Gardez Ganesha: A Remnant of Afghanistan's long-lost past

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    Deep within the bylanes of Taliban controlled Kabul, is the Pir Ratan Nath Dargah, one of the few surviving Hindu temples of Afghanistan. What makes this temple so unique is the presence of a massive idol of Lord Ganesha, which is a remnant of the region’s rich pre-Islamic history.

    In 1956, the Indian archaeological delegation to Afghanistan came across this large idol in Kabul. It had originally come from the town of Gardez, around 70 km from Kabul.

    This ancient idol of Lord Ganesha, or the Gardez Ganesha as it became known, is revered by Hindus as the deity of wisdom and prosperity and is a poignant reminder of a time when diverse cultures thrived in what is now known as Afghanistan.

    Historians believe that the Gardez Ganesha was carved more than a millennia ago, sometime during the 6th or 7th centuries CE. A short inscription at the bottom of this idol states:

    ‘The image of the Maha Vinayaka was installed by Maharajadhiraja Sahi Khingala in his eight regnal year’.

    Cross-referencing it with Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, ‘Khingala’ was probably the Huna ruler of Kashmir, Narendraditya Khingala (597-633 CE), son of Gokarna and grandson of Pravarasena. Not much is known of his rule except that like other Huna kings, he too was a great devotee of Shiva.

    During this period, Afghanistan served as a crossroads for various civilizations, and the Gandhara region was a melting pot of Buddhist, Hindu, and Hellenistic influences.

    The idol itself is a work of art, carved from a single block of stone with meticulous detail. Ganesha, often depicted with an elephant's head and a portly human body, sits majestically in a meditative pose, exuding an aura of tranquility and wisdom. His four arms hold symbolic objects, each representing a different aspect of life and knowledge.

    Despite the passage of centuries and the turbulent history of Afghanistan, the Gardez Ganesha has managed to endure. It has withstood the test of time, surviving wars, invasions, and shifting political landscapes. Today, it stands as a poignant symbol of Afghanistan's diverse and multicultural past, a testament to the rich tapestry of beliefs and traditions that once thrived in the region.

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