In Other Words

How India became the home of Persian lexicography

01 November 2019
shahid tantray for the caravan
shahid tantray for the caravan

Every Saturday, Chander Shekhar, a professor of Persian at Delhi University, meets old friends at the Iran Culture House, opposite the Supreme Court. Over many cups of tea and gentle banter, with Abida Parveen’s ghazals playing in the background, their agenda has been the same for the last thirty years: to work on the Farhang-e-Aryan, a lexicon of the Persian language, with translations of words into Urdu, Hindi and English.

Dictionaries are essential to imagining the social, cultural and material histories of a people—they are full of minute descriptions of objects, customs, ideas and beliefs, drawing on idioms, colloquialisms and poetry. “We have gathered over seven hundred and fifty dictionaries, in Persian, French, German, Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Arabic,” Abdur Rasheed told me. Rasheed is a professor of Urdu at Jamia Millia Islamia and a member of the dictionary committee, which also includes the senior archivist Madhukar Tewari; Gobind Prasad, a professor of Hindi at Jawaharlal Nehru University; and Ravinder Gargesh, a retired Delhi University professor of linguistics. “We’ve looked at all kinds of terms in these, ranging from history, weaponry, sports, agriculture and botany to Sufism, mysticism and natural sciences,” Rasheed said.

Persian lexicography in India has a long history. During the reign of Alauddin Khilji, Fakhruddin Mubarakshah Qavvas Ghaznavi compiled the Farhang-e-Qavvas.

Sumaira Nawaz is a doctoral candidate at the Islamic Studies Institute, McGill University. She spent the past year learning Persian at the University of Tehran.

Keywords: Persian Iran cultural exchange cultural history Naval Kishore Press language ghalib