Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Historical Timetable of Bactria Region (100 AD - Present)


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1 BC.......Indo-Greek Kingdom, Hermaios, c. 40 - 1 B.C.....Hermaios was the last Indo-Greek king of Bactria. With his defeat by the Kushan ruler Kujala Kadphises, the isolated Greek area in India, which had lasted three centuries, came to an end. Some biblical scholars believe he was one of the three kings to visit the baby Jesus....Scythian kingdom of Chorasmia, centered at Balkh. This scarce coin features a stylized portait of Hermaios on the obverse and a horse on the reverse.

In 240 AD Mani had a celestial vision.In this revelation he was called upon to perfect the "incomplete" religions of Zarathustra, Buddha and Christ. Mani announced himself as the prophet of a new religion. (Buddha of Light) The Zarathustra priests (Magi) expelled him from Persia. He went to Balkh where he was influuenced by Buddhism. Mani was crucified in Southwest Persia in 276

"It didn't take a long time for the followers of Buddhism to spread all over India. During the reign of Ashuka, an Indian king of Parsi descent, who ruled the Indian subcontinent from 273 to 236 A.D. he became a convert to Buddhism like Goshtasb the Iranian supporter of Zoroastrian religion or Constantine who laid the foundation of Christianity in Rome. After that Buddhism crossed the Indian borders and the domain of Buddha preachers stretched to Kashmir and Qandehar and Kabul from the Indian northwestern borders. Later on the religion spread to the Jeyhoon Sea and greater Khorassan and Balkh and Bukhara and eventually to the Persian empire. It did not take a long time by the Iranian Buddhist converts to build a magnificent temple in Balkh and many of these temples flourished until the thirteenth century A.H. (19th century A.D.). In a book written by Alexander Polyhistor 80 or 60 years before the birth of Christ he speaks about Buddhism, its relation with Iran and specially Balkh and gives detailed account about Shamas in Balkh (1).

we do not know how many Iranians were converted into Buddha worshippers by the missionaries of Ashuka, an Indian king, who was a Buddhist. But history says that during the reign of Kanishka, the Indian king of Kushan Dynasty, Buddhism reached its peak and many Buddha temples were built throughout the eastern Iranian borders some of which survived until second, third, and fourth century A.H. It is well known that the giant Buddha statue in Bamian, Afghanistan, which is gravely threatened by fanatic Taliban militia (they destroyed the biggest Buddha statute in the country) was built during the time of Kanishka

A variation of the apocalyptic theme also appeared in Hinduism, in The Vishnu Purana, dated approximately the fourth century CE. It relates that at the end of the kaliyuga, Vishnu will appear in his final incarnation as Kalki, taking birth in the village of Shambhala as the son of the brahman Vishnu Yashas. He will defeat the non-Indics of the time who follow a path of destruction and will reawaken the minds of the people.

307 AD... "Mithra appears on horseback in Persian costume on coins. Nero reqests an initiation into the mysteries of Mithra. Diocletian recognizes Mithra as the protector of his empire in 307 AD and Mithraism seems ready to turn all of Europe Mithraic. Mithraism brought the idea of hvarena or Kingly Glory with it from Iran. The Semites called it Gada. The Greeks called it Tyche." (Dhalla: 302)

399-413. Faxian (Fa-hsien). First Chinese monk reaching Indian and returning with a knowledge of Buddhism. Traveled the southern route through Shenshen, Dunhuang, Khotan, and then over the Himalayas, to Gandhara, Peshawur then India. He journeyed most of the way on foot and was the first known traveler passing through the Taklamakan desert from Woo-e to Khoten.

400 AD....The chinese pilgrim Fa-Hein (c.400) found the Hinayana prevalent in Shan Shan , Kucha , Kashgar, Osh, Udayana and Gandhara. Hsuan-tsang also notices that Buddhism was widely practiced by the Huns rulers of Balkh who claimed descent from Indian royalties.

During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was a predominantly Iranian region that included the sedentary Eastern Iranic speaking Bactrians, Sogdians and Chorasmians, and the semi-nomadic Scythians and Alans. The ancient sedentary population played an important role in the history of Central Asia. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for many Turkic peoples, including the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kyrgyz and Uyghurs. Central Asia is sometimes referred to as Turkestan.

Notes on The Book of Later Han (5th c. Chinese text), as translated by John E. Hill. Balkh or Bactria was the ancient capital of the Yuezhi empire in what is now northern Afghanistan. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and some believe the original home of the Indo-Europeans.

518-521 Song Yun (Sung Yun)/Huisheng. Sung Yun of Dunhuang went with a monk Huisheng on a mission sent by the Empress Dowager to obtain the Buddhist scriptures in India in 518. Travled through the Taklamakan desert via the southern route passing Shanshan, Charkhlik, Khotan, then further west into the Hindu Kush, Kabul, Peshawar. The most interesting account is their visit to the Ephthalites (the White Hun) kingdom, who centered in eastern Afghanistan and controlled much of the Central Asia during the 5th and 6th centuries. Both wrote a travel account but none remained.

There were disastrous global climate changes of 535-536 AD.... . There is debate over whether there was an eruption on Iceland in 527, or 535, or 541...... David Keys speculates that the climate changes may have contributed to various developments, such as the emergence of the Plague of Justinian, the decline of the Avars, the migration of Mongolian tribes towards the West, the end of the Persian Empire, the rise of Islam, and the fall of Teotihuacán"....... The combination killed perhaps as much as 1/3 of the population of Europe; in China the famine killed perhaps 80% of people in some regions; in Scandinavia the losses may be been as much as 75-90% of the population, as evidenced by the numbers of deserted villages and cemeteries.... "Review of David Keys' Catastroph". British Archaeology (49).

Malek-ul Shoara Bahar writes: "Undoubtedly during the fifth century A.D. and a little after that a great part of Iranian eastern territories were converted into Buddhism. It is therefore not strange for some Buddhist scholars to have said that the religion of Buddha had stretched to Aloub islands, Mecca and Yemen and part of Saebeh and Haranians and Hanfa were followers of that faith. These Buddha worshipers existed until the end of the Sassanid period and early centuries of the Islamic period. Buddhist priests had strong influence in Khorassan and after them the Manichians and later on the Zoroastrians held the majority. The coins surviving from the Sassanid kings of Khorassani descent show that during that time Mani, Buddha and Zoroaster were worshipped in Khorassan province but the Buddhists held the majority." Baharats or Buddha idol temples which were called Now Bahar in Balkh, and Beit-ul Sanam in Bamian, existed after the emergence of Islam and a long time after that. Each year Buddhist pilgrims from China and Khotan used to visit the sacred Buddha temples in Khorassan and right now the dungeons in Bamian, Afghanistan, point to that period of the history.

The Sanskrit and Tibetan Shambhala has also been identified by Alexandra David-Neel, who spent years in Tibet....with Balkh – in the far north of Afghanistan – the ancient settlement known as "the mother of cities". Present day folklore in Afghanistan asserts that after the Muslim conquest, Balkh was known as the "Elevated Candle" ("Sham-i-Bala"), a Persianisation of the Sanskrit Shambhala....Alexandra David-Neel - who lived 1868-1969 - ( ) was french actress, author of several books, a great Tibetan explorer and female Tibetan Lama and more. ...She mentions in her script "Les Nouvelles Littéraires";1954, p.1 ; that Shamballa is geographically placed near the city of Balkh. It is known as Mother of all Cities. In the olden days the city of Balkh was situated north of the present day city of Balkh. And its name was known as "The Elevated Candle" - and in the persian tounge it was named "Sham-I-Bala" - an expression covering the sanskrit "Shamballa".

590 Turks conquered Tokharistan, Balkh, Heart and other provinces, opening the door for them to become Manichaean. Syrian Nestorians brought into Armenia copies of an "Explanation of Mani's Gospel" at this time period.

Before Islamization of the region, the inhabitants of Khorasan had mostly practiced Zoroastrianism but at different stages there were also various adherents of Manichaeism, Sun worshippers (Mithraism), Nestorianism, Paganism, Shamanism, Buddhism and a small number of Jews too. Khorasan in its proper sense comprised principally the cities of Mashhad, Nishapur, Sabzevar and Kashmar (now in Iran), Balkh and Herat (now in Afghanistan), Merv, Nisa and Abiward (now in Turkmenistan), Samarqand and Bukhara (now in Uzbekistan).

624 AD....."In 624 AD, a Moslem invasion weakened the Kingdom of Shambhala."(Roerich: 753) (Geoffrey Hopkins: 60)...Muhammad died in 632 AD, beginning an expansion of the Muslim Empire in central Asia...In 624 AD the Sassian Shah Yazdigird is defeated by the Arabs at the battle of Nahavand...In Iran, the great Sassanian dynasty collapsed in the 7th century under the Arab onslaught...."in the era of the Mlecchas, the starting year of the Kalacakra chronology is the first year of the Hijra, calculated from the year 624 AD."..( 753)...."In 580 AD the Turks assailed Sassanian Persia from the East and weakened it which led to the triumph of Islam a few decades later. The surprise and defeat of the Sassanian Shahr-Baraz in 624 AD." (Langer: Ency World History:1940)...."622 AD is the first year of the new Mohammedian era according to the Islamic tradition...

In 624 AD, a Moslem invasion weakened the Kingdom of Shambhala."(Roerich: 753) (Geoffrey Hopkins: 60)...

"…."In 624 AD, a Moslem invasion weakened the Kingdom of Śambhala"……..(The Blue Annals …George Roerich: 753…Blue Annals: Part 10 (Kalachakra))

"622 AD ...Year of Hegira (flight from Mecca)...Kabul, passed the Pamirs and entered Xinjiang from Tashkurgan, then skirted around the Taklamakan desert from the northern towns, Kucha, Turfan and Hami. His account Wang wou t'ien tchou kquo tch'ouan or The Record to Five Indian Kingdoms provided vaulable information on the Islamic and Buddhist distribution among the Central Asian kingdoms during the 8th century. His book had been lost since Tang dynasty until an incomplete copy (14 pages, ~6000 words) was miraculously discovered by the French explorer, Paul Pelliot at Dunhuang cave in 1908.

"Arabs occupied Persia in 642 (during the Caliphate of Uthman, 644-656 AD). Attracted by grandeur and wealth of Balkh, they attacked it in 645 AD. It was only in 653 when Arab commander, al-Ahnaf raided the town again and compelled it to pay tribute. The Arab hold over the town, however, remained tenuous. The area was brought under Arabs' control only after it was reconquered by Muawiya in 663 AD. Prof. Upasak describes the effect of this conquest in these words: "The Arabs plundered the town and killed the people indiscriminately. It is said that they raided the famous Buddhist shrine of Nava-Vihara, which the Arab historians call 'Nava Bahara' and describe it as one of the magnificent places which, comprised a range of 360 cells around the high stupas'. They plundered the gems and jewels that were studded on many images and stupas and took away the wealth accumulated in the Vihara but probably did no considerable harm to other monastic buildings or to the monks residing there".....

663 AD...."powerful Persian Barmakids family. When Balkh the native town of Barmakids fell to the Arabs in 663, Khalid ibn Barmak and his brothers moved to the garrison town of Basra in Iraq, where they converted to Islam. Their ancestor was a Pramukh (corrupted by the Arabs to Barmak), a title borne by the high priest in the Buddhist temple of Nawbahār."

"The Arabs could bring Balkh under their control in 715 AD only, inspite of strong resistance offered by the Balkh people. Qutayba bin Muslim al-Bahili, an Arab General was Governor of Khurasan and the east from 705-715. He established a firm Arab hold in lands beyond the oxus. He fought and killed Tarkhan Nizak in Tokharistan (Bactria) in 715. In the wake of Arab conquest the resident monks of the Vihara were either killed or forced to abandon their faith. The Viharas were razed to the ground. Priceless treasures in the form of manuscripts in the libraries of monasteries were consigned to ashes. Presently, only the ancient wall of the town, which once encircled it, stands partially. Nava-Vihara stands in ruins, near Takhta-i-Rustam."....

Uyghur from AD 745 to 840 was administered from the imperial capital Ordu-Baliq, one of the biggest ancient cities in Mongolia. During the imperial phase, the term Uyghur (Chinese: 维吾尔; pinyin: Wéiwú'ěr) denoted any citizen of the Uyghur Khaganate, as opposed to the Uyghur tribe. Large numbers of Sogdian refugees from Balkh and Samarkand came to Ordu-Baliq to escape the Islamic conquest of their homeland. They converted the Uyghur nobility from Buddhism to Manichaeism. Thus, the Uyghurs inherited the legacy of Sogdian Culture. Sogdians ran the civil administration of the empire

Garab Dorje, was born near Lake Kutra in Oddiyana. His disciple, Manjushrimitra, was Indian and received the teachings in Bodh Gaya, and the next lineage holder, Shri Singha, came from the Central Asian kingdom of Khotan, but it was in Oddiyana near Lake Dhanakosha

8th Century....Padmasambhava visited Tibet in the 8th centuryPadmasambhava, who was to introduce Vajrayana and Dzogchen to Tibet was miraculously born on Lake Dhanakosha and raised by the king of Oddiyana....Dhanakosha (Tib. དྷ་ན་ཀོ་ཤ་) is the name of the lake in Oddiyana where the great guru Padmasambhava is said to have been born from a lotus.

771 AD.....After Trisong Detsen proclaimed Buddhism the official religion of Tibet in 771 CE a great wave of resentment against foreigners swept the Tibetan religious aristocracy. Dr. Guenther suggests that Padmasambhava was caught up in this and the rejection of Chinese Chan Buddhism, with which Dzogchen has some similarity, and that this was the reason for Padmasambhava’s rather precipitous departure from the country prior to the completion of Samye in 775 CE, along with many other foreigners. He is reputed to have travelled to Bhutan, after which he is lost to history.

Garab Dorje as being born close to Lake Kutra in the region of Dhanakosha...Born (as son of Su-dharmā, island-dwelling daughter of king Upa-rāja of Dhana-koṣa) in the land of Uddiyana, also the birthplace of Padmasambhava, Prahevajra is said to have received all the Tantras, scriptures and oral instructions of Dzogchen directly from Vajrasattva and Vajrapani. Alternatively, his mother is named as Pāraņī, and located on the banks of lake Kutra....Born 166 years after the Parinirvana of Lord Buddha in Oddiyana northwest of India, Garab Dorje an emanation of Vajrasattva, was the first human teacher of the Atiyoga Tantras (Dzogchen or Great Perfection) in its current cycle. From the age of seven, he defeated the pandits of Oddiyana and India with his teaching that Dzogchen and it's state of Rigpa (enlightenment or self-originated intrinsic Awareness) goes beyond the law of karma and the law of cause and effect. At his passing into the 'Body of Light', he gave his disciple Manjushrimitra what have become known as the Three Statements or Three Testaments.....Garab Dorje lived in a cave called Place of the Vajra near a charnel gound called Golden Sanctuary of Expanding Delight, which was on the bank of the Kutra Lake in Oddiyana....Vairotsana found the Acharya Garab Dorje in the cremation ground called Place of Smoke, Dhumasthira, and he received the entire ...

8th Century AD..Shang Shung annexed to Tibet...Until the eighth century, the country of Zhang-zhung had been an independent kingdom with its own language and culture. It lay in what is now Western and Northern Tibet and the center of the country was dominated by the majestic presence of the sacred mountain of Mount Kailas........ Just to the west of Zhang-zhung there once existed the vast Kushana empire..... an area in which Indian Buddhism interacted with various strands of Iranian religion-- Zoroastrian, Zurvanist, Mithraist, Manichean, as well as Indian Shaivism and Nestorian Christianity. ...... All this suggests that certain trends within Bon actually do go back to a kind of syncretistic Indo-Iranian Buddhism that once flourished in the independent kingdom of Zhang-zhung before it was forcibly incorporated into the expanding Tibetan empire in the eighth century. This "Buddhism", known as gyer in the Zhang-zhung language and as bon in the Tibetan, was not particularly monastic........"

8th Century......Such masters would most likely have come from the great Buddhist monasteries in the Kabul region of Afghanistan. Many of these monasteries had architectural motifs similar to those in the Kalachakra mandala. For example, the main hall of Subahar Monastery had a zodiac motif on its ceiling and 360 chambers around it, one for each day of the lunar year. The Kabul monasteries also had considerable contact with Tantric Buddhism in Kashmir, where it was often mixed with Hindu tantra. Moreover, Kabul as well had a sizable Hindu population at the time, consistent with the fact that the stated audience for the Kalachakra teachings was mainly the brahman wise men of Shambhala.......The early ‘Abbasad ministers were Muslim descendants of the abbots of the Buddhist monasteries in the Balkh region of northern Afghanistan. They invited Buddhist monk scholars to Baghdad to translate texts, especially concerning astronomy, which plays a prominent role in the Kalachakra teachings. Some time toward the end of the eighth century, al-Fazari compiled in Baghdad a book of tables of planetary positions, thus adulterating and simplifying the Indian systems of astronomical calculations. Manjushri Yashas predicted that such an event would occur

The Arab geographers Yaqubi and Moqaddasi (9th and 10th centuries) depict Balkh as it was under Samanid rule....A large and prosperous city of mud brick some three square miles in area, it held perhaps 200,000 persons. It was surrounded by mud-brick walls pierced by seven gates. A splendid Friday Mosque occupied the center, and many more mosques were scattered among the dwellings. The fire temple in the suburbs, which Xuanzang had admired when it was a Buddhist monastery, was still noteworthy.

914 AD...Rābi'a Balkhī (رابعه بلخی) and Zayn al-'Arab[1] (زین العرب), is a semi-legendary figure of Persian literature and was possibly the first poetess in the history of New Persian poetry. References to her can be found in the poetry of Rūdakī and 'Attār. Her biography has been primarily recorded by Zāhir ud-Dīn 'Awfī and renarrated by Nūr ad-Dīn Djāmī. The exact dates of her birth and death are unknown, but it is reported that she was a native of Balkh in Khorāsān (now in Afghanistan). Some evidences indicate that she lived during the same period as Rūdakī, the court poet to the Samanid Emir Naṣr II (914-943).

966 AD...". . . the Kala-chakra was introduced into India" - 965 ADMost sources assert that the Kalachakra was brought from Shambhala to India and introduced at Nalanda Monastery in 966 or 967 AD by the mahasiddihi Tsilupa

10th Century....Balkh is described found in the writings of Arabian geographer Ibn Hawqal, an Arabian traveler of the 10th century, who describes Balkh as built of clay, with ramparts and six gates, and extending half a parasang. He also mentions a castle (kala) and a mosque.

1000 AD...Al-Biruni, a Persian scholar and writer in service to the Ghaznavid court, reported that, at the turn of the 2nd millennium, the Buddhist monasteries in Bactria, including Navbahar, were still functioning and decorated with Buddha frescoes. A curious notice of this building is found in the writings of Arabian geographer Ibn Hawqal, an Arabian traveler of the 10th century.

10th Century....The times that followed were turbulent ones in Central Asia. Balkh changed hands repeatedly among Arab, Persian and Turki rulers, and was sacked more than once, yet it continued to flourish. The Arab geographers Yaqubi and Moqaddasi (9th and 10th centuries) depict Balkh as it was under Samanid rule, whe Bukhara was the center of power. A large and prosperous city of mud brick some three square miles in area, it held perhaps 200,000 persons. It was surrounded by mud-brick walls pierced by seven gates. A splendid Friday Mosque occupied the center, and many more mosques were scattered among the dwellings. The fire temple in the suburbs, which Xuanzang had admired when it was a Buddhist monastery, was still noteworthy. The city was home, not only to Persians and Turks but also to communities of Jews and Indian traders. It nourished poets and scholars, lawyers and even geographers and astronomers. But peace was a sometime thing; even when Balkh came under Seljuk rule for over a century, the nomads were never far away.

The Dunhuang period was from approximately the 5th until the early 11th-century AD. It takes its name from a locality called Dunhuang in Central Asia, which possessed a library contained within a cave. The cave, which was discovered in the early 20th-century, contained thousands of manuscripts written in various languages. Stein (2003b, p. 591) has proposed that the cave was closed in 1035 AD, while Rong (2000, p. 274) argues that it was closed in 1002 AD. The documents discovered in the cave are now kept in various libraries and museums around the world.

1027 AD.....the Indian pandit Shribhadra (a.k.a. Shri Bhadrabhodhi], traveled to Tibet in 1026-27 and worked with Tibetan translator Jyojo Dawai Ozer on translations of Kalachakra texts. The introduction of the Kalachakra into Tibet would seem to date from then. Most sources also credit Jyojo Dawai Ozer with initiating the use of the Kalachakra calendar, which uses a 60 year cycle based the names of twelve animals in combination with five elements. This dating system, with the first year of the first cycle dating from 1027 a.d., is still in use in Tibet today.

The second transmission for both Bon and Buddhist began around the 10th century. The great Bon master and Terton Shen Chen Luga (996-1035 AD) rediscovered many Bon scriptures that were hidden by earlier Bon masters. One of his students, Dru Yung Drung Lama, founded Yeru Wensaka Monastery in 1072 AD. Yeru Wensaka become the main study center of Bon Practice for many centuries. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a flood. In 1405 AD, Nyamed Shenrab Gyaltsen from Yeru Wensaka Monastery founded Menri Monastery in place of Yeru Wensaka. Since then, Menri has become the mother monastery of all Bonpos. The abbot of Menri is given the title of the world spiritual head of the Bon tradition. Nyamed Shenrab Gyaltsen became the first abbot of Menri. During the Cultural Revolution in 1959, Menri was destroyed. Later it was reestablished in northern India by Yongzding Tenzing Namdak Rinpoche and His Holiness Lungtok Tenpei Nyima Rinpoche, the 33rd Menri Trizin and head of the Bon tradition.....

1207.....Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273), bron in Balkh...Rumi's works are written in the New Persian language and his Mathnawi remains one of the purest literary glories of Persia

1220 AD..... Genghis Khan sacked Balkh, butchered its inhabitants and levelled all the buildings capable of defense — treatment to which it was again subjected in the 14th century by Timur. Catastrophe struck in 1220, when Ghengis Khan chose to make an example of Balkh, perhaps as punishment for an uprising. One hundred thousand Mongol horsemen embarked on an orgy of slaughter and destruction that left nothing standing; a few weeks later they returned to pick off the survivors of the carnage.

1221-1224. K'iu Ch'ang Ch'un and Li chi ch'ang. An eminent Taoist monk born in 1148 CE and thus elderly at the time of his trip, Ch'ang Ch'un was ordered by Chingis Khan to travel to his court. The route went through the Altai and Tienshan mountains, the southern parts of today's Kazakhstan, through Kyrgyzstan, to Samarkand and then down into NE Iran and Afghanistan. He was accompanied by Li Chi ch'ang, who wrote the Hsi Yu Chi, a rather detailed diary of the journey; it was published with an introduction by Sun si in 1228 and included in the Tao tsang tsi yao. Bretschneider feels that this account "occupies a higher place than many reports of our European mediaeval tavellers."

1275 AD....Notwithstanding this, however, Marco Polo (1254-1324) could still describe it as "a noble city and a great seat of learning."...Balkh remained in ruins for a century, and ws so described by Marco Polo (1275) and by Ibn Batuta (1333); and yet revival must have been under way, for Timur (Tamerlane) chose Balkh to proclaim his accession to the throne (1359). Timur and his successors favored Balkh; they restored the walls and endowed the city with quite splendid buildings, some of which survive.

1271-1295. Marco Polo. The most famous of the Silk Road travelers, who, by his own account, worked for Qubilai Khan. He traveled overland through Persia across the Pamirs and south of the Taklamakan; his return was by sea from China around south Asia to Hormuz, whence he went overland to the Mediterranean. A Venetian, Marco dictated his account to a professional writer of romances while imprisoned by the Genoese on his return. It is important to remember he was not keeping a diary. Olschki calls it "not...a book of travel and adventure, but a treatise of empirical geography." Clearly some of the descriptions are formulaic, others not based on direct observation, and others reflecting the common stock of travel mythology. Many of his observations are precise and verifiable; others unique but likely accurate. Since his main associations seem to have been with the Mongol rulers of China and with the Muslim merchant community, often he is silent about "obvious" features of Chinese society. Polo's book became well known in Renaissance Europe and served as a stimulus to further travel and discovery.

Between the Hindu Kush mountains and the river Amu Darya (Oxus) ? At one level, geography holds the key. Balkh sits on an alluvial fan built up by the Balkab river, well suited to irrigation. The region called Bactria in ancient times was renowned for its grapes, oranges, water lilies and later sugar cane, and an excellent breed of camels too; to this day, some of the world’s most luscious melons come from nearby Kunduz. Most significantly, several natural trade routes intersect at Balkh. From there, caravans could follow the well-watered foot of the mountains westward towards Herat and Iran, or across the Oxus to Samarkand and China (see map). The valley of the Balkab still gives passage to Bamiyan and thence to Kabul; of all the routes across the Hindu Kush, this is the most westerly and the easiest.

16th century.... the Uzbeks entered Balkh. The Moghul Shah Jahan fruitlessly fought them there for several years in the 1640s. Nevertheless Balkh was ruled by Mughal Empire between 1641 and 1647. Balkh was the government seat of Aurangzeb in his youth. In 1736 it was conquered by Nadir Shah. Under the Durani monarchy it fell into the hands of the Afghans; it was conquered by Shah Murad of Kunduz in 1820, and for some time was subject to the Emirate of Bukhara. In 1850, Dost Mohammad Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan, captured Balkh, and from that time it remained under Afghan rule. In 1866, Balkh lost its administrative status to the neighboring city of Mazar-e Sharif.

1870s.....Because of a malaria outbreak during flood season at Balkh, the regional capital was shifted in the 1870s to Mazar-e Sharif.

1911......... Balkh comprised a settlement of about 500 houses of Afghan settlers, a colony of Jews and a small bazaar set in the midst of a waste of ruins and acres of debris. Entering by the west (Akcha) gate, one passed under three arches, in which the compilers recognized the remnants of the former Friday Mosque (Jama Masjid). The outer walls, mostly in utter disrepair, were estimated about 6½-7 miles in perimeter. In the south-east, they were set high on a mound or rampart, which indicated a Mongol origin to the compilers. The fort and citadel to the north-east were built well above the town on a barren mound and are walled and moated. There was, however, little left of them but the remains of a few pillars.

1934...A project of modernization was undertaken in 1934, in which eight streets were laid out, housing and bazaars built. Modern Balkh is a center of the cotton industry, of the skins known commonly the West as "Persian lamb" (Karakul), and for agricultural produce like almonds and melons.The site, and the museum, have suffered from looting and uncontrolled digging in the recent wars.

2003...No professional archaeologist had ever been able to work at Balkh until 2003 when excavations started to identify early strata down to the period of the Achaemenids and the Greeks. Remains of Hellenistic capitals were found, identified as remnants of the Seleucid and Greco-Bactrian city of Bactra.

Today [Balkh] is a vast ruin field – a huge citadel, with great towered outer walls of sun-dried brick; ruined Buddhist stupas, Zoroastrian fire temples, and Nestorian Christian churches – all religions made their homes here. A medieval Muslim poet describes the city in a lovely image, surrounded by its gardens: ‘as delightful as a Mani painting’… Right in the centre of the old city, in a circle of palm trees, are the great shrines of the Timurid Age. Still especially popular with the people of the region is the grave of Rabia Balkhi. Even today she is the female protectress of the city, just as the ancient patroness of Balkh, Anahita goddess of the Oxus, was in Alexander’s day. Anahita’s magnificent gilded statue had been gifted by one of Darius’s predecessors, Artaxerxes II. Thousands had come to licentious rites in the precinct of the ‘High girdled one clad in a mantle of gold…

Today....The earlier monuments take some searching. A couple of nondescript mounds probably mark the site of that Buddhist/Zoroastrian temple that Xuanzang described as being “lustrous with precious gems”. A small brick mosque, decorated with carved stucco survives from early Islamic times, but we failed to find it. What we had come to see is the walls, battered and weather-beaten but still sixty feet high in places, that enclose the Bala Hissar, the High Fort. The ramparts were built in Timurid times (14/15th centuries) upon foundations that likely go back to the Kushans and possibly further. They enclose a roughly circular field almost a mile across, that probably corresponds to the central city of medieval Balkh. Now there is only dry scrub and low mounds of debris; here and there potsherds and broken bricks seem to call for attention. There is nothing much to see; but I have never forgotten what it felt like, up there on those worn stumps of wall, gazing out over nothingness.

Mazar/Balkh has often been in the News, and saw much fighting during the long years of conflict between Russians and Mujaheddin, Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and currently the Americans.


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….November 2012


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