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Hoons, Huns, Pashtoon, and Abdalis - From Hinduism to Islam

Huns or Hoon Invasion of NW India

The Huns or Huna (Middle Brahmi script: Hūṇā) was the name given by the ancient Indians to a group of Central Asian tribes who entered the Indian subcontinent during the 5th to early 6th century. In fact the Huns were not a homogeneous group and consisted to various distinct nomadic tribes that invaded Afghanstan and then India over a long period of times:
  1. Kidarite Huns
  2. Alchon Huns
  3. Nezak Huns
  4. Hephthalite Huns

All of these groups arrived as pagan nomad raiders and then adopted the religion of the land. It was a tolerant society with poly-religious mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zaorastrian beliefs. They built Buddhist stupas, renovated Hindu temples, and released coins in the honor of Buddha, Shiva, his bull Nandi, mother goddess, Mithra - the Persian God, and Zaorastian fire altars.

Pashtoon People of Afghanistan - Descendents of Huns

They were conquered by the Arabs and Turks and forcibly or by choice converted to Islam. Overtime they became more rabid iconoclasts and attacked cherished beliefs or institutions of these own ancestors. 
Bamian Buddha - Beore and After

For example, the Bamian Buddhas were completed during the period of Hephthelite (Abdali) rule in the region, and later unfortunately destroyed by their own descendents. In March 2001, the Afghan Taliban destroyed two monumental statues of Gautama Buddha that had been hewn into the side of a mountain in the Bamyan valley west of Kabul since the 6th century AD. Taking pride in obliterating “idols” from a previous, infidel civilisation, the Taliban leadership also claimed to have been incensed by offers of money to preserver the Buddhas from foreign governments who placed more value on stone statues than the lives of poor Afghans.

Arabic Graffiti on Buddhist Murals at Bamian
The above picture depicts the irony of this unfortunate tragedy. The Buddhist murals in Bamian created, adored, and worshipped by thier ancestors were vanadlized by their own descendents who wrote graffitti in a foreign language - Arabic, announcing the religious superiority of their newly adopted religion over their ancestors.

The hatered for thier own ancestor's belief system was so much that i

Shoe marks on Buddhist Murals at Bamian

Lets learn about the journey of these Hun groups from their pagan origin, to a tolerant religious identity that honored all religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zaorastian, to a non-apologetic iconoclast Islamist, who has no regard for any other belief system.

Kidarite - The Red Huns

The Kidarites, who invaded India in the second half of the 4th century,are generally regarded as the first wave of Hunas to enter the Subcontinent. The nomadic Kidarites appear to have originated in the Altai Mountains region. The Kidarites were "Europid" in appearance, with some Indian admixture and due to their darker appearancr, they are also referred to as the "Red Huns". Contemporary Chinese and Roman sources suggest that, during the 4th century, the Kidarites began to encroach on the territory of Khorasan in the Kushan Empire –  where they were initially vassals of the Kushans and adopted many elements of Kushano-Bactrian culture. The Kidarites ruled Bactria, Afghanistan, and adjoining parts of Central Asia and India in the 4th and 5th centuries.

The Kidarites were named after Kidara, their most famous ruler and identified their tribe with a symbol known as Tamgha.

Kidarite Hun Tamgha
Many small Kidarite kingdoms seem to have survived in northwest India, and are known through their coinage. Kidara established himself in Gandhara and took the title of Kushanshah and claimed to ne the successors of the Kushans, possibly due to their ethnic proximity. On Kidarite coins, Kidara is depicted with mustache curled up in typical North Indian style.

Kidara, Th King of Kidarite Huns
Kidarate Huns practiced Zaorastian religion with a mix coming from the Hindu traditions with the depiction of Zaorastrian fire altar on his coins.

Kidara Coin with King respecting Fire Altar
The gold coins struck under Kidarite ruler Kirada depict the Kidarite Tamga symbol (Kidarite Tamga.png) to the right of the standing king.The king is shown with full beard, wearing traditional NW Indian 'suthan' or 'salwar', holding a Hindu trident in one hand.
Gold Coin of Kirada

Alchons - The White Huns

Around 380-385 CE, the Alchons emerged in Kapisa, taking over Kabulistan from the Sassanian Persians, while the Kidarites (Red Huns) were ruling in Gandhara.The Alchon invasion of the Indian subcontinent eradicated the Kidarite Huns who had preceded them by about a century, and contributed to the fall of the Gupta Empire, in a sense bringing an end to Classical period in NW India. 

The name "Alchon" was given to them comes from the Bactrian legend of their early coinage, where they simply imitated Sassanian coins to which they added the name "alchono" (, αλχονο, also αλχοννο) in Bactrian script (a slight adaptation of the Greek script) and the Tamgha symbol of their clan. 

Alchon Hun Tamgha

The Alchons are generally recognized by their elongated skull, a result of artificial skull deformation, which may have represented their "corporate identity".

Alchon Hun King Khingila with Elongated Skull

At one point, the Kidarites withdrew from Gandhara, and the Alchons took over their mints from the time of Khingila.  By 520, Gandhara was definitely under Alchon Huns control, according to Chinese pilgrims. Alchon Huns are blamed for the mass scale destruction of Buddhist Stupas and univesities in and around Gandhara.

Alchon Hun King Toramana
In the First Hunnic War (496–515), the Alchon Huns reached their maximum territorial extent, with King Toramana pushing deep into Indian territory, reaching Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in Central India, and ultimately contributing to the downfall of the Gupta Empire. A decisive battle occurred in 510 CE at Eran, Malwa, where Gupta ruler, Bhanugupta was defeated by Toramana and the western Gupta province of Malwa fell into the hands of the Hunas. The boar inscription of Toramana (in Eran, Malwa, 540 km south of New Delhi) written under the neck of the boar, in 8 lines of Sanskrit in the Brahmi script. The first line of the inscription, in which Toramana is introduced as Mahararajadhidaja (The Great King of Kings), reads:

In year one of the reign of the King of Kings Sri-Toramana, who rules the world with splendor and radiance...  Eran boar inscription of Toramana

Boar Declaration of Toramana in Madhya Pradesh

Toramana is considered the patriarch of the Toor clan iof Jatts in Punjab and Tomar clan of Jaats in Madhya Pradesh and Western UP.

Gold Coin of Toramana

Toramana was finally defeated after nearly 20 years in India. According to the Rīsthal stone-slab inscription, discovered in 1983, King Prakashadharma defeated Toramana in 515 CE. The First Hunnic War thus ended with a Hunnic defeat, and Hunnic bands retreated to the area of Punjab and NW Frontiers.

The Alchon king Mihirakula, son of Toramana is then recorded in Gwalior, Central India as "Lord of the Earth" in the Gwalior inscription of Mihirakula.

There was a king called Mo-hi-lo-kiu-lo (Mihirakula), who established his authority in this town (Sagala) and ruled over India. He was of quick talent, and naturally brave. He subdued all the neighbouring provinces without exception.

— Xuanzang "The Record of the Western Regions", 7th century CE

Finally however, Mihirakula was defeated in 528 by an alliance of Indian principalities led by Yasodharman, the king of Malwa, in the Battle of Sondani in Central India, which resulted in the loss of Alchon possessions in the Punjab and north India. This ended the Second Hunnic War in c. 534, after an occupation which lasted nearly 15 years.

The Alchon Huns retreated in the area of Gandhara and Kashmir under the rule of their king Sri Pravarasena (c.530-590 CE), the son of Mihirkula, His reign probably lasted about 60 years from circa 530 CE where established a new capital named Sri Pravarapura (Srinagar). Around the end of the 6th century CE, the Alchons withdrew to Kashmir and, pulling back from Punjab and Gandhara, moved west across the Khyber pass where they resettled in Kabulistan under the leadership of Toramana II. There, their coinage suggests that they merged with the Nezak – as coins in Nezak style now bear the Alchon Tamga mark

Nezak Huns

The Nezak Huns (Pahlavi: 𐭭𐭩𐭰𐭪𐭩 nycky) were the last of the four Hunnic states in the area of the Hindu Kush, active from circa 484 to 665 CE. They formed an alliance with the retreating Alchon Huns and ruled over Zabulistan (from Ghazni) and Kabulistan (from Kapisa) for about two centuries, spanning twelve generations. 

In 664-665 CE, Abd al-Rahman ibn Samura launched a new expedition to conquer Afghanistan, Kabul was occupied in 665 CE after a siege of a few months but soon revolted, only to be reoccupied after another year-long siege. These events mortally weakened the Nezaks though their ruler was spared upon converting to Islam. Eventually, Kabul was retaken by the Turk Shahis Huns supported by the Hindu Shahis, first in Zabulistan and then in Kabulistan and Gandhara. According to Hyecho, who visited the region about 50 years after the events, the first Turk Shahi ruler of Kapisi—named Tegin Deva Shah who used to be a vassal of Hindu Shahi King of Kabul.

Hephthelites - The White Huns

The Hephthalite, sometimes called the White Huns (in Iranian as the Spet Xyon and in Sanskrit as the Sveta-huna), were a people who lived in Central Asia during the 5th to 8th centuries CE. They formed a confederation, the Imperial Hephthalites, and in 450 CE, they defeated the Kidarites. Later they combined forces with the First Turkic Khaganate and established "principalities" or "Khels" in Afghanistan.

Ephthelite Tamgha

Hepthalites were a branch of the great White Hunnic migrations of the 4th century CE from the Altai region that also reached Europe. The Mongolian Rouran Khaganate expanded their territory over the Silk Roads, forcing Hepthalites to migrate southeast and displace the Yuezhi in Bactria, forcing them to migrate further south to NW India. Hephthalites borrowed much from their eastern overlords, in particular the title of "Khan" which was first used by the Rouran as a title for their rulers.

Early Hephthelite King from Afghanistan

Subduing Sassanian Persians

In 458, a Hephthalite king called Akhshunwar helped the Sasanian Emperor Peroz I (458–484) gain the Persian throne from his brother. They later helped the Sasanians to destroy another Hunnic tribes, the Kidarites, Alchons, and Nezaks in Afghanistan. Later, from 474 CE, Peroz I fought three wars with his former allies the Hephthalites. In the first two, he himself was captured and ransomed. Following his second defeat, he had to leave his son Kavad as a hostage. Following this victory, the Hepthalites became protectors of his son Kavad I, In 488, a Hepthalite army vanquished the Sasanian army, Peroz was killed and his body was never found. Four of his sons and brothers had also died. was able to put Hephthaltes put Kavadh I (488–496, 498–531) on the throne. The main Sasanian cities of the eastern region of Khorasan, Nishapur, Herat and Marw were now under Hephthalite rule.

Conversion to Buddhism

Ephthelites converted to Buddhism with some Zaorastrian influence remaining from their Persian connection. The complex of the Buddhas of Bamyan was developed under Hephthalite rule. Carbon dating of the structural components of the Buddhas has determined that the "Eastern Buddha" was built around 570 CE, while the "Western Buddha" was built around 618 CE.

Bamiyan Buddhas - Epthelite Tribute

The ceiling of the smaller Eastern Buddha of Bamyan depicts a solar deity Mithra on a chariot pulled by horses. The god is wearing a caftan in the ephthelite style, boots, and is holding a lance, he is "The Sun God and a Golden Chariot Rising in Heaven". This representation is derived from the iconography of the Iranian sun god Mithra, as revered in neighboring Sogdia.

Mural of Sun God Mithra - Bamian

 Turks Conquer Hephthelites

In 552, the Göktürks took over Mongolia, formed the First Turkic Khaganate, and by 558 reached Afghanistan. The Turks and the Sasanians under Khosrow I allied against the Hephthalites and defeated them after an eight-day battle near Qarshi, the Battle of Bukhara in 557.

Thus defeat put an end to the Hephthalite Empire and it fragmented into semi-independent Principalities, paying tribute to the Turks. From 625 CE, the territory of the Hephthalites from Tokharistan to Kabulistan was taken over by the Turks. Its worth noting that, till this period the Epthelites practiced a religion mixed of Zaorastriam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Arab Invasion and Conversion to Islam

Hephthelite supported the Sassanian empire against the invasion of Arabs. In 652 CE, following the Siege of Herat, the Arabs captured the cities of Afghanistan and the Hepthalites principalities were forced to pay tribute and accept Arab garrisons.The Hephthalites again rebelled in 654 CE, leading to the Battle of Badghis. The Arabs of the Ummayad Caliphate under Yazid ibn al-Muhallab re-captured Afghanistan and the Hephthelites were converted to Islam.

Descendents of Huns and Hephthelites

 A number of ethinc groups in Afghanistan have descended from the Huns and Hephthalites:

  • Khalaj: The Khalaj people from the area of Ghazni, Qalati Ghilji, and Zabulistan in present-day Afghanistan are descendents of Kidarites and Alchon Huns. Some of the Khalaj were later Pashtunized, after which they transformed into the Pashtun Ghilji tribe. The lastname 'Ghani" refers to thier descendency fro Alchon Huns.
  •  Pashtuns: Various Hun tribes - Kidarites, Alchon, and Nezaks contributed to the ethnogenesis of Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan. The term is made up of two words - "Pasht" meaning Westerns and "Hoons" indicating Hunnic descency.
  • Durrani: The Durrani Pashtuns of Afghanistan are also called "Abdali". Thier king Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1757took the honorary title of "Durrani" and since then some Abdalis use it as thier familyname. The tribal name Abdālī is directly relating to their descendency from the Hephthalites.




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