The kind of history that cannot be bulldozed into dust

The al-Barmaki family who worked for the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad in the eighth century were descended from Sanskrit speaking, Buddhist, Ayurvedic physicians and scholars from Balkh who originally came from Kashmir.

Khalid al-Barmaki would probably have been known as Kalhana Pramukh but for a lucky haul of educated slaves during the Arab invasion of Balkh in the eighth century. Pramukh was a title given to the ancestors of the al-Barmakis. They were administrators of the Nava Vihar or Nau Bahar Buddhist monasteries at Balkh, These Buddhist stupas might have been built on the foundations of an earlier Zoroastrian fire temple.

The al-Barmakis invited Sanskrit scholars from India to Baghdad to help with translating Sanskrit works into Arabic. They also built a hospital in Baghdad which was based on a blueprint provided by the Sanskrit medical treatise Charaksamhita. Thankfully this is the sort of history that does not yield to sledgehammers or brute force.

And now, a little extract from the Charaksamhita on hospital building for your reading pleasure:

“I shall now point out in brief the various supplies. Thus, an expert in the science of building should first construct a worthy building. It should be strong, out of the wind, and part of it should be open to the air. It should be easy to get about in, and should not be in a depression. It should be out of the path of smoke, sunlight, water, or dust, as well as unwanted noise, feelings, tastes, sights, and smells. It should have a water supply, pestle and mortar, lavatory, a bathing area, and a kitchen. After that, one should select the staff of soup and rice cooks, bath attendants, masseurs, people to help patients with getting up and sitting down,and herb grinders. They should be good natured, clean, well-behaved, loyal, practical, and pious. They should be skilled in nursing, and accomplished in all treatments. They should not be reluctant to work. The attendants should be able to sing, play instruments, and perform recitations, as well as being skilled in verses, songs, stories, legends, and ancient lore. They should be pleasant and able to anticipate. They should know the where and when of things, and be generally sociable.”

By the luxuriant beard of Haroun al-Raschid!

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