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12 June 2024

How Did Iranian Folk Music Become Viral in India?

Iranian folk music is always at the forefront of global top charts; find out why it did in 2023.

Music people Naqsh-e Jahan Iran

Image: ghadimiha/fb

When you think about the world music stage, traditional types may spring to your mind: Chinese Guzheng, Indian Raga, Latin, Celtic, Afrobeat, and Gamelan. However, since last year, one Caspian genre has been gaining popularity in a continent not native to its origin—Iranian folk music. 

That continent is Asia, in particular South Asia. A Southern Iranian folk song by the School Girls Choir (1957), Jamaal Jamaalo, has spread like wildfire across India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The rich tapestry of Iranian folk music

Also known as Iranian traditional music, Persian folk music, or Iranian classical music, this genre preceded ancient Iranian civilization and is still to be preserved.

The cultural compositions of this diverse genre consist of a unique combination of melodies, rhythms, and poetic lyrics intricately woven together, passed down by word of mouth through generations.

Typically, Iranian folk music is not written down. Instead, it's inherited and taught by elderly family members, preserving tradition. Many compositions have deeper meanings, consisting of folk tales, riddles, and everyday life narratives, and are used in rituals, weddings, and gatherings.

The tuneful melodies of Iranian folk music are composed with distinct folk instruments, some native to Iran being the Tar, Setar, Ney, and Santur. The regions of Iran influence how songs are played and sung.

Add images of Iranian folk instruments.

For instance, the music in the west of Iran is influenced by the Kurdish side, whereas the southern part is known as Baluch—which is what Jamaal Jamaalo falls into.

Alongside Persian, over ten dialects and more are spoken in Iran, significantly adding to the rich diversity of Iran's folk music. 

How did Iranian folk music become popular in India?

Well, there's no definite answer as to why Iranian folk music has become even more popular in India. Iran's geographical location has likely influenced neighbouring countries like Pakistan and India, weaving its way into Sufi music and Raga, India's classical music system.

Moreover, Iran's native instrument, the setar, and India's, the sitar, are closely related and share a common origin. In Northern India, they heavily use a tabla, similar to Iran's hand drums, the Naghareh and Dehlak. Instruments such as the rubab, tanbur, and dotar are also found in both types of music.

So, it's safe to say that both countries' music has strongly influenced each other for at least a century and likely a lot more. Though not identical, they do share similarities in terms of instruments, frameworks, and moods attributed to the music.

Propelling Iranian folk music further

Jamaal Jamaalo was selected for the entrance scene of Sandeep Reddy Vanga's big-box office Bollywood film Animal in 2023. While this film made a staggering $10.7 million in worldwide sales, the song transcended the popularity of the film.

The film's soundtrack borrows heavily from Punjabi folk and Iranian folk music, intertwining them together. However, since its release, many people have returned to finding and listening to the original version, which was released in 1957, over half a century ago.

It became viral on Instagram, and TikTok became the overlay music for many reels and videos for Millennials and Gen Z in 2023-2024.


Well, based on the similarities of India's and Iran's classical music, many watchers of this film felt like they had heard Jamaal Jamaalo before. A sense of nostalgia would crop up for its listeners, and they were likely taken back to classical music played by their parents that shared a parallel to Iran's folk music.

But this isn't the first time Iranian folk music has been used in Bollywood. Hindi films such as Dilwale (2015), Bajiro Mastani (2015), and Jodhaa Akbar (2008) have fused genres together.

With many modern cultural modifications combined with the similarity of instruments and styles in Sufi and Indian folk music, this song revived Iran's folk music in the Indian subcontinent for the 2020s. 

Connecting cultures

This strategic song choice for the film Animal is a testament to how music can transcend language and cultural barriers, allowing for a shared learning and emotional connection across continents.

Suppose more countries integrate traditional folk music in their films, televisions, and media than non-native genres. In that case, there may be a greater awareness and appreciation for the cultures of Caspian countries.

Wrapping up

Overall, Iranian classical music is one of many traditional music from Caspian countries that needs more recognition. Turkic, Kazakh, and Persian classical music are rich in culture and tradition and have deep meaning.

Even if the song's lyrics cannot be fully interpreted by different languages, it evokes a powerful range of emotions and fosters a great sense of connection for any listener. Be it Bollywood, Hollywood, Nollywood, or even Chinese cinema, there's great scope for Caspian music to be integrated into other cultures.