Following excerpts are taken from an article by Shrinandan Vyas
The Hindu Kush is a mountain system nearly 1000 miles long and 200 miles wide, running northeast to southwest, and dividing the Amu Darya River Valley and Indus River Valley. It stretches from the Pamir Plateau near Gilgit, to Iran. The Hindu Kush ranges mainly run thru Afganistan and Pakistan. It has over two dozen summits of more than 23,000 ft in height. Below the snowy peaks the mountains of Hindu Kush appear bare, stony and poor in vegetation. Historically, the passes across the Hindu Kush have been of great military significance, providing access to the northern plains of India. The Khyber Pass constitutes an important strategic gateway and offers a comparatively easy route to the plains of Punjab. Most foreign invaders, starting from Alexander the Great in 327 BC, to Timur Lane in 1398 AD, and from Mahmud of Ghazni, in 1001 AD, to Nader Shah in 1739 AD attacked Hindustan via the Khyber Pass and other passes in the Hindu Kush (1,2,3). The Greek chroniclers of Alexander the Great called Hindu Kush as Parapamisos or Paropanisos (4). The Hindu name of the Hindu Kush mountains was ‘Paariyaatra Parvat‘(5).
History of Hindu Kush and Punjab shows that two major kingdoms of Gandhaar & Vaahic Pradesh (Balkh of Bactria) had their borders extending far beyond the Hindu Kush. Legend has it that the kingdom of Gandhaar was established by Taksha, grandson of Bharat of Ayodhya (6). Gandhaar’s borders extended from Takshashila to Tashkent (corruption of ‘Taksha Khand‘) in the present day Uzbekistan. In the later period, Mahabharat relates Gaandhaari as a princess of Gandhaar and her brother, Shakuni as a prince and later as Gandhaar’s ruler.
In the well documented history, Emperor Chandragupt Maurya took charge of Vaahic Pradesh around 325 BC and then took over Magadh. Emperor Ashok’s stone tablets with inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic are still found at Qandahar (corruption of Gandhaar?) and Laghman in eastern Afganistan(3). One such stone tablet, is shown in the PBS TV series ‘Legacy with Mark Woods’ in episode 3 titled ‘India: The Spiritual Empire’. After the fall of Mauryan empire, Gandhaar was ruled by Greeks. However some of these Greek rulers had converted to Buddhism, such as Menander, known to Indian historians as Milinda, while some other Greeks became followers of Vishnav sects (Hinduism)(7). Recent excavations in Bactria have revealed a golden hoard which has among other things a figurine of a Greek goddess with a Hindu mark on its forehead (Bindi) showing the confluence of Hindu-Greek art (8). Later Shaka and KushaaN ruled Gandhaar and Vaahic Pradesh. KushaaN emperor Kanishka’s empire stretched from Mathura to the Aral Sea (beyond the present day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Krygzystan)(9).
Kanishaka was a Buddhist and under KushaaN influence Buddhism flourished in Gandhaar. Two giant sandstone Buddhas carved into the cliffs of Bamian (west of Kabul) date from the Kushan period. The larger Buddha (although defaced in later centuries by Moslem invaders) is about 175 ft tall (10,11). The Kushan empire declined by 450 AD. The Chinese traveller Hsuan-Tsang (Xuan-zang) travelled thru the region in 7 th century AD and visited many Buddhist religious centers (3) including Hadda, Ghazni, Qonduz, Bamian (3,10,11), Shotorak and Bagram. From the 5 th thru 9 th cenury AD Persian Sasanians and Hepthalites ruled Gandhaar. During their rule Gandhaar region was again influenced by Hinduism. The Hindu kings (Shahiya) were concentrated in the Kabul and Ghazni areas. The last Hindu Shahiya king of Kabul, Bhimapal was killed in 1026 AD. The heroic efforts of the Hindu Shahiya Kings to defend the northwestern gates of India against the invaders are described by even al-Biruni, the court historian of Mahmud of Ghazni (12). Some excavated sites of the period include a major Hindu Shahiya temple north of Kabul and a chapel that contains both Buddhist and Hindu images, indicating that there was a mingling of two religions (3).
Islamic invasions on Afganistan started in 642 AD, but over the next several centuries their effect was marginal and lasted only a short time after each raid. Cities surrendered only to rise in revolt and the hastily converted returned to their old religion (Hinduism or Buddhism) once the Moslem armies had passed (3).