The Relationship of 2000 Years Old Koshani or Tukhari

 Language With Pashto


Abdul Hai Habibi


On the seventh of May in 1957 a French archaeological team discovered an inscription in the Surkh Kotal ruins of Baghlan. The inscription was written on a stone tablet on 25 lines containing 947 letters in Greek script.

The Surkh Kotal ruins are the remains of an ancient temple. According to archaeologists a large fire worshipping temple existed there. Remains of the sacred fire and fireplace were evident in the ruins. Archaeologists believe this fire temple of the Koshani period was destroyed around 240 AD as a result of a massive fire.

Other smaller inscriptions were also found in the ruins but the most important of them is this 25 line tablet. The French scholar, M. Maricq and the English linguist M.B. Henning, have tried to read the inscription. The French linguist, E. Benveniste, in an article in the Asiatic Journal published in 1961, has provided a detailed study of the other two copies of the inscription.


Three copies

When digging took place at the Surkh Kotal temple the large tablet was discovered which is now housed in the Kabul Museum. The tablet is in clear handwriting and the letters are transparent. It measures 117x132 cm and the letters have not been mutilated. I consider this as the first tablet.

When archaeologists dug the grounds of the temple they discovered a well the walls of which were built of stones. On some of the stones, which number 53 in total, Greek letters were inscribed. When scholars studied these stones they found two other copies of the inscription.

The second inscription

In this copy the words are inscribed on 21 stones in 27 lines. The writing of this inscription is not as clear as the first inscription and parts of the stones are chipped and some letters are missing. There is little difference in spelling between the first and second inscription.


The third inscription

It is composed of 32 stones and contains 27 lines. A large portion of the stones are missing and the handwriting is inferior and irregular. The spelling of the words is also somewhat different, some of the words are large while others are small. Benveniste has compared the three inscriptions and has elaborated on the difference in spelling of certain words. It seems that the inscribers may have written the second and third copies first and after realizing that the handwriting was not elaborate and the inscriptions were written on several stones, which are hard to preserve, they may have decided to write the whole event on one large tablet with good writing. Hence they used the stones, on which the first and second attempts of writing the inscriptions were made, to raise the wall of the well together with other stones. We now have three copies of the inscription at our disposal to study.


The age of the inscription

A large number of Koshani writings have been discovered in ancient ruins of Pashtunistan and India. All these inscriptions are dated after the accession of the great Koshani monarch Kanishka. Archaeologists agree that the date of coronation of Kanishka as king is the date of the beginning of the calendar on these inscriptions. Scholars disagree on the date of accession of Kanishka but according to Kohzad the date of his coronation as monarch was 120 AD and his kingdom lasted from 120 to 160 AD.

The oriental scholar, Sten-Konow, has written an article on this subject in Acta Orientaliana (Vol. 6, p. 93). He considers Kanishka’s kingdom to have lasted from 125 to 152 AD. Christensen also refers to this date. Sten-Konow’s dating is closer to that of other researchers than the date provided by Kohzad. An inscription of Kanishka in India provides the 23rd year of his coronation as the first month of summer which corresponds with the year 151 AD. There is another inscription associated with Washiska, the successor of Kanishka. The date is the 23rd year of the first month of summer which corresponds to 152 AD. From these documents it is evident that Kanishka was dead between the summer of 151-152 AD.

Sten-Konow, referencing Chinese Ho-han-sho documents, writes that Kanishka visited Khutan (Tartary) before 152 AD and died or was killed the same year. This scholar believes Kanishka’s reign started around 128-129 AD, which is closer to reality.

The date on the Surkh Kotal tablet has been inscribed as follows: “The 31st year of the monarchy, the Nisan month of Mahal.” This date indicates that this inscription was written eight years after the death of Kanishka in the year 160 AD during the reign of his successors Washiska or Huwishka.


The mother of the present Farsi 2000 years ago

European scholars such as Henning, Maricq and Benveniste, who studied the inscription, consider its language to be Bactrian. Al-Buruni, Al-Bashari and Maqdasi consider the language spoken between Balkh and Badaskhan to be Tukhari, which had close affinities to the Balkhi language. Since the language was spoken in the Kushanid period and court it is probably appropriate to call it the Koshani language.

Until now we have not come across a document which shows us the style of Farsi (Persian) which was written before the Islamic period. The Baghlan inscription shows that during the first and second centuries AD the written and spoken language of the Koshanis was the mother of present day Farsi and Dari language and it was written in Greek alphabet. This Koshani language has direct links with old Dari and present day Farsi. It also has ties and closeness with Pashto.

A few months ago I wrote, in the book Pashto and the Loykan of Ghazni, that this language may be Pashto or close to Pashto. After analyzing the Baghlan inscription I have come to the conclusion that the language of the Kushanid period, spoken during the first and second centuries AD, is actually the mother of Farsi and has close affinities with Pashto also, like a sister language.

It is possible that similar to the present time two languages were spoken in Afghanistan during the Koshani period. One was the mother of present day Farsi and Dari which we see in the Baghlan inscription and the other was Pashto. It is feasible, due to its nearness and close kinship the language in the inscription, may have had an effect on Pashto or like the present day Afghan Farsi it embraced the influence of Pashto.


Decline of the old belief

Until recently scholars firmly believed that after Arab invasions the Pahlavi language changed slowly and present day Farsi was born from it.

The finding of the Baghlan inscription shows that during its period of development and existence Pahlavi was spoken in western Iran and Trans Oxiana as far as northern and southern Tourfana. In Tukharistan, another Koshani language existed which was not derived from Pahlavi. It was contemporary with Pahlavi and was the literary and spoken language of the Koshani court, a sample of which was written on the tablet found in the Koshani temple of Baghlan. This is not the Pahlavi language but is the mother of Dari Farsi and may be a sister language of Pashto because some of the words are precisely Pashto and some of its verbal roots are common with Pashto. It also has a bond with Sindhi, Pahlavi and Avesta.


The alphabet of the Koshani language

The following letters have been used in the 25 lines of the Baghlan inscription. Each word is described according to its numerical order in the following list. It is possible that some sounds of this language are not represented in the inscription in that the words which incorporate them were not used in the text. The cursive Greek letters are:

1. Α   2. Β   3. Π   4. F   5. Τ   6. ϴ   7. Χ   8. Δ   9. Ρ   10. Ζ   11. Ϲ   12. ϸ

13. ϸΧ   14. Κ   15. Γ   16. ΓΓ   17. Λ   18. Μ   19. Ν   20. Ψ   21. Ο   22. ϒ   23. Ε   24.Η

25. fatha 26. dama 27. kasra 28. (O) word divider

1. Represents the alif of Persian and has been used as a vowel for fatha. Since a separate figure is not used for the sound (aa), it is difficult to differentiate the two.

2. Represents bae sound, as in ãb.

3. Represents pae in as in pohar, pour and pisar.

4. Represents fae. It is a sound which does not exist in present-day Pashto. Instead of which pae is used.

5. Represents tae, as in naist.

6. This letter has the sound like “th” which is close to tsae of Pashto.

7. Represents khae, although sometimes it has been changed to a hard (k).

8. Represents dal. It is found at the end of certain Kushani words. In Persian and Pashto, it has either been omitted or modified to a slight (h).

9. Represents rae. The same sound is used today as in kard.

10. Represents zae but it has sometimes been changed to zhae. However, in this inscription, there are no separate figures for zhae and jeem, so possibly it only has the sound zae.

11. Represents seen which has sometimes been changed to zae or chae and in Pashto to tsae or zae.

12. Represents sheen. This letter originally did not exist in Greek alphabet so the Kushanids created a letter to represent it.

13. Represents sean of Pashto. It is composed from the Pashto consonant cluster “shkh” which is made up of (sh) and (kh). It is obvious that the Kushanids used the sound of this letter in much the same way in which the current Kandahari sound of “shkh” is pronounced. It was not just a “kh” in which case it probably had the figure “kh-x”. Because the retroflex sound is found in Avesta, Sanskrit and Russian. We can conclude that it has had a considerable historical background in Afghanistan and that its correct pronunciation is somewhere between (sh) and (kh).

14. Represents kaf as in kard.

15. Represents gaf as in bag.

16. Used for nag at the end of some Kushani words.

17. Represents lam, although in Pashto and Persian, it has been changed to dal and rae in some words.

18. Represents meem. In the singular it has been used for possessive pronouns, sometimes between separators and sometimes connected to another word.

19. Represents noon. This letter was used in exactly the same context as it is used today.

20. Represents wow. It is expressed as a compressed (w) and occurs at the beginning of words.

21. Represents a silent wow.

22. Represents hae. This particular upsilon did not exist in the Greek alphabet and is

considered to be a Koshani invention.

23. Represents the compressed ya in Persian.

24. Represents the soft ya in Persian.

25. Represents the fatha or the vowel (á).

26. Represents the dama or the vowel (u).

27. Represents kasra or (é). It has been used both within words and as an annexed vowel as in current usage. In Persian script, it is sometimes represented by a ya. Although the figure for ya has become smaller, and this diminution is placed at the end of each word which needs the annexed vowel.

28. The circle O has been used as a word separator or terminator and is frequently used in the inscription. From the letters and symbols of the inscription we can hypothesize that the Koshani language, from the point of view of sound similarities, belongs to the western Aryan family of languages. One supporting fact in this regard is that particular sounds of the eastern hemisphere (Indian) such as tae, rrae, dal and ñoun are not represented. Therefore we consider Pashto to have affinities with the eastern and western Aryan languages while the Koshani language is only affiliated with the western Aryan languages.


The relationship between Pashto and the Koshani language

As I said earlier the Koshani language is the mother of Dari language. This language was spoken in the mountains and valleys of northern Afghanistan and Dari and Farsi were born from it. The reasoning being that during the early centuries of Christianity Farsi did not exist in present day Iran and the language spoken there was Pahlavi. During this period the Koshani language existed in Afghanistan and from it Dari was derived during the inception of Islam. When Arab invaders defeated the Persians and subdued the Pahlavi language Dari slowly took hold in Iran and was recognized as Farsi and became the national language of Iran. So if we want to trace the ancestry of Farsi we will find it in Afghanistan in the Koshani language and not  in Iran.

The Baghlan inscription shows us the style of old Farsi and is an indicator that this old Farsi (Koshani or Tukhari) had close ties with Pashto and the two languages were spoken in Afghanistan side by side like the present time. The relationship between the Koshani language and Pashto is a natural event because when two languages are spoken in one environment they influence each other. In the Baghlan inscription there are certain words whose roots are traced in Pashto. It is possible Pashto acquired these words from the Koshani language or vice versa. I point to some similarities between Pashto and the Koshani language.



There are certain words in the Baghlan inscription ending with a resounding letter. These letters are in a conditional state in Pashto and Sanskrit and such a characteristic is not present in Farsi. For example the name of Kanishka has been written in different conditions:

Constructive and substantive noun condition                     Kanishko

Verbal condition                                                                         Kanishki


Another name                                                                           Nokonazok               

Verbal condition                                                                                    Nokonazok

Substantive noun condition                                                    Nokonazeek

Just as in Pashto in Kushani language the verb precedes the substantive noun such as:

 bug sha kanishki, the great king Kanishka

musht khargoman, the big heap

bug pohar loyakh, the great emperor Loyak

As a quiescent consonant

In Farsi the quiescent consonant is not used but it existed in Kushani language and Pashto has maintained this characteristic until the present day. For example in the inscription we see the usage of stad=estad and feroam=farman (with the silence of the first letter).


Relationship of words

There are a number of nouns and verbs which are common with Pashto such as annd (victorious, august), bug (great), tadi and kid (with haste), naest and khut (nothing came out), ayr (fire), aloshaal=arwashaad (blessed), maal (time), ayee (one), wust (from taking out of Pashto), khudi a dialect of khudai (God), asteel (chief, president), awdoheras (dersh of Pashto, thirty) and amandar (temple).

At any rate this tablet is very important for the study of Farsi and Pashto linguistics and I have written a book on the analysis of the words of this inscription (see Mother of the Dari Language).