Hookah History

Hookah, Shisha, Ghelian…
Those are just some of the names for smoking waterpipe.
Hookah comes from the word Hoqqeh which is a clay pipe head that is used to smoke various types of tobacco and even opium.

Shisha is derived from the Persian word shisheh which means glass or jar. 

Ghelian come from the family name of old Persian physician named Abu’l-Fath Gilani, who was the personal physician to Akbar the Great.
Gilani was born in Gilan & Gilan is the name of an Iranian province on the coast of the Caspian Sea.
The country of Iran, as you might know, was also called Persia.

Tobacco was first used in present day Iran at around 1600, but some believe that it was known and used even before its introduction to Europe at around 1550’s. and the reason is that the said waterpipe is mentioned in some of the poems by Ahli Shirazi who lived between 1454 and 1535.
Soon, pipe and waterpipe became inseparable items in every Persian’s life. 












Smoking was done at home, in coffeehouses and in other public places. Aristocrats, when they were out, had a special servant referred to as ghelian dar, who carried all smoking devices in special leather boxes. There were also “waterpipe sellers”, who offered a smoke to those without a pipe. In order to satisfy their smoking habit, rich people spent large amounts of money on their pipes and had them made of wrought gold and silver, often studded with jewels, especially turquoise. The most widely used wood was, the agariot or the wild cherry tree called Beroline (Cerasis orientalis). This tree grew in particular in Fars, Kohkiluyeh, Lorestan and the Bakhtiari mountains.

The water-reservoir was generally known as shisheh or glass, and was either plain crystal, or cut Bohemian. When the waterpipe was made of glass, the Persians, depending on the season, often put cherries, roseleaves, or jasmine into it, which danced about in the hubble-bubble. In summer, a porous clay bottle “kuzeh” was generally used as cooler by all classes. Ordinary people used an earthenware bowl throughout the year. Painted porcelain bowls were also used. The water-reservoirs were embellished with enameled or painted figures or faces by the late 17th century.

The exact date of the first use of ghelian in Iran is not known. However, the earliest known literary evidence of the hookah anywhere, comes in a quatrain by the above mentioned Persian poet Ahli Shirazi, referring to the use of the ghelian, thus dating its use at least as early as the time of the Safavid dynasty’s Shah Ṭahmasp I, who was king between 1524 and 1576.

This suggests, that hookah was already in use in Iran, and it made its way into India soon afterward. The king had his own private ghelian servants. Evidently the position of waterpipe tender “ghelian dar” 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. In the time of Suleiman of Persia who was king between 1666 and 1694, ghelians became more elaborately embellished as their use increased. The wealthy owned gold and silver pipes. The masses spent more on ghelians than they did on the necessities of life...

Later, waterpipes were accompanied by coffee or tea because later in the century, the Persians had become tea drinkers and soon, the waterpipe would be accompanied by “sweet coffee”, a composition of rosewater and sugar, or tea.
An emissary of Sultan Husayn, the Safavid king of Iran from 1694 to 1722 to the court of Louis XV of France, on his way to the royal audience at Versailles, had in his retinue an officer holding his ghelian, which he used while his carriage was in motion. We have no record indicating the use of ghelian at the court of Afsharid king Nader Shah, although its use seems to have continued uninterrupted. There are portraits of Karim Khan of the Zand dynasty of Iran and Fath-Ali Shah Qajar that depict them smoking the ghelian. Persians have a special tobacco called Khansar presumably named after its city of origin of the same name. The charcoals would be put on the Khansar tobacco without foil...

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