Mazar-i-Sharif will probably be familiar to those who are old enough to remember the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It was the first Taliban city to fall to the US army, and subsequently became famous for a prison uprising in which a CIA officer was killed and an American named John Walker Lindh was found fighting with the Taliban.
While many know about this recent history of the place and have heard it mentioned in the news, probably few will know about its ancient history and its somewhat indirect connection to the Bhagavad Gita, which is what I would like to discuss here.
Mazar-i-Sharif is the capital of the Balkh province in Afghanistan. It is located at the extreme north of Afghanistan, on the border with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This location will be important because it will show how vast the ancient Hindu kingdom of Bharata was.
Balkh is the slightly modified Persian version of the Sanskrit word Bahlika, which referred both to a kingdom (a region) as well as the king who founded that kingdom. King Bahlika was the brother of the great Maharaja Shantanu, and is mentioned throughout the Puranas and Mahabharata. He, along with his sons and grandsons, fought on the side of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war.
The Bhagavata Purana describes his lineage as follows:
devāpiḥ śāntanus tasya
bāhlīka iti cātmajāḥ
devāpis tu vanaṁ gataḥ
abhavac chāntanū rājā
yaṁ yaṁ karābhyāṁ spṛśati
jīrṇaṁ yauvanam eti saḥ
“The sons of Pratīpa were Devāpi, Śāntanu and Bāhlīka. Devāpi left the kingdom of his father and went to the forest, and therefore Śāntanu became the king. Śāntanu, who in his previous birth was known as Mahābhiṣa, had the ability to transform anyone from old age to youth simply by touching that person with his hands.” – Bhagavata Purana 9.22.12-13
soma-vaṁśe kalau naṣṭe
bāhlīkāt somadatto ’bhūd
bhūrir bhūriśravās tataḥ
śalaś ca śāntanor āsīd
gaṅgāyāṁ bhīṣma ātmavān
“After the dynasty of the moon-god comes to an end in this age of Kali, Devāpi, in the beginning of the next Satya-yuga, will reestablish the Soma dynasty in this world. From Bāhlīka [the brother of Śāntanu] came a son named Somadatta, who had three sons, named Bhūri, Bhūriśravā and Śala. From Śāntanu, through the womb of his wife named Gaṅgā, came Bhīṣma, the exalted, self-realized devotee and learned scholar.” – Bhagavata Purana 9.22.18-19
The first thing to note is that King Bahlika was a Vedic king belonging to the Soma Vamsha (moon dynasty), and was also a descendant of Kuru, just as the Pandavas and Kauravas were. He was the brother of Maharaja Shantanu, who is a central character in the Mahabharata. Bahlika’s son was named Somadatta, and he was also a great king who participated in the battle of Kurukshetra. Somadatta’s son was Bhurishrava, a great warrior general who commanded one akshauhini of soldiers, or around 10% of the Kaurava’s entire army.
The Mahabharata states the following:
tathā bhūriśravāḥ śūraḥ śalyaś ca kurunandana
duryodhanam upāyātāv akṣauhiṇyā pṛthak pṛthak
“And so the valiant Bhurisravas, and Salya, O son of Kuru, came to Duryodhana, with an akshauhini of soldiers each.” – Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva 19.16
An akshauhini is a military unit said to have been comprised of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 109,350 infantry and 65,610 cavalry. Thus Bhurishrava’s contribution towards the Kaurava’s army, along with his father’s (Somadatta) and grandfather’s (Bahlika), played a major role in the Kurukshetra war.
In the first canto of the Bhagavata Purana, both Bhurishrava and Bahlika are mentioned as being amongst the great generals who led the Kaurava side in the Kurukshetra war. Arjuna says:
yad-doḥṣu mā praṇihitaṁ guru-bhīṣma-karṇa-
astrāṇy amogha-mahimāni nirūpitāni
nopaspṛśur nṛhari-dāsam ivāsurāṇi
“Great generals like Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa, Bhūriśravā, Suśarmā, Śalya, Jayadratha and Bāhlika all directed their invincible weapons against me. But by His [Lord Krishna’s] grace they could not even touch a hair on my head. Similarly, Prahlāda Mahārāja, the supreme devotee of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva, was unaffected by the weapons the demons used against him.” – Bhagavata Purana 1.15.16
Finally, we come to the Bhagavad Gita, where in the first chapter Duryodhana approaches his general Bhishma and says the following:
bhavān bhīṣmaś ca karṇaś ca
kṛpaś ca samitiṁ-jayaḥ
aśvatthāmā vikarṇaś ca
saumadattis tathaiva ca
“There are personalities like you, Bhīṣma, Karṇa, Kṛpa, Aśvatthāmā, Vikarṇa and the son of Somadatta called Bhūriśravā, who are always victorious in battle.”
Here we have Duryodhana specifically pointing out Bhurishrava, the son of Somadatta and grandson of Bahlika, and saying he is samitim-jayah, always victorious in battle.
Thus all three of these great Vedic kings were unconquearable heroes, and all three of them ruled from the kingdom of “Bahlika”, which was centered around the present day district of Balkh in Afghanistan.
There are many archaeological sites in Balkh, as you can see in the following photographs, though due to various wars and conflicts, there is no interest or effort to excavate the historical treasures that lie beneath the soil. We are left with only the fleeting and meaningless news stories of modern times, such as the invasion of Mazar-i-Sharif by the US forces, or the prison revolt in which a CIA officer died, which are nothing but coverings of the true priceless history of this region recorded in the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
If we look at a map we can see how far north this district is located. We must understand that once upon a time this was one of the Kuru kingdoms of Bharata, stretching into modern Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This was all Bharata, and all ruled by Kuru kings of the moon dynasty.
One may ask, “What happened to this once great empire, and why don’t we hear more about it?” The Mahabharata tells us the stories of how the three great kings of the empire (Bahlika, Somadatta and Bhurishrava) died in the battle of Kurukshetra, as did most of the great kings of that time. With the loss of their rulers and the onset of the Kali yuga, everything in general decayed and became corrupted. Subsequently the region became subjected to various invasions from other cultures, such as the Greeks, Persians, Turks and Arabs, with each new invasion adding to the cultural dilution.
The Bahlika empire latter came to be known as Balkh, which was again morphed by the Greeks into Baktriani, and today is known as the Bactrian empire. We should remember this was simply the remnants of the Vedic Bahlikas, after thousands of years had passed, after they had been conquered by the Greeks and also after they had their culture diluted. Yet still we find so many archaeological artifacts from the Bactrian empire showing Hindu Gods such as Krishna, Vishnu, Balarama, Shiva, etc. The following photos of Bactrian coins and seals, show clearly the Hindu Gods whom their forefathers worshipped. These items are more than 2,000 years old.
The capital city, Bactra/Balkh, was situated on the ancient “silk road” trade route and was one of the major commerce points linking China, India and the West. When Arab invaders finally conquered the region, they called the capital city of Balkh as “Umm-al-belad” or “the mother of cities”, indicating how large and wealthy the city was.
In 1220 AD Genghis Khan sent 100,000 horsemen to loot and destroy the city of Balkh, killing all residents, and razing all buildings to the ground. Though the people had surrendered without a fight, the entire population was marched away and massacred. Again in the 14th century, Timur looted and killed the remaining population.
The famous explorer, Marco Polo, had visited this city around the end of the 13th century. He wrote the following about this empire:
“Balkh is a great and noble city, though it was much greater in former days. But the Tartars and other nations have greatly ravaged and destroyed it. There were formerly many fine palaces and buildings of marble, and the ruins of them still remain. The people of the city tell that it was here that Alexander the Great took as a wife the daughter of king Darius.”
It should be noted that Alexander the Great had married a Bactrian/Bahlika princess from this region named Roxana, which is the Greek version of the Sanskrit name Rochana, meaning “radiant, charming, and bright”. This Sanskrit name has even entered into the English language as Roxanne, and is still used today.
Marco Polo further wrote:
“When you have left the city of which I have been speaking, you ride some 12 days between north-east and east, without finding any human habitation, for the people have all taken refuge in fastnesses among the mountains, on account of the bandits and armies that harassed them. There is plenty of water on the road, and abundance of game; there are lions too. You can get no provisions on the road, and must carry with you all that you require for these 12 days.”
Ever since, this great region has been ravaged by wars one after another, leaving all of its ancient history hidden under layers of ruins and sediment. In 1998 the Taliban conquered Mazar-i-Sharif, which was then followed by the U.S invasion of Afghanistan, which continues till the present times.
The next time you hear about these places in the news, remember the great kings Bahlika, Somadatta and Bhurishrava, and their central role in the Kurukshetra war, which ultimately brought us the priceless treasure of the Bhagavad Gita.
This is the hidden history which modern academics do not want us to dig deeper into. They do not want the people to know that Bharata, or what we call today as India, extended throughout the world, and was the center of civilization in times that predate known history. The Kuru kings of the moon dynasty ruled vast lands that touched even to the borders of Russia, and for this reason all the world’s cultures have traces of Vedic elements present within them.
Other Articles in this Series:
The Vedic People of Azerbaijan
The Vedic People of Scandinavia
The Vedic People of Lithuania
Ancient Shiva Linga in Ireland
The Samurai: Protectors of the Cow
Sweet Salt – The Story of How India Invented Sugar
India – The Land of Stolen Jewels
Soma – Elixir of the Gods
Manu and the Great Deluge
The Legends of Tulasi In Christianity
The Mysterious Iron Deity made from a Meteor