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The Histories in Between: Afghanistan's Religious and Material Cultures.

THE 53-METRE BAMIYAN BUDDHA, recently dated by 14c analysis to c. 500 ad, (1) had survived about 1,500 years of enormous changes both in regional empires and in local dynasties--not to mention the natural elements--before it was finally destroyed in March 2001. We may recall that the international community had attempted to dissuade the perpetrators of this infamous act--the Taliban regime governing various parts of Afghanistan from about 1994 through to that same year--from destroying the wood and stucco image, but to no avail. Indeed, Western institutions had proposed that both this and the 35-metre Buddha (figure 1) essentially be purchased from the Taliban, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art suggesting their move to the Museum, where they would be transformed from once venerated icons into cultural objects, and thereby rendered inoffensive to the tenets of Islam that the Taliban claimed to be defending by destroying them. (2) Arguably, this transformation had already occurred with the gradual decline of Buddhism in Afghanistan, over a millennium before.

Not only did the Taliban refuse the proposal of purchase and safeguarding by the Met, they countered it with a pithy rhetorical flourish that, throughout Afghanistan and also northern India, forms part of the contemporary public understanding of the medieval period: They quoted Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (r. 999-1030), the Islamic ruler of Turkic slave origins, who is reported by contemporaneous writers to have faced a similar choice in 1025 when he undertook a raiding expedition to the temple site of Somnath, on the Saurashtra coast of Gujarat. (3) Mahmud set the standard for subsequent, self-professedly devout Muslim rulers (including the Taliban) when he declared that he would prefer to be known to posterity as the breaker of idols rather than the seller of idols, and the Taliban appropriated this declaration a millennium later. (4) The world's reception of the Taliban's dynamiting of the towering Buddha figure, and the evocation of veracious or fabricated precedents for the act, have been treated elsewhere and do not constitute the principal aims here. Suffice it to say that the Taliban meaningfully summoned to their cause Mahmud of Ghazni as the iconoclast par excellence because, thanks to numerous textual descriptions, this historical figure had come to serve as a synecdoche for medieval Islam's encounters with iconolatrous traditions--a polemic continually fuelled in the present day by both Islamic and Hindu extremisms.

Nowhere would there have been more such encounters than within Afghanistan itself, where Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hindu and other non-Islamic communities had been present from the early historic era through the 10th century, and probably later. Thus, rather than the destruction of the large Buddha, its survival through a millennium and a half should arrest our attention: This "idol's" traversal of time into the 21st century urges us to examine the relationship of the medieval Muslim dynasts of Afghanistan, especially the Ghaznavids (c. 977-1186) and the Ghurids (c. 1146-1215), with the pre-Islamic sites within their homeland.

Postcolonial Turfs

Despite what may seem to be self-evident lines of inquiry, scholarly discourses have remained firmly divided between the pre-Islamic and Islamic histories of Afghanistan. Since the beginning of systematic documentation in the country during the 1920s and the initiation of excavations by the 1950s, the various French and Italian Archaeological Missions to Afghanistan divided both their regions of activity within the country, as well as their expertise, between its preponderantly Buddhist monastic sites and palatial-religious Islamic complexes, even if the latter were in close proximity (figure 3). While these stark divisions can be partially explained by the specific historiographical moment of the mid-20th century--nationalist fervour particularly in South Asia was premised on religious-communal affiliations--the ensuing decades have provided little opportunity to reexamine Afghanistan's surviving material culture. Increasing political volatility in the country and the consequent lack of security have reduced fieldwork, documentation and excavation there to a trickle. Thus, current historical studies and historiographical reassessments of Afghanistan's past must necessarily rely on the invaluable work done by previous generations of intrepid travellers and scholars. (5)

A thorough study of multiple-occupation sites in Afghanistan is hampered by both of these factors. Political instability has no doubt played a role in the inability of archaeologists to conduct even surface surveys, let alone thorough excavation. But equal impact is exerted on our discernment of the quantity and quality of site reuse by the tacit scholarly barrier between the ancient and medieval--or Buddhist-Hindu and Islamic--histories of Afghanistan. For example, while the recent publication on the magnificent site of Mes Aynak (figure 4) about 60 kilometres south of Kabul concentrates on the Buddhist remains found there, it only tantalizingly mentions that, "The final abandonment of Mes Aynak might have been during the early thirteenth century, as early Islamic potsherds have been collected in two places...." (6) If time permits before the razing of the site for copper mining, one hopes that a more thorough examination of its Islamic occupation will also be carried out.

Material Culture: Bridging the Divide

Thanks to a very effective publicity machine in the form of court historians, Mahmud embodied for subsequent Muslim monarchs the military propagation of Islam. (7) He--and to a certain extent also his immediate successors--were reported not only to have rooted out idolatry during their relentless campaigns into northern India, they also enriched their own treasuries for financing the transregional expansion of an empire ultimately encompassing much of Iran and the northwestern reaches of the Indian subcontinent (8)--all while being based at Ghazni, about 200 kilometres southwest of Kabul, and eventually at Lahore.

Following close upon the Ghaznavids' heels, the nomadic Ghurid dynasty, originating in the mountainous regions of the very centre of modern Afghanistan, essentially picked up where their predecessors had left off: while the Ghaznavids conducted profitable raids into northern India but left behind no surviving architectural footprint, the Ghurid sultans deputed their military commanders to annex swathes of the region to their homelands in the west. The Ghaznavids had of course been hailed as idol-breakers in the official literature generated by courtly patronage, and the Italian Archaeological Mission's unearthing of Indian sculptures in Ghazni's palace (figure 2), likely displayed as commemorations of their victorious Indian raids, attest to this reputation. However, it was the Ghurids who, throughout their conquered northern Indian territories, seemed to monumentalize iconoclasm. At all the strongholds the Ghurid military deputies captured, they erected mosques on a scale unprecedented in the region (figure 5), with at least half if not more of the construction materials--mainly structural components such as columns and ceilings--being extracted from pre-existing Indian buildings. The heavily figural elements were often defaced in order to render them usable in Islamic sacred spaces.

In Afghanistan, many of the sites principally examined for their Islamic remains, including those from the Ghaznavid and Ghurid eras, also have stratigraphies extending back to the ancient period. The continuous occupation of major cities such as Balkh, Herat, Kandahar and Kabul, from at least the Greco-Bactrian period of the 3rd century BC through the early Islamic and Timurid periods of the 10th-15th century, is already well known. Indeed, the entire Bamiyan valley itself figured not only as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre of pan-Asian renown, but also as the seat of a Ghurid dynastic lineage in the mid-12th through early 13th centuries.

The above-described scholarly compartmentalization is just as much in evidence at sites whose most visible remains are from the Islamic period. In the 1960s at Danestama or Barfak II, about 50 kilometres northeast of Bamiyan, the French archaeologist Marc Le Berre documented a seemingly fortified structure with chambers surrounding a courtyard, which he judged to be a madrasa of the 12th century or the Ghurid period. While most of the structure was of the usual mud-brick construction, its footing consisted of diaper masonry, an element which Le Berre himself found "surprising", as it is associated with Afghanistan's pre-Islamic structures. Moreover, the courtyard plan with corner and mid-section bastions is not unusual in Buddhist monasteries, and even the four-iwan plan has been documented at Adzhina Tepe in Tajikistan. Nevertheless, Le Berre openly confessed that he only collected "the most interesting" ceramic fragments from the site, which for him meant the Islamic-period glazed-ware fragments. He left behind the plain pottery, which in fact could have been pivotal in establishing the longer chronology of the site. (9)

It is also noteworthy that Le Berre did not explore the more than 75 caves in the hills surrounding the putative madrasa of Danestama, perhaps operating with the fixed preconception that mainly Buddhists used caves as meditational retreats or parts of monastic sites, while Muslims favoured individually constructed buildings. In the end, then, the presence of extensive caves in the vicinity and the use of diaper masonry construction both beg the question of pre-Islamic occupation at Danestama; but since the so-called uninteresting pottery was not collected and the entirety of the site's surroundings was not explored, the question will likely remain unanswered.

For an object-based--rather than exclusively textual--glimpse into the Ghaznavids' attitudes toward the pre-Islamic material culture that immediately surrounded them, the most obvious example is the Buddhist-Hindu site of Tepe Sardar, only 4 kilometres from Ghazni itself. Despite its short distance from the Ghaznavids' eponymous capital city, Tepe Sardar has not been considered in relation to the city in scholarly investigations. The site is dated to the 3rd through 8th centuries, and is well known for its somewhat rare multi-religious use: the excavations led by Maurizio Taddei in the 1960s and '70s unearthed sculptures both of a Jewelled Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism as well as a Mahishasuramardini of Brahmanical--more specifically Shaivite--Hinduism (figures 10-13). However, there seems to be no material evidence of 11th-century Islamic intervention here, though further excavation may one day reveal this. The archaeologists made note of textual references hinting that the Ghaznavid sultans likely used the area for military exercises. The strata indicating destruction and subsequent rebuilding, however, are datable to the late 7th century, possibly coinciding with the Arab raid and confrontation with the Zunbil (as the local ruler is titled in the sources); and then gradual abandonment by the 9th century. (10)

A conclusive interpretation of the Ghaznavids' relationship with Tepe Sardar is not currently possible, but some points are worth noting. By the late 10th-/early 11th-century ascendancy of the Ghaznavids, Tepe Sardar had already been abandoned for at least 100 years. Rather than summarily razing the site, it would seem that Ghaznavid usage went around it, thereby apparently preserving it, even if indirectly. Also, we know that excavations at Ghazni unearthed stone sculptures from India (see figure 2), presumably commemorative trophies of the sultans' raids; however, it is noteworthy that no sculptural remains from the iconically very rich Afghan Buddhist, Hindu and other traditions have been found.

The Ghurid heartland was an area roughly bound on the north by the flow of the Hari Rud from eastern Herat through western Bamiyan. Among the very few excavations to take place in Afghanistan was the one spanning 2003-05 at Jam-Firuzkuh, the generally accepted summer encampment of the seasonally migratory Ghurids (figure 6). As befitting a nomadic "capital", no identifiable palatial remains were unearthed, but rather defensive and surveillance structures which also evinced signs of elite occupation. The dates of these remains is unknown, however, as construction techniques in Afghanistan remained largely constant across several centuries as well as regions, and no inscriptional evidence was found to provide paleographic or other chronological data. (11)

Some sites in Bamiyan province were also comprehensively surveyed and at least partially excavated by British and French archaeologists from the 1950s to the '70s, and are now being revisited by French archaeologists. In contrast to the Ghurid heartland, several sites here clearly evidenced ancient constructions and their later repurposing in the 12th century, probably by the Ghurids. The most recent findings at Shahr-i Gholghola (figure 9), a fortified citadel on a promontory 5 kilometres southeast of the Bamiyan Buddhas, also revealed 11th-century Ghaznavid constructions, which were later reused and occupied during the 12th-century Ghurid period. (12) Ghurid presence at Bamiyan is well attested by Juzjani's Tabaqat-i Nasiri, composed at Delhi in the first half of the 13th century, which details the interactions between the principal ruling branch at Firuzkuh, an agnatic lineage at Bamiyan, and eventually a third Ghurid line at Ghazni. The Ghurid repurposing of pre-existing Ghaznavid structures occurred not only in Bamiyan, but also at Ghazni. Ghurid dismantling and repurposing of buildings in northern India (see figure 5) has received extensive scholarly as well as political attention, wherein the invariable premise is that this "spoliation" was an aggressive, "anti-Hindu" act of civilizational erasure. However, it is noteworthy that analyses of their prior reoccupations and even repurposing of the architecture of their enemies (the Ghaznavids) has only been observed in passing, and assumed to have differing impetuses and aims. (13)

Shahr-i Zohak, about 20 kilometres east of Bamiyan, is a vast site with construction methods typical of the mid-1st millennium ad, such as the staggered vault joints, large bricks and a pronounced batter in the walls (figure 8). While the site had ceramic fragments dating to c. 500, sufficient sgraffiato and glazed ware from the 11th-13th centuries was collected to indicate some Ghaznavid but more pronouncedly a Ghurid occupation. The site's location atop a promontory overlooking the valley likely made it even more favourable for Ghurid use, in keeping with the extensive fortifications that punctuated the Ghurid heartland. Indeed the defensive portions of the complex received much subsequent strengthening and maintenance, which is attributed to the Ghurid period. (14)

Finally, it is noteworthy that the ancient construction method of staggered vault joints was also used at Sarkoshak, the site understood by a team of British archaeologists to be of single-period construction in the 12th century and most likely attributable to Ghurid patronage, based on the surface finds and the lack of evidence for any modification to the structures. Such similarity between the two complexes not only bolsters the idea that Shahr-i Zohak was reused in the medieval period as a Ghurid fortress, it also indicates that the indigenous traditions of building continued largely in use more than half a millennium later in the service of very different regional rulers.

The documentation of the fortified complexes in Bamiyan province also throws into relief the diagnostic problems undercutting the study of Ghurid occupation. First, some construction methods continued in place despite changes in rulership, subscribing to what has recently been termed as the architectural culture of a region. (15) Additionally, Jonathan Lee attributed the missing-brick decorative motifs on fortifications to Ghurid patronage (figure 7); but such ornamentation can be found on much more recent structures of the 19th and 20th centuries, thus not necessarily indicating a Ghurid date. (16) Moreover, the Ghurids continued at least to some degree their pre-Islamic sociocultural traditions, including a lifestyle of seasonal transhumance, moving from summer to winter encampments, with little emphasis on a built environment when compared with the Ghaznavids, for example. This renders their archaeological footprint rather elusive; it is quite possible, moreover, that they reused many more multi-occupation sites, and more extensively, than we can discern in the remaining physical evidence.


What are the plausible conclusions, then, regarding the Ghaznavids' and Ghurids' relationship with and treatment of the pre-Islamic remains in their lands of origin? First, it is important to disaggregate the two dynasties: due to the Ghurids' short florescence of only about 65 years on a transregional level, they have often been treated with the Ghaznavids in much of the scholarship as simply a minor Islamic dynasty of the region. However, the thrust of expansion of their respective empires was different. The Ghaznavids looked west into Khurasan; by contrast, the Ghurids went eastward, being the first Islamic political power with a long-term presence--and very long-term consequences--in northern India.

While the evidence is only partial due to the limitations already mentioned, we may also discern a plausible distinctiveness between these two dynasties in their respective relationships to the pre-Islamic past of Afghanistan, and also that of India. Overall, it can be tentatively suggested that during the Ghaznavid period, there was more than one pre-Islamic past, depending on its proximity or distance; later during the Ghurid period, the pre-Islamic past gained a more uniform treatment, though important differences continued between the homeland of central Afghanistan and the conquered territories of India.

It was noted above that the excavations at Ghazni had yielded several stone sculptures of Indian origin, and none from Afghanistan's own very rich Buddhist-Hindu past, not even from the nearby site of Tepe Sardar. Why this differing relationship with the iconolatry of faraway India and that of the homeland? It is true that many of the pre-Islamic sites of Afghanistan had fallen into disuse due to the decline of Buddhism and Hinduism there by the 10th century, and thus did not pose as rivals or competitors to the Ghaznavids for control of the region's commercial and other riches. But it is notable that Tepe Sardar was not completely erased and subsumed into the capital city, even though it was within visible range. One could propose, then, that the local pre-Islamic past posed no threat to Ghaznavid hegemony, as there were no non-Muslim politico-economic rivals for the region's abundant but still finite resources. The Indian campaigns, on the other hand, brought the Ghaznavids and the Ghurids--both avowedly Muslim elites--into successive confrontations with non-Muslim Indian rulers. The sculptures brought back and displayed as trophies of military victory had additional, powerful receptive valences: they not only commemorated successful campaigns, they also possessed indexical values of geographical otherness (along with their religious and cultural otherness) and therefore a desirability that the "home-grown" fragments did not. Such observations only further support the idea that, for medieval Muslim power-seekers, there were multiple and distinguishable non-Muslim enemies, contingently defined by time and place.

For the Ghurids it can be said that, more than the commemoration of events with fragments, a pragmatic reuse of pre-existing sites took place as their regional control expanded beyond their own heartland. Indeed, large-scale architectural reuse was also their modus operandi in northern India where, ironically, there are perhaps more definitive remains of the Ghurids' "transitory lifestyle" than in their home regions. One can argue that these were also commemorative monuments of victories, not unlike the Ghaznavids' sculptural trophies. This is indeed the case, but it is equally true that they served real state-building purposes in a way that the indexical Ghaznavid trophies could not, in terms of physically annexing territory.

By way of conclusion, a brief remark is required on the texts that have been so powerful in the creation of iconoclastic Islamic dynasties for posterity. It would be useful, I suggest, if we methodologically invert our approach to them; rather than reading objects as texts, as is the current scholarly fashion, it would do us good to consider texts as three-dimensional objects. This way we may perceive them from all sides in their historicity and constitutive processes, rather than as flat palimpsests read only one layer at a time. Such an inversion allows us to adduce on-the-ground physical evidence to the creation of the text and a wider perception of its content, which has been one of the tasks here. Taken altogether, we can say that there were many pre-Islamic pasts for the medieval Islamic dynasties of Afghanistan, and their relationship with each of these pasts depended on proximity as well as territorial ambitions.


The title of this essay takes its inspiration from Rory Stewart's book The Places in Between (Orlando, fl: Harcourt, 2004), based on the author's walking journey through central Afghanistan, a land he described as "the place in between the deserts and the Himalayas, between Persian, Hellenic, and Hindu culture, between Islam and Buddhism, between mystical and militant Islam" (p. 25). Given the fluctuating access to Afghanistan and the division of scholarly specialties, the extremely thorough and inclusive architectural documentation by Josephine Powell (1919-2007) is truly irreplaceable. Her travels throughout Afghanistan in the years 1959-61 and her glorious, principally black-and-white photographs of people, buildings and landscapes have enabled scholarship on Afghanistan to continue. It is to her memory that this essay is dedicated.


(1) See Christian Manhart, "UNESCO's Rehabilitation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage: Mandate and Recent Activities", in Art and Archaeology of Afghanistan: Its Fall and Survival, edited by J. van Krieken-Pieter, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2006, pp. 49-60.

(2) Agence France-Presse, "Pre-Islam Idols Being Broken under Decree by Afghans", The New York Times, March 2, 2001, Sec. International. See also Finbarr B. Flood, "Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm, and the Museum", The Art Bulletin, 84(4), December 2002, pp. 641-59.

(3) For interpretations of this famous Ghaznavid campaign over time, see Romila Thapar, Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History, New Delhi: Penguin/Viking, 2004.

(4) Flood, "Between Cult and Culture", p. 651.

(5) The present author's own fieldwork in Afghanistan in 2011 was curtailed due to security uncertainties throughout much of the country, outside of Kabul and Herat: cf. Alka Patel, "Between Local Community and Global Nation: The Predicament of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage", Marg, 64(1), September 2012, pp. 26-39.

(6) Omara Khan Massoudi et al., Mes Aynak: New Excavations in Afghanistan, Kabul: National Museum of Afghanistan (distributed by Serindia Publications Inc.), 2011, p. 23.

(7) See Ali Anooshahr, The Ghazi Sultans and the Frontiers of Islam: A Comparative Study of the Late Medieval and Early Modern Periods, London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

(8) For Mahmud's India "raids" as actually imperial campaigns of expansion, see Ali Anooshahr, "The Elephant and the Sovereign: India circa 1000 CE", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 28(4), 2018, pp. 615-44.

(9) Ceramic wares from Shahr-i Zohak in the Bamiyan valley, for example, were used to argue approximate 6th-century AD initial occupation and construction at this site: cf. P.H.B Baker and F.R. Allchin, Shahr-i Zohak and the History of the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan, Vol. 1, Ancient India and Iran Trust Series, Oxford: Tempus Reparatum, 1991, pp. 101ff. See also in main text.

(10) Giovanni Verardi and Elio Paparatti, "From Early to Late Tapa Sardar: A Tentative Chronology", East and West, 55(1/4), December 1,2005, esp. pp. 441-42.

(11) David C. Thomas, The Ebb and Flow of the Ghurid Empire, Sydney: Adapa Monographs, Sydney University Press, 2018, pp. 155-66.

(12) Explorations and excavations in the Bamiyan valley are ongoing, and depend upon the region's fluctuating security situation. The work is being conducted under the auspices of the Delegation Archeologique Francaise en Afghanistan (dafa) and led by Thomas Lorain, who presented his recent findings in a paper "Chehel Dokhtaran et Shahr-e Gholgholah (Bamiyan): Nouvelles decouvertes autour de l'architecture palatiale medievale en Afghanistan" as part of the one-day roundtable Textes et Contextes: Recherches en cours sur le monde iranien oriental (ixe-xve s.) in Napoli, Italy, on September 14, 2018.

(13) While the finds from the ongoing excavations at Shahr-i Gholghola are only now being analysed, the long-known finds from Shahr-i Zohak and Lashkari Bazar have only been treated in passing: cf. Baker and Allchin, Shahr-i Zohak, pp. 99 and 105; also Janine Sourdel-Thomine, Lashkari Bazar: une residence royale ghaznevide et ghoride, 2 vols., Paris: Diffusion de Boccard, 1963: Vol. ib--Le decor non-fguratif et les inscriptions, pp. 10, 20-21,36-37, 39-61, 63ff., 70-71.

(14) Baker and Allchin, Shahr-i Zohak, pp. 9iff.

(15) See Alka Patel, "Architectural Cultures and Empire: The Ghurids in Northern India (c. 1192-1210)", Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 21, 2007/2011, pp. 35-60.

(16) See Jonathan Lee, "Monuments of Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan", Iran, 44, 2006, pp. 229-52; Baker and Allchin, Shahr-i Zohak, pp. 99-100.

Caption: 1 The north cliff and eastern end of Bamiyan with the 35-metre Buddha. PHOTOGRAPH: JOSEPHINE POWELL, 1959-61.

Caption: 2 Statue of a Hindu god recovered from the mosque threshold in the excavated palace complex of Masud 111 in Ghazni. PHOTOGRAPH: JOSEPHINE POWELL, 1959-61.

Caption:3 Excavation site of the palace of Masud in in Ghazni, with Tepe Sardar in the distant background. PHOTOGRAPH: JOSEPHINE POWELL, 1959-61.

Caption: 4 Kefiriat Tepe, dated totheist-8th centuries AD, in Mes Aynak near Kabul. [C] ALKA PATEL 2011.

Caption: 5 North aisle of the 12th-century mosque in the Qutb complex, New Delhi. [C] ALKA PATEL 2011.

Caption: 6 Jam-Firuzkuh in the Ghur province of central Afghanistan. The minar is dated by inscription to 1173-74 ad. [C] BY KIND PERMISSION OF DAVID C. THOMAS, 2005.

Caption: 7 Crenellated tower and walls of Shahr-i Zohak, dated to the 5th-13th centuries. PHOTOGRAPH: JOSEPHINE POWELL, 1959-61.

Caption: 8 View from the south of the triangular plateau with fortifications at Shahr-i Zohak, dated to the 5th-13th centuries. PHOTOGRAPH: JOSEPHINE POWELL, 1959-61.

Caption: 9 General view of Shahr-i Gholghola. The citadel is dated to the 11th-13th centuries. PHOTOGRAPH: JOSEPHINE POWELL, 1959-61.

Caption: 10 Remains found at the Buddhist site of Tepe Sardar, near Ghazni, 3rd-8th centuries. On the left is a giant Durga head that lies at the feet of a former standing Buddha. On the right is the bottom fragment of a Durga Mahishasuramardini. FROM M. TADDEI AND G. VERARDI, "TAPA SARDAR. SECOND PRELIMINARY REPORT", EAST AND WEST, 1978, FIG. 47.

Caption: 11-13 Remains from Tepe Sardar, near Ghazni, 3rd-8th centuries. (11) Feet of a former standing Buddha. (12) Fragment of the slain buffalo demon. (13) The legs of Durga resting on the slain buffalo head.


Caption: Afghanistan and its neighbouring regions extended under a large empire ruled by the Samanid dynasty in the 9th and 10th centuries, which was a formative period for the establishment of what came to be known as the Turko-Persian culture. Their epigraphic pottery made of modest earthenware is frequently shown the world over as one of the highest points of design. In the bowl here, elegant stripes of Arabic calligraphy form a black border on a white vessel and a central nuqta or dot is marked out in black. The calligraphic decoration on this bowl reads, "Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace." These vessels bring into the world a vocabulary of design that is bold and rhythmic, but above all celebrates negative space.

V Samanid conical pottery bowl, from Nishapur, Iran, 10th century AD. Earthenware; white slip with black-slip decoration under transparent glaze. Height: 17.8 cm; diameter of rim: 45.7 cm. [C] THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART. ROGERS FUND, 1962. ACC. NO. 65.106.2.

Caption: Portable objects that do not come from a religious environment, and specially those of metal, rarely survive intact over the centuries as they were often melted down and recast. The Markhor goats that form the handles for this ewer, native to much of Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been prized and hunted for their horns for centuries. The ewer's square base links it distinctly with later Indian metal-casting, while the calligraphy and shape reveal strong connections with workshops in Herat and Iran at this time.

W Flask/bottle, Ghurid dynasty, Rawalpindi, c. 1200 ad. Silver and brass; 31.4(h) x 21 (w) x 7(d) cm. [C] THE TRUSTEES OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM. 1883,1019.7.

Caption: X Timurid painting from Herat of "Laila and Majnun at School". Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami, made in Herat, 1431-32 ad. Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper; page: 31.3(h) x 22.g(w) cm. [C] METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART. ACC. NO. 1994.232.4.

The tale of Laila and Majnun, by the 12thcentury Persian poet Nizami, was frequently illustrated over the centuries. This painting comes from a book commissioned by the Timurid prince Baisunghur of Herat, one of the greatest bibliophiles in history. Baisunghur gathered at his court the best painters from Baghdad, Tabriz, Shiraz and Samarkand. This illustration depicts Majnun and Laila as children, who met for the first time at a madrasa.

Caption: Y "The feast at Kohat". Folio from the Baburnama, c. 1598 ad. Gouache on paper; 26(1) x 17(w) cm. [C] NATIONAL MUSEUM, DELHI. ACC. NO. 50.336.

The stories of Babur were illustrated during the reign of his grandson Akbar. This evocative painting from the Baburnama shows Babur's encampment at Kohat during his first incursion into the subcontinent from Central Asia in 7505. It depicts the feast that followed his raid of Bannu, when several local chieftains paid homage at his camp.

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Author:Patel, Alka
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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