Sunday, January 12, 2014

Surkh Kotal & King Kanishka (c. 100 AD)


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Surkh Kotal. The presence of Persian symbols in Kushan-era culture is most evident among the ruins of Surkh Kotal, a Zoroastrian Fire Temple complex with a vast processional stairway located north of the Hindu Kush near the city of Pul-i Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province…..Excavations at Surkh Kotal between 1952 and 1966 proved the co-existence of a purely indigenous Zoroastrian religion, unaffected by Buddhism, centered around the cult of fire……. Kanishka personally seems to have embraced both Buddhism and the Persian cult of Mithra……. Fragments of his statue found at Surkh Kotal ranks among the most precious objects in the Kabul Museum collection…..

"A number of legends about Kanishka, a great patron of Buddhism, were preserved in Buddhist religious traditions. Along with the Indian kings Ashoka and Harshavardhana, and the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Milinda), he is considered by Buddhists to have been one of the greatest Buddhist kings…..Kanishka is said to have been particularly close to the Buddhist scholar Ashvaghosha, who became his religious advisor in his later years. At the time of Kanishka's coronation and when India's first gold coin was minted, Yuz Asaf was the spiritual advisor to the king…. Kanishka had been the first Buddhist to rule Balkh. ."

"Surkh Kotal / Atashkadeh-ye Sorkh Kowtal……In the predominantly Tajik northern Afghan province of Baghlan, about 32 km (20 miles) southwest of the town of Baghlan and 18.5 km (11.5 miles) north of the provincial capital of Pol-i Khomri, on the road to Mazar-e-Sharif, are the ruins of the Atashkadeh-ye Sorkh Kowtal (also spelt Surkh Kotal), a 1st century CE Zoroastrian fire temple believed to have been built by the Kushan emperor Kaniska I (c. 50 - 120 CE) whose statue was found within the temple. …..The site was excavated archaeologically by 1952 and again in 1966 by Prof. Schlumberger of the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan. The ruins have since been plundered, statues stored in a museum smashed by the Taliban, and artifacts looted. A statue of the king has been pieced together by French conservationists. ……Built on the top and side of a large hill, the temple complex would have been a imposing site, before its destruction, towering over the vast valley plains below. It was accessed by a long flight of steps leading to a stairwell, above which was a monumental stairway some fifty five metres high, rising in four flights, flanked by four terraces, to the Fire Temple on top of the hill. …..The stairs led to a temple containing a 11m. x 11m. sanctuary - a cella - in which there was a platform flanked by four columns, and on which rested a fire altar."……

Surkh Kotal (Persian: سرخ‌کوتل‎), also called Chashma-i Shir or Sar-i Chashma, is an ancient archaeological site located in the southern part of the region of Bactria, about 18 km north of the city of Puli Khumri, the capital of Baghlan Province of Afghanistan…..It is the location of monumental constructions made during the rule of the Kushans. Huge temples, statues of Kushan rulers and the Surkh Kotal inscription, which revealed part of the chronology (another fragment of that chronology was found on the Rabatak inscription found nearby) of early Kushan emperors (also called Great Kushans) were all found there….The site of Surkh Kotal, excavated between 1952 and 1966 by Prof. Schlumberger of the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan, is the main site excavated of the Kushan Empire. Some of the site's sculptures were transferred to the National Museum of Afghanistan (also known as the 'Kabul Museum'), the rest of the site was completely looted during the Afghan Civil War. The most famous artifacts of this site are the Surkh Kotal inscriptions, the statue of King Kanishka and the fire altar. The statue of the king was destroyed during the Taliban wave of iconoclasm in February–March 2001, but has been restored by French conservationists. The three artifacts are currently on display in the Afghan National Museum."….

BACTRIAN LANGUAGE….."the Iranian language of ancient Bactria (northern Afghanistan), attested by coins, seals, and inscriptions of the Kushan period (first to third centuries A.D.) and the following centuries and by a few later manuscript fragments. Bactrian is the only Middle Iranian language whose writing system is based on the Greek alphabet, translations of the inscriptions from Surkh Kotal by J. Harmatta. They were originally in the Bactrian language and written in Greek script."…..

"Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, who is the leading expert of the Sogdian and Bactrian languages, gave a lecture on the discovery and decipherment of Bactrian documents, written in the little-known Iranian language of Ancient Afghanistan in modified Greek script, at the Ancient Orient Museum in Ikebukuro, Tokyo….When Bactria was overrun by nomadic peoples from the north, its new rulers, the Kushans, at first continued the use of the Greek language for administrative purposes, but soon they came to use the Greek script to write the local language, Bactrian. A crucial moment in the history of this language was the decision of the Kushan ruler Kanishka to adopt Bactrian as the language of his coinage. After the first issues of Kanishka, Greek disappears from the coinage once and for all, to be replaced by Bactrian……During the first centuries of the Christian era, Bactrian could legitimately have been ranked amongst the world's most important languages. As the language of the Kushan kings, Bactrian must have been widely known throughout a great empire, in Afghanistan, Northern India and part of Central Asia. Even after the collapse of the Kushan empire, Bactrian continued in use for at least six centuries, as is shown by the ninth-century inscriptions from the Tochi valley in Pakistan [Slide 1 9KB] and the remnants of Buddhist and Manichean manuscripts found as far away as the Turfan oasis in western China. …a unique fragment of a Bactrian text written in Manichean script, which forms part of the Turfan collection in Berlin.) The career of Bactrian as a language of culture thus lasted for close to a thousand years."…..

"King Kanishka of the Kushan Empire (its capital, Bagram, is situated slightly east of Bamian) ruled over Central Asia from 78-144 A.D. (127-151 AD?) and is revered as a patron of Buddhism….."……

"Kanishka personally seems to have embraced both Buddhism and the Persian cult of Mithra." ...

"… Kashmir around the 1st century AD….the Fourth Buddhist Council (Sarvastivada tradition) is said to have been convened by the Kushan emperor Kanishka (r. 127-151 CE), perhaps in 78 CE at Jalandhar or in Kashmir. The Fourth Council of Kashmir is not recognized as authoritative in Theravada; reports of this council can be found in scriptures which were kept in the Mahayana tradition. The Mahayana tradition based some of its scriptures on (refutations of) the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma texts, which were systematized at this council."….

"Bagram became the capital of the Kushan Empire in the 1st century…..Most remarkable -- indeed the most beautiful exhibits of the Bagram Treasure -- are a series of ivory carvings resembling the styles of southern India. It is easy to imagine what would have happened to these full-breasted, hip- swaying female figures if they'd been discovered by the Taliban…..The Bagram treasures make the point that Afghanistan was a point of cultural interchange, where currents from India, Europe, China, Iran, Central Asia and the Middle East all met." …."

"Kanishka I is no doubt the most famous Kushan king and even perhaps the greatest, although his son Huvishka's empire was probably bigger….Establishing the date of Kanishka has been a major point of historical research for over 100 years….most authors have now accepted the argument that the Kanishka era should be dated to the year 127 AD….the most important inscription of Kanishka is the Rabatak Inscription……it shows Kanishka to be a nationalist: he explicitly states that he is recording this inscription in the Arian (or Bactrian) language…..Kanishka's coins switch to carrying Bactrian legends. For example, the word "King," rather than being recorded as the Greek BAΣIΛEΩΣ (Basileus), is now rendered Shao……Third, it suggests that, at least at the time his reign started, Kanishka was a follower of Iranian religion since he gives prime place among the listed pantheon to the Goddess Nana, but nevertheless honored deities from different traditions…..Bactrian legends and the Iranian versions of the same deities. In addition, deities from different traditions are featured on the coinage…Kanishka introduced Ardochsho on coinage for the first time ... she would go on to become one of only two deities featured on late Kushan coinage. Deities known to have appeared on Kanishka dinars are: Ardochsho, Athsho, Buddha, Lrooaspo (Druvaspa), Manaobago, Mao, Mazdoanao, Miiro (Mithra), Nana, Oesho (Shiva?), Orlagno, and Pharro."….

Kanishka was a Kushan of probable Yuezhi ethnicity. He used an Eastern Iranian, Indo-European language known as Bactrian (called "αρια," i. e. "Aryan" in the Rabatak inscription)...... Kanishka's era is now believed by many to have begun in 127 AD....

Kanishka's empire extended from southern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, north of the Amu Darya (Oxus) in the north west to Northern India, as far as Mathura in the south east (the Rabatak inscription even claims he held Pataliputra and Sri Champa), and his territory also included Kashmir, where there was a town Kanishkapur, named after him not far from the Baramula Pass and which still contains the base of a large stupa.....Several coins of Kanishka have been found in the Tarim Basin......Controlling both the land (the Silk Road) and sea trade routes between South Asia and Rome seems to have been one of Kanishka's chief imperial goals.

"Afghanistan’s reward for being “the crossroads of the ancient world” was to be invaded by some of the ancient world’s most active marauders. The first was Alexander the Great, who left colonies in Herat, Kandahar and Bagram, and who paid particular attention to the settlement of Bactria, in the Oxus Valley. In 1964, a French archeological team began digging here and discovered a lost city called Ai Khanum. What should begin popping out of the ancient Afghan ground but mound after mound of Hellenistic art treasures: finely carved Aphrodites, gold cups decorated with Dionysus, precisely minted imperial coins, muscular statues of Hercules? The surprised French archeologists had happened on a mini Greece."….

"Vima Kadphises (Kushan language: Οοημο Καδφισης, Ancient Chinese: 阎膏珍) was a Kushan emperor from around 90–100 CE. As detailed by the Rabatak inscription, he was the son of Vima Takto and the father of Kanishka.....Most of Vima's coins feature the Buddhist symbol of the Triratana on the reverse (or possibly Shiva's symbol for Nandi, the Nandipada), together with representations of Shiva, with or without his bull......

"The Rabatak inscription is an inscription written on a rock in the Bactrian language and the Greek script, which was found in 1993 at the site of Rabatak, near Surkh Kotal in Afghanistan. The inscription relates to the rule of the Kushan emperor Kanishka, and gives remarkable clues on the genealogy of the Kushan dynasty......The first lines of the inscription describe Kanishka as: "the great salvation, the righteous, just autocrat, worthy of divine worship, who has obtained the kingship from Nana and from all the gods, who has inaugurated the year one as the gods pleased" (Trans. Professor Sims-Williams)."....

"The Kushana period saw a great resurgence of Buddhism in Kashmir, especially during the reign of Kanishka. The fourth Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir, under the presidency of Katyayaniputra, in Kanishka's time. The south Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna lived in Kashmir during the Kushana period.".....

"Languages and literature of the Kushan Empire" János Harmatta. (1994). In: History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume II, pp. 427-432. UNESCO Publishing. Paris. ISBN 92-3-102846-4.


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….January 2014


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