Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Central Asia and the Aryans

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 2, 2014

Aryan (disambiguation)

The name “Khorasan” is derived from Middle Persian khwar (meaning “sun”) and āsān (or ayan literally meaning “to come” or “coming” or “about to come”), hence meaning “land where the sun rises” the same etymology also having been suggested for Khwarezm. The Persian word Khāvar-zamīn, meaning “the eastern land”, has also been used as an equivalent term.

The territory of Turkmenistan has been populated since ancient times, especially the areas near oasis of Merv, where traces of human settlements have been found. The scant remains point to some sparse settlements in the region, but the region as a whole remains largely unexplored.

Bronze Age and Iron Age finds do support the probability of advanced civilizations in ancient Turkmenistan including finds at Djeitun and Gonur Tepe. Urban civilization, which includes modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, may have begun as early as 3000 to 2000 BC.

Cultures in the region of Tajikistan have been dated back to at least the 4th millennium BCE, including the Bronze Age Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex, the Andronovo cultures and the pro-urban site of Sarazm, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Afghanistan seems in prehistory, as well as in ancient and modern times, to have been closely connected by culture and trade with the neighbouring regions. It is also believed that the region had early trade contacts with Mesopotamia.

Tribes of horse-breeding Iranian Scythians drifted into the territory of Turkmenistan at about 2000 BC, possibly from the Russian steppes and moved along the outskirts of the Karakum Desert into Iran, Syria, and Anatolia.

Between 2000–1200 BC, a branch of Indo-European-speaking tribes known as the Aryans began migrating into the region. This is part of a dispute in regards to the Aryan invasion theory. They appear to have split into old Persian peoples, Nuristani, and Indian groups at an early stage, possibly between 1500 and 1000 BC in what is today Afghanistan or much earlier as eastern remnants of the Indo-Aryans drifted much further west as with the Mitanni. The Aryans dominated the modern day plateau, while the Indo-Aryans ultimately headed towards the Indian subcontinent.

The Avesta is believed to have been composed possibly as early as 1800 BC and written in ancient Ariana (Aryana), the earliest name of Afghanistan which indicates an early link with today’s Iranian tribes to the west, or adjacent regions in Central Asia or northeastern Iran in the 6th century BC.

Due to the similarity between early Avestan and Sanskrit (and other related early Indo-European languages such as Latin and Ancient Greek), it is believed that the split between the old Persians and Indo-Aryan tribes had taken place at least by 1000 BC. There are striking similarities between the Old Afghan language of Avestan and Sanskrit, which may support the notion that the split was contemporary with the Indo-Aryans living in Afghanistan at a very early stage.

Also, the Avesta itself divides into old and new sections and neither mentions the Medes who are known to have ruled Afghanistan starting around 700 BC. This suggests an early time-frame for the Avesta that has yet to be exactly determined as most academics believe it was written over the course of centuries if not millennia.

Much of the archaeological data comes from the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) and Indus Valley Civilization that probably played a key role in early Aryanic civilization in Afghanistan.

Ariana, the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek Arianē (inhabitants: Ariani; Arianoi), was a general geographical term used by some Greek and Roman authors of the ancient period for a district of wide extent between Central Asia and the Indus River, comprehending the eastern provinces of the Achaemenid Empire that covered entire modern-day Afghanistan, Iran, northwestern Pakistan, most of Tajikistan, most of Turkmenistan and southern Uzbekistan.

The Greek term Arianē (Latin: Ariana) is based upon an Iranian word found in Avestan Airiiana- (especially in Airiianəm Vaēǰō, the name of the Iranian peoples’ mother country). The modern name Iran (which has been used since 1959) represents a different form of the ancient name Ariana and implies that Iran is “the” Ariana itself – a word of Old Iranian origin – a view supported by the traditions of the country preserved in the Muslim writers of the ninth and tenth centuries.

The names Ariana and Aria, and many other ancient titles of which Aria is a component element, are connected with the Sanskrit term Arya-, the Avestan term Airya-, and the Old Persian term Ariya-, a self designation of the peoples of Ancient India and Ancient Iran, meaning “noble”, “excellent” and “honourable”.

Aria (Greek: Ar(e)ia, Latin Aria, representing Old Persian. Haraiva, Avestan Haraeuua), inhabitants: Arians (Latin: Arii, Greek: Ar(e)ioi), is the name of a region in the eastern part of the Achaemenid Empire, several times confused with Arianē in the classical sources. Artacoana, Artacana, Articaudna, Chortacana or Artacaena was the name of the capital of Aria, an eastern satrapy of the Persian empire.

The district Aria of the Persian Achaemenid Empire is mentioned in the provincial lists that are included in various royal inscriptions, for instance, in the Behistun inscription of Darius I (ca. 520 BC). Representatives from the district are depicted in reliefs, e.g., at the royal Achaemenid tombs of Naqsh-e Rustam and Persepolis. They are wearing Scythian-style dress (with a tunic and trousers tucked into high boots) and a twisted Bashlyk that covers their head, chin and neck.

The Hari River or Harirud (Persian Harī Rūd, i.e. “Herat River”) is a river flowing 1100 kilometers from the mountains of central Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, where it disappears in the Kara-Kum desert. Rud means “river” in Persian and Pashto. In Turkmenistan it is known as the Tejen or Tedzhen river and passes close to the city of Tedzhen. To the Ancient Greeks it was known as the Arius. In Latin, it was known as the Tarius.

The river originates in the Baba mountain range, part of the Hindu Kush system, and follows a relatively straight course to the west. Still some 200 km (120 mi) upstream from Herat the river meets the Jam River at the site of the Minaret of Jam, the second tallest ancient minaret in the world at 65 meters.

In western Afghanistan the Hari River flows to the south of Herat, the third largest city of Afghanistan. Herat dates back to ancient times, but its exact age remains unknown. During the period of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BC), the surrounding district was known as Haraiva (in Old Persian), and in classical sources the region was correspondingly known as Aria (Areia) as part of the Achaemenids more eastern regions.

Hari is also a name for Lord Vishnu. Sanskrit Hari is in origin a colour term for yellowish hues, including yellow, golden, yellowish-brown or reddish brown, fallow or khaki, pale yellow, greenish or green-yellow It has important symbolism in the Rigveda and hence in Hinduism; in Rigvedic symbolism, it unites the colours of Soma, the Sun, and bay horses under a single term.

The word Hari is widely used in later Sanskrit and Prakrit literature, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh religions. It appears as 650th name of Vishnu in the Vishnu sahasranama of the Mahabharata and hence rose to special importance in Hindu Vaishnavism.

The Sanskrit word is cognate with Avestan zari, with the same meaning (zari has (dubiously) been identified as the first part of the name of Zarathustra). The English words gold and yellow (from Germanic gulþan, gelwaz) as well as Latin helvus “light-yellow” are from the same Indo-European root, reconstructed as *ǵʰelH-.

Some words in non-Indo-European languages which fell under Hindu dominance during the medieval period also have loanwords derived from the Sanskrit term, including the word for “day” in Malay and Indonesian, and the word for “king” in Tagalog.

In the Zoroastrian Avesta, the district is mentioned as Haroiva. The name of the district and its main town is derived from that of the chief river of the region, the Hari River (Old Iranian Harayu, “Golden Water”), which traverses the district and passes some 5 km (3.1 mi) south of modern Herāt.

Hari is mentioned in Sanskrit as yellow or golden color equivalent to Persian Zar meaning Gold (yellow). The naming of a region and its principal town after the main river is a common feature in this part of the world—compare the adjoining districts/rivers/towns of Arachosia, the Hellenized name of an ancient satrapy in the eastern part of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Greco-Bactrian, and Indo-Scythian empires, and Bactria.

Arachosia was centred on Arghandab valley in modern-day southern Afghanistan, and extended east to as far as the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan. The main river of Arachosia was called Arachōtós, now known as the Arghandab River, a tributary of the Helmand River.

The Greek term “Arachosia” corresponds to the Aryan land of Harauti which was around modern-day Helmand. The Arachosian capital or metropolis was called Alexandria or Alexandropolis and laid in what is today Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Arachosia is the Latinized form of Greek Arachōsíā. The same region appears in the Avestan Vidēvdāt (1.12) under the indigenous dialect form Haraxvaitī- (whose -axva- is typical non-Avestan). In Old Persian inscriptions, the region is referred to as, written h-r-v-u-t-i. This form is the “etymological equivalent” of Vedic Sanskrit Sarasvatī-, the name of a (mythological) river literally meaning “rich in waters/lakes” and derived from sáras- “lake, pond.” (cf. Aredvi Sura Anahita).

Arachosia was named after the name of a river that runs through it, in Greek Arachōtós, today known as the Arghandab, a left bank tributary of the Helmand. The Helmand River (also spelled Helmend, Helmund, Hirmand, Greek: Etýmandros, Latin: Erymandrus) is the longest river in Afghanistan and the primary watershed for the endorheic Sistan Basin.

The name comes from Avestan Haētumant, literally “dammed, having a dam”, cognate with Sanskrit Setumanta “having a dam”, which referred to the Helmand River and the irrigated areas around it. The name was borrowed into Greek and Latin as a compound with Eastern Iranian *raha (cf. Scythian Rha “Volga”), “river”. Helmand Province is named after the river.

The Helmand valley region is mentioned by name in the Avesta (Fargard 1:13) as the Aryan land of Haetumant, one of the early centers of the Zoroastrian faith in pre-Islamic Afghan history. But owing to the preponderance of Hindus and Buddhists (non-Zoroastrians), the Helmand and Kabul regions were also known as “White India” in those days. The Zunbils were also located here.

Some Vedic scholars (e.g. Kochhar 1999) also believe the Helmand valley corresponds to the Sarasvati area mentioned in the Rig Veda as the homeland for the Indo-Aryan migrations into India, ca. 1500 BC.

The Sarasvati River (Sanskrit: sárasvatī nadī) is one of the main Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda (10.75) mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas as well as the Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert. The goddess Sarasvati was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity and gained a different meaning.

The identification of the Vedic Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River was accepted by most of scholars already in the 19th and early 20th century, including Christian Lassen, Max Müller, Marc Aurel Stein, C.F. Oldham and Jane Macintosh, while Rajesh Kochhar believes that the Helmand River of southern Afghanistan corresponds to the Sarasvati River. According to proto-historian Michel Danino, in ancient times a mature river flowed into the Ghaghar-Hakra valley and into the Rann of Kutch, which he identifies as the Rig Vedic Sarasvati river.

Sarasvatī is the devi feminine of an adjective sarasvant- (which occurs in the Rigveda as the name of the keeper of the celestial waters), derived from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sáras-vat-ī (and earlier, PIE *séles-u̯n̥t-ih₂), meaning ‘marshy, full of pools’.

Sanskrit sáras means ‘pool, pond’; the feminine sarasī́ means ‘stagnant pool, swamp’. Like its cognates Welsh hêl, heledd ‘river meadow’ and Greek hélos, ‘swamp’, the Rigvedic term refers mostly to stagnant waters, and Mayrhofer considers unlikely a connection with the root *sar- ‘run, flow’.

Sarasvatī is an exact cognate with Avestan Haraxvatī, perhaps originally referring to Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā (modern Ardwisur Anahid), the Zoroastrian mythological world river, which would point to a common Indo-Iranian myth of a cosmic or mystical Sáras-vat-ī river.

In the younger Avesta, Haraxvatī is Arachosia, a region described to be rich in rivers, and its Old Persian cognate Harauvati, which gave its name to the present-day Hārūt River in Afghanistan, may have referred to the entire Helmand drainage basin (the center of Arachosia).

Anahita is the Old Persian form of the name of an Iranian goddess and appears in complete and earlier form as Aredvi Sura Anahita (Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā); the Avestan language name of an Indo-Iranian cosmological figure venerated as the divinity of ‘the Waters’ (Aban) and hence associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. Aredvi Sura Anahita is Ardwisur Anahid or Nahid in Middle- and Modern Persian, Anahit or Anaheed in Armenian.

An iconic shrine cult of Aredvi Sura Anahita, was – together with other shrine cults – “introduced apparently in the 4th century BCE and lasted until it was suppressed in the wake of an iconoclastic movement under the Sassanids.”

In the Rigveda, the name Sarasvati already does not always relate to a river and its personification exclusively; in some places, the goddess Saraswati is abstracted from the river. The Sarasvati River is an important river goddess in the Rigveda. The Sanskrit name means “having many pools”.

Saraswati (Sanskrit: Sarasvatī) is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and nature. She is a part of the trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe. The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India.

Saraswati is strongly associated with flowing water in her role as a goddess of knowledge. She is depicted as a beautiful woman to embody the concept of knowledge as supremely alluring. She possesses four arms, and is usually shown wearing a spotless white sari and seated on a white lotus or riding a white swan.

The valley around Herat was historically famous for its fertility and dense cultivation. After Herat, the river turns northwest, then north, forming the northern part of the border between Afghanistan and Iran. Farther north it forms the south-eastern part of the border between Iran and Turkmenistan.

The Rigveda records the Harirud as River Sarayu. The name is the feminine derivative of the Sanskrit root sar “to flow”; as a masculine stem, saráyu- means “air, wind”, i.e. “that which is streaming”. Saraṇyū is the female form of the adjective saraṇyú, meaning “quick, fleet, nimble”, used for rivers and wind in the Rigveda.

Saranya (Saraṇyū) or Saraniya (also known as Saranya, Sanjna, or Sangya), the goddess of clouds in Hindu mythology, and sometimes associated with Demeter, Greek goddess of agriculture, and Helen of Troy, is the wife of Surya (Sanskrit: Sūrya, “the Supreme Light”), also known as Adithya, Suraya, Bhanu, Ravi or Phra Athit is the chief solar deity in Hinduism and generally refers to the Sun.

Surya is the chief of the Navagraha, the nine Indian Classical planets and important elements of Hindu astrology. He is often depicted riding a chariot harnessed by seven horses which might represent the seven colors of the rainbow or the seven chakras in the body. He is also the presiding deity of Sunday. Surya is regarded as the Supreme Deity by Saura sect and Smartas worship him as one of the five primary forms of God.

“Arka” form is worshiped mostly in North India and Eastern parts of India. Surya is also known as “Mitra” (meaning friend) for his life nourishing properties. The Mitra form of Surya had been worshiped mostly in Gujarat, where a clan of Suryawanshi kings was known as Mitrawanshi kshatriyas, also known by its distorted name “Maitrakas”. His Greek counterpart is Helios and his Egyptian counterpart is Ra.

According to Max Müller and A. Kuhn, Demeter is the mythological equivalent of the Sanskrit Saranyu, who, having turned herself into a mare, is pursued by Vivasvat, and becomes the mother of Revanta and the twin Asvins, divine horsemen and physicians to the Devas, the Indian Dioscuri (the Indian and Greek myths being regarded as identical). She is also the mother of Manu (the seventh, i.e. present Manu), the twins Yama (the Lord of Death) and Yami.

According to Farnell, the meaning of the epithet is to be looked for in the original conception of Erinys, which was that of an earth-goddess akin to Gaya, or Ki, thus naturally associated with Demeter, rather than that of a wrathful avenging deity.

In ancient Greek religion and myth, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. Her cult titles include Sito (Σιτώ), “she of the Grain”, as the giver of food or grain and Thesmophoros (thesmos: divine order, unwritten law; “phoros”: bringer, bearer), “Law-Bringer,” as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society.

Though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries that predated the Olympian pantheon.

In the Linear B Mycenean Greek tablets of circa 1400–1200 BC found at Pylos, the “two mistresses and the king” may be related with Demeter, Persephone and Poseidon. Her Roman equivalent is Ceres.

Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”; Lydian Kuvava; Greek: Kybele, Kybebe, Kybelis) was an originally Anatolian mother goddess; she has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük (in the Konya region) where the statue of a pregnant goddess seated on a lion throne was found in a granary.

She is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity. Her Phrygian cult was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread from there to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BCE.

In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her Minoan equivalent Rhea, and the Harvest-Mother goddess Demeter. Some city-states, notably Athens, evoked her as a protector, but her most celebrated Greek rites and processions show her as an essentially foreign, exotic mystery-goddess who arrives in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and a disorderly, ecstatic following.

Uniquely in Greek religion, she had a transgender or eunuch mendicant priesthood. Many of her Greek cults included rites to a divine Phrygian castrate shepherd-consort Attis, who was probably a Greek invention. In Greece, Cybele is associated with mountains, town and city walls, fertile nature, and wild animals, especially lions.

Etymologically, Saranyu may be related to Helen. In Rigveda 10.17, Saranyu is the daughter of Tvastar, and, like Helen, is abducted, and Vivasvat is given a replacement bride instead.

tváṣṭā duhitré vahatúṃ kṛṇotîtīdáṃ víśvam bhúvanaṃ sám eti. yamásya mātâ paryuhyámānā mahó jāyâ vívasvato nanāśa. ápāgūhann amŕtām mártyebhyaḥ kṛtvî sávarṇām adadur vívasvate. utâśvínāv abharad yát tád âsīd ájahād u dvâ mithunâ saraṇyûḥ.

Tvastar prepares the bridal of his Daughter: all the world hears the tidings and assembles. But Yama’s Mother, Spouse of great Vivasvat, vanished as she was carried to her dwelling. From mortal men they hid the Immortal Lady, made one like her and gave her to Vivasvat. Saranyu brought to him the Asvin brothers, and then deserted both twinned pairs of children.

The river Horayu is also mentioned in the Avesta. A Buddhist monastery hand-carved in the bluff of the river Harirud existed in the first centuries during the prevalence of Buddhism. The artificial caves revealed testimony of daily life of the Buddhist monks. Hari is also a name for Lord Vishnu.

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