History of Hookah
Mystical, exotic and shrouded in the storied history of ancient Mughal emperors the art of smoking flavored tobacco though a hookah pipe goes back many centuries and includes a fascinating trek from India across the Middle East and Saharan desert to Europe, the Americas and South East Asia. While there are many fables and folklore tales regarding the origin of hookah or shisha tobacco many experts agree that the practice of smoking flavored tobacco through a water pipe started in India sometime during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605 A.D.).
After Europe introduced tobacco to India during Akbar's tenure a physician from Baghdad who worked in the imperial court was concerned over the possible dangers of smoking tobacco and came up with the idea, so the story goes, for using a water filtration device to in essence 'purify' the smoke before being inhaled. Though modern science indicates hookah smoking is no safer than cigarettes or cigars the method of hookah pipe smoking became very popular with Indian noblemen and the hookah pipe itself became a status symbol among the Indian elite.
As culture spread through trade, war and conquest the art of smoking flavored tobacco through a hookah pipe also spread to several dynasties throughout the Middle East and eventually across the Sahara desert to Northern Africa, particularly what is now modern day Morocco and Algeria. Once the domain of Indian gentry and aristocracy the use of hookah pipes to smoke flavored tobacco was quickly adopted by tradesmen, soldiers and eventually the middle and lower classes as tobacco smoking in general became more popular. Hookah quickly became a standard feature in cafes across the Middle East and so began a trend that continues to this day where city, town and village residents will gather for conversation, political discussion and hookah smoking.
India returned the favor to Europe for introducing tobacco by hooking many British soldiers and administrators working in the Indian colony during the reign of the British Empire. Longing for their beloved pubs many Britons instead switched to hookah smoking for their relaxation and of course spread the word back home. The British Empire had such influence at this point that hookah smoking was no longer a novelty. British sailors, soldiers and upper class most likely carried the word of hookah smoking to South Africa, the American colonies, South America by way of trade with Spain and full circle back to China where the great country is neighbors with India.
Though the practice of smoking tobacco through a hookah pipe never quite caught on as culture beyond Northern Africa, the Middle East and India most of the world knew about the method by the 1900's. While India always maintained a hookah tradition only a few other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Morocco would adopt the practice as well and make it a part of everyday life.
Today hookah is again becoming somewhat trendy not only in the traditional countries but also the United States, Canada, Europe and South America. Hookah bars and cafes can now be found in international cities including Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amsterdam, London, New York, Montreal and Paris. Depending on where you are the method of smoking tobacco through a water pipe, as well as the tobacco itself, may be referred to either as hookah or shisha.
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