Frantz Grenet, Iranian Gods in Hindu Garb: The Zoroastrian Pantheon of the Bactrians and Sogdians, Second–Eighth Centuries

Gold coin of Huvishka showing MAASENO.
Gold coin of Huvishka showing MAASENO.



This article addresses the question of the use of Hindu models by Central Asian artists to create an iconography adapted to their own Iranian pantheon. The first examples appear on Kushan and Kushano-Sasanian coins issued in Bactria and Northwest India (2nd to 4th c. C.E.), and are limited to two gods: Vayu (OESHO, as Shiva) and Vohu Manah (MANAOBAGO, as a syncretic image with Vishnuite components); the other Indian gods depicted keep their own names. Most Zoroastrian gods are based on Greco-Roman models. The tendency to adopt Hindu images is more developed in Sogdian art (6th-8th c.), when the Greco-Roman element becomes residual. Besides Vayu-Shiva, other identifications are proposed Ohrmazd (as Indra), Wahram (as Karttikeya), Tir (also influenced by the type of Karttikeya), and possibly Yima (as Vaiśravana), while Nana becomes closer to Durga. All these models are adapted in order to meet the needs of Zoroastrian theology, and in the case of some gods the Sogdian artists show their capacity to create entirely original icons betraying a good knowledge of the texts.