The Shahi (Devanagari
Sahi, also called Shahiyadynasties ruled one of the Middle kingdoms of India which included
portions of the Kabulistan and the old province of Gandhara (now in northern
Pakistan), from the decline of the Kushan Empire in the third century to the
early ninth century. The kingdom was known as "Kabul Shahi" (Kabul-shāhān
or Ratbél-shāhān in Persian کابلشاهانیارتبیلشاهان) between 565 and 879 CE when they had
and Kabul as their capitals, and later as "Hindu Shahi" when
they moved their capital to Hund.
The Shahis of Kabul/Gandhara are generally divided according to two eras
into the so-called Buddhist-Shahis and the so-called Hindu-Shahis, with the
change-over thought to have occurred sometime around AD 870.
Coin of Shahi Kings of Kabul & Gandhara : Spalapati Deva, circa AD 750-900.
confused accounts of 11th
century Persian Muslim scholar Alberuni, ("which bear the impress of
folklore for the early history of the Kabul Shahi rulers")state
Hindu kings residing in Kabul were Turks
they were said to be of Tibetan origin
first of them was a Barahatakin, (founder of the
dynasty) who came (from Tibet) into the country (Kabul), entered a cave
and after few days, started to creep out of it in the presence of people
who looked upon him as a "new born baby", clothed in Turkish dress.
People honored him as a being of miraculous birth, destined to be a king.
And he brought those countries under his sway and ruled under the title of
Shahiya of Kabul
the rule remained among his descendants the number of
which is said to be about sixty generations till it was supplanted by a
Brahmana minister and
in this series of his descendant rulers, one was Kanik
(Kanishaka?) who is said to have built Vihara in Purushapura which is
called Kanika Caitya.
·Thus the folklore accounts recorded by
connect the earlier Shahis of Kabul/Kapisa to Turkish extraction and also claim
their descent from Kanik (or Kanishaka of Kushana lineage). At the same time it
is also claimed that 'their first king Barahatigin (Vrahitigin?) had originally
come from Tibet and concealed in a narrow cave in Kabul area (and here is given
a strange legend which we omit). One can easily see the above account of Shahi
origin as totally fanciful and fairy tale-like. These statements taken together
are very confusing, inconsistent and bear the express marks of a folklore and
vulgar tradition, hence unworthy of inspiring any confidence in the early
history of Shahis. The allegation that the first dynasty of Kabul was Turki is
plainly based on the vulgar tradition which Alberuni himself remarked was
·Based on Alberuni's accounts, V. A. Smith
speculates that the earlier Shahis were a cadet branch of the Kushanas who
ruled both over Kabul and Gandhara until the rise of Saffarids. H. M. Elliot
relates the early Kabul Shahis to the Kators and further connects the Kators
with the Kushanas. Charles Fredrick Oldham also traces the Kabul Shahi lineage
to the Kators—whom he identifies with the Kathas or Takkhas—Naga worshipping
collective groups of solar (Sun-worshiping) lineage. He further speaks
of the Urasas, Abhisaras, Daradas, Gandharas, Kambojas, et al. as allied tribal
groups of the Takkhas belonging to the Sun-worshiping races of the
north-west frontier. D. B. Pandey traces the affinities of the early Kabul
Shahis to the Hunas.
·The accounts recorded by Alberuni are
confusing but other numerous accounts prove the Kshatriya Punjabi origins of
the Shahi dynasty. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang knew well enough what a Turk
was since he had come to Kabul through their country.... Against the
contemporary evidence of Hiuen Tsang, an absurd tradition related by Alberuni
after 400 years and with evident reluctance and disbelief in it cannot,
therefore, be taken for history.... Hiuen Tsang clearly describes the ruler of
Kapisa/Kabul, whom he had personally met, as a devout Buddhist and a Kshatriya
and not a Tu-kiue/Tu-kue (Turk). The fact that Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang (AD
644) specifically describes the ruler of Kapisa as Ksatriya, and that of Zabul
at this time being known as Shahi casts serious doubt about the speculated
connections of the first Shahis of Kabul/Kapisa to the Kushanas or the
Hephthalites. Neither the Kushanas nor the Hunas/Hephthalites nor the Turks (or
Turushakas) have ever been designated or classified as Ksatriyas in any ancient
Indian tradition. Therefore, the identification of the first line of Shahi
kings of Kapisa/Kabul with the Kushanas, Hunas, or Turks obviously seems to be
in gross error.
·It is very interesting that Alberuni
early Shahi rulers Turks but this should be interpreted to mean Turkised rather
·The Shahi rulers of Kapisa/Kabul who
Afghanistan from early 4th century till AD 870 were Hindu Kshatriyas or Khatri
from the Punjab. The Shahis of Afghanistan have specifically been connected to
the Kamboja race by E. Vesey Westmacott.
·E. Vesey Westmacott Bishan
Singh, K. S. Dardi, et al. connect the
Kabul Shahis to the ancient Ksatriya clans of the Kambojas/Gandharas. George
Scott Robertson writes that the Kators/Katirs of Kafiristan belong to the well
known Siyaposh tribal group of the Kams, Kamoz and Kamtoz tribes. But
numerous scholars now also agree that the Siyaposh tribes of Hindukush
are the modern representatives of the ancient Kambojas.
·The powerful evidence from Hiuen Tsang
attesting that the ruler of Kabul/Kapisa was a devout
belonged to Ksatriya caste would rather connect this ruling dynasty
either to the erstwhile Gandharas or more probably to Ashvaka clan of the Kambojas,
the eminent Ksatriya clan of the Mauryan times from this very region.
·The name (Katorman or Lagaturman)
last king of the so-called first Shahi line of Kabul/Kapisa simply reveals a
trace of Tukhara cultural influence in the Kamboja (Kapisa) region, as hinted
in above discussion. Thus, the first ruling dynasty of Kapisa and Kabul,
designated as Ksatriya dynasty by Hiuen Tsang, may indeed have been a
·It is also a known fact of history that
second century BCE onwards (much prior to the Huna ascendancy), the Tukharas
had settled in considerable numbers in the ancient Kamboja land and thus the
culture of the Kambojas undoubtedly underwent some changes and due to the
interaction of two cultures, the Kambojas of Kapisa were also substantially
influenced by Tukharas who remained for quite a time the ruling power in this
fact is also verified by Hiuen Tsang who
records that the literature, customary rules, and currency of Bamiyan were same
as those of Tukhara; the spoken language is only little different and in
personal appearance the people closely resembled those of the Tukhara country.
On the other hand, the literature and written language of Kapisa (=Kamboja) was
like that of Tukharas but the social customs, colloquial idiom, rules of
behavior (and their personal resemblance) differed somewhat from those of
Tukhara country which means that the original and dominant community of Kapisa
had imbibed the Tukharan culture and customs but to a limited extent and the
penetration of the Tukharas in the Kapisa territory appears to have therefore
been also limited.
Abbasid Shahi-inspired coin, Iraq 908-930. British Museum.
·The Kambojas and the Tukharas (Turks) are
mentioned as immediate neighbors in north-west as late as 8th century AD as Rajatarangini
of Kalhana demonstrates.
·Evidence also exists that some medieval Muslim
writers have confused the Kamboja clans of Pamirs/Hindukush with the Turks and
invested the former with Turkic ethnicity. For example, 10th century Arab geographer
Al-Muqaddasi, refers to the Kumiji (=Kamoji/Kamboja) tribesmen of
Buttaman mountains (Tajikstan), on upper Oxus, and calls them of Turkic race.
Song Yun, the Chinese Ambassador to the Huna kingdom of Gandhara, in AD 520
writes that the Yethas (Hephthalites) had invaded Gandhara two
generations prior to him and had completely destroyed this country. The then
Yetha ruler was extremely cruel, vindictive, and anti-Buddhist and had engaged
in a three years border war with the king of Ki-pin (Cophene or Kapisa),
disputing the boundaries of that country. The Yetha king referred to by Song
Yun may have been Mihirakula (AD 515-540/547) or his governor. This evidence
also proves that the Kapisa kingdom was well-established prior to the
Huna/Hephthalite invasion of Gandhara (~ AD 477) and that it did not submit to
the Yethas but had survived and continued to maintain its independence.
·Once the political clout of the invaders like
the Kushanas or the Hephthalites had declined, some native chieftain from the
original dominant clans of this region seems to have attained ascendancy in
political power and established an independent kingdom on the ruins of the Kushana
and/or the Hephthalite empire.
·Commenting on the rise of Shahi dynasty in
Kabul/Kapisa, Charles Frederick Oldham observes: "Kabulistan must have
passed through many vicissitudes during the troublous times which followed the
overthrow of the great Persian empire by the Alexander. It no doubt fell for a
time under the sway of foreign rulers (Yavanas, Kushanas, Hunas etc). The great
mass of the population, however, remained Hindu. And probably too, the native
chiefs retained great shadow of authority, and asserted themselves when the
·Barhatigin is said to be the founder of the
dynasty which is said to have ruled for 60 generations until AD 870. This, if
true, would take Barhatigin and the founding of the early Shahi dynasty back
about 20x60=1200 years, i.e., to about fourth century BCE if we take the average
generation of 20 years; and to seventh century BCE if average generation is
taken as 25 years. It is well nigh impossible that a single dynasty could have
ruled for 1200 (or 1500) years at a stretch. Moreover, king Kanik (if
Kanishaka) ruled (AD 78-101) not over Kabul but over Purushapura/Gandhara and
his descendants could not have ruled for almost 900 years as a single dynasty
over Kapisa/Kabul especially in a frontier region called the gateway of India. Pre
Islamic Hindu and Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan is well established in the
Shahi coinage from Kabul of this period.
·Based on fragmentary evidence of coins, there
was one king named Vrahitigin (Barhatigin?) who belonged to pre-Christian times
as Alberuni's accounts would tend to establish. If Kanik is same as Kanishaka
of Kushana race as is often claimed, then the second claim that the ancestors
of the early Shahis came from Tibet (which incidentally is the Kamboja-desa
of the Nepali Traditions) becomes incompatible to known facts of history.
·According to Olaf Caroe, "the earlier Kabul
Shahis in some sense were the inheritors of the Kushana chancery tradition and
were staunch Hindus in character. The affinities of the early Shahis of
Kapisa/Kabul are still speculative, and the inheritance of the
Kushan-Hephthalite chancery tradition and political institutions by Kabul
Shahis do not necessarily connect them to the preceding dynasty (i.e. the
Kushanas or Hephthalites).
·It appears that from start of 5th century till
AD 793-94, the capital of the Kabul Shahis was Kapisa. As early as AD 424, the
prince of Kapisa (Ki-pin of the Chinese) was known as Guna Varman. The
name ending "Varman" is used after the name of a Ksahriya only. Thus
the line of rulers whom Hiuen Tsang refers to in his chronicles appears to be
an extension of the Ksatriya dynasty whom this Guna Varman of Ki-pin or Kapisa
(AD 424) belonged. Thus this Ksatriya dynasty was already established
prior to AD 424 and it was neither a Kushana nor a Hephthalite dynasty by any