This wall painting, located in Panjikent, depicts a deity of relatively local origin. Baba-ye Dihqan was associated with farming, and at times associated with creation stories of both Islamic and Iranian origin. According to the Encyclopedia Iranica, he is “believed to be the first man and the first farmer who taught his profession to mankind,” (Iranicaonline.org 2011). He is even sometimes associated with Adam after his exile from the Garden of Eden in the Islamic tradition, as both were the first men to bring farming to mankind. His influence can still be felt today in the region.
The painting itself is one of many from the ruins of the town of Panjikent. While most were found in the ruins of larger or upper class residences, this one was found in a granary. Given the painting's subject, a farming deity and the counting of wheat, this seems a highly appropriate place. It wasn’t the only granary in Panjikent with wall paintings (Marshak 2002, 14). Its presence in the granary also suggests the granary's owner was likely wealthy, seeing as wall paintings seem to have been symbols of status in Panjikent.
What makes this painting unique is both its form and its characters. Besides Baba-ye Dihqan, the painting is exceptional in its inclusion of peasantry. While the subjects of the paintings in Panjikent vary quite a bit, none of them include peasantry except for this one. Most figures are either religious or noble. A few merchants show up here and there, usually identifiable by a small black purse on their bodies (Hansen 2012, 125). The closest we have are images from Aesop’s Fables, but the people in those paintings could be considered artisans. We never see anyone lower class than them. This painting is the exception. This is not to say its subjects seem inappropriate. What better scene to have in a granary than a farming deity overseeing the counting of grain? But it certainly is unusual.
This overlooking of the merchant and lower classes is echoed in other wall paintings in Sogdiana. The paintings at the Afrasiab site in Samarkand have a few differences from those in Panjikent. They are generally more focused on realistic and secular images. Deities make few appearances, as do heroic or legendary figures. But still missing is, as Silk Road scholar Valerie Hansen describes it, “commercial activity,” (Hansen 2012, 125). This painting’s significance, then, its its existence at all. It sits as an outlier in Sogdian art, a painting with commercial activity and lower classes as a part of its focus. Even the deity, Baba-ye Diqhan, is an uncommon sight. Other than the subject, the painting is quite typical and wouldn’t stand out otherwise.
- Matthew Dischner
Hansen, Valerie. 2012. The Silk Road: A New History. New York: Oxford University Press
Encyclopaedia Iranica. 2011. "Baba-ye Dehqan." Last modified August 18, 2011. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/baba-ye-dehqan-mythological.
Marshak, Boris. 2002. Legends, Tales, and Fables in the Art of Sogdiana. New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press.