Afghanistan's Importance From the Perspective of the History

and Archaeology of Central Asia


 Abdul Hai Habibi


Afghanistan is a mountainous country situated in the heart of Central Asia in a region where East and West meet, and which borders the Indian sub-continent on the one hand and the Central Asian steppes on the other. Afghanistan, in simple geographical terms, is a plateau with lofty mountain ranges which are linked to the Pamir and the Karakoram mountains of the great Himalayan range. Perennial and seasons snow on this great massif feed a large number of streams which flow on all sides and in every direction.

Afghanistan, from the viewpoint of geography and history, is a unit in the form of high mountains grilled by vast plains watered by numerous streams and with diverse but a healthful climate. It serves as a "roundabout" where east, west, north and south Asia meet. It is therefore apparent that in conformity with scientific criteria, Afghanistan with its rivers and verdant valleys, has served as a suitable home for humans from Stone Age down to the ages when man became civilized and organized a social structure. Afghanistan has, therefore, witnessed the passage of different races and civilizations through its portals.

This immutable fact has been further sustained by archaeological research which has shown that Afghanistan, together with its neighboring lands, such as Iran, the present day Central Asian Republics (the Mawara-ul-Nahr or Trans-Oxiana), Indian subcontinent and China have seen and passed through the first Stone Age, the Neolithic Age and prehistoric times. Because Afghanistan served either as the birthplace or passageway of these civilizations, therefore it enjoys a unique position of importance in this regard.

One of the relics found as a result of archaeological excavations in Karra-Kamar caves near Samangan, in the heart of the Hindu Kush range, and analyzed by scientists shows traces of life by cavemen hunters during the First Stone Age in Central Afghanistan as far back as 10,000 to 30,000 and even 50,000 years. In addition to this recent discovery, the relics unearthed at Mundigak hill, 50 km to the north-west of Kandahar, reflect life during the last stages of the age of flint-tools and the beginning of the Bronze Age nearly 5000 years ago, in 3000 B.C. along the banks of the Helmand and Arghandab rivers. It shows that in this country almost 30,000 years elapsed between the time when the First Stone Age began and the age of flint tools ended. On this basis one can assume with reasonable certainty that about 10,000 B.C. a wave of Indo-European elements emerged in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya (Oxus) basins. These people lived in this neighborhood for thousands of years together with their domestic animals, especially horses, which form a distinctive feature of this region and roamed over the plains of Balkh and Bactria and later dispersed into Afghanistan’s numerous valleys.

Discoveries made by John Marshal at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley 50 years ago proved that nearly 6000 years ago the inhabitants of the Indus basin has a great civilization. They had well-planned towns with roads, streets and a sewer system. Agriculture was well-developed and they cultivated wheat and barley. They also possessed and used domestic animals such as mules, humped camels, bulls and sheep. They used bulls to pull carts, were skilled gold and silver smiths, utilized weapons and tools made of copper and had their own script to write with. The Indus Valley civilization can be traced to Afghanistan, Iran and Mesopotamia (Iraq) and even to Egypt and relics of identical shape and form have been discovered at Nal in Jhalawan and Killa Gul Mohammad in Balochistan, at Ano near Merv, in Afghan Seistan, Mundigak and Dimrasi in Kandahar, in southern Iran, Iraq and Egypt. These include painted terra cotta pot shreds, backed bricks, designs on pottery, jewelry of a high order, tablets with figures on them, ornaments and tools made of lapis lazuli and figurines of the Mother Goddess, all of which resemble each other. On the basis of this John Marshal declares that about 6000 years ago, man spread his civilization equally in the Nile, Euphrates, Karun, Helmand and Indus basins.[1] In the opinion of Sir Aurel Stein the Helmand Valley and Seistan, because of their favorable geographical setting, enjoyed a special place of importance in prehistoric times in spreading different aspects of the Calcolithic civilization.

The plentiful discovery of figurines of the Mother Goddess, as a result of excavations in the Indus Valley up to the valley of the Nile, shows that in that age religion and ideas throughout these lands had  similarities and were close to each other.

In Afghanistan, because such figurines and relics have been found in Bakhtar, Kandahar and Seistan, it can be stated that the transfer and exchange of ideas, religion and pattern of civilization between countries and people in prehistoric times existed from the Indus to the Nile Valley since previous ages and the people of Afghanistan had close ties with that ancient and important civilization. It can even be said that this land served as a “clearing-house” and the cradle of civilizations.


The Aryans

As we have said before Afghanistan was inhabited by humans since prehistoric times and the people who lived in this land possessed a special civilization with distinctive ideas, beliefs and culture and who shared much, in the way of living and culture, with the people of the Indus Valley, Iran and Trans-Oxiana.

Subsequent to prehistoric times (perhaps the future may provide detailed information about the language, culture and civilization of the people in those times, about which, unfortunately we know very little at present) the brilliant era of Aryan migration begins. At that time too, Afghanistan was the important center of these movements and migrations by different tribes. We do not possess very old literary material about those days and this material can be used by all people of Indo-European stock, but which relates in particular to one distinctive branch of these people, namely the people of Afghanistan or ancient Aryana. On this basis, this land attains a place of great importance in history as the abode and cradle of the Aryans.



            About 4000 B.C. the Aryans inhabited a land named Arya-Vaego,[2] which means the homeland of the noble and well-bred people.[3] It must be stated that the phrase Aryana-Vaego was also employed by the Aryan immigrants of India, but they called their homeland Arya-Varsha or the land of the Aryans; sometimes it was changed to Arya-Vartha[4] mentioned in Manu-Samhita in the second or third century B.C.[5]


The Line of Migration of the Aryans

            The people of the white Aryan race, who lived in Aryana-Vaego or Aryana-Varsha, spread (according to Avesta) over the land on the southern bank of the river Oxus in ancient Bactria or Bakhdi up to the foothills of the Hindu Kush range. This was necessitated by the coldness of the climate and scarcity of food. The older part of the Vedic hymns and Avesta describe the life of the ancient Aryans in Afghanistan and according to P. Giles, professor of comparative philology at Cambridge University, these people domesticated certain animals and they could also recognize certain herbs and plants. They had developed some handicrafts and lived in Bakhdi, northern Afghanistan about 2500 B.C.

These Aryans of noble stock, because of increasing numbers and other causes, moved from their central place of habitation, which included the regions encompassing present day Afghanistan and entered Bakhdi and the valleys of Northern Afghanistan. From there they migrated via the eastern routes of the Spinghar to the Indus valley and Punjab and, similarly, traversed the routes in northern Khorasan and present day Herat to reach Iran and even Asia Minor. After living in their common home in Bakhdi, these people carried with them to the east and west their language, faith, ideas, legends, folklore and culture thus forging a connecting link between all factions and maintaining a common heritage so that the language and the subjects, as well as deities in both of the ancient Aryan books,  Avesta and Veda have a close resemblance with each other. The inscription unearthed at the site of their capital city, Ptrium, dating to 1400 B.C., near the present day Boghaz Koi in Asia Minor, also shows that a people called Maintani, descended from the Aryan race lived there. The names of their princes and deities and their mythology were the same as those of the Aryans of Avesta and Veda. We can, therefore, conclude that about 1500 B.C. the Aryans who spread from India to Asia Minor, possessed a common civilization, culture and religion.[6]


The Bakhdians or Central Aryans

After the Aryan migration from the center in Bakhdi, some of the clans remained in Bakhdi or Bakhtar and the foothills of the Hindu Kush. They called themselves Bakhdi, (Bakht, Pakhat, Pashto and Pashtoon) after the name of their homeland. The same people took part in the fighting between 10 clans of the Aryans on the banks of the river Parushni (Ravi) and have been described as Pakhta.[7] Similarly, in the oldest Aryan text, Veda, the names of Pakhta (the Pashtun people), their kings, princes and prominent figures have been mentioned repeatedly.[8] This shows that about 1400 B.C. the Pashtun tribes had penetrated into the area bordering the Ravi river and it also establishes their way of living, culture and movements. Even now many of the names of the ancient Aryan personalities and tribes are used by Pashtun clans, such as Turvayana, the name of the king of Pakhat,[9] which in present day Pashto also means Tura (sword) and wahuni (wielder) or wielder of the sword. Similarly, the names of tribes, such as Dasa, Brisaya, Pani and Paravata, that lived on the banks of the river Sarasvati or Haravati (the rivers Dehrawaut and Arghandab in Kandahar), survive even today, and according to Nillebrandt belonged to Arachosia (present day Kandahar).[10] Even now such tribes as Dasu, Parvat and Baraich exist among the Pashtuns of Zabul and Zhob.[11]

On the basis of Vedic hymns and subsequent literature up to the Mahabharata we find that the Aryan clans or tribes rose in the Oxus basin and spread to the south across the Hindu Kush mountains. From there they followed the course of Kabul (Kubha), Kurram (Krumo), Gomal (Gomati) and Swat (Svastav) rivers to the banks of the river Indus (Sindhu) and later reached the land of Punjab (Supta-Sindhu) or Hepta-Hundu) meaning the seven rivers. From there they spread toward the heart of India and pushed the original inhabitants to the southern part of the peninsula.

Indian scholars, who have studied old Sanskrit texts, are in a better position to know about the ancient habitat of Indra or the northern home or cradle of the Bharata tribes.

In light of the research conducted by European scholars it can be stated more clearly that Balkh was the cradle of the Bharata tribes and they spread to the east and west from there. The name of this ancient cradle or abode of the ancient Aryans in Vedic literature was Balhika mentioned in the Atharva Veda. In the Mahabarata it is mentioned as Bahlika and Panini, the learned grammar scholar of Sanskrit, in about the 4th cenury A.D. described the tribes of Balhika as those from Balkh.[12] In Avesta itself Bakhdi was the fourth among the 16 dominions of the Aryans[13] and carried the name of Bakhdium Sariram, meaning Balkh the Beautiful. According to Avestan scholars the original or elemental letter of this name consisted of (د ى(ب خ   B-KH-D-I of the Arabic alphabet, which in Pahlavi literature turned to Bakhl or Bakhli, the basis of the name of Bakhtar.[14] According to Jackson, in the Pahlavi version of Avesta, written in the 8th century A.D. and discovered in Samarkand, this name has been mentioned as Bakhal Bamik which in Dari literature survives as Balkh Bami.[15] This very opinion has been endorsed by the European scholar, Valle de Poussin. As we have already stated the Vedic Pakhat and the Pakhtious of Herodutus have been derived from Bakhdi and Bakhti of Avesta, which in time turned into Bakhat, Pasht and Pashtun now denoting a large nation in the center of Asia.

Mahabharata also gives us, indirectly, additional information showing the connection between the Aryan immigrants in India and Balkh and Bakhtar. For example, it is said that Bhadra, the matriach of Madra tribe was the wife of Vyushit-Acva, a name which has a close resemblance with Vishtaspa, a fabled ruler of Balkh, and even though he may not have been the king or ruler of Balkh, yet it must have been the name of the historic figures of Balkh or Bakhtar. The word Acva or its Pashto version aspa, was widely used as a suffix in names of Balkhi dignitaries.

Panini, a great scholar of the 4th century B.C., who lived at the confluence of the rivers Kabul and Indus and formulated the Vedic grammer, entitled Asht-Adhyaya or Eight Lectures, polished the Vedic language and cast it in grammar. He called it Sanskrit, meaning the perfected.[16]

Since Panini appeared on Pashtun soil on the eastern bank of Indus river, therefore his reference to the tribes of Balhika is more reliable and Valle de Poussin also believes that the Balhikans were really and truly the people of Balkh and enjoyed a high reputation among the Aryan clans and migrants.

In addition to the ancient Sanskrit texts, the father of Greek historians, Herodotus. who also lived in the 4th century B.C. and was a contemporary of Panini, has also mentioned a number of tribes of Afghanistan, such as Paktick, Gandariol, Satta Gudoi. Badikai and Aparutai,[17] who, according to research scholars were among the Paxt, Paxtoon, Gandhari (Gadara in the inscription of Darius), Shattak (Thatagush of the Hakamenites), Tajik and the Afridi or Apridi who even now are among the most respected people of Afghanistan. These people, since the migrations of the Aryans, have continued to inhabit the same historic regions. About 500 A.D. Hecataeus, in his writings, mentions  a central city of these tribes, Peshawar, as Kaspapuros in Gandhara. On the basis of Parthian and Greek inscriptions of Shapur 1, discovered by an American archeologist of Chicago Museum and said to be dated 260 B.C., the town has been called Pashikiboura[18]  which later turned to Shahpura in Sanskrit.

Hsuen Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim, described it as Po-lo-sha-po-lo and during the Islamic period it changed to Parshapur, Farshabur, Farshawar and later Peshawar. It can, therefore be surmised that these people were firmly established in their territory since ancient times and up to the Christian era, and if they had also participated in the fighting among the ten Aryan tribes, their remnants stayed in their ancient land, Afghanistan.

Among the five tribes, described in Sanskrit as Pank-Jana, the Druhus, Yadus, Turvashas, Anus and Purus are included. Ghandra Dass, professor of the History of Ancient India at Calcutta University, believes that all of the celebrated Bharata people must be included in this phrase and under this name. The most important of the five tribes was the Puru and their descendants, that is Pouravavas had close ties and kinship with the Bharata masses. These five tribes followed the route taken by the Bharata tribes in their migrations. In other words they arose in the north Hindu Kush from Balkh and Bakhtar and descended to the south where ultimately they occupied the Punjab and the vast plains of India.

Professor Dass places the domain of the Puru tribe in the Upper Indus Valley and near Gandhara. It is quite true that these people did at one period during  their migrations live in this place, but if the oldest periods of Aryan migration were to be taken into consideration then their abode, like those of other clans of the same stock and race, should be looked for in the mountains of Afghanistan. By studying the Mahabharata, the Purana, Vedic epics and the epics of  Avesta and Shah Nama and then comparing these with each other in the light of comparative literature and folklore, we shall find that the abode of the first and ancient Aryan migrants of India and Iran consisted the area north of the Hindu Kush and the Oxus basin. Up to this point whatever we have said was based upon Vedic hymns and Indian-Sanskrit and Greek sources. This can be endorsed by looking into the ancient Avesta of Balkh, the memories of which have now been revived as a result of recently published Pahlavi sources. Even though the text of the old Avesta is not available, yet we can use  later Avesta texts and other books in Pahlavi to define more clearly the position of Balkh and other provinces of Afghanistan in which most of the 16 Aryan tribes lived. However, we will avoid going into details at this point and will invite interested parties to refer to Vendad (Fergird 1), of  Avesta, and Yashtha.

The study of  Avesta from the perspective of history and geography, Aryan tribes and clans, and their social, cultural, literary and religious institutions carries much more importance and has a larger bearing upon our history than Vedic texts. A comparison between Vedic and Avesta texts together with their geographical and historical contents makes Afghanistan's history and its relationship with the neighboring countries in the north, east and west quite clear.

Resemblance between the language of  Avesta and Veda is so close and strong that these two languages could be called "dialects" of an older language. This linguistic affinity demands that the followers of Veda and  Avesta at one time must have lived in close proximity to each other. This home or territory was none other than the Oxus basin—the same vast basin of the river Oxus or Amu Darya on the banks of which lived the Aryan clans and which was given various names such as Balkh-Guzin, Bakhdium-Sariram, Balhika, Bakhtar, Balkhal-Bamik, Bamik, Balkh-Bami and Balkh-el-Husna. All ancient legends of Indian and Iranian origins accept it as the oldest place of Aryan habitation.

Similar to the discoveries at Mohenjo-Daro and Anu, Mundigak, Sialik, and Jian, which show us traces of life in Afghanistan, Trans-Oxania and Iran in pre-Aryan times, Sanskrit and Avesta literature provides descriptions of the home and movements of the waves of white-skinned Aryan tribes.

Afghanistan lying between India, Iran and Central Asia is the central territory which even now protects, among its valleys the progeny of the ancient Aryans. These people have preserved, to a great extent their ancient culture, civilization and dialect as seen among the inhabitants of eastern and central Hindu Kush and the Safed-Koh where, in addition to Pashto, nearly twenty local dialects are spoken.


Historical Periods

At the dawn of history in this corner of the East with the appearance of the Hakaminites in the Iranian plateau and Buddha in the Indian Peninsula, intercourse and movements between nations began in earnest. These movements were either for conquest by force of arms or for spreading religion. Invasions by Cyrus and Darius and Hakamenite conquests introduced the Aramic script and Semitic and Persian system of administration and architecture into Afghanistan and even India[19] and it can be said that this wave-like surge of ideas and culture and transfer of tribes, in addition to saturating the east and India, also ran over the west and Persia and which, after the Hakamenite era and invasion and conquest by Alexander around 327 B.C., established a permanent link between the East and West. A number of towns, Alexandrias, were established in Afghanistan and substantial numbers of Greek settled in these towns. Alexander's invasion opened the door to Trans-Indus for the Greeks and among his troops, who went to India, were a large number of the inhabitants of present-day Afghanistan, from Bakhtar, Paropamisus, Kapisa, Lampaka, Gandhara and the valleys of the Hindu Kush. The encounter between Seleukus Nicator, the Greek ruler, and Chandra Gupta Maurya, the founder of the historic dynasty of India, on the banks of the Indus established contacts between the Greek and Indian elements. The Mauryan victory led to Asoka's success in thrusting, with the aid of his Buddhist preachers, Buddhist religion and culture into an area which bordered on the Arghandab river. It was for this reason that Afghanistan, especially Bakhtar, turned into a center of Hellenism and lines of Graeco-Bactrian monarchs ruled over this land with their Greek innovations and imports, and Greek language, literature and art began to flourish. Discovery has now been made at Aye Khanoum near Taluqan in northern Afghanistan, of a great Greek city of this period showing buildings, inscriptions, tombs, sculpture and gymnasiums. Excavations in the area and scientific research are bound to deliver a vast store of knowledge of this Graeco-Afghan civilization into our hands.

With the arrival of Alexander in the East the political situation was rudely upset, but, at the same time, the way was opened for ideas and human contacts from the Mediterranean coast to the heart of India. Contacts between ideas of the Hakamenite era and the Greeks in Afghanistan led to the creation of a new Afghan-Greek civilization while the intermingling of Buddhist philosophy and Greek ideas in Afghanistan brought forth a newer Graeco-Buddhist civilization. Under the leadership of the Kushans, who originally were a nomadic people of Aryan stock in Central Asia, the fundamentals of the aforementioned civilizations were blended together in the spheres of religion, philosophy, arts, literature and architecture and this built a great civilization in Afghanistan, which flourished and survived up to the 7th century A.D. and the advent of Islam: The period from the 6th century B.C. to the 7th century A.D. is a time of greatness for Afghanistan.  These finds have kept archaeologists and its allied scientists busy for 40 years in our country. Every stage of excavations brings out something new. Its study is not only profitable and interesting for Afghanistan itself, but also for the neighboring countries, especially India, Iran and the Soviet Union.

From the Hakamenite era onwards caravan routes existed in Afghanistan which linked the west Asian lands with India by an overland route. On the map of Afghanistan we have a ring of highways which links the north with south and Herat with Kabul. These two routes in the north and south—the one which passed through Balkh and Baghlan and  from Kandahar and Ghazni—were very important. Both of these routes played an important role in developing commercial and human interactions and the exchange of cultural values between Afghanistan and its neighbors in east and west Asia. Since ancient times and up to the present most of the cities and places of worship have existed along these two caravan routes. It was during these periods that Afghanistan as the crossroad of Asia became the central link between diverse civilizations and different nations thereby producing an intermixture or blending of languages, faiths, civilizations and cultures. We mentioned briefly the process of the merger between the ideas and cultures of the Hakamenite and Bactrian, Greek and Indian origin in Afghanistan during the five centuries before the Christian era. In the architectural style, sculpture, city planning, literature and religious beliefs of this far-flung age we see the multi-faceted and many sided civilization of the time in our country. An example in this regard can be given of two texts of a decree or firman issued by Asoka. This inscription was discovered a few years ago near the ruins of the old city of Kandahar next to the ancient caravan route, which we have described as the "Southern Route". This inscription has been prepared in two scripts and two languages. First, in Greek script and language and secondly in Aramic script and language. The first one reminds us of the Greek period and civilization and the second of Hakamenite system of government. The text of the firman describes the Buddhist moral code and has been proclaimed in the name of Asoka, the great Mauriyan monarch. It can therefore be seen that in one of the oldest towns of Afghanistan, which undoubtedly existed prior to Alexander and Asoka and goes to the 5th centuries of the Hakamenite era, Alexander settled the Greeks there and Asoka introduced the Buddhist faith. Thus we observe the reflection of a multi-sided civilization in the inscription.

While ideas and cultures from these three sources were becoming intermingled another binding force of great power from among the Aryan nomads of Central Asia appears in the form of the Kushans, who, in Afghanistan created a new and vast horizon, organized politics and administration and an expanded culture. At first the Kushans took over the place of the Bactrian Greeks in the north and later in the south of Afghanistan. This process continued from the beginning of the Christian era for a period of three centuries. Like their predecessors, the Kushans thrust their culture up to the heart of India.

This dynamic force, with a spirit capable of absorbing new ideas and cultures, displayed a unique liberalism by accepting without prejudice or coercion all those values which had accumulated in Afghanistan as a result of the intermingling of civilizations during the five centuries before the Christian era. The Kushans facilitated the development and expansion of the culture and civilization which they acquired and spread a new civilization from the Amu Darya to the Ganges basin and from Balkh to Mathura. The dynamism of the Kushans is fully reflected in the literature, art, architecture and sculpture of this region.

From the standpoint of the movement of nations we see that an apparently crude and nomadic people arise in Central Asia, reach Afghanistan and even pass on into India. We can see them in their dresses as commoners, princes, kings and emperors, in sculptures found at Baghlan, Bagram and Hadda in Afghanistan, to Taxila and Mathura. Excavations made by the French Archaeological Expedition at the site of the ancient Baghulan (present-day Baghlan), north of the Hindu Kush range, have opened a new vista and a new chapter which correct and modify many ideas and theories concerning the history of art and culture.

During the Kushan Period, in the first three centuries of the Christian era, ties and intercourse between the east and west increased. The Silk Route with its southern branch which passed through Balkh and Taxila into India, linked the Mediterranean coast with China. Security was established on this great Asian highway from Peking to Alexandria, and from Tirtha (Mathura), the door for exchange between merchants, preachers and artists was opened. Coins of the Kushan Period reflect the abundance of gold and silver and the figures on these coins show the multiplicity of deities, freedom of religion and variety of languages and scripts.

Archaeological excavations at Surkh Kotal, according to the analysis made by M. Schlumberger, Director of the French Archaeological Expedition in Afghanistan, modifies the opinions expressed by scholars on the source and development of Graeco-Buddhist school of art.

For over half a century we have heard everywhere, especially in Afghanistan and India, about the splendid character of the Graeco-Buddhist school of art, which emerged as a result of the blending of Buddhist ideas from India with the rules of Greek sculpture in Afghanistan close to the beginning of the Christian era. As a result of the excavations at Surkh Kotal we find that this school was an offshoot of a greater school, which M. Schlumberger calls the Kushan School. This school also had non-Buddhist aspects of which one can be described as the description aspect, specimens of which have existed in India at Mat and Mathura since a long time, the source or root of which no one has as yet succeeded in determining. It can now be said that this school was another non-spiritual off-shoot of the Kushan School.

We have already stated that the Kushans were a nomadic people. They neither had nor did they bring with themselves any school of art. On the contrary they developed a new school after settling down in Bakhtar or the land in which Afghan and Greek civilizations had intermingled during a period spanning five centuries before the Christian era, and, therefore, this school has been derived from the basic material of Afghan-Greek art. The identity of this school has now become visible as a result of the sculptures discovered at Surkh Kotal. From the same Irano-Greek fundamentals in Iran the Parthian school developed, the character of which, too, has been recently described by the French scholar, M. Schlumberger.

In the light of these definitions one can now understand the strong affinity between the sculptures at Mat and Mathura in India and those at Baghlan in Afghanistan. The great figure of Kanishka found at Mat and the other figure showing Vimacadphesus another Kushan king.

Replicas of such figures have been discovered at Surkh Kotal in Baghlan and those figures, whether in India or Afghanistan, have no connection with Buddhism. On the contrary it is the result of a blending of the Kushan school with Buddhism, as depicted to the best advantage in Gandhara art found separately at Mathura and also in Surkh Kotal. It is therefore apparent that the Kushan school, together with its ramifications, flourished equally in an area extending from the Oxus to the Ganges basin throughout the vast Kushan Empire.

By taking the above facts into consideration the Kushan school can also be described as the Graeco-Bactrian School. Surkh Kotal in Baghlan places before us an outstanding example of literary, artistic and architectural merit. Prior to this we referred to the admixture of Iranian, Greek and Indian cultures in an old city situated on the ancient southern caravan route (Old Kandahar). We now describe another example of the blending of cultures in another ancient town of our country along the northern caravan route.

In the previous paragraphs we referred to an inscription of Asoka's time and now we will devote attention to the time of Kanishka. It may even be stated that this period is not just reflected by the inscription of Kanishka's time but a collection of rock-inscriptions throw light upon it. In this case the Takhari language, which serves as the mother of our present-day Dari language, has been used in conjunction with the Greek script in the name of Kanishka and other prominent figures of that period. The power of the Kushans mixed, without prejudice, the Takhari language with the Greek script, both of which existed in Afghanistan for centuries before their appearance. This in itself is a fine example of the manner in which the form of the Kushan school, together with the local or Bactrian elements has been brought out. Research by philologists has proved that the language used in this inscription is parallel to Pashto and other languages of the Avesta because the name of Baghlan itself in this inscription has been mentioned as Baglang.[20]  This word is a compound of Bagha of Avesta and Baga of Old Persian. Bagha of Sanskrit and Bagurusi which in the present day Pashto has turned into Bag, meaning great, exalted, powerful and huge. The same meaning is reflected in the names of other towns in Afghanistan, such as Bagram, Bagrami, Bagal (Herat), Bagla (Ghazni), Baglug (Daizangi), Bagapai (Taluqan), Bagi (Tarnak), Baghni and Baghran (Zamindawar) and Baghsur, which was a town in Badghis to the north of Herat. However, the word Ang or Ung also appears as a suffix in the names of many towns, such as Salang (in the heart of the Hindukush), Yakaolang (Daizangi), Bashlang (Helmand), Alishang (Laghman), Aolang (heart of Salang) Mastang (Balochistan). Zarang (Seistan), Poshang (west of Herat), Girung (Merv), and Rarung (Ghor). Arabs changed the sound of (g) to (j) and these names became Foshanj, Bashlang, Mastanj, Zarang and Jiranj.[21]

The word Ang, meaning fire and fire-temple equals the Athar or Azar in Pahlavi which in Avesta has been used as duzunga ( ugly fire) denoting hell.[22]

In light of contacts between races and civilizations, Afghanistan during the Kushan period (three centuries at the beginning the Christian era), became and important area in this corner of the East. Kushan preachers spread the Buddhist faith across the Gobi desert in China and religion was accompanied by the introduction of the principles and styles of the Kushan school. By opening great highways China, India, Iran and countries on the Mediterranean coast were linked together and people, as well as ideas,  intermingled on a large scale. The Kushans became weaker at the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. Their remnants ruled as petty chieftains in different parts of Afghanistan, and were called Sheran in Bamiyan, Sharan in Ghurjistan, Loykan in Ghazni and Gardez and as Kabul Shahan in Kabul. This situation continued until the Sassanid political and cultural influence reached the Peshawar Valley and mixed its own culture and art with the Afghan-Kushan culture. But in the 5th century A.D. the Hepthalites of Aryan white stock invaded the land via Takharistan and established themselves in an area extending from Ghazni and Zabulistan to the banks of the Helmand river and from there they ruled over Kashmir and Western India. In 484 A.D. they killed Peroz Shah of the Sassanid dynasty and their dominions extended to Trans-Oxania, Merv, Herat, Kashmir and the Punjab. When the Chinese pilgrim, Song-Yung came to Trans-Oxania in 520 A.D., he found that the Hepthalite Sultan was sitting on a throne of solid gold under a tent made of felt and in this position he was accepting gifts from 40 of the subjugated lands.[23]

The Hephtalites also mixed with the Pakhats, or the old inhabitants of this country, and according to Jahan-Nama even their color and language changed in the region of Ghazni. It is at this time that we find a reference to the word Afghan in Sassanid, Indian and Chinese writings in the form of Abghan, Avgana and O-po-kin and many coins of the Hephtalites are found in Afghanistan. A few Hephtalite inscriptions of King Mirkola exist in Uruzgan, 200 miles to the north of Kandahar, and such inscriptions of the Hephtalite era have also been found at Tochi in Waziristan. These have been inscribed in a local language, such as the Kushan, in Greek script, Sardanagri and Mongolian. The names of the Hepthalite rulers have also been formulated in a manner close to Pashto and Dari, such as Mir (mehr in Dari and mir and lmar in Pashto) plus Kola, that is Khol (descendant) in Pashto, both of which together means Mehrzada or belonging to the Sun Dynasty. Another word Turamana, which is exactly the Turman (swordsman) in Pashto. There is a strong presumption that the name of the famous Abdali tribes of Afghanistan is also a derivative of Heptali. The features of Hepthalite kings, with their acquiline noses, long necks, high cheekbones and high foreheads, depicted on their coins resemble very closely the present-day Afghan tribesmen.

Up to this point we discussed the originality and importance of Afghanistan's culture and history during the pre-Islamic ages which culminated in very important historical eras of culture and art in Afghanistan and which were not only totally Afghan in character, but that they were also centered on this soil. We will, therefore, describe in brief, the development of art and culture during the pre and post Islamic eras in Afghanistan. In this connection it is essential that archaeological excavations in Afghanistan should be continued and also the relics, which have so far been uncovered, should be protected and preserved:

I- The Graeco-Buddhist Civilization. Hellenism and the Gandhara art, important centers of which lie in Ballkh, Takhar, Bamiyan, Ghazni, Kapisa, Hadda and Gandhara etc. The treasures buried in these places will increase with greater effort and exploration. The monuments and relics at Bamiyan should be protected against the elements.

2- The Kushan-Afghan School of Art and Sculpture, perfect examples of which have been uncovered at Surkh Kotal in Baghlan, together with the literary and linguistic traces of this age, which are of utmost importance to research regarding the history of literature in Central Asia. The existence of the Takhari-Dari language during the first and second centuries A.D. in Takhar and Bakhtar disproves (and refutes) the theory that the present-day Dari language has descended from Pahlavi. The inscription at Baghlan, on the other hand, shows that the Takhar-Dari language existed side by side with Pahlavi  in the Kushan court while the official language of the Sassanid court was Pahlavi.  Since only one inscription has been found at Baghlan so far, therefore, further excavations are bound to uncover additional traces of this language and consequently, the importance of such discoveries for the history of literature and for philology.

The structure of the stupas of the Kushan period also constitute a special school of architecture. Future discoveries will certainly bring about a change in the history of Central Asian art.

3- After the lapse of greatness of the Kushans we find a large number of Afghan dynasties or lines of Afghan rulers, who survived up to the beginning of the Islamic era. These can be cited as the Sheran of Bamian,  Sharan of Ghurjistan, the Suris of Ghor, the Loykan of Ghazni and Gardez, the Hephtalites of Zabulistan, the chiefs of Andarab, the Napkis, the Ratbails of Zabul, the Kabul Shahan and the Tagins etc. who transferred the remnants of the ancient Afghan culture to the Islamic era in the 7th century A.D. To find more about all of them demands extensive archaeological excavations all over Afghanistan.

4- We have two important schools of art during the Islamic era. Traces of these schools can be found spread in all directions.

The first one concerns the art of the Ghaznavid era which has been based upon an admixture of the ancient and pre-Islamic art and Arab, Iranian and Indian art thus creating a distinctive Khorasani style. Remnants of this art can now be found at such places as Lashkargah, Bost and the minarets, palaces and tombs in Ghazni. This style or school continued through the Seljouk and Ghorid eras up to the incursion by Ganges Khan. It is an unfortunate fact that the relics from these periods disappeared as a result of the wholesale destruction of Balkh, Bamian, Ghazni, Bost and Herat. These have now to be uncovered under tons of debris and earth.

The second one is that of Temurid art of Herat, which from the viewpoint of architecture, calligraphy, miniature-painting, and book-binding has created some of the finest specimens of art in the world. Research about this art must be continued and sustained and since the birthplace of this art lies in Herat and Khorasan, therefore, research in this regard should also so be centered in Afghanistan.

5- The people of Central Asia, including the people of Afghanistan and their Courts, have important achievements to their credit in developing science, letters and ideas during the pre and post Islamic periods. These accomplishments hold a position of importance in the history of civilization and human thought. Extensive and prolonged efforts are therefore required to collect and sift all the material, manuscripts and documents which lie scattered in different parts of the world, including the countries of this region, so that a complete history of ideas, letters and philosophy could be prepared under an organized plan. This is impossible without close and unhindered cooperation between these countries and it is necessary that scientific and cultural centers in these countries take up the task concertedly. For example the schools of philosophy of Alberouni, Avicenna, Farabi, Kalami Maturedi, Ghazali, Imam Razi, Nasser Khusrow and the schools of Sufism of Abu Nasr Serraj Khorasani and Khwaja Abdullah Ansari of Herat are distinguished in the history of thought and philosophy. All of them are products of Khorasan and Central Asia and their genius.

These, briefly, were the subjects which the journal, Afghanistan, has in mind and which may be probed into more intensively by scientific organizations around the world.


[1] Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Civilization, by Sir John Marshal, page 8.

[2] Avesta-Vendida. Fergird 1.

[3]  Tamadun-e Irani Khawarey, page 64-70. W. Geiger and Cambridge History of India, Vol. 1, page 73.

[4] Here we are not concerned with the location of Arya-Varsha and the differences of opinion pertaining thereto, but we can say this much that the words Ara and Aryan, also mentioned in the Rigveda, and according to Sanskrit, means origin and race and root and the word Arya means the same. Similarly the word Vaego or Vaega even now means, in Kandahari Pashto, land and resting place as described in the ancient Aryan language. (Rigveda, Vol, 3 page 207, and Ancient India by Pannikar, Vol. 1 page 104).

[5] Cambridge History of India, Vol. 1, page 51. Quoting Manusamahita. Chapter 2, verse 22. The same word in the form of Versho now exists in Pashto language and means a restful abode.

[6] Cambridge History of India, Vedic India, page 26.

[7] Cambridge History of India, Vol. 1, page 82.

[8] Veda, Vol. 2, page 18, hymn 17 (part 7); Vol. 2, page 15, hymn 22 (part 8), Vol 2, page 260, hymn 1 (part 8); Vol. 2, page 465, hymn 61 (part 10), published in London.

[9] Veda, Vol. 2, page 465, hymn 641 (part 10).

[10] Cambridge History of India, Vol. 1, page 87.

[11] Neyat-e Afghani, pages 118, 156, 241, 258.

[12] India as Viewed by Pannikar.

[13] Vendidat, Fergird 1.

[14] Farhung-e Avesta, page 110.

[15] Translation of Avesta, vol. 1, page 8 (Zardusht, page 271).

[16] Vedic India, page 80; and Encyclopedia Britanica, Vol. 19, page 954.

[17] The word "Sum" in Pashto language gives the exact meaning of polished.

[18]  History of Herodotus, Book III. p. 102, 91, 39 and 94, and Book 7, p. 66, and Book 1, p. 127, 85.

[19] (19) The Pathan by Sir Olaf Caroe, page 33.

[20] (20) Mather-i-Zaban-i-Dari, page 43.

[21] (21) Ahsan-el-Taqaseem, page 312 and 306; and Astakhri, 239.

[22] Paxta 2 and 170. This form has survived in Pashto as Angar (flamlng fire), Angal (heat and flame) and Angara and Angola meaning heat. In Paxto literature, too, the word Bal-ang (flaming fire) exists and the Dari, Balong, with the same meaning has been derived from this root. Pashto and the Loykan of Ghazna, (manuscript), page 9 and onwards.


[23] Iranian Civilization, 397, essay by M. Fouche.