Afghan and Afghanistan ( Abdul Hai Habibi )

word Afghan which is today the national name of all the peoples of Afghanistan,
represents an indivisible unit under all historical, economic and social
conditions in the heart of Asia. It is a name with a historical background of
one thousand and seven hundred years. 

people think that the name came into being after the establishment of the
Afghan empire
by Ahmad Shah Abdali in the 18th century.
Afghans who are unaware with the history of the country have asked me whether
these names have a long historical background or not? In this article I want to
shed light on different aspects of this national and historical issue. 

far as my knowledge is concerned, the name Afghan has a long historical
background. People called Afghans have lived in this land between the Helmand
and the Indus rivers. The details of which are as follows:

years ago the archeological delegation belonging to the Chicago Institute for
the East while tracing the Naqsh-e Rustam of Shiraz found an inscription in the
Zardusht temple, written in two languages. Pahlavi Ashkani and Greek. This
inscription had been engraved
by Shapur
the First,
the second king of the Sassanid
Dynasty, after the defeat and imprisonment of Valaerian, the emperor of Rome in
260 A.D. in the battle of Odessa. The inscription was engraved on the tablets
of the
walls of the temple. Since Shapur the
First died in 273, the date of this
inscription is considered to be between the years 260 and 273. (The deficient
Persian translation of this inscription can be found in  Archeological Recollections, Vol. IV, after
page 181. Printed in Shiraz in 1959). 
Abdul Hai Habibi

second line of the inscription mentions the city of Pashkabur as the eastern
border of Kushan-Khisatar or the land of the Kushans. This word has been
compared with Kaspapurus of Greek, Pl-lo-sha-po-Io as mentioned by Hsuen Tsang,
the Chinese traveller and Parshapur and Parshawar of the Islamic historians. In
the sixth part of this inscription, among the distinguished men of the Shapur
empire, the name of Vindaparn Abgan Rismaud[1]
has been mentioned. The inscription was read for the first time by 

Sprengling and in 1940 he wrote an article about it in the Sematic Magazine of
America. He compared the second word, Abgan, to the present name of Afghan. 

it is said that Shapur the Third, who ruled for 70 Years from 309-379, was
given the title of Apakan, and we can conjugate this letter with the mentioned
Abgan, which probably has been used as a praise word, symbol of chivalry,
rectitude, nobility or the line of decent. Due to these facts some historians,
like Sir Olaf Caroe, believe that some ancestors of the Durrani and Yusufzai
tribes were the noble men of the Sassanid courts. (The Pathans, Page 80). We
can say that the name Vindapharn Afghan Razm Bad is a reference to Vindapharn,
the Afghan chieftain of the war who probably was an Afghan general. The name
has been twice recorded in the Shah Nama of Firdausi also, who is thought to be
the commander of the armies of Feridoun.

commander was Qaran Kawgaan
And generals Sheroi and Awgaan.

mighty soldiers had gathered around the castle,
Armed with golden cudgels and golden helmets,
Their commander was Qaran Kawgaan,

by the valiant general, Awgaan”.


the stories of the Shah Nama do not have any historical merit there are some
old facts recorded in it. For example in some of its verses the word Qaran has
been mentioned which was the aristocratic family of the Ashkanian Period, and
during the year 50  the Ashkanian
governor in Mesopotamia was known by the name of Carenes. (Wais and Ramen by
Minorsky page 341, Tehran). 

word Awgan of Shah Nama resembles the Abgan of the Sassanid period. But in
ancient narrations he was a general in the armies of Feridoun related to Awa,
the son of Samkanan. The German Carl Justi, in his book The Iranian Names says:
Awa is an Avesta word meaning kind and
(Ferhang-i-Shah-Nama, p. 12, 1941
) But
in Shah Nama these two persons are heros of the era of Kaikhusrow who are
mentioned in the great battle with Afrasiab as follows:

Kaikhusrow saw the battle of Turks
ln which the sun shone no
more on earth.
He glanced at Awa and Samkanan

pugnacious lions of the battle field.
Nama, Page 281, Vol 5).

we can conclude from these facts that Awa and Awagan were used in ancient Aryan
narrations and Shah Nama, and if we consider the word to be originating from
Avesta, as Justi has put it, then they probably mean kind and patron, for the
heroes of that era were worthy of such titles. There is a possibility that
subsequently the words became the names of tribes or nations. On the other hand
if the words Abgan, Apagan and Awgan have been given prominence in ancient
stories of the Sassanid period, just as Sprengling and Olaf Caroe believe, we
can claim that the noun Afghan was used in the form of Abgan and Apgan in the
third century and was also common in the courts of the rulers of that time. This
is the most ancient document tracing the history of the word, and the Awgan of
ancient narrations is similar to
this word. 

more ancient documents are the old texts of India where the word has been
written as Avagana which resembles Abgan and Apagan of the Sassanid period. Varaha Mihira is an Indian astronomer and
was born in the later years of the fifth century A.D. in Rajeen of India and
about 505, became a celebrated figure. Pancha Sidhantika written by Mihira is a
summary of five books on astronomy and he has also written other books on
astronomy in which he gives descriptions of precious stones and the geography
of India. This book is called Bahrita Sanhita and in verses 11, 16, 31 and 61
the word Afghan has been mentioned in the form of Avagana.  A. Foucher, the French scholar in his book
The Ancient
Way of India and Bactria toTaxila (Page
235-252 Note 17. Paris 1947
) says
that the word has been mentioned in the middle of the 6th century since Varaha
Mihara died in 587.
It is further said that be
believed in Greek astronomy and stated that the world was round. Abu Raihan
Beiruni has translated two books of this Indian astronomer into Arabic and his
fame and knowledge has always been given prominence by scholars. On this basis
the word Afghan has a historical background of 1400 years in Indian literature
and Indian scholars have constantly mentioned it in their works. 

 In pre-Islamic era the name Afghan has been
mentioned in two documents, to the west
Sassanid Pars and in the east in India. At that time Buddhism was widespread in
eastern and southern Afghanistan. Large Buddhist temples existed in the cities
of Afghanistan like Balkh, Kunduz. Kapisa, Hadda, Laghman, Ghazni and Kandahar.
Since the people of China were followers of Buddhism thereby a large number of
Chinese pilgrims visited these cities. One of the Chinese pilgrims was Hsuen
Tsang who came to Afghanistan in the first half of the seventh century. At that
time Islam was appearing in Afghanistan but the Arabs bad not yet begun their
conquests of Afghanistan. Hsuen Tsang left Liang Chu on the first of August in
the year 629 and arrived at Samarkand on March 5. On March 20 he was in Khulm,
April 20 in Balkh and April 30 in Bamian. He arrived in Kapisa via the snow
Hindu Kush on May 10, and stayed in the capital of the Kabul Shahs until the
end of summer and later journeyed as follows: On August 15 he arrived at
Laghman where he stayed for three days. On August 15 he was in Nangarhar where
he stayed for two months. On November 1 he was in Gandahara, later in the
beginning of December he was in Peshawar. In the beginning of January 631 he
travelled along the Indus river and reached Taxila on April 10.  Hsuen Tsang spent 12 years in India and
returned to Taxila on December 15, 643 
and once again visited the following cities of Afghanistan. On December
21 he crossed the Indus river on elephant back. On March 15, 644 he arrived at
Laghman and stayed at the court of
the King of Laghman for one
month. On June 15 he reached Fa-La-Na or Banun. On June 20 he reached
O-Po-Kien. On June 25 he arrived at Tsau-Kue-To or
On July 1, he reached Aur-Tsa-Pa-Na or Kabul. On July 5, Kapisa, July
Andarab, August 1, Tukhara, and  December 8 Badakhshan.
December 1
2 Pamir and after that he went to Yarkand
and Khotan. 

itinerary of Hsuan Tsang entitled Si-Yu-Ki meaning the memoirs of the land of
the East has been translated into the English and printed several times.
A part
of this book has valuable information on Afghanistan’s geographical, religious,
political and social events of that time. When Hsuen Tsang reached the province
of Fa-La-Na, after staying in India, (Page
265 Vol. 1
of Si-Yu-Ki, English translation) he mentions a place called O-Po-Kien between
Banun and Ghazni, north-east of Fa-La-Na and south-east of Ghazi. Before Hsuen
Tsang, another Chinese traveller Fa-Hi-Yan has called this land Lo-Ye or Roh.

historians especially General Cuningham, the author of the Ancient Geography of
India (Page 89), correspond O-Po-Kien to be Awa-gan (Afghan) and further goes
on to say that Hsuen Tsang did not  consider their language to be Hindi, but he says that it somewhat resembles the
languages spoken in India, thus it must have been Pushto. On the other hand
since O-Po-Kien has the same syllables as the ancient A-Wa-Gan, therefore we can say that he meant the present
Afghans which still lie between the Indus and Ghazni and is the dwelling place
of ancient tribes of the Afghans, who settled in the provinces of Paktia,
Urgoon and Ghazni. Hsuen Tsang travelled from Bunun to Ghazni and crossed these
mountainous provinces which were the home of O-Po-Kien or the Afghans. 

       From the pre Islamic period we have the
Sassanid, Indian and Chinese documents in which the name
Afghan has been mentioned. During the Islamic period the
name has been consequently used in Arabic and Dari books. The most ancient of these books is Hudood-ul- Alam which
was written in 993 by an anonymous author. Minorsky, the
historian, says that
the author of
the book was from the family,
or related to the court of the
Al-Ferighun of Jouzjan. In this book Afghan has been mentioned several times.
Later Mohammed bin Abdul Jabbar Utbi in Tarikh-e Yemeni mentions the name in
the reign of Subuktegeen and his family. Ibn-e Asir has, however, noted it down as Abgan.
Similarly other historians in their authentic volumes have noted the name. Some
of these are Fakhr-i-Mudabir who mentions it in  Adab-ul-Harb Qazi Menhaj Seraj in Tabakat-e Nasseri, Hamdullah Mustufi in
Tarekh-e Guzida, Mohammad Qasim Fereshta and others also discuss the Afghan and
Awgan tribes. 

can say that the word Afghanistan is also not a strange word which came into
being in the reign of Ahmad Shah Abdali. A trustworthy proof of this is
Tarikh-e Herat authored by Saifi Herawi (circa 1342) who calls the western
lands, as far as the Indus, by the name of Afghanistan. From this
is evident that when Herat was the capital of the Kurts, and
after the passing of the period of polItical unity of the Ghaznavids and the
Ghorids, when the country was being vanquished by the belligerent armies of
Genghiz, Afghanistan was a customary name but not to the extent as in the
period of Ahmad Shah Durani. 

the Temurid period, Maulana Kamaluddin Abdul Razaq Samarkandi Herawi, who was
born in 1337
in Herat, was a distinguished scholar,
historian and statesman of the court of Herat. In Tarikh-e Mutala’ Sadain and
Majma Bahrain he describes Afghanistan’s geography as Saifi has recorded it to
be a part of the large Khorasani empire ruled by the Temurids of Herat. 

1553 when
headed for India with his armies and establIshed the Mughul empire in Delhi we
can see in history books of the Babur Dynasty that the name of Afghanistan has
been mentioned according to its formal geographical background. And the people
of this land, in order to safeguard their independence, were always engaged in wars with
the tyrannic armIes of the Mughul Empire of India and the Safavids of Iran.
Until finally, the great Mirwais and Ahmad Shah consolidated and brought unity
among the people of Afghanistan and successfully established the Greater
Afghanistan. Now we consider the one thousand seven hundred years old name  Afghan and the seven hundred years old name
of Afghanistan to be the origin of national unity and significant historical
events in our country.

have fixed these eras from the mentioned documents, but the history of the
Pakhtas=Paxtoons=Afghans is even older in this land and dates back to the Vedic
eras of 1400 B.C.

VOL. XXII No.2, Summer 1348 (1969)

Sir Olaf
Caroe. the author of the Pathans (Page 79) has written the three words of the
inscription from the Greek text as read by Prof. Sprengling (The Sematic
Magazine of America 1940)
as Goundifer Abgan Rismaud. But the Persian text which has
been prepared from the English by Prof. Sprengling (Archeological Recollections
Vol. Four, Printed in Shiraz) the three words have been written as Vindapharn
Aba-kan Razmi-yad. In the first letter the proper noun, Vindapharn is Pahlavi
and Goundifer is Greek. In the second letter Aba-gan stands in place of the
Greek Abgan. But the third word is probably razma
+ pat=razma+wad=razm+
pat. Pat=bad=baz=wad=baiz are different spellings of one word and take its
source from Pati of Vedic, Sanskrit and Avesta which means the Owner or Lord.
The spelling of ramzi+yad equals ramz+aud of Greek. For example Tabari (Vol. 1,
Page 683
In the reign of Bashtasab Keyani, there were seven great chieftains, one of
whom, Mehkabiz lived in the village of Gergan. Since the word Razma is ancient
Persian and Ramsa in Avesta means a battle array and Raja, compared with Raji
of Sanskrit (Rada meaning row), which is still used in the Pashto, therefore
Rasma-wad or Rasmi-yad or Razma+pat=Razma
+ bad means a chieftain of war, thus
Razmi+yad as compared with Mehkabiz, as Tabri has put
it, is also
likely to be correct.

 In the reign of Babur after 1521 most
historians refer to the eastern parts of Afghanistan as far as Hasan Abdal as
‘Roh’. Mohammad Qasim Fereshta has noted that its borders stretched from Herat
to Hasan AbdaI. Similarly the name is used subsequently in the Pashto
literature. In fact this name has been used since ancient times in Hindi. In
India, Afghans have been called Rohila and their dwelling places Rohil Kahand.
This name is still used in India. In the southern Multan dialect of Punjab and
Baluchi Roh means the western mountain range of that land which is the Suleiman
range (The Pathans, By Sir Olaf Caroe, London 439).

Categories Blog

Leave a comment