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Title: Ashvaka  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan, History of the Punjab, Kambojas, Kabul Shahi, Sophagasenus, Sivi Kingdom, Tushara Kingdom, Asmaka Kingdom, Bajaur Agency, Afghan (ethnonym)
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In Indian literature

The Aśvakas or Aśvakayanas, classically called the Assacenii/Assacani (Sanskrit: अश्वक), is the Sanskrit name of a people who supposedly lived in northeastern Afghanistan and the Peshawar Valley. They are/were believed to be a sub-group of the Greater Kamboja tribe profusely referenced in ancient Sanskrit/Pali literature and were partitioned into eastern and western Aśvakas.[1] They find mention in the Puranas, Mahabharata and numerous other ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts. Today, their descendants are mostly heterogeneous people. The modern ethnonym Afghan, which was attested in the 6th century in the form of Avagānā by the Indian astronomer Varāhamihira,[2] may have evidently derived from Aśvaka.

The Sanskrit term aśva, Iranian aspa and Prakrit assa means horse. The name Aśvaka/Aśvakan or Assaka is said to be derived from Sanskrit Aśva or Prakrit Assa and it literally denotes someone connected with the horses---hence: a horseman, or a cavalryman [3] or "breeder of horses".[4] The Aśvakas were especially engaged in the occupation of breeding, raising and training war horses, as also in providing expert cavalry services to outside nations, hence they also constituted an excellent class of Kshatriyas (warriors). Like tribal term Kamboja, the appellative term Aśvaka is also interpreted as land of horses.

Pāṇini styled the Aspa and the Aśvaka clans of the Kunar and Swat valleys (earlier Kafiristan--- modern Nuristan) [5] as Aśvayanas and Aśvakayanas respectively.[6] The Classical writers use the respective equivalents Aspasioi or Aspasii (Hippasii) and Assakenoi (or Assaceni/Assacani). Based on evidence from Indika of Megasthenes (c. 350 BC - 290 BC), Pliny (Gaius Plinius Secundus) (23 AD–79 AD) refers to clans like Osii (Asii), Asoi, and Aseni in his Historia Naturalis [7][8] and locates them on river Indus mainly in the northern western frontier parts parts of modern Pakistan which region exactly constituted the ancient Kamboja. The Osii, Taxilae, Amanda, Peucolaitae, Arsagalitae (=Urasa + Gilgit), Asoi, Geretae and Aseni etc were all related clans and constituted mostly the Gandhara and Kamboja population. Amanda (Gandhara),[9] Taxilae, Peucolaitae etc belonged to the Gandhara set-up whereas Asoi (Aspasioi—the Aśvayanas), Geretaei (Guraeans),[10] Asii (Aśvakas/Aśvakayanas), Aurasa (=Hazaras),[11] (i.e. the Arsa-(Aurasa-) component of the Arsagalitae), and the Aseni etc belonged to the Kamboja. John Watson McCrindle [12] also regards the Asoi and Geretae to be respectively equivalent to the Aspasioi and the Gouraei of Arian--both being western-branch of the Assakenoi (Aśvakas). Bucephala was the capital of Aseni which stood on Hydaspes (Jhelum).[13] Alexander had named this city after his horse Becephalus when it had died sometime in June 326 BC after being fatally wounded at the Battle of Hydaspes with king Porus (Paurava) of Punjab. A view has been held that the clan names like Osii, Asioi, and Aseni of Indika of Megasthenes equate to Asii referred to by Strabo and Asiani as referred to in Historiae Philippicae by Trogue Pompey and further, they also equate to the Aspasioi (Aspasii, Hipasii) and Assakenoi (Assacenii/Assacani) clans of upper Indus[14] referred to as Aśvayana and Aśvakayana in Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi.

Geographical location

The Aśvakas, according to Hindu tradition, were resident in the eastern parts of modern Afghanistan, south of Hindu Kush and their population reached up to the Indus River and to parts of Punjab in Pakistan. Their metropolitan areas were believed to be in the area of Swat (near modern Kalash-Valley and Pakistani side of Nuristan) and in some part regions of Gandhara (today Peshawar), in present day Pakistan.

Ancient Sanskrit literature also refers to another clan called Asmaka or Assaka (Asvakas) which represented an Indo-Aryan Janapada located on river Godavari in south-west India. Aśmaka literally means land of stone. Some scholars believe that the south-western Asmakas/Assakas were also an offshoot from the North-west Aśvakas.

Aśvakas: a branch of Kambojas

Buddhist Texts evidence

Buddhist texts like Aruppa-Niddeesa,[15] Manorathapurni, Kunala Jataka, Samangalavilasini etc speak of Kamboja land as the land of horses e.g:

Kambojo assa.nam ayata.nam...[16][17]

The cluster assa in the above expression of Sumangavilasini means horse,[18] which on adding suffix -ka gives the Prakrit Assaka which term when considered in the context of the above expression denotes the following:

  • Assaka = The Kambojas connected with horses; horsemen; cavalry.
  • Assaka = The Kamboja land or Janapada.

Similarly, the Sanskrit Aśvaka can be derived from Sanskrit Aśva meaning horse,[19][20] which, likewise, denote the following:

  • Aśvaka = The Kambojas connected with horses; horsemen; cavalry.
  • Aśvaka = The Kamboja land or Janapada.

From the above statement, it is quite obvious that term Assaka or Aśvaka stood for the Kamboja land, Kamboja pe ople, Kamboja horsemen or the Kamboja cavalry.

The formation of clannish name Aśvaka or Assaka from the Sanskrit "Aśva" or the Prakrit "Assa" has exactly a similar formation as followed by tribal terms such as Kambojika/Kambojaka (from Kamboja), Madaraka (from Madra) and Yonaka (from Yona), Lichchhivika (from Lichchhivi), Vrijika (from Vriji), Mallaka (from Malla), Jartaka (from Jarta = modern Jat).

For justifiable reasons, the name Aśvaka has also been interpreted by scholars as the "land of horses".[21][22][23][24][25][26][27] In ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts, Kamboja has repeatedly been styled as the "home of horses".[15][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37] Thus, based on the name and the geographical location of Aśvaka tribe, numerous scholars have concluded that the Aśvakas were a sub-branch of the more general tribal name Kamboja.

Arrian's and Asoka's evidence

Bevan and many other scholars have connected the Greek name Assakenoi and Asapasio with Sanskrit Asva i.e. horse.[38]

The companions of Alexander (~326 BCE) do not record the names of Kamboja and Gandhara and rather locate numerous small political units in their territories[39]

Arrian[40] informs us that the region on west of Indus up to Kophen (Kabul) was inhabited by tribes called Assakenoi and Aspasioi. In the dominions of the Assakenoi there was a great city called Massaka, the seat of sovereign power, which controlled whole region. And there was another city called Peukelaitis which was also of great size and was not far from Indus. It was the seat of Astakenoi (western Gandharas). These settlements were on the west side of Indus and extended in the western direction as far as the Kophen. From Arrian we learn that the Aspasioi and the Assakenoi (Asvakas) were located west of Indus on river Kabul extending towards Hindukush. The Astakenoi (western Gandharas) had occupied Peukelaitis and their other section—the Taxilae (eastern Gandharas) were located on east of Indus.

Fifth Major Rock Edict (~250 BCE) of king Asoka found at Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra in north-west frontier province of Pakistan (the supposed location of the Kambojas) enumerates the Yavanas, Kambojas and Gandhara in that order. Scholars believe that the order of enumeration implies that these people were geographically located in that order.[41] Asoka's Thirteenth Major Rock Edict (~250 BCE) found in the same locations speaks saliently of the Yonas and the Kambojas but excludes the Gandharas altogether. His Minor Rock Edict (~342 BCE) inscribed in Greek and Aramaic languages and located in Kandahar is said to be specifically directed at the Yonas and the Kambojas.[42] His other three epigraphic inscriptions in Aramaic found in 1932, 1969 and 1973 in Lamghan valley at Pul-i-Darunta, Sultan Baba and Sam Baba respectively, and yet another one found in Kandhahar in 1964, again in Aramaic, undoubtedly speak high of the eminence of the Kambojas during Maurya rule.[43][44]

Thus, we see that the Yonas and the Kambojas are referenced more numerously and more prominently in king Asoka's edicts whereas the Gandharas find only lesser reference. This clearly implies that during Asoka's time, the Yonas and the Kambojas were more significant people of Afghanistan.[45]

  • Now king Asoka's Yavanas were undoubtedly located in Arachosia (Kandhahar) [46]
  • And his Gandharas were in Pushkalavati/Peshawar west of Indus (territory of the Astakenoi of Arrian) as well as in Taxila (the kingdom of Taxiles) on east side of river Indus.[46]
  • Therefore, the Kambojas of king Asoka are left with no alternative other than to be placed exactly and precisely in the same position as the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of Arrian.[47] The Kambojas had accordingly occupied Paropamisadae (Kabul, Kunar and Swat valleys) where the Aramaic records of king Asoka have been found.[48]
  • Cf: 'Where the Kambojas geographically should have been we exactly find the Assakenoi and the Aspasioi whose names were derived from the reputation they enjoyed for the excellence of their horse. And the Kambojas—found as they are in Indian traditions as the splendid horsemen and breeders of notable horses—surely are included among them' .[49]
  • Cf:"The word Aśvaka derived from Aśva a horse signified merely the cavaliers (or horsemen); it was less an ethnic in the rigorous acceptance of the word than a general appellation applied by the Indians of Punjab to the tribes of the region of Kophes (Kabul) renowned from antiquity for the excellence of its horses. In popular dialect, the Sanskrit word took the usual form Assaka which reappears scarecely unmodified in Assakennoi".[50]

Since the Kophese (or Kabul valley) was precisely the seat of the Kamboja tribes, hence Aśvaka as an appellation was undoubtedly applied to this people i.e the Kambojas.

We, thus get another name for the Kambojas i.e Asvakas. Since the Kambojas were famous as cavalrymen (Asva-yuddhah-Kushalah); Aśvakas, 'horsemen' was the term popularly applied to them.[51]

Further observations

The Yonas of king Asoka get adequately accounted for in Arachosia. And his Gandharas get adequately accounted for by the Astakenoi of Peukelaitis (eastern Gandharas) and the Taxilae located on east side of Indus (Eastern Gandharas). Could any scholar tell as to how can we account for the Kambojas unless we equate them to the Aspasioi and Assakenoi of Arrian?. Do we have any answer?

How could the Kambojas who otherwise find so prominent a mention (1) as independent rulers of a great Mahajanapada per Buddhist texts of 500 BCE;[52] 2) as a very salient Kshatriya tribe in Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi of 400 BCE;[53] (3) as an important self-ruling people in Arthashastra of Kautiliya (~300 BCE)–the prime minister of Chandragupta Maurya which authority also glorifies the war horses of the Kamboja to be the foremost among the best breed of the known horses [54] while making no reference whatsoever to the Gandharas or their horses; and (4) lastly but not the least, also being so importantly referred to the Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra Rock Edicts of Asoka (~250 BCE) etc–fell out of limelight so abruptly and becoming virtually extinct so suddenly in the intervening period of Alexander's invasion (326 BCE) just 50–60 years anterior to king Asoka's reign unless we equate them to same people as the Aspasioi and Assakenoi of the Greek writings?

It is quite remarkable that, whereas the companions of Alexander (326 BCE) give very high prominence to the Aspasioi of Kunar valley, the Assakenoi of Swat valley and Astakenoi of Peukelaitis, the Edicts (~250 BCE) king Asoka, on the other hand give high prominence only to Yonas (in Arachosia) and Kambojas (in Kabul/Swat valleys).[55] There is no mention of any Aśvaka people in Asoka's records. The contemporary Buddhist texts also repeatedly refer to the Kambojas and Gandharas but not to the Aśvakas of Kabul valley.[56] Also although the numerous Buddhist texts repeatedly style the Kamboja as the "home of horses"', there is absolutely no reference to any Gandhara horse or to the Gandhara being a "home of horses" in the same Buddhist sources.

This single and very important historical fact rules out any identification of the Aśvakas with the Gandharas as some writers erroneously tend to establish.

Thus, the expression "home of horses" specifically used by numerous Buddhist texts with reference to the Kambojas (and only the Kambojas) should clearly establish their identity and connection with the Aśvakas. Indisputably, the Aśvakas were a sub-section of the wider Kamboja tribe (K. P. Jayaswal).[57]

Apart from the Buddhist sources, the epic Mahabharata as well as numerous Puranic texts also repeatedly refer to the excellent horses (Aśvas) of the Kambojas and also frequently style the latter people as "Aśva-yudha-Kushalah" (expert cavalry),[58] yet none of them makes even a slightest reference to the Aśvakas of Kabul or their horses.[59] Very interestingly, Mahabharata in its enumeration of best class horses, mentions the Kamboja, Aratta, Mahi, Sindhu and Vanayu horses only but makes no reference to the Gandhara as well as any Aśvaka horses.[60] Valmiki Ramayana also glorifies the horses of Kamboja, Bahlika, Vanayu etc and styles them as of foremost breed but it does not refer to any Gandhara or any Aśvaka horses at all.[61] Arthashastra of Kautiliya gives high prominence to the Kambhoja, Sindhu, Aratta and Vanayu horses and lesser to those from the Bahlíka (Bactria), Papeya, Sauvira and Taitala countries but this important text on state-craft also makes no reference to the Gandhara and Aśvaka horses.[62] Similarly, numerous other ancient Indian texts like Upamiti Bhava Prapancha Katha, Abhidhamma Ratanamala, Samaraiccakaha of Haribhadra Suri, Manasollasa of Chalukya king Somesavara III, Amarakosa of Amara Simha,[63] Asvashastra of Nakula, Karanabhara of Bhasa etc refer to the horses from countries like Kamboja, Bahlika, Vanayu, Sindhu, Saka, Yavana, Tushara, Khorasan, Tajik, Turushaka etc but not mention any horses from Gandhara or Asvaka country. As a matter-of-fact, none of the numerous Hindu, Buddhist as well as the Jaina texts make even a slightest reference to the Aśvaka horses while references to the Kamboja horses loom very large in all of these texts.

The Bengal recension of Ramayana,[64] Mahabharata,[65] Vayu Purana,[66] Brahamanda Purana,[67] Vishnudharmottara Mahapurana [68] Matsya Purana, and Markendeya Purana [69] etc all refer to the southern Asmakas (Assakas of the Buddhist texts) only [70] but has no reference to the Kabul Asvakas. Padma Purana however, seems to locate the Asmakas in northern [71] as well as in southern India.[72] Brhat-Samhita of Varaha Mihira (6th century CE) mentions the Asmakas living near to the Madras in north-western division.[73] The northern Asmakas of Padama Purana as well as Brhatsamhita are obviously the same people as the Asvakas of Kunar/Swat valleys. Ashtadhyayi of Pāṇini specifically refers to the Asvakas of the Kunar/Swat valleys as Asvayanas and the Asvakayanas [6] (highlander republican people) located south of Hindukush who are considered equivalent to Arrian's Aspasioi and Assakenoi respectively. They had constituted the Ganas of the Paropamisadian Kambojas. In his sutras, Pāṇini also makes separate mention of the Asmakas of south and associates them with Avantis in a single appellation as Avantyasmakah,[74] thus obviously referring to the southern Asmakas located on Godavary.

Vishnudharmotra Purana/Agni Purana evidence

Puranic text like Vishnudharmotra Purana too specifically attests that the Kambojas and Gandharas were proficient in cavalry warfare i.e. in Aśva'-Yuddha.[75][76] A similar information is also provided in the Agni Purana.[77] This again seems to confirm a connection between the Kambojas and Aśvakas.

Mahabharata evidence

In the Anushasnaparava section of Mahabharata, the Kambojas are specifically designated as aśava.yuddha.kushalah (expert cavalry).[78]

Commenting on the above verse of Mahabharta, noted scholars like Dr K. P. Jayswal observe that "Since the Kambojas were famous for their horses (aśva) and as a cavalry-men (Aśva-yudhah kushalah), hence the Aśvakas i.e. horsemen was the term popularly applied to them".[79]

Shakti Sangham Tantra evidence

Shatt.panchashad.desha.vibhaga of Shakti Sangama Tantra also testifies that the Kamboja was not only famous for its fine horses (aśva) but also for its excellent horsemen.[80][81][82]

Aśvaka coins and Arthashastra evidence

The coins of Aśvakas refer to themselves as vatasvaka (vata.asvaka), which in Sanskrit, equals varta-aśvaka i.e Aśvakas engaged in varta profession.[83]

The use of prikritic vata (Sanskrit varta) appellation by the Aśvakas in their coins reminds one of the Varta.shastr.opajivin descriptions of the Kambojas as attested by Kautiliya in his Arthashastra.[84]

The above view is further reinforced by Brahtsamhita of Varaha Mihira which also says that the Kambojas lived by shastr and varta.[85]

The Asvayanas (Kambojas) have been attested to be good cattle breeders and agriculturists by classical writers. This is clear from big number of the bullocks, 230,000 according to Arrian, of a size and shape superior to what the Macedonians had not known, which Alexander captured from them and decided to send them to Macedonia for agriculture.[86]

The Aśvaka Kambojas are also attested to have fielded 30,000 strong cavalry, 30 elephants and 20,000 infantry against Alexander.[87]

These above staggering figures about agricultural cattle and the war horses of the Aśvakas sufficiently prove the correctness of Kautiliya's statement on the Kambojas which portrays the Kambojas as living both by warfare (shastr.opajivin) as well as by agriculture/cattle-culture (varta.opajivin).

The above facts, when viewed in the light of time and space propinquity, evidently connect the Aśvakas with the varta.shastr.opajivin Kambojas of the Arthashastra.[88]

More opinions from scholars

Sir Thomas H. Holdich, in the his classic book, The Gates of India, writes that the Aspasians (Aspasioi) represent the modern Kafirs.[89] But the modern Kafirs, especially the Siyah-Posh Kafirs (Kamoz/Camoje, Kamtoz) etc are considered to be modern representatives of the ancient Kambojas Kafirs of Hindu Kush and the Kambojas, this shows that the Aspasioi (Aspas), who were the western branch of the Assakenoi (Aśvakas) of classical writings, represented a section of the Sanskrit Kambojas.

According to Pakistan Review: "These Kafirs once occupied a wider region before the pressure of events squeezed them into their present narrow valleys. They or some earlier ethnic type on which they become superimposed, may have been the Kambhojas and the Alinas of the Vedas whose offshoots were probably the tribes encountered by Alexander in Kunar, Bajaur and Swat. Among the Greek writers Arrian refers to them as Assakenoi and Aspasioi. These names are associated with the old Aryan word for horse (asva) and that the horse's head is still recognized as a sacred symbol by these Kafir remnants...".[90] Thus according to this view also, the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of Arrian were offshoots from the Kambojas.

French scholars Dr E. Lamotte has also identified the Aśvakas with the Kambojas of ancient Sanskrit literature. "Par ailleurs le Kamboja est régulièrement mentionné comme la "patrie des chevaux" (Asvanam ayatanam), et cette reputation bien etablie gagné peut-etre aux eleveurs de chevaux du Bajaur et du Swat l'appellation d'Aspasioi (du v.-p. aspa) et d’assakenoi (du skt asva "cheval")" [91]

While discussing Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes living west of Indus and north of river Kabul in the valleys of Alishang, Kunar, Swat and Panjkora, in context of Alexander's invasion of India, Paul Goukowsky observes: "Pour les sources Indiennes, ce pays est celui des Kamboja eleveurs de chevaux. De fait, les tribus signalées dans cette région par les historiens d'Alexandre portent des noms tirés de celui du cheval (iranien aspa, sanscrit asva...). Pāṇini connait deux peuplades les Asvayana (vallees de l'Alishang et du Kunar) et les Asvakayana (habitat l'Udyana, cest-a-dire le Swat le Buner et la vallee de la Panjkora. Les premiers paraissent correspondre aux Aspasiens/Hipasiens (par l'intermediate d'une forme Iranienne en Aspa); les seconds aux Assakeniens (la forme pracrite en Assa etant celle de la langue parlee a l'epoque le d'Alexandre). Il semble donc que la langue Iranienne predominait au nord du Kunar le pracrit au sud".[92] Thus, Paul considers the Assakenoi and Aspasioi as sections of the Kambojas.

Cf: "Kamboja is regularly mentioned as the "homeland of horses" and it was this well-established reputation which possibly earned the horse-breeders of Bajaur and Swat the epithet of Aspasioi (from Old Pers Aspa) and Assakenoi (from Sanskrit Asva "horse")".[93][94]

While referring to a certain Sakya legend connected with Udyana locale (north-west frontiers province of Pakistan), James Fergusson connects the Udyana country with the Kambojas of the Hindu texts.[95] But the territories of Kunar, Udyana, Swat and Varana (Aorna of classical writers) etc were the very habitats of the Aśvaka Kambojas since remote antiquity...thus proving that the Asvakas were same as the Kambojas.

J. W. McCrindle says that the modern Afghanistan -- the Kaofue (Kambu) of Hiun Tsang was ancient Kamboja, and further says that the name Afghan evidently derives from the Aśavakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian. Thus it can be seen that Dr McCrindle clearly identifies the classical Assakenoi/Aspasioi with the Sanskrit Kambojas.[96]

While discussing Kambojas, Dr H. C. Raychayudhury, Dr B. N. Mukerjee write: "With the expression Assa.nam Ayata.nam---land of horses used by Pali texts in reference to the Kambojas, may be compared the names Aspasioi and Assakenoi given by classical writers to the sturdy people living in the Alishang and Swat valleys in the days of Alexander ".[97]

According to John Muir,[98] the Kambojas had inhabited north-west of India from river Indus to as far as Hindukush. They had the same Aryan origin as the Indians however, they were afterwards reckoned to be barbarians because their manners became changed afterwards and they were justly called Indians and barbarians by the Chinese [99] and the Greeks.[100] The same therefore, happened to the Kambojas although in a less marked manner as took place between the Zend people and the Indians in a more remote period". Since Fah-hien's Indians were people of Swat/Udyana, Hiuen Tsang's Indians were the people of Kapisa to Rajapura (Rajauri) and Arrian's Indians were the Assakenoi, Aspasio and Asteknoi localised in Kapisa/Swat/Kunar/Aornos regions of Paropamisadae in the west of Indus and north of Kabol as far as up to the Hindu Kush, hence, Johm Muir's Kambojas are exactly the same as the Aspasio, Guraeus, Assakenoi and Astekenoi of Arrian, or the people from Kapisa to Udyana/Swat territories, stated to be rude frontier Indians by Chinese pilgrims Hiuen Tsang and Fa-hien.

Dr S. M. Ali has identified the ancient Kambojas of the Puranic literature with the inhabitants of the Kafir valleys,[101] who, as we know from classical writings, were none else than the Aspasioi off-shoot of the Aśvakan Kambojas.

According to Dr J. L. Kamboj: "It is now generally accepted that the Ashvakas (Assakenoi/Aspasioi of Arrian, Ashvakayanas/Asvayanas of Pāṇini) were a sub-branch of the Kambojas. Their coins have been found with the legend 'Vatasvaka'. The significance of the Prakritic word 'vata' in 'Vatasvaka' (Vata+asvaka) is to be sought in its Sanskrit form (Varta) which means (among other things) trade, industry, and agriculture. These were also precisely the professions of the Kambojas since Kautilya specifically styles the Kambojas as Varta.sastr.opajivin i.e living by agriculture, trade and wielding weapons.[102][103] The Asvaka coins also bear a long robed figure in trousers (i.e an Asvaka) standing with folding hands before the moon-on-hill. In a series of coins from Pataliputra (Mauriyas), a similar moon-on-hill symbol is placed over a standard. The homageful figure in Vatasvaka coins has been interpreted by some scholars to express the subordination of the Asvakas to the dynasty of Candra (i.e Chandragupta Maurya)".[104][105]

"History of Panjab" by Dr L. M. Joshi and Dr Fauja Singh (Ed) also identifies the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of the classical writings with the clans of the Kambojas.[106]

Dr R. C. Majumdar, Romila Thappar, noted historians of India also take the Aśvakas to be same people as the Kambojas and they all connect them with the people of Kafirstan.

Dr Buddha Parkash notes: "The Macedonian conqueror made short shrifts of the arrangements of Darius and over-running Achaemenian empire, dashed into modern Pakistan (achemenid satrapen) and encountered stiff residstence of the Kamboja tribes called Aspasioi and Assakenoi known in the Indian texts as Aśvayana and Aśvakayana ".[107][108]

These Asvayana and Asvakayana clans had fought the invader to a man. When worst came to worst, even the Asvakayana Kamboj women had taken up arms and joined their fighting husbands, thus preferring "a glorious death to a life of dishonor".[109] Diodorus gives a detailed graphic picture as to how the Aśvakayanas (Kambojs) had conducted themselves when faced with the sudden treacherous onslaught from Alexander.[110]

Commenting on the heroic resistance and courage displayed by the Aśvakayanas (Kambojas) in the face of treacerous onslaught of Alexander, Dr Buddha Prakash remarks: "Hardly could any Thermopylae be more glorious!"[111]

Afghan and Aśvakan relationship

Numerous scholars of note now believe that the name Afghan has been derived from Sanskrit Aśvaka or Aśvakan (Aśvakayana), the Assakenoi of Arrian.[112] This view was propounded by scholars like Dr Christian Lassen,[113] Dr. J. W. McCrindle,[114] M. V. de Saint Martin[115] etc, and has been supported by numerous modern scholars[116] .[117][118] In Sanskrit, the word aśva (Iranian aspa, Prakrit assa) means "horse", and aśvaka (Prakrit assaka) means "horseman",[119] "horse people",[120] "land of horses"[121]

Kamboja Cavalry in ancient wars

The Kambojas had been famous throughout all periods of history for their excellent breed of horses as well as famous horsemen or cavalry troopers.[122][123][124][125][126] They repeatedly appear in the characteristic Iranian roles of splendid horsemen and breeders of notable horses.[127] The epic, the Puranic and numerous other ancient literature profusely attest the Kambojas among the finest horsemen.[128] They were constituted into Military Sanghas and Corporations to manage their political affairs, as Kautiliya and Mahabharata amply attest for us. They are also attested to have been living as Ayuddha-jivi or Shastr-opajivis, which means that the Kamboja cavalry offered their military services to other nations as well. There are numerous references to Kambojas being requistioned as cavalry troopers in ancient wars by outside nations. V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar observes: "Both the Puranas and the epics agree that the horses of the Sindhu and Kamboja regions were of the finest breed, and that the services of the Kambojas as cavalry troopers were requisitioned in ancient wars".[129]

Greek historiographers

Herodotus attests that the Gandarian mercenaries (Gandharans/Kambojans) from the twentieth strapy of the Achaemenids were recruited in the army of emperor Xerxes I (486-465 BCE) which he led against the Hellas.[130]

Similarly, the men of the Mountain Land (Akaufaka), from north of Kabol-River equivalent to medieval Kohistan (Pakistan), figure in the army of Darius III against Alexander at Arbela with a cavalry and fifteen elephants.[131]

These mercenaries were the well known parvatiya Ayuddhajivins of Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi[132] located on either side of the Hindu Kush and who belonged to Kamboja/Gandhara group of a warrior caste.[133]

Sanskrit epics

General Sudakshina of the Kambojas was invited by Duryodhana, the Kuru king of Hastinapura to help him in the Mahabharata war against the Pandavas. Sudakshina Kamboj came to his side with one Akshauhini powerful army of ferocious Central Asian warriors which also included the Shakas and Yavanas, besides the Kambojas.[134] Of the ten distinguished Generals appointed by Duryodhana to efficiently manage his vast host of army, Sudakshina Kamboja was one such distinguished General.[135]

Bala Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana refers to a battle between sage Vasishtha and king Vishwamitra of Kanauj. Sage Visishtha had sought the military assistance of the Kambojas, Shakas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, Kiratas and other Mlechchas from the North-west. King Vishwamitra had lost all his sons in the battle. In remorse, he renounced the world and turned into an ascetic after the war.[136]

Mauryan period

The ancient Sanskrit drama Mudra-rakashas by Vishakhadatta and the Jaina work Parisishtaparvan refer to Chandragupta's alliance with Himalayan king Parvataka. The Himalayan alliance gave Chandragupta a formidable composite army made up of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Kiratas, Parasikas and Bahlikas as attested by Mudra-Rakashas (Mudra-Rakshasa 2).[137]

With the help of these frontier martial tribes from Central Asia, Chandragupta was able to defeat the Greek successors of Alexander the Great and the Nanda/Nandin rulers of Magadha so as to found the powerful Maurya empire in northern India, at least for a short time till the Kushans and other ruler conquered north-west India.

The Kalika Purana, one of the eighteen Upa-Puranas of the Hindus, refers to a war between King Kalika and notes the Shakas, Kambojas, Khasas etc as a powerful military allies of king Kali. The Purana further notes these Barbarians as taking orders from their women,[138] which culture was typical of tribes located on Oxus/north-west.


Patanjali around 150 BCE and Yuga Purana chapter of Gargi-Samhita refer to 2nd-century BCE Yavana attack on Saketa, Panchala, Mathura and Pataliputra located in Majjhima-desa or Mid India. Anushasnaparava of Mahabharata attests that Mathura country in Mid India was under the joint control of the Yavanas and the Kambojas (12.101.05). The Kamboja royal family at Mathura is also attested from Mathura Lion Capitol inscriptions of Saka Strap (Kshatrapa) Rajuvula. Vanaparava of Mahabharata woefully deplores that the sacred earth (Indo-Aryan land), in Kaliyuga, would be ruled un-righteously by Mlechchha kings of the Yavanas, Kambojas, Sakas etc.[139] These references show that the Kamboja cavalry from north-west in conjunction with the Yavanas had invaded India and ruled over it prior to Christian era migration of Kambojas and Yona invasion of India.


According to numerous Puranas, the military Corporations of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas and Paradas, known as pānca-ganah (five hordes) as well as foremost of the Kshatriya or warrior clans (Kshatriya-ganah & Ksatriya pungvah), had militarily supported the Haihaya and Talajunga Kshatriyas in depriving Ikshvaku king Bahu (the 7th king in descent from Harishchandra), of his Ayodhya kingdom.

A generation later, Bahu's son, Sagara recaptured Ayodhya after totally destroying the Haihaya and Talajangha Kshatriyas in the battle. Story goes that king Sagara had punished these foreign hordes by changing their hair-styles and turning them into degraded Kshatriyas.[140]

Bhagavata Purana refers to a war between Jarasandha and Yadavas led by Sri Krshna. The Kambojas came as military allies of Jarasandha, king of Magadha. There is reference to the siege of Gomant Parvata where the Kamboja army was positioned on its east flank.[141] Bhagavata Purana[142] speaks of the Kamboja General as a powerfully armed mighty warrior (samiti-salina atta-capah Kamboja).

Pala Empire

The Palas employed mercenary forces and certainly recruited horses from Kambojas as is clear from their own Inscriptions.[143] According to Dr N. G. Majumdar, if horses could be brought from Kamboja, it is also perfectly reasonable to suppose that for trade and other purposes, some adventurers (from Kamboja) could also have found their way into that province.[144] Scholars like Dr R. C. Majumdar observe that the armed forces of Pala Dynasty of Bengal had included foreigners like the Khasas, Hunas, Kambojas, Kulitas, Karnatas, Latas and Malavas etc. Writes Dr R. C. Majumdar: "Mercenary soldiers (Specially cavalry) might have been recruited from the Kambojas and some of them might have been influential chiefs". According Dr Majumdar and many other scholars, some courageous military General of the Kambojas had later captured north-western parts of Bengal from the Palas and founded the Kamboja dynasty in Bengal.[145]

Scholars also state that the Kamboja cavalry had also formed part of the Gurjara-Pratihara armed forces in 8th to 10th centuries AD. They had come to Bengal with the Pratiharas when the latter conquered part of the province.[146][147][148][149][150][151] In fact, there is stated to have been a separate regiment of the Kambojas in the army of the Pratiharas which was given the responsibility to defend the northern-eastern parts of their empire adjoining with the Palas of Bengal. When the fortunes of the Palas sagged low after the death of Narayanapala in early 10th century, these Kambojas, the military associates of the Pratiharas had seized Gauda from Pala king Rajyapala and laid the foundation of the Kamboja empire in north-west Bengal.[152][153]

See also


Further reading

  • Geographical Data in Early Puranas, A Critical Study, 1972, p 179 Dr M. R. Singh
  • Dictionary of Greek & Roman Geography, Vol-I, 1966, William Smith, Phillip Smith
  • Geographical Dictionary of ancient and Medieval India, Dr Nundo Lal Dey
  • Itihaas Parvesh (Hindi), 1948, Dr Jaychandra Vidyalankar
  • Ancient India as Described in Megasthenes and Arrian, 1960, J. W. McCrindle
  • The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great, 1896, J. W. McCrindle
  • The Gates of India, Sir Thomas H. Holdich
  • Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, Dr J. L. Kamboj
  • The Geographical Data in Early Purana, 1972, Dr M. R. Singh
  • Hindu Polity, Part I & II, 1978, Dr K. P. Jayswal
  • Panjab Past and Present, Dr Buddha Parkash
  • Historie du bouddhisme Indien, p 110, Dr E. Lammotte
  • East and West, 1950, pp 28, 157-58, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Editor, Prof Giuseppe Tucci, Co-editors Prof Mario Bussagli, Prof Lionello Lanciotti.
  • History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, 1988, p 100 - History
  • Raja Poros, 1990, Publication Buareau, Punjabi University, Patiala
  • History of Poros, 1967, pp 12,39, Dr Buddha Prakash
  • Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol XX
  • Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, 1900
  • History and Culture of Indian People, Age of Imperial Unity, Vol II, Dr A. D. Pusalkar, Dr R. C. Majumdar
  • History of Panjab, Vol I, Dr Fauja Singh, Dr L. M. Joshi.
  • The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, Kirpal Singh.
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