Baihaqi’s Shah Bahar



The name of Shah Bahar is renowned in the annals of the early Islamic conquests in Afghanistan. The historian of the Ghaznavid  court, Abu-al-Fazl Mohammad bin Hussain Baihaqi, in his history mentions the Shah Bahar of Ghazni. This was a place where the king always inspected his troops and it was a plain situated on the outskirts of Ghazni and a place for staging the army.[1]

In Burhan-e Qata’ it has been mentioned: Shah Bahar is the name of an ancient idol temple near Kabul which is surrounded by a vast plain.[2] In the footnote Mohammad Muein adds: In Persian literature Shah Bahar has been known as a plain near Kabul:

She was with me in Shah Bahar in the afternoon

My beloved, whose beauty the full moon also envies.

She asked what is this vast plain for?

I answered the abode of the king’s vast army.


It is likely during the past an idol temple existed in this plain but we have not come across any references to this temple and it is possible that Shah Bahar was built on the same principle with which Nau Bahar was constructed.[3]

This is what past and contemporary historians have written about Shah Bahar. This word has a meaning which should be elucidated to those who are interested in reading about the literature of the Ghaznavid period. The word is composed of shah plus bahar that is bahar of the shah and the place of worship of the king. It was a place related to the king or a temple where the statue of a king was preached.[4]

In Sanskrit bahar or wahara means a temple. From the period of Avesta wara has been used in Balkh[5] and has been written as wahaar, bahaar and haar. It is the same word which is used as the suffix of many place names such as Kandahar, Nangarhar, Nandahar, Putuhar (near Taxila), Chaparhar, Gulbahar, and Banihar[6] (present day Bunir). In eastern Aryan dialects it has been converted to hur and wur, finally becoming bur and pur such as Lahawur= Lawahore= Lahore and Parsawur=Parshabur=Peshawar and Danbur[7] and the Purwabar temple of present day Jalalabad and Bamhabur in Sind. All these names carry the same suffix.

In Dari literature bahar has been used to mean a temple:

The eye catching Bahar was in Balkh

From it even the red tulip bereaved.


Spring flower does not rival your beautiful face,

You are more beautiful than the Bahar temple.


It is the spring of Bahar and the worthy altar, 

On the face and tresses of my beloved.

                                    (Mansur Razi)

It is autumn and the grass has turned its color

But amongst the golden idols (Bahar) spring abounds.


Khwarazmi says: Al-Bahar is the name of the house of statues in India.[8]

This historical name has remained extant in the word shabar near Ghazni and Shibar, the present day pass in the Hindu Kush mountains which links Kabul to Takharistan. In the eastern dialects of Pashto the letter sheen is converted to khe, Shibar which is a short form of Shah Bahar has been transformed to Khyber, which is the name of the famous valley between Nangarhar and Peshawar. This name has not been derived from the Jewish fortress of Khyber in Arabia but is a local name of this land.

The Shah Bahar temple has been mentioned twice in Islamic history. The Arab historian and geographer, Ahmad Yaqubi when writing about the cities of Kabulistan states: In the year 176 H (792 A.D.) Fazl bin Yahya Barmaki was appointed governor of Khorasan by Caliph Rashid Abasi. He sent an army, under the command of Ibrahim bin Jabrel, to the land of Kabashah. He also sent with the army the chieftains and farmers of Takharistan and Hasan Sher of Bamiyan. They conquered the city of Ghorwand (present day Ghorband), the Ghorwand valley and Sarkhor (Surkhband of Bamiyan) and Shah Bahar, which contained an idol which was worshipped by the people. Ibrahim destroyed and burned the temple.

Abdul Hai bin Zuhak, writing about the governors of Khorasan states: Harun-al-Rashid sent Jafar  bin Mohammad bin Alasha’s to Khorasan who during the month of Ze-al-Hajja 176 H sent his son, Abas, to Kabul who attacked Shah Bahar and took everything that was in the temple as bounty.[9]

These two incidents refer to one year and one period. The only difference is in the name of the conqueror which does not have any bearing on the main issue, which is the existence of the Shah Bahar temple in Kabulistan. From this we can tell that temples where kings were worshipped or places of prayer associated to kings existed. It should be stated that Huen Tsang, the Chinese traveler, who passed through Kapisa in 630 A.D. mentions several royal temples which were built by past kings. During the time of his travels these temples were used as places of worship by Buddhists. He states that in these temples parts of the body, skull and hairs of Buddha were preserved and they were revered by the kings and people. He even came across a temple south-west of Kapisa which was built by a past queen. This temple had a 100 ft. high stupa. The temple contained relics from Buddha and on the 15th of each month the halo of grandeur shone in the direction of the stupa (the fara yazdi, ancient symbol of Bactrian kings).[10]

From this explanation by Huen Tsang it is clear several Shah Bahars existed in Kabulistan that were built by the Kabul Shah kings. Since Buddhism was the religion of the people at the time, Buddhist relics were preserved in these temples. The presence of the symbol of halo of grandeur in one of the temples, which is an exemplification of Aryan kings, indicates that in these Shah Bahars the ancient customs of the Bactrian kings were also preserved.

These documents show that temples by the name of Shah Bahar existed in Ghazni and Kabul, one of which was situated near the city of Ghazni and the plain of Shah Bahar of Baihaqi may be the name of this very temple.

During the time of Huen Tsang, which coincides with the rise of Islam in Kabulistan, the dynasty of Kabul Shahs ruled over the land. Shah Bahars may have been named after these religious kings. This name is evident in Shabar of Ghazni, Shibar pass of Hindu Kush and the famous Khyber valley up to this day.


YAGHMA, XVIII, No. 2, 1344 (1965), p. 57-60.




[1] History of Baihaqi, 303, 310, 637, published by Nafisi, Tehran, 1948.

[2] Burhan-e Qata’ 2, 1840, published by Mohammad Muein, Tehran, 1952.

[3] Footnote of Dr. Mohammad Muein on the same page of Burhan-e Qata’.

[4] During the Surkh Kotal temple excavations in Baghlan (built circa 160 A.D.) the statue of Kanishka, the great Kushan emperor was discovered in the temple. Historians are of the belief it was kept in the temple for worshipping.

[5] Wara=wahar has deep roots in Pashto and Dari words and names in Afghanistan. Refer to History of Pashto Literature, Vol. 1, p. 94 and afterwards of this author.

[6] Banihar is a place whose Afghan and Indian residents are idol worshippers (Hudud-al-Alam).

[7] Oh Lawahore and Yahak,  how are you without me (Masud Saa’d); the people of Khorasan in the plain of Parshawar (Ansuri); all of Kabul and Danbar and Mai and India (Firdowsi); Danbur is a city by the banks of the river in Laghman (Hudud-al-Alam) which may be the Jalalabad of eastern Afghansitan.  

[8] Al-Baldan of Yaqubi, p. 290 onward. London 1892.

[9] Hand written Zein-ul-Akhbar, p. 68 A.

[10] Si-Yo-Ki (memoirs of a western scholar). First book of Huen Tsang. English translation by Beal, Calcutta, 127.