The Temple of Zoor or Zoon in Zamindawar

Abdul Hai Habibi

The temple of Zoor or Zoon is a remnant of the pre-Islamic period and represented the sun worshipping faith which was destroyed after the conquest of Islam during the 7th century. I have written about this temple in my book Afghanistan After Islam (Kabul 1966, pages 11-15) but at that time the actual location of the temple was not known. In historical books the name has been changed and written as dawoon and zooz. Here I would like to add additional information on this temple so that we may come to a conclusion.

In Al Kamel, published in 1869 (vol. 3, p. 129) dawar and zoor have been erroneously written as Balad-al-dawoon and Jabel-al-zoor. In hand written manuscripts it has also been written as Jebel-al-rooz, al-roor, and al-rood. All this is a result of errors made by scribers of books.

The correct form of both these words can be elucidated from the realities of today. This is because the area laying in the western part of the Helmand river, which is adjacent to the southern Ghor mountains, is called Zamindawar and it contains extensive archeological sites. The agricultural lands in this area are irrigated by the rivers flowing through the land and it is inhabited by the Pashto speaking Ghalzai tribes. The present administrative center of this area is Musa Qala. Two to three miles to the south of Musa Qala there are two locations by the names of Deh Zoor Awlia and Deh Zoor Sufla (the large and small Deh Zoor). The ancient and dilapidated ruins found at this location have been named Kafir Qala by the people of the area.

From this appellation and location we can say with confidence that the correct form of the two words is dawar and zoor and through archeological digging this old temple can be excavated.

With regard to the spelling of zoon we can say it is not an aberration of scribes as it has been mentioned in the form of sunagir in the writings of Huen Tsang. Soon=zoon is close to the sun of English. In Anglo Saxon this word was sunne which is close to the sonni of German. In ancient Indo-European Aryan languages its root is seen as su-en and sau-eu.i In Sanskrit it has been written as sura which meant the sun and a person of high intelligence. Hence suri and surya meant the sun or sun god. This word has ancient roots in Rig Veda and Avesta. Sur in the middle Bahasha language meant the statue of god, an idol or sun.ii This word has a deep root in Indian mythology and in the names of pennants and buildings. Beside the sun it was sometimes also used to mean a strong person.iii In Avesta sura has been used to mean strong and capable.iv

The different forms of the word, zoor, soor, soon and zoon all have historical background and what has been written by Huen Tsang’s and Arabic writers, zoor and zoon, are both correct and the names Zuri and Suri also refer to one tribe. The spelling of dawoon and zooz in Al-Kamel is, however, a clear mistake. Huen Tsang has mentioned this famous temple twice, once in the year 630 while he was on his way from Kapisa to India. He states: At a distance of 70 li (about 23 miles) the mountain of O-lo-no Aruna has formidable caves and clefts and for the first time Sona, the heavenly spirit, came here from a long distance but later went to the mountain of Sonagir (Tsu-na-helu) to the land of Tsu-ko-cha or Zabulistan.v

On his return from India on 24 May, 644 he writes: The spirit of Deva has come from the Aruna mountain, located in Kapisa, to Tsu-ko-cha (Zabul) and resides in the southern part of that mountain in Sunagir. All the people worship it and every year the gentry and common people from lands close and distance come to participate in the celebrations. They bring with them large quantities of gold, silver, sheep, horses and other domesticated animals and no one dares to own or covet this

Huen Tsang writes the length of Tsu-ko-cha is 7,000 li (about 2,500 miles), with its capital as Ho-si-na (Ghazna), and another famous city being Ho-sa-la (Hazara). From the writings of geographers and historians of the Islamic period it is known that this area reached the southern extremes of Zabul to the boundary of Helmand and Seistan. Hence the temple of Sunagir was located in southern Zabulistan i.e. the Helmand border.

During the first Islamic period, when this temple was in existence, Arab conquerors found it in Zamindawar, the extreme southern part of Zabulistan and Martin believes that the Sunagir temple of Huen Tsang is the same house of worship which was located in Zamindawar.vii

For the first time, among Arab historians, Ahmad bin Yahya Belazeri (deceased 901) in his chapter on the conquests of Seistan and Kabul writes: In the year 650 Abdullah bin Amer came to Kerman. He sent Zabi bin Ziyad Haresi to Seistan who came to the Helmand valley and made peace with Pervez, the governor of Zaranj. Zabi ruled for two and half years and after him Abdul Rahman bin Samara became governor of Zaranj. He also empowered the environs of Rakhj and the Dawar lands and fortified the people of Dawar in Jabel Zoor (Zoon) and made peace with them. In these battles Ibn Samara lost half his men of an army of 8,000 fighters. He managed to take over the Zoor idol, which was adorned with gold and had eyes made of rubies. He broke the hands of the idol and plucked out the rubies and returned them to the keeper of the temple and told him: "My intention was to show an idol cannot help or harm anyone."viii

This incident has been relayed by Ibn Asir around 651 from Al Belazeri. In Futuh-al-Baladan the word has been written as al-zoor but in the printed version of Ibn-Asir (Alzehrya, Cairo 1883) it has been written as al-zoor and balad-al-dawan.ix It is clear that the word has been changed by scribes and errors have been made in writing it. Hence Islamic geographers and historians have concerns regarding this name and it has been written in two different ways. For example Yaqut Hamawi, in reference to Abu Zayed Ahmad bin Sahl Balkhi, deceased 934, and Estakhri around 951 mention the temple of Zamindawar just the way Al-Belazari has written it and has recorded the name of the idol in two ways—zoor and zoon.x Lee Strange considers the location of this temple to be near the city of Tal of Zamindawar.xi This is the same Tal which Arab geographers consider to be a city in Zamindawar.xii This town still exists by the same name in Zamindawar.

It looks as though that from old times changes have taken place in the spelling of this word which was originally zoon and it has been written as zoor and zooz. Yaqut has written this word in both forms. He says zoor was an idol in the land of Dawar and zoon was a temple.

From older documents we see the word zoon or zoor is not an Arabic term as the author of Arabic Language clarifies that the word ak-zoon with the addition of za is the zoon of Farsi language. Before him Muwhoob bin Ahmad Jawaleqi (1014-1145) has written al-zoor and al-zoon meaning an idol.xiii Thus zoon is an Arabic form of soon which has been recorded as sunagir by Huen Tsang. It is the sun god whose upper torso is presented with flames radiating from its head and has been depicted in some of the Hepthalite coins. These were local people who were against the Buddhist religion and worshipped the sun. Dr. Jonker has found the names of some families of Dawar and Zabulistan on some of these coins.xiv From this we see the relationship between sun worshipping and Dawar. The word gerad and sunagir of Huen Tsang is the ghar of Pashto which has roots in the names of places of this land such as Ghor, Gharistan, Spinghar and others.

In the relics of the sun worshippers we also find the great temple of Khair Khana, which lies 12 km north of Kabul. Archeologists consider this to be the temple of Surya, the sun god, where the marble statue of Surya was excavated. Two companions of the sun god are also seen beside the god. All three are in a chariot which is being drawn by two horses and the driver of the chariot is seen wearing a felt Nuristani hat with a long whip in his hand.xv

From the discovery of the temple of Surya we can say that the Arabic form of the word zoor as converted by Joaleqi and Yaqut Hamwi also has ancient roots and both words zoon and zoor are related to the faith of sun worshipping.xvi This form of worshipping was prevalent until the advent of Islam. The Arabs learned these words from this land and used them to mean idol, statue and sun god in their literature and related them to worshippers of fire and the keeper of the fire temple. The change of form of these two words is as follows:



These names are seen in the nomenclature of tribes and places in Afghanistan until this day. Sanakhel is a branch of the Atmanzai Afghansxvii and the name Sana Khan is common in Afghanistan. Sanarud is a tributary of the Helmand river in Seistan and Sanabad was a village one mile from Tus where Hazrat Ali bin Musa Reza is buried.xviii Zoor has remained in the name of the famous Zuri tribe in Herat and Zurabad of today is the Surabad mentioned by historians. The Afghan tribe of Sur and the Suryakhel and Suryan of Ghor, which Menhaj Seraj has described in his book,xix are the different representations of this old name.

Location of the Zoor Temple

In 1966 I provided thoughts on the location of the temple in my book Afghanistan After Islam but during that time I was not certain about the location of the temple. Now from discussions with the people of Zamindawar it clear a village by the name of Diya Zoor exists to this day three miles south of Musa Qala, the center of Zamindawar. This village has been divided into two sections called Zoor-e Awlia and Zoor-e Sufla (the large and small Zoor).

Relics of an ancient fortress and other structures are present in this village and the present Moslem residents of the area call it Kafir Qala (fort of the infidels) which was a domicile of the past infidels. The ancient Zoor of historians existed there given its name is still Zoor.

In Al-Kamel of Ibn-e Asir (Brill, 1868), the names of Dawar and Zoor have been erroneously noted as Balad-al-Dawan and Jabal-al-Zoor. The correct form of these words is Balad-al-Dawar and Jebel-al-Zoon and even today it is called Diya Zoor of Zamindawar which is the abode of the Alizai Pashtoon tribe. This area is located along the banks of the Helmand south of Ghor. Numerous ancient relics are in present in the area which are related to different historical periods.

As mentioned earlier the spellings of both zoon and zoor are prevalent in historical documents and both forms are correct. However, we find the root of the word zoon in Sunagir in Si-yu-ki of Huen Tsang. In that the Jabel-al-Zoon of the Arabs is a translation of suna+gir i.e. zoon + mountain.

The root of this ancient Aryan word is also seen in the European family of languages meaning sun. Hence in the Middle Age English soon came from the root of the Anglo-Saxon sunne which was sonne in German and all these words go back to the Indian-European source of sn-en-san-en.

The word surya in Sanskrit meant sun or knowledgeable and the sun god or the sun was called suri or surya which takes its source from Rig Veda and Avesta.

In the middle Bhasha soor has been used to mean sun god and sun and it has deep roots in old times and names of people and places in India. In this regard the word soor was sometimes used to mean a strong man also and in Avesta sura meant a strong and capable person.

The words zoor, soor, soon, zoon and dawar are correct forms based on linguistics and historical appelation but the incorrect forms dawan and zooz probably evolved due to errors in scribing.

It should be mentioned in the Pashto of Arghandab and Helmand valleys sooni is the description of a person who looks like an idol and has a short stature.

i Se-yu-ki, the first book of Kiya-pi-shi Inquiry.

ii Webster's New World Dictionary, 1957, p. 145.

iii Sanskrit-English Dictionary 1234-1243. Oxford 1964.

iv Poure Pavoud, Yashts, Tehran, 1968.

v See-Yo-Ki the first book on the subject of Kiya-pi-shi.

vi Si-yu-ki book 12, on the subject of Tsu-ko-cha.

vii Asian Society Magazine of Bengal, Series 3, Vol. 2, 1936, article 328.

viii Futuh-al-Baladan, p. 486.

ix Al-Kamel, 3, 63.

x Majma-al-Baladan, 4, 28.

xi Geography of the Eastern Caliphate, 521, Urdu translation.

xii Astakhri's Masalek wa Mamalek Astakhri, p. 129 and onward.

xiii Al-Muareb min Al-Kalam ala-al-Ajami. Ahmad Shaker, Cairo, 1942, p. 166.

xiv History of Afghanistan, 2, 577. The author places Sonagir in Sagawand of Logar, south of Kabul. But Logar was situated in Kabulistan and not in Zabul.

xv Archeological Finds of the Khair Khana Pass by Monsieur Haken, translated by Kohzad, Kabul 1937.

xvi Christensen states: The Kasi who during 18 B.C. conquered Babylonia were the worshippers of Surya and the Aryan sun god was known as Hur in Avesta. later during the 14 century B.C. in Mitani documents it has been referred to as Mitra and this very Mitra in the book House of Asuryanpal is considered the same as the Babylonian sun god. (Mazda Worshipping in Ancient Iran, p. 32 by Christensen, translated by Dr. Safa, Tehran 1947).

xvii Sulat-e Afghani by Mohammad Zardar Khan, p. 345, Kanpoor, 1876.

xviii Marasid-al-Ettelah, 2, 746.

xix Refer to Tabaqat-e Nasiri and Hayat-e Afghani and the 8th Chapter on Suryan of Ghor in Afghanistan After Islam.