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Nuristanis
A young Nuristani girl in an orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan (January 2002)
Total population
c. 125,000–300,000[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Nuristan, Kunar, Afghanistan
Chitral, Pakistan
Languages
Nuristani languages,
Pashto, serving as the lingua franca and widely understood as a second language
Religion
Islam
Sunni Islam (majority) and Shia Islam
Kalashism (minority)
Related ethnic groups
Kalash, Pashayis
Kautiak villagers in Nuristan province with U.S. Navy commander (right)
Kautiak villagers in Nuristan province with U.S. Navy commander (right)

The Nuristanis, also known as Kafiristanis, are an ethnic group native to the Nuristan Province of northeastern Afghanistan, whose languages comprise the Nuristani branch of Indo-Iranian languages.[3] A small community of Nuristanis are also settled in the neighboring Chitral region of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.[4]

In the mid-1890s, after the establishment of the Durand Line when Afghanistan reached an agreement on various frontier areas to the British Empire for period of time, Emir Abdur Rahman Khan conducted a military campaign in Kafiristan and followed up his conquest with forced conversion of the Kafirs to Islam;[5][6] the region thenceforth being known as Nuristan, the "Land of Light".[7][8][9][10] Before their conversion, the Nuristanis practiced a form of ancient Hinduism.[11][12][13] Non-Muslim religious practices endure in Nuristan today to some degree as folk customs. In their native rural areas, they are often farmers, herders, and dairymen.

The Nuristan region has been a prominent location for war scenes that have led to the death of many indigenous Nuristanis.[14][15] Nuristan has also received abundance of settlers from the surrounding Afghanistan regions due to the borderline vacant location.[16][17]

Pre-Islamic religion

Kati priest (deblole): Kareik. The last singing priest.
Kati sacrificing goat to the God Imra
Ancestor of the Kati - Brumotul,  Bumboret Valley, Chitral; picture by Georg Morgenstierne in 1929
Ancestor of the Kati - Brumotul,  Bumboret Valley, Chitral; picture by Georg Morgenstierne in 1929
Kati Hymn: Ut'äya de'bulā̃ 'ye! Tu pycüř sun mol O Priestess, (to-) the-dance come ! Your on head golden garland is

Noted linguist Richard Strand, an authority on Hindu Kush languages, observed the following about pre-Islamic Nuristani religion:

"Before their conversion to Islâm the Nuristânis practiced a form of ancient Hinduism, infused with accretions developed locally".[18]

They acknowledged a number of human-like deities who lived in the unseen Deity World (Kâmviri d'e lu; cf. Sanskrit deva lok'a-).[18]

Certain deities were revered only in one community or tribe, but one was universally revered as the creator: the Hindu god Yama Râja called imr'o in Kâmviri.[18] There is a creator god, appearing under various names, as lord of the nether world and of heaven: Yama Rājan, or Māra ('death', Nuristani),[19] or Dezau (ḍezáw) whose name is derived from Indo-European *dheig'h i.e. "to form" (Kati Nuristani dez "to create", CDIAL 14621); Dezauhe is also called by the Persian term Khodaii. There are a number of other deities, semi-gods and spirits. The Kalash pantheon is thus one of the few living representatives of Indo-European religion.

They believed in many deities, whose names resembled those of Iranian and old Vedic sources. There was a supreme deity named Mara or Imra, plus a multitude of lesser gods and goddesses known locally as Mandi or Moni, Wushum or Shomde, Gish or Giwish, Bagisht, Indr, Züzum, Disani, Kshumai or Kime etc.

Each village and clan had its guardian deity, with shamans advising those seeking help and priests officiating at religious services. The cult centered on the sacrifice of animals, mostly goats.[20]

The area extending from modern Nuristan to Kashmir was known as "Peristan", a vast area containing a host of Nuristani cultures and Indo-European languages that became Islamized over a long period. Earlier, it was surrounded by Buddhist states and societies which temporarily extended literacy and state rule to the region. The journey to the region was perilious according to reports of Chinese pilgrims Fa-hsien and Sung Yun. The decline of Buddhism resulted in the region becoming heavily isolated. The Islamization of the nearby Badakhshan began in the 8th century and Peristan was completely surrounded by Muslim states in the 16th century. The Kalash people of lower Chitral are the last surviving heirs of the area.[21]

The region was called "Kafiristan" because while the surrounding populations were converted to Islam, the people in this region retained their traditional religion, and were thus known as "Kafirs" to the Muslims. The Arabic word "Kufr" means disbelief and the related word "Kafir" means one who does not believe in Islam. Thus "Kafir" here is used to refer to their being non-Muslims; the province was therefore known as Kafiristan. The majority were converted to Islam during Abdur Rahman Khan's rule around 1895. The province is now known as Nuristan and the people as Nuristanis. However, among the rural population many old customs and beliefs like occasional production of wine have continued.[22][23]

History

In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great encountered them and finally defeated them after they put up a stubborn and prolonged resistance, describing them as being distinct culturally and religiously from other peoples of the region.[1]

Nuristanis were formerly classified into "Siah-Posh (black-robed) and "Safed-Posh (white-robed)/Lall-Posh (Red-Robed).[24] Timur fought with and was humbled by the Siah-Posh.[25] Babur advised not to tangle with them. Genghis Khan passed by them.[26]

In 1014, Mahmud of Ghazni attacked them:

Another crusade against idolatry was at length resolved on; and Mahmud led the seventh one against Nardain, the then boundary of India, or the eastern part of the Hindu Kush; separating as Firishta says, the countries of Hindustan and Turkistan and remarkable for its excellent fruit. The country into which the army of Ghazni marched appears to have been the same as that now called Kafirstan, where the inhabitants were and still are, idolaters and are named the Siah-Posh, or black-vested by the Muslims of later times. In Nardain there was a temple, which the army of Ghazni destroyed; and brought from thence a stone covered with certain inscriptions, which were according to the Hindus, of great antiquity.[27]

Timur's encounter with Katirs/Kators

The first reference to Siah-Posh Kafirs occurs in Timur's invasion of Afghanistan in 1398 CE. Timur's autobiography (Tuzak-i-Timuri) amply attests that he had battled both with the Katirs as well as the Kam sections of the Siah-Posh (black-robed) Kafirs of the Hindukush mountains. Timur invaded Afghanistan in March, 1398. On the basis of local complaints of ill-treatment and extortions filed by the Muslims against the Kafirs, Timur personally attacked the Kators of the Siah-Posh group located north-east of Kabul in eastern Afghanistan. The Kators left their fort Najil and took refuge at the top of the hill. Timur razed the fort to ground, burnt their houses and surrounded the hill where the Kator had collected for shelter. The relic of the historic fort is said to still exist a little north to Najil in the form of a structure known as Timur Hissar (Timur's Fort). After a tough fight, some of the Kators were defeated and were instantly put to death while the others held out against heavy odds for three days. Timur offered them death or Islam. They chose the latter, but soon recanted and attacked the regiment of Muslim soldiers during night. The latter being on guard, fought back, killed numerous Kators and took 150 as prisoners and put them to death afterwards. Next day, Timur ordered his troops to advance on all four sides to kill all men, enslave the women and children and plunder or lay waste all their property. In his autobiography called Tuzak-i-Timuri, Timur proudly boasts of the towers of the skulls of the Kators which he built on the mountain in the auspicious month of Ramazan A.H. 800 (1300 CE)[28]

Timur's encounter with Kam Kafirs

Again, according to Timur's autobiography (Tuzak-i-Timuri), a military division of ten thousand Muslim soldiers was sent against the Siah-Posh (Kam) Kafirs under the command of General Aglan Khan to either slay these infidels or else to convert them into Islam. Tuzak-i-Timuri frankly admits that the regiment was badly routed by a small number of Siah-Posh Kafirs. The Muslim forces had to flee from the battle-field leaving their horses and armor. Another detachment had to be sent under Muhammad Azad which fought gallantly and recovered the horses and the armor lost by General Aglan and came back home, leaving the Siah-Posh alone.[29]

It is notable that Timur does not boast of any killings or imprisonment of the Siah-Poshes as he does for the Katirs and numerous other communities of India proper. Also, he gives no further details of his conflict with the Siah-Poshes in his Tuzak-i-Timuri after this encounter, which clearly shows that the outcome of the fight against the Siah-Poshes was very costly and shameful for Timur.[30][31]

Other references to these Kafirs are made in the fifteenth and later in sixteenth century during the Mughal period.

In 1839, the Kafirs sent a deputation to Sir William Macnaghten in Jalalabad claiming relationship with the fair skinned British troops who had invaded the country[32]

Settlement in Chitral

At the time of the Afghan conquest of Kafiristan, a small number of Kom and Kati Kafirs fled east to Chitral (modern Pakistan) where they were allowed to settle by the Mehtar. There they practised their faith for a few more decades, before finally converting to Islam as well. The final known non-converted Kafir was settled in a Chitrali village known as Urtsun.[33] This Kafir's name was Chanlu, and he converted in 1938, several months after being interviewed about the cosmology of the Kati.[34]

In Chitral, the Nuristanis are known either as Bashgalis (as most migrated from a valley of Nuristan called Bashgal in the Chitrali Khowar language), or alternatively as Sheikhan (a generic term for recent converts to Islam). The exact population size of Nuristanis in Chitral is unknown, but members of the community estimate that they number at least 12 000.[35] All of them are speakers of the Kamkata-vari language, also known locally as Sheikhani.

Pre-1895 Kafir society

Prior to 1895, the Kafirs of Hindukush were classified into two groups― the Siah-posh (black clad) and the Safed-posh (white clad) Kafirs, also known as the Lal-posh (red-clad), so-called because of the colour of the robes they wore. But the British investigator George Scott Robertson who visited Kafiristan and studied the Kafirs for about two years (1889–1891) improved upon the old classification by recognising that the Safed-posh Kafirs were actually members of several separate clans, viz, the Waigulis, Presungulis or Viron, and the Ashkuns. [36] The later three groups of the Kafirs used to be collectively known as Sped-Posh Kafirs.

The term Siah-posh Kafirs used to designate the dominant group of Hindu Kush Kafirs inhabiting the Bashgal Valley. The Siah-posh Kafirs have sometimes been confused with Kalasha people of the neighboring Chitral region in Pakistan.

The Siah-Posh tribe was divided into Siah-posh Katirs or Kamtoz, Siah-posh Mumans or Madugals, Siah-posh Kashtoz or Kashtan, Siah-posh Gourdesh or Istrat, and Siah-posh Kams or Kamoze. The Siah-posh Katirs were further divided into the Katirs, who occupied twelve villages of the lower Bashgul (Kam) country, the Kti or Katawar, who lived in two villages in the Kti Valley, the Kulam, and the Ramguli, the most numerous group, living in twenty four villages in the Ramgul Valley, in the westernmost part of Kafiristan on the Afghan frontier.[37]

All Siah-posh groups of Kafirs were regarded as of common origin. They all had a common dress and customs and spoke closely-related dialects of Kati.[38] Nicholas Barrington et al. reported that the Waigulis and Presungulis referred to all Siah-posh Kafirs as Katirs.[39]

While the Kamtoz of the lower Bashgul valley were the most numerous, the Kam of the upper Bashgul valley were the most intractable and fierce and dreaded for their military prowess.[40]

Origin hypotheses

Soviet–Afghan War (1979-1989)

General Issa Nuristani was second in command following the King during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Before his assassination, General Issa called the Nuristani people in a "Jihad" against the Soviet Army. Led by the Koms tribe, the Nuristani were the first citizens of Afghanistan to revolt against the Communist takeover in 1978. They played an important role in the conquering of some provinces, including Kunar, Nangarhar, Badakhshan, and Panshir. Thereafter, Nuristan remained a scene of some of the bloodiest guerrilla fighting with the Soviet forces from 1979 through 1989. Following the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1989, the Mawlavy Ghulam Rabani was declared as governor of the Kunar Province. The Nuristanis inspired others to fight and contributed to the demise of the Afghan Communist regime in 1992.[63]

Genetics

In a 2012 research on Y-chromosomes of five Nuristani samples, three were found to belong to the Haplogroup R1a, and one each in R2a and J2a.[64]

Tribes

Nuristan, in light green
Nuristan, in light green

Most Nuristanis are from the Kata Family and Janaderi Branch. However, there are other Nuristani tribes as well, some of the Kata of Janaderi people live in Ozhor (now Karimabad), Gobor, Buburat, Ayun, Broze and Mastuj. There is a very popular rock associated with this tribe located in Karimabad (Juwara) called kata bont (Kata is the name of the tribe; bont meaning "stone" in the Chitrali language).

The Nuristani do not have a formal tribal structure as the Pashtuns do, however they do designate themselves by the names of the local regions they are from.[1] In total, there are 35 such designations: five from the north–south valleys and 30 from the east–west valley.

Some of these tribes include:

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c "Afghanistan - Nuristani". countrystudies.us.
  2. ^ "Afghanistan population statistics". GeoHive. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  3. ^ "Kalash Religion" (PDF). people.fas.harvard.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  4. ^ admin (25 October 2019). "Survey conducted on identity, literacy of Kataviri language". Chitral Today. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  5. ^ "Wlodek Witek (CHArt 2001)". chart.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011.
  6. ^ Persée : A Kafir goddess
  7. ^ Martin Ewans, Afghanistan: a short history of its people and politics, Harper Perennial, 2002, p.103
  8. ^ A Former Kafir Tells His 'Tragic Story'. Notes on the Kati Kafirs of Northern Bashgal (Afghanistan) / Max Klimburg, Eat and West, Vol. 58 – Nos. 1–4 (December 2008), pp. 391–402
  9. ^ Reflections of the Islamisation of Kafiristan in Oral Tradition / Georg Buddruss Journal of Asian Civilizations — Volume XXXI — Number 1-2 – 2008, Special Tribute Edition, pp. 16–35
  10. ^ 'The pacification of the country was completed by the wholly gratuitous conquest of a remote mountain people in the north-east, the non-Muslim Kalash of Kafiristan (Land of the Unbelievers), who were forcibly converted to Islam by the army. Their habitat was renamed Nuristan (Land of Light).' Angelo Rasanayagam, Afghanistan: A Modern History, I.B. Tauris, 2005, p.11
  11. ^ Minahan, James B. (10 February 2014). Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 205. ISBN 9781610690188. Living in the high mountain valleys, the Nuristani retained their ancient culture and their religion, a form of ancient Hinduism with many customs and rituals developed locally. Certain deities were revered only by one tribe or community, but one deity was universally worshipped by all Nuristani as the Creator, the Hindu god Yama Raja, called imr'o or imra by the Nuristani tribes.
  12. ^ Barrington, Nicholas; Kendrick, Joseph T.; Schlagintweit, Reinhard (18 April 2006). A Passage to Nuristan: Exploring the Mysterious Afghan Hinterland. I.B. Tauris. p. 111. ISBN 9781845111755. Prominent sites include Hadda, near Jalalabad, but Buddhism never seems to have penetrated the remote valleys of Nuristan, where the people continued to practise an early form of polytheistic Hinduism.
  13. ^ Weiss, Mitch; Maurer, Kevin (31 December 2012). No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan. Berkley Caliber. p. 299. ISBN 9780425253403. Up until the late nineteenth century, many Nuristanis practised a primitive form of Hinduism. It was the last area in Afghanistan to convert to Islam—and the conversion was accomplished by the sword.
  14. ^ Hauner , M. (1991). The soviet war in afghanistan. United Press of America.
  15. ^ Ballard, Lamm, Wood. (2012). From kabul to baghdad and back: The u.s. at war in afghanistan and iraq .
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ a b c Richard F. Strand (31 December 2005). "Richard Strand's Nuristân Site: Peoples and Languages of Nuristan". nuristan.info. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  19. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Klimburg, M. "Nuristan". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  21. ^ Alberto M. Cacopardo (2016). "Fence of Peristan - The Islamization of the "Kafirs" and Their Domestication". Archivio per l'Antropologia e la Etnologia: 69, 77.
  22. ^ Thesiger, Wilfred (1957). "A Journey in Nuristan". The Geographical Journal. 123 (4): 457–464. doi:10.2307/1790347. JSTOR 1790347.
  23. ^ "Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture" (PDF). nanzan-u.ac.jp.
  24. ^ Holdich, Sir Thomas Hungerford. The Gates of India p 270
  25. ^ Majumdar, Dr Ramesh Chandra; Pusalker, Achut Dattatraya; Majumdar, Asoke Kumar. "Tuzak-i-Timuri", in The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol VI. 1977. p 117.
  26. ^ Albinia, Alice. Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, p. 225
  27. ^ ʻAlī Muḥammad Khān, James Bird. The political and statistical history of Gujarát p. 29
  28. ^ 'See: Tuzak-i-Timuri, III, pp 400.
  29. ^ History & Culture of Indian People, Vol VI, p 117, R. C. Majumdar, A. D. Pusalkar, K. M. Munshi.
  30. ^ Ref: Tuzak-i-Timuri, pp 401-08.
  31. ^ History & Culture of Indian People, Vol VI, p 117, R. C. Majumdar, A. D. Pusalkar, K. M. Munshi.
  32. ^ Memoir of William Watts McNair - J. E. Howard, 2003, A Visit to Kafiristan on Internet Archive, Evening Meeting, 10 December 1883, Processing of the Royal Geographical Society .
  33. ^ Allen, Nicholas Justin (1991). "Some gods of Pre-Islamic Nuristan". Revue de l'histoire des religions. 208 (2): 141–168. doi:10.3406/rhr.1991.1679.
  34. ^ Shahzada, Hussam-ul-Mulk. "THE COSMOLOGY OF THE RED KAFIRS" (PDF). Beiträge zur Südasienforschung: 26.
  35. ^ admin (25 October 2019). "Survey conducted on identity, literacy of Kataviri language". Chitral Today. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  36. ^ The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, 1896, p 74 sqq., George Scott Robertson, Arthur David McCormick.
  37. ^ Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh, 1977 edition, p 127, John Biddulph; An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan, 1891, p 146, Henry Walter Bellew; The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, 1896, pp 71, 74 sqq., George Scott Robertson, Arthur David McCormick.
  38. ^ The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, 1896, pp 74, 76 George Scott Robertson, Arthur David McCormick.
  39. ^ A passage to Nuristan: exploring the mysterious Afghan hinterland, 2006, p 80, Nicholas Barrington, Joseph T. Kendrick, Reinhard Schlagintweit, Sandy (FRW) Gall.
  40. ^ The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, 1896, pp 2,3, 76, George Scott Robertson, Arthur David McCormick - Nuristan.
  41. ^ Aryan idols: Indo-European mythology as ideology and science, 2006, p 53, fn 109, Stefan Arvidsson, Sonia Wichmann - Social Science.
  42. ^ See also: Thesaurus craniorum, 1867, p. 137, Joseph Barnard Davis; Afghanistan, 2002, p 8, Martin Ewans.
  43. ^ Aryan idols: Indo-European mythology as ideology and science, 2006, p 53, Stefan Arvidsson, Sonia Wichmann.
  44. ^ Appletons' Annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events of the Year, 1897, p 8, Published by D. Appleton & Co.
  45. ^ Cf: The New International Encyclopaedia edited by Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, Frank Moore Colby 1911.
  46. ^ P. 39 Empire of Alexander the Great By Debra Skelton, Pamela Dell
  47. ^ P. 162 The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush by Sir George Scott Robertson
  48. ^ P. 64 War at the top of the world: the struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet By Eric S. Margolis
  49. ^ Central Asia, 1985, p 118, Published by Area Study Centre (Central Asia), University of Peshawar.
  50. ^ An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan: Prepared and Presented to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists (London, September 1891) pp 35, 47, 87, 134, 141, 144, 195, Henry Walter Bellew - Afghanistan.
  51. ^ H. W. Bellew: "...the Kafir (Infidel) of the Sanskrit Kambojia are said to be Koresh from a people of that name (Kuresh Perian, and Keruch Rajput) known to have anciently inhabited these eastern districts of the Paropamisus of the Greeks" (See: An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan: Prepared and Presented to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists (London, September 1891), p 195).
  52. ^ H.W. Bellew: "The name Koresh or Kurush is said to be national designation of Kafir tribes north of Lughman; and it is not impossible that it may have been family name of Cyrus, king of Persia who was born in Cabul country" (See: An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan: Prepared and Presented to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists (London, September 1891)p 134, Henry Walter Bellew - Afghanistan.
  53. ^ Cf:The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, 1896, p 158, George Scott Robertson, Arthur David McCormick; The Cyclopædia of India and of eastern and southern Asia, commercial industrial, and scientific: products of the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, useful arts and manufactures, 1885, p 202, Edward Balfour.
  54. ^ The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, 1896, p 158, George Scott Robertson, Arthur David McCormick.
  55. ^ North of Laghman or Lamghan.
  56. ^ An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan: Prepared and Presented to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists (London, September 1891), 1891, p 134, Henry Walter Bellew - Afghanistan.
  57. ^ An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan: Prepared and Presented to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists (London, September 1891), 1891, p 134, Henry Walter Bellew - Afghanistan.
  58. ^ The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, 1896, pp 75, 76, 157, 165, 168, George Scott Robertson, Arthur David McCormick.
  59. ^ Afghanistan: its people, its society, its culture, 1962, p 50, Donald Newton Wilber, Elizabeth E. Bacon.
  60. ^ Afghanistan, 2002, p 8, Martin Ewans
  61. ^ Cf: Afghanistan, 1967, p 58, William Kerr Fraser-Tytler, Michael Cavenagh Gillett.
  62. ^ Country Survey Series, 1956, p 53, Human Relations Area Files, inc.- Human geography.
  63. ^ "Richard Strand's Nuristan Site OLD LOCATION". Users.sedona.net. Archived from the original on 22 August 2005. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  64. ^ Haber, Marc; Platt, DE; Ashrafian Bonab, M; Youhanna, SC; Soria-Hernanz, DF; Martínez-Cruz, Begoña; Douaihy, Bouchra; Ghassibe-Sabbagh, Michella; Rafatpanah, Hoshang; Ghanbari, Mohsen; Whale, John; Balanovsky, Oleg; Wells, R. Spencer; Comas, David; Tyler-Smith, Chris; Zalloua, Pierre A.; et al. (2012). "Afghanistan's Ethnic Groups Share a Y-Chromosomal Heritage Structured by Historical Events". PLOS ONE. 7 (3): e34288. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...734288H. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034288. PMC 3314501. PMID 22470552.

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