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The History of the White Huns



The subject of our research is a people that official historians refer to by many names. These names are the following: Sweta Hunas or Khidaritas in Sanskrit, Ephtalites or Hephtalites in Greek and in the European languages, Haitals in Armenian and Heaitels in Arabic and Persian. The Byzantine historian, Theophylactos Simocattes, called them Abdeles, while, according to the Chinese Annals, the name of this people is Ye-ta-li-to because their ruler was called Yertha (Hephtal). The earlier Indian sources called them the Chionites. However, all these different names refer to only one people: the White Huns. In the historical texts they are indicated as Hephtalites.

For a long time, it was debated whether they were identical to the Hsiung-nus, who originated from China, split up many times and finally settled in the Oxus (Amu-Darya) Valley, At that time, they were already called Western Hunas in Indian sources. From the northern Hsiung-nus originated the Asian Huns - or the Black Huns - who moved first to the Caucasus, later on to Europe and became a world power. They were the people of Balamber - Munduk - Rua - Atilla - or the ancestors of the Hungarians.

The many archeological finds, excavated since the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the Sanskrit literary and religious works from the early centuries A.D.[1] and, last but not least, the accurate Chinese Annals, chronologically parallel to the Indian sources, prove that the greater part of the White Huns consisted of the Western Hunas. The famous Chinese Buddhist monks — one of them, Sung Yun, who visited India at the time of the Hephtalite kingdom - and the other, Hsuan Tsang, who went there a few decades later, gave details about the White Huns in their accounts. However, the Hephtalites had mixed with other nations before they arrived in India,

The early appearance of the hephtalites

The Western Hunas appeared in Transoxiana - the grassland between the Rivers Oxus (Amu-Darya) and Jaxartes (Sir-Darya) - at the end of the 3rd century A.D.[2] At that time they did not mix with other tribes but, because they had a strong army and they were remarkably brave, they conquered more and more territories south of their settlements. At the beginning of the 4th century A.D., they occupied Tokharistan and Bactria (now North Afghanistan), The Greek historian Proeopius distinguished them from Atilla's Huns, who wandered toward the west and conquered a great part of Europe.[3] According to him, their culture and appearance were better than those of the Northern Huns. Proeopius wrote that the Hephtalites were taller, more beautiful and their skin was fairer than that of the Asian Huns. Here we should mention that the colors written in the ancient sources did not indicate the skin color. The Northern Huns were the Black Huns because, in their ancient history, they had adopted the names of colors in agreement with the four cardinal points. It was customary among the Central Asian peoples."Black" always indicates the more severe, northern region, "white" means the western, "green" or "blue" means the southern, while"red" indicates the eastern territories, so the descriptions of color are not connected with the people's skin color. The majority of researchers state that the Chionites or, as they are also known, the Hionos joined the White Huns already in Transoxiana.[4],[5] They were related to the Western Hunas. Other scholars theorize that the White Huns were the descendants of the Kushans - or as they are known in Persian: the "shanan-shahis" (the Kings of the kings) living in Bactria and Gandhara (now North Pakistan) at that time.[6],[7] The Kushans were defeated by the Sassanians in 239 A.D. and became their vassals, yet they had relative independence. The Hephtalites confirmed the later opinion, too, when, mainly in the first period of their conquest, they called themselves "shahan-shahis" on their coins. They used the Greek script and the Bactrian dialect of the Persian language. They wanted to prove, by their coins, that they were the successors of the Kushans and that they could rightfully claim the occupied territories.

As a matter of fact, the above-mentioned scholars are correct. The main body of the White Huns consisted of the Western Hunas, who had separated from the Hsiung-nus. However, the Chionites and the Kushans of Bactria joined the newcomers, the strong people of Central Asia. They hoped that, with the help of the Hephtalites, they could re-con-quer their East-Iranian and north-north-western Indian territories. The Khidarites - who also joined the White Huns — belonged to the later Kushans, too. A Ta Yiieh-chi (Great Yiieh-chi) prince, Khidara, and his tribe became independent from the Sassanian rule at the beginning of the 4th century A.D. and occupied the eastern part of Gandhara, This fact is proven by the Khidarita coins excavated there. The pillar found in Allahabad, India proves this, too, as the following text is written on it: "Near the border of Northern India lives a prince called Devaputra Sahanushahi (son of God - King of kings)".[8] As this title always belonged to the Kushan rulers originating from the Great Yiieh-chis, it means that Khidara was their successor and the Khidarites were his nation. According to archeologists, the pillar was constructed around 340 A.D,, so the Hephtalites and their "kindred tribes": the Kushans, the Chionites and the Khidarites, arrived at the Indian border at that time.

The Hephtalites in Persia

After occupying Bactria, the strong White Hun army made its way toward Persia. The fact that a so-called nomadic nation, like the Hephtalites and their predecessors, the Kushans, wanted to conquer the settled, wealthy peoples of ancient culture was understandable from their point of view. The nomadic nations were stock-breeders and agricultural peoples in the Bronze Age, according to the archeological finds. However, because of the climatic change in Central Asia, their cultivated fields became steppes or even uncultivable deserts. At that time, they adopted the nomadic, pastoral way of life "with their high degree of adaptation to the environmental possibilities".[9] These harsh circumstances made them strong, brave warriors. Since they possessed only the products derived from stock-breeding, and the exchange of these products did not cover their needs, sometime they had to plunder the richer settled countries surrounding Central Asia. For them, war was almost a profession of livelihood. Initially, they obtained their booty or tribute from China but the Chinese began to build walls as a protection against them.

After that, the nomads wandered toward the west; one group of them occupied the Transcaucasian territories, while others migrated to the south into the small oasis-states of Fergana and Sogdiana and later to Bactria and Gandhara; finally the "fabulous India" became the target of their conquests. They were slowly assimilated into the peoples of the occupied lands; the majority of the tribes even settled there because they did not want to go back to the severe climate of the steppes or the deserts.

It is clear from the archeological finds of the Kushans and the Hephtalites that their kings tolerated nearly all the Asian religions and adopted the customs, languages and religions of the occupied countries. We can find the symbols of the Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Shaiva religions on their coins; moreover the Greek deities appear on the Bactrian finds, characteristic of the late Greco-Bactrian period. We can see the script and language of the conquered countries. On one side of the coin the king's name and title are written in Greek letters in the Bactrian dialect of the Persian language, while on the reverse with Kharosthi script, in Prakrit or with Brahmi script, in Sanskrit. These facts prove their high degree of adaptability.

The wars fought against the Sassanians in Persia actually started because of the Sassa-nian king, Firoz. He withheld the war booty, or at least a part of it, from the Huns, although it was necessary for their living. The Hephtalites came into contact with Yazdigird, the Sas-sanian king, in 457 A.D,, winning many successful battles against him. After Yazdigird's death, his son, Firoz, was the heir to the crown but his younger brother, Hormuzd, deposed him. At that time, Firoz asked the Hephtalites for help and, together with them, he defeated Hormuzd and his army. The King of the White Huns was called Khushnewaz and he already ruled Tokharistan, Badakshan and Bactria.[10] Firoz - though the chiefs of his army warned him - did not pay the agreed war tribute and even started a war against the Hephtalites.[11] He lost the war and a part of his army was destroyed. The White Huns occupied the important town of Gorgo at the Persian-Bactrian border. Firoz again attacked the Hephtalites, taking his sons with him; he left behind only his youngest son, Kubad. The Sassanians suffered a crushing defeat; Firoz and his sons died in the battle. The Sassanian Empire became the vassal of the Hephtalites for a short time. They paid a war tribute every year and they lost two important provinces: Merv and Herat. After the Persian victory, the White Huns prepared for a new conquest: India.

However, before writing about the wars in India, we should refer to the sources mentioning the White Huns. Besides the well-known European and West Asian sources: e.g. Proeopius, Theophylactos Simocattes, Moses Khoreni, Jordanes, Ammianus Marcellinus and Cosmas Indicopleustes, primarily the always correct Chinese Annals and the reports of two Buddhist monks, Sung Yun and Hsuan-tsang, the Arabian Al-Beruni and the Persian Fir-dause help us to understand that era. However, because a significant part of the Hephtalite kingdom belonged to ancient India, the Indian literary works, religious scripts and archeo-logical finds contributed to the revelation of their history. The research of the White Huns in Hungary was insufficient because it did not take into consideration the Indian sources.

The Hephtalites, while still living in the Oxus Valley in the 4th century, are mentioned in the Indian Puranas[12], written in Sanskrit. First of all, the Vishnu Purana and the Aitar-eya Brahmana refer to them, calling them "Hunas".[13] At the beginning of the 5th century, the famous poet-writer, Kalidasa, writes about them in his Sanskrit epic: the Raghuvamsha (Raghu's nation):

"Tatra Hunavarodhanam bhartrishu vyaktavikman Kapolapataladeshi babhuva Raghuceshtitam" (68)[14]

The abovementioned quotation translated: "The Huns live in the Oxus Valley. They were created to practice power but the cheeks of their wives blush when they hear of the victory of the heroic Raghu." The other important literary work is Kalhana's Rajatarangini (The Chronicle of the Kings). This work of many volumes by the Kashmirian historian was first translated from Sanskrit into English by Aurel Stein in 1900 A.D.

The data in Kalhana's work should always be compared with other sources because the Kashmirian author dealt freely with the historical facts and dates. However, the names of his books are real and, if we compare his dates with the correct Chinese sources, and the Sanskrit and Prakrit epigraphs and coins found at the archeological excavations, we can obtain the exact data.

Apart from the above-mentioned sources, there is the poem: Harshacarita (The deeds of Harsha) written by Bana, the court poet of King Harsha (606-640 A.D.), In this poem, Bana mentioned that the father of the famous Indian King Harsha finally defeated the Huns at the beginning of the 7th century.[15] We should mention that this was not true because, according to the Puranas, the Huns ruled India for 300 years, though after 565 A.D. only in Kashmir and in a part of Punjab, but still it was a large territory.

The other important and frequently quoted work is a Jaina[16] religious book from Jais-almer, Rajasthan. It is the Kuvalayamala.[17] Moreover, the epigraphs found on pillars, temple ruins and buildings of that period can help us to identify the names of the rulers, the date of their reign, their wars, and victories or defeats. We shall refer to the sources in the proper places in this essay.

The Hephtalites in India

The noted Indian scholar, Professor Modi, remarked: "The Huns always headed for India, whether they were victorious or defeated; in the first case they felt their power and in the second case they wanted new grazing grounds and booty."[18]

Modi's statement is supported by the Indian sources; according to them, the first Hun attack against India took place in 455 A.D. in the Punjab - now in the territory of Pakistan - but, at that time, the Indian King, Skandagupta, defeated them.[19] This fact was recorded on the pillar of victory set up in Bhitari:

"Skanda Gupta of great glory, who ruled by his own power, the abode of kingly qualities, after his father had attained the position of being a friend of the gods (that means, he had died.E. A.) - and whose fame was recognized even among his enemies in the counties of the Mlecchas (slaves, strangers E.A.) ..... after he had broken their pride down to the root, announced: verily the victory had been achieved by him."[20]

The word, Mlecchas, or strangers of lower caste, naturally meant the attacking Huns. So, at that time, the Indian army was victorious. The same epigraph was written on a stone pillar in Western India, in Junagadh. Junagadh is situated in Gujarat Province near Kathiawar; this place was Skandagupta's headquarters and he wanted to announce his victory there, too. The above-mentioned Bhitari is in Punjab.

The latest researches and the excavations in the north-western part of Pakistan - where some Hephtalite coins and epigraphs were found - prove that Toramana (his original Hun name: Turman) was not the first major Hun ruler in India. On the coins, the names, Tun-jina or Tujina, are written in Brahmi script and, on the reverse of the coins, his titles, tigin or tegin, are given, too. It seems that the dual power was well-known by the White Huns, as Tunjina was war lord and ruler, while the seat of the kagan[21] was near Bokhara in the north; this fact we know from the Persian sources. The title "tegin" already existed at the time of the White Huns, as is proven by their coins. It is not true that this title appeared only later with the Khazars and the Avars.

Moreover, the name Tunjina was mentioned in Kalhana's Rajatarangini as the first Hun ruler who entered India and invaded Kashmir. As we mentioned before, Kalhana's work should be treated cautiously because he wrote it in the 12th century A.D. and, although he referred to authentic historians, it is primarily based on traditions and legends. The names of the historical persons and the stories belonging to them are real, but the chronology is uncertain. His data should be compared with other sources. Therefore, from these other sources, the fact is proven that the father of Toramana, and the founder of the conquering dynasty, was Tunjina.[22] He was ruling from 465 to 484 A.D,, so the first Hun campaign in 455 A.D. was not commanded by him. This battle ended with a Hun defeat. However, in 475 A.D,, Tunjina quickly and successfully entered India with his army and occupied the Punjab and even the northern part of the Ganges Basin. In 484 A.D., his son, Toramana, the energetic and talented tegin - war lord - became the leader of the Hephtalites.


First of all, we should mention the Indian epigraphs that prove Toramanas reign and his conquests. We know of three such stone inscriptions:

1) The Eran statue inscription. Eran was in the northern part of the province of Madhya Pradesh, so almost in the center of India. It seems that the Hephtalite ruler had already conquered Northern and Western India. The statue most probably stood in front of a temple built for Vishnu and the following text is written in Brahmi script on its pedestal:

"In the first year of the rule of Maharajadhiraja (the King of kings): Shri Toramana, who is governing the earth with great fame and luster."[23]

2) The inscription on the Kura main pillar. Kura is a town situated in Northern Punjab - today it belongs to Pakistan. The following text is written on the stone pillar in Brahmi script:

"This was engraved during the reign of Maharajadhiraja Shri Toramana, the great Saha Javlah."[24]

There is no date on the inscription but we are sure that it was made in the last quarter of the 5th century. The title: "King of kings" - in Sanskrit: Maharajadhiraja - is engraved in both the stone epigraphs but, on the Kura pillar, the title, Saha, can be seen, too. This indicated that he and the Hephtalites were the rightful descendants of the Kushans, since the Kushan kings had used this name, though Toramana kept his own Hun identity to some extent, as the word"Javla" appears on the pillar inscription. Researchers offer different interpretations of this word. On the one hand, it means the birthplace of Toramana, the city that had been their head-quarters since the Persian and Gandharian wars, namely Kabul. They called this city in their own language: Jaula, Javlah, Zabula or Zabola. These names can be found on their different coins. So the title Saha Javlah means: "the ruler from Kabul". However, the words: "Javlah, Juvl" meant "falcon" in the old Turkic[25] language;[26] this could have been the sacred bird of the White Huns, as the turul falcon is that of the Hungarians. Therefore, if the words Javlah, Zabula, Zabola meant the name of the city, we should mention that these words are also of Turkic origin. In the eastern part of Iran, near the Afghan border, there is a town called Zabola, and in Transylvania, too, we know of a place called Zabola.

3) The Gwalior inscription. Toramana is mentioned on this, too, but the inscription was made during the reign of his son and successor, Mihirakula, most probably in 530 A.D. It was engraved on a pillar of the temple, built for the worship of the Sun God and Shiva. Gwalior is a town in the center of India.

After mentioning the usual laudatory titles, the epigraph informs us about the exact date of the temple's erection, which was the 15th year of Mihirakula's reign. This means that Mihirakula ruled from 515 A.D. and his father, Toramana, between 484 and 515 A.D. The text of the inscription follows:

"Of him, the fame of whose family has risen high, the son of Toramana, the Lord of the Earth, who is renowned under the name Mihirakula, who unbrokenly worships Pasu-pati.[27]

Pasupati is one of Shiva's different names. It appears from the epigraph that both Mihirakula and Toramana were followers of Shiva.

Besides these three inscriptions, numerous coins give information about the first really important Hun ruler, who - according to the sites where these coins were found - occupied Bactria, Eastern Iran, Gandhara, Kashmir, Northern and North-Western India, as far as the Ganges Plain and Rajasthan in the west and Madhya Pradesh (Middle Province) in the center of India. This means that he ruled almost half of India. During his long reign, he won many successful conquering wars. The Toramana coins were current even in the 18th century in the Kashmirian bazaars. On his coins appear the names "Sahi Zabula" or "Sahi Jauvla" and, on the reverse side, Shiva and his animal carrier, the Nandi bull, or the symbol of the Sun God, the Sun-wheel is visible. Obviously the worship of the Sun God was their original nature-religion. However, as one of the best Indian Hun researchers, Atrevi Biswas, noted in her book "It is a remarkable feature of the Central Asian invaders that, wherever they went, they adopted the local customs, beliefs and traditions, even the languages, and they adapted themselves according to their new environments. This strong quality of assimilation persisted when they entered India,"[28]

Besides the stone inscriptions and coins, the Buddhist religious books - the already-mentioned Jaina Kuvalayamala and Kalhana's Rajatarangini - inform us about the White Hun king. From these sources - though not always authentically — we may get some data about Toramana, the war lord and the man. He occupied almost half of India's territory in the first year of his reign, in 484 A.D., as the Gupta Empire had become weak by that time, and the smaller Indian principalities were fighting against each other. We can conclude, on the basis of the above-mentioned works, that "Toramana was a remarkable and talented personality, whose achievements in India were no less great than those of Alexander. He was the first foreign ruler in India, who built up a vast empire from Central Asia to Central India. He was a born fighter who, with his well-organized army, gave the Hunas a stable home for more than a hundred years, a better one than their original home in Inner Mongolia. After Atilla, he was the only general who re-organized the Hunas, under his inspiring leadership, to a nation-reborn after many failures".[29] He was not only a great conqueror but also a good organizer and administrator. Indeed, he developed his own state organization: Kabul and Purushapura (near Peshawar, today in Pakistan) became his headquarters in the North and the territory of Malwa and its towns were his center in the South. Malwa had also been the central place of the Indo-Scythians and the Kushans. Malwa included the states of today's Rajasthan and western Madhya Pradesh. Toramana appointed Indian princes to important posts, ensuring their loyalty. He tolerated the three religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism and even supported them. He did not change the administration; he did not trouble anybody needlessly; there was a measure of peace :in the country; therefore the people accepted him.

After a long reign, Toramana died in Benares in 515 A.D. Before his death, he declared his son, Mihirakula, his successor. Unfortunately, the Crown Prince did not inherit his father's patience and straightforwardness,


He was a great conqueror but a short-tempered man with a contradictory character; he ruled from 515 to 533 in the greater part of India, according to the sources, and after two fateful battles, he ruled only in Kashmir for some time. His name appears in the epigraph found in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, as Mihiragula[30], It must have been his original Hun name; its second part: gula indicates the name and royal profession of the Magyar gyula, as he was a tegin and had the same duty as that of the later "gyulas": a ruling war lord.

The inscriptions about Mihirakula are the following:

1) The Gwalior inscription made in 530 A.D. We have mentioned it before, in connection with Toramana.

2) The Mandasor inscription.[31] Its date is most probably 533 A.D. It appeared only three years after the above-mentioned epigraph and it informs us - in contrast to the announcement of Mihirakula's victory in Gwalior - about his defeat by Yasodharman, a tribal prince.

The text follows:

"To the glory of Yasodharman, who occupied the Earth from the River Lauhitya (Brahmaputra) up to the western ocean and from the Himalayas up to the Mount of Mahendra, who forced the famous Huna king, Mihirakula, to bend down his forehead by the strength of Yasodharman's arm. Mihirakula's head had never previously been brought into humility in obedience to any other, save the God Sthanu."

Sthanu is Shiva's other name; it is also proven from the above-mentioned text that Mihirakula was a great devotee of Lord Shiva.

However, the inscription glorifying Yasodharman exaggerates - as was the custom of that time - because, according to the Indian scholars, he was only a tribal prince in a part of today's Gujarat and, most probably, he could not have ruled the great territory of India, up to the river Brahmaputra. In the eastern part of the country the already re-established Gupta Empire existed.

As we have mentioned before, the Mihirakula co ins were found first of all in Bactria, the territory of the present Afghanistan, and also in Kashmir and in different parts of India. On one of the coins found in Uruzgan, the next inscription appears, most probably in their own language:

"Boggo saho zovolovo Mihroziki", in translation: "To the glorious King, Mihirakula of Zabul".

On one side of his silver coins, the King's half-length portrait can be seen, with an inscription in the Persian language and, on the reverse, appear the Sun-disk and the Moon crescent; sometimes the fire-altar symbolizing the Mazda religion appears; on another occasion the bow and arrow or the trident, the symbol of Shiva, appear.

The literary sources about the Hephtalites are the abovementioned Rajatarangini and Kuvalayamala and the recollections of the famous Chinese monk, Huan-Tsang, who went to India two generations later. His accounts are based on legends and are to some extent exaggerated. Mihirakula's contemporary, the Chinese pilgrim, Sung Yun, gives some information about the Hun King and, although he does not draw a positive picture of him, his accounts are free of prejudice. Sung Yun arrived in Kashmir in about 520 A.D. and brought a letter from his master, the Chinese Emperor, to the Hephtalite King. Aurel Stein's account about the story in the court of Kashmir follows: "The pious pilgrim mentions that it was a sign of the King's barbarous arrogance and self-conceit that he was seated while he listened to the Chinese Emperor's letter of recommendation, while the other princes received the message of the Son of Heaven, the great Emperor Vui, with full honors, standing."[32] The Chinese author added to his account:"Kashmir remains under the power of a barbarous people."

We have to admit that the Rajatarangini is more just to Mihirakula in this case, because according to Kalhana, the King answered the offended pilgrim: "If the Emperor had come here personally, I would naturally have received him standing but why should I pay respect to a piece of paper?" This answer shows Mihirakula's sense of humor, too, but there is no doubt that he was an arrogant and cruel ruler, according to all sources.

However, he was an excellent military leader. He inherited from his father a vast country and he extended it with his campaigns to the South, as far as Indore - which is in the center of India, but the whole subcontinent, even the southern provinces, became his vassal. A Greek sailor-missionary, called Cosmas Indicopleustes, who traveled to India in 530 A.D., gave an account about this fact in his book: Christiana Topographia. He wrote the following: "India is ruled by the White Huns under the leadership of King Gollas, who goes to war with 2000 elephants and a large cavalry. The whole country is under his command and he takes tributes from far regions." According to Stein, the name, Gollas, contains the second part of Mihirakula's name (in the case of Greek authors, we should leave out the word-ending, "s") and in this way we can get the word: gula.[33]

According to the Rajatarangini, Mihirakula persecuted the Buddhist monks but he was a follower of Hinduism, primarily the Shaiva branch of it.[34] He was a brave, strong warrior but fanatically held onto his power. However, he built a temple called Mihireshwar, in Kashmir, near Shrinagar, for the worship of Shiva and the Sun God.

Otherwise he was a simple person; he lived in a tent among his soldiers and he was constantly fighting to keep the occupied huge territories.

According to the Mandasor inscription, as we mentioned before, Mihirakula was defeated in 533 A.D. by Yasodharman, a tribal prince from Western India. At that time, he wanted to ensure his power in the eastern part of his empire, but there, in the surroundings of Pataliputra (the present Patna, capital of Bihar state) he and his army suffered a crushing defeat from Baladitva, the king of the eastern province. Baladitya, the vassal of Mihirakula, did not want to pay the tribute to the Huns any longer. The Hun Emperor became very angry and started out with his army to punish the eastern king. However, in the marshlands near the Bay of Bengal, Mihirakula lost many soldiers, while his enemy and his troops knew their native terrain well. Baladitya, a devout Buddhist, did not kill his enemy. The Hun Emperor withdrew to Kashmir, after the defeat, because he had learned that his younger brother had occupied Shakala, his northern capital. The Prince of Kashmir gave him asylum but Mihirakula overthrew the Prince with intrigues and took the throne. He could not enjoy his power for long, as he died of disease in 533 A.D.[35] One of his successors was defeated in 558 A.D, by the Sassanian King, Kushrew Anushirwan and, at the same time, by the Turkish army in the North. The headquarters of the kagan - near Bokhara - surrendered in 565 A.D.

The opinions of the Indian scholars are divided about Mihirakula, the great conqueror, but the enemy of Buddhism, U. Thakur, writes the following about him: "While his father gave a new country to the Hunas and was accepted by the Indians, Mihirakula made the Huna name dreaded and hated in India, The result was that, after a hundred years in power, the great Hephtalite Empire ended and a talented people had to flee from India."[36] At the same time, another Hun researcher, Atreyi Biswas, pointed out that the Buddhist accounts are always one-sided and exaggerated and the actions of Mihirakula were not as cruel as stated by the Rajatarangini and the two Chinese monks.[37]

The traditions and the often-mentioned Rajatarangini inform us that the rule of the Hephtalites did not end with Mihirakula's death, and just state that this rule did not extend over the whole country, not even over the larger part of it. The most reliable books of Indian historiography are the Puranas and, according to them, the Huns ruled 300 years altogether, primarily in Kashmir and in the greater part of the Punjab and they had eleven rulers, including Tunjina, Toramana and Mihirakula.[38] As the book Rajatarangini should always be compared with other sources, in this case, with the excavated coins and inscriptions, we may state the following with almost full certainty: after Mihirakula's death, his youngest brother (half-brother), Pravarasena, followed by his son, Gokarna: Gokarna's son, Khinkhila and his son, Yudhishthira; and finally Khinkhila's grandson, Lakhana, ruled the northern part of India until 670 A.D. - for 200 years, instead of 300 years mentioned in the Puranas - since they won their first victory in 475 A.D. However, the information in the Puranas was validated by the archeological finds that indicated that isolated "Huna Mandalas" - Hun centers - existed even in the 10th century, both in Rajasthan and in the North. The account of Hsuan-Tsang also confirms the above-mentioned statements of the Puranas.

When he traveled toward Nalanda in 633 A.D., Hsuan-Tsang wrote about Kashmir and its people: "Fierce and wild people live in this land; they are uncivilized and their language is different from the Indian languages; it sounds harsher. They are a borderland people with barbarous customs."[39] His account is biased as he added: "the people are non-Buddhist".


He was Toramana's youngest son, who was a young child when his father died in 515 A.D. We should mention that polygamy was customary among the rulers both in Central Asia and ancient India. For instance, in the Hsiung-nu history, we remember the case of Mao-tun sbanyu[40], who was the Crown Prince but his father wanted to have him killed because he wished to put his younger son on the throne. Maotun took revenge, when he killed his father and stepbrother. But Rama, the hero of Ramayana, also had to go into exile, because his father had promised his younger wife that her son would be the crown-prince. In the case of Pravarasena, the situation was different. His half-brother, the powerful Mihirakula, would not let him near the throne. According to the Rajatarangini, after Toramana's death, Pravarasena was hidden by his mother and uncle in a potter's house, then later he went to a northern country and lived there as a pilgrim. We should mention that Pravarasena's name is entirely Indian, unlike the names of his father and grandfather. Pravarasena went back to Kashmir from the North, after Mihirakula's death, and ascended the Kashmirian throne. According to the Rajatarangini this happened in 533 A.D. but some Indian scholars dispute this date because, after Mihirakula's death, a prince from another dynasty ruled the country for some years. It seems that Pravarasena's rule began in 537 A.D. He was about 25 years old at that time.

According to Kalhana, he reigned for 60 years; that means till 597 A.D. This is verified by the inscriptions and the books of praise of the court poets of the Indian kings having connections with Pravarasena - either as his allies or as his enemies.

With his army, he helped Siladitva, the Prince of Malwa in Saurashtra (in the present Gujarat) to save the latter's throne from Prabhakaravardhana, the King of Thanesar.[41]

This means that he was a powerful and influential ruler. According to the Indian researchers, Pravarasena later lost an important battle to Prabhakaravardhana in the western part of India, This fact was mentioned by Bana, the court poet of King Harsha from Thanesar. Bana writes the following in his book praising the King: "Harshacarita" (The deeds of Harsha):

"Vardhana was a lion to the Huna deer, the axe, cutting the creeping-plant of Malwa's glory."[42]

The battle took place in 587 A.D, and Vardhana was Harsha's father. Malwa - the present Rajasthan - was always the center of the Huns. Before that, it was the center of the Kushans; it was the headquarters of both nations. The term "Huna deer" is interesting because the deer was most probably their sacred animal, the symbol of the Hephtalites, - in addition to the falcon: "Juvl" - and it was also a symbol of the Magyars. In the excavated Hun graves in Mongolia, the pictures of deer are visible on the fairly intact carpets.

The above-mentioned battle did not change the fact that, according to the Rajatarangini and to the accounts of Hsuan-Tsang the country of Pravarasena included Kashmir, the north-western part of the Punjab, the Swat-Basin, the southern part of Bactria and Gandhara. It was a large territory. The places where their coins were found prove that the headquarters of the late Hephtalites were the same as those of their ancestors, that means: Bactria, Kabul and the valley of the River Kabul,

The Rajatarangini mentions that Pravarasena had a major town, called Paravarase-napura, built near the present Shrinagar, the capital of Kashmir, Here, too, the Huns built a bridge.[43]

Pravarasena had his own coins and on these - as was usual on the coins of the Hephtalites - the word"Kidara" appeared next to the ruler's name. They wanted to show their ancient Kushan-Kidarita origin or relationship and the fact that they ruled the occupied territories rightfully.[44]

According to Kalhana, Pravarasena, although he was the half-brother of Mihirakula, was a kind and wise ruler - contrary to his predecessor - and he was accepted by his subjects during his long reign.

Among the Hun rulers in Kashmir, mentioned in the Puranas, Pravarasena was followed by his son: Gokarna, who ruled for a short time. Some of his coins were found in Northern India.[45] His son, Khinkhila, dedicated a temple to Shiva in Kashmir and ruled for 36 years, according to the Rajatarangini. This statement was proven by the excavations undertaken in Afghanistan in the second half of the last century, when archeologists found a statue of Ganesha in Gardez, in the Swat-Basin, south of Kabul. On the base of the statue, a few lines were engraved in Northern-Indian Brahmin script, most probably in the middle of the 7th century. The inscription was engraved for"Maharajadiraja Sahi Khingala", who was identified with the above-mentioned Khinkhila by the scholars.[46] So this means, the Rajatarangini was right, only the date was incorrect; Khinkhila ruled between 600 and 633 A.D., presumably, and his reign in Kashmir coincided with the Indian journey of Hsuan-Tsang who stopped in Kashmir and wrote that its ruler was not Buddhist and was descended from a lower caste.[47] This description, from Hsuan-Tsang's point of view, fitted Khinkhila, who, as a foreigner, was not considered by the Indians to be a person belonging to a higher caste and, indeed, he was not a Buddhist but a Shaiva.

When Hsuan-Tsang was returning home, after his long Indian sojourn, he stopped again in Kashmir and, at that time, Khinkhila's son, Judhishthira, was on the throne. The Chinese monk wrote highly about him. According to the Rajatarangini, Judhishthira ruled for 24 years, from 633 to 557 A.D. Judhishthiras son, Lakhana. whose coins were also found, ruled for 13 years in Kashmir.[48]

The names and dates of the reigns of the other Hun kings - mentioned in the Puranas -are not provable. At that time, from 670 A.D., another dynasty came to power in Kashmir.

The successors of the Hephtalites in India

After glancing over the data of the reigning princes ruling in the northern part of India, let us see what happened to them in the western and central parts of the subcontinent. As it was mentioned, some Hun states were established in several parts of the territory of India, after their defeat. They were the so-called Huna Mandalas - Hun centers - still representing a considerable power. Previously Malwa was their main center, including the present states of Rajasthan, East Gujarat and the western part of Madhya Pradesh. Here, the Huns remained for a long time. This fact is known from the "victory pillars", established by the Indian kings. According to these, the Huns had to be defeated even in 900 A.D. This is proven by the Garuda pillar from 850 A.D. It states that King Pala, who ruled in the central part of India "defeated the Hunas, the Gurjars and the Dravidians in the eastern and western parts of the country," where they also had some centers, besides Malwa and Kashmir. This was the Uttarapatha Province, north of Kanauj, so they still represented a considerable power.[49]

It is interesting that the Dravidians were fighting alongside the Kushans and later on the Hephtalites, and they have never forgotten - even today — the well-known fact that the Ari-ans defeated them several thousand years ago. The existing Hun centers are proven by the Gaonri Epitaph from 955 A.D., found in the village of Vanika near Indore. Besides this, it is well known that the Hun princesses married some Rajasthani rulers and even other Indian princes, too; e.g. in 977 A.D., the Medapata ruler, Allata, married Hariyadevi, the daughter of a "Huna Mandala" king proven by the Atpru Inscription. The princess established a town in Mewar - today the eastern part of Rajasthan - where several Hun villages still exist with the following names: Hunavasa, Hunaganva Hunajunmu, Madarya, Kemri. Similarly written documents show that, in 1009, the Chalukiya ruler, Hemachandra, had to fight a Hun prince for a princess in a marriage-contest. The Hun prince was his rival. In 1072, the Kh-aira Tablets prove that the Kalachuri clan's queen was a Hun ruler's daughter. In 1153, the Inscription of Ajmer proves that, a Hun royal family was ruling in Ajmer.[50] So it shows that the Huns were present in a huge part of India. This is due to the fact that "in the veins of three prominent ethnic groups: the Rajputs, the Gurjars and thejats, Hun blood is flowing in a substantial quantity."[51]

The Huns remained in India for several hundred years, settled down there and became Indians. Some leading tribes of Rajasthan originated from the ruling group of the Huns and several other provinces were even ruled by them. The Gurjars arrived with the Hephtalites in the fifth century; they were shepherds, but actually they supplied the food provisions for the Hun army. In India, they also became shepherds and the Ind society accepted them as Kshatriyas - the second caste - and, thus they were called"the royal shepherds". The Jat tribe originated from the mixture of the Hun soldiers and the local population and later on they became the famous, brave fighters, the Sikhs. How did the despised mlecchas (foreigners, lower-caste) become citizens of the second-caste? The Brahmins played a very important role in Indian society and, by the end of the 7th century they realized that the brave Hun soldiers had adopted the Indian customs and religion - primarily Shaivism - and, by intermarriage with the wise Arians, they became useful to Indian society. For this reason, at the end of the 7th century, in Mount Abu - at that time it was called Arbuda - the Rajput clan volunteered for the so-called "ordeal by fire"; the Brahmins were present at the test. Later, they spread the news that a mythological bird had risen up from the fire and this bird took the ancestors of the Rajputs to the plain, where they were purified from their foreign origin and they became second-caste members of society; in this way they could be elected as kings. This is naturally a nice story of the Brahmins and it shows that even they accepted them and legalized the descendants of their former enemy.

It was a custom in India for foreign conquerors, in time, to be assimilated into the Ind society but they were always assigned to a caste according to their professions. For instance, the members of only one foreign tribe became Brahmins, the so called magas, who came from Iran, or from other sources the magars, who had arrived together with Mihirakula, as the priests of the Sun God and Sun worship.[52]

After this, the Rajputs fought bravely in the Middle Ages against the Muslim conquerors who had never succeeded in occupying the whole of Rajasthan, because, from the fortified castles, the mobile defense troops rode here and there and, by the time the Muslims had occupied one castle, they moved on to another one.

Apart from the Rajput soldiers, the Rajput women showed an example of ideal morals and heroism. For example, when the Muslims finally occupied a fort - the fort of Chittor, the former capital of Mewar, - Queen Padmini had committed suicide on a large pyre, with her court members, before the enemy entered the fort. Even today Rajasthan state is the most interesting, most colorful part of India, culturally too, and it is curious that the people do not have any Arian features. Their clothes also preserve the traditions of Central Asia: the men wear tight trousers, white shirts with loose sleeves and dark colored waistcoats - similar to the Csángó (today in Rumania, an old Hungarian tribe) and the Szekler national dress. The only difference is that the Rajasthani men wear turbans, but this is due to the hot climate. Their folk art and music expressively indicate their Central Asian origin. On the wall near the Maharana's palace gate in Udaipur - the present capital of Mewar - a huge painting is visible: a Rajput warrior on horseback, with the stirrup, which is a Hun invention. Indeed, all the decorations in the palace: the peacock, the tree of life and the palmettos, are familiar to Hungarians. When the Maharana (this title means that he is the spiritual leader of all Rajput maharajas - and it corresponds to the ancient name, Maharaiadiraja) succeeded to the throne, he made a compact, sealed with blood with his old ally, the headman of the Bhil tribe, then made a deep bow toward the East and rode on horseback through the eastern gate to their ancient, sacred temple: Eklingji where the priests consecrated him. Their ancient goddess was Mataji and their god was Suriya, the Sun God. So many relationships with the Hungarians!

In a short study it is impossible to analyze all the similarities; these were written in detail in my book published in 2005.

Now let us see what happened to those groups of Hephtalites who did not want to assimilate into Indian society or who did not rule in Kashmir but went further to the north to Bactria, toward their original land in the Oxus Valley. Their former enemies, the Sassanians, did not forget their defeat and, after winning a battle against the Parthian army, they started a war against the Hephtalites in Bactria and in the Bokhara area. In 565, they defeated the Hephtalites. In the meantime, the former vassals of the Hephtalites, the Türks, became strong in the Oxus Valley and in Tokharistan, and they wanted to take revenge upon their former masters. They won a battle against the Hephtalites and then they wanted to put the White Huns in a vassal status, claiming tribute from them. The kagan, the armed forces and the leaders naturally were forced to flee. They were joined by a part of the Zhuan-Zhuan tribe, who were also fleeing from the Turkic army. Although they were opponents of the Hsiung-nus in ancient times, in 565 A.D. the common fate forced them together. Among these tribes, there were the so-called Uar-Huns, or according to other sources, the Var-Huns, who were called Avars later on. The Indian sources mention that, in the Caucasus, they were joined by some other Avar tribes that had settled down there earlier. Some Indian scholars state that these tribes must have been the descendants of Atilla.[53] In any case, the Hephtalite army with the peoples who joined them, marched toward Byzantium, at a great speed, pursued by the Türks. In 568 A.D. the Byzantine sources write about them, mentioning the name of their commander, Bavan kagan. The history of the Avars in the Carpathian Basin is well known, I have dealt with the history of the White Huns primarily because they are Hungarian ancestors through the Avars, Actually, the Hungarians are the descendants of the Huns by two direct lines - this is my firm belief.

Eva Aradi





[1] E.g. the Puranas and the Buddhist works.

[2] M.J. Firdausi (Ms. In edits de la Bib.Nat.Paris) VI., pp. 89, 97,145.

[3] Proeopius: De hello Persico, I., p. 3.

[4] A. Cunningham: Later Indo-Scythians, N.Ch . pp. 93,166.

[5] R. Ghirshman: Les Chionites-Hephtalites, pp. 69-74,115.

[6] A. Christensen: Limn sous les Sassanides, p.282.

[7] A. Stein: White Huns and Kindred Tribes in the History of India, IA 1905, pp. 83-84

[8] Sircar: Selected Inscriptions, Nos. 41 and 54.

[9] Vásáry István: A régi Belső-Ázsia története, Balassi kiadó, 2003, p. 20.

[10] Mirkhond: Rauzat-us-Safa tr. by Rehatsek, p. 363

[11] Proeopius: De Bello Persico,III. pp. 1-19.

[12] Puranas: Sacred Indian texts (Editor)

[13] Aitareya Brahmana, tr. by Haug, VIII. 14-29.

[14] Kalidasa: Raghuvamsha ed. By Jivananda Vidyasagara, Sirga 4th, si. 68.

[15]Bana: Harsha Carita, tr. by Cowell, p. 101.

[16] Jaina: Indian religion (Editor)

[17] Udyotana Suri: Kuvalayamala" JBORS, 1928, p. 28.

[18] J.J. Modi: A hunokról, akik meghódították Indiát, Bp. 1926, Avesta Pbl. p. 42.

[19] R.S. Kushawa: A Glimpse of Bharatiya History, Delhi, 2003, Ocean Books pbl. pp. 52-56.

[20] Fleet: Corpus inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. III. London, 1888.

[21] Kagan = khan or leader (Editor)

[22] Kalhana: Rajatarangini, tr. by A. Stein, Bk. III. vs 97-101.

[23] D.C. Sircar: Select Inscriptions, I. p. 396, No. 55.

[24] D.C. Sircar: ibid. I. p. 398, No. 56.

[25] This is not the same as the modern Turkish language. (Editor)

[26] Karabacek: Epigraphia Indica I. p. 239.

[27] The translation from the original Sanskrit text made by Indian scholars in the 20th centuryand it became an authentic text; I could not change it. É.A.

[28] Atreyi Biswas: The Political History of the Hunas in India, Munshiram Manoharlal Pbl, 1971. p. 59.

[29] Upendra Thakur: The Hunas in India, Varanasi, 1967. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Office pp. 95,107.

[30] Stein, Aurél: Ázsia halott szívében, Bp., 1985, Helikon, p. 368.

[31] Sircar: Select Inscriptions, No. 54. p. 393.

[32] Aurel Stein: Op. Cit. p. 371.

[33] Aurel Stein: Op. Cit. p. 368.

[34] Rajatarangini, Bk. I. vs. 289-30.

[35] Si-yu-ki, tr. by S.Beal, pp.168-172.

[36] U. Thakur: The Hunas in India, p.184.

[37] Atreyi Biswas: The Political History of the Hunas in India, Delhi, 1973. p.109.

[38] Matsya, Vayu, Brahmanda, Vishnu and Bhagvata Puranas, ed. byJivananda Vidyasagara, IV. 24.

[39] Si-yu-ki, tr. by S.Beal I. p. 164.

[40] Shanyu = leader, like kagan or khan, (Editor)

[41] Rajatarangini, Bk. III. 330.

[42] Bana: "Harshacarita", tr. by Cowell, p. 101.

[43] Rajatarangini, Op.Cit. p. 354.

[44] Cunningham: Mediaeval Indian coins, pl. III. 3,4.

[45] Cunningham: ibid. fig. 6,

[46] Sircar: EI. 1963 p. 44.

[47] Si-yu-ki- tr, by S.Beal, I. p.156.

[48] Rajatarangini, Bk. III. 383.

[49] U. Thakur, Op. Cit. p. 207.

[50] Sircar: Foreword in Thakur's: The Hunas in India, 1967, Varanasi, pp. 4-5.

[51] Romila Thapar: A History of India, Vol. 1. England, 1974. p. 257.

[52] Atreyi Biswas: Op. Cit. pp. 156,160.

[53] Romila Thapar, ibid. p. 270.


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