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Zunbil, also written as Zhunbil, was a royal dynasty south of the Hindu Kush in present southern Afghanistan region. They ruled from the early 7th century until the Saffarid conquest in 870 AD. The Zunbils are believed to be an offspring of the southern-Hephthalite rulers of Zabulistan. The dynasty was related to the Kabul Shahis of the northeast in Kabul. They are described as having Turkish troops in their service by Arabic sources like Tarikh al-Tabari and Tarikh-i Sistan.
The Zunbils worshipped the sun, which they named Zun (read as //; ZOON) from which they derived their name. The cult of this god was primarily Hindu though parallels have also been noted with pre-Buddhist religious and monarchy practices in Tibet and had Zoroastrian influence in its ritual.
Their territory included between what is now the city of Zaranj in southwestern Afghanistan and Kabulistan in the northeast, with Zamindawar and Ghazni serving as their capitals. The title Zunbil can be traced back to the Middle-Persian original Zūn-dātbar, 'Zun the Justice-giver'. The geographical name Zamindawar would also reflect this, from Middle Persian 'Zamin-i dātbar' (Land of the Justice-giver).
According to Anthony McNicoll, "the Zunbils ruled in the Kandahar area for nearly 250 years until the late 9th century AD". Their main capital Zamindawar was located in the present-day Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The shrine of Zoon (sun god) was located about three miles south of Musa Qala in Helmand, which may still be traced today. Some believe that the Sunagir temple mentioned by the famous Chinese traveler Xuanzang in 640 AD pertains to this exact house of worship.
In 653-4 AD, an army of around 6,000 Arabs were led by General Abdur Rahman bin Samara and they arrived to the shrine of Zoon in Zamindawar. It is reported that General Abdur Rahman "broke off a hand of the idol and plucked out the rubies which were its eyes in order to persuade the Marzbān of Sīstān of the god's worthlessness." The General explained to the Marzbān: "my intention was to show you that this idol can do neither any harm nor good." At this point some of the people of southern Afghanistan accepted Islam for the first time[dubious ]. In 698 Ubayd Allah b. Abi Bakra lead the 'Army of Destruction' against the Zunbils and was defeated. About 700 Ibn al-Ash'ath tried again with the 'Peacock Army' which led to a mutiny.
Saffarid and Zunbil Struggles
C.E. Bosworth writes that:
One of the most important aspects of early Saffarids policy of significance for the spread of Islam in Afghanistan and on the borders of India long after their empire had collapsed was that of expansion into east Afghanistan. The early Arab governors of Sistan had at times penetrated as far as Ghazna and Kabul, but these had been little more than slave and plunder raids. There was a fierce resistance from the local rulers of these regions, above all from the line of Zunbils who ruled in Zamindavar and Zabulistan and who were probably epigoni of the southern Hepthalite or Chionite kingdom of Zabul; on more than one occasion, these Zunbils inflicted sharp defeats on the Muslims. The Zunbils were linked with the Kabul-Shahs of the Turk Shahi dynasty; the whole river valley was at this time culturally and religiously an outpost of the Indian world, as of course it had been in the earlier centuries during the heyday of the Buddhist Gandhara civilization.
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The Zunbils worshiped the sun god Zun, connected to the Hindu god Surya and is sometimes referred to as Zoor or Zoon. He is represented with flames radiating from his head on coins. Statues were adorned with gold and used rubies for eyes. Huen Tsang calls him "sunagir". It has been linked with the Hindu god Aditya at Multan, pre-Buddhist religious and kingship practices of Tibet as well as Shaivism.
His shrine lay on a sacred mountain in Zamindawar. Originally it appears to have been brought there by Hepthalites, displacing an earlier god on the same site. Parallels have been noted with the pre-Buddhist monarchy of Tibet, next to Zoroastrian influence on its ritual. Whatever its origins, it was certainly superimposed on a mountain and on a pre-existing mountain god while merging with Shaiva doctrines of worship.
- Andre Wink, Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Vol.1, (Brill, 1996), 115;""The Zunbils of the early Islamic period and the Kabulshahs were almost certainly epigoni of the southern-Hephthalite rulers of Zabul."
- History of Civilizations of central Asia, B A Litivinsky Zhang Guang-Da, R Shabani Samghabadi, p.376
- Raphael Israeli, Anthony Hearle Johns (1984). Islam in Asia: South Asia. Magnes Press. p. 15.
- "The Temple of Zoor or Zoon in Zamindawar". Abdul Hai Habibi. alamahabibi.com. 1969. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
- Al- Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest - Volume I. Brill. pp. 118, 119.
- Clifford Edmund Bosworth (1977). The Medieval History of Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Variorum Reprints. p. 344.
- André Wink, "Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World", Brill 1990, p. 118
- Bosworth, Clifford Edmund. 2002. The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Leiden: Brill. Zamindawar. p.439.
- Excavations at Kandahar 1974 & 1975 (Society for South Asian Studies Monograph) by Anthony McNicoll
- André Wink, "Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World", Brill 1990. p 120
- "Amir Kror and His Ancestry". Abdul Hai Habibi. alamahabibi.com. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
- Hugh Kennedy,The Great Arab Conquests',2007, pages 194-198
- The Tahirids and Saffarids, C.E.Bosworth,The Cambridge History of Iran:From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Vol. IV, Ed. Richard Nelson Frye, William Bayne Fisher and John Andrew Boyle, (Cambridge University Press, 1975), 111. ISBN 0-521-20093-8, ISBN 978-0-521-20093-6