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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

Sun and cloud over Khorasan and its kuhistan - mountain country
Sun and cloud over Khorasan and its kuhistan - mountain country. Image credit: Salman at Webshots


Khorasan & Kuhistani Khorasan

Page 2. Bandian, Kuhistan, Language

Daregaz & Bandian


Khorasan and Kuhistan's Resistance to the Arabs & Rebellions

Continued Khorasani Based Revolts

Language: Khorasani / Eastern Dari

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Khorasan & Kuhistani Khorasan

Page 1. Introduction & Fire Temples

Khorasan and the Sun

Khorasan & Zoroastrianism

Khorasan's & Fire Temples

Revand / Rivand / Reyvand Fire Temple(s)

Burzen-Mehr (Adur Burzen-Mihr or Azarbuzinmehr) Fire?

Ruins near Foshtanq Village

Barzanun Village

Revand / Kopet Dag Mountains

The Dilemma

Associated reading:

» Parthava (Parthia)

Daregaz & Bandian

Bandian is a fascinating archaeological site located near the town of Daregaz (also spelt Darigaz, Darreh Gaz, and Dargaz). The site has been dated to the Sassanian era (c 224-650 CE). We are informed that artefacts dating back to the Parthava (Parthian 247 BCE - 224 CE) era - and earlier as well - have also been found at the site. We await details. Bandian is less than 100 km east-southeast of ancient Nisa / Parthaunisa.

It is located in the north of Khorasan Razavi province close to the Turkmenistan border. The town of Dargaz and its surrounding fields and orchards lie in a fertile basin carved out of the Revand / Kopet Dag hills. It is in pockets of fertility such as this that the ancients would have started farming in ancient times and where the Parthava (Parthians) made their home.

The drive down the Revand (Kopet Dag) to the Dargez basin
The drive down the Revand (Kopet Dag) to the Dargez basin.
Image credit: adelmir at Panoramio
The approach to charming Dargez
The approach to charming Dargez. Image credit: Bagher Arabi at Panoramio

Passes in the line of hills provides relatively easy access to Quchan in the Revand / Kopet Dag heights and from there the fertile Atrek valley.

The site of Bandian consists of a large building whose ceiling and roof was supported by massive columns, and whose walls were adorned by intricate designs, art and Pahlavi inscriptions set in stucco. The excavation area covers about 1,000 sq. m. and can be divided into three sections:
1. A 20x21 building,
2. An unnamed mound that is presently being excavated, and
3. A mound called Yarim Tepe that has yet to be excavated.

The building excavated so far has revealed:
- A columned main hall, 10.25x8.45 m in size, with four lime columns that supported a flat ceiling.
- A temple sanctuary with a large pedestal,
- An ossuary room,
- Additional adjacent rooms and corridors.

A north wall of the main hall has an arched niche measuring 2.80 x 1.70 m. The niche is decorated with a motif depicting five individuals surrounded by frames decorated with artichoke leaves.

Next to the niche is a small room 2.5 x 3 m in size. Artefacts discovered in the room include several stamps with imprinted patterns such as a deer, a griffin, a person's bust with a word 'Roozbeh' engraved in Pahlavi script on his both sides.

Behind the first room is a second room measuring 5.20 x 4.80 m.

In a western passageway, three arched one-piece lime coffin-like objects were found. The containers were decorated by simple engraved miniatures. The archaeologists surmise that the objects were ossuaries and that the decorations were based on mythology. The passageway connects the hall to a round tower.

The building itself was destroyed as a malicious act and to add to the intentional damage, another building was built over the ruins.

We are told that the building contains a 'Zoroastrian temple' i.e. a sanctuary containing a fire and prayer room. The identification as a fire temple is based on an impressive and 'lavishly' decorated podium that could have supported a fire urn.

The walls are decorated with impressive 33 m long stucco panels. Unfortunately, the tops of the panels have been destroyed. Reconstruction efforts are being made based on the wall designs found at Panjikent, Tajikistan. The southeast wall has embedded designs which from left to right are a hunting scene with riders following two stags, a war scene followed by a victory scene. The southwest wall has a scene depicting a hall divided in two parts by a curtain, beside which stands a woman in long dress pouring contents from a jug onto the floor of the adjacent section. The hall's northern wall has a investiture-like scene with four standing and one seated figure.

The sides of the 2.5 x 3 m niche in the north wall are decorated as well. The northeast side panel depicts a man holding a fire chalice or incense burner. A Pahlavi inscription above the image bears the name Vid-Mehr Shahpur. The central, northwest wall carries an image of a fire altar with individuals standing on both sides holding sticks (barsom?). The southwest side has a man standing and holding an ornament and a necklace-like string of beads.

The north wall has a motif depicting four standing individuals attired in ceremonial-like clothes, followed by another scene that has been severely defaced.

According to the investigators, the site has been known by a several names in the past, names such as Dara, Daragyard, Pavart - and then Bavard, Abivard after the Arab invasion. However, the site does not fit the description of the fabled Parthava town of Dara.

The site does appear to be a necropolis, especially if the tower that has been uncovered was a tower of silence. Isidorus Characenus' (Isidore of Charax) in his Parthian Stations states that in Parthaunisa "there are royal tombs" meaning that it was a royal necropolis. This site may have a similar purpose. The ruins of the Gyaur Kala and other structures and fire temples in Khvarizem, also have altar-like recesses in the walls that fit the description of the recesses in Bandian.

According to Ali Mousavi, a similar structure was discovered at Mele Hairam in Turkeminstan and near Sarakhs in northern Khurassan. "The excavations, carried out a Polish team in 1997, revealed installations and structures of a fire temple comparable to the complex at Bandian and other Iranian sites (Kaim 2004; 2006). The earliest phase of the building may be tentatively dated to the 2nd century (our note. This date could make it a Parthian structure). It consists of a main building, the access to which is possible through a large eyvan or vaulted hall (7.5 x 5.20 m). Two layers of wall paintings were found in the vaulted entrance, depicting a series of floral and geometrical motifs. Further in the building there are small platforms in mud-brick. The fire temple is a square room (5 x 5 m) and has an altar in the centre."

The drive down the Revand (Kopet Dag) to the Dargez basin
View of the Bandian site in the background.
Image credit: Iranian.com
Bandian's main hall
Bandian's main hall.
Image credit: Iranian.com

Bandian's main hall
Bandian's main hall.
Image credit: Iranian.com
A wall motif
A wall motif.
Image credit: Iranian.com

Detail of a wall motif
Detail of a wall motif.
Image credit: Iranian.com
Detail of a wall motif. Note the swastika-like design
Detail of a wall motif. Note the swastika-like design
Image credit: Iranian.com


Kuhistan or kohistan, means land of the mountains. There are several kuhistans all over the Aryan lands - every settlement in the mountains qualified as a kuhistan. One feature they all shared in common was that they were all remote, sparsely populated, other than the immediate valley, not fertile but barren, controlled by independent lords, and generally cut-off from the main population centres. The kuhistan of Khorasan - what we will call the Khorasani Kuhistan - was one of the principal kuhistans where Zoroastrians sought refugee when fleeing the Arabs.

There are two kuhistans in Khorasan, one in the north (north of Nishapur / Neyshabur) including the Kopet Dag mountains that border Turkmenistan, and another in the south running towards the border with Sistan. They are separated by a desert. The kuhistans of Khorasan together with the kuhistans of Sistan, Mazandaran, Yazd and Kerman as well as those now in Afghanistan and Tajikistan have special significance in Zoroastrian history, for it is there that many Zoroastrians retreated in the face of the advancing Arab armies.

A couplet (line 100) of the Qissa-e Sanjan states:
Behdins and dasturs, one and all, did hide themselves and the practice of their faith.
Abandoned, did they, their homes, their gardens, their mansions, their halls - all for the sake of their faith.
There in kuhistan they made their abode for a hundred years, their condition reduced to a desperate state.
Of them, for the sake of preserving them and their beliefs, a wise and pious man pondered deeply their happenstance,
And afterwards said to the others, "We must leave for there is peril from the alien hordes in remaining here."

Narrow valley in the mountains - an ideal hideout
Narrow valley in the mountains - an ideal hideout.
Image credit: Amout Sier

The geography of some of the kuhistans was particularly suited as a refuge from pursuing armies. Some valleys were so narrow that no large invading force would be able to enter them. It was ideal for guerrilla fighting and often settlements could disappear into the hills.

While we refer to the kuhistan in today's Khorasan province as if it were a part of Khorasan when the Arabs invaded, it was at several points in the past, a separate political entity ruled by a separate lord or king. Gibbs states that the hills were home to Hephthalites (also called Ephthalites or White Huns - who spoke an Old Eastern Iranian dialect. They may also be a Saka group). They were fierce and rejected control. It is only after the Arabs finally subdued the hill country, that they attached the (southern) kuhistan administratively to Khorasan. For convenience we shall call this kuhistan, the Kuhistan of Khorasan or Khorasani Kuhistan.

Khorasani Kuhistan was known to have been a refugee for Zoroastrians fleeing the Arabs (cf. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume 2, Part 1, by Sir H. A. R. Gibb). In the 11th century during Seljuk Dynasty, Kuhistan became a refuge for Ismaili heretics as well. The Ismailis built strongholds and castles, ruins of which are still visible. Even the poet Ferdowsi is said to have fled the wrath of Mahmud of Ghazni to first to Gorgan-Mazandaran in the northwest, then to Ahwazin the southwest and then to 'Kuhistan' though we don't know which one (its governor was Nasser Leq).

By the time of the Zoroastrian outward migrations in the 9th and 10th centuries, Qa'en (Kain) was the capital and commercial centre of Kuhistan, and in true Zoroastrian tradition, Qa'en became a trading centre for trade between Khorasan and Kerman. The region became known for the weaving of kuhiyya, a very fine linen and this industry flourished at Tun in particular.

We notice that there is a town or village called Khur in this kuhistan.

Khorasan and Kuhistan's Resistance to the Arabs & Rebellions

According to Gibbs, Khorasani Kuhistan became 'the centre of a great national revolt under a chief named Karin (Qaren?) (a village in Kuhistan still bears this name), a rising that was put down by Ibn Khazim (Tabari, i, 2905, and Marquart, Iranshahr, 135). Yet again, in 671, the Arabs under al-Rabi bin Ziyad found it necessary to re-conquer this Kuhistan, from which time onwards it became a part of greater Khorasan administratively, but specifically of the (sub?) province of Abarshahr with its capital at Nishapur.

Gibbs also cites Yakubi in Buldan (p. 278), and Inostrantsev, in stating that the remote districts (presumably within the Kuhistan) of Tabasian, Djam and Zawzan 'became the principal refuge of Zoroastrians driven from their homes' by the Muslims.

The Umayyad caliphate (661-750 CE) completed the Arab conquest of Iranian-Aryan lands including Khorasan. While the Arabs had succeeded in usurping the heart of Iranian culture, the had not succeeded in squelching Iranian nationalism. The Iranians rebranded Islam and then out of Khorasan grew a rebellion that brought the century old rule of Arabs to an end. The story includes Zoroastrian participation with an Iranian general named Abu Muslim Khorasani whose armies deposed the Arab Islamic caliphate.

Khorasani Based Revolts

Khorasan continued to be the home of revolutionary movements, whatever their motives or goals. For instance, not long after Abu Muslim's assassination, there was an uprising against the Abbasids between 775 and 780 led by Hashem ibn Al-Hakim. Hashem was known to the Arabs as Al-Muqanna' (the veiled one). Hashem's followers wore symbolic white shirts and carried white flags since the Abbasids rulers whom they opposed flew clack banners and wore black.

Several other revolutionary movements were spawned in Khorasan. For further details please see our page on revolutionary sects.

Language: Khorasani / Eastern Dari

Khorasan was home to the dialect of Middle Persian that bacame modern Persian. Two thousand years ago, the Parthian or Arsacid Pahlavi or Pahlavanik language and script originated in Parthia. Pahlavanik was the predecessor language to Sassanian Pahlavi, Parsik, commonly known as Middle Persian or Pahlavi after the script used in its writing. Parsik eventually became modern Parsi (Persian).

The following are quotes from our pages on Languages and Haroyu (Aria, presently Herat and adjoining provinces in north-western Afghanistan): "The residents of Herat City are mainly the Parsiban (or Farsiwan), a group otherwise simply called Parsi (or Farsi), two versions of an ethnic term sometimes meaning 'Persian speaker'. However, all Afghani Persian speakers are not called Parsiban. For the main part, Parsiban refers to a sub-group of ethic Tajiks who speak Khorasani Dari, a Persian language dialect. [Khorasan is the northeast province of Iran that borders Herat and Afghanistan.] This is especially true of the rural Parsiban who have maintained the tradition of speaking Khorasani Dari. Members of the same ethno-linguistic group are also found in the Eastern Iranian provinces of Khorasan and Siestan / Sistan. Khorasani Dari is native to Khorasan, Herat and Farah provinces - provinces that were once part of Greater Khorasan. The eastern-most district in Herat Province is called Farsi / Parsi. There are about 600,000 Parsiban in Afghanistan out of a present population of just under thirty three million." Given that Khorasani Dari is spoken all along eastern Iran, from Khorasan to Siestan, and that many Zoroastrians from these areas migrated to Kerman and Yazd, carrying with them their language, the eastern Iranian connections with the Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kerman bear further exploration.

The eastern Iranian / Persian dialect of Dari that eventually evolved in Yazd and Kerman, cannot be understood by the speakers of Iran's national language, Farsi, a western Iranian / Persian dialect. The Zoroastrians of Yazd have not been very willing to teach non-Zoroastrians how to speak the language, using it to communication amongst themselves or when they did not want the Muslims to Yazd to understanding what they were saying. [The Dari speakers of Yazd know mainstream Farsi, the language spoken by Muslim Yazdis, as well.] E. G. Browne wrote in his book, A Year Amongst the Persians (1893), "This Dari dialect is only used by the guebres, a derogatory word that Muslims called Zoroastrians) amongst themselves, and all of them, so far as I know, speak Persian as well. When they speak their own dialect, even a Yezdi Musulman cannot understand what they are saying, or can only understand it very imperfectly. It is for this reason that the Zoroastrians cherish their Dari, and are somewhat unwilling to teach it to a stranger... To me they were as a rule ready enough to impart information about it; though when I tried to get old Jamshid the gardener to tell me more about it, he excused himself, saying that knowledge of it could be of no possible use to me."

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