I already made a post about Hindu iconography in Japan, as expressed primarily in Shingon Buddhism. Now I’ll look to the west. As in the east, Hindu iconography appears in an ancient and intermixed state alongside other forms of iconography. In this case the context is Manichean, Zoroastrian, Greek, indigenous, and Buddhist. In many spots it gets hard to distinguish the border between iconographical forms as they tend to blend together into syncretic representations. It really is a historically unique scenario which produced such a melting pot of aesthetic trends. In any case the locations of these images, in a loose sense, define the high water mark of Hindu cultural expansion into Western Asia (Irredentists eat your heart out).
For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll ignore the art of Gandhara (inner Afghanistan/Peshawar region) which is already well known and should really be considered Indian art rather than an export. I’ll only be looking at art from north and west of Gandhara I’ll also be ignoring images of the deity Mitra/Mithra, because there are simply too many of them as this deity became very popular in the west and evolved its own well developed cult in Europe which is really a very different phenomenon than the diffusion of Shiva, Ganesha, or Parvati imagery in Western Asia. Due to the nature of the subject, some of the sourcing on these images or information is sketchy, but I’ll flag that when it is relevant.
The following pieces are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They are all from the same archeological find, so I’ll only list that information in the first caption.
This rare Central Asian votive panel depicts a deity (with nimbus) being approached by a worshiper, probably nonroyal but portrayed as of equal stature to the god. Compositionally, they follow scenes of homage and investiture from the post-Hellenistic West and from Iran in which a king and a god appear side by side. Along with the hands of a missing worshiper, the god Siva/Oesho is depicted. Four-armed and three-headed, with a prominent third eye, he wears an animal skin and a belted, diaphanous garment and holds a trident. Here, the rich intercultural style that developed in the Kushan realm is most clearly displayed: Indian divine iconography; the Iranian type of two-figured composition; and Greco-Roman naturalism in the drapery and pose, as well as in the use of light and shadow to suggest modeling. The panel has holes at the corners and was probably set up, together with three others acquired by the Museum (MMA 2000.42.1, .2, .3), on the interior walls of a sanctuary, perhaps a family shrine.
This rare Central Asian votive panel depicts a deity (with nimbus) being approached by a male worshiper, probably nonroyal but portrayed as of equal stature to the god. Compositionally, they follow scenes of homage and investiture from the post-Hellenistic West and from Iran in which a king and a god appear side by side. A majestic figure with a full beard and long wavy hair, who has been identified as the supreme deity Zeus/Serapis/Ohrmazd, receives a suppliant in the characteristic Iranian short tunic and leggings, hands clasped in adoration. Here, the rich intercultural style that developed in the Kushan realm is clearly displayed: Indian divine iconography; the Iranian type of two-figured composition; and Greco-Roman naturalism in the drapery and pose, as well as in the use of light and shadow to suggest modeling. The panel has holes at the corners and was probably set up, together with three others acquired by the Museum (MMA 2000.42.1, .3, .4), on the interior walls of a sanctuary, perhaps a family shrine.
Also from Bactria:
I hesitated as to whether or not to include the Kushan coins. There are more types of them than I can reasonably represent here, but you can get a full picture of them at coinindia.com. Most of Kushan art is restricted to India, but I include them because 1) they themselves originate outside of the subcontinent, and 2) their coins bore Hindu iconography as far away as western Bactria, southern Sogdia, and the Tarim Basin.
From the reign of Vima Kadphises (early 2nd century CE):
These are from a very early phase.
From the reign on Kanishka I (127-150 CE). This was probably the most remarkable Kushan king, who conquered much of India and converted to Buddhism most likely:
This is a peculiar piece. About it CoinIndia writes:
The identity of Manaobago has still not been definitively established. The name suggests the Avestan (Zoroastrian) deity Vohu Mano, the “Lord of Good Thought.” However, there are several problems with this attribution, including the presence of four arms (unthinkable in a Zoroastrian deity and suggesting an Indian origin) and the presence of the lunar crescents on the shoulders. The Vedic Mananas Pati is a possible candidate … he is the lord of the mind and of dreams, and therefore of the night. The lunar crescents and the title Manaobago = Lord of the mind seem to fit this well. The word Bago means “god” or lord,” so we could easily have Mananas Pati = Mananas Bago = Manaobago.
The legend on this coin reads “Oesho,” which suggests the Iranian wind god Wesho,while the image seems to be that of Shiva with his various familiar attributes: trident, deerskin, damaru or drum (also seen as a thunderbolt) and water pot. It is possible that this image demonstrates that the two deities, Wesho and Shiva, were in the process of being merged at this time and place.
From the reign of Huvishka (155-189 CE):
From the reign of Vasudeva I (c. 190-225 CE):
For the vast majority of his reign, Vasudeva I minted only this coin or variants thereof. Eventually tridents were added above the fire alter on the front perhaps to show that the sacrifice was meant for Shiva alone. This is the first Kushan king who was clearly Hindu, as he eliminated basically eliminated all other forms of iconography on his coins. However, after him the quality of depiction on coins decreases concomitant with the slow collapse of the empire after his reign.
From the reign of Kanishka II(c. 225-245 CE):
From the reign of Vasishka (c. 247-265 CE):
From the reign of Vasudeva II (c. 270-300 CE):
This will be by far the largest section. For some reason, the political and religious culture of Sogdia found itself quite amenable to thoroughly utilizing Hindu iconography in their structures. Due to silk road commerce there were a large number of Hindus in the more prosperous cities of Central Asia for a long time, which is not something we intuitively grasp as moderns. I cannot say for sure, but my theory is that Sogdian rulers wanted to appear welcoming to all religious demographics, and wanted to aesthetically and ideologically place their kingship (and perhaps their poorly understood local and syncretic conception of divinity as well) at the center of all existing cosmologies. On the subject of why the Hindu figures appear so unusually prolific in Sogdia, and what that might reflect about their religion Marshak and Raspopova write: “Rather than portraying the major Buddhist, Christian, or Manichean images, they found it suitable to borrow the minor representations of Hindu gods and allegorical and astrological images of Greek mythology, which by that time had lost their immediate cultic significance.” (Worshipers from the Northern Shrine of Temple II, Panjikent Authors: B. I. Marshak and V. I. Raspopova, p. 198-199)
Many of the images later on in this section show sketches of painted murals which were discovered in extreme states of decay. Some might find them unaesthetic or annoying to try to visually decode, but I think that they offer a different form of beauty in the partially abstract fields of linework they’ve fallen into as a result of decay.
The following information is about the Pendzhikent site within modern day Tajikistan. I got it from this random data dump on a forum, but the ultimate source appears to be a book called “Hindu Gods in Western Central Asia A Lesser Known Chapter of Indian History” by S.P. Gupta. According to this admittedly sketchy source, the Pendzhikent or Penjikent site was:
“a commercial town with bazaars, covering an area of 13.5 hectares, in which around 130 houses and shops have been excavated. The structural remains of these two to three storied houses, some of them very large, including wooden posts and walls, have yielded many sculptural remains and remains of painting. It is in them that we get the representations of Hindu gods and goddesses as well as many decorative elements and narrative scenes. It may, however, be noted that the Hindu gods and goddesses depicted here were having some local overtones in the sense that the form and iconography as well as their names had local origins.”
The source also gives us the following additional information on these pieces:
Sogdiana witnessed Hinduism in the worship of five gods, viz. Brahma, Indra, Mahadeva (Shiva), Narayana and Vaishravana. It may be noted that out of these five, the first three Hindu gods were identified with their own three gods. Brahma was identified with their own god Zrvan , Indra with Adbad and Mahadeva (mantis按:大自在天/濕婆) with Veshparkar. The last two had no local counterparts to impose upon the Hindu gods. The Sogdian manuscripts have described them in iconographic terms, for example, Brahma-Zrvan has been described as a god with a beard, Indra- Adbag has been described as a god with a third eye, Mahadeva-Veshparkar has been shown with three faces. As a matter of fact, some of the pictures bore the names of these gods. V.A. Liv****s deciphered such a label as ‘Veshpur(kar)’ under a three-headed god.
At Penjikent a four -armed goddess riding a lion, sometimes found near the image of Shiva is often depicted. It is possible that the goddess meant here was Parvati although some scholars would like to identify her with the Iranian goddess Nana depicted on some Kushana Coins.
A mural of 8th century at Penjikent has three portable sacrificial fire altars. Much of this picture is gone but what remains has at least the picture of Mahadeva-Veshparkar. Thus, the two remaining gods supporting two other altars could be Brahma-Zravan and Indra-Adbag. As a matter fact, the name of the Zoroastrian supreme god Ahar Mazda was totally avoided here, for whom Indra-Adbag was the substitute.
Camel and ram have been used as a mount of some gods with Indian features whose identity is very difficult to make. Dragon has also been used as a mount but the identity of this multi-handed Indian goddess from Temple II of Penjikent is not possible at this stage knowledge.
The Russian scholars working here have been doing excellent work and much of the archaeological remains of Penjikent can be seen in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
The following set of images are from the Miho Museum near Shikigara, Japan (Exhibit page). If you want to read their article on the culture surrounding the Tajikistan pieces, here it is. ButThey are from the same culture and region as the above images. On these images the Miho Museum writes:
Cat. No. 212 shows a three-faced and four-armed god facing diagonally front. The figure is shown with a crown, earrings, and a superbly decorative armor as he stands with arrow cocked in his bow aimed a demon and with spear. This is probably an image of Veshparkar-Shiva. This god in the Sogdian pantheon is equivalent to the Indian god Shiva. Cat. No. 213 depicts a demon with wild red hair, a third eye in his forehead, skull head decoration, and large open mouth, all creating a fearsome demonic image. Surely Shiva’s arrow is aimed at just such a demon
The following two images are from the same general site as the prior images, and come from kroraina.com. The location is labeled as Bundzhikat. Kalai KakhkakhaI. The palace of the Afshins (Ustrushana):
This is unfortunately a low quality image, but it is from that UNESCO document. They say regarding this image and similar ones:
Among the Manichaean writings, tales and fables, including some from the Indian Panchatantra and the Greek fables of Aesop, have been discovered. There are also non-Manichaean fairy-tales. The paintings of Panjikent show a similar but wider repertoire of subjects from both translated and local literature: among the epic narratives, in addition to the story of Zohak, the tales of Rustam 28 and perhaps the Mahabharata. There are also illustrations of several episodes of a previously unknown Sogdian epic. In one of the halls the pictures are accompanied by fragments of text.29 The murals illustrate tales about the man who promised his daughter to a seaspirit; a prince, a bear, a wolf and a jackal; a wise judge (Fig. 25) and a woman’s wiles; fables about a dog barking at an elephant, and about a blacksmith and a monkey; Aesop’s fables about the goose that laid the golden eggs, and about the father and his sons; parables from the Panchatantra about the jackal, the lion and the bull; the lion and the hare; the learned men who resuscitated a tiger; and the foresight of the king of the monkeys.
The following images are also from Panjiikent, and originate in a journal article entitled “Iranian Gods in Hindu Garb: The Zoroastrian Pantheon of the Bactrians and Sogdians, Second–Eighth Centuries” By Frantz Grenet, p. 93.
The following is from the book Sogdian Painting: The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art By Guitty Azarpay, p. 31:
Azarpay writes regarding this image that one of the three figures on the left is Veshparkar (Vayu/Shiva). I don’t know which one though. This is an altar support, but the room originally contained 3 altars. One to Veshparkar, one to Zhurvan, and one to Adbag (Ahura Mazda/Indra). Frustratingly scant information on many of these. While we are thinking about the material worship facilities in this temple, it is worth considering the following quotation from Marshak and Raspopova: “Theatricalization of the cult in Sogdian temples can be traced not only to the northern shrine of Temple II but also in its main building, whose cella apparently preserved the remnants of a wooden machine used to create magic theatrical effects, in some measure like those described by Sa’adi, who described a hidden rope which made the Indian idol raise its arms” (Worshipers from the Northern Shrine of Temple II, Panjikent. Authors: B. I. Marshak and V. I. Raspopova, p. 200)
From the Azarpay text we also get the following images:
The source informs us on p. 67 that this is a depiction of a battle with Nana, Veshparkar, the Sun and the mortals, against the “Dews” which I take to be a rendering of the Zoroastrian form of “Deva” or “Daeva” or “Daewa”. The presence of Veshparkar/Shiva, Nana/(Durga?) and the Dews all in one iconographic form show the weird reversals that can sometimes occur in Central Asia which I wrote about once in the case of Hariti. For those who don’t know, the Zoroastrians and Hindus split in ancient times with the Zoroastrians worshipping the Asura/Ahura/Ahura Mazda, while the Hindus worshipped the Deva/Daeva. Yet here, one if not two of the Hindu Deva have switched sides and are fighting on the side of Ahura Mazda or Zurvan against the Zoroastrian Daeva.
The above is said by Azarpay to be a depiction of the Goddess of the local river Zeravshan, but I again include it for context and for the stylistic similarity to Hindu-Buddhist imagery as is seen in both the concentric circle halo design and the 4 arms.
The deity above is unidentified.
The following set of images shows depictions from what we know as “Aesop’s Fables,” but which originated as Panchatantra, Jataka, or other Hindu-Buddhist folk tales:
Modern Uzbek Region:
Samakrand and Shahir-i-Sabz:
I’m glad that Grenet here shares my belief that the Persian Nana deity and Durga are undergoing conflation in some of these images.
This is another instance of a Goddess which appears to be an Iranian/Hindu syncretic form. The four arms indicate it. This is probably the furthest flung example of ancient Hindu derived iconography “as the crow flies” from India. They likely got it from the Kushan or Sogdian religious tradition.
The University of Washington, quoting from a Metropolitan Museum of Art publication, has this to say:
Illustrated here are the two sides of the largest fragment from a Manichaean illustrated manuscript in the collection of the Museum für Indische Kunst in Berlin. On one side is depicted what appears to be a reception for by an unidentified figure in the center. Damage to the manuscript has destroyed this figure’s head., though the larger stature of this individual compared to other figures on the page (including the deities seated below), verifying his importance, and possibly his divinity. The figure grasps the hand of a man in golden armor, perhaps a ruler.
Sitting below this large figure are two rows of deities. Two Manichaean gods line up on one side, and with Hindu gods lined up on the other (from the left: Ganesha, Varaha, Brahma (?), and Shiva). The implication of this meeting between deities of differing faiths is not known. The fact that the Hindu divinities all seem to bear objects (gifts?), while the Manichaean deities do not, may be significant.
For the sake of context, here is the second page and the accompanying description:
On the reverse side of the page is a depiction of an important religious feast commemorating the martydom of Mani, the founder of the Manichaean faith. Various fruits and other foods have been offered for the ceremony, including loaves of bread in the shape of the sun and the crescent moon.1
The identity of the central figure on this page is not known, though his large size, and the presence of a halo emphasizes his importance; this may be a depiction of Mani himself. Some of the electors have their names written on their garments, identifying the more important members of the assembly.
This is seemingly Buddhist by the Vajra-like object in her hand, but the fact that it is Tantric impels me include it. This was also a city under Kushan control in an earlier period.
I’m cheating here, as there is no iconography to speak of at this site other than a crude etching of a sun figure. Note that the architecture itself is almost certainly derived from Zoroastrian models, but the site was used by Hindus and Sikhs as we can see from the engravings. There is a lot more information widely available on this site than the previous ones I’ve shown, but its history is also more murky and controversial. Who built the existing structure, whether a prior structure existed, how the site was used over time, and whether the Hindu-Sikh or Zoroastrian congregation predominated there is all seemingly up in the air (and there is then the further controversy about how many of the Zoroastrians were Persian and how many were Parsi Indians). From a straightforward reading of the inscriptions and a casual reading of the secondary literature it seems most likely that wealthy Hindu or Sikh merchants who dominated much of the Baku economy in the middle ages and early modern period either dramatically renovated or built the structure in the 17th century, and comprised the majority of its congregation during that period. They likely built over a group of seven holes emitting flaming natural gas which Zoroastrians had already considered sacred. However, the 7th century name which the Amernians call it by, “Atshi-Baguan” or “Fires of Baguan” (Bhagwan?) would seem to imply an Indic connection at an otherwise implausibly early phase.
Yes, these are just drawings, but since the structure was built the natural gas in the area has been exploited for industry causing the natural fires in the area to go out. Is there some sad poetry in that? Without the fire, and without any substantial number of Zoroastrian, Hindu, or Sikh patrons the temple today is in a disenchanted state:
The Wikimedia Commons excerpts the following from A. V. Williams Jackson’s book “From Constantinople to the Home of Omar Khayyam”:
Sanskrit (above) and Persian (below) inscriptions from the Ateshgah (fire temple) of Baku, Azerbaijan. The Sanskrit inscription is a religious Hindu invocation in old Devanagari script while the Persian inscription is a couplet. The Sanskrit invocation begins with: I salute Lord Ganesh (श्री गणेशाय नमः), a standard beginning of most Hindu prayers. The second line venerates the holy fire Jwala Ji (जवालाजी). The inscription is dated to Vikram Samvat 1802 (संवत १८०२, i.e. 1745 CE). Unlike the several Sanskrit (written in Devanagari) and Punjabi (written in Gurmukhi) inscriptions in the temple, the Persian quatrain below is the sole Persian one and, though ungrammatical, also refers to the fire (آتش) and dates it to Hijri 1158 (١١٥٨, i.e. again 1745 CE). (From the source, “a quatrain in not very good Persian, the mistakes of which might have been made by a Hindu imperfectly acquainted with the language …”.)
This is a Punjabi engraving, which contains the Mool Mantar, as well as some other verses. Rev. Justin E. Abbott translated it as follows:
Om. Whose name is Existence, Creator, The Male, Without fear, Without enmity, Timeless, Unborn, Self-existent, Favor of the Guru. Repeat this. He is true in the beginning; He is true from eternity; He is true now; Nanak (says) he will be true in the future. The favour of the true Guru. Baba Jagushah Suba, whose disciple is Baba Tagushah, whose disciple is Bava Bakashah, whose disciple is Chatashah, built this religious place. (Source: Indian Inscriptions on the Fire Temple at Baku–By the Rev. Justin E. Abbott, D.D., Bombay, India.)
Here is another inscription, which the Flickr user labels as Punjabi, although it looks like Devanagari to me.
Illegible Devanagari inscription:
Apparent Devanagari including a number (1770?):
Another Devanagari inscription:
A. V. Williams Jackson writes about this: “An invocation to Ganesha, Jwala Ji and Lord Shiva(?) from the Atashgah in Baku, Azerbaijan. The inscription is in Sanskrit written in the Devanagari script. Note the devotional (dotted, with slanted ends) Hindu swastika on the top.” (Wikimedia Commons)
Thats all I got for you.