ḠALYĀN or QALYĀN (nargileh), a water pipe chiefly used in the Middle East and Central Asia for smoking tobacco (Syr. Ar: nafas; called ḥoqqa in India; čelam/čelīm in Afghanistan; Pūr-e Dāwūd, pp. 208-9). Tobacco was reportedly introduced into Persia by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629), who disliked tobacco, made its use illegal (Falsafī, II, pp. 278-82; Pūr-e Dāwūd, p. 199), but people kept using it. The name of the implement for smoking, ḡalyān, was apparently derived from the Ar. √ḡlā (to boil, bubble up); it also refers specifically to the water reservoir of the pipe (Dāʿī-al-Eslām, II, p. 743). The term nargileh, used in Turkish and most European languages, isderived from Sanskrit nālikerahá (coconut) and is applied to the water-pipe because the first water reservoirs were made of coconut shells. In Gīlān ḡalyāns were made from hollowed-out gourds that were decorated and filled with water. They were called qalyān-e kūʾī (Ḥājj Sayyed Jawādī, p. 46).

The ḡalyān is composed of several parts (see Plate I): the bādgīr (chimney); sar-e ḡālyān or sarpūš (the top bowl; sar-ḵāna in Afghanistan); tana (the body); mīlāb (the immersion pipe); ney-e pīč (hose); and kūza (the reservoir of water). Depending on their composition, these parts distinguish good water pipes from inferior ones. The bowl holds the tobacco and the coal. Artisans decorate them with enamel work or carvings and often suspend fine silver chains from them. Reservoirs come in various shapes: nārgīlī (coconut-shaped) or simple. They may be made of metal, crystal, brass, or pottery. Artisans inscribe metal reservoirs with appropriate Persian verses or with festive scenes of drinking, hunting, or polo playing, which can be adorned with gold, silver, or turquoise (Benjamin, tr. pp. 242-43; Katīrāʾī, p. 312). The body of the ḡalyān can be made of metal, but it is more often made of wood. Wooden ḡalyāns are engraved and metal ones gilded. Sometimes the body is fashioned from silver or gold. The hose and immersion pipes are usually made of the same materials as the body. The best hoses, the work of artisans in Isfahan, can reach four meters in length.

The chimneys are mostly of silver and are reticulated and crenelated. Some examples of galyāns with coconut reservoirs and gilded wooden head bowls and bodies are kept in the Museum of Anthropology and Decorative Arts (Mūza-ye mardom-šenāsī honarhā-ye tazyīnī) and some in silver, made in Isfahan in the 13th/19th century, are kept in the Iran Bastan Museum. V. B. Meen and A. D. Tushingham describe a few 19th-century galyāns that are preserved in the Museum of the Crown Jewels (Mūza-ye jawāherāt-e salṭanatī), Tehran. One of them, an exquisite piece apparently from the latter part of the century is decorated at the head with portraits wrought on enamel, while the body and reservoir are set “with alternate rows of turquoise and rubies, beautifully graduated in size.” Other samples in the collection are decorated with the portraits of dancing girls, of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah and four of his sons, and of young girls and boys playing musical instruments. One interesting scene on a sarpūš, signed Qāsem b. ʿAlī and dated 1280/1863-64, seems to portray the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus with two cherubins watching from above. Another piece, signed Moḥammad-Jaʿfar and bearing the date 1233/1817-18, is a reservoir “made of leather with mounts of enamel on gold” (pp. 100-104).

Plate II. Various types of sarpūš (top bowls) used with alyāns for holding charcoal and tobacco. The model decorated with the portrait of Nāer-al-Dīn Shah has been particularly popular. After Semsār, p. 23. 

Plate III. Enameled ḡalyān with coconut-shaped reservoir (kūza) in the collection of the Crown Jewels of Persia. Height: 37 cm. After Meen and Tushingham.

To prepare (čāq kardan) a ḡalyān, the half-tamped tobacco (the best kind comes from Hakān in Fārs) is first dampened and placed in the bowl under refined charcoal. The reservoir is filled half-way with water, which is occasionally mixed with rose water or rose petals (Āqā Najafī, pp. 46-47; Semsār, 1963, pp. 16-17). The immersion pipe is inserted into the bowl that is attached onto the body so that the tobacco smoke filters through the water before reaching the mouth of the smoker. The smoker first takes a few light puffs; the water is changed frequently to purify it of any tobacco residues. This water was regarded as having medical uses (Olearius, tr., p. 274; Polak, tr., p. 440).

The exact date of the first use of ḡalyān in Persia is not known. According to Cyril Elgood (pp. 41, 110), who does not mention his source, it was Abu’l-Fatḥ Gīlānī (d. 1588), a Persian physician at the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar I, who “first passed the smoke of tobacco through a small bowl of water to purify and cool the smoke and thus invented the hubble-bubble or hookah.” However, a quatrain of Ahlī Šīrāzī (d. 942/1535) refers to the use of the ḡalyān (Falsafī, II, p. 277; Semsār, 1963, p. 15), thus dating its use at least as early as the time of Ṭahmāsp I (930-84/1524-76). It seems, therfore, that Abu’l-Fatḥ Gīlānī should be credited with the introduction of the ḡalyān, already in use in Persia, to India.

Although the Safavid Shah ʿAbbās I strongly condemned tobacco use, towards the end of his reign smoking ḡalyān and čopoq (q.v.) had become common on every level of the society, women included. In schools and learned circles, both teachers and students had ḡalyāns while lessons continued (Falsafī, II, pp. 278-80). Shah Ṣafī (r. 1038-52/1629-42) declared a complete ban on tobacco, but the income received from its use persuaded him to revoke the ban. The use of ḡalyāns became so widespread that a group of poor people became professional tinkers of crystal water pipes. During the time of Shah ʿAbbās II (r. 1052/1642-1077 /1666), use of the water pipe had become a national addiction (Chardin, tr., II, p. 899). The shah had his own private ḡalyān servant. Evidently the position of water pipe tender (ḡalyāndār) dates from this time. Also at this time, reservoirs were made of glass, pottery, or a type of gourd. Because of the unsatisfactory quality of indigenous glass, glass reservoirs were sometimes imported from Venice (Chardin, tr., II, p. 892). In the time of Shah Solaymān (r. 1105-35/1694-1722), ḡalyāns became more elaborately embellished as their use increased. The wealthy owned gold and silver pipes. The masses spent more on ḡalyāns than they did on the necessities of life (Tavernier apud Semsār, 1963, p. 16). An emissary of Shah Solṭān Ḥosayn (r. 1105-35 /1722-32) to the court of Louis XIV, on his way to the royal audience at Versailles, had in his retinue an officer holding his ḡalyān, which he used while his carriage was in motion (Herbette, tr. p. 7; Kasrawī, pp. 211-12; Semsār, 1963, pp. 18-19). We have no record indicating the use of ḡalyān at the court of Nāder Shah Afšār, although its use seems to have continued uninterrupted. There are portraits of Karīm Khan Zand and Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah Qājār which depict them smoking the ḡalyān.

Plate V. Persians smoking ḡalyāns at a coffeehouse. Safavid period. After Tavernier.

Plate VI. Woman with ordinary ḡalyān in the private apartments of a Persian house. After H. Grothe, Wanderungen in Persien, Berlin, 1910, facing p. 260.

The ḡalyān was considered one of the necessities of life during the Qajar period. The elite had butleries in their houses where they kept many sorts of pipes. The royalty and aristocracy possessed jewel-encrusted pipes and ḡālyāns of leather with mounts of enamel on gold. Such ḡalyāns were mainly used for smoking while traveling (Meen and Tushingham, p. 104). In the time of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah, women became ḡalyān devotees, and the pipes became part of official ceremonies and royal audiences. At his court, serving ḡalyān was the responsibility of a few female servants who often made handsome gains by way of tips and bribes for their services. Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah, himself a ḡalyān enthusiast, had forbidden smoking in his presence, except for his son Prince Moḥammadqolī Mīrzā Molkārā, who, however, could use this privilege only in private when other princes were absent and also when he was riding in the royal entourage (Solṭān Aḥmad Mīrzā, pp. 89-90, 122-23). Granting permission to a young man to smoke a ḡalyān on formal occasions meant that he had been confirmed and accepted as an adult. Ḡalyāns were found in every home and were present on every occasion, at Shiʿite passion plays (taʿzīa), wedding parties, funerals, occasional meetings, etc. Guests were served with the ḡalyān both before and after the meal was served. The manner in which the ḡalyān would be served was a clear indication of the the social status of the guest and the respect that the host held towards him. A guest of honor could be served with an elaborately decorated ḡalyān, which might even be plated with gold, while the rest of the guests would receive only ordinary ones made of wood. Sometimes one ḡalyān would be brought in and each person present would take turn to smoke.

Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah, himself not a pipe aficionado, smoked recreationally, but during his Nowrūz audiences he used a bejewelled ḡalyān (ḡalyān-e salām) like the one used by Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī I, p. 404; Hedāyat, p. 89; Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Rūz-nāma-ye ḵāṭerāt, p. 305; Buckingham, p. 215). In the 19th century many enamel artists were engaged in decorating ḡalyāns (Rochechouart apud Meen and Tushingham, p. 104). The Qajar ceremonial water pipes are kept in the Museum of the Crown Jewels (see above; Plate IV). Unusual ḡalyāns with very long pipes. Safavid period. After Chardin, Pl. XIX.

In 1891, a fatwā apparently issued by Ḥājj Mīrzā Ḥasan Šīrāzī admonished the populace to boycott any use or sale of tobacco, of which the monopoly of trade had recently been granted to a British subject. A nationwide boycott followed during which people, including non-Muslims and even the women in the royal harem, gave up the ḡalyān, and many destroyed their pipes (Ādamīyat; Tārīḵ-e bīdārī, ed., Saʿīdī Sīrjānī, pp. 19-30). With the rise of cigarette smoking in the 20th century, however, the use of the ḡalyān fell out of fashion.



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(Shahnaz Razpush and EIr)

Originally Published: December 15, 2000

Last Updated: February 2, 2012

This article is available in print.
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