Afghanistan is now a Muslim country. Until the 10th century it was a country where majority of its inhabitants were Hindus and Buddhists. Indeed, the name of Afghanistan comes from “Upa-Gana-stan” which means in Sanskrit “the place inhabited by different religious people. Later, people started to call it Afghanistan. This was the place where Gandhari of the Mahabharat was born and Shakuni was the king of Gandhaar. People used to call him Gandhaar Naresh (king). Today, the city of Gandhaar is known as Kandahar and it is in the southern Afghanistan. Till the year 980 BC this area was a Hindu Kingdom. Sabuktagin (the ruler from Gazani) invaded it and replaced the ruling Hindu King-Jaya Pal Shahi. At that period worshipping Shiva was a widespread practice in Afghanistan. The entire region was replete with hundreds of Shiva temples and the people used to worship Shiva and Parvati with much devotion. Historians say the kingdom of Gandhaar was initially established by Taksha, the grandson of Bharat of Ayodhya, India. Gandhaar’s borders were extended from Takshashila to Tashkent (in present day Uzbekistan). It is also known that Afghanistan was ruled by the Hindu emperor Ashoka in ancient times, Emperor Ashok’s stone tablets with inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic are still found in Kandahar and Laghman provinces. History shows that the emperor Chandragupt Maurya took charge of Vaahic Pradesh (Afghanistan) around 325 BC coming from India. After the fall of Mauryan Empire, Gandhaar was ruled by the Greeks. However, some of these Greek rulers were converted to Buddhism, while some other Greeks became followers of Vaishnav sects of Hinduism.
The Rig Veda, a collection of inspired hymns, is the oldest holy book of all Sanskrit mantras of the Hindus. It was written in 1500 BC-1000 BC. There is no concrete evidence where and who first wrote this holy book. Numerous researchers have their own justifications and views. However, it is believed that the Vedas were first composed in the North-western region of the Indian subcontinent. All the Vedas were not written in India. They were composed by Aryan tribes who invaded India. At that time Afghanistan was the main country where Aryan or Hindus had domination. On the top of this, there are some reliable historical evidences that the Rig Veda was initially composed on the bank of Hari river that originates from the Baba mountain range (a part of the Hindu Kush mountain) and flows relatively straight toward the south-west of Herat province.
Until the 10th century the Shahiya dynasty had concentration in the Kabul and Ghazni areas. The last Hindu Shahiya king of Kabul was Bhimapal who was killed in 1026 AD. Many Hindu temples built by him are still standing in the north of Kabul that contains both Hindu and Buddha images indicating that there was a mingling of the two religions. The most popular of these were the 180 and 120 feet tall statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan. There were dozens of cave temples and monasteries around these statues which housed fifty thousand Buddhist monks at that time. It is believed that the Royal family of Kapilvastu, Nepal, had funded for the construction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues. In the seventeenth century, King Aurangzeb tried to destroy these statues, but he could damage them only partially. The destructive work was completed by the Taliban in 2001.
Likewise, a marble Ganesha which was crafted in the 5th century was found in Gardez, Afghanistan, and now it kept at Dargah Pir Rattan Nath, Kabul. The inscription on this image says,”this great and beautiful image of Mahavinayaka” was consecrated by the Shahi King Khingala.
Besides, Ashamai temple was built at the foothill of the Asamai mountain at the center of Kabul about 4,000 year ago. It is believed that the Goddess of hope is present there. There is a Diya (flame or fire from oil-fed lamp) which has been burning uninterrupted for several centuries at this temple. The temple and the Diya have been saved from many conflicts and wars for several centuries. This uninterrupted fire proves that Hindu civilization has been in existence in Kabul since the ancient times.
Willem Vogelsang in his 2002 book writes, “During the eighth and ninth centuries AD the eastern parts of modern Afghanistan were in the hands of the Hindu rulers. The Muslims used to regard them as Indians, although many of the local rulers were apparently of Hunnic or Turkic descent. The non-Muslim population of eastern Afghanistan was culturally linked with the Indian. Majority of them were Hindus and Buddhists. It is reported that Muslims and non-Muslims used to live side by side before the arrival of the Ghaznavids Empire in the 10th century.”
Similarly, Martin Ewans in his 2002 book writes: A Hindu Shahis dynasty ruled Gandhara until the 10 century. Ghaznavid’s Empire Mahmud attacked Ghandhar and expelled Hindus Shihis dynasty and enforced law of mass conversions to Islam in Gandhahar. However, when Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni began offensive crossing the Indus River into Hindustan in the 10th century and he again began bringing Hindu workers in Afghanistan from the areas which he won in the battle. Hindu population again started to increase in Ghandhara.
Islamabad University professor Abdul Rehman writes in his two books- “Regimes of two Hindu rulers “Kusham” and “Kidara” lasted for fairly long periods in Afghanistan. During their rule a number of Shiva temples were built not only in Afghanistan but also in the west Asian regions like Uzbekistan and Takzikistan. Takzikistan has Shiva temples still standing even today.”
Professor Abdul Rehman states that the Bukhara region was known as “Shah Vihar” which was ruled by a Hindu king in ancient times.
During the reign of Zahir Shah (1933 to 1973) Afghanistan had made substantial economic progress. The Afghan Hindus and Sikh were given various opportunities to develop their communities. Members of Hindus and Sikh communities prospered during this period. After 1973, Soviet-backed regime came in power. It was strongly secular in character and hostility and discrimination increased towards Hindu and Sikh minorities forcing them to seek asylum in other countries. Then Russian forces got ferocious assault of Mujahiddin and eventually withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. When Taliban came in power in 1994, again Hundus and Sikh minorities got more discrimination and all Muslims were strongly encouraged to avoid using Hindus’ shops. More rigorous efforts were made to convert them to Muslim. On the top of that Hindus and Sikhs had to make financial contribution to the Jihad movement and if they failed to pay up, they had to face with larger ransom demand if they wanted to see their kidnapped children returned home alive. During this period, a large number of Hindus and Sikh population fled Afghanistan resulting a sharp fall in their population.
Rawail Singh, a leader of Hindu and Sikh community who is a strong supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, recently said that the tiny religious minority might one day disappear from Afghanistan as more Hindu and Sikhs are leaving their homeland because of the persistent discrimination. Islam is Afghanistan’s official religion. Though the country’s constitution recognises the right of members of other faiths to practice freely, many moderate Afghan Muslims embrace diversity. Still there is unseen discrimination. Many Hindus and Sikh people say they often face intolerance of their religious practices and customs. About 3,000 people belonging to the two communities left the country in 2013. Before 1991, there were 50,000 Hindus and Sikhs but they migrated to safer places in India, Europe and Canada leaving their lucrative businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities. Currently, it is estimated that about 4,000 Sikhs and 1,100 Hindus are living in different parts this country.
Otar Singh, the head of Afghan Hindu and Sikh community and a former member of parliament, reported to open sources that the condition of Hindus and Sikh are worsening day by day under Afghanistan’s democratic government than they were during the Taliban’s severe rule in the late 1996s, when the minority group had to wear yellow arm bands that singled them out as second-class citizens. Under the Taliban rules, their rights were clearly defined, and people were not cruel to them. However, in a meeting with representatives of the Sikh and Hindu community in November 2014, President Ghani promised to address their concerns and reiterated that they were entitled to the same rights as other Afghans, according to a statement from his office. He has also vowed to allocate funds for the rebuilding of the temples that were vandalized in Eastern province of Nangarhar in the recent years.
According to a reliable source, this year more than 400 Hindu and Sikhs left Afghanistan. Most of them went to India, their spiritual home, while some turned to people-smugglers in a bid to reach the western countries. Journeys of many ended tragically. For an example, in the first week of August 2015, a total of 35 Afghan Sikhs of all ages were discovered in a ship’s cargo container in the British port town of Tilbury. One of the male migrants was found dead.
History of the Hindu Kush
Hindu Kush is a geographical term to describe someone who is a native from this region known as Hindustani. The Hindu Kush mountain range spreads nearly 1,000 miles long and 200 miles wide, running northeast to southwest, and dividing the Amu Darya River Valley and Indus River Valley. It stretches from the Pamir Plateau near Gilgit of Iran. The Hindu Kush ranges mainly run through Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has over two dozen high peaks measuring over 23,000 ft. Historically; the passes across the Hindu Kush have been of great military significance, providing access to the northern plains of Hindustan. The Khyber Pass constitutes an important strategic gateway and offers a comparatively easy route to the plains of Punjab. Hindustan (India) named the Hindu Kush Mountains as ‘Paariyaatra Parvat’. There are many versions of the historians on the name of Hindu Kush Mountain. As per Muslim version, Hindu means Hindustani and Kush means killed. It is believed that while crossing Khyber Pass of the Hindu Kush mountain, thousands of Hindus might have been perished in heavy snow fall or were died due to high altitude sickness. But the Encyclopedia Britannica says that Hindu Kush means the Mountain of Hindus.
If we turn the pages of Afghan history, we can find that the Muslim rulers had severely harassed and discriminated the Hindus and Buddhists followers in Afghanistan in the 18th century. Consequently, the Hindus and Buddhists had two choices at that time: whether they had to be converted to Muslim to continue their stay in Afghanistan or they had to leave the country. As a result thousands of Hindus and Buddhists left Afghanistan and went to Hindustan and other countries. While crossing the passes of Hindu Kush Mountain on the way to India and Pakistan thousands of Hindus and Budhists became victim of bad weather.
Lastly, no one knows the exact number of remaining Hindu population in Afghanistan these days. The members of this community have found themselves subjected to steadily rising levels of hostility and unseen persistent discrimination since the ancient times. Consequently, they had to seek refuge status overseas than staying in the harsh environment of their Muslim compatriots. The remaining members of Hindu are finding themselves even more vulnerable to aggressive exploitation, against which they have no any strong defense. Hence their mass departure can be expected to continue if the Afghan Government does not bring a reliable programme to protect this minority group.