The peoples that were under the influence of or ruled by the Hindu Sahi dynasty belonged to the territories of Kabulistan, Gandhara and parts of Northern Punjab. Kabulistan was what is currently known as the province of Kabul in present-day Afghanistan. Gandhara is the ancient name for the country that includes the valley of Peshawar in modern-day Pakistan. The parts of Punjab that were under Sahi influence are now a part of Punjab that currently belongs to Pakistan.
One country that was never conquered by the Sahis but was to play a big part in their history was Zabulistan. Zabulistan included the areas of modern-day Zabul and Ghazni provinces, located now in present-day Afghanistan.
The history of this part of the world is often overlooked, it is often treated as a side story, a territory through which invaders and conquerors must pass in order to reach the ultimate prize, Central India.
The history of these lands is the stories of men and women that were destined to rule these
lands, if not in their own name, then in the name of more powerful kings, these men were responsible for providing security, order and supporting local culture.
The history of these lands is a story of countless invasions, sometimes by generals and armies and at other times by the migration of whole tribes, migrating masses of men, women and children. The history of these lands is also one of competing religions, first Hinduism and then Buddhism. It is here that Buddhism, a native of India thrived, prospered and spread to other parts of the world. Then, after the decline of Buddhism, there was a resurgence of Hinduism under the Hindu Sahis before the arrival of Islam.
Though the history of these lands is ancient, for me, a good starting point would be a quick background and summary of the history of the lands before the Hindu Sahis. I choose to begin with the most famous of the conquerors of these lands, another childhood hero of mine, the great conqueror, Alexander.
Twelve hundred years before the Sahi dynasty, these territories had been satrapies or provinces of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. The Achaemenid empire had been established by Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE.
A young Alexander the Great succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20 in 336 BCE. Alexander commenced a great campaign to conquer the territories of the Persian empires. He began with Asia Minor, across the sea from Greece, continuing to campaign through the Levant and Syria, then west until he took Egypt. After this conquest he marched to the east and took the provinces of Assyria and Babylonia. After defeating the Persian king Darius III in the battle of Guagamela in 331 BCE, the whole of Persiaand the East fell to him.
Alexander then campaigned in central Asia, founding new cities, all named Alexandria, including modern Kandahar in Afghanistan, and Alexandria Eschate (‘The Furthest’) in modern-day Tajikistan. The campaign took Alexander through Media, Parthia, Aria (West Afghanistan), Drangiana, Arachosia (South and Central Afghanistan), Bactria (North and Central Afghanistan) and Scythia.
He then turned to the Indian subcontinent. He invited the chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara to submit to his authority. The ruler of Taxila complied, but other chieftains of the hill tribes refused to submit.
Alexander set off from Kabul in 327 BCE and divided his forces – his generals, Hephaestion and Perdiccas, marched through the Khyber Pass and constructed a bridge of boats over the Indus at modern day Hund in district Swabi in Pakistan.
Alexander himself campaigned in the Kunar Valley (Afghanistan), the Panjkora Valley in Upper Dir (modern-day Pakistan) and the Swat and Buner valleys.
Alexander crossed the Indus and fought and won the epic battle of the Hydaspes (Jhelum) in 326 BCE against King Porus, who ruled a region lying between the Jhelum and the Chenab. East of Porus’ kingdom, near the Ganges River, was the Nanda Empire of Magadha. The struggle with Porus had
an impact on the courage of the Macedonians. Exhausted by years of campaigning, Alexander’s army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (Beas) and refused to march further east.
Reluctantly, Alexander agreed and turned south, marching along the Indus. Most of the army marched with General Craterus into Iran. Alexander’s admiral, Nearchus, took a fleet to explore the Persian Gulf while he led the rest back to Persia through the more difficult southern route, along
the Gedrosian Desert and Makran.
Although Alexander only stayed a few years in India, his introduction of Greeks to this part of the world had a long-lasting impact. When he died suddenly in Babylon in 323 BCE, it triggered what came to be known as ‘The War of the Successors’.
When Alexander died, his son was still an infant. His generals and former companions wanted a bigger say in how the territories would be divided. This, inevitably, led to a civil war. The fate of the empire was decided at the Battle of Gaza in 312 BCE. When the spoils were divided, a young officer
named Seleucus managed to obtain Persia and the east as his share, with his capital at Babylon.
Seleucus Nicator (358–281 BCE) had been successful in his military career. He was reputed to have fought with distinction, though he had only fought in a junior role under Alexander and was not considered one of his close companions. By 302 BCE he had established his authority over the territories Alexander had conquered all the way up until the Jaxartes (modern-day Syr Arya river in Central Asia).
During the war of the successors (also referred to as the Wars of the Diadochi), the Indian territories had been seized by a newly established Indian dynasty, the Mauryans, established by Chandragupta Maurya (322–297 BCE) in 321 BCE.
He was known to the Greeks as Sandracottus and was said to have met Alexander while the latter was in India in 326–325 BCE. Under the guidance of his wily preceptor, Vishnugupta, better known as Chanakya or Kautilya, Chandragupta attacked the Macedonian garrison in the Indus Basin after the death of Alexander. After havingexterminated and overthrown the Nanda dynasty, he took the throne of Pataliputra (modern-day Patna).
Seleucus now set his designs to take back these territories in India. He marched against Chandragupta with the intention of attacking him, but he later reasoned against this and negotiated a treaty in 302 BCE. It is more likely that the Greeks were defeated as the subsequent treaty was quite one-sided, favouring the Indians. This treaty led to peace and terms that included a matrimonial alliance between the two kings.
Some believe that this meant Chandragupta marrying the daughter of Seleucus. Others interpret it to mean that the treaty may have recognised marriages between the subjects of the two kingdoms. Whether the marriage did take place or not, we do not read of the Mauryans and Greeks in conflict
after this. The treaty also recognised Mauryan suzerainty over Paropamisadae and Arachosia. What the Greeks received in return were 500 elephants and a large amount of gold.
The elephants obtained from the Indian king were a valuable weapon that Seleucus could now use in his continued wars against the remaining successors.
The improved relations allowed Seleucus to send an envoy called Megasthenes to the court of the Mauryas in Pataliputra. Megasthenes subsequently became a great source of information for the history of India.
Towards the end of his days, Chandragupta is said to have converted to Jainism and ritually starved himself to his death. He was succeeded by his son, Bindusara, who was in turn succeeded by the greatest of the Mauryans and arguably all Indian kings, Asoka the Great (272–232 BCE).
Asoka expanded the Mauryan empire to its greatest extent. It included modern-day Afghanistan in the west and stretched all the way east to include what is now Bangladesh. In fact, for one of the few times in India’s history, nearly the whole of the subcontinent of India was united as one political entity (excluding parts of present-day Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala). The capital continued to be Pataliputra, but Asoka maintained provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain.
Excerpted with permission from Forgotten Kings: The Story of the Hindu Sahi Dynasty, Changez Jan, Simon & Schuster India,