Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The transformation of Turk-like Khaljis into Afghans

 By Khan Barmazid

Khaljis were Hepthalites (White Huns) not Turks

Khaljis were Hepthalites (White Huns) in origin who as early as the fourth century A.D , had settled in the present-day Afghanistan. Mohammad Khwarazmi in Mafatih-ul-Alam (975 AD) says, "The Hayatila are a tribe of men who had enjoyed grandeur and possessed the country of Tukharistan ; the Turks called Khalukh , or Khalaj, are their descendants." Hayatila is the Arabic and Persian name for the Hepthalites. Tukharistan (ancient Bactria) was in present-day Northern Afghanistan between Hindu Kush mountain range and Amu Darya. In mid-fifth century AD, Tokharistan became the stronghold of Hephthalites.

Byzantine historian of the 6th century , Prokopios, wrote about Hepthalites ; ," The Ephthalites are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name; however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us......They are the only Huns who are white-skinned and their faces are not ugly" ......"their territory lies immediately lie immediately to the north of Persia , and their city, called Gorgo, is located near the Persian frontier"......" [1]

Masudi (circa 940 AD) writes ; "Hajjaj had delegated 'Abdar- rahman ibn Mahommed ibn al-Ash'ath to Sijistan, Bost and Rukhaj (Arachosia) to make war on the Turk tribes diffused in those regions, and who are known as Ghaz and Khulj . . ."

Geographer Istakhri (circa 950 AD) writes 'The Khalaji are a class of Turks who in ancient times came to the country stretching between India and the districts of Sijistan behind Ghur. They are cattle breeders of Turkish appearance (khilq), dress, and language"

Mahmud Kashghari (who wrote in 1077 AD) connect the Khalaj with the Ghuz (Oghuz) tribe , though not without some hesitation. He refers to the Khalaj in his article "Turkman". He quotes a legend according to which the Turkish king Shu , on being informed of the approach of Alexander the great from the direction of  Khujanda , took flight before him and was accompanied by by all those of his subjects who possessed riding animals. Twenty-two men, ancestors of the future Ghuz, stayed behind with their families, for want of horses. While they were discussing whether they should proceed on foot , they saw two other men who, in the sweat of their brow, were carrying their belongings on their backs. The twenty-two reasoned that as Alexander ever moved on and would consequently pass along, they might remain in their country. So addressing the two men on foot, they said in Turkish : qal aj , i.e O you two , stay, remain linger !" and the men on foot became known as Khalaj, and formed two tribes. When Alexander arrived he looked at the men and recognizing their Turkish type said (in Persian !) : they are Turk-manand , i.e they are similar to the Turks. "Originally they (i.e the Turkmans) were twenty-four tribes but the two tribes of Khalaj separated from them ; therefore now the latter are not counted of them."  [2]

Thus Khajis were not Turks but Hepthalites (White Huns) but as they culturally resembled Turks of Altai and Western China, so they were assumed to be Turks. The above mentioned Turk legend narrated by Mahmud Kashghari also hints towards their non-Turkish roots.

Khaljis are mentioned distinctly from Afghans and Turks

Utbi, in his history (written circa 1020 AD) refers to the Khalaj several times:
"The Afgháns and Khiljís having submitted to him (Sabaktigín), he admitted thousands of them . . . into the ranks of his armies."
           After Mahmud's expedition against India, "the Afghans and Khalaj submitted to him";
When Ilak Khan took up a menacing attitude Mahmud arrived in Ghazna and summoned "the Khalaj Turks , ever on their horses, manly sons of swords....!
 Equally, during the inroad of Qadir Khan to Tukharistan. Mahmud rushed to Balkh  "with his Turkish, Indian, Khalaj, Afghan, and Ghazna troops..."

In the earliest mention of Tarikh-i Jahan-gusha (written in 1253 AD), "the Khalaj of Ghazni" are coupled with Afghans;  "a levy (hashar) of these two tribes mobilized by the Mongols took part in the punitive expedition to the region of Merv"

The continuator of Rashidud- din's history (14th century) enumerates among the tribes occupying the country which we now call Afghanistan, Ghuris, Herawis, Nigudaris, Sejzis, Khilij, Baluch and Afghans. [5]

In  first half of 16th century India, the two identities Khalji and Ghilzai co-existed , the people belonging to the former identity being the rulers of Malwa (who were not mentioned as Afghan kings in contemporary Afghan histories and are mentioned as Turks in other sources) and the latter people being in the service of Lodi and Sur kings. Hussain Khan Ghilzai was a general of Sher Shah Sur who is mentioned as an Afghan. Asrar-ul-Afghan written by Hasan Khan Afghan in 1604 AD gives a list of all the Pashtun kings of India starting from Sultan Bahlul Lodi to Sultan Daud Karrani.........Khalji Sultans of Delhi (1290-1320) and Khalji Sultans of Malwa (1436-1531) is not included in the list.

Khaljis in India

The Afghanized Khaljis who migrated to India in 13th century, were not recognized as Turks. Contemporary historian Barani in his Tarikh-i-Feroz Shahi says;
"At the same time Jalaludin, who was Ariz-i-Mamalik , had gone to Baharpur , attended by a body of his relations and friends. Here he held a muster and inspection of the forces. He came of a race different from that of the Turks ; so he had no confidence in them , nor would the Turks own him as belonging to the member of his friends". [4]

At another place he says , ".....and that by the death of Sultan Kaikoabad , 'The Turks lost the empire"...... 

Minhaj-us-siraj, author of Tabqat-Nasiri (completed in 1260 AD) does not regard the Khiljis as belonging to the race of Turks. While giving a detailed account of Ikhtiar-ud-din Khilji Muhammad Bakhtiar Khilji's exploits , he gives the following statement , which clearly explains that the Khiljis and the Turks were two different entities.
"when his lashkar passed over that ridge , he posted there two of his amirs, one being a Turk , the other a Khalji, to guard that bridge"

Afghanization of the Khaljis

Jahan-nama by Najib Bakran , written in 1204 AD, contains an interesting paragraph ;

  "The Khalaj are a tribe of Turks who from the Khallukh limits migrated to Zabulistan. Among the districts of Ghazni there is a steppe where they reside. Then, on account of the heat of the air, their complexion has changed and tended towards blackness; the tongue (zuban) too has undergone alterations and become a different language (lughat)."

Thus Khaljis in the districts of Ghazni had undergone alterations and their language had become different. The different lughat was most probably Pashto. Yet they still appeared to have maintained their distinct identity in that period. The remnants of  Khaljis in Ghazni became assimilated with the indigenous Ghilzai Pashtuns with time. The Powindah tribes Nassar and Kharoti are disowned by Ghilzai. The origin of both the tribes is shrouded in mystery. The Hotak Ghilzais believe that the Nassars had been their "hamsaya" (denizen) and not their kindred. The Tokhi division of Ghilzais that the Nassars have been (in ancient times) their 'hamsaya or minduns' (denizens) , which literally means under the same shadow. Kharotis were also initially considered hamsayas. The Tokhis repudiate the connection with Kharotis [6]. Both Nassars and Kharotis are mostly probably descendants of Khaljis.

According to Hayat-i-Afghani, the Farmulis or Parmulis  also claim to be descendants of Khaljis. The valley of Farmul is at the back of Khost , which is watered by the Tochi in its upper course. Muhammad Hayat Khan says ;
"...they  (Farmulis) say that some of the kings of Hindustan sprung from them , and this may seem to derive confirmation from Ferishta , who mentions the Khaljis as a Turki clan , to which belonged Sultan Jalaluddin (Khalji) , all famous kings of Hind. Another explanation of the name of Khalji is, that the Parmulis once inhabited a city called Khalj , said to have been on the Oxus or, as other relate , west of Kandahar , the river Helmand and Kila Bist" [7]
The author further says ;
" .......Most of the Farmulis are cultivators or merchants , but those settled in Argun make vessels of iron and take them through out western Afghanistan for sale. With the Kharoti, in whose midst they live, they have a most bitter enmity" (p-302)

Some have translated a couplet of Khushal Khan Khattak in his Dewan about Sultan Jalaluddin Khalji as;
“Then Sultan Jalaluddin ascended the Delhi throne who was a Ghalji from Wilayat.”

But the correct translation is "Then Sultan Jalaluddin sat upon the throne (of Delhi), who was from the Wilayat (country) of Ghaljis" (Bia Sultan Jalaluddin pa sarir kenast, che asl ke Ghalji da Wilayat wu)

Any territorial unit of province size was called Wilayat e.g Wilayat-i-Peshawar. Khushal Khan simply says Sultan Jalaluddin was from Wilayat-i-Ghilzai. Khaljis had settled in Bust (Helmand) and Ghazni.


There is not solid evidence which proves that entirety of Ghilzai Pashtuns of Bettani confederation are descended from Khaljis. The latter settled in Wilayat (country) of Ghilzais in ancient times. A very large number of them migrated to India i 13th century while the remnants were absorbed by the Ghilzai Pashtuns. Khaljis themselves were not Turks but Hepthalites (White Huns) but culturally they resembled Turks of Altai and Western China so they are often referred to as Turks in early medieval sources.  By 13th century Khaljis had adopted the customs and manners of Afghans and their language had changed.

References :

1-  Prokopios, "The Wars of Justinian", p-6

2- Minorsky, The Turkish dialect of the Khalaj, BSOAS, 1940, V/12, 417-37

3-  Tarikh-i-Fakhruddin, edited by Sir Denizon Ross, p-47

4-  Ziau-ddin Barni in Elliot, iii. 134-136

5-  A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. New ed. edited by William Crooke, B.A. London: J. Murray, 1903, p-371

6-   Haroon Rashid, " History of Pathans", Vol-III, p-226

7-  "Afghanistan and its inhabitants", translated from Hayat-i-Afghani, p-301