Seistan: Cradle of Ancient Culture


Abdul Hai Habibi


Thousands of years ago a group of people came to the land of the great and mighty southern rivers of present day Seistan. These people were the Saks, whose progeny, under the name of Sakzai, still live along the banks of the Helmand River.

The Saks were a brave and robust people. The land where they settled came to be known as Sakistan which was Arabized as Sajistan and later it became Seistan. Arab conquerors called the people of Seistan Sajzi, which is the Arabized form of Sakzai. The Sakzai still live in this area, as far as the western parts of Kandahar and Bost. They are a tall and lanky people with a tanned complexion and speak the Pashto language. They are considered to be a part of the great Durrani tribe. The Sakzai built mighty civilizations and large cities and formed an effective system of government in this land.

The Seistan wetland covers an area of about 150,000 square miles into which four rivers, the Helmand, Khash Rud, Farah Rud and Harut Rud empty. To the south of this wetland lies the Gaud-e Zerreh, another marshy wetland. The desert in between covers an area of roughly 150 by 100 miles. The Farah Rud composed the northern boundary of this parcel of land where Peshawaran and Takht-e Rustam are located. Dasht-e Zerreh forms the southern boundary of this area. Remnants of ancient civilizations are evident in every direction of this vast land. Thousands of mounds and remains of ancient fortresses are seen here that have been destroyed by weathering turning this great civilization into an abode of insects and reptiles. Millions of ancient relics are buried under the rubble of the great cities of Seistan. It is not clear what led to the destruction of these cities. The area with hundreds of thousands inhabitants was one of the most important center of civilization in Asia. Zaranj, the major city of Sakistan, rivaled with Baghdad at the time. No one now lives in ancient Zaranj and the area has turned into a jungle of reeds.

Sakistan was the home of great heroes, kings, scholars and establishers of new religions. Under the rubble of each fallen wall countless cultural relics are hidden. The legendary heroes, Rustam and Yakub  were raised in this land. Sajistanians, the inhabitants of this land, played a major role in the development of Islamic sciences and were the founders of the respected Seistan religion. Early Dari (Persian) poets recited their poetry in the court of Yakub Safari in Zaranj and an important part of the odes of Shahnama (Book of Kings) is composed from the fables of Seistan. The most ancient Persian book of prose, Keshf-al-Majoob, was written with Seistani penmanship. Members of the social group of this land, known as Ayaran, formed political and social groups and they gave rise to leaders such as Yakub and Omar, whose fame spread as far as Baghdad and Damascus.

Unfortunately, this cradle of civilization was completely obliterated. Its population was decimated by the Mongol hordes to the extent that when the Englishman, Sir Goldsmith, visited the area in 1872 he reported there were only 45,000 people residing in this vast stretch of land. Thirty years later while Sir MacMohan was delineating the Afghan-Iranian border, according to Tate, the total population of the area was 161,000 people only. (Tate, The Baluchistan Borders).