Xuan Zang’s Maharashtra (Mo-he-la-tuo, 摩訶剌佗)

Xuan Zang, one of the most famous travelers of the ancient world, made an epic journey from his native China to south India and back, in the seventh century of our present era. His entire journey was made on land, unlike that of another famous Chinese traveller Fa Xian, who also had traveled to India two centuries earlier by land route, but had returned back to China by sea. Xuan Zang had left the then Chinese capital city of Xian sometime in 629 CE and could return back home only in 645 CE. I have always felt that the people of India should especially thank this Chinese monk, because he has left behind an extensive travelogue of entire travel. Just because of his travelogue, many events in the Indian history could be fixed reliably in a time line.

One of the disciples of Xuan Zang and his fellow traveler, Shraman ( follower monk) Hui Li had also written an independent travelogue on his own, even though he preferred to call it ‘The life of Hiuen-Tsiang ‘ (as translated by Samuel Beal) . This travelogue augments the the travelogue written by Xuan Zang himself rather well and together, both these travelogues, reveal a store house of information about medieval India. Both these travelogues again have been a subject of great and extensive research for more than a century, from people across many countries. Many researchers also have drawn maps and charts to show the route taken by this monk. Even on modern day cartographic tools like Google Earth, one can find extensive work done by many people.

However there is one segment of his travel, which has always remained a rather gray area, in spite of all this research. This concerns his travel from the southernmost point of his journey at Kanchipura (Jian-zhi-bu-luo , 建志補羅, काञ्चीपुरी) in South India, which Xuan Zang calls as Dravida  (Da-luo-pi-tu, 達羅毘荼), to the city of Ba-lu-jie-tie-po (Bharukachha; Barygaza or Bharuch) , which is located in today’s Gujarat state in western India. XuanZang describes the land area or the country lying between these two places as Mo-he-la-tuo (摩訶剌佗), which has been identified by all the researchers now, as present day Maharashtra state in India. 
As a native and resident of this state of Maharashtra, I was always very curious about the journey done by this Chinese monk, approximately 1400 years ago, in my home state. Last summer, I read a book, ‘Chasing the monk’s shadow’ written by Mishi Saran. I was however disappointed, because the author had not been able to get much information about the Maharashtra segment travel of this monk. Recently, I came across number of old books and research papers on the Internet about Xuan Zang’ travels. These included the translations carried out by Thomas Watters and Beal and many research articles by Vincent Smith, E Burgess and J. Fleet. Surprisingly most of the research was done in late nineteenth century and not much effort was made by any one, after that. The history books about India, off course, have been having field day and have interpreted the travel route in Maharashtra as per their own sweet wish.
Perhaps one of the major difficulty faced by these researchers from the Nineteenth century was the non availability of information about the region of Maharashtra and it’s history. The history of this region was always obscure, being in the shadow of the well known history of North India from the times of the campaigns of Alexander the Great (Around 300 BC), which also happens to be well documented. Today anyone who is interested, is in a better position to make an educated guess, because of the availability of a huge quantity of research material on the Internet. I therefore thought of making an attempt to try and solve this mystery of XuanZang’s trek across Maharashtra in India. However I must admit that I am acutely aware of my principal shortcoming; my total ignorance of the Chinese script. I have therefore no choice but to depend on the English translations done by historians like Beal and Watters from earlier Chinese books. Even then, I feel certain amount of confidence with services of Internet being available to me. For ease, I plan to address Chinese monk Xuan Zang as 'our monk'.

Our monk turned back towards north from Kanchipuram. Describing next part of his journey, our monk says. “Leaving the country of Da-luo-pi-tu (Dravida) and travelling northwards, we enter a forest wild, in which are a succession of deserted towns, or rather little villages. Brigands, in concert together, wound and capture (or delay) travellers. After going 2000 li (625 Kilometers) or so we come to Gong-jian-na-bu-luo (恭建那補羅, Konkanapura)”. Hui Li gives the direction as northwest and adds that his master began this journey in company of seventy monks from Sri Lanka. The inferences that can be drawn from our monk’s narrative can be listed as under.
  1.     The major part of the journey was made in hilly, heavily forested area. This can be agreed upon immediately as any journey made northwards  or to northwest from Kanchipuram would have to be via modern towns of “Chitoor”, “Kadapa” and “Kurnool”. The major part of this route runs along the areas adjoining the western foothills of  Eastern Ghat mountains, which probably were heavily forested in seventh century.
  2.    There were many deserted villages along the way, which suggest that the region was ravaged by a retreating army in recent past. This observation probably relates to the running feud between Chalukya King Pulakesin second and Pallava kings Mahendravarman and his son Narasimhavarman of Kanchipuram. Around year 618-619 CE, Pulakesin second had attacked Mahendravarman’s armies, forcing them to retreat to Kachipuram. Pulikeshin had won a major victory in this war and his army had reached up to a point just 64 KIlometers short of the capital city of Kanchipuram. He was not able to proceed further and his victorious army had gone back to Badami, the traditional capital of the Chalukya kings, destroying everything on the way (as was the tradition in those days). This fact finds a mention in the ‘Aihole’ Epigraph. Because of the indecisive nature of this campaign, fourteen years later (634CE) Pulkesin second decided to measure his strength against Kanchipuram again, which was then ruled by Mahendravarman’s son Narasimhavarman. Several battles were fought by these two adversaries, the most important once being at “Pariyala”, “Suramara” and “Manimangala” where Pallavas led by Narasimhavarman appear to have had an upper hand. This was the political situation, when our monk travelled in this territory and  his comment about finding many deserted villages along the  way seems quite appropriate for the situation.
Our monk describes the country of  Konkanpura in these words. “This country is about 5000 Li (1562 Kilometers) in circuit. The capital is 30 Li (9.4 Kilometers) or so round. The land is rich and fertile; it is regularly cultivated, and produces large crops. The climate is hot; the disposition of the people ardent and quick. Their complexion is black, and their manners fierce and uncultivated. They love learning, and esteem virtue and talent”. About the religious scene he says that  there are 100 Sangharamas with 10000 priests of both (Mahayana and Hinayana) schools. There are several hundred Hindu temples of various sectaries and Hindu religion is followed widely. Our monk also describes a  forest of Tala trees, not far to the north of the city. Our monk describes these trees as, “The leaves (of this tree) are long and broad, their colour shining and glistening. In all the countries of India these leaves are everywhere used for writing on”. In this forest there is a stupa. He also mentions four Buddhist landmarks in the surrounding areas.
  1.      A great Sangharama with 300 priests and a great, 100 feet high, Vihara by the side of the royal palace
  2.      A great sanghdrdma with a vihara, about 50 feet high, by the side of the city
  3.     A stupa, which has sunk down into the ground from its foundations, but is still about thirty feet high, not far to the east of the city 
  4.      A hundred feet high stupa built by Ashoka-raja not far to the south-west of the city. By the side of it is a ruined Sangharama.
Before we proceed any further and attempt to make a guess regarding identification of  Gong-jian-na-bu-luo (Konkanapura), let us first find out the names of places suggested by historians as possible candidates for Kokanpur’s location. St. Martin suggests “Banavasi” in “Shimoga” district of Karnataka located about 537 Kilometers from Kanchipuram. Cunningham suggests “Anegundi” village on banks of Tungbhadra River in Karnataka state (448 Kilometers from Kanchipuram). Fergusson suggests “Holalkere” town in Karnataka (500 Kilometers from Kanchipuram), whereas Burgess considers it as “Koppal” in Karnataka (639 Kilometers from Kanchipuram). Finally we have Beal, who suggests the name of “Golkonda” in Telangana state (513 Kilometers from Kanchipuram). The principle reason for selection of these places by these Nineteenth century historians, appears to be the distance between these places and Kanchipuram)and the fact that these are located to west- Northwest of Kanchipuram. However all of these, except for Golkonda, are much towards west. It become obvious therefore that  when we take into consideration the fact that that our monk’s aim was to reach north as earliest as possible, all the places except Golkonda get automatically rejected for this reason. This leaves only Golgonda with us as the right candidate, which has  the right distance from Kanchipuram as well as right general direction. Aancient trade route joined the city of Pratisthana in south, to cities such as Kanyakubja in north. This ancient trade route from south (known as Dakshinapath) is mentioned in one of the early Buddhist scripture, written in Pali language, Sutta Nipata. This book says that this route starting from Pratisthana city (presently known as Paithan in Maharshtra state) reached Kaushambi through “Mahismati”, “Ujjaini”, “Gonaddha”, “Vedisa” and “Tumbavana”. From Kaushambi, the travellers could proceed to Sravasti via Saket. We can therefore safely assume that for our monk, his first goal, after starting from Kanchipuram, probably was the Pratisthana city, where he could join the Dakshinapath mentioned in Sutta Nipata.
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, an ancient Greek text written between 1st and 3rd centuries CE, mentions Pratisthana as an important trading center. It says. “Among the market towns of Dachinabades, there are two of special importance; Paethana (Pratisthan or Paithan of today), distant about twenty days journey south of Barygaza (Bharauch): beyond which about ten days journey east, there is another very great city, Tagara. These (Goods) are brought down to Barygaza from these places by wagons and through the great tracts without roads, from Paethana, carnelian in great quantity and from Tagara much common cloth, all kinds of muslins and mallow (rough) cloth and other merchandise brought there locally from the regions along the sea coast. And the whole course to the end of Damirica (country of the Tamil people) is seven thousand stadia (about 960 Kilometers): but the distance is greater to the coast country.”

In 1901, J.F Fleet tried to trace this ancient route starting from the eastern seacoast and the country of Tamil people (Dravida) to Bharauch on west coast of India. He says. “A study of maps has shown to me the former existence of an early trading route, of which well-marked traces still remain, from the east coast through Golkonda, Ter and Paithan to Bharauch”. According to him, the first starting point of the trade routes was at Masulipatam (Machilipatnam) and the second at Vinukonda (Chapter47). They joined somewhere near Hyderabad city. (He mentions either 26 miles east-by south of Hyderabad or 23 miles further in that direction). From this point, a single route began that passed through Golkonda-Kalyani-Ter-Paithan-Daulatabad-Chandwad (Chandore) to reach Markandeya (Merkinda pass-west of Nashik district). Here the main difficulties began through the Western Ghats, over last 160 Kilometers to Bharauch. This was the great highway of the Satavahana kingdom.
From above discussion, it is easy to conclude for us that our monk’s Gong-jian-na-bu-luo (Konkanapura) was certainly located somewhere nearby Golkonda village, a place from where, he could join the ancient trade route from east that connected to Pratisthan city. It so happens however, that Golkonda village is situated on a plateau, amongst a terrain that could be labled as a hostile and not very fertile. Possibly, because of this reason, archaeologsts were not able to discover any sites in this region with a Buddhist affiliation, unlike clusters of sites to north (Kotilingala, and Dhulikatta- Chapter 46) and to northeast (at Gajulabanda, Phanigiri, Nelakondapalli and Jaggayyapeta- Chapter 47).
All this changed in year 1940-41, when Gulam Yazdani, a senior archaeologist working with State of Hyderabad discovered a large ancient town with antiquity traced to first few centuries of our era.  The site was situated at a distance of 43 miles (69 Kilometers) to south-southwest of Hyderabad city. It was located on a small hillock that rose to the height of about 10 meters above surrounding areas and  about a Kilometer to south of a village known as Kondapur. Yazdani started excavations on western end of the mound, which was higher than the eastern part by about 10 to 12 feet ( 3.65 meters). He describes his finds in these words. “ Remains of the building, which began to come into sight after we had removed 20 to 30 inches (76 Cm) of  earth from cultivated surface. Therse remains show traces of old walls, houses built of brick as well as rubble, shops with furnaces and large earthen basins, religious structures comprising Stupas, Chaityas and viharas or monasteries. Besides we found a large number of movable antiquities such as pottery, terracotta figurines, beads and ornaments”.
The site was inspected next in 2008 by D. Jithendra Das, superintending archaeologist with the Archaeological survey of India. He is reported to have confirmed the Buddhist nature of the site besides saying that the ancient Kondapur City was larger than Amaravati and was skirted by a mud-fort, the walls of which which were still visible. Archaeological Survey of India again took up the excavation work in the years 2009-10 and 2010-11, on a sprawling area of 81 acres (32.8 hectare) and have now come to conclusion that actually the site is an important milestone from a period that began two centuries before, and ended three centuries later, from beginning of our era. The new series of excavations were headed by G. Maheswari, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India. The main discovery at the excavation site included some brick structures found in the western extreme of the main mound, which yielded authentic evidence of a Vedic or fire worshipping sect. It's a vast complex having a circular shrine facing south with one entrance and surrounded by rectangular chambers and fire altars , three metres in depth, having 37 courses of burnt bricks of different shapes -- triangular and sand clock-shaped, behind the chambers. These supposedly fire altars have yielded significant evidence of fire activities in them along with five numbers of pots stamped with impressions of a trident. Apart from this, the whole temple complex yielded plenty of animal bone pieces, perhaps for sacrificial purposes and related pottery articles such as bowls, sprinklers, spouted vessels and iron implements like spear heads and knives. The kings obviously performed the ‘yagnas’ at these altars and sacrificed animals to propitiate the goddess or seek a male heir. A lime and clay image of a Brahmin, probably the Raja Guru, with a thick sacred thread, embracing the king, along with many silver and gold-plated coins and terracotta seals bearing images closely resembling Roman Emperor Tiberius have also been found. This image shows clearly the status enjoyed by Brahmin priests.
Even though, the two archaeologists have diammetrically opposite views about the religious character of the Kondapur site, it is an undoubtable fact that Kondapur was once a thriving city, at least upto third century of our era. What we do not know for sure is  whether the city still existed in the seventh century? We can perhaps find the answer to this question in the following comment by H. Sarkar. “ It is often argued that it is because of Kondapur’s location in the centre, connecting the Buddhist centres on the east coast with those on the west that it grew as an important junction in an otherwise hostile and  not very fertile terrain chracteristic of the Deccan plateau”. This situation was more or less the same in the seventh century as it was in the third century, with Buddhist monks travelling across the plateau to visit innumerable monasteries scattered all over the Deccan region. We therefore feel that it may not be erroneous to assume that Kondapur, situated on the east-west trade route described by Fleet (see above), probably existed, even in seventh century and we can certainly identify it with our monk’s Gong-jian-na-bu-luo.
With identification of Gong-jian-na-bu-luo completed, let us try to see if we can identify the Buddhist and other landmarks mentioned by the monk. About 35 Kilometers to northeast of Kondapur, there is a reserved forest, known today as Narsapur forest, which perhaps can be identified with our monk’s forest of Tala (तालBorassus Flabellifer Linn, Palmyra palm) trees. Jean de Thévenot (1633-1667) was a French traveller to the East, who wrote extensively about his journeys. He travelled to Golkonda from “Devgiri” or “Daulatabad” in 1666-67, in perhaps was his last journey. (He died just months after in Iran, on his way back.) Interestingly, he writes about a forest located to north of Golkonda in these words. “(We) passed over the pleasantest Hills in the world, by reason of the different kinds of trees that cover them. On this side of a rivulet (Golkonda side) there are wide Palm-trees”. It is almost unbelievable that even after  a gap of nine centuries, the Tal trees forest described by our monk, still was in existence. Regarding the stupa and ruined Sangharama (item f) to southwest of the city, he could be referring to “Alampur” ruins. The Stupa in the east that has sunk in ground (item e), could be either from “Phanigiri” or “Gajulabanda” Buddhist sites.

Our monk moved on. Hui Li describing his master’s journey says. “From this going north-west, we enter a great forest wild, where savage beasts and bands of robbers inflict injury on travellers. Going thus 2400 or 2500 Li (781 Kilometers), we come to the country of Mo-he-la-tuo (摩訶剌佗Maharashtra).

Our monk and his co-travellers from Sri Lanka, continued their journey towards Northwest from the capital of Konkanpura, which we have identified with Kondapur (located near modern city of Hyderbad), situated in state of Telangana. They were now in the heart of the Deccan region, where another great king Pulakeshin- second reigned at that time. Our monk describes the great King in these words. “The king, in consequence of his possessing these (brave) men and elephants, treats his neighbours with contempt. He is of the Kshattriya caste, and his name is Bu-luo-ji-she (Pulakeshin, 補羅稽). His plans and undertakings are widespread, and his beneficent actions are felt over a great distance. His subjects obey him with perfect submission. At the present time, Shiladitya (Harshvardhan) Maharaja has conquered the nations from east to west, and carried his arms to remote districts, but the people of this country alone have not submitted to him. He has gathered troops from the five Indies, and summoned the best leaders from all countries, and himself gone at the head of his army to punish and subdue these people, but he has not yet conquered their troops”.
Our monk describes this leg of his journey rather inadequately. He says. “From this going north-west, we enter a great forest wild, where savage beasts and bands of robbers inflict injury on travellers. Going thus 2400 or 2500 li (781 Kilometers), we come to the country (Capital city) of Mo-he-la-tuo (摩訶剌佗, Maharashtra)”. No doubt, this description is of very general kind and does not give much information to us. It only reflects the fact that the terrain covered by him, had many wild forests in between the cities. These wild forests were not under control of any kingdom and were essentially ruled by armed brigands or robbers, who would inflict injury on the travellers. However, more about his journey later. Let us first try to identify the capital city of Maharashtra, where our monk was headed; our job made even more difficult, because he does not assign any name for it. We shall have to depend therefore only on his narrative about Maharashtra.
This country is about 5000 li (1562 Kilometers) in circuit. The soil is rich and fertile; it is regularly cultivated and very productive. The climate is hot. The capital borders on the west on a great river. It is about 30 li (9.4 Kilometers) round. There are about 100 sangharamas, with 5000 or so priests. They practice both the Great and Small Vehicle. There are about 100 Deva temples, in which very many heretics of different persuasions dwell. Within and without the capital are five stupas to mark the spots where the four past Buddhas walked and sat. They were built by Ashoka-raja. There are, besides these, other stupas made of brick or stone, so many that it would be difficult to name them all. Not far to the south of the city is a sangharama in which is a stone image of Avalokitesvara. Its spiritual powers extend (far and wide), so that many of those who have secretly prayed to it have obtained their wishes. On the eastern frontier of the country is a great mountain with towering crags and a continuous stretch of piled-up rocks and scarped precipice. In this there is a sangharama constructed, in a dark valley. Its lofty halls and deep side-aisles stretch through the (or open into the) face of the rocks. Storey above storey, they are backed by the crag and face the valley (watercourse). This convent was built by the Arhat Achara. On the four sides of the vihara, on the walls of stone, are painted 49 different scenes in the life of Tathagata's preparatory life as a Bodhisattva. These scenes have been cut out with the greatest accuracy and fineness. On the outside of the gate of the sangharama, on the north and south side, at the right hand and the left, there is a stone elephant. The common report says that sometimes these elephants utter a great cry and the earth shakes throughout.” 

Our monk also adds at end. “Going from this (Capital city) 1000 li or so to the west, and crossing the Nai-mo-tuo (耐秣陀Narmada) river, we arrive at the kingdom of Ba-lu-jie-tie-po (跋祿羯呫婆, Bharukachheva; Barygaza or Bharuch)”. From this rather lengthy description, we can note following important features of the capital city of Maharashtra as seen by our monk.  
a. The capital city was located on the west border of the empire and was situated on the bank of a great river.
b. There were 100 Buddhist sangharamas with 5000 monks. There were 100 Deva temples, in which many heretics of different persuasions dwelled.
c.  Not far to the south of this city, there was a Sangharama with a stone image of Avalokiteshwara.
d.  On the eastern frontier of the country, there was a great mountain with deep valleys, towering peaks and piled up rocks. In these mountains, a great-multistoried sangharama had been constructed in a dark valley. It had lofty halls and deep side aisles. All these halls faced the valley and the river flowing through it. On the four sides of the vihara, on the walls of stone, were painted 49 different scenes in the life of Tathagata's preparatory life as a Bodhisattva. These scenes had been cut out with the greatest accuracy and fineness. On the outside of the gate of the sangharama, on the north and south side, at the right hand and the left, there was a stone elephant.
e. The city of Bharuch in present day Gujarat state was located about 1000 Li (312.5 Kilometers) to the west of the capital city and across the Narmada River.
City of Badami (known as Vatapi-pura in seventh century) had been the traditional Capital of the Chalukya kings, ever since Pulakeshin second’s grandfather, Pulakeshin First, had shifted it there from Aihole. There is a rock inscription in one of the Jain temples situated in this village. This inscription mentions shifting of the capital by Pulkeshin First. Surprisingly, the same inscription is completely silent about Badami at Pulakeshin second’s time, except for one occasion. It mentions that the victorious army of Pulakeshin: after defeating Pallava king Mahendravarman: went back to Vatapi-pura, and was greeted there in a grand fashion. Many Kannada and other historians have always presumed that Vatapi-pura was always the Chalukya capital, even in Pulakeshin Second’s times. We are even told about an imaginary visit of our monk’s visit to Pulakeshin second’s court in Vatapi-pura.
From our monk’s description, given above, this belief about Vatapi-pura city being the Chalukya capital in Puleshin second’s time does not seem to receive any support at all. On the contrary, it looks doubtful, whether our monk even had any audience with the king Pulakeshin second. Later on, after reaching the empire of King Harshvardhan in the north, our monk was invited by that king to participate in a religious congregation. Our monk has described that meeting in details. It is an historic fact also that around the time our monk was crossing Maharashtra, king Pulakeshin second was engaged in a great war in south with Pallava King Narasimhavarman, the son and heir of Mahendravarman, whom he had defeated earlier.
Let us first see the reasons for which Vatapi-pura city could not have been the capital. The first thing that any visitor to Badami notices is the presence of a huge red coloured mountain right in the middle of the city, in which many caves and a fort was built by the founder king Pulakeshin First. Our monk has been known for his detailed description about all the places that he has visited. It is unlikely that he would have missed writing about the Badami’s red mountain, if he had visited the same. Certainly, there is a river Malaprabha, which flows at a distance of a few miles from Badami. However, in no circumstances it could be called a great river. Besides, Badami city was in Southeast corner of Pulakeshin Second’s empire and could not be on the western border as mentioned by our monk. At Badami, we can see a great number of rock-cut caves, which are well known. However, there are hardly any Buddhist monuments there. All caves have been created either by Hindu or Jain rulers. No great mountains exist to the east of Badami, where a great Sangharama and caves overlooking a river could have been built. Lastly, Badami is situated at a far greater distance from Bharuch, situated on the banks of “Narmada” river, than 1000 Li (312 Kilometers) mentioned by our monk.
It therefore becomes profoundly clear that Badami city could not have been the city described by our monk as Maharashtra’s capital. Before going further to make any educated guess about the capital city, let us turn to nineteenth century historians to see possible choices made by them. St. Martin has suggested Doulatabad near Aurangabad City, whereas Cunningham feels that Kalyani village (presently known as Basavakalyan) in Bidar district of Karnataka is the right place. Even though Kalyani was the capital of the Western Chalukya Dynasty in a later period, both these places are at much larger distance from Bharuch. Besides, no great river flows nearby these places. Also no major Buddhist ruins or caves have ever been found near these places. Fergusson6 has suggested four places, which are on the bank of Godavari River. Out of these four, Tok, Newasa as well as Puntambe, have no place in history of the period concerned to us and no ruins of any kind have been ever found there.
Ferguson’s fourth choice, the city of Paithan, however seems to be an important candidate. This city, situated on the banks of the Godavari River, which fully qualifies as a great river, is situated at a distance of about 352 Kilometers from Bharuch. This place also has a long history. It was the capital of the Satavahana dynasty, which ruled over this region from about 200 BCE to 200 or 300 CE.

J.F.Fleet, a civil servant posted in this region during nineteenth century, suggests the City of Nashik as the Capital city of Pulakeshi Second’s empire. Before we look at the merits of this city as a possible candidate, it would prove important to note, what our monk says about the eastern frontier of Maharashtra (item e above). He talks of a huge multistoried Sangharama, carved in a great mountain with many halls, which look towards a river. There is complete unanimity amongst all the historians that this Sangharama and the caves could only be the world famous caves of Ajantha. We thus have another important clue that Ajantha hills were to the east of the Capital city. A quick browsing on any map would show that Ajantha Hills are situated to North of Paithan (Fergusson’s fourth choice), ruling it out completely.
We are now left with Nashik, as the only alternative suggested by the historians. Let us try to see if Nashik matches with the description given by our monk. Nashik is situated amongst the western Ghat mountain ranges and on the bank of River Godavari, certainly a great river of India. Western Ghat mountains have been the western limit of Maharashtra” even from Satavahana reign period and Nashik can definitely said to be situated to west of Maharashtra. By today’s motorable road, distance between Nashik and Bharuch (via Bardoli-Pimpalner-Satana) works out to around 350 Kilometers that matches well with what has been specified by our monk. Southwest of Nashik, caves and Buddhist viharas at Pandu-Leni have existed, at least since 300 BCE. In some of the caves at Nashik, there are Buddha full-reliefs carved, in both standing and sitting postures. In one of the caves, there are statues of Avalokiteshwara that are almost 7 feet (2.13 meters) tall. Ruins of at least one old stupa have been found near Nashik. (Gazetteer of Nashik district calls it a burial mound but according to Fleet, details of the description show it to be an undeniable Stupa).
 Finally, world famous caves of Ajantha, with great scenes from Buddha’s life and Jataka stories, painted on all four internal walls of Viharas along with two stone elephants carved standing near the entrance, are located to East of Nashik. With this supporting evidence, we should have no hesitation in identifying Nashik, with our monk’s Capital city of Maharashtra and during seventh century or reign of Pulakeshin second; our monk had certainly visited it. It is also clear from our monk’s narrative that Emperor Pulkeshin second was not present in the capital, when he visited it. Question of having any audience with the king therefore does not arise at all.
There is one more issue raised by our monk, which needs clarification. If we turn our attention again to the location of Ajantha hills on the map, prima facie, it is not clear, why our monk calls it as a frontier town. A closer observation however would show that Ajantha Hills are actually situated towards the eastern end of a long range of mountains, known as Satamala, spread in east west direction. Towards west, this range meets the Western Ghat Mountains near Nashik. North of this Satamala range, two great rivers, Tapti and Narmada flow westwards in deep gorges. Because of these geographical conditions, these two mountain ranges (Western Ghat and Satamala) must have been real geographical boundaries of the Maharashtra towards west and north, in the seventh century. Beyond Ajantha Hills, towards east, lay the kingdom of South Kosala, making Ajantha a frontier town.
Having identified the capital city, let us attempt to find the route that was probably taken by our monk to reach it from Kondapur, his previous station. In Satavahana era (200 BCE onwards), regular trade with Rome was being carried out from ports on west coast of India like Bharuch. The goods for these trades would arrive from many places located all over peninsular India, including towns like Masulipatam (Machilipatnam) on east coast and Vinukonda. The goods passed through big commercial towns of that time like Kondapur (near Golkonda), Tagar (Ter) and Pratisthan (Paithan). The Satavahana reign ended around 250 CE, with Vakataka dynasty taking over their kingdom. Successive generations of Vakatakas shifted their capital cities around to number of places from Dakshin Kosala (Vidarbha and Chhatisgarh) and Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh) region. This resulted in old Pratisthan town slowly shedding all of its importance. With Pratisthan losing its sheen, Tagar (Ter) also followed suit and the great highway of Satavahana Empire no longer remained the trade route preferred by people. (We must accept the fact though, that lack of any reliable evidence, makes it almost impossible to guess the exact situation in the seventh century, when our monk traversed the region). 

We come next to seventeenth century CE, from where; accounts of journey made by two French travellers, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605 – 1689) and Jean de Thévenot (1633-1667) across this region are available to us. Both these travellers had began their journey at the coastal town of Surat  and had ended it  at Golkonda. Considering the fact, that both these travellers were neither soldiers nor noblemen of any sort, we feel that their travelogues are indications of the route by which ordinary traders or monks travelled at that time. Earlier we saw that the Tal trees forest mentioned by our monk was again mentioned by Jean de Thévenot, even though about ten centuries had elapsed in between these journeys. It would appear that the environs of this route had not perhaps changed much over this period and it may not be erronious to assume that the route followed by our monk might have been substantially the same  one as the one followed by the French duo.
The route followed by the French travellers, differs from the Satavahana trade route mostly in the Kondapur (Golkonda) to Devgiri (Daulabad) sector. Instead of moving to west till town of Tagar (Ter) and then making a sharp turn to north to reach Paithan the seventeenth century route made steady progress to northwest via towns of “Kalwaral” and “Ko(u)ndalwadi”. It crossed  Godavari River at Nanded instead of Paithan town. After crossing Godavari River, the route reached Devgiri, via towns of “Parbhani”, “Ashti” and “Ambad”. From Devgiri, again proceeding to northwest, the route touched “Ankai Tankai” village situated near the base of the Satamala mountain range. The French travellers crossed this range through a break in the mountain ranges near this town. It is possible however,  that our monk might have turned westwards at Devgiri itself to travel to the capital city Nashik, via villages of “Lasur” and “Devthan”, as this was a straight and much shorter route.
About the people of Maharashtra, our monk makes some interesting comments when he says. “The disposition of the people is honest and simple; they are tall of stature, and of a stern, vindictive character. To their benefactors they are grateful; to their enemies relentless. If they are insulted, they will risk their life to avenge themselves. If they are asked to help one in distress, they will forget themselves in their haste to render assistance. If they are going to seek revenge, they first give their enemy warning; then, each being armed; they attack each other with lances (spears). When one turns to flee, the other pursues him, but they do not kill a man down (a person who submits). If a general loses a battle, they do not inflict punishment, but present him with woman’s clothes, and so he is driven to seek death for himself. The country provides for a band of champions to the number of several hundred. Each time they are about to engage in conflict they intoxicate themselves with wine, and then one man with lance in hand will meet ten thousand and challenge them in fight. If one of these champions meets a man and kills him, the laws of the country do not punish him. Every time they go forth they beat drums before them. Moreover, they inebriate many hundred heads of elephants, and, taking them out to fight, they themselves first drink their wine, and then rushing forward in mass, they trample everything down, so that no enemy can stand before them. So much for their habits, the men however are fond of learning and study both heretical and orthodox (books)”. 

From Maharashtra, our monk continued his journey to west. He says that after travelling a distance of 1000 li (312 Kilometers)or so to the west, and crossing the Nai-mo-tuo (Narmada) river, he arrived at the kingdom of Ba-lu-jie-tie-po (Bharukachha; Barygaza or Bharuch). Why he decided to go towards the western coastline of India, instead of taking the shorter route to northern country that would have taken him quickly to his destination, Nalanda, may appear as a fact shrouded in total mystery, since neither our monk nor his disciple say a word about this. The answer to this perplexing question can be found in the travelogue of Yi-jing, whotells us that students from India, who later become eminent and accomplished men, attend one of the two universities in India, which are of equal fame. One of these is obviously is the Nalanda University. The other equally famous university was at Valabhi in western India. We do not know for sure, whether any university existed at Valabhi, when our monk was travelling in this area, because after all, Yi-jing wrote his narrative, about 62 years later. Our monk however mentions that there was a great Sangharama, not very far from Valabhi and Bodhisattvas Gunamati and Sthiramati had fixed their residences there during their travels and composed treatises, which have gained a high renown. We can therefore imagine a scenario, where monks from Sri Lanka, who accompanied our monk on this journey, probably told him about the Sangharama where these two eminent masters of religion, taught once. Our monk, always eager to learn more, switched his plans immediately and decided to go to Gujarat and the first stop on his way was obviously Bharuch.
The most formidable obstacles on northward route from Nashik were the Satmala Ranges that spread between Ajantha Hills in the east and the Western Ghat Mountains, northwest of Nashik, in the west. As mentioned above, the French duo crossed this range through a break near the town of “Ankai Tankai”. Our monk could not have used this route as “Ankai Tankai” pass was too far away to northeast for our monk (70 Kilometers) and would have involved a longer detour to reach his next station at Satana. The shortest route for him was via “Dindori” and “Kalwan”. This route crossed the Satmala ranges through a pass known as Markandeya Pass, which has been mentioned by J.F.Fleet as a point on trade route of Satavahana period, towards station of Satana. From here, the monk continued in north-northeast direction towards another formidable obstacle, the Kundaibari Pass (625 meters) via “Taharabad” (Thevenot calls it Tarabat, original name unknown) and Pimpalner. After crossing the pass, the route turned sharply to west to reach Bardoli via towns of “Visarwadi, Navapur and Vyara”. At Bardoli this route turned to north again and after crossing Tapti River, continued until southern bank of great Narmada River. The town of Bharuch lay right across the river, on the north shore.

Our monk passes some harsh comments about people of Bharuch. He says. “This kingdom is 2400 or 2500 li in circuit. Its capital is 20 li round. The soil is impregnated with salt. Trees and shrubs are scarce and scattered. They boil the seawater to get the salt, and their sole profit is from the sea. The climate is warm. The air is always agitated with gusts of wind. Their ways are cold and indifferent; the disposition of the people crooked and perverse. They do not cultivate study, and are wedded to error and true doctrine alike”. About the religious scene, he says that there are some ten sangharamas, with about 300 believers. The monks adhere to the Great Vehicle and the Sthavira School. There are also about ten Deva temples, in which sectaries of various kinds congregate. From Bharuch, our monk continued his northward journey. After travelling about 2000 Li (625 Kilometers) in northwest direction, he reached the country of Mo-la-po (摩臘婆, Malava, मालव).

3rd June 2011

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