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Sogdian Literature

The Sogdian language belonged to the people of Soghd, the capital of which was Samarqand, and whose most important city was Bokhārā (presently in Uzbekistan). Besides, the Sogdian language was also the administrative, commercial, and cultural language of other regions like the Vāhe Turfān (Turfan Depression) in Chinese Turkistan. Available works in this language belonging to the Middle Period can be classified subject-wise into “non-religious works” and “religious works”.

Non-Religious Works: Such works that have been written particularly in the Sogdian script include coins belonging to the 2nd Century AD; letters belonging to the 4th Century AD, popularly known as “Ancient Letters”; a number of stone/rock inscriptions; and seventy-four documents - including some official letters, financial documents, and one marriage certificate - excavated from the. Mogh Mountain region belonging to the archives of the last Sogdian ruler, Divāshtij (ruled 87-104 AH), written on leather, paper, and hides.


Religious Works: Such works that belong to the followers of Buddhism, Christianity, and Manichaeism comprise the most important part of the literature of the Middle-Eastern Iranian languages from the angles of volume and variety. They include:


Buddhist Works: Buddhist Sogdian literature which probably forms the largest part of Sogdian literature is a kind of translated literature replete with Buddhist philosophical and religious terms. These works have been translated into the Sogdian language from Sanskrit or Chinese and their contents are inspired by Mahāyānā Buddhism. Some of the most important of these works are the “Vessantārā Jatākā” and the “Cham Sutra” and the Padafara Kerdarha ??. Certain other treatises, too, have been printed in the Buddhist Sogdian language, the most important ones of which are the Sogdian texts preserved in the Paris National Library as well as the British Library. These works have been written in the Sogdian script which is one of the sub-branches of the Aramaic textual script.

Christian Works: Christian Sogdian literature comprises translations of parts of the Bible, accounts from the lives and works of Christian saints and martyrs, sermons and exegeses, the thoughts of great priests, short maxims, and moral sayings. These works have mainly been translated from the Syriac language - the religious language of the Nasturi Christians of Central Asia - and have been written in a particular style of the Syriac Estrangelo script and sometimes in the Sogdian script.

Manichaean Works: The Manichaean Sogdian texts comprise the translations of Manichaean hymns and religious texts from Middle Persian and Parthian languages as well as the works that were originally written in the Sogdian language and which are of great value from the linguistic point of view. The most important Manichaean Sogdian works include letters of repentance, stories and analogies, long and short hymns, the history of religion, a brief history of Manichaeism, indices of words and nations, and calendar tables, none of which can be found in a complete form today. Manichaean Sogdian literature is filled with beautiful metaphors and similes and it presents a clear and vivid picture of the structure and grammar of the Sogdian language to the benefit of researchers. The Manichaeans were, both, skilled writers and translators. The language used by them in the translations of foreign works into Sogdian is fine and fluent and quite distinct from the ambiguous, intricate, and flawed translations of the Sogdian-speaking Christian and Buddhist translators. Their works have been written in the Manichaean script and many of their stories have been translated into the Fārsi language.


* source: Zarshenas , Zohre " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989 - , V.10 , pp.562- 563

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