From Gharistan to Gharjistan and Back


Abdul Hai Habibi


The names of the provinces and territories of Khorasan and other lands of ancient Afghanistan are mentioned in Greek, Armenian, Chinese and Indian sources in the period before Islam. Geographers and travelers from different nations spelled the words according to the rules and phonetics of their own languages.

It would be wiser if the native pronunciation were given preference. The word Pashtoon becomes Pakhat in Vedic and Indian sources. In Greek the same word is Pakt, Paktika and Paktwais. While the correct and indigenous form of this word is Pasht, Pakhat or Pakhtia. Since the letters “shen” and “khe” are pronounced “ka” by Indians, khan has changed to kahan and khapanoor to kapanoor.

But in Greek this sound is pronounced “kaf” because they pronounce “shen” with difficulty. Therefore the word should be written Pakthia and not Paktia, just as we pronounce the Greek Bactria as Bakhtar which is more original than the Greek form.

The word ghar, which is still used, has been common in the names of people, places and tribes of ancient times. In Sanskrit the word is pronounced ghere and ger in Fars. In Avesta it has also been written as ghere.

According to research of European philologists, Babuli and Ashori inscriptions reveal that ghar was used 4000 years before Christ in the Samari alphabet, and meant a mountain. The countryside of the Samaryan’s being mountainous the word generally meant a country also.

In Afghanistan Ghor, Gharcha, Ghelcha, Ghalgi, Gardez and Grishk, the names of places and tribes show that ghar has been used in different forms. Another world using ghar is Gharistan, which Arab historians and geographers, by pronouncing it according to Arabic rules, have changed to Gharjistan, Gharshitan and Gharj-al-Shar, Persian writers in emulation of the Arabs has written it as Gharjistan. The words garm seer and sard seer have been Arabized as goroom and sarood. These were common in latter form in Farsi and Pashto until the reign of the Ghorid dynasty.

Gharistan was a famous province in Afghanistan bordered on the west by Heart and Merv Rud and Ghor on the east. Its northern border was shared by Maimana and to the south lay Ghazna. According to Maqdasi, gharj and gharsh also mean a mountain. The rulers of Khorasan called this land Gharj-al-Shar or Mulk-al-Gharja (land of the mountains).

Since the original form is Gharistan, therefore it should be written in its native form and not as pronounced by Arabs of the western lands. Authors of the past have also written it in its local form, the Ghorid historian, Menhaj Seraj,  who was familiar with local dialects in Tabakat-e Naseri has written it Gharistan. In a later chapter of the book he has used the word not as the name of an area but as an adjective describing a mountainous area near Samarkand. He says: “until he was captured near the village of Kakrab a garistan (mountainous) area near Samarkand.” From this it is apparent that local inhabitants and the people of Khorasan called this land Gharistan. The word has also been written Gharistan in Tarekh Nama of Heart (History of Heart) by Safi Herawi, a contemporary of Mejhaj Seraj. This means that it was pronounced in its original form in Khorasan.

Garistan was an ancient center of letter, art and culture, the rulers of neighboring lands called it Shar. Marco Jurt in Iran Shahar says that shar, sher, shah and shahar are rooted to keshtaria. Sher was the honorary title of the Bamian dynasty and until the beginning of the Islamic era Shar and Sharan were the rulers of Gharistan who fought many battles with the Ghaznavids. The Arab historian al Utbi and Abdul Hai Gardezi, the historian of the Ghaznavid dynasty, have mentioned the Sharan dynasty until the beginning of the reign of the Samanids who came to power in the 11th century A.D.

Al Utbi reports: “Mohammad bin Asas and his son Shah Mohammad were prominent scholars in the court of Abu Nasr Shah (1015 A.D.) to whose court came scholars from remote parts of Afghansitan.”

Geographers and historians believe that the nucleus of power of the Sharan dynasty was in Bashin. Mousa Khorni, in the geography of Armenia, mentions a place called Bazin in Kost of Khorasan. This was probably the capital of Gharistan which other historians have also misinterpreted as Nashin. Nasir Khosrow, the Khorasani ruler says:

Ruling over Bamian is a Sher

Sitting on Beshin’s throne is a Shar.

Most of the historical documents available have written the name in its native form and in the Avesta language it was pronounced Gharistan and not Gharjistan or Gharshistan.