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Kamboja Kingdom

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Kamboja Kingdom

The Kambojas (Sanskrit: कम्बोज, Kamboja; Persian: کمبوہ‎, Kambūh) were a Kshatriya tribe of Iron Age India, frequently mentioned in Sanskrit and Pali literature. Modern scholars conclude that the Kambojas were an Avestan speaking Eastern Iranian tribe who later settled in at the boundary of the ancient India. The Kambojas are classified as a Mleccha or barbarous tribe by the Vedic Inhabitants of India. Indologists believe that Kambojas have adopted Hinduism in a late Vedic Period.

Ethnicity and language

The ancient Kambojas may be related to the present-day Kamboj were an Indo-Iranian tribe.[1] They are however, sometimes described as Indo-Aryans[2][3][4] and sometimes as having both Indian and Iranian affinities.[5][6][7] The Kambojas are also described as a royal clan of the Sakas.[8][9]

Iranian characteristics

Linguistic analysis suggests that the Kambojas were East Iranians speaking the Avestan language.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

In the Mahabharata and in Pali literature, Kambojas appear in the characteristic Iranian roles of horsemen and breeders of notable horses.[17][18][19]

The Kambojas were located partly in north-eastern Afghanistan/north-west frontiers province of Pakistan and parts of Tajikstan.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]

The Bhishamaparava and Shantiparava in the Mahabharata indicate that the Kambojas were living in the north of India. Like other people of the Uttarapatha region, they are called mlechchas (barbarians) or asuras, lying outside the Indo-Aryan fold.[28][29][30][31] Majjhima Nikaya reveals that in the lands of Yavanas, Kambojas and some other frontier nations, there were only two classes of people: Aryas and Dasas, the masters and slaves. The Arya could become Dasa and vice versa.[32] This social organisation was completely alien to India, where a four-class social structure was prevalent.[31]

The Buddhist commentator and scholar Buddhaghosa (2nd or 4th century CE,[33] expressly describes the Kambojas as having Persian affinties.[34][35][36][37][38]

The Kambojas' religious customs were zoroastrian.

Indo-Aryan characteristics

Various ancient documents, such as the Vamsa Brahmana and Rig Veda, mention "Kamboja" in the context of the Indo-Aryan civilisation. These references have made various scholars argue that the Kambojas were Indo-Aryans and that in the early Vedic times they formed an important division of the Vedic Aryans.[4][21][39]

Some versions of Matsya Purana [40] refer to name "Kamboja" as one of the Brahmana Gotras, having Bhargava, Chyavana, Aurva, Jamadagnya & Apnuvana as its Pravara---whereas the other versions substitute "Vatsa" for "Kamboja". Pt Bhupindranatha Datta observes that a Rsi from amongst the ancient Kamboja people had founded this "Kamboja" Gotra.[41]


The earliest reference to the Kamboja is in the works of Pāṇini, around the 5th century BCE. Other pre-Common Era references appear in the Manusmriti (2nd century) and the Mahabharata (1st century), both of which described the Kambojas as former kshatriyas who had degraded through a failure to abide by Hindu sacred rituals.[42] Their territories were located beyond Gandhara, which lay in the area of northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan,[43] and the 3rd century BCE Edicts of Asoka refers to the area under Kamboja control as being independent of the Mauryan empire in which it was situated.[42]

Some sections of the Kambojas crossed the Hindu Kush and planted Kamboja colonies in Paropamisadae and as far as Rajauri. The Mahabharata locates the Kambojas on the near side of the Hindu Kush as neighbors to the Daradas, and the Parama-Kambojas across the Hindu Kush as neighbors to the Rishikas (or Tukharas) of the Ferghana region.[21][44][45]

The confederation of the Kambojas may have stretched from the valley of Rajauri in the south-western part of Kashmir to the Hindu Kush Range; in the south–west the borders extended probably as far as the regions of Kabul, Ghazni and Kandahar, with the nucleus in the area north-east of the present day Kabul, between the Hindu Kush Range and the Kunar river, including Kapisa[46][47] possibly extending from the Kabul valleys to Kandahar.[48]

Others locate the Kambojas and the Parama-Kambojas in the areas spanning Balkh, Badakshan, the Pamirs and Kafiristan,[49] or in various settlements in the wide area lying between Punjab, Iran and Balkh.[50][51] and the Parama-Kamboja even farther north, in the Trans-Pamirian territories comprising the Zeravshan valley, towards the Farghana region, in the Scythia of the classical writers.[2][52][53] The mountainous region between the Oxus and Jaxartes is also suggested as the location of the ancient Kambojas.[54]

The name Kamboja may derive from (Kam + bhuj), referring to the people of a country known as "Kum" or "Kam". The mountainous highlands where the Jaxartes and its confluents arise are called the highlands of the Komedes by Ptolemy. Ammianus Marcellinus also names these mountains as Komedas.[55][56][57] The Kiu-mi-to in the writings of Hiuen Tsang have also been identified with the Komudha-dvipa of the Puranic literature and the Iranian Kambojas.[58][59]

The two Kamboja settlements on either side of the Hindu Kush are also substantiated from Ptolemy's Geography, which refers to the Tambyzoi located north of the Hindu Kush on the river Oxus in Bactria, and the Ambautai people on the southern side of Hindukush in the Paropamisadae. Scholars have identified both the Ptolemian Tambyzoi and Ambautai with Sanskrit Kamboja.[21][60][61][62][63][64] Ptolemy also mentions a people called Khomaroi and Komoi in Sogdiana.[65] The Ptolemian Komoi is a classical form of Kamboi (or Kamboika, from Pali Kambojika, Sanskrit Kamboja).[66]

The Kambojas on the far side of the Hindu Kush remained essentially Iranian in culture and religion, while those on the near side came under Indian cultural influence.[67][68][69][70][71][72][73][74]

Theory of Origin - Eurasian Nomads

Some scholars believe that the Trans-Caucasian hydronyms and toponyms viz. Cyrus, Cambyses and Cambysene were due to tribal extension of the Iranian ethnics — the Kurus and Kambojas of the Indian texts, who according to them, had moved to the north of the Medes in Armenian Districts in remote antiquity.[75] The Cambyses (Jora/Yori or Gori) was the sacred river Champsis of the Scythians before they went to the north Caucasus isthmus via Caspian and Nlanytsch.[76]

But German scholar Friedrich Spiegel speculates that the Kambojas of the Kabul/Indus-land as mentioned in the Indian texts had originally migrated from Kambuja (Kambysene) of Transcaucasian Steppe (in Armenia and Albania).[77] Chandra Chakraberty also theorizes that the Kambojas---the Kambohs of NW Panjab was a branch of the Scythian Cambysene from ancient Armenia.[78]

As against the above, Buddha Prakash, S. Misra and others have done further research on this topic and have come to the conclusion that the Kurus and Kambojas were in fact, a Eurasian Nomads from the Central Asian Steppe who, as a composite horde, had entered Iran, Armenia, Anatolia as well as Indian Sub-continent through the passage between the Pamir mountains and the Caspian sea around 8th or 9th century BCE (or even earlier).

The Kambojan States

The capital of Kamboja was probably Rajapura (modern Rajori). The Kamboja Mahajanapada of Buddhist traditions refers to this cis-Hindukush branch.[79]

Kautiliya's Arthashastra and Ashoka's Edict No. XIII attest that the Kambojas followed a republican constitution. Pāṇini's Sutras tend to convey that the Kamboja of Pāṇini was a "Kshatriya monarchy", but "the special rule and the exceptional form of derivative" he gives to denote the ruler of the Kambojas implies that the king of Kamboja was a titular head (king consul) only.[80]

The Aśvakas

Main article: Aśvakas

The Kambojas were famous in ancient times for their excellent breed of horses and as remarkable horsemen located in the Uttarapatha or north-west.[81][82][83] They were constituted into military sanghas and corporations to manage their political and military affairs. The Kamboja cavalry offered their military services to other nations as well. There are numerous references to Kamboja having been requisitioned as cavalry troopers in ancient wars by outside nations.[84][85]

It was on account of their supreme position in horse (Ashva) culture that the ancient Kambojas were also popularly known as Ashvakas, i.e. horsemen. Their clans in the Kunar and Swat valleys have been referred to as Assakenoi and Aspasioi in classical writings, and Ashvakayanas and Ashvayanas in Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi.

The Kambojas were famous for their horses and as cavalry-men (aśva-yuddha-Kuśalah), Aśvakas, 'horsemen', was the term popularly applied to them... The Aśvakas inhabited Eastern Afghanistan, and were included within the more general term Kambojas.
Elsewhere Kamboja is regularly mentioned as "the country of horses" (Asvanam ayatanam), and it was perhaps this well-established reputation that won for the horsebreeders of Bajaur and Swat the designation Aspasioi (from the Old Pali aspa) and assakenoi (from the Sanskrit asva "horse").

Alexander's Conflict with the Kambojas

Main article: Alexander's Conflict with the Kambojas

The Kambojas entered into conflict with Alexander the Great as he invaded Central Asia. The Macedonian conqueror made short shrifts of the arrangements of Darius and after over-running the Achaemenid Empire he dashed into Afghanistan. There he encountered incredible resistance of the Kamboja Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes.[87][88]

These Ashvayana and Ashvakayana clans fought the invader to a man. When worse came to worst, even the Ashvakayana Kamboj women took up arms and joined their fighting husbands.

The Ashvakas fielded 30,000 strong cavalry, 30 elephants and 20,000 infantry against Alexander.

The Ashvayans (Aspasioi) were also good cattle breeders and agriculturists. This is clear from the large number of bullocks, 230,000 according to Arrian, of a size and shape superior to what the Macedonians had known, that Alexander captured from them and decided to send to Macedonia for agriculture.[89][90]


During the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, clans of the Kambojas from north Afghanistan in alliance the with Sakas, Pahlavas and the Yavanas entered India, spread into Sindhu, Saurashtra, Malwa, Rajasthan, Punjab and Surasena, and set up independent principalities in western and south-western India. Later, a branch of the same people took Gauda and Varendra territories from the Palas and established the Kamboja-Pala Dynasty of Bengal in Eastern India.[91][92][93][94]

There are references to the hordes of the Sakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, and Pahlavas in the Bala Kanda of the Valmiki Ramayana. In these verses one may see glimpses of the struggles of the Hindus with the invading hordes from the north-west.[4][95][96][97] The invading hordes from the north-west entered Punjab, Sindhu, Rajasthan and Gujarat in large numbers, wrested political control of northern India from the Indo-Aryans and established their respective kingdoms as independent rulers in the land of the Indo-Aryans, as also attested by the Mahabharata as well as the Kalki Purana. There is literary as well as inscriptional evidence supporting the Yavana and Kamboja overlordship in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The royal family of the Kamuias mentioned in the Mathura Lion Capital are believed to be linked to the royal house of Taxila in Gandhara.[98] The Maitraka Dynasty of Saurashtra, in all probability, belonged to the Kambojas, who had settled down in south-western India around the beginning of the Christian era. In the medieval era, the Kambojas are known to have seized north-west Bengal (Gauda and Radha) from the Palas of Bengal and established their own Kamboja-Pala Dynasty. Indian texts like Markandeya Purana, Vishnu Dharmottari Agni Purana,[99]

Eastern Kambojas

A branch of Kambojas seems to have migrated eastwards towards Tibet in the wake of Kushana (1st century) or else Huna (5th century) pressure and hence their notice in the chronicles of Tibet ("Kam-po-tsa, Kam-po-ce, Kam-po-ji") and Nepal (Kambojadesa).[100][101][102] The 5th-century Brahma Purana mentions the Kambojas around Pragjyotisha and Tamraliptika.[103][104][105][106][107]

The Kambojas of ancient India are known to have been living in north-west, but in this period (9th century AD), they are known to have been living in the north-east India also, and very probably, it was meant Tibet.
—R.R. Diwarkar[108]

Later these Kambojas appear to have moved towards Assam from where they may have invaded Bengal during the Pala Empire and wrested north-west Bengal from them. These Kambojas had made a first bid to conquer Bengal during the reign of king Devapala (810–850) but were repulsed. A later attempt was successful when they were able to deprive the Palas of the suzerainty over northern and western Bengal and set up a Kamboja dynasty in Bengal towards the middle of the 10th century.[109]

Mauryan period

The Kambojas find prominent mention as a unit in the 3rd-century BCE Edicts of Ashoka. Rock Edict XIII tells us that the Kambojas had enjoyed autonomy under the Mauryas.[4][110] The republics mentioned in Rock Edict V are the Yonas, Kambojas, Gandharas, Nabhakas and the Nabhapamkitas. They are designated as araja. vishaya in Rock Edict XIII, which means that they were kingless, i.e. republican polities. In other words, the Kambojas formed a self-governing political unit under the Maurya emperors.[111][112]

Ashoka sent missionaries to the Kambojas to convert them to Buddhism, and recorded this fact in his Rock Edict V.[113][114][115]

Modern Descendants

The Kamboj tribe of the Greater Punjab[116][117][118] and the Kom and Kata of the Siah-Posh tribe in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan[4] are believed by scholars to represent some of the modern descendants of the Kambojas.

Another branch of the Scythian Cambysene reached the Tibetan Plateau where they mixed with the locals, and some Tibetans are still called Kambojas.[119]

See also



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External links

  • B. C. Law, Some Kshatriya Tribes Of Ancient India, The Kambojas, [1]
  • Kamboj Society - Ancient Kamboja Country

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