Part I | Reconstructing the ancient history of Kashmir

The experts have done a great job in deciphering the early Greek and Scythian coins, and it throws much light on our ancient history
Part I | Reconstructing the ancient history of Kashmir
"Archaeologists and numismatists of the modern ages have done a tremendous work in discovering and studying archaeological and numismatic materials of these ancient civilizations. "Special arrangement

In fact literary sources, to know Greek and Scythian history in the sub-continent, are extremely scarce. There are no such written records available of that period to the historians.

However, archaeologists and numismatists of the modern ages have done a tremendous work in discovering and studying archaeological and numismatic materials of these ancient civilizations.

They have re-constructed such an interesting and informative picture of that period which was almost missing in olden chronicles of this land.

The modern day numismatists and archaeologists, through their outstanding research, have provided a scientific account of Greek and Scythian events of the sub-continent. In view of these accounts Indian history was then reconstructed and a new picture of ancient Indian history was made available to the readers.

Coin of Demetrious

Obverse; - bust to right with Greek letters

Reverse;- standing deity with kharoshti letters

Deciphering the Greek and Scythian coins

The experts have done a great job in deciphering the early Greek and Scythian coins. These coins are inscribed in classical Greek and Kharoshti scripts, which carried names of its issuers, besides kings, religious symbols were also displayed on these coins. These things helped numismatists to interpret the coins. It is not an easy task to decipher these coins and read their legends, but Europeans experts with their extra-ordinary talent and knowledge did this job. They deciphered and arranged the coins in a chronological order. The European experts to whom credit is due for this type of research are James Princap, Alexander Cunnigham, Mr. E. Theamas, Lasen Wilson and Brown. These are the archaeologists and numismatists that have set up a tradition of coin decipherment.

It is on the basis of their research that several monograms on such coins have been authored by later scholars, the most interesting and perhaps the oldest monograph on the coins is that of Von Sallet whose scholarly acquirements and solid numismatic judgments have enabled to correct many points on the theories of his predecessors. Mr. James Forgusesson’s and Prof. Cowell’s researches have also been of the great value for this purpose. Nowadays, we have many catalogues available of Greek and Scythian coins, most of the numismatic collections which from Indian, Pakistan and Afghanistan reached to Europe stand there well identified and documented.

British museum has got its own well published catalogues of Roman, Greek and Scythian coins found in Indian, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Many a south-Asian museum has a good collection of artifacts and coins pertaining to Greek, Scythian and Parthian tribes. Kabul Museum, Afghanistan, Peshawar Museum Pakistan, Punjab Museum Lahore Pakistan, Indian Museum, Kolkata and Kashmir Museum, Srinagar have got a good collection of these coins. In few of these museums these coins are also well published but at several places of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, these coins are still to be studied.

On the other hand the contemporary archaeologists and numismatists are taking forward the mission of their predecessors. The result is that more monograms are coming to the book marts with more scientific approaches and observations. The difficult questions bearing on old studies have also been addressed well. The book, ‘Greeks in Bacteria and India’ by N. K Narranian opened up new phases of research in Indian parts of Greek occupation. The reputed numismatists, like Dr. David Macdowel, Dr. P.L. Gupta, Michel Mitchnar and Osmund Bopearachchi besides deciphering these coins have done a systematic study of these coins and documented their find spots. Michel Mitchner in his monumental book on world numismatics, titled Classical World has assigned a chapter to Jammu and Kashmir where he has documented number of coins of Indo-Greeks and Indo -Scythians coins, which he believed to had been issued in the parts of Jammu and Kashmir. It was because of these researches based on scientific approaches that Greek and Scythian occupation of the sub continent parts during 2nd and 1st century B.C. was established and more than thirty three Bactrian-Greek and Indo-Greek rulers were identified to have ruled over the north western parts of the subcontinent.

Silver coin Hippostrates

Obverse; - bust right

Reverse; - horse rider

Greeks in Kashmir

When we talk about the evidences found of ancient Greeks in Jammu and Kashmir, we have to take into account three consecutive phases of Greek Periods, and to discuss them in light of their evidence found within the borders of the then Jammu and Kashmir which included the Gilget Baltistan. In the olden times the Greek period of northern India which then also included Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir, almost remained unexplored. No doubt in the modern times several researches have been done on this period, which have thrown some light on the evidence of Greeks found within the borders of northern India and erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir.

Broadly speaking the Greek period is classified into three major parts;

1. First period relates to expeditions of Alexander the great which he took in about the middle of 4th century BC or earlier than that.

2. The second period is associated with Bactrian Greeks which emerged from Bactria ( Balkh) region under the leadership of Diodatus I, in the middle of the 3rd century or earlier than that

3. The third phase is associated with Indo-Greeks, which emerged under the dual leadership of Demeritous and Eucritidus in about 150 BC or earlier than that.

Although the ancient Greek, Scythian and Parthian evidences found in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in northern India have almost been documented, and a historical picture has been framed, but in this context the chapter of Jammu and Kashmir had almost remained unattended and unexplored. A very little research has been undertaken by few European and Indian experts. Alexander Cunningham was the first European expert who not only found ancient Greek and Roman influences on ancient architecture of Kashmir but also claims to have found ancient Indo Greek and Indo-Scythian coins from the upper Valley of Jehleum.

It was in the year 2000 that I also made certain research and documented few of these foreign evidences and attempted to interpret these evidences in light of the already published works of reputed scholars like PNK Bamzai, (The History Jammu and Kashmir) GMD Sofi (Kasheer) and S L Shali (History and Archaeology Through the ages). I firstly wrote a small booklet titled” Greek - Kashmir”, in the year 2004 where I simply documented few Silver Greek, Scythian and Parthian coins. Later on I wrote a brief paper titled, “Ancient Greeks in Kashmir”, and it was published by Dr Vijay Sazawal in his Kashmir Forum Blog in the year 2008.

In my first ever research work on collecting little evidences of ancient Greeks found in Jammu and Kashmir, I also attempted to establish the missing links of ancient Kashmir and recorded my observations in the two above mentioned books. These books provide a fresh and systematic study of ancient Greek, Scythian and Parthian evidences found in Kashmir.

Nilmatpurana and Rajtarangni

But on the other hand these research papers of mine invited a debate and therein brought a mixed response; several scholars appreciated it while few raised interesting questions. Several of my friends blamed me of creating a confusion about ancient Kashmir. They argued that the Nilmatpurana and Rajtarangni are the main and basic treasures of information and there is no need to contradict these already known theories. In fact there should be any solid reason to challenge some of the facts of these basic theories of information. These sources serve us the basic written word about Kashmir and without these sources the researchers cannot reconstruct the ancient missing links of Kashmir history.

But to be honest it is on the bases of these written records one can utilize and interpret the physical evidences provided by the scientifically done numismatic and archaeological researches. I also utilized my observations after identifying and deciphering various ancient coins and other archaeological artifacts in my book titled “Ancient Greeks in Kashmir” which was published in the year 2011 by a reputed Delhi based publisher. In this book I attempted to decipher and interpret the ancient Greek, Scythian and Parthian coins which have been found in Jammu and Kashmir. I tried to reconstruct the missing links of ancient Kashmir by utilizing these materials and was successful to a certain account to clear the shadow from certain ancient periods which had been engulfed by mystery.

Since Kalhana’s Rajtarangni has also given an unclear picture of several ancient periods, there are several events mentioned in Rajtarangni about ancient Kashmir, which hardly are substantiated by the modern day scientific observations. The scientifically conducted archaeological and numismatic researches, which have been undertaken from 20th century onwards has been solving the major mysteries of ancient history and here in Jammu and Kashmir this scientific approach for investigating the ancient history related events was also adopted from 1913 onwards, which helped the scholars to clear the mess and frame a more data based picture of the ancient Jammu and Kashmir.


Obverse;- head of Hercules

Reverse; - Zeus seated on a throne, with legend in Greek

Alexander in local records

Although there is no mention of Kashmir in the records of Alexander the Great, but he is mentioned in the ancient records of this land and in its folklore by the name of Sikinder Azam. His one of the battles which he fought with Raja Pours is also very much popular among the story tellers. I have myself read about him in various Persian literary works. There is a long poem (massnavi), in Persian literature titled Sikinder Nama which gives us a detailed description of Sikinder’s adventures which he made towards east and west. Sikinder Nama has also been translated in Kashmeri. It is Sikinderanama by Molvei Siddiqullah and published by Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages in the year 1979 AD. This book has got several chapters and all its chapters make mention of works and expeditions of Sikandar Azam. His expeditions towards east, west and other directions are mentioned in greater length, that too in a poetic form. One of the interesting expeditions of him mentioned towards the hidden world of Shamballa, which he took in search of the magic spring of Abi Hayaat (the immortal life giving spring). There is a curious tradition recorded in ancient folk lore that anyone who drinks the water of Abi Hayaat never dies.

Local story tellers

There was a tradition in Kashmri households to invite the story tellers to sing lyrics of great lovers and conquerors. The stories of Rustum Sahrab, adventures of Sikinder-e-Azam and love stories of Gulnor Dilaram, Shreen Farhad and Ajabmalik and Noushlab were very much sung in the night events of rural Kashmir. Originally these stories had been composed in Persian language, which once served as the main literary and official language of this land. These stories were later translated and recomposed in our local dialect by the Sufi poets of Kashmir. The story tellers would memorize these stories with its lyrics and then sing in the mehfils. The story tellers were locally called Dastan gou. They would hold night long events and sing in their melodious voices the adventurous stories of these heroes. This would not only provide the entertainment to its audience but would also make them familiar about these historical legends and events. In this way Alexzander, locally known by the name of Sikinder, has already been very much known here in Kashmir and his country Greece, is known here by the name of Younan.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Greater Kashmir