Transoxiana, Journal Libre de Estudios Orientales

Transoxiana 12
Agosto 2007
ISSN 1666-7050


On the Origin of the place-Name Buxārā*

Shamsiddin Kamoliddin

Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences, Tashkent. shamskamol(@)

There are several ancient place-names in Central Asia such as Āmū, Chāch, Xīwa, Samarqand, Chaghāniyān and some others, the origin of which till now remains unknown. Name of Buxārā, which is one of largest cities of the region, also belongs to this number. This name was mentioned for the first time on the earliest copper coins of Buxārā (4th – 5th c. AD) [Naymark, 1995, p. 37] with Sogdian inscriptions in forms Pugar (pwγ’r) and Puxar (pwx’r) [Smirnova, 1981, p. 34 (792 – 796); Smirnova, 1982, с. 143],. In the Sogdian sources (early 8th – 9th centuries AD) it was mentioned in forms Puγar (pwγ’r) and Puxar (pwx’r) [Sogdiyskie dokumenty, p.182; Henning, 1940, p. 10], and in the inscription of Kül-tegin (early 8th c. AD) – in form Buqar (buqar) [Malov, 1951, p. 19 – 20].

It was supposed, that this name originated from the Sanskrit word vihara, that means "a Buddhist monastery" [Frye, 1956, p. 106 – 119]. However, according to the norms of the Sogdian language, this name could not be transformed from a word vihara for which in the Sogdian used the word βrx’r [Lurje, 2004, p. 20]. In the New Persian language this word is transferred in form ﺭﺎﺨﺭﻓ farxār [Baevskiy, 1980, p. 88] or ﺭﺎﻬﺑ bihār [Hudūd al-‘ālem, f. 27A; Hudud al-‘Alam, p. 108], and in Arabic – in form ﺭﺎﻬﺑﻟﺍ al-bahār or al-buhār [al-Khowarezmi, p. 34]. Consequently, the writing pwx’r transfers the name sounding as buxar (buγar, buqar) or puxar (puγar, puqar), formed on the basis of a word of non-Sogdian [Tremblay, 2004, p. 122], probably, the Hephtalit origin [Livshits, Каufman, Diakonov, 1954, c. 155, 157]. There is a place-name Puxar in Siberia originated from the word (puxar), which in the Yeniseic languages (hanty) means "an island" [Мurzaev, 1984, p. 470]1.

In this connection the data of some sources which can throw light on a true origin of this word are of interest. According to Juwayni, the word ﺭ ﺎﺨﺑ (buxār), underlying the name Buxārā (ﺍﺭ ﺎﺨﺑ), meant in the language of the Mughs (ba-lug’at-i muγān) «the assembly of a science» (majma‘ ‘ilm), and in the language of the Buddhists (ba-lug’at-i but-parastān), the Uighur and the Chinese, it used for a designation of their temples where their idols (ma‘ābid ishān ke mawzi‘-i butān) were located. Therefore this city was named Buxārā, and formerly its name was Banuğkath بنجكث [Juwayni, vol. 1, p. 76; Bartold, 1963, p. 214]. In the old Uighur language the word ﺭ ﺎﺨﺑ (buxār) had a meaning "a temple" or "a chapel" [Budagov, 1869, vol. 1, p. 285]. Маhmūd Kāšgharī marked, that the city of Buxārā was named so because of the Buddhists temple, which was located there [Kašgarli, p. 111].

From these data follows, that name of the city of Buxārā could be originated from the word buxār, which was not a Sogdian, but a Turkic (Uighur) transfer of the Sanskrit word vihara (a Buddhist monastery). Consequently, it is possible to assume, that occurrence of this name has been connected with activity of some Turkic ruler, who reigned in pre-Islamic time in the Bukhara oasis.

It is known, that, in the 6th century AD the oasis of Buxārā was a property of Tardu-kagan (Sāwa-shāh, Shīr-i Kishwar), who was the son of the Supreme Turkic kagan Istami (Qarā Chūrīn). He was the uncle of the Sassanid šāhanšāh Xurmazd IV Тurkzāda on his mother line [Bel’ami, vol. 2, p. 248, 265; Firdousi, vol. 6, p. 656 – 657], because he was the native brother of the daughter of Istami-kagan which married the Sassanid šāhanšāh Xusraw I Аnūshirwān. According to Narshakhi, Shīr-i Kishwar ruled in Buxārā during 20 years and resided in Baykand. He had built the fortress of Buxārā, and also established some settlements in the oasis of Buxārā such as Маmastin, Sakmatin, Samtin and Farab. His son El-tigin (Parmūda, Nili-xān) also had established some settlements in the oasis of Buxārā, such as Iskijkath, Sharg, Faraxsha and Rāmitan. He was married on the Chinese princess who has brought from China a temple of idols and it was established in Rāmitan (Rāmtin) [Frye, 1954, p. 8]. Rāmitan was more ancient than city of Buxārā, formerly there was a residence of the kings, and after building of the city of Buxārā they moved there. In some books Rāmitan named also Buxārā [Frye, 1954, p. 16].

In the region of medieval Nasaf was mentioned a settlement named Nawqad Sāwa نوقد ساوه [an-Nasafī, Arabe, f. 59V; as-Sam‘ānī, Marg., f. 571R] which name can be connected with a name Sāwa ساوه. The. Supreme Turkic kagan Таrdu (Shīr-i Kishwar) is mentioned in the Arabic sources as Shāba شابة [Ibn Khordadhbeh, p. 40], and in the Persian sources as Sāwa-shāh ساوه شاه [Firdousi, vol. 6, p. 656 – 658]. The word sāwa or šāwa is a Baktrian title, which meant "a king" [Frye, 1956, p. 122; Harmatta, Litvinsky, 1996, p. 371]. From these data follows that Shīr-i Kishwar had established settlements not only in the region of Bukhara, but in the region of Naxshab too.

To a southeast from remains of Farabr on the hill named Qiz-qir near Amu-Darja river there are remains of a watchtower known as Ding of Аrslān-khān. This is the most ancient of the archaelogical remains in the region of Farabr [Маsson, 1966, p. 167]. If to take into account the information of Narshkhī, that Farabr had been established by Shīr-i Kishwar (Tardu-kagan) [Narshakhī, p. 17] which referred to also El – Аraslan, it is possible to assume, that this tower has been constructed at the end of 6th – early 7th centuries by him or by his son El – tegin, who reigned here after him.

Among the coins of the pre-Islamic rulers of Bukhara (VI - VIII centuries) there is a coin with portrait of a ruler with Mongoloid features (AV) and tamgha in the form )o( (RV) without any inscriptions2. It is possible to assume, that this coin had been minted by Таrdu-kagan (Shīr-i Kishwar) or his son El - tegin.

In the 10th century the city of Buxārā also refered to Numijkath نمجكث or Bumijkath بمجكث as it was formerly named [al-Istakhri, p. 313; Ibn Haukal, p. 463; al-Moqaddasi, p. 40, 289.]. Consequently, the name Buxārā was not much ancient and appeared in early medieval period. Therefore some settlements of the Buxārā oasis, such as Baykand, Waraxshā, Wardān, Nūr, Rāmitan and Rāmush, were mentioned as “villages more ancient than city of Bukhara” [al-Moqaddasi, p. 282; Frye, 1954, p. 16 – 20).

El-tigin (Parmūda, Nili-khan) who was married on the Chinese princess, had established a Buddhist temple in Rāmitan, where he resided. It is known, that in 590 the Chinese queen, who was belonged to the house Chžow, made a rebellion against the emperor of the Suy dynasty. With the aim of getting support among the Turks, she made a treaty with Nili-khan (Parmūda), the governor of Buxārā [Bichurin, 1950, vol. 1, p. 240; Gumilev, 1967, p. 136]. It seems that marriage and arrival of the Chinese princess to Buxārā and further construction of the Buddhist temple in Rāmitan took place at the same time.

The Chinese princess, whose name was Sian-shy, given birth to Nili-khan (Yil-teguin) the son named Daman (Тамman). Soon after that Nili-khan has died, and she married his younger brother named Poshi dele (teguin). About 600 AD Poshi together with Sian-shy arrived to the Chinese Court yard and had been left there as a hostage. The Chinese princess Sian-shy did not came back to Bukhara and stayed in China up to the end of her life. After death of Nili-khan on the throne of Bukhara the son of Sian-shy named Daman (Таman) with title Nigyu Chulo-khan had been erected. In 614. Chulo-khan married the Chinese princess named Sin-i, and went for military service at the Chinese emperor. In 618 he was lost on war with Eastern Turks [Bichurin, vol. 1, p. 279 - 283].

Basing on the above mentioned data, it seems that name of Buxār originally was belonged to the temple in Rāmitan, and later it had been transferred on all area and on its new capital on a place of modern Buxārā. On the map of Buxārā made in the middle of ХIХ century3, the tomb of the Chinese prince (qabri-i pīsar-i pādishāh-i Xitā) had been mentioned [Muhamedjanov, 1965, p. 31 – 42], from which follows that the Chinese princess in the late period of her life lived in the city of Buxārā, where her “temple of idols” was situated too.

In this connection mausoleum of the Samanids in Bukhara4, which construction concerns to 9th – early 10th centuries is of interest. The planning structure of the mausoleum’s building represents the cubic volume topped with a dome and having a centric composition – 4 entrances with completely identic facades [Pugachenkova, 1968, p. 119]. The architectural image of this building represents an embodiment of a cosmogramme: a Square – a Circle [Bulatov, 2005, p. 36]. It was supposed that mausoleum of the Samanids repeat the form of a Sogdian lock [Pugachenkova, Rempel, 1958, p. 67] or pre-Islamic memorial kedh, widespread in the Sogdian architecture [Pugachenkova, 1962, p. 52]. According to another opinion, the building of the mausoleum represents a Sabian (Manichean) temple – observatory, devoted to a cult of the Sun, from which supervision over movement of the sun was conducted. [Bulatov, 1976, p. 71 - 77; Bulatov, 2005, p. 36]. Nearby the mausoleum of the Samanids there are archeological remains of more ancient building which floor has been decorated with figure in the form of concentric circles made from a bricklaying. It was supposed, that this building has been connected with a Solar cult [Bulatov, 1976, p. 91].

In our opinion, mausoleum of the Samanids was an exact copy of that temple which had been constructed by El - tegin for the Chinese princess. The rests of that temple is a fundament of ancient cultic building, which had been discovered nearby the mausoleum of the Samanids. The general lay-out of the mausoleum at the top view is exact reproduction of a Buddhist mandala [Mandala, p. 140].

Another indication, specifying on connection of this monument with Buddhism, are similar symbols represented on the outside walls of the mausoleum5. This symbol represents the complex geometrical composition consisting of squares built - in each other and a circle in the middle [Pugachenkova, Rempel, 1960, p. 67; Pugachenkova, 1968, p. 121; Bulatov, 1976, p. 85], and personifies a cosmogramme of the decreasing and increasing Universe [Bulatov, 2005, p. 36]. The symbol of the entered squares and disks is presented also in the wall paintings of the early medieval palace in Varakhsha [Rempel, 1961, p. 152]. Precisely same symbol is represented in the wall paintings with subject images of Buddhist legends in the cave complex Dun-hwan, which was one of the largest Buddhist cult centers of the Central and East Asia in early Middle Ages [Аrapov, 2002, p 120 - 125]. In an antiquity ornaments in furnish of buildings had magic character, and served as symbols of durability of a building and well-being of their inhabitants [Аllatkina, 2004, p. 32].

El-tegin (Parmūda) was a follower of Buddhism and with him was connected penetration of this religion to Buxārā [Staviskiy, 1960, p. 115]. In 588 he had been sent as a governor of Kashmir, where he established two Buddhist temples [Chavannes, 1903, p. 157]. The Chinese traveler U-kun, who visited Kashmir and Gandhara between 759 – 764, saw among the Buddhist relics some temples. based in 6th – 7th centuries by Turkic governors, the temple of Ve-li-tele, i.e. Vе-li-tegin or El-tegin, who was a son of the king of the Turks. This building had been constructed one hundred years ago. [Сhavannes, 1903, p. 198, 242 – 245; Litvinskiy, Zeymal, 1971, p. 120]. In the 11th century in the northern and eastern parts of Kashmir some Turks, who worshiped Buddhism still lived [Bīrūnī, 1963, p. 202 – 203].

However, the place name Buxārā for the first time mentioned on the coins of 4th – 5th centuries AD [Smirnova, 1982, p. 143; Мusakaeva, 1985, p. 82; Мusakaeva, 1990, p. 33 – 37; Naymark, 1995, p. 37]. Consequently, there was a Buddhist temple, established in the period of the Xionits or Hephtalits, and the oasis of Buxārā named so after it. Though, time of issue of the earliest coins of Bukhara is not sure and, considering paleographical data of their inscriptions, it was also supposed that they had been issued in early 6th century6. In that case keeps an urgency the hypothesis on appearance of the name Buxar (Puxar) in the period of the Turkic qaghanate in connection with foundation of a Buddhist temple for the Chinese princess in Rāmitan on what informs Narshakhī.

Among the nobles who have arrived in 732 AD in the Orxon Horde of kagan for participation in the funeral of Kul-tigin, is mentioned some Оgul-tarxān, who represented the ulus of Buqara people (buqaraq ulus budun) [Malov, 1951, p. 19 – 20]. Though the word buqaraq here means name of people, instead of the name of the country, it might be the ancient Turkic form of this place-name (buqar). The word ulus, accompanying the word buqaraq in the Turkic text, means also «a residence of Buddha» [Мurzaev, 1984, p. 575].

Buddhism, probably, was not widely spread in the oasis of Buxārā, because the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang, who passed through the lands of Pu-ho (Buxārā) in 630 AD, has not mentioned existence of any Buddhist relics or followers of the Buddhism there [Beal, 1990, p. 45]. The most part of population of early medieval Sogdiana were confessed the Mazdeism. However, data of other textual sources testify on the existence of the followers of some other religions in Bukhara. According to Narshakhī, the inhabitants of pre-Islamic Bukhara were idolaters (būt parast būdand). In 10th century in Bukhara was the market named Bāzār-i Māh, where twice in a year idols sold, which used a great demand among inhabitants of the city. This market has been established in pre-Islamic time by king of Bukhara named the Mäh (Moon) which sat there during fair on the throne for encouragement of trade with idols [Naršhakhī, p. 26 - 27].

From these data follows, that in pre-Islamic time inhabitants of Bukhara were idolaters (būt parast). Idols were also in temples of Paykand, Varakhsha and other cities of Soghd. When Qutayba ibn Мuslim has entered in Paykand, he has found in one of its temples of idolaters (butxāna) a silver idol who has been appreciated in 400 dirhams [Narshakhī, p. 45].

Idolatry which is the earliest in writing certified form of religion in Bukhara [Zuyev, 2002, p. 195], was one of the main distinctive features of the Manichaeism. Followers of Mānī considered humanoid idols as a symbols of divine stars - the Sun and the Moon, last stations on a way to Light - paradise [Бируни, 1963, with. 479]. The name of king Māh can be compared with Mānī, who in the Manichaeic texts was called also as the god of the Moon (Аj tängri) [Zuyev, 2002, p. 194]. Hence, in pre-Islamic time the majority of inhabitants of Bukhara were Manichaeans.

Маnichaeism in the Central Asia during long time coexisted with the Buddhism, and influence of the Buddhism on east branch of the Manichaeism was so strong, that Mānī in the Manichaeic texts was called as the Buddha or Mānī–Buddha [Vostochniy Turkestan, 1992, p. 526]. Hence, the prototype of mausoleum of the Samanids was, most likely, not a Buddhist, but a Manichaean temple, and the king of Bukhara named Māh (El - tegin, Parmūda) was not the Buddhist, but Manichaean.

Some data specify that Supreme qaghans of the Western Turkic qaghanate were Manichaeans. Second name of Tardu-qaghan – Sāwa-shāh (Shāwa, Shāba) occurs from the Middle Persian words syava - "black" or the Sogdian s’w - "black" [Zuyev, 2002, p. 195]. Among the Turks – Manichaeans of the Yetisū region the legend about Turkic king named Shū (from the Sogdian s’w - "black") has been distributed [Кāšγarī, vol. 3, p. 419, vol. 1, p. 117]. In Turkic Manichaeism qara - "black" was the rank and a religious post which owner managed education and training of young pupils in the Manichaean school [Zuyev, 2002, p. 201]. Another name of Таrdu-qaghan – Shīr-i Kishwar (the Lion of the country) or El-Arslan (the Lion of the people) also specifies that he was a Manichaean. An image of a lion (the Persian shīr, the Turkic. аrslān) and its symbols took a special place in Turkic Manichaeism whereas in the Zoroastrianism and the Buddhism it is almost not used [Zuyev, 2002, p. 188, 192 - 193, 203]. Second name Istami-qaghan (Dizavul) was Qarā Chūrīn [Narshakhī, p. 16]. A name-title Qarā-čor also is widely known from the Manichaean texts of the East Turkestan [Zuyev, 2002, p. 200 - 201].

Basing on above mentioned data, it might be supposed that the name of Buxārā originated from a Turkic word buxar, that means «a Buddhist temple». In such case it can be explained impossibility of formation of the form pux’r, fixed in the Sogdian sources, from a Sanskrit word vihara, which, in turn, testifies that name of the city (Buxārā) is formed not on the basis of the Sogdian lexicon, but on the basis of the Turkic one. In that case the Sogdian form Puxar (pwx’r) was transformation not of the Sanskrit word vihara, but the Turkic buxar with the same meaning.

Occurrence of this name might be connected with construction of a Buddhist temple there in the period of the Xionits or Hephtalits. In 6th century AD the Turkic governor of this region Yil-tigin (Barmūda, Nili-xān), the son of Tardu-kagan (Shīr-i Kishwar, Sāwa-shāh), who confessed Buddhism, has established another Buddhist temple there for the Chinese princess. This temple has been located not in the city of Buxārā, but in Rāmitan, where was the residence of El-tigin, and the idols of the Chinese princess, who had brought them from China, have been placed there. Since that time from this temple the city and its area called by this Turkic name Buxār, which was alien to the Sogdian language. After transferring a residence of governors to the city of Numijkath (Bumijkath) this name began to be applied on a new city, where probably was built new temple for idols. At the same time, the old Sogdian name of the city Numilkath or Bumijkath had been in use still in the 10th century AD.


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٭ This work is executed as a result of the scientific researches lead by the author in the British library (London) and the library of SOAS (London university), thanks to the special grant, given to the author in 2004 – 2005 by the Committee for Central and Internal Asia of the Cambridge university (Great Britain), for what the author brings to this university and its committee his sincerely gratitude.

1. There is an opinion, that many ancient place names of Central Asia have the Yenisei origin, and carriers of the Yeniseic languages made a significant part of the pre-Indoeuropeic population of Central Asia. See: Yaylenkо, 1990, p. 37 - 49.

2. This coin had been found by on the historical city place Qanqa in the oasis of Tashkent and at present it is kept in the private collection of Andrey Kuzneysov in Tashkent.

3. Author of this map, which is in the archive of the orientalist P.I.Lerx (1827 – 1884), is unknown. It was supposed that it was made by the Uzbek scholar and writer Ahmad Dānish (1827 – 1897). See: Suhareva, 1976, p. 132 – 148.

4. Pre-Islamic ancestors of the Samanids were descendants of Bahram Chubin from his marriage with the daughter of Parmuda (El-tegin).

5. All of them 8 – on each side of the building there are 2 symbols, located in the right and left sides above the entrances.

6. This information we have got from Dr.A.Musakaeva (Museum of the history of Uzbekistan of the Academy of Sciences), who firstly investigated these coins.

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