Iran Culture House (ICH) in New Delhi stands for advancing
mutual understanding and cultural co-operation between the people of India and
Iran. The Persian language teaching centre of the house conducts primary,
secondary and advance level Persian courses. Its research centre houses a wide
range of reference and research books in the field of Persian language and
literature, and is helpful for all scholars or persons in India who are doing
their research program in these areas.
Association of Iran Culture House and
IGNOU started when Prof. Akhtar Mahdi got a chance of brief interaction with
IGNOU’s Ex-VC Professor Pillai. This rendezvous touched upon the importance of
Persian language from Indian perspective. It inspired Prof. Pillai to an extent
that he felt the necessity to initiate a course in Persian at IGNOU under the
guidance of Prof. Mahdi.
Prof. Mahdi, a Ph.D. from Allahabad University, is presently
teaching at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He is also
heading the IGNOU Study Centre (29017 P) at Iran Culture House. In
collaboration with Iran Culture House, IGNOU has initiated a Certificate
Programme in Persian Language (CPL) on pilot basis for a batch of 30 students.
The Programme aims at providing a basic working knowledge of the Persian
Language and Iranian Culture. ICH has also collaborated with IGNOU to provide
learning support along with the content software to the learners. CPL programme
is expected to be extended to Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore. For more than a
decade Prof. Mahdi has been an expert on Iran with Information and Broadcast
Ministry. His primary responsibility was to closely watch the global
developments especially through international radio channels in Persian
language. In 1990, he left the organization to join JNU as an Assistant
Professor and later got promoted to the post of Professor.
Prof. Mahdi feels that “Indians consider Persian as a
foreign language” but in his view, “it belongs to us as for a millennium,
Persian was the official language as well as the language of the commoners in
India”. He also mentioned interesting facts like, “all the historical records
till the British Era in India are in Persian and Even today every Indian,
irrespective of which region or religion s/he belongs, speaks Persian without
knowing so.” “For instance, in human body we quite often say ‘sar’ (head) and
‘dil’ (heart). Whereas, while talking about nature, we also say ‘zameen’
(earth), ‘aasmaan’ (sky), ‘kabootar’ (pigeon), ‘sabzi’ (vegetables), ‘bazaar’
(market) etc. which are all the words with Persian origin” he added. From the
Indian perspective, he said, we often use Persian words without acknowledging
this fact and therefore, it becomes very essential for us in our day to day
conversation knowingly or unknowingly. In Prof. Mahdi’s view, when India is
building its cordial relations with Persian speaking nations, it becomes
necessary for us to promote the language here. Millions of Persian books and
manuscripts are written by renowned poets and writers of India in ancient times
which are present today in the remote parts of India. He says that Persian is
considered as one amongst the sweetest languages in the world and therefore it
should be promoted and preserved.
While mentioning the contribution of Indians to the Persian
language, Prof. Mahdi said that Indian literary figures like Amir Khusro and
Bedil Dehlavi are as popular in Iran as in India. Mawlānā Abul-Ma'āni Mirzā
Abdul-Qādir Bēdil, also popularly known as Bedil Dehlavi, was a famous Persian
poet and sufi born in Azimabad (presently in Patna). Narrating Baidil’s poetic
verses, he said that this poet of ‘Dehli’- Delhi (resident of ‘Dehli and so
called as ‘Dehlavi’) is so much loved and honoured in Afghanistan that the
people conduct a cultural programme on weekends where his poetic verses are
sung by a singer to a large gathering who comes to relax and enjoy Baidil’s
poetic work. Therefore, every Afghan family irrespective of caste, creed and
religion are lovers of Baidil.
The most remarkable thing about Persian language, as Prof.
Mahdi mentioned, is that after Second World War it was decided that a piece of
literature should be engraved on the gate of United Nations (UN) without
mentioning the manmade boundaries, religion, caste and creed but rather it
should only speak of the humanity on whole. After a long deliberation of six
months, three couplets of Sheikh Saadi were chosen to be engraved on the
entrance of UN. Saadi is well known for his aphorisms, the most famous of which
is ‘Bani Adam’, calls for breaking all barriers. His well-known verse, part of
chapter 1, story 10 of the ‘Gulistan’, is displayed in the entrance of the
United Nations Hall of Nations, which says:
“Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.”
According to Prof. Mahdi, Persian has also played an
important role in propagating Vedic culture to the world. He said it was Dara
Shikoh who translated 52 Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian which was
retranslated from Persian into German and German to French and from French to,
finally, English. Therefore, he said, Persian became the source of introducing
Vedic Culture in the West. “Dara Shikoh is also credited for translating
Bhagwat Gita in Persian language. Another remarkable presence of the language
is in the field of ethics where our nation has a vivid collection of books on
Ethics in Persian language”, he added. Therefore, Prof. Mahdi feels that
Persian language is very close to the hearts of Indians because of the
innumerable similarities and closeness between the two nations.
Speaking about his study centre, Prof. Mahdi informed that
for the last four semesters, the centre has been offering certificate course in
communicative Persian. While developing the course for IGNOU, Dr. Mahdi had a
discussion with Cultural Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran for
introducing a new course at IGNOU. The course in Persian was already being
offered at three other universities in Delhi and so it was planned to put forth
a foundation course in Persian language for the distance learners at IGNOU.
This certificate course in communicative Persian was then started on pilot
basis. It primarily deals with communicative skills without delving into it as
The University also plans to launch it on the global platform
very soon with the encouraging request and responses that were received from
all. Prof. Mahdi informed that in the current semester the study centre has an
enrolment of 26 for the pilot course. He believes that it is a very useful
course for the learners and since IGNOU HQs is now publicizing the course
internationally, there are now innumerable enthusiasts who are enrolling
themselves for the course all over the world. This course, as expected by Dr.
Mahdi, will be different from other Persian courses which are offered by
institutions like Jamia Milllia Islamia, University of Delhi and JNU.
Speaking about the future plans, Prof. Mahdi said that the
centre would be advancing ahead by launching Diploma, M.A. and finally research
courses in Persian. He said, at National Archives of India many manuscripts are
available in Persian which are not yet been researched by any scholar. He also
plans to suggest the present IGNOU VC Prof. Aslam, that there must be a MoU
with National Archives of India to explore the Persian manuscripts by the
prospective IGNOU research scholars.
feels that varied people from all over the globe will be interested in this
research project. Explaining the urgency of initiating this research work, he
said that “if we do not work in this area today then may be tomorrow it will be
too late”. So, in order to preserve our legacy, he feels that we should work in
this area with the guidance of an experienced academician like Prof. Mushirul
Hasan, who has been a Padma Shri awardee and has also served at National
Archives of India.
by Ezra John