Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus, who loved her dearly; on their wedding day, he played joyful songs as his bride danced through the meadow. One day, a satyr saw and pursued Eurydice, who stepped on a venomous snake, dying instantly. Distraught, Orpheus played and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept and told him to travel to the Underworld and retrieve her, which he gladly did. After his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone, his singing so sweet that even the Erinyes wept, he was allowed to take her back to the world of the living. In another version, Orpheus played his lyre to put Cerberus, the guardian of Hades, to sleep, after which Eurydice was allowed to return with Orpheus to the world of the living. Either way, the condition was attached that he must walk in front of her and not look back until both had reached the upper world. However, soon he began to doubt that she was there and that Hades had deceived him. Just as they reached the portals of Hades and daylight, he turned around to gaze on her face, and Eurydice vanished back into the Underworld. — Source: Wikipedia
Many scholars have noted the similarity of key Japanese royal myths to Greek ones, including the renowned British historian, Sir George Bailey Sansom, who, in A Histortory of Japan to 1334 wrote:
“This myth of Izanagi’s search for his wife in the Underworld is sometimes compared to Orpheus and Eurydice; but a closer parallel is that of Persephone condemned to remain in Pluto’s kingdom because she had eaten there. Izanami tells Izanagi that he is too late because she has eaten from the cooking pot of Yomi…”
Kojiki (Japanesemythology.jp website) also compares and finds the marked similarity between the two versions:
“After Izanami’s death, the reason she gives for not being able to go back with Izanagi is that she ate the food of the underworld. Persephone’s abduction by Hades in Greek mythology shares this idea that once food of the underworld is eaten, it affects the one who has eaten it. Because she had eaten three seeds of a pomegranate, Persephone has to spend three months out of every year in the underworld. During this time, Persephone’s mother Demeter, the goddess of the harvest , is sad and nothing will grow, which is how Greek mythology explained the existence of winter…”
Samson, however, also notes that the Japanese tradition is different from the Greek’s in that the Japanese myth is related in a matter-of-fact way lacking the poetic imagination of the Greek Persephone’s.
The Eurydice-Orpheus myth differs from the Japanese myth in the ending where Orpheus was later killed by the Maenads on Dionysus’ orders, and ends up reunited with Eurydice in the Underworld. In the Japanese version, Izanagi rejects a reunion and chooses life.
Next, we focus on the seasonal winter solstice regeneration motifs, the shikome demon-hags of hell and on the purification ablution rituals:
Izanami-no-Mikoto, also given as 伊弉冉尊 or 伊邪那美命, meaning “she who invites” is a goddess of both creation and death, as well as the former wife of the god Izanagi-no-Mikoto. Fast-forwarding past the episodes of their dance (euphemism for their union) around the cosmic pillar and the creation act, to find Izanagi-no-Mikoto lamenting the death of Izanami-no-Mikoto and undertook a journey to Yomi (“the shadowy land of the dead”). He searched for Izanami-no-Mikoto and found her. At first, Izanagi-no-Mikoto could not see her for the shadows hid her appearance. He asked her to return with him. Izanami-no-Mikoto spat out at him, informing Izanagi-no-Mikoto that he was too late. She had already eaten the food of the underworld and was now one with the land of the dead. She could no longer return to the living.
The news shocked Izanagi-no-Mikoto, but he refused leave her in Yomi. While Izanami-no-Mikoto was sleeping, he took the comb that bound his long hair and set it alight as a torch. Under the sudden burst of light, he saw the horrid form of the once beautiful and graceful Izanami-no-Mikoto. She was now a rotting form of flesh with maggots and foul creatures running over her ravaged body.
Crying out loud, Izanagi-no-Mikoto could no longer control his fear and started to run, intending to return to the living and abandon his death-ridden wife. Izanami-no-Mikoto woke up, shrieking and indignant, and chased after him. She also sent shikome (foul women) to hunt for Izanagi-no-Mikoto and bring him back to Yomi.
Izanagi-no-Mikoto burst out of the entrance and pushed a boulder in the mouth of the Yomotsuhirasaka (cavern that was the entrance of Yomi). Izanami-no-Mikoto screamed from behind this impenetrable barricade and told Izanagi-no-Mikoto that if he left her she would destroy 1,000 residents of the living every day. He furiously replied he would give life to 1,500. — Source: Izanami-no-mikoto (Wikipedia)
Looking at the selected elements, we find that the Greek-Japanese myths also seem to have cognates in the Sumerian-Akkadian Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi legends.
Inanna’s Akkadian counterpart is Ishtar. In different traditions Inanna is the daughter of Anu or she is the daughter of the moon god Nanna. In various traditions, her siblings include the sun god Utu, the rain god Ishkur, and Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. Her personal assistant is Ninshubur. She is never considered to have a permanent spouse, although Dumuzi is her lover. Yet, she is responsible for sending Dumuzi to the Underworld in “Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld.” Inanna also is regarded in astral traditions as the morning and evening star.
The putrefaction aspects of Izanami are remniscent of the version found in The Descent of Inanna to the Underworld by Joanna Stuckley:
My mistress abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld.
(Black, Cunningham, et al. 1998-2000:1 of 8)
Before she left for the underworld, Inanna put on her divine regalia and took up “the appropriate divine decrees [me]” (Kramer 1972:86). She instructed her minister Ninshubur that, after three days, she was to ask help of the great gods. At each of the seven gates of the underworld, Inanna removed part of her regalia, until, naked and bent, she came before the seven judges of the underworld and her elder twin-sister Ereshkigal, whose name means “Queen of the Great Earth.” All gave her “the look of death,” and they had her dead body hung on a hook.
Three days later, Ninshubur began to seek help, but neither the chief god nor the moon god, Inanna’s father, was sympathetic. However, the god of wisdom instructed two creatures to sprinkle over Inanna’s corpse both a life-giving plant and life-giving water.
When the creatures sympathized with Ereshkigal, who was groaning in misery, she offered them rich rewards, but they asked only for the corpse on the peg. They sprinkled it, and Inanna lived again. However, before the judges would let her leave the great below, they insisted she provide a substitute, and so demons ascended with her to bring her substitute back. Inanna refused to give them several faithful servants, but she surrendered her bridegroom Dumuzi because he was not in mourning for her. For a while Dumuzi escaped the demons, but finally they carried him off. Then Inanna mourned for him. Finally, Dumuzi’s sister arranged to take his place in the underworld for part of each year (Black, Cunningham, et al. 1998, 1999, 2000: 1-8).
Particularly illuminating for an understanding of the similar context of the Japanese versions is this next commentary on The Descent of Inanna on the solstice connection but also particularly on the purification/annointing rituals that Izanagi has to perform when he has left the Underworld:
“This myth has appeared several times through many different evolutions of Mesopotamian civilization.
Some scholars assign its celebration to the Spring season at the time of the Babylonian New Year; others place its enactment during the Summer months.
As it is a tale of death and rebirth, of the dismantling and reintegration of spirit…
The Akkadian story is first attested in Late Bronze Age texts, in both Babylonia and Assyria, and later from the palace library at Nineveh. It is a short composition of some 140 lines, and seems to end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, an annual ritual known from Assyrian texts, which took place in the month of Dumuzi (Tammuz = June/July) and featured the bathing, anointing, and lying-in-state in Nineveh of a statue of Dumuzi.
The Sumerian version, The Descent of Inanna (version from “Myths From Mesopotamia”, by Stephanie J. Dalley) is attested earlier, and is much longer, consisting of some 410 lines. It is a fuller, more detailed account, and shows clearly that Dumuzi periodically died and rose, causing seasonal fertility, a fact which had been doubted until 1963, when a newly published fragment disclosed the crucial evidence. This version contains no ritual or incantation. However, like the Akkadian story, it seems to represent the goddess as a cult statue, and it has been suggested that the goddess’s statue makes a ritual journey from Uruk, her home town, to Kutha, seat of Underworld deities”
From the cuneiform texts of the British Museum, we are able to learn of the attributes of the Sumerian demons with which the Japanese archetypes also have close parallels:
They are gloomy, their shadow dark, no light is in their bodies,
ever they slink along covertly, walk not upright,
from their claws drips bitter gall, their footprints are (full of) evil venom…
The shivers and chills (of death) that fritter the sum of things, spawn of the god of heaven, spawned on an evil spirit, the death warrants, beloved sons of the storm god, born of the queen of the netherworld, who were torn out of heaven and hurled from the earth as castoffs, are creatures of hell, all.
Up above they roar, down below they cheep,
they are the bitter venom of the gods,
they are the great storms let loose from heaven,…
— Source: Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion, p.12
The above references to the “sons of the storm god” and the “great storms let loose from heaven” are also interesting as they ring a bell for they are the same attributes to be found in the Japanese Susanoo, who as spawn of Izanagi, is storm god and ruler of the Land of Yomi (the Netherworld):
Susano-o, Susa-no-O and Susanowo), also known as Takehaya Susanoo-no-Mikoto (建速須佐之男命) is interpreted to be the Shinto god of the sea and storms. He is also considered to be ruler of Yomi. According to the oldest sources ca. 680 AD Kojiki and ca. 720 AD Nihon Shoki texts, Susanoo was born from Izanagi’s nose, when he washed his face clean of the pollutants of Yomi, the underworld.
How Greek-Near-Eastern Motifs May Have Arrived in East Asia
It is possible that Susanoo, might be interpreted as “Susa-no”, meaning “of Susa” or “out of Susa” indicating an Akkadian/Elamite/Hittite provenance for the Japanese myth cycle…perhaps as the Akkadians fled Susa heading east, following the foreign invasions. Susa was controlled by king Šulgi of Ur and later by other Mesopotamian rulers, and in the fourth millennium (the “Uruk Period”), the city became the capital of Elam, and later fell to the Archaeomenid Persians, before being taken by the Greeks. At the beginning of the tumuli-building period, the only square or rectangular tombs (indicating ziggurat- or Persian/Sasanian-Zoroastrian-Mazdeian fire temple influences perhaps from refugees in Bactria or Iran who may have transmitted them to the Indo-Sakka-Wusun horsemen nomads who were to migrate to East Asia) that were distinctly different from the slightly later keyhole shaped or round tumuli were out of Shimane, the stronghold of the Susanoo and Land of Yomi myth.
According to Matteo Compareti’s, “Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana”, the Sogdians and Iranian Central Asians:
“…had a very important role in the process of transferring artistic typologies originally extraneous to Chinese and “barbarian” dynasties (such as the Wei) until the Sui (581–618). Such receptivity towards Central Asia had been active in China since the second-third centuries, even for works of Taoist art (especially sculptures), such as the Xiwangmu (Queen of the West) image created around the second century CE or the Kongwang Shan rock reliefs in Jiangsu”. Compareti also writes of “A famous sixth-century painting from Temple II at Panjakand is considered to be an indication that the Sogdians knew about Buddhist architecture (fig. 1). It is the so-called “funerary painting” of a figure lying inside a building similar to a stupa, …At Panjakand the painting, commonly identified as “funerary mourning for the corpse of Syavush,” was recently reinterpreted as representing mourning of the body of a Mesopotamian deity, connected to the seasonal cycle”. Thus, Sogdiana and nearby Bukara or Bactria, are thought to have been the gateways for Mesopotamian ideas, as well as Northern Wei period Buddhist, and pre-Iran Mazdeism and Manichaen influences into China, all the same ideas that were filtering into Japan in roughly the same periods. Xiwangmu images are also found in the Kofun period tumuli in Japan.
It is also possible that out of Bactria and Sogdiana Kushan or in the region of Northwest to Northeast India came an entire cultural package of mixed Near Eastern-Iranian-Hellenistic (Greek-Thracian) ideas and beliefs that influenced China and East Asia.
We find that the compilation effort of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki chronicles, and the manner of assembling the mixture of myths of early creation, deities epic hero-sage-kings, genealogies, resembles the Kayanian or Kayanid tradition of the Sasanians/Sasanids using court poets to compile historical epics that were related by professional minstrels and poets in the oral tradition, that was employed by the Archaemenids, Sassanids and Pathians. Touraj Daryaee wrote in great detail in his “National History or Keyanid history?: The Nature of Sasanid Zoroastrian Historiography” about the style of historiography undertaken by the pre-Iran Iranians or Persians:
“According to Strabo, Persian boys were educated by the wisest of men who used mythical stories rehearsed with song at times about the deeds of gods and the noblest men. …”
Many have also noted the woolly beginnings of the Kojiki genealogies that begin with the mention of a host of heavenly but nameless and uncharacterized faceless deities who precede the better known creator deities of the royal clan lineages, Ninigi, Izanagi and Izanami, Amaterasu and Susanoo, who in contrast, have detailed epic stories, etc., etc., etc. This “woolly” style of establishing a celestial ancestry of Japanese kings and a genealogy establishing their descent from the gods — is identical to the method employed by the Sasanian court called Keyanid historiography. The vagueness of and impetus for the Sasanid style of establishing genealogy and clan history is explained by Sara Mashayekh in “Epic of Kārnamag and the Late Sasanian Period” thus:
We do not see any name that goes further back than two generations with the exception of an obscure and unknown figure called lord Sāsān, Sāsān xwaday, who has been interpreted as father of Pābag by some scholars.43 What we could conclude from all that these is that the Sasanian monarchs were either from a humble background, where no ancestor worth mentioning existed, or they did simply not care and did not realize the importance of mentioning their lineage. The second possibility becomes stronger when we look at the inscription of Šābuhr’s son, Narsē I, in Paikuli. We can be certain that Narsē knew about his great grandfather, Pābag, yet he too, similar to his father, sees it sufficient to only mention his own father and grandfather and does not go any farther back than two generations. 44 Additionally, the behavior of the early Sasanian kings is in sharp contrast to those of ancient Persia rules such as Darius I, whose inscription in Behistun45 names his ancestors as far back as possible in order to demonstrate his legitimacy as the king.
One might be able to interpret this silence on the issue of ancestry as a lack of interest on the part of the Sasanian monarchs in creating an earthly lineage for themselves and the desire instead to promote a grander and much more important lineage for their family. While no male ancestor prior to the grandfathers is ever mentioned by any of these kings, something far more interesting exists on their coins and inscriptions which is much more majestic and awe inspiring than any ancestry they had or could create for themselves. These early kings all refer to themselves as one who is from the lineage of the gods, kē čihr az yazdān, 46a clear claim of divinity which is once again very different from what we know of from the previous Iranian dynasties such as the Achaemenids. In any case, whether it was the goal of establishing a celestial lineage or lack of any substantial earthly ones, or both, the way issue of lineage is being treated by the early Sasanian kings is in sharp contrast to how it is presented in the epic of kārnāmag.
Starting with the claim of lineage from the gods, we have the first major contradiction between the kārnāmag and the reality of the kings it is claiming to portray. Amid all the extraordinary and supernatural activities accomplished by Ardaxšīr in the kārnāmag, such as slaying a dragon, and in spite of all the honors being bestowed on him and his descendants as true and legitimate kings, nonetheless nowhere does a claim exist about celestial lineage. In the Kārnāmag, Ardaxšīr is a “kay” and thus is a member of the family of ancient legendary kings, the Kayanids through his descent from Dārāyān 47 and is being chased by the glory of the kingdom of his ancestors.48
It is suggested here that the need of the Sasanids to establish a celestial lineage by descent from the gods stemmed from a feeling of inferiority or pedigree-envy in not being able to establish their earthly lineages beyond their grandfathers, as opposed to the earlier ancient Persian-Aryan kings with their “kay” pedigrees that went back to a family of ancient legendary kings who could declare themselves true and legitimate kings. We see in the case of ancient Persia rulers such as Darius I, that the inscription in Behistun names his ancestors as far back as possible in order to demonstrate his legitimacy as the king [eg. see also the genealogy/family tree of Kayanian-Aryan kings of the Kayanian dynasty].
We would suggest here that it is no coincidence that the nature of the society of the Kofun period Japan is closely tied to the Kaya tribes of Korea, and the so called Kaya society is in fact, either descendants related to the Kayanians or the “kay”-fixated Sasanids of pre-Islamic Iran, or people of Iranic stock possibly the Indo-Sakka, Wusun-Ashina, Rajput-Kamboja or Bactrian-Kushan lineages, all of which groups have affinities to each other.
Below are extracts of writings that shed further light on the influence of the Greeks from South to Central to East Asia:
Hellenistic culture in the Indian subcontinent: Greek clothes, amphoras, wine and music (Detail from Chakhil-i-Ghoundi stupa, Hadda, Gandhara, 1st century CE).
The Kushan king Kanishka, who honored Zoroastrian, Greek and Brahmanic deities as well as the Buddha and was famous for his religious syncretism, convened the Fourth Buddhist Council around 100 CE in Kashmir in order to redact the Sarvastivadin canon. Some of Kanishka’s coins bear the earliest representations of the Buddha on a coin (around 120 CE), in Hellenistic style and with the word “Boddo” in Greek script.
Kanishka also had the original Gandhari vernacular, or Prakrit, Mahayana Buddhist texts translated into the high literary language of Sanskrit, “a turning point in the evolution of the Buddhist literary canon”
The “Kanishka casket”, dated to the first year of Kanishka’s reign in 127 CE, was signed by a Greek artist named Agesilas, who oversaw work at Kanishka’s stupas (caitya), confirming the direct involvement of Greeks with Buddhist realizations at such a late date.
The new syncretic form of Buddhism expanded fully into Eastern Asia soon after these events. The Kushan monk Lokaksema visited the Han Chinese court at Luoyang in 178 CE, and worked there for ten years to make the first known translations of Mahayana texts into Chinese. The new faith later spread into Korea and Japan, and was itself at the origin of Zen.
The Kalash people of northwestern Pakistan are unique in their customs and religion. Although surrounded by Moslems in all directions (Pakistan is essentially a Moslem state), they believe in ancient Greek gods and goddessess such as Zeus, Aphrodite, Hestia, and Apollo. Their language is principally a mixture of Sanskrit and Greek. They grow grapes and make wine (an illegal action in an Islamic country) and their diet is rich in fruits, vegetables and nuts. Unlike their neighbors who sit on the ground, they use stools and chairs and their carpentry is decorated with Macedonian stars and “suns”.
The geographical, cultural and historical context of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism during the 1st century BCE in northwestern India, all point to intense multi-cultural influences. According to Richard Foltz “Key formative influences on the early development of the Mahayana and Pure Land movements, which became so much part of East Asian civilization, are to be sought in Buddhism’s earlier encounters along the Silk Road”. As Mahayana Buddhism emerged, it received “influences from popular Hindu devotional cults (bhakti), Persian and Greco-Roman theologies which filtered into India from the northwest” (Tom Lowenstein, p63).
Greco-Persian cosmological influences
A popular figure in Greco-Buddhist art, the future Buddha Maitreya, has sometimes been linked to the Iranian yazata (Zoroastrian divinity) Miθra who was also adopted as a figure in a Greco-Roman syncretistic cult under the name of Mithras. Maitreya is the fifth Buddha of the present world-age, who will appear at some undefined future epoch. According to Richard Foltz, he “echoes the qualities of the Zoroastrian Saoshyant and the Christian Messiah”. However, in character and function, Maitreya does not much resemble either Mitra, Miθra or Mithras; his name is more obviously derived from the Sanskrit maitr? “kindliness”, equivalent to Pali mett?; the Pali (and probably older) form of his name, Metteyya, does not closely resemble the name Miθra.
The Buddha Amitabha (literally meaning “infinite radiance”) with his paradisiacal “Pure Land” in the West, according to Foltz, “seems to be understood as the Iranian god of light, equated with the sun”. This view is however not in accordance with the view taken of Amitabha by present-day Pure Land Buddhists, in which Amitabha is neither “equated with the sun” nor, strictly speaking, a god.
Buddhist monks from the region of Gandhara, where Greco-Buddhism was most influential, played a key role in the development and the transmission of Buddhist ideas in the direction of northern Asia.
Blue-eyed Central Asian Buddhist monk, with an East-Asian colleague, Tarim Basin, 9th-10th century.
Kushan monks, such as Lokaksema (c. 178 CE), travelled to the Chinese capital of Loyang, where they became the first translators of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. Central Asian and East Asian Buddhist monks appear to have maintained strong exchanges until around the 10th century, as indicated by frescos from the Tarim Basin.
Two half-brothers from Gandhara, Asanga and Vasubandhu (4th century), created the Yogacara or “Mind-only” school of Mahayana Buddhism, which through one of its major texts, the Lankavatara Sutra, became a founding block of Mahayana, and particularly Zen, philosophy.
In 485 CE, according to the Chinese historic treatise Liang Shu, five monks from Gandhara travelled to the country of Fusang (“The country of the extreme East” beyond the sea, probably eastern Japan, although some historians suggest the American Continent), where they introduced
“Fusang is located to the east of China, 20,000 li (1,500 kilometers) east of the state of Da Han (itself east of the state of Wa in modern Kyushu, Japan). (…) In former times, the people of Fusang knew nothing of the Buddhist religion, but in the second year of Da Ming of the Song dynasty (485 CE), five monks from Kipin (Kabul region of Gandhara) travelled by ship to Fusang. They propagated Buddhist doctrine, circulated scriptures and drawings, and advised the people to relinquish worldly attachments. As a results the customs of Fusang changed” (Ch:”扶桑在大漢國東二萬餘里,地在中國之東(…)其俗舊無佛法,宋大明二年,?賓國嘗有比丘五人游行至其國,流通佛法,經像,教令出家,風 俗遂改.”, Liang Shu, 7th century CE).
Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan-Buddhism which later became Zen, is described as a Central Asian Buddhist monk in the first Chinese references to him (Yan Xuan-Zhi, 547 CE), although later Chinese traditions describe him as coming from South India.
Intellectual influences in Asia
Through art and religion, the influence of Greco-Buddhism on the cultural make-up of East Asian countries, especially China, Korea and Japan, may have extended further into the intellectual area.
At the same time as Greco-Buddhist art and Mahayana schools of thought such as Dhy?na were transmitted to East Asia, central concepts of Hellenic culture such as virtue, excellence or quality may have been adopted by the cultures of Korea and Japan after a long diffusion among the Hellenized cities of Central Asia, to become a key part of their warrior and work ethics.
After Alexander, several Greek Kingdoms were created covering most of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of India that lasted for 3 centuries. The inhabitants were called Indo-Greeks. Only one ancient city has been excavated so far and it lies on the shores of the Amu Darya River. The city exhibits temples, a gymnasium, a palace, numerous buildings, and a huge theatre sculpted on the side of a hill with a superb view of the river valley and the tall mountains of what is now Tajikistan across.
These kingdoms ventured into India and expanded as far as the eastern parts of the Indian peninsula. Place names are still preserved today.
However, the legacy of these kingdoms outlasted the kings in culture and art that are still admired.
Greek techniques of stone and metalworking began to be used in India, Greek coins began to appear in the bazaars, and settlements of Greek type were found as urban islands in the sea of Indian native villages. The most important example of Greek influence in India is the upsurge of Buddhist art in Gandhara during the early Christian era, since called the Gandhara Art. This Greco-Indian school of art played a catalytic role in the development of Asian art. By creating the image of Buddha with the features of Apollo and wearing an ancient Greek tunic, the artists established an art religious in its meaning, but naturalistic and humanistic in its forms.
Examples can be admired today in the museums of Taxila, Peshawar, Swat, and Lahore, in the giant Buddha statues that were recently blown apart by the Taliban without a vigorous opposition from the civilized world.
One important piece of ancient art that is still “alive” today is the amazing over-abundance of coins of the Indo-Greek kings which are continually being unearthed by Afghan farmers and provide sometimes their only source of income after they are sold in the bazaars of Pakistan. These coins represent some of the finest coin-making of all time. They depict the kings on one side with some ancient Greek god or goddess on the other.
The abundance of gold supplies from Central Asia for several centuries before the arrival of the Greeks resulted in the minting of numerous coins as well as some enormous coins. In Afghanistan, one can find the largest gold and the largest silver coins ever minted. The silver coins had a diameter of 65 mm.! In some of the coins they incorporated nickel with a technique only known to the Chinese at that time.
Northeastern Afghanistan has been a supplier of precious stones since at least 5,000 B.C., and its ancient name was simply ” the vault” or Valaskia. The precious cargo was making its way through the so-called “Silk Route” to ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome, and later to the Byzantines, Europeans and now mostly to the Americans. In fact, the name Kalash is the ancient Greek name for lapis lazuli, possibly the only place on earth where it exists in abundance. The area is also rich in emeralds, rubies, spinel and others that provide a substantial share of the world production even during years of war, when the income from these stones becomes essential for the survival of the Afghan people.
The Kalash People
Greco-Buddhism, sometimes spelled Graeco-Buddhism, refers to the cultural syncretism between Hellenistic culture and Buddhism, which developed between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE in the area covered by the Indian sub-continent, and modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-western border regions of modern India. It was a cultural consequence of a long chain of interactions begun by Greek forays into India from the time of Alexander the Great, carried further by the establishment of Indo-Greek rule in the area for some centuries, and extended during flourishing of the Hellenized empire of the Kushans. Greco-Buddhism influenced the artistic, and perhaps the spiritual development of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism, which represents one of the two main branches of Buddhism. The Buddhist religious system was then adopted in Central and Northeastern Asia, from the 1st century CE, ultimately spreading to China, Korea and Japan.
Buddhist manuscripts in cursive Greek have been found in Afghanistan, praising various Buddhas and including mentions of the Mahayana Lokesvara-raja Buddha (λωγοασφαροραζοβοδδο). These manuscripts have been dated later than the 2nd century CE. (Nicholas Sims-Williams, “A Bactrian Buddhist Manuscript”).
Some elements of the Mahayana movement may have begun around the 1st century BCE in northwestern India, at the time and place of these interactions. According to most scholars, the main sutras of Mahayana were written after 100 BCE, when sectarian conflicts arose among Nikaya Buddhist sects regarding the humanity or super-humanity of the Buddha and questions of metaphysical essentialism, on which Greek thought may have had some influence: “It may have been a Greek-influenced and Greek-carried form of Buddhism that passed north and east along the Silk Road”.
The Kushan empire (1st-3rd century CE)
The Kushans, one of the five tribes of the Yuezhi confederation settled in Bactria since around 125 BCE when they displaced the Greco-Bactrians, invaded the northern parts of Pakistan and India from around 1 CE.
By that time they had already been in contact with Greek culture and the Indo-Greek kingdoms for more than a century. They used the Greek script to write their language, as exemplified by their coins and their adoption of the Greek alphabet. The absorption of Greek historical and mythological culture is suggested by Kushan sculptures representing Dionysiac scenes or even the story of the Trojan horse and it is probable that Greek communities remained under Kushan rule.
— Source: The Ancient Greeks in Afghanistan and Their Probable Descendants Today in Nuristan, Afghanistan and in the Kalash People, Pakistan by Michael Issigonis
National History or Keyanid History?: The Nature of Sasanid-Zoroastrian Historiography, Iranian Studies, Vol 28, nos 3-4 Summer/Fall 1995
Epic of Kārnamag and the Late Sasanian Period by Sara Mashayekh e-Sasanika Graduate Paper 2, 2011
Other source references:
“Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana” Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008)