Persian Culture; One of the Oldest in the World

Persian Culture; One of the Oldest in the World

Persian Culture; One of the Oldest in the World

Iranian culture is one of the oldest in the whole world and has influenced cultures like Italy, Macedonia, Greece, Russia, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Asia.

Identity

Everyone has one, but after the Arab invasion of Persia, many of its people felt lost. As Shahrokh Meskoob quoted, “Identity is a reactive matter and attention to self becomes more meaningful in relation to others.”

Persians now had a choice, they could accept a new culture, including nationality, language (Arabic) and religion (Islam), or they could hold tight to the unique attributes making up their Persian identities. Anyone who has heard of Persian pride knows they fought to remain as Persians, not Arabs.

Islam did eventually displace the native Zoroastrian religion, however, the Persians held onto their identity through their language, literature and arts which will be discussed in further detail later. The confusion between the two ethnicities seems to arise from their shared religion of Islam. Islam is not a nation, nor is it an ethnic group. It is solely a religion. Much like African Americans and Japanese can be Christian, Persians and Arabs can be Muslim.

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The Language

The major language in Iran, former Persia, is Farsi. It is a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages which is a group of the Indo- European languages. Farsi, the official language of Iran, is historically one of the most prominent languages of the Middle East and extended regions. Aside from Iran, Farsi is spoken in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the Pamirs Mountains. Most of Iran’s population speak Indo-Iranian but also some speak Semitic, and Turkic languages.

In keeping their native tongue, Persians expanded the nature of Islam from a religion with primary Arabic origins to a more encompassing world religion. Persian language became the major literary instrument for many poems and religious works.

Poetry

Persian poetry is some of the most beautiful poetry in the world and the Persians cultivated four unique types of poetry; the “epic”, the “ghasideh” a purpose poem, the “masnavi” a narrative poem, and the “ghazal” a lyrical poem.

In the 13th and 14th centuries Saadi, Rumi and Hafez perfected the ghazal, lyrical poems but filled with passion. And Rumi’s Masnavi is considered one of the most beautiful Persian literary works, if not of all Islamic writings.

  • Ferdowsi

Ferdowsi, author of Shahnameh, took 35 years to write his epic poem about the heroes of Ancient Persia. The Shahnameh or “The Book of Kings” is a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi which is the national epic of Great Persia. Shahnameh is the world’s longest epic poem written by a single poet. It consists of the mythical and some historical past of 50 Persian Kings from the creation of the world until the Arab invasion of Iran in the 7th century. The Shahnameh contains 62 stories, told in 990 chapters with 50,000 rhyming couplets. It is divided into three parts—the mythical, heroic, and historical ages.

  • Rumi

Rumi (Molana, Molavi) also known as Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi was a 13th century Persian poet and was one of the most passionate and profound poets in history. He is regarded as one of the greatest spiritual masters and poetical intellects. Rumi’s works are written mostly in Persian, but occasionally he also used Turkish, Arabic, and Greek. Masnavi by Rumi is widely recognized as the greatest Sufi poem ever written, and has been called “the Quran in Persian”. Masnavi is a series of six books of poetry that together are around 25,000 verses. “Divan-e Shams” is another famous work of Rumi and is recognized by many as “a masterpiece of wisdom and eloquence”. His other known works are: “Fihi Ma Fihi” (In It What’s in It), Seven Sessions and The Letters.

  • Hafez

Hafez also known as Khajeh Shams-ud-Din Muḥammad Ḥafeẓ-e Shirazi was a 13th century Persian poet. He is one of the most celebrated of the Persian poets, and his influence can be felt to this day. As the author of numerous ghazals expressing love, spirituality, and protest, he and his work continue to be important to Iranians, and many of his poems are used as proverbs or sayings. His influence in the lives of Persian speakers can be found in “Hafez readings” and the frequent use of his poems in Persian traditional music, visual art, and Persian calligraphy.

  • Saadi

Saadi Shirazi also known as Abu-Muhammad Muslih al-Din bin Abdallah Shirazi was one of the great Persian poets of 13th century. He is one of the three greatest ghazal-writers of Persian poetry. His best known works are the Bustan (The Orchard) and the Golestan (The Rose Garden). The Boustan is entirely in verse and consists of stories illustrating the standard virtues such as justice, liberality, modesty and contentment.

  • Parvin Etesami

Parvin Etesami was a Persian poet in 20th century in Iran. She is one of the most famous female poets of Iran. Her first collection of poems was published in 1935 and she received 3rd degree Medal of Art and Culture in 1936. Parvin’s poems have social, humanity, learning and mystic concepts.

  • Khayyam

Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet. In the year 1072 AD, Omar Khayyam documented the most accurate year length ever calculated – a figure still accurate enough for most purposes in the modern world. But Khayyam is best known for his work as a poet. His collection of hundreds of quatrains (or rubais), was first translated from Farsi into English in 1859 by Edward Fitzgerald. The short poems of the Rubaiyat illustrate the pleasures of life while illuminating the nuanced political and religious context in which they were created.

  • Attar of Nishapur

Farid ud-Din Attar was born in Nishapur, in what is today north-east Iran. Attar was one of the most ancient and highly revered poets of Persia. Attar’s poetry inspired Rumi and many other Sufi poets. The name Attar means herbalist or druggist, which was his profession. (The profession can also carry implications of being an alchemist.) It is said that he saw as many as 500 patients a day in his shop, prescribing herbal remedies which he prepared himself, and he wrote his poetry while attending to his patients. About thirty works by Attar survive, but his masterpiece is the Mantiq at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). His other works are: Diwan, Asrar Nameh, Musibat Nameh, Elahi Nameh, Jawaher Nameh and Sharh ul Ghalb.

  • Nizami Ganjavi

Nizami Ganjavi was a Persian poet in 12th century. Nezami is considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature. The five long poems, known collectively as the Khamsa (Quintet) or Panj Ganj (Five Treasures), composed by Nizami in the late twelfth century, set new standards in their own time for elegance of expression, richness of characterization, and narrative sophistication. They were widely imitated for centuries by poets writing in Persian, as well as in languages deeply influenced by Persian, like Urdu and Ottoman Turkish. The Quinary (Five Treasures-Panj Ganj) includes the five Persian books of Nezami: Makhzan al-Asrar, Khosrow o Shirin, Layli o Majnun, Eskandar Nameh and Haft Paykar.

Art

Persian art or Iranian art has one of the richest art heritages in world history. The art of ancient Persia includes architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and sculpture from the early kingdom of Iran in southwest Asia.

  • Persian Carpet

The most notable Persian artwork is seen in the masterful woven carpets. The Persian carpet is considered to be the finest in its own category. Iran is the world’s largest producer and exporter of handmade carpets, producing three quarters of the world’s total output. Persian weaving flourished in the second half of the 15th century during the Safavid Dynasty. The cities of Ardabil, Tabriz, Kashan, and Isfahan are the chief producers of Persian carpets. The colorful displays are usually designs taken from book covers, but geography can influence the tapestries as well. In Tabriz, for instance, many of the rugs are made for prayer and contain a centralized medallion of sorts.

(Click on image to see)

In the north, where horticulture is tantamount, the carpets are woven to represent Persian gardens.

Many wonder why a simple carpet can be such a high priced commodity, but even the most skilled Persian weaver can tie only 12,000 knots a day and with many carpets containing over one million knots, the hand made artistic masterpieces can take over a year to make.

  • Persian Calligraphy

Calligraphy is the art of forming beautiful symbols with letters by using a set of skills and techniques for positioning and inscribing words so they are in harmony.

Nas’taliq

Mir Ali Tabrizi was a distinguished Iranian calligrapher in the 14th century. He is responsible for the invention of Nas-Taliq calligraphy style. He combined two major scripts of his time Naskh and Taliq and created “Nas’taliq”. “Nas’taliq” is the most popular styles among classical Persian calligraphy scripts. It is known as “Bride of the Calligraphy Scripts”. Even the second popular Persian calligraphy style i.e. “Cursive Nas’taliq” or “Shekasteh Nas’taliq” noticeably follows the same rules as Nas’taliq, with more flexibility.

  • The Persian Tile Art (in Architecture)

History of tile (glazed brick), manufacture and decoration in Iran, goes back to the prehistoric period. It has an important position among the various decorative arts in Iranian architecture. They are stone carvings, brick work, stucco and tile panels. Tiles were used to decorate monuments from early ages in Iran. Persian tile decorating reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries. Tiles are used in two different ways for art. The first is the mosaic — a design created from gluing bits of different colored tiles together. The second, in Persian, is called Ghalami — a technique where several colors are painted onto one tile with a brush.

  • Persian Miniature

A Persian miniature is a richly detailed miniature painting which depicts religious or mythological themes from the region of the Middle East now known as Iran. The art of miniature painting in Persia flourished from the 13th through the 16th centuries, and continues to this day, with several contemporary artists producing notable Persian miniatures. The most important function of miniature was illustration. It gave a visual image to the literary plot, making it more enjoyable, and easier to understand. Miniature developed into a marriage of artistic and poetic languages and obtained a deep and sincere accordance with poetry. Behzad is the most famous of Persian miniature painters. In modern day Mahmoud Farshchian is a world renowned master of Persian painting and miniatures. Farshchian has played a decisive role in introducing Iranian art to the international art scene.

Other forms of art in Persian Culture are:

  • Minakari: Minakari is the art of painting and coloring the surface of metals, mostly copper and is one of the oldest forms of art in ancient Persia and in modern Iran.
  • KhatamKari: Khatamkari is made up of putting wooden or bone-made polygons together with special glue. Objects made of Khatam are mainly practical such as pen holder, jewelry box, clock and chess board etc.
  • Ghalamkari: Ghalamkari or Qalamkari is derived from the Persian words ghalam (pen) and kari (craftmanship), meaning drawing with a pen. Ghalamkari is defined as the art of designing and painting on the cloth. These pieces of cloth are mainly used for making tablecloths, clothes, purses.
  • Ghalam Zani: Ghalam Zani is the art of carving designs on various metals such as copper, brass, silver and gold. Ghalam Zani patterns are usually trees, human, animal, and detailed miniature shapes. The work is usually used for plates, trays, vases.
  • Ceramics and pottery: Pottery has had a long history in Iran and dates back even before the Persian Empire. Decorative objects made in typical Persian forms like pomegranates, horses, and birds.
  • Termeh: Termeh is a cloth that is handmade with silk thread and usually used as a tablecloth which is woven since Safavi era in Iran. It is expensive because of its quality and special yarn and perfect design. Termeh is one of the oldest traditional arts in Iran.

Religion

Prior to the foundation of Islam in IranPersians are noted for the development of one of the oldest monotheistic religions, Zoroastrianism.

In this religion, there is one “Lord Wisdom”, known as Ahura Mazda. Also important to the religion is the concept of the nature of good (Senta Mainyu) and evil (Angra Mainyu).

One can see how the later monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have taken many of their teachings from this religion.

Zoroastrianism, while having a small following, is still in practice today and many Iranian festivals still center around the Zoroastrian calendar.

One favorite is Norooza celebration of the Iranian New Year taking place on the Spring Equinox.

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