Ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts use Uttarapatha as the name of the northern part of Jambudvipa of ancient Indian traditions.

The name is derived from the Sanskrit terms "uttara", for north, and "patha", for road. Initially, the term Uttarapatha referred to the "northern high road", the main trade route that followed along the river Ganges, crossed the Indo-Gangetic watershed, ran through the Punjab to Taxila (Gandhara) and further to "Zariaspa" or Balkh (Bactria) in Central Asia. The eastern terminus of the Uttarapatha was Tamraliptika or Tamluk located at the mouth of Ganges in west Bengal. This route became increasingly important due to increasing maritime contacts with the sea-ports on the eastern coast of India during the Maurya rule. Later, Uttarapatha was the name lent to the vast expanse of region which the "northern high road" traversed.

The boundaries of Uttarapatha, as a region, are nowhere precisely defined in the Buddhist or any other ancient source. According to some writers, the Uttarapatha included the whole of Northern India, from Anga in the east to Gandhara in the north-west, and from the Himalaya in the north to the Vindhya in the south.

The Jambudvipa region to the south of Uttarapatha was known as "Majjhimadesa" (or the Middle Country) in Buddhist texts and "Madhyadesa" in Puranic texts.

According to Buddhist texts, Kamboja and Gandhara, two of the sixteen Mahajanapadas or great nations referred to in the Anguttara Nikaya and Chulla-Niddesa belonged to the "Uttarapatha".

The Buddhist texts include the remaining fourteen of the Mahajanapadas, namely Kasi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji, Malla, Chedi, Vamsa (or Vatsa), Kuru, Panchala, Machcha (or Mattsya), Surasena, Avanti and Assaka in the "Majjhimadesa" division.

Numerous Puranic literature terms refer to the Bahlikas, Pahlavas, Sakas, Paradas, Ramathas, Kambojas, Daradas, Tushars, Chinas, Barbaras, Keikayas, Abhiras, Sindhus, Soviras and others as the tribes of Uttarapatha ("Kirfel list of the Uttarapatha countries of the Bhuvanakosa").

According to Puranic geography ("Bhuvanakosa list of ancient countries"), the Kamboja and Gandhara Mahajanapadas of the Buddhist traditions fell in the "Udichya" (northern), the Assaka in "Dakshinapatha", Avanti in "Aparanta" (western), the Vajji, Malla, Anga and Magadha in "Prachya" ( eastern) and the remaining eight of the Mahajanapadas in the "Madhyadesa" division.

A medieval era Hindu text "Kavyamimamsa" by Pandit Rajshekhara attests that Uttarapatha lay to the west of "Prithudaka" (modern Pehoa near Thaneswar in Haryana. The Kavyamimamsa further lists the Sakas, Vokkanas, Hunas, Kambojas, Keikayas, Bahlikas (Bactrians), Pahlavas, Lampakas, Kulutas, Tanganas, Tusharas, Turushakas (Turks), Barbaras among the tribes of Uttarapatha ("Kavyamimamsa Chapter 17").

The Mahabharata, at several places, also says that the Kambojas, Sakas, Gandharas, Yavanas, Darunas, Barbaras and Khashas were the tribes of Uttarapatha.

The Uttarapatha division probably included the territories of greater Panjab, Sindhu, Sovira, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bactria and parts of Central Asia.

The ancient Trans-Oxian nations of Central Asia including the "Uttarakuru", "Uttaramadra", "Param-Kamboja" and parts of "Saka-dvipa" were also located in the Uttarapatha.

According to Dr S. M. Ali, Uttarapatha or northern division of Jambudvipa covers a vast area from the Urals and the Caspain to the Yenisei River and from the Turkistan, Tien Shan ranges to the Arctic. The Ramayana, and Puranas portray the topography of the whole land accurately and in some cases picturesquely.

Uttarapatha was famous from very early times for its fine breed of horses and the horse-dealers. There are ancient references to an ongoing trade between the nations of Uttarapatha and the states of East India. Buddhist and Puranic sources attest that the merchants and horse-dealers from Uttarapatha would bring horses and other goods for sale down to eastern Indian places like Savatthi (Kosala), Benares (Kasi), Pataliputra (Magadha), Pragjyotisha (Assam) and Tamarlipitka (in Bengal).

Great Indian epic, Mahabharata gives account of the ancient roadways. It refers to Uttarapatha (northern highway) which linked the territories of Kirata (perhaps of Magadha), Kamboja, Gandhara and Yavana countries (Shanti Parva, 207.43; Foreign Trade and Commerce in Ancient India, 2003, p 107, Prakash Chandra Prasad)

Documentation exists that the nations from the Uttarapatha like Kamboja, Gandhara and Kashmira were actively engaged in commercial intercourse not only with the states of Gangetic valley but also with Myanmar, "Suvarnabhumi", south-west China and other nations in the Southeast Asia. When the Chinese envoy Chiang Kien was in Gandhara (circa c 127 BCE), he found to his great surprise that bamboos and textiles from "south-western China" were sold in the local markets. "On personal enquiry, he learnt that these goods were brought to eastern India (Bengal) through Yunnan, Burma and then carried all the way from eastern India to Bactria across India and Afghanistan along the Uttarapatha or the northern high road".

The ancient Pali literature says that merchants from the nations of Uttarapatha were engaged in international trade following the well-known Kamboja-Dvaravati Caravan Route. Merchants from Kamboja, Gandhara, Sovira, Sindhu and other places used to sail from ports of Bharukaccha (modern Bharoch) and Supparaka Pattana (modern Nalla-Sopara, near Mumbai) for trade with Southern India, Sri Lanka and nations of Southeast Asia. Huge trade ships sailed from there directly to south Myanmar. This trade had been going on for hundreds of years before the Buddha. Some merchants from northern India had settled in Myanmar, in the ports and towns located at the mouths of Irrawaddy, Citranga (Sittang) and Salavana (Salween) rivers. The case in point is of two merchant brothers "Tapassu" and "Bhallika" from "Pokkharavati" (present Carasadda) in Gandhara-Kamboja region who had their settlement in Myanmar (Ref: "Vipassana Newsletter Vol. 7, No. 10 Dec 97"). The name Irrawaddy for the chief river of Burma (Myanmar) was copied from river Irawati (Ravi) of north Panjab

Evidence exists that horse-dealers from Kamboja in the Uttarapatha were trading horses as far as Sri Lanka. Dr Don Martino notes that the merchants from north-west Kamboja had been conducting horse-trade with Sri Lanka following the west coast of India since remote antiquity ("Epigraphia Zeylanka, Vol II, No 13, p 76").

Several ancient cave inscriptions found in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka attest the existence of a Kamboja Goshatha or Samgha ("Gote Kabojhiana") and a Grand Kamboja Trade Guild ("Kabojiya Mahapughyanam") in ancient Sinhala. The terms Kaboja and Kabojiya are the ancient Sinhalese forms of the Uttarapatha Kamboja.

A Pali text "Sihalavatthu" of fourth century specifically attests a group of people known as "Kambojas" living in Rohana in Sri Lanka.

A regular horse-trade between the nations of Uttarapatha and those of eastern, western and southern India is attested to have been going on as late as the medieval ages. King Devapala (810-850 CE)) of Bengal, King Vishnuvardhana Hoysala (1106 – 1152 CE) of Mysore and King Valabhi Deva of Valbhi/Saurashtra (1185 CE) had powerful fleets of Kamboja horses in their cavalries.

There is also good archeological evidence of Roman trade (1 CE to 200 CE) coming into Gandhara/Kamboja and Bactria region in Uttarapatha through the Gujarati peninsula. The Roman gold coins imported from Rome into Gandhara were usually melted into bullion in these regions.

Corresponding to Uttarapatha, the Dakshinapatha was the name of "southern high road" which originated from Rajagriha in Magadha, followed through Ujjaini and Narmada valley to Pratisthana (Paithan) in the Mahajanapada of Ashmaka (in modern Maharashtra), onwards to the western coast of India and running in the southern direction. Later, Dakshinapatha was also the name lent to the region of India lying to the south of Vindya through which the Dakshinapatha passed. The name Deccan for the southern part of India has originated from this ancient Dakshinapatha.

The philosophies of the easterners were disseminated precisely by the intercourse that went on along the "Uttarapatha" and the "Dakishinapatha" trade routes.

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* [http://www.mettanet.org/pali-utils/Pali-Proper-Names/uttaraapatha.htm Pali definition of Uttarapatha]

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