Explaining the Evolution of Shisha, Hookah, Nargileh and Water Pipes

Explaining the Evolution of Shisha, Hookah, Nargileh and Water Pipes

Hookah, Qalyan, Shisha, Nargileh, Chillum, Jajeer… Whatever the name may be, there is no missing out on the sweet molasses swell in the smoke-covered bar or a rejuvenating evening at home. 

The prevalence of different names which connote the bubbling pipe is evidence of the widespread popularity of the same. The history of Shisha extends back to around 500 years, spanning across the culture of approximately every area of the Middle East and the Near. 

The West has discovered the pristine joys of this immemorial indulgence, as witnessed by the manifold establishment of Shisha bars and lounges, which spread their attractive fragrance in cities across the world. 

Experienced users do not need a lesson in these names. However, beginners may feel confused when seeking to identify these great pipes. Thus, Puff21 presents a historical and geographically powered guide for you to know all about these 'mystic’ pipes.


The West may more generally be mindful of the term Hookah. Still, in countries where the practice originated and continues (spanning across the Arabian Peninsula along with North and East Africa), the term Shisha is preferred. 

Yemenis also prefer to term it Mada’s when pure tobacco is used instead of the flavored alternatives that are becoming daily favorites across the globe. 

Shisha, the word, is derived from the Persian word for glass. Quire ironically, however, the Arabian usage of this Persian term deviates from the practice that Persians themselves adopt while referring to this instrument. 

Similarly, even the Baltic nations use the word Shisha to connote the tobacco smoked in the instrument as opposed to the utensil itself.


Hookah is derived from the Hindi/Urdu word huqqa. The West was introduced to this tool by the British through transference of texts and letters in the midst of their empire-building quests. 


As discussed above, the Balkans (primarily the erstwhile Ottoman Empire) have a different perspective on the terms elucidated in this article. They prefer using the word Nargileh to identify with the glass utensil. 

The term has a cultural span where it originates in India through Persia from the Farsi/Sanskrit word for coconut, the shells of which formed the very first water pipes.


As aforementioned, the Persian origins of Shisha or Nargileh contradict Persian practices, who themselves refer to these tools as Qalyan or Galyan. It is believed that the term originated from the inventor of these utensils, Hakim Abu’l-Fath Gilani. 

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