Arab Attack On The Golden Idol Of Zun (Zur) In Zabul

The kingdom of Kapisha or Kabul (also known as Kabulistan) lay on the north-west of Sindh and consisted of the valley of the Kabul (Kubha) river spreading over the mountains all the way upto the Hindu Kush (Upari Syena) mountains.[1] Hieun Tsang, the well-known Chinese traveller, mentions that the kingdom of Kabul extended over ten dependent states which included Lampaka (Laghman), Nagara (Jalalabad) and Gandhara.[2] It was an extensive kingdom with suzerainty over ten principalities.

Immediately to the south of Kabul was the kingdom of Jabala or Zabul (also known as Zabulistan), comprising the valley of the Helmand river and the surrounding territories on the east and west of the river, extending upto present-day Balochistan (Gedrosia) on the south. “In the 7th Century A.D., these two kingdoms formed parts of India both politically and culturally, being Indian in language, literature and religion and ruled over by kings who bore Indian names.”[3]

The kingdom of Kabul was ruled by a Kshatriya Hindu king of the ancient Shahi (Turki-Shahi) dynasty founded by Barhatigin. Barhatigin was said to be of Tibetan origin and the Shahi dynasty established by him ruled for about sixty generations, with one of his descendants being “Kanik (probably Kanishka), the same who is said to have built the ‘Vihara’ of Purushavar.” [4] Hieun Tsang mentions the Kshatriya Hindu king of Kabul as an able ruler and a clever and powerful king who had brought under his control ten independent principalities.

The king of Zabul was also Hindu and bore the title of Shahi or Shahia. He was related to the Kabul Shahis and was known to the Arabs as “that king of Al Hind… (who) bore the title of Zunbil.” [5] Zunbils were also known as Rutbil, Rantbil, Ranbal or Ramal and were renowned for their bravery. In terms of religion and culture, the entire regions of the Kabul river valley and the regions from Ghazna to Kandahar were mainly Buddhist and Hindu.

Zunbils got their epithet from the Shaivite god Zun, also known as Zur. The temple of Zun was situated on top of a sacred mountain in Zamindawar of the upper Helmand. Zamindawar or ‘Land Of The Justice Giver’ was a mountainous region located to the north of Kandahar and the temple of Zun was the most revered and important pilgrimage centre of the entire region. The temple had a golden idol of Zun with rubies set as eyes. Zun is said to have been “the northern mountain form of Shiva or ‘an adaptation of Shiva to a local god, introduced from India.’” It is also said that “the worship of Zun might be related to that of the old shrine of the sun-god Aditya at Multan.” [6] The Zunbils were said to have derived their dynastic title from Zun, whom the Chinese referred to as Sun(a).

In 653 A.D., under the command of the third Rashidun Caliph, Usman ibn Affan (644–656 A.D.), the resolute governor of Basra, Abdullah-ibn-Amir, despatched Abdur-Rehman-ibn-Samurah as governor of Seistan with the specific aim of subjugating Seistan and Kabul. Seistan was a province of the kingdom of Zabul towards the west of the river Helmand and was governed by the Zunbil’s Satrap. As Abdur Rehman marched into Zarang, the capital of Seistan, a fierce battle ensued between Abdur Rehman and the Satrap of Seistan. The Satrap’s armies and the people of the city of Zarang gave the Arab forces a tough fight. After a long battle, however, Abdur Rehman managed to subdue the Satrap and levied a tribute from him and captured the city.

In 653–654 A.D., the Arab general, Abdur Rehman proceeded to Zamindawar with a force of 6000 Arabs and surrounded the holy mountain on which the temple of Zun was located. He “went into the temple of Zur (Zun), an idol of gold with two rubies for eyes, he cut off a hand and took out the rubies. Then he said to the Satrap, ‘keep the gold and gems. I only wanted to show that it had no power to harm or help.’” [7]

Lacking in spiritual understanding and hence, incapable of comprehending the higher tenets of Hindu religious worship of invoking the formless Divine Power into an idol, the Arab general mistook the idol to be the God of the kafirs and disfigured it with iconoclastic zeal. Apart from the religious eagerness to abolish idolatory, there was a more strategic reason for the Arab interest in weakening the Temple of Zun and the Zunbils. The Zunbils (Rutbils) and the Kabul Shahis were proving to be a phenomenal stumbling block in achieving the Arab ambition of conquering Al Hind and Sindh for Islam. The only way the Arabs could dominate Al Hind was by dominating Kabul and Zabul first.


[1] – Indian Resistance To Early Muslim Invaders Upto 1206 A.D., P 37 — Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra

[2] – The History And Culture Of The Indian People: Vol. 3 — The Classical Age, P 164 — R. C. Majumdar

[3] – The History And Culture Of The Indian People: Vol. 3 — The Classical Age, P 165 — R. C. Majumdar

[4] – Kitab Ul Hind: Vol. 2, P 11 — Al Beruni Tr. By Edward Sachau

[5] – Al Hind: The Making Of The Indo Islamic World, Vol. 1 — Early Medieval India And The Expansion Of Islam — 7th-11th Centuries, P 112–114 — Andre Wink

[6] – Al Hind: The Making Of The Indo Islamic World, Vol. 1 — Early Medieval India And The Expansion Of Islam — 7th-11th Centuries, P 118–119 — Andre Wink

[7] – Kitab Futuh Al Buldan: Vol. 2, P 144 — Al Baladhuri Tr. By Francis Clark Murgotten

Featured Image Credit: Surya With Attendants – Marble – 6th century A.D. – Khair Khaneh – Afghanistan.

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