annals speak of Iranian wine which is excellent because of the water there. The alfalfa is aspast in Pahlavi (aspo ‘horse’ + ast ‘eat’). It was associated with the breeding of superior breeds of horses. The horses were most important in Chinese defence and they represented ‘Power and Virtue’. How is virtue related to horses. The Iranians, such as the Yueh-chih, used to bring horses, and on them Sutras, Statues and Shramanas, that is Buddhist scriptures, statues and monks. The first Buddhist monastery in China is called the ‘White Horse Monastery’ and recent excavations in Central Asia have brought to light a Hayam-vihara or Horse Monastery. Buddhism travelled on horses, and the Chinese respected the Iranians for their profundity of Buddhist thought, concupiscent beauty of their sculptures and murals. Some of the earliest translators of Buddhist texts into Chinese were of Iranian origin. For instance, An Shih-Kao was a Parthian prince who ceded the throne to his uncle and entered the Dharma. He worked at the Chinese capital Loyang and translated 54 Buddhist sutras into Chinese. He also held a high rank in the Imperial cavalry. Persian dances were famous at the Chinese court. Sassanian silver coins have been found in Chinese tombs. When Persia succumbed to Islam, thousands of refugees poured into China. There ensued a rage of Persian fashions in Tang China. Chinese poets nostalgically write of wine served by Persian women at taverns in cosmopolitan Changan, the capital of Tang China. The Persians had transplanted jasmine to China who call it yesimin. The Iranian contributions to cultivated plants and products in China has been detailed by Berthold Laufer of the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago in 630 pages.
Sassanian fabrics and a red-sandalwood five-stringed vina was donated by Emperor Shomu of Japan to the Todaiji monastery in the 8th century. It is decorated with a Persian motif in mother-of-pearl inlay and represents cultural interchange along the Silk Route at that time. It has been declared a ‘National Treasure’ by the Government of Japan and has been preserved in the Shosoin Repository of the Todaiji monastery in Nara, for the last 1200 years. It is the most ancient stringed instrument from Persia.
The Romans had taken over Mithraism from the Iranians and it has left a deep mark on Church practices to this day, like wine in ritual. Wine and grapes were sacred to Mithra.
The discovery of Sogdian, Khotanese, Parthian and other Iranian languages in Central Asia has revealed a profound influence of the Iranians on the Chinese, Tibetans and Turks. They covered an immense territory extending all over the southern route in Central Asia. They were mediators between the East and the West, conveying merchandise, plants and heritage of ideas of the West and of themselves. In the Chinese annals, zhung frequently refers to the Iranian regions. The Tibetan Zhang-zhung can refer to Iran.
The Tibetan Zhang-zhung Dictionary gives a map of the world. It has been dated to the second century BC. In the centre of this map is the city of Bar.po.so.brgyad or Pasargadae or Parsogard the capital of the two Persian emperors Cyrus the Great and Cambyses. The 64 cities located on this map show that the Tibetans were in touch with the early Parthian period. Prof. Kuznetsov of St. Petersburg relates this map to an Irano-Tibetan cartographic tradition, as distinct from the Indo-Tibetan map of the world which is cosmologic rather than geographic.
The Tibetans were in constant touch with the Iranian kingdom of Khotan which had the richest tradition of Buddhist sutras (scriptures) and sculptures, monasteries and murals. In the eighth century, refugee monks from Khotan were received hospitably by the Tibetan king Khri.lde.gtsug.brtsan (704-54) and seven monasteries were built for them. Tibetan encampments were found all the way to Khotan until 950. The paintings and statues of a whole chapel at Iwang monastery are evidently in the style of Khotan and the painter affirms that he followed the “style of Khotan” (Li.lugs). the monks of Khotan were responsible for the dissemination of the thought and culture of Buddhism in Tibet. Its reminiscences have been maintained in the historical works of Tibet, like the Rgyal.rabs.
The history of Khotan from the first to the ninth century has been preserved in Tibetan. It is based on a well-preserved and informed tradition. The Khotanese scholars translated the medical text called Siddhasara from Tibetan.
Turquoise is overwhelming in Tibetan jewelry. it comes from mines in Ferghana and Samarkand, which are ancient cities of Iranian culture. the mosaic of turquoises in ear and other ornaments is characteristic of Central Tibet. The Syr Darya in the same region is referred to as the Sita River in the Kalacakra-tantra.
Paintings on the walls of the Dukhang of the Alchi monastery reproduce in scrupulous detail Sassanian motifs on the textiles. They can be seen in round medallions with mythical animals.
The first well-known Emperor Songtsengampo, who created the Tibetan state and had the Tibetan script evolved, invited doctors from India, China and Persia. From Persia he invited a doctor who was an expert in the Galenos system. While the doctors from India and China left for home, the Persian doctor stayed back as the Imperial Physician. He settled down in Lhasa and married in a noble family.
The Tibetan Histories of Medicine relate that Jivaka the Physician to lord Buddha was born as the son of King Bimbisara and his vaishya wife. Grown up, one day he saw a group of white-clad men and asked his father: “Who are they”. He said: “They are doctors and they protect people from diseases”. He 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.
India and Iran, are the ‘we together’, in the pure sunlight of language, with the same or similar divinities, apotheosized concepts and values, wrapped in the inheritance of memories, spanning vast expanses along rivers and creating hydronymy from the Don to the Danube, the Gathas and Vedic hymns with the mind prints of common essence, Iranians translating sanskrit sutras into Chinese, Iranians doctors curing the son of lord Krishna, or the Physician of Lord Buddha studying under white-clad masters: there are endless sharings throbbing with harmony.