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Petroglyph of sun, riders and dancers
From Tamgali, Kazakhstan , located off the main road to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Circa 1st century C.E.

Copyright © Perry Tourtellotte, 1997

Supplementing their own cultural and religious practices, the Sakas borrowed freely from the Indian, Greek and Iranian cultural traditions. As coins dating to the Saka period demonstrate, iconography of Greek and Indian gods and goddesses was sometimes utilized, possibly for devotional reasons, possibly for the expression of political power. Saka rulers donated funds and relics to Buddhist monasteries, and Iranian architectural and design motifs are also commonly found in the remains of Saka architecture.

Petroglyphs are another source of information about the cultural and religious life of the Sakas. In some cases, such as the stupa petroglyph from Chilas, the significance of the drawings on stone is not difficult to determine. This image, however, is more of a puzzle. It depicts what appears to be a drawing of the sun, under which pass a number of mounted figures. Along the bottom is a row of individuals, apparently dancing. The drawing may be an illustration of a Saka myth or tale, or perhaps a depiction of a rite or ritual honoring the sun. If the latter is the case, the ritual may be derived from the devotional practices of Mithraism, a faith that honors the ancient Iranian solar deity, Mithra. Alternatively, the drawing may be related to the Zoroastrian faith, which dictates that prayers are to be held in front of some form of light, whether it be fire, the sun, or at night, the moon (which reflects the sun), since light functions as a symbol of the Creator.

For more images of petroglyphs, see: Kazak-American Talgar Archaeology Project