Nava Vihara

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The Nava Vihāra (Sanskrit: नवविहार "New Monastery", modern Nawbahār, Persian: نوبهار‎‎) were two Buddhist monasteries close to the ancient city of Balkh in northern Afghanistan. The temples and monasteries of Nava Vihara are spread over a very large area about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of Balkh[1] above Chesme-ye Safā (Persian: چشمه صفا‎‎ "Clear Spring"), not far from the Koh e Alburz.[2][3]

Nava Vihāra as buddhist monasteries[edit]

Today they are called Takht i Rustam and Tapa e Rustam.[4][5][6][7][8]

Johann Martin Honigberger (for two years he studied archeology in Afghanistan 1932), Sir Charles Yate, 1st Baronet (1886) and Oskar von Niedermayer (1915) visited the two monasteries in Balkh and they mentioned in their travelogues. Charles Edward Yate was the first British officer who referred the ruins of Tope-i-Rustam and Takht-i-Rustam (e-book Eustam) as two "strange structures". The British officer calculated the two Buddhist monasteries pretty much according yards. His drawing is pretty accurate. Persian Tape or Pashto Topi means hill, but also hat, because in such a temple a hat like small cubes were built that Kabba i Zordust or Ka'ba-ye Zartosht, or cubes of puja. Some call Naghara Khanah (drum house) or Kaftar Khanah (Dovecote). According to measurement of Yate, the construction and structure of top i Rustam is the following:

  1. Top-i-Rustam is a building, some 50 yards in diameter at the base, and about 50 feet in height.
  2. Takht i Rustam is a building 100 yards in length north and south, and 60 yards in breadth at the western and 20 yards at the eastern end[9]

Historical accounts report it as flourishing as an important centre of Buddhism between the seventh and eleventh centuries CE. It may have been founded considerably earlier, perhaps in or after the reign of Kaniṣka, in the second century CE.[10][11][12]

Rise to prominence[edit]

Nava Vihāra, the main monastery at Balkh, became the center of higher study for Central Asian Buddhism. The Tokharian monk Ghoṣaka was one of the compilers of the Vaibhāṣika commentaries on Abhidharma and established the Western Vaibhāṣika (Bālhīka "of Balkh") School. Vaibhāṣika was a sub-division of the Sarvāstivāda school. Monks at Nava Vihāra emphasized the study of the Vaibhāṣika abhidharma, admitting only monks who had already composed texts of the topic.[11]

Nava Vihāra also housed a tooth relic of Gautama Buddha, making it one of the main centers of Buddhist pilgrimage along the Silk Road from China to India.

Xuanzang's report[edit]

In the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, Xuanzang reports that at the time of his visit to Balkh in 630 there were about a hundred viharas and 30,000 monks, a large number of stupas and other religious monuments, and that Buddhism was flourishing in the Bactrian portion of the Western Turkic Khaganate. He also described it as having strong links with the Kingdom of Khotan in the Tarim Basin. The temple was led by Kashmiris called Pramukha, Sanskrit for "leader, administrator", who, under the Arabized name of Barmak,[13] came to be known as the Barmakids).[12]

History under the Arabs[edit]

The Umayyad Caliphate captured Balkh in 663 from the Kabul Shahis who had taken over the territory from the Western Turks. Although some Buddhists and even an abbot of Nava Vihāra converted to Islam, most Buddhists kept their faith and accepted dhimmi status as loyal non-Muslim protected subjects within an Islamic state by paying the jizya tax in lieu of the zakat tax and compulsory military service for Muslims, and the monastery remained open and functioning.

In 708 Nazaktar Khan, a Kabul Shahi prince, in alliance with the Tibetan Empire, recaptured Bactria from the Umayyads and established a fanatic Buddhist rule, including the beheading of the abbot who converted. In 715 Ibn Qutaybah recaptured the region for the Umayyads and Tibet switched sides to ally with him against the Kabul Shahis. In retribution for the insurrection, Qutaiba inflicted heavy damage on Nava Vihāra, resulting in many monks fleeing to Khotan and Kashmir.

The Barmakids, who attained great power under the Abbasid Caliphate becoming powerful viziers, are regarded as having their origin in a line of hereditary priests at Nava Vihāra who had converted to Islam.

An Arab author, Umar ibn al-Azraq al-Kermani, wrote a detailed account of Nava Vihāra at the beginning of the 8th century that is preserved in a later 10th-century work, the Kitab al-Buldan by Ibn al-Faqih. He described Nava Vihara in terms strikingly similar to the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site of Islam. He described that the main temple had a stone cube in the center, draped with cloth, and that devotees circumambulated it and made prostration, as is the case with the Kaaba. The stone cube referred to the platform on which a stupa stood, as was the custom in Bactrian temples. The cloth that draped it was in accordance with Persian custom of showing veneration that applied equally to Buddha statues as well as to stupas.[14]

Some Arabic sources erroneously describe the vihāra as a fire temple of Zoroastrianism, presumably because of its proximity to Balkh, Zoroaster's birthplace. In Arabic sources, the monastery's name is represented as "Naubahar". Van Bladel (p. 68) has pointed out that this version of the name can be traced to the pronunciation in the Bactrian language.[12]

The Han Chinese pilgrim Yijing visited Nava Vihāra in the 680s and reported it flourishing as a Sarvāstivādin center of study.

Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī, a Persian scholar and writer in service to the Ghaznavids, reported that around the start of the 10th century, the monasteries in Bactria, including Nava Vihāra, were still functioning and decorated with Buddhist frescoes.

A curious notice of this building is found in the writings of Arabian geographer Ibn Hawqal, an Arabian traveler of the 10th century.

Cultural Influence[edit]

The word "Navbehar" (or its variants) appears in several locations of present-day Iran, a sign of the extent of Buddhist impact in ancient times. The Arch of Nava Vihāra can still be seen today near Balkh.

The many Buddhist references in the Persian literature of the period also provide evidence of Islamic–Buddhist cultural contact. Persian poetry, for example, often used the simile for palaces that they were "as beautiful as a Nowbahar (Nava Vihāra)." Further, at Nava Vihāra and Bamiyan, Buddha images, particularly of Maitreya, the future Buddha, had 'moon discs' or halo iconographically represented behind or around their heads. This led to the poetic depiction of pure beauty as someone having "the moon-shaped face of a Buddha." Thus, 11th-century Persian poems, such as Varqe and Golshah by Ayyuqi, use the word budh with a positive connotation for "Buddha," not with its second, derogatory meaning as "idol." It implies the ideal of asexual beauty in both men and women. Such references indicate that either Buddhist monasteries and images were present in these Iranian cultural areas at least through the early Mongol period in the 13th century or, at minimum, that a strong Buddhist legacy remained for centuries among the Buddhist converts to Islam.

Nau Bahar as the Fire Temple in Sassanid dynasty[edit]

Nau Bahar
Persian: نوبهار‎‎
Nava Vihara is located in Afghanistan
Nava Vihara
Shown within Afghanistan
Location near Balkh, Balkh Province
Coordinates 36°43′47″N 66°53′6.8″E / 36.72972°N 66.885222°E / 36.72972; 66.885222
Type ruin

According to research by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, there are seven great idol monuments and fire temples derived from ancient times in the Iranian plateau or Persia.[15][16] He described it as the world's seven wonders. Three of the seven world-famous fire temples lay on the floor of present-day Afghanistan Naubahar[17] near Balkh, Shahbahar by Kabul (als Shevaki temple ) and Subbahar in Ghazna, renamed Tap e Sardar in Ghazni. Three of the seven world-famous fire temple lay in Iran and one lays in Baku of Azarbaijan. In the time of the Zoroastrian Sassanid fire temple Naubahar meant New spring (in the sense of Nauruz, New Year). Besides this fireplace there were two Buddhist monastery as Nava Vihara in the time of Kuchan dynasty which are still known as Takht i Rustam[18][19] and Tape e Rustam or Top-i-Rustam.[20] The fireplace Naubahar said in the Samanid dynasty as a mosque with nine domes and recently renamed as the grave of Haji Piyada. east Coordinates: 36°42′58″N 66°54′18″E / 36.71611°N 66.90500°E / 36.71611; 66.90500

Von Hammer-Purgtall listing these seven temples, which had already mentioned Thomas Hyde (1770) confirmed, namely, that the fire tempel Nush Azar (lovely fire) was in Naubahar of Balkh. He verified the statements of Al-Masudi's The Meadows of Gold[21] and Ya'qubi's Kitab al-Buldan about Naubahar by Balkh, Shahbahar by Kabul and Subahar by Ghazni.

Abu-Mansur Daqiqi writes in the Gushtaspnameh:

Persian Romanized English translation

چو گشتاسپ را داد لهراسپ تخت
فرود آمد از تخت و بربست رخت
به بلخ گزین شد بران نوبهار
که یزدان پرستان بدان روزگار
مران جای را داشتندی چنان
که مر مکه را تازیان این زمان

Cho Goshtāsp rā dād Luhrāsp takht
Forud āmad az takht o bar bast rakht
Ba Balch gozin shod bar ān Nou Bahār
Ke Yazdān-parastān bedān ruzgār
Mar ān jāy rā dāshtandi chenān
Ke mar Makkeh rā Tāziyān in zamān

Now when Luhrasp, descending from the Throne
Resigned it to Gushtasp, he made him ready
To choose the way to Balkh to that Naubahar,
Because God's devotees in that time
Held that fane in such reverence,
As the Arabs revere Mecca now[23]


Masjid no Gonbad in the timae of Samanid[edit]

now as Tomb of Hajji Piadah Baba[edit]

Video of fire temple of Naubahar[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas Hyde:Historia Religionis Veterum Persarum..., London, 1700, pp. 29, 418, 493
  2. ^ Flora Iranica, Issue 174, p. 314, at Google Books
  3. ^ The genus Dionysia, p. 154, at Google Books
  4. ^ buddhist stupa by ancient city Balkh
  5. ^ Remains of 200ft high Buddhist stupa, now an army checkpoint, Top_I_Rustam, Balkh Mother of Cities, Balkh province
  6. ^ Takht-i Rustam, mud remains of Nau Bahar monastery
  7. ^ Takht-i Rustam, mud remains of Nau Bahar monastery
  8. ^ Top i Rustam
  9. ^
  10. ^ Historical reports referring to the monastery span from Xuanzang to Al Biruni.
  11. ^ a b History of Buddhism in Afghanistan, Last accessed 15 July 2016
  12. ^ a b c van Bladel, Kevin (2011). "The Bactrian Background of the Barmakids". In Anna Akasoy and Charles Burnett and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim. Islam and Tibet Interactions along the Musk Routes. Farnham, UK: Ashgate. pp. 43–88. ISBN 978-0754669562. 
  13. ^ Bailey, H. W. (1943). "Iranica". BSOAS. 11 (1): 1–5. JSTOR 609203. 
  14. ^ Bosworth, C. Edmund (1994). "Abū Ḥafṣ 'Umar al-Kirmānī and the Rise of the Barmakids". BSOAS. 57 (2): 268–282. JSTOR 620573. doi:10.1017/s0041977x0002485x. 
  15. ^ Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall [1] Gerold, Wien, 1831, p.p 76
  16. ^ Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, Anzeige des Siebenmeers: nebst einem Verzeichnisse mit Wörtern Germanischer […], Wien, 1831
  17. ^ Thomas Hyde: (1770)[2], Historia religionis veterum Persarum eorum que magorum, pp. 102, 103, 303–305
  18. ^ Takht-i Rustam
  19. ^ Takht-i Rustam
  20. ^ Tope-i-Eustam and Takht-i-Rustam E=R
  21. ^ Mas'ūdī: Les Prairies d’Or. Texte et traduction par Barbier de Meynard et Pavet de Courteille. 9 vols. Paris 1861–1877. [3], Vol. 4 de 9, Pg 47, Pg.474
  22. ^
  23. ^ Warner, Arthur George and Warner, Edmond,[4] The Shahnama of Firdausi, VOL. V, London 1909, p.31

External links[edit]

Pictures of No Gonbad mosque (Nine-Dome Mosque)[edit]