On the dynastic cult of the rulers of Bukhara Sogd in the Early Middle Ages
(to the interpretation of the murals of the Varakhsha palace)
Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2021, ¹ 2 (53)
Varakhsha hillfort is located in the Bukhara oasis (Uzbekistan). From the 6th to 8th c., it was the residence of the rulers of Bukhara Sogd. Archaeological investigations of the Varakhsha were carried out in the late 1930s, and then later in 1947 and 1949–1954. During the excavations of the palace, wall paintings were discovered in the Red (Hindu) and East (Blue) Halls (7th–8th c.). In the East Hall, the center of the art composition on the south wall was dominated by a massive figure of a ‘king’ with a golden sword, seated on a throne with protomas of winged camels. Depicted next to him was a group of five people sitting on their knees — the king's family. The elder man is making an offering to the fire on an altar. On the base of the altar, there is a male figure, seated on a throne in the form of a lying camel. This figure represents Vretragna, the Avestan deity of Victory. Mythogenically, Vretragna is close to the Vedic god of thunder Indra. In Avesta, Vretragna appears in various guises: a Bactrian camel; the bird of prey Varagn; a man with a golden sword. In Sogdian iconography, the image of the Bactrian camel is most often associated with Vretragna. The characters of the murals in the Blue Hall (the king’s family) bring offering to the fire lit in tribute to the deity — to Vretragna. The central figure of this composition was identified by V.A. Shishkin as a king. In our opinion, it rather depicts Vretragna. This is implicitly indicated by the protomas of the throne in the form of winged camels and by the image of ‘the king with the golden sword’. The walls of the Red Hall of Varakhsha were decorated with a scene of hunters riding elephants. Each elephant was ridden by a servant-mahout and a lord, whose figure would be disproportionately large. They are slaying huge monsters. According to researchers, an image of the Sogdian deity Adbag is repeated here. The epithet ‘Adbag’ — ‘Supreme deity’ is associated with Ahuramazda. B.I. Marshak and A.M. Belenitsky note, that here Adbag-Ahuramazda is likened to Indra riding a white elephant. It seems to us quite probable that such an epithet could be applied to various gods of a high status. Notably, it could be Vretragna depicted here, who is akin to Indra. We think that the image of Vretragna held a special place in the visual arts of Varakhsha, as the patron deity of the Bukhar-Khudat dynasty. He was depicted in the center of the composition in the Blue Hall in his Avestan hypostasis, and in the Red Hall he was depicted in the form of Indra.
Key words: Central Asia, Early Middle Ages, Bukhara’s (Western) Sogd, Varakhsha, monumental art, Avesta, zoolatry, Vretragna, Indra, Farnbag, dynastic cult.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Article is published: 28.05.2021
Gyul T.I., Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mirabad district, Shakhrisyabz st, passage 1, building 5, Tashkent, 100060, Uzbekistan, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1630-6541