In this article we will discuss about the Persian invasions in India and their effects.
In the sixth century B.C. when Magadha was striving to build up an extensive empire in India, invasions of foreigners started on the north-west frontier. The first who tried to penetrate into India were the Persians and the next were Greeks who entered India under their famous ruler and conqueror, Alexander of Macedonia.
India had relations with Persia or Iran in ancient times. The Aryans who settled in India belonged to the same racial stock which had first entered Persia. The similarity in language and gods of the Rig-vedic Indian Aryans, with those of Persia, prove that India and Persia had maintained mutual contacts in those days.
However, there is no evidence of mutual contacts between the Indians and the Persians during the later Vedic age. Of course, Jataka stories refer to trade relations between India and Persia but before the sixth century B.C. we are on an uncertain ground to probe the relations between the two.
Information regarding the relations of these two countries has been derived from the writings of Greek scholars like Herodotus, Strabo and Arrian, though they are not unanimous in their descriptions. However, it is universally accepted that the first political contact of India with the Persians started during the reign of the Persian emperor Cyrus (588-530 B.C.). Cyrus established a great empire in Persia.
He attacked the north-western part of India and annexed to his empire the territories lying west of the river Indus which included the valley of Kabul and hilly regions of Hindukush mountains including Gandhara. The son and successor of Cyrus, Cambyses (530-522 B.C.) could not pay any attention towards India. The successor of Cambyses Darius-I (522-486 B.C.), however, conquered North Punjab.
The inscriptions at Persepolis and Naksh-i-Rustom mention northern Punjab as a part of the Darius empire. Herodotus also described that Darius had sent a naval expedition under Scylax to explore the Indus and Punjab was the twentieth satrapa (province) of the empire of Darius.
Most of the scholars agree with the view that North-Western India including North Punjab was a part of the Persian empire at that time and the Persians remained there till 330 B.C. It was only when Alexander attacked and destroyed the Persian empire during the reign of Darius-III, the Persian empire in India vanished.
The invasions and the hold of the Persians on the north-western portion of India did not affect Indian politics in any way. The conquest of the Persians proved short-lived and of no significant importance except that it paved the way for the conquest of Alexander.
Alexander chose the same way to attack India which was chosen by the Persians. However, the contacts between the Indians and the Persians which continued even after the attack of Alexander, both by sea and land, brought about some notable results in some other fields.
These contacts were primarily because of trade relations between the two which brought about some cultural impact on India. The Persians provided the facility of contacts between the Indian and Greek cultures.
Much before the invasion of Alexander, the Greek philosophers had come in contact with Indian philosophy. More than that, the Persians brought about some direct impact on India. The Persians introduced in India the Arabic form of writing, which later on developed into the Kharoshthi script.
The rock-inscriptions of Emperor Asoka in the North-West were written in this script. The Persian silver coins were used in India and it affected the Indian coinage. Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador at the court of Chandra Gupta, stated that Maurya rulers adopted certain Persian ceremonies and practices.
The ceremony of washing the head-hairs, the keeping of lady- bodyguards and keeping oneself in isolation were certain practices which were started by Chandra Gupta Maurya because of the influence of Persian practices.
It has also been claimed by many scholars that Persian architecture influenced Indian architecture. The rock-inscriptions of Persians served as models for the inscriptions of Asoka. D.B. Spooner says that palaces of the Mauryan emperors were built on the model of palaces of the Persian emperors. H.G. Rowlinson claims that the architecture of the period of Asoka was completely influenced by Persian architecture. Dr V.A. Smith claims the same way that architecture and inscriptions of Asoka were completely influenced by Persian art and the bells inscribed on the columns of Asoka are models of Persian art.
But, there are scholors who have differed with the opinions expressed above. E.B. Havell states that the bells inscribed on the columns of Asoka are actually not bells but lotus- flowers turned upside down which represent the progress of soul and thus are purely an Indian representation.
However, it can be concluded that though the Indians developed their own architecture they were certainly influenced by Persian architecture or, as Dr Coomaraswamy states, Indian architecture formed a part of that Universal culture which was once the culture of the ‘Ancient East’.
Thus, we can say that while the political effect of the Persian invasions on India remained negligible, India certainly drew certain advantages in the domain of culture from its Persian contacts.