Tag: Pathans

Pathan parahistory

By Razib Khan | July 3, 2011 1:41 pm



Mughal Emperor Akbar

In Strange Parallels Victor Lieberman made a reference to “Turkicized Pathans.” The very term has been gnawing at me. To get some sense of the context, Lieberman was sketching out the impact of Islamic civilization upon Indian civilization. Sometimes this “impact” was very literal. The Arab armies had rolled into Sindh in the 8th century, but that influence upon India was militarily marginal. The first real Muslim raider of consequence was Mahmud of Ghazni, a Turkic raider from what is today Afghanistan, who famously plundered the palaces and temples of North India circa ~1000. But even here the the impact is arguably superficial. Mahmud of Ghazni’s raids did not lead to a large Indian domain under his direct rule except in Punjab. Rather, these sallies into India were sources of supplementation to his broader fiscal resources. He was still fundamentally a Central Asian potentate fixated on Central Asian concerns. The real rise of Islamic civilization in India was precipitated by the Delhi Sultanate, a series of short-lived polities beginning circa ~1200 which dominated the Indian subcontinent for centuries, until they were superseded by the far more robust Mughal Empire.

These Indo-Islamic dominions were often dominated by individuals of Turkic identity. By this, I mean that they were from a lineage of Turkic tribes which had filtered into the world of Islam in the centuries before 1000, enslaved or enrolled in the armies of Muslim warlords. But eventually these pawns turned the tables on their erstwhile masters and snatched the keys to the kingdom for themselves. Mahmud of Ghazni’s own family were originally servitors of the Iranian Muslim Samanid dynasty. But just as Rome was enslaved by Greece culturally after its conquest of Hellas, so many Turks freely granted the manifest superiority of the Persian language in the domain of culture. Therefore the irony is that the Persian language spread as the elite cultural vehicle along with the expansion of the Turks west and east, culminating with the rise of the Ottomans and Mughals. Therefore you had a situation in Mughal India where the ruling dynasty, which was of proud Turco-Mongol origin along the paternal lineage, patronized Persian was the language of the court and administration more generally.

But what about the Afghans? They were not invisible. Along with the Turks and Persians, who came with the sword and quill respectively to serve in the courts of India’s Islamic rulers, came auxiliaries of Afghans, mostly Pashtuns. Though a majority of the dynasts seem to claim Turkic antecedents, some are self-consciously Afghan. For example the Lodi dynasty. The influence of these people is evident in India today insofar as upper class Muslims often refer to themselves as “Pathans,” presumably pointing to an origin outside of Indian proper.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genomics, History
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