This is an imaginary likeness of Bayazid Ansari or Pir Rokhan — as now used by Pashtun nationalists. It was made by my communist friend, the artist Faridoon in 1986.

Bayazid Ansari known by the epithet Pir-e-Roshan (Pir Rokhan in Pashto) — “saint of light” — also known as Pir-e-Tareek or saint of darkness to his enemies…..was a charismatic mystic and fanatic, who led a long and influential heretical movement all across the Pashtun tribes east of the Suleiman Mountains, from his abode at Kaniguram in South Waziristan right upto Malakand and Swat. These events happened about 60 years after the fall of the Tajik Kingdom of Swat to the Mughals and migrated Sarabani Afghan tribes. Although the Mughal Emperor Akbar was himself something of a heretic with his newfangled “Din-e-Illahi” — the Roshani movement was aimed against the Mughal establishment in India, but saw widespread mass support among the Pashtun-Afghan tribes. It was opposed by the orthodox clergy such as the Tajik Pir Baba, patron saint of the Yousafzai Afghans — and his Turkic disciple, Akhund Darweza (Abdul Karim Ningarhari). These opponents of Pir Rokhan allied themselves to the Mughal establishment. Incidentally it was Pir Rokhan and his orthodox opponent Abdul Karim who were responsible for the promotion of Pashto language and literature in this area; the former is said to have prepared the Pashto alphabet, while the latter translated the Quran and produced other Islamic literature in Pashto. To modern day Pashtun nationalists (especially of the current “secular” leftist variety) Pir Rokhan is regarded as the first Pashtun national figure because of his literary and linguistic work — and his unifying political and religious influence on the broad spectrum of Pashtun-Afghan tribes from Mahsuds to Yousafzais, while being an unconventional heretical “outsider”. His opponents are derided by the nationalists as being Mughal slaves.

Yet the irony is that Pir Rokhan himself was a Burki (Ormar) and therefore not a Pashtun….and similarly his rivals who led Pashtun public opinion against him, such as Pir Baba and Akhund Darweza were also not Pashtuns, but a Tajik and a Turk, respectively.

To sum up: Bayazid Ansari was a fanatical mystic in the sixteenth century, who succeeded in spreading a fiery heresy among the Pashtun-Afghan tribes, which posed a serious and lengthy challenge to Mughal imperial authority in the region. Although his image and legacy have been embellished a great deal by the Pashtun nationalists of today, who regard him as their icon and founder of “Pashtun nationhood” — the man is nevertheless an interesting figure. Known by his Persian title of Pir e Roshan (“the illumined saint”), his enemies called him Pir e Tareek (the saint of darkness). Belonging to the tiny Urmar (Burki) Iranian ethnicity found in this area, he is said to have been a charismatic personality and a learned mystic, who authored many books regarding his elaborate philosophy and he is said to have formulated the alphabet used for Pashto. He belonged to a branch of Burkis who had migrated to Jullundur in India, where the Mughals had provided them landed estates. He returned to his ancestral home, where he began a vigorous insurgency in the 1580s. This was carried on long after his death by his children and grandchildren — unusually both male and female — which was finally extinguished by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1630 when he captured and exiled the last surviving descendants of Pir Rokhan to India. The various unusual and eclectic aspects of this movement and teachings seem to show that Bayazid Ansari drew heavily on his ancestral Urmar culture and pagan metaphysics, because these were not found in the less colourful Pashtun way of life and orthodox Islam. Yet they appealed greatly to these tribes.

If we look at the character and work of Sher Shah Suri, Pir Baba of Buner, Bayazid Ansari and his archrival Akhund Darweza, it seems that Pashtuns have always had their great accomplishments carried out for them by non-Pashtuns! And that does not surprise, given the violent characteristics of the Pashtun tribal ethnicity and its unsettled culture…

The formal linguistic classification of an ancient Eastern Iranian language of Gandhara — Ormari. Also known by several other names, it belongs to the Ormari-Parachi subgroup.


Ormar (I prefer the spelling “Urmar”) is a Pashto term, supposedly the equivalent of the term “chiragh-kush” in Persian – which means “lamp (fire) killer” or lamp/fire extinguisher (as in a person, not the modern mechanical device). This is said to originate from certain festive practices traditionally ascribed to these people…which most probably imply some sort of Zoroastrian or Manichean influences. Although a lot has been typically conjectured by many commentators as to why they got that name, I will not go into it here, and state only that which is seriously and formally known and discussed in this regard in scholarly forums.

In this traditional genealogical tree shown above — of the Western section of the Sarabani Afghans provided by Caroe (P.12), the Urmars (Burkis/Barakis) are shown as having been “adopted” into the Sarabanis; the Urmars/Burkis in turn are shown to have “adopted” the entire Karlani Tribal Group, in this tree… There is great historical meaning and truth hidden in this otherwise symbolic allegory. From this, it can be adduced that the Urmars were an influential race here in the long forgotten ancient past – and were thereafter also favourably coopted into the later setup created far later by (the Afghan) invaders.

Though very eagerly termed as “Pashtuns” by modern day Pashtun nationalists, the Urmars are an old Iranian race, speaking a separate Eastern Iranian language of the same name – and are not Pashtun-Afghan at all.

The Urmars are now found in two large villages in the suburbs of Peshawar (Urmar Bala and Urmar Payan), and in the Kaniguram region of South Waziristan. They are also found a little to the west of there, in Baraki Barak district of Logar Province in Afghanistan. The ones near Peshawar have become Pashtunised in their language and attitudes a long time ago – but they still preserve the memory of the fact that they are a separate and older community. The ones in Kaniguram are about 5000 in number, and live right in the center of the Mahsud tribes, by whom they are greatly respected. They nowadays carry the title of “Syed” and form the business community of that area. It speaks a lot for their past stature, to be a different community and live isolated among wild tribes like the Mahsuds, and yet still survive and that too in their original form…. because these people still speak their original language at home, in addition to Pashto. The ones in Logar, Afghanistan also speak the Urmari language – but of a newer and different dialect, which is not understood in Kaniguram. The Barakis of Afghanistan are today regarded ethnically as Tajiks in the broad sense -- which is a more accurate classification.

Regarding their past, the Urmar culture preserves a number of legends and customs, which prove that they were some kind of Zoroastrian or more likely Manichean priesthood or administrative class – or both. Their name in Pashto being Urmar or “Ormar” – which means “fire extinguisher” – supposedly given to them in remembrance of some long forgotten pagan fertility rite involving young males and females being congregated inside a large community tent on the eve of the spring equinox, in which the lights were subsequently put out, followed by an orgiastic situation. Male babies whose birth was traced to this annual event would be regarded as being endowed with special spiritual qualities. So goes the tale.

Caroe P. 23

Further, it is shown in the second panel above (Caroe, P.23) — that according to their ancestral legend, the father of the important Karlani branch of Pashtun tribes (Afridis, Khattaks, Wazirs, Mahsuds, etc) was unknown — but he had been “adopted” by a childless man from the Urmar tribe…. supposedly, he was found abandoned as a baby by the Urmars in an iron “karrahi” or wok — and that is where he got his name from. It must be remembered that the Karlanis are distinct from the three other Pashtun-Afghan tribal branches — and all tribes are divided into two main yet unexplicable “Gar”and “Samil” sections, which scholars take to be Gabar=Magian and Sraman=Buddhist, respectively. Both these religions flourished side by side in the Gandhara-Paktiya/Paktuike area, with a large portion of the southern regions of KP Province being known as “Gabaristan” till very recently.

All the above can be broadly interpreted to mean that the ancient community that later became the Karlani Pashtun tribes — was ruled under some long forgotten arrangement, by an elite class from a separate Iranian race (the Urmars) — sometime in the long forgotten past before Islam, when those areas were part of the vast Persian Empire. We have already determined the ethnic roots of the Karlanis as being composed of the now extinct but previously widespread Pakhta Dards. Genetics can tell us the rest.

Scholar, Historian, Ethnologist, Philosopher, Activist.