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Buddhism came very early (according to a legend, during Aśoka’s life) to southern Xinjiang, in particular to Khotan, whose inhabitants used the Iranian Khotanese language. A 1st-2nd-century CE manuscript of the Buddhist canonical text, the , was found in Khotan, and so it is likely that other canonical works would have been in circulation there in that period (Brough, p. It also follows that Buddhism must have arrived early in some other eastern Iranian areas besides Khotan, such as Nagarahāra, Arachosia, Kapiśa, Bactria, Parthia, and Sogdiana (see (1st-3rd centuries). 1st century CE), the most famous Kushan ruler, as a zealous Buddhist who took an active part in religious activities and built numerous Buddhist religious structures.
The date for the arrival of Buddhism there is given by a Tibetan chronicle as 84 BCE and appears probable (Emmerick, 1967, p. His coinage carries images of Iranian and Hellenistic-Roman deities and—rarely—the Buddha.
Some of the art (the wall paintings) was added later, in the 3rd, or probably 4th, century (Al’baum, pp. A Buddhist complex was also found in Ayrtam on the Amu Darya, west of Termez.
There was found a decorative limestone frieze attributed to the Kushan period, depicting male and female musicians ornately dressed and garlanded, with drum, lute, and harp—a spectacular evidence of Gandhāran art spreading to Bactria.
The coins found at the site date it to the 1st century CE.
In addition to freestanding Buddhist temples, etc., cave monasteries (likewise originally found in India) also became a local feature in Afghanistan, southern Central Asia, Xinjiang, and northern China. There an area of about 15 km² remains covered with traces of numerous monasteries (Bāgh Gai, Deh Ghundi, Tepe Kāfirihā, Tepe Kalān, Tepe Shutur, Gan Nao, and others), large and small s, sanctuaries, and artificial caves.
Haḍḍa (ancient Nagarāhāra), near modern , was the site of one of the largest Buddhist centers in Afghanistan, and as such was visited and described by the Chinese pilgrims (such as Fa-hsien [ca. The monasteries had square or rectangular courts surrounded by sanctuaries, cells, community halls, and other buildings.
Next to the monasteries and between them there were numerous s (there were over 500 of them) stood on multi-tier foundations with rich stucco or (rarely) stone decorative relief, architectural details including cornices, Corinthian columns, arches, etc., and rows of sculptural figures (sitting and standing Buddhas, other Buddhist and secular personages). The sculptors more fully demonstrated their talent when presenting secular personages—being relatively free of canonic requirements in these cases—rather than deities; and the sculptured heads and figures are extraordinary beautiful (see Barthoux, 19; Mustamindi and Mustamindi, 1969; Rowland, 1971, pp. There were other Buddhist centers in Nagarāhāra; at one of them, Bimārān, a gold reliquary with the earliest anthropomorphic representations of Buddha was found (see s flourished in the 1st-3rd centuries CE and were decorated with sculptures analogous to those of Haḍḍa (sites include Šotorak, Qalʿa-ye Nāder, Top Dara, and Paitāva; see ; Hackin, 1933; Meunié, 19, pp. Also supporting the early date of Buddhism in Bactria is a ceramic reliquary from the Kunduz area; it carries a sect was widespread there.
The inscription is dated to the 1st-2nd centuries CE (Fussman, 1974, pp. A “Buddhist platform” at Sorḵ Kotal, dated, together with the statues, to the 2nd-3rd century CE, is an outstanding monument (Schlumberger, Le Berre, and Fussman, 1983, pp. The foundation of a Buddhist monastery at Kunduz can be probably dated to the end of the Kushan period (Hackin, 1959, pp. Additional Buddhist temples are found in Dilberjin, Haibak, and other places.