Jan 14 2005
Sultan Sanjar and Samanid Legacy
Dr. M. Salim
Seljuks were Turks and their ancestry can be traced back to Oghuz
tribe of 10th century A.D. They were nomadic people populating north
of Aral Sea and to the east of Caspian Sea. Seljuk chief with his
followers in the middle of 10th century moved to the Syr Darya and
were knocking the doors of Islamic state of Samanids. Hence they
embraced Islam and cross cultural currents began to diffuse from west
to east in to Central Asia. Seljuks were the prime source of manpower
to defend Samanid Amirs. Later Samanid legacy ended giving rise to
three Turkic Muslim states, the Ghaznavids south of Amu Darya, the
Seljuks in southern Turkmenistan and Kara-khanids north of Amu Darya.
They were Turkic minorities ruling over majority of Iranian speaking
One of the great Turk leader conqueror and patron of arts ruled
Khurasan, Turkmenistan and north Afghanistan. He was a Seljuk Turk
having control over north Persia and glorified their rule in this
part of Central Asia for over six decades. As one of the powerful
leader Sanjar in Turkish means `one who pierces’ a legacy, later
adopted by many Mughal princes in the Pak subcontinent. He was Sutan
B. Malik Shah born in 1086AD and died in 1157. He was appointed in
1097 as governor of Khurasan by his half brother Berk-Yaruk. Later
after death of Malik Shah, He was recognized as Al-Sultan Al-Muazzam.
His political career passed through ruling Karakhanids and appointed
various Karakhanid nominees around Samarkand. Than in 1117 defeated
Arslan Shah and placed his other Bahram Shah at Ghazna throne and
their alliance which lasted for thirty years.
Sanjar’s rule apart from neighbouring Persia and east, he conducted
his state affairs at Merv with his viziers with Diwani ala
overlooking administration affairs of the state. These were done by
the help of vizier such as Nizam-al-Mulk Hasan (1152) and Toghan Beg
(1124). These including Arab, Persian and Turkish viziers. Under
Sanjar, Nizam-Ul-Mulk was a grand vizier and a good administrater to
control Iranian speaking farmers and citizens.
While Sanjar was in power in Khurasan he was concerned with the
Ghaznavid rule in the east with whom peace was made resulting in the
cultural contacts such as in coinage and literature. Merv was the hub
of Seljuk empire in arts, crafts, culture and literature, poets Omar
Khayyam, Jurjani and the Nizami are a few to mention.
The Ghaznavid supremacy was broken by the Seljuks in 1040 at
Dandanaqan Merv Oasis resulting in the more territories . Armenia and
Iraq became the part of Seljuk empire and Merv became their capital.
The arts, culture, literature and architectural remains after
Samanids in the 10th century to the Mongol invasion in 1220 indicate
multicultural approach and variable tendencies of fusion from east to
west and south to north. Much more could have survived, but the
devastation caused by Mongol invasion left little remains. At Merv
there were twelve libraries and many cities were left in ruins.
Sanjar’s legacy left architecture with bricks and wood and bricks in
a monochrome design, stucco decoration with figures and wall
paintings have survived.
One of the main architectural decoration till today are the wooden
columns with very fine intricate designs of floral and geometric
nature such as at Khiva Friday mosque. These designs were based as
traditional motifs carved on wood façade of important buildings with
semicolumns of bricks in Turkmenistan and in the east mountains. The
mosque at Mashad-I-Misrian had a terracotta decoration. Other
important features were the caravanserais along the main and silk
The most important and dominating tomb is of Sultan Sanjar with a
square plan and side being 27m. It is 38m high. The elevated tomb is
a characteristic of Sanjar’s time and this style is evident in Lal
Mahra Sharif tombs in Pakistan. The square base of the tombs is
supported by secondary storey with a series of niches and a dome on
Other monuments of Sanjar’s time is the fort known as Sultan Qala
being the centre of Suljuk supremacy and charm of the Seljuk Capital.
This Qala covered about 4 square kms with a 15m high wall for
protection with a ditch. There was a palace area, a library and
barracks. In the Shahristan was a Friday mosque and Sanjar’s tomb. To
the west of this Qala were Mazar Mohammad b. Said and Mazar Yusif
Sanjars legacy is reflected in Pakistan. These are Interesting tombs
in the Gomal valley of NWFP at Lal Mahra Sharif. This tradition
portrays Central Asia architecture with affilities to Sanjar’s
architectural style. These mark the beginning of tomb architecture in
Pakistan. The style evolved may be after struggle between Ghaznavids
or Hindu Shahis. Chira tomb No. 1 is rectangular in plan with 7.40 x
6.20m and with a present height of 5.70m with tapering walls. The
dome has completely collapsed. There are few pointed arched
entrances. There was a zone of transition from square chamber to the
base of drum with possible squinches.
The Plain brick style architecture reminds us the characteristics of
Sanjar tomb that must have influenced this style. As the soldiers,
traders and rulers exerted their influence in NWFP.
Multan is another important city with sufi tombs inheriting Central
Asian influence. The example can be given of tomb of Baha al-Din
Zakariya (1171-1262). The tomb has been constructed in three stages
with a total height of 77 feet. The lower storey has rectangular plan
with entrance of pointed arches. The second storey is octagonal built
on a zone of transition with squinches. The dome on top is
hemispherical. This tomb reflects a tradition of Sanjars’ time, as
the sufi traveled from Central Asian to Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.
Samanid Legacy in Pakistan.
1. End of the (Hindu) Turkshahi rule in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
2. Reunification of Pakistan under the Ghaznavids with the foundation
of Lahore as the Muslim capital.
3. Introduction of Persian as the language of the court and of the
elite. Rise of Lahori Persian poets.
4. Introduction of Islam by Sufi Saints foam Central Asia. Sufistic
Islam gains momentum.
5. Samanid architecture in Pakistan.
6. Samanid decoration of Glazed tiles. New schools of glazed tiles
started in Multan and Sindh.
7. Samanid Bukhara and Lahore as twin cities.
8. Scientist like Alberuni came to Pakistan, his stay in Nandana and
his experiment in measuring longitudes of the earth.
9. New ethnic movement of Turks, their settlement in Peshawar,
Taxila, Lahore, Multan and Sindh.
10. Introduction of new arts and crafts paper manufacture and Arabic
writing, new kind of China ware imported from Bokhara. Turks replace
Huns and introduce their own system, food, dress, and headgear.
Turkification of Pakistan.
Sevim, A. & Bosworth, C.E.1998 The Seljuqs and the Khwarazm Shahs.
History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol.IV. pp. 145-175.
Dani, A.H.1993 New light on Central Asia. Sang-e-Meel Publications,
Brentjes, B. 1993 Islamic Art and Architecture in Central Asia.
Journal of Central Asia. 16(1+2): 19-25. Islamabad.
Ali, Taj. 1988. Anonymous tombs in the Gomal Valley, and the
beginning of tomb architecture in Pakistan. Memoirs No.4. Department
of Archeology, University of Peshawar.
Khan, A.N. 1983. Multan History and Architecture. Islamic University,
About the author: Dr. M. Salim is an Associate Professor at the
Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Quaid-i-Azam University,
Islamabad, Pakistan. He read this paper at a seminar held in Ashgabat
a couple of months ago.