Pashto Roots in the Name of Baghlan


Abdul Hai Habibi


Investigating the roots of old names of places and people is an interesting and beneficial task in linguistics which provide us with a great deal of historical and linguistic features and sometimes the analysis of a single word leads to very important historical results.

In order to evaluate the background of Pashto language before the Islamic era we need to analyze old words, names of historical places and inscriptions of former languages, so we can to come to a result based on a scientific understanding of the subject.

We do not know how, where and in what form Pashto was spoken before Islam? (7th Century CE)

In this article I would like to present some historical and linguistic features based on my analysis of the situation and if someone has a different understanding of the matter, the respected researcher can reject or accept my viewpoint.

The present form of the name, Baghlan, dates back to the time of early Islamic geographers and people pronounce it similarly these days. Among the ancient geographers, Al-Yaqubi (author of Al-Baladan, p. 50), Asthakri and Ibn Khardaba in Masalek-al-Mamalek, Al-Maqdasi in Ahsan al-Taqaseem (p. 303), Ibn Howqal in Surat al-Arz (p. 429), Hudud-al-Alam (p. 61), Al-Biruni in Qanon-e Masudi (Vol. 8), and the author of Taqween-al-Baladan (p. 447) have written Baghlan in its current form and it looks as though during the early Islamic period the word was written with its current spelling.


A New Perspective

As a result of archeological excavations which have taken place in our country we have been able to shed light on historical events according to which we have come to some new conclusions. A few decades ago the French Archeological Mission in Afghanistan conducted diggings in the Surkh Kotal mound of Baghlan and discovered an ancient fire temple. Among the ruins several stone tablets were discovered dating to the time of the great Kushani king, Kanishka. These inscriptions are in a local language inscribed in Greek letters. Daniel Schlumberger, head of the French Archeological Mission, who analyzed the tablets wrote: “From the language of these tablets we can now date back Pashto research to the second century CE and the time when the Surkh Kotal temple was built.”

The analysis and reading of these inscriptions is a very daunting task and until now European linguistics, like Henning and Benovinst, and others, have not been able to come to a conclusion about its content and some of the words of the language remain obscure until this day. However, in general, we can say that the structure of the words and sentences, grammar and names used in the language six centuries before the rise of Islam, which currently scholars call the Bactrian language, has close affinities with Pashto. If the inscription is completely read and analyzed, it is possible we will get beneficial information regarding the structure of the old form of Pashto. According to Schlumberger, we need to date back Pashto studies to the second century CE.

Among the tablets there is a small stone with three lines and a larger one with 25 lines, which is now housed in the Kabul Museum, available for viewing to the general public.

In both tablets the name of Baghlan has not been written in its current form and neither has it been written in the style of the geographers of the early Islamic period. In both inscriptions the name as been written as Bagholango or Baghlang. According to Professor Henning, this name was Baghdanag or Baghdanaj in Sughdi language and in Old Persian a fire temple was known as Baghdanaga.[1]


Chinese Account

Toward the end of the month of March in the year 629 CE, the Chinese traveller Hsuen Tsung, visited the city of Baghlan. He writes that Fo-kia-lang, is 50 li from east to the west and 200 li from north to the south and its capital has a circumference of 10 li.[2]

Chinese write the names of places in accordance to their pronunciation but the structure of the syllables of the word the Chinese Fo-kia-lang is similar to the Ba-gho-lang of the inscription.


An Analysis of the Word

The ancient form of the word, during the time of the Kushani period, about 2000 years ago, was Bagholaang=Bagholang=Baghdang=Baghdanj. The Old Persian Baghdanga and the Chinese Fo-kia-lang are other phonic forms of the word.

The first part of the word is Bagha or Baga. The Baga of Old Persian, the Bagha or Baga of Avesta, the Bahga of Sanskrit, and the Bagh of Russian reveal the authenticity of the word, the meaning of which in all these languages was God. A lot of the words of Old Persian (Old Fars) start with this word such as Bagabagna (the name of a Zoroastrian priest), Bagabokhsha (meaning God-forgiven) who was a companion of Darius, whose name in the Ailami language was Ba-qa-bo-auk-sha and in Acadian it was Ba-qa-bo-ki-so and Mikabozos in Greek. Bagayadi, which was the month to remember God, the seventh month of the year, was Bagi-ay-atesh in Ailami and Tashrito in Acadi.[3] In Pashto, the seventh month of the Hijera year, is called the month of God. In the 19th part of Wandidad, we come across Bagodata (God given) and Bagobakhta (fortune of God) in Tashtarisht.[4] In Yasa it is Baganyasht and it has been written as Baghtasak in a volume of Avesta.[5]

In Yasna it is stated: That Jamshed made the Azar Ferobagh fireplace in Khwarazm and later it was moved to Kabulistan and was protected in the Roshan mountain.[6] Jowalaiqi explains that the name of Baghdad has a foreign origin, meaning it has been derived from Bagh. Baghdad and Baghdain are also from this root.[7]

The names of certain places and cities have similar roots, such as Baghpor (Faghfor in Arabic), Baghistan (the Beiston of Fars),  Baghshor (a town in Murghab valley), Baghni and Baghran (in present day Zamindawar), Baghar (in Behsud of Daizangi), Baghoi (of Sar-e Pul), Baghak (of Samangan), Baghyar (of Karam), and Baghawaran (of Herat).

In Pashto baghi, until the present time, means magnificent and colossal and in Kandahar people say that so and so is a bug person (meaning a large statured person). It looks as though in western Pashtunkhwa the pronunciation of the word was bagh and bug in the east. In Sanskrit it was bagha and it appears at the beginning of certain names such as Bagram, Bagrami (Kabul), Bagal (Herat), Bagla (Ghazni), Baghlak (Daizangi), Bagapai (Taloqan) and Bagi (Tarnak).[8]

Shamsuddin Kakar, who lived around 1834 CE in Kandahar, in one of his poem states:

     My fate is so gloomy

     Doomed inside but bug (imperial) outside.[9]

This word was present with the same meaning in Persian literature also. Mawlana Balkhi writes:

     Why are you boasting about the king and bug (grandeur)

     You are nothing but a tiny mosquito.[10]

From Mahmud Kashgari writings we know that bug was used meaning a leader in Turkish also[11] and Naser Khusrao has used it in Turkish names as such:

     Every useless person has turned into a bug and tageen (great) these days.[12]

We see that this word was in use in old Aryan languages such as Avesta, Sanskrit and Fars and was repeatedly used in the old writings of the Achaemenides. Based on this we can say that during the first centuries of the Christian era, when the Aryan Hepthalites and Huns amalgamated in Takhar and Bactria, the word found its way to Turkish languages. This is because Aryan Hepthalites, in Bactria and Takharistan, had cultural links with the Turkmen of Trans-Oxiana as far as Kashgar and Khutan and the admixture of words in their language is a natural feature.

However, the second part of the word is (ang). This word also seems to be very old and is seen in the end of names of many places such as Salang (in the heart of Hindu Kush mountains), Yakawlang (Daizangi), Bashlang (in Helmand valley), Alishang (in Laghman), Awlang (in Salang), Mastang (Balochistan), Zarang (in Seistan), Poshang (to the west of Herat), Geirang (Demrow), and Warang (in Ghor). Arab geographers converted ang to anj (its Arabized form) such as Fushanj, Mastanj, Zaranj, Bashlanj, Geiranj and others.[13]

Professor Henning believes that this ang (anj) was used to mean a fire-place and the fire alter found in the Surkh Kotal temple of Baghlan is a vivid example of the use of this word in the mentioned sense. The presence of a fire altar on the coins of Hindu Kush kings exemplifies the use of the root ang.

Later this ang was converted to athar or azar in Pahlavi. The Azar Ferobagh, mentioned in Pahlavi books, which refers to the fire-temple of Kabul on the Roshan mountain[14] reminds us of the ancient ang meaning a fire-temple.

In support of this statement we have another justification too. In Avesta the present word dozakh (hell) was present in the form of dazhanga. Dazh means bad and mean and this root is seen in words such as dashnam (curse) and dushman (enemy). Ang means fire whose plural is dazhanga meaning a horrible fire.[15] Fire worshipping was prevalent from the time of Zoroaster in ancient Iran, from the Indus as far as the Dajla river, and places were named after fire-temples. It was ang in the eastern regions while in the west azar was in common use.



Ang in Pashto

We observe the root of the word ang in a lot of words. The first part of Angar and Angara is this very word, which means a lighted and bright fire. In Pashto angal means movement which is an adjective of fire.

Angaza (speed) has the same root and angola means a sharp voice. The English anger has the same root and angel, signifying light and brightness, probably has links to the same structure.

Mullah Faizullah Kakar, a contemporary of the Ahmad Shah Baba’s period (18th century), who lived in the foothills of Zhob and Kesai mountains has used the word balang in one of his verses. Here balang is a compound Pashto word made up of bal ang meaning another fire.

With the passing of time ang was converted to aan such as Gulran, Samangan, Badakshan and other names. We have at our disposal a historical record. Two centuries before Christianity we see in Chinese books the name of Badakshan which has been written as Tsha-nag-lang and later in the travel notes of Hsuen Tsung it was changed to Pu-tu-chang-na, and in the literature of Yuan-shi this name changed to Ba-da-ha-sheng.[16] The last part of the word was later converted to aan. But in certain words it maintained its original form such as the Ghordang, located north of Kandahar in Khakrez, the Naghludang of Sarobi,[17] Badanj located between Ashtargram and Laghman,[18] and the Sulang pass of Kohistan. All these names have the same old root.

Based on this the ancient Bagolang or present day Baghlan and the Baghdang of Sughdi language can be analyzed as such: bago+d+ang meaning the fire of God or fire-temple of divinity.



It is possible that the auxiliary form of ancient Pashto word was such that the noun was used in the genitive case and the letter (dal) was converted to a (lam), which has a number of similar examples, and we see this form in the nomiclature of a great deal of historical names.[19]









[1]See Ariana Journal, Asad, 1958.

[2]See-pu-ki, the travel journal of Hsuen Tsung, p. 150. Beil’s translation.

[3]Old Persian. p. 199. Kent, New York 1953.

[4]Yasht, Vo. 2, p 145.

[5]Yasna, Vol. 1, p. 24.

[6]Yasna, Vol. 1, p. 132.

[7]Al-Ma’rab min Kalam al-Arab, p. 75.

[8]See Afghanistan’s Geographical Dictionary.

[9]Divan of Shamsuddin Kakar, Pashto Tolana, p. 66.

[10]Masnavi, part one, p. 48.

[11]Divan Lughat-al-Turk, Vol. 1, p. 50, Istanbul, 1915.

[12]Divan of Naser Khusrao, p. 469.

[13]Ahsan-al-Taqaseem, pp. 306, 312. Astakhri, p. 239.

[14]Bandhish, chapter 17.

[15]Yasht, 2/17.

[16]Research of Chinese Sources by Peter Meader, London, 1887.

[17]Geographical Dictionary of Afghanistan, pp. 2, 4, 92, 226.

[18]Akbar Nama in Tabaqat Akbari.

[19]Wazma Magazine, Vol. 2, p. 1, 1963.