The celebrations over the weekend marking the announcement of Ghazni, Afghanistan, as the Asian Capital of Islamic Culture and Civilization brings mixed feelings to the Indian mind. Ghazni is associated with the name of one of the most brutal marauders of the Indian civilization — Mohammed Ghazni.
Ghazni, as he is known, undertook a series of seventeen raids into northwestern India starting in 1000 AD when India was possibly the richest country in the world.
No matter Ghazni’s much-touted patronage of Firdausi, Alberuni and Utbi, he was essentially a lower form of tribal life whose sole objective was to plunder the riches of Hindu temples and palaces. Even the sight of libraries provoked his ire.
Ghazni’s attack on the Somnath temple in 1025 AD stands out as one of the most ghastly events in the collective Hindu psyche. He ransacked the temple, massacred its defenders and personally smashed the temple’s lingam to pieces and carried the stone fragments back to Ghazni where they were incorporated into the steps of the city’s new Jamiah Masjid.
The mother of all ironies is, Ghazni also could claim a rich cultural and civilizational heritage dating back to its pre-islamic past. The city is mentioned by Ptolemy, associated with Alexander the Great (who renamed it Alexandria) and was a thriving Buddhist centre till the late 7th century when the Arab armies brought Islam to the region.
During the ‘atheistic’ communist rule in the 1978-1992 period one could visit the Buddhist site at Tapar Sardar and marvel at the stupa on a hilltop surrounded by numerous smaller stupas and sit upon the ground and brood about the meaning of life watching the lengthening shadows of the evening sun fall on the nearby massive statue of reclining Buddha.
Then, of course, came the Taliban, who blew the Buddha up. So, why should Hamid Karzai have been party to arresting the city’s history and make it appear that the ebb and flow of civilisation in his part of the world began only with the military expeditions of the Ghaznavid Empire?
Actually, this difficult question unlocks the story of the epochal transformation of the Afghan identity through the past 3 decades of war and foreign invasion.
The ‘Islamization’ of Afghanistan made good politics for Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Haq and his Saudi and American patrons during the Afghan ‘jihad’ against Soviet occupation. But the germane seeds of ‘jihad’ grew fast and soon began casting canopy all over the Hindu Kush.
Clearly, It becomes politically expedient today for the rulers in Kabul to inherit it. And it now becomes the Afghan nation’s collective inheritance.
A new nation probably needs something to build its identity. Nearby Uzbekistan, which was created in 1992, chose the blood-soaked Timurids to embellish its newfound national history, and yet, interestingly, nearby Tajikistan chose Novruz (festival marking the spring season).
To my mind, though, the most curious choice of national identity was made by neighboring Kyrgyzstan — Manas, the great ninth century epic that does not recognise any temporal or spatial boundaries. It is their equivalent of Silappatikaram, the great Tamil epic of the Sangam epoch (second and third centuries BC).
Indeed, there is something in these very interesting choices that new nations come under compulsion to make to (re)build their identity — especially considering that Afghanistan with such a rich history and culture would have multiple choices available and yet zeroed in on Ghazni.
Posted in Politics.
– April 15, 2013