The Ancient Geography of India/Northern India

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The Ancient Geography of India: I.
The Buddhist Period, Including the Campaigns of Alexander, and the Travels of Hwen-Thsang
Sir Alexander Cunningham
Trübner and Company, 1871 - India

I. Northern India

[p.15]: The natural boundaries of India are the Himalaya mountains, the river Indus, and the sea. But on the west, these limits have been so frequently overstepped by powerful kings that most authors, from the time of Alexander down to a very late period, have considered Eastern Ariana, or the greater part of Afghanistan, as forming a portion of the Indian continent.

Thus Pliny[1] says that " most writers do not fix the Indus as the western boundary (of India), but add to it the four satrapies of the Gedrosi, Arachotse, Arii, and Paropamisadae, — thus making the river Cophes its extreme boundary." Strabo[2] also says that " the Indians occupy (in part) some of the countries situated along the Indus, which formerly belonged to the Persians. Alexander deprived the Ariani of them, and established there settlements of his own. But Seleukus Nikator gave them to Sandrokottus, in consequence of a marriage contract, and received in return five

  1. Plin. Hist. Nat., vi. 23. " Etenim plerique ab occidente non Indo amne determinant, sed adjiciunt quatuor satrapias, Gedrosos, Arachotas, Arios, Paropamisadae, ultimo fine Copbete iluvio."
  2. Geogr., XV. 2, 9. In another place, xv. 1, 11, he states that at the time of the invasion of Alexander " the Indus was the boundary of India and of Ariana, situated towards the west, and in the possession of the Persians, for afterwards the Indians occupied a larger portion of Ariana, which they had received from the Macedonians."

[p.16]: hundred elephants." The prince here mentioned is the well-known Chandra Gupta Maurya, whose grandson Asoka dispatched missionaries to the most distant parts of his empire for the propagation of Buddhism. Alasadda, or Alexandria ad Caucasum, the capital of the Yona, or Greek country, is recorded as one of these distant places ; and as the Chinese pilgrim Hwen Thsang notices several stupas in that neighbourhood as the work of Asoka, we have the most satisfactory proofs of the Indian occupation of the Kabul valley in the third and fourth centuries before Christ. The completeness of this occupation is well shown by the use of the Indian language on the coins of the Bactrian Greeks and Indo-Scythians, down to A.D. 100, or perhaps even later ; and although it is lost for the next two or three centuries, it again makes its appearance on the coins of the Abtelites, or White Huns, of the sixth century. In the following century, as we learn from the Chinese pilgrim, the king of Kapisa was a Kshatriya, or pure Hindu. During the whole of the tenth century the Kabul valley was held by a dynasty of Brahmans, whose power was not finally extinguished until towards the close of the reign of Mahmud Ghaznavi. Down to this time, therefore, it would appear that a great part of the population of eastern Afghanistan, including the whole of the Kabul valley, must have been of Indian descent, while the religion was pure Buddhism. During the rule of the Ghaznavis, whose late conversion to Muhammadanism had only added bigotry to their native ferocity, the persecution of idol-loving Buddhists was a pleasure as well as a duty. The idolaters were soon driven out, and with them the Indian element, which had subsisted for

[p.17]: So many centuries in Eastern Ariana, finally disappeared.

I. Kaofu, or Afghanistan.

For several centuries, both, before and after the Christian era, the provinces of Northern India beyond the Indus, in which, the Indian language and religion were predominant, included the whole of Afghanistan from Bamian and Kandahar on the west to the Bholan Pass on the south. This large tract was then divided into ten[1] separate states or districts, of which Kapisa was the chief. The tributary states were Kabul and Ghazni in the west, Lamghan and Jalalabad in the north, Swat and Peshawar in the east, Bolor in the north-east, and Banu and Opokien in the south.

The general name for the whole would appear to have been Kao-fu, which in the second century before Christ is described as being divided between the Parthians, the Indians, and the Su or Sacae of Kipin. According to this statement, the south-west district of Kandahar would have belonged to the Parthians, the eastern districts of Swat, Peshawar, and Banu, to the Indians, and the north-western districts of Kabul and Ghazni with Lamghan and Jalalabad to the Sacae Scythians. Kaofu has usually been identified with Kabul on account of its similarity of name and correspondence of position ; but this can only be accepted as politically correct, by extending the boundaries of Kabul into Parthia [2] on the west, and into India on

  1. M. Julien'B ' Hiouen Thsang,' i. 71.
  2. That Kandahar then belonged to Persia is proved by the fact, that the begging-pot of Buddha, which Hwen Thsang (ii. 106) mentions as having been removed from Gandhara to Persia, still exists at Kandahar, where it was seen by Sir H. Rawlinson. The removal must have taken place during the sixth century, after the conquest of Gandhara by the king of Kipin.

[p.18]: the east. The Kaofu of the Chinese would, therefore, have embraced the whole of modern Afghanistan. Etymologically, however, it seems quite possible that the two names may be the same, as Kaofu was the appellation of one of the five tribes of the Yuchi or Tochari, who are said to have given their own name to the town which they occupied, towards the end of the second century before Christ. This statement of the Chinese writers is confirmed by the historians of Alexander, who notice the city of Ortospana, without making any mention of Kabul. The latter name is first given by Ptolemy, who describes Kabura or Ortospana as the capital of the Paropamisadae. I conclude, therefore, that Ortospana was most probably the original metropolis of the country, which was supplanted by Alexandria during the Greek domination, and restored by the earlier Indo-Scythian princes. But it would appear to have been again abandoned before the seventh century, when the capital of Kapisene was at Opian.

Karsana, Kartana or Tetragonis

The passage of Pliny describing the position of Alexandria is prefaced by a few words regarding the town of Cartana, which, while they assign it a similar position at the foot of the Caucasus, seem also to refer it to the immediate vicinity of Alexander's city. I quote the whole passage, with the correction which I

[p.27]: have already proposed:[1] — " Cartana oppidum sub Caucaso, quod postea Tetragonis dictum. Haec regio est ex adverse Bactriae. Opiorum (regio) deinde cujus oppidum Alexandria a conditore dictum." " At the foot of the Caucasus stands the town of Cartana, which was afterwards called Tetragonis (or the Square). This district is opposite to Bactria. Next (to it) are the Opii, whose city of Alexandria was named after its founder." Solinus makes no mention of Cartana, but Ptolemy has a town named Karsana, or Karnasa, which he places on the right bank of a nameless river that comes from the vicinity of Kapisa and Niphanda (or Opian), and joins the river of Locharna, or Lohgarh, nearly opposite Nagara. This stream I take to be the united Panjshir and Ghorband river, which joins the Lohgarh river about halfway between Kabul and Jalalabad. This identification is rendered nearly certain by the position assigned to the Lambatae, or people of Lampaka or Lamghan, who are placed to the east of the nameless river, which cannot therefore be the Kunar river, as might otherwise have been inferred from its junction with the Lohgarh river opposite Nagara.

This being the case, the Karsana of Ptolemy may at once be identified with the Cartana of Pliny ; and the few facts related by both authors may be combined to aid us in discovering its true position. According to Pliny, it was situated at the foot of the Caucasus, and not far from Alexandria ; whilst, according to Ptolemy, it was on the right bank of the Panjshir river. These data point to Begram, which is situated on the right bank of the united Panjshir and Ghorband rivers, immediately at the foot of the Kohistan

  1. Hist. Nat., vi. 23.

[p.28]: hills, and within 6 miles of Opian, or Alexandria Opiane. As I know of no other place that answers all these requirements, it seems most probable that Begram must be the true locality. Parwan and Kushan are ancient places of some consequence in the neighbourhood of Opian ; but they are both on the left bank of the Ghorband river, while the first is probably the Baborana of Ptolemy, and the other his Kapisa. Begram also answers the description which Pliny gives of Cartana, as Tetragonis, or the " Square;" for Masson, in his account of the ruins, specially notices " some mounds of great magnitude, and accurately describing a square of considerable dimensions."[1] If I am right in identifying Begram with the Kiu-lu-sa-pang of the Chinese pilgrim, the true name of the place must have been Karsana, as written by Ptolemy, and not Cartana, as noted by Pliny. The same form of the name is also found on a rare coin of Eukratides, with the legend Karisiye nagara, or " city of Karisi" which I have identified with the Kalasi of the Buddhist chronicles, as the birthplace of Raja Milindu. In another passage of the same chronicle, [2] Milindu is said to have been born at Alasanda, or Alexandria, the capital of the Yona, or Greek country. Kalasi must therefore have been either Alexandria itself or some place close to it. The latter conclusion agrees exactly with the position of Begram, which is only a few miles to the east of Opian. Originally two distinct places, like Delhi and Shah Jahanabad, or London and Westminster, I suppose Opian and Karaana

  1. 'Travels,' iii. 155. For the position of Begram see No. III. Map.
  2. \ Milindu-prasna, quoted by Hardy, in ' Manual of Buddhism,' pp. 440, 516.

[p.29]: to have gradually approached each other as they increased in size, until at last they virtually became one large city. On the coins of the earlier Greek kings of Ariana, — Euthydemus, Demetrius, and Eukratides, — we find the monograms of both cities ; but after the time of Eukratides, that of Opiana disappears altogether, while that of Karsana is common to most of the later princes. The contemporary occurrence of these mint monograms proves that the two cities were existing at the same time ; while the sudden disuse of the name of Opian may serve to show that, during the latter period of Greek occupation, the city of Alexandria had been temporarily supplanted by Karsana.

The appellation of Begram means, I believe, nothing more than " the city" par excellence, as it is also applied to three other ancient sites in the immediate vicinity of great capitals, namely, Kabul, Jalalabad, and Peshawar. Masson derives the appellation from the Turki be or bi " chief," and the Hindi gram or city, — that is, the capital.[1] But a more simple derivation would be from the Sanskrit vi, implying " certainty," " ascertainment," as in vijaya, victory, which is only an emphatic form of. jay a with the prefix vi. Vigrama would therefore mean emphatically " the city " — that is, the capital ; and Bigram would be the Hindi form of the name, just as Bijay is the spoken form of Vijaya.

The plain of Begram is bounded by the Panjshir and the Koh-daman rivers on the north and south; by the Mahighir canal on the west ; and on the east by the lands of Julgha, in the fork of the two rivers.

  1. ' Travels,' iii. 165.

[p.30]: Its length, from Bayan, on the Mahighir canal, to Julgha, is about 8 miles ; and its breadth, from Kilah Buland to Yuz Bashi, is 4 miles. Over the whole of this space vast numbers of relics have been discovered, consisting of small images, coins, seals, beads, rings, arrow-heads, fragments of pottery, and other remains, which prove that this plain was once the site of a great city. According to the traditions of the people, Begram was a Greek city, which was overwhelmed by some natural catastrophe.[1] Masson doubts the tradition, and infers from the vast number of Kufic coins found there, that the city must have existed for some centuries after the Muhammadan invasion. I am inclined to think that Masson is right, and that the decline of the city was caused by the gradual desertion of the people, consequent on the transfer of the seat of government to Ghazni, after the conquest of the country by the Muhammadans. Coins of the last Hindu Rajas of Kabul and of the first Muhammadan kings of Ghazni are found in great numbers ; but the money of the later Ghaznavi princes is less plentiful, whilst of the succeeding Ghori dynasty only a few specimens of some of the earlier sovereigns have yet been discovered. From these plain facts, I infer that the city began gradually to decay after the Muhammadan conquest of Kabul by Sabuktugin, towards the end of the tenth century, and that it was finally deserted about the beginning of the thirteenth century. As the latter period corresponds with the date of Janghez Khan's invasion of these provinces, it is very possible, as Masson has already supposed, that Begram may have been finally destroyed by that merciless barbarian.

  1. Masson, ' Travels,' iii. 159.

Other Cities of Kapisene

[p.31]: I will close this account of Kapisene with some remarks on the few other cities of the same district that are mentioned by ancient authors. Pliny describes one city as "ad Caucasum Cadrusi, oppidum ab Alexandre conditum," which is slightly altered by Solinus to " Cadrusia oppidum ab Alexandre Magno ad Caucasum constitutum est, ubi et Alexandria."[1] Both authors place the city close to the Caucasus, to which Solinus adds, that it was also near Alexandria. Following these two distinct indications, I am disposed to identify the city of Cadrusi with the old site of Korataa, which Masson discovered under the hills of Kohistan, 6 miles to the north-east of Begram, and on the north bank of the Panjshir river,[2] There are the usual remains of an old city, consisting of mounds covered with fragments of pottery, amongst which old coins are frequently found. There are also remains of masonry works about the hills, which the people call Kafir-kot, or the Kafir's fort. The commentators have accused Solinus of misunderstanding Pliny, whose Cadrusi, they say, was the name of a people, and whose "oppidum ab Alexandre conditum " was the city of Alexandria.[3] But the passage was differently understood by Philemon Holland, who renders it thus ; — " Upon the hill Caucasus standeth the town Cadrusi, built likewise by the said Alexander." As a general rule, the Greeks would seem to have designated the various peoples whom they encountered by the names of their principal towns.

  1. Plin. Hist. Nat., vi. 25. Solin. Ivii.
  2. ' Travels,' iii. 166.
  3. Cellarius, iii. 22, p. 514, " quod Solinus pervertit."

[p.32]: Thus we have Kabura and the Kabolitae, Drepsa and the Drepsiani, Taxila and the Taxili, Kaspeira and the Kaspeirsei, from which I would infer, that there was most probably also a town named Cadrusia, whose inhabitants were called Cadrusi. This inference is strengthened by the correspondence, both in name and in position of the ruined mound of Koratas, with the Cadrusi of Pliny.

The names of other peoples and towns are recorded by Ptolemy ; but few of them can now be identified, as we have nothing to guide us but the bare names. The Parsii, with their towns Parsia and Parsiana, I take to be the Pashais, or people of the Panjhir or Panjshir valley. The true name is probably Panchir, as the Arabs always write j for the Indian ch. The modern spelling of Panjshir adopted by Burnes, Leech, and others, appears to be only an attempt to give the Afghan pronunciation of ch as ts in Pantsir. A town named Panjhir is mentioned by the early Arab geographers, and a mountain named Pashai was crossed by Ibn Batuta, on his way from Kunduz to Parwan.[1]

Other tribes are the Aristophyli, a pure Greek name, and the Ambautae, of whom nothing is known. The towns not already noticed are Artoarta and Barzaura in the north, and Drastoka and Naulibis in the south.


  1. ' Travels', p. 98.

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