Pre-Islamic scripts in Afghanistan
Afghanistan possesses a rich linguistic legacy of pre-Islamic scripts, which existed before being displaced by the Arabic alphabet, after the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan. Among these scripts are Sharada, Gandhari, Kharosthi, Bactrian and Brāhmī .
Abundant archeological evidence in the form of inscriptions, numismatics and manuscripts has provided traces of the precursors of the contemporary Languages of Afghanistan such as Pashto, Dari and other Dardic languages.
Recent Archeological unearthings of Sanskrit inscriptions attest to the prevalence of the Sanskrit alphabet in Afghanistan.
Some later Sanskrit inscriptions in late Brahmi of about around the fifth to eighth centuries have also been found in Afghanistan in recent decades. Worthy of note are the Dilberjin fresco inscriptions (Drevniaia Baktriia); the Gardez inscriptions on an image of Ganesa; and the Uma Maheshvara image inscriptions from Tapa Skandar. Several Buddhist inscriptions of this period with the Buddhist creed on votive clay tablets have also been discovered at Ghazni
The Kushan Empire employed Sanskrit abundantly for use in Buddhist literary texts, as is evident from epigraphic evidence.
The presence of Buddhist literary texts in Sanskrit of the Kushan period goes hand in hand with the codification of the Sanskrit canon of the Sarvastivada school in Kashmir at the Buddhist council in the time of Kanishk.
Sharada texts have been widely found in Afghanistan; one of them was engraved on a marble statue of the Indian elephant god Ganesh that was found near Gardez. Another was inscribed on the large Uma Maheshvara from Tepe Skandar, north of Kabul. The Sharada inscriptions all seem to date to the eighth century A.D.
Between 750 and 1000 A.D., the Shahi's issued silver coins to provide currency for eastern Afghanistan and Gandhara. Most of the coins have an obverse legend in either Spalpati Deva or Samanta Deva, which are Sharada scripts.
In what was Gandhara (Eastern Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan), scholars have found a large quantity of Buddhist scrolls, written in the Gandhari language (a dialect of Sanskrit) with the Kharosthi script. Gandhari most likely was the daily language of the Kushans after they established their empire. From Gandhara, this script spread east and north into various parts of Central Asia. In the centuries that followed, Kharoshthi became the main script in the Tarim basin (now part of China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region) for writing local languages.
Inscriptions and documents in Kharosthi have been found over a broad area in Afghanistan.
To the far west and north west, we can now add to the handful of inscriptions known to Konow, several more specimens from sites along the Kabul River in Afghanistan as far west as Wardak or Khawat, some 20 miles west of Kabul. Recent archeological excavations have also yielded numerous Kharoshti inscriptions from north of the Hindu Kush, in ancient Bactria, both in sites in northern Afghanistan such as Qunduz and in several places in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
- Indian epigraphy: a guide to the study of inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit and the other Indo-Aryan languages, Richard Salomon, p.153
- The crossroads of civilizations: A.D. 250 to 750, Volume 3, Boris Anatol'evich Litvinskiĭ, R. Shabani Samghabadi, Unesco Publishing P. 441
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- Indian epigraphy: a guide to the study of inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit and other Indo-Aryan languages. Richard Salomon, p.44, Oxford University Press