Ancient India and Central Asia

Ancient India and Central Asia

Ancient India and Central Asia have long traditions of social-cultural, religious, political and economic contact since remote antiquity [ Alberuni's India, 2001, p 19-21, Edward C. Sachau - History; Dates of the Buddha, 1987, p 126, Shriram Sathe; Foundations of Indian Culture, 1984, p 20 sqq, Dr Govind Chandra Pande - History; India & Russia: Linguistic & Cultural Affinity, 1982, Weer Rajendra Rishi; Geographical and Economic Studies in the Mahābhārata: Upāyana Parva, 1945, Dr Moti Chandra - India; Linguistic & Cultural Affinity, 1982, Weer Rajendra Rishi; Racial Affinities of Early North Indian Tribes 1973, Myths of the Dog-Man, 1991, David Gordon White - Social Science; Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya - Ethnic Groups.] . The two regions have common and contiguous borders, climatic continuity, similar geographical features and geo-cultural affinity. There has always been uninterrupted flow of people, material and the ideas between the two. So much so, some ancient literary sources trace common lineage for Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Iranians and other nationalities of Central Asia [Ibid.] .

Archaeological excavations

The archaeological excavations in the Amu valley in Southern Uzbekistan, in Afrasiab on north-eastern edge of Samarkand and some other places in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Tak-mak in Kirghizstan add further evidence of the existence of links between ancient India and Cenrtral Asia since remote antiquity.

Further, extensive excavations have been carried out with remarkable results at Kara Tepa, Fayaz Tepa, Dalverzin Tepa, Yer Kurgan, Ak-Beshin, Kranayerezka and Isyk-Ata. The discovery of manuscripts in Xinjiang (China) and many other valuable excavational finds substantively establish that India and eastern Central Asian region of Xinjiang were also in extensive political, cultural and religious intercourse with each other.

Dynasties of India came from Central Asia as invaders and dynasties of Indian origin also ruled in Khotan and other places in Central Asia.

Migrations from Central Asian into India

Immigration by peoples and tribes from Central Asia into India, as well as expansion of Central Asian empires into India, is a recurring theme in the history of the region, from the Bronze Age Indo-Aryan migration to the Iron Age Kushan Empire, the Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Greeks (via Bactria) and the medieval Islamic conquest of the Indian subcontinent. Intrusion is typically across the Hindukush, and influence of the intrusive population is first established in the Punjab and the Indus Valley, and sometimes further expanded into the Ganges Plain. In classical Indian tradition clans of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas, Paradas etc are also attested to have been coming as invaders from Central Asia to India in pre-Christian times. They were all finally absorbed into the community of Kshatriyas of Indian society. [History and Culture of Indian People, The Vedic Age, pp 286-87, 313-14.]

The "Shakas" were formerly the inhabitants of trans-Hemodos region---the "Shakadvipa" of the Puranas or the Scythia of the classical writings. Later evidence attests them in Drangiana i.e. Shakasthana (modern Seistan) located south of Herat. First century CE "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea" as well as second century CE Ptolemy evidence also attest Indo-Scythia situated in lower Indus in western India.

The "Paradas", the former inhabitants of Oxus and "Sailoda" (eastern Xinjiang), are noted by Ptolemy as "Paradane" and are attested to be living in western India in Sindhu or Gedrosia, during second century CE.

The "Kambojas" and "Pahlavas" are known to have their original settlements in the east Iranian regions in Central Asia. But later evidence attests some of their settlements in post-Christian times in South-west/Southern India also. [] .

The "Rishikas" are formerly attested as living in "Sakadvipa" as neighbors to the Parama-Kambojas of Transoxiana region. [Mahabharata II.27.25] But later evidence also locates their section as neighbors to Ashmakas and Vidarbhas in south-west India. This Rishika settlement was located between Godavari and Tapti rivers, east of Nasika, north of Mulaka and west of Vidarbha.

The facts presented above show that the so-called second century BCE "Saka invasion" of western India was probably carried out jointly by the Sakas, Pahlavas, Kambojas, Paradas, Rishikas and other allied tribes from the north-west (. [ cf: Interaction Between India and Western World, pp 75-93, H. G. Rawlinson.]

Thomas observes: " It would seem probable that the tribes from eastern Iran who invaded India included diverse elements mingled indistinguishably together, so that, it is not possible to assert that one dynasty was Parthian while another was Saka..." etc. [Journal of Royal Asoiatic Society, 1906, p 215.]

"The nomenclature of the early Sakas in India shows an admixture of Scythian, Parthian and Iranian elements..". [Hist & Culture of Indian People, The Age of Imperial Unity, p 121]

According to James Tod and other western scholars, all Central Asian tribes connected with horse-culture like the Assaceni/Aspasios, Assacanus/Assakenois (the famous Ashvaka Kambojas....i.e. the Ashvayanas/Ashvakayanas of Panini), the Ari-aspi and the Asii/Asio of the classical writings etc belonged to the Scythic or Saca races. [Annals and Antiquities of Rajashthan, pp 53-54, 64.] Asii/Asio appears to be "Parama Kambojas" living in Shakadvipa of Mahabharata/Puranas or the Scythia of classical writings.

The Post-Christian times saw more invaders like Kushanas, Hunas, Turks, Mongols and Pashtunss etc from Central Asia coming to and occupying Indian mainland. They all have been absorbed into Indian communities, leaving in some cases, no sign of clear-cut identification.

Central Asian People in Indian Classical Literature

There are extensive references to people of Central Asia in Indian literature like Atharvaveda, Vamsa Brahmana of Samveda, Aitareya Brahmana, Satapatha Brahmana, Puranas, Manusmiriti, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Raghuvamsa, Brihat-Katha -Manjari, Katha-Saritsagara, Rajaratrangini, Mudra-rakshasa, Kavymimansa and host of other old Sanskrit literature. A brief outline is given below:


Atharvaveda makes references to Gandhari, Mujavat and Bahlika from north-west (Central Asia). Gandharis are Gandharas, the Bahlikas are Bactrians, "Mujavat" (land of Soma) refer to Hindukush-Pamirs (the Kamboja region).

Post-Vedic "Atharvaveda-Parisista" (Ed Bolling & Negelein) makes first direct reference to the Kambojas (verse 57.2.5). It also juxtaposes the Kambojas, Bahlikas and Gandharas. [AV-Par, 57.2.5; cf Persica-9, 1980, p 106, Dr Michael Witzel.] At another place, it juxtaposes the Shakas, Yavanas, Tusharas and Bahlikas ("Saka. Yavana. Tushara. Bahlikashcha"). This shows the Kambojas, Shakas, Tusharas, Bahlikas and Gandharas at this time were all located as neighbors in the Uttarapatha.

ama Veda

The Vamsa Brahmana [Vamsa Brahmana 1/18.] [] of the Sama Veda refers to "Madrakara Shaungayani" as the teacher of Aupamanyava Kamboja. Sage Shangayani Madrakara, as his name itself shows, and as the scholars have rightly pointed out, belonged to the Madra people.

Prof Jean Przylusky has shown that Bahlika (Balkh) was an Iranian settlement of the Madras who were known as "Bahlika-Uttaramadras" i.e the northern Madras, living in Bahlika or Bacteria country. These "Bahlika Uttara Madras" are the Uttara Madras of the Aitareya Brahamana.

This connection between the "Uttara Madras" and the "Kambojas" is said to be but natural, as they were close neighbors in the north-west. [Vedic Index, 138; Some Kshatriya Tribes of Ancient India, 1924, p 230-231; Dr B. C. Law.]

The Kambojas as neighbors of the Uttara Madras here obviously refers to the trans-Himalayan branch of the Kambojas who became known as Parama-Kambojas in epic times. Both these nations belonged to Central Asia.

Aitareya Brahmana

Aitareya Brahmana refers to some ancient nations lying beyond Trans-Himalaya boundaries. As an illustration, the name of Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madra are given. [Aitreya Brahmana, VIII.14.] But other literature affirms that, besides Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madra, the janapadas of Parama Kambojas, Rshikas and the Lohas etc were also located beyond Himalaya boundaries into Central Asia. These Central Asian people were undoubtedly in intensive intercourse with ancient Indian people.

Indian epics

The vast area across the Himalayas and Hindukush from Pamirs up to Arctic (Somagiri) is stated by some to form ancient "Uttara Kuru". There is picturesque mention of this region in the epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata. There are also numerous references to the people forming part of this vast region.

Valmiki Ramayana

The Valmiki Ramayana portrays the topography of the whole land of Central Asia in very details and in some cases, very picturesquely. It gives very vivid account of Uttarapatha and several countries located in that direction. It mentions the lands and towns of the Kambojas, Shakas, Yavanas, "Varadas" (=Paradas: according to Dr Jayswal, Dr Singh and others) along with Himavanta. After this mentions is made of Uttara Kuru and Somagiri (Arctica). The region is described as without the sun and yet very much lighted. There are said to be no National boundaries there. [Valmiki Ramayana, Kisikindhi Kanda 4.43.]

The "Bala Kanda" section (1.55/2-3) of Ramayana refers to a joint "mythical" creation of the Central Asian tribes of the Kambojas, Yavanas, Shakas, Paradas and Mlechchas by sage Vasishatha through the divine powers of his "Kamdhenu". [Valmiki Ramayana, 1.55/2-3.]

"Bala Kanda" [Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kanda 1.6.22] of Ramayana also refers to the famed horses imported by princes of Ayodhya of Mid India from the Central Asian nations of Kamboja and Bahlika (Bactria).


According to Mahabharata, the kings of the Kambojas and the Tusharas were present in the "Rajasuya" Yajna of Yudhisthira. They had later participated in Mahabharata war from the Kaurava side. They were very ferocious warriors.

The Shakas, Hunas, Paradas and Tusharas had paid tribute to Yudhishtra. The epic also mentions that Pandava Nakula had defeated the Hunas, Pahalvas, Yavanas and Shakas in the western horizon.

Mahabharata mentions that Arjuna had brought tributes from the Daradas, Kambojas, Lohas, Rishikas, Parama Kambojas and the Uttara Kurus of trans-Himalyan regions.

Mahabharata attests that the northern "Rishikas" and the "Lohas" were close neighbors and allied to Parama-Kambojas i.e. Trans-Hindukush Kambojas of the Trans-Himalyan territories. [

:Lohan. Parama. Kambojan. Rishikan.uttaranapi ||II.27.25||.]

At other places (5.4.18) in Mahabharata also, the Rishikas are shown as very intimitately connected with the Kambojas. [

:Shakanam Pahlavana.n cha Daradanam cha ye nripah | :KambojaRishika ye cha pashchim.anupakash cha ye ||5.4.18||. ]

The Rishikas are said to be same as the Yuezhis (Dr V. S. Aggarwala). The Kushanas or Kanishkas are also the same people (Dr J. C. Vidyalnkara). Prof Stein says that the Tukharas were a branch of the Yue-chi or Yuezhi. Tusharas/Tukharas (Tokharois/Tokarais) and the Yuezhi are stated to be same people (Dr P.C. Bagchi).

According to Vayu Purana and Matsya Purana, river Chakshu (Oxus) flowed through the countries of Tusharas (Rishikas?), Lampakas, Pahlavas, Paradas and Shakas etc.

The above references indicate that the countries of Rishikas (=Tusharas?), Parama-Kambojas, Lohas, Pahlavas, Paradas, Shakas etc were "close geographical neighbors and were all located in Central Asia".

King Drapupada of Panchala had advised Yudhishtra to invite the Kambojas, Shakas, Pahlavas, Rishikas and the Daradas (Paradas?) in the Mahabharata war on Pandava's side. "But it was too late for Yudhishtra".

General Sudakshina of the Kambojas had joined the Mahabharata war on Kurus' side leading one Akshauhini army of ferocious Central Asian warriors which included Shakas, and Yavanas, besides the Kambojas. [MBH 5/19/21-22.] Of the ten distinguished military Generals appointed by Duryodhana to efficiently manage his vast host of army, Suadakshin Kamboj was one of such distinguished Generals. [MBH 5/155/30-33.]

This ancient epic evidence shows that there was an intensive political and military intercourse between the "Mid Indians" and the "Central Asians".

Mahabharata brackets the Kambojas, Shakas and the Khashas together and styles them as tribes of Udichya or Uttarapatha, which obviously means Central Asia.

The Bhishamaparava and Shantiparavas of Mahabharata repeatedly assert that beyond the Uttara (north) are located the Mlechcha Janas (tribes) like the Yavanas, Kambojas, Darunas, Kiratas and other Mlechchas/Barbarians. [

:Uttarashchapare mlechchha jana bharatasattama:Yavanashcha sa Kamboja Daruna Mlechchha jatayah:— "(MBH 6/11/63-64)"

:Uttarapatha janmanah kirtayishyami tanapi:Yauna Kamboja Gandharah Kirata Barbaraih saha:— "(MBH 12/201/40)".]

These above references also obviously point to Central Asian fringe of people located on the north of Bharatavarsa.

However, the "Anusasanaparva" of Mahabharata also asserts that the clans of the Kambojas, Yavanas, Shakas, Pahlavas were formerly noble Kshatriyas, but in later time had turned into degraded Kshatriyas due to the wrath of the Brahminas. [MBH 13/33/20-21.]


Manusmriti asserts that the Kambojas, Sakas, Yavanas, Paradas, Pahlavas etc were originally Kshatriyas of good birth but were gradually degraded to the barbaric status due to their not following the Brahmanas and the Brahmanical code of conduct. [ Manusmriti (X.43-44).]

This statement of Manu is designed to accommodate these foreign hordes into the social set-up of the Hindus. The foreigners were expected to practice same normal pieties as the Hindus and the later, in return, regarded them henceforth as belonging to their own social organisation. [Cultural Heritage of India, I, p 612.]

According to James Tod, this ancient testimony from Manu presents a conclusive proof of a perfect intercourse which had existed between the people of Oxus (Central Asia) and those of the Ganges region in remote antiquity. [Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, p171-72.]


According to Bahu-Sagara legend, the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Paradas and Pahlavas, the so-called five hordes ("panca-ganah"), from north-west were invited by the Haihaya Yadavas for military support against king Bahu of Ayodhya. Bahu was defeated and ran off Ayodhya. A generation later, Bahu's son, Sagara regained Ayodhya after totally destroying the Haihaya and Talajangha Kshatriyas in the battle. He was about to annihilate the five assisting hordes, but Sagara's priest Vashishta intervened and persuaded him to save their lives by subjecting them to lighter punishments. Story says that King Sagara consented to the advice of his spiritual guide but punished these foreigners by changing their "hair-styles" and "turning them into degraded Kshatriyas". [Harivamsa 14.1-19.]

These are the first known invaders in the recorded history of the sub-continent. The invaders were eventually assimilated into the local community as Kshatriyas [] .

Alberuni refers to this Puranic story in his classic book "Alberuni's India" and testifies that the above referred to "five hordes" belonged to his own people i.e. Central Asia. [Alberuni's India, Trans. Sachau, p 20-21.]

Puranic traditions (Bhagavata Purana) say that "Budha", the "patriarchic" figure the Yadu, Turvasa, Druhyu, Anu and Puru clans had come from Central Asia to "Bharatkhand" to perform penitential rites and he espoused "Ella", the daughter of Manu, by whom was born "Pururavas". Pururavas had six sons, one of whom is said to be "Ayu". This "Ayu" or "Ay" is said to be the patriarch figure of the "Tartars" of Central Asia as well as of the first race of the kings of China. [Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, p 172, James Tod.]

Whatever may be value of these conjectures, this literary tradition definitely alludes to intimate relations which existed, since antiquity, between the Indian people and the Central Asians.

Puranic cosmography divides our earth into seven concentric islands, viz. Jambudvipa, Plakasadvipa, Salmalidvipa, Kushadvipa, Krounchadvipa, Shakadvipa, and Pushkaradvipa, separated by seven encircling seas. Insular continent Jambudvipa forms the innermost concentric island in the above scheme of continents. Jambudvipa includes nine varsa and nine mountains. Varsa of Illa-vrta lies at the center of Jambudivipa at whose center is located Mount Meru (Platau of Pamir). The varsa of Uttara Kuru lies to the north of Mount Meru and extending beyond north-wards. [Vishnu Purana, H. H. Wilson.] The varsa of Illa Vrta includes parts of "Central Asia".

The Puranic Bhuvanakosha attests that the boundaries of Bharata varsa extended in the Uttarapatha as far as the Vamkshu or Oxus in Central Asia. The Oxus to be the northmost limit of the geographical territories once included in the Bharata varsa was a real fact in political history of ancient India. It was the most well-defined geographical feature delimiting the boundaries of Bharata Varsa in the north.

The Puranic "Bhuvanakosha" attests that Bahlika or Bactria was the northern-most Puranic Janapada of ancient India and was located in Udichya or Uttarapatha division of Indian sub-continent. [Kirfel's list of the Uttarapatha countries of Bhuvanakosa.]

The Uttarapatha or northern division of Jambudvipa comprised very vast area of Central Asia, as far as the Urals and the Caspian Sea to the Yenisei and from Turkistan and Tien Shan ranges to as far as the Arctic (Dr S. M. Ali).

Mudra-Rakashasa drama

The Buddhist drama "Mudra-rakshas" by "Visakha Dutta" as also the Jaina work "Parisishtaparvan" refer to Chandragupta's alliance with Himalayan king "Parvatka". The Himalayan alliance gave Chandragupta a composite formidable army made up of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Kiratas, Parasikas and Bahlikas as attested by Mudra-rakashas. [

:Sanskrit::asti tava Shaka-Yavana-Kirata-Kamboja-Parasika-Bahlika parbhutibhih :Chankyamatipragrahittaishcha Chandergupta Parvateshvara :balairudidhibhiriva parchalitsalilaih samantaad uprudham Kusumpurama :— "(See: Mudra-Rakshasa 2)".]

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.


Poet Kalidasa provides graphic picture of northern mountainous region of India. This is especially so in the case of his works like Meghdoota, Vikramorvashiam and Raghuvamsha. He also brings refreshing reference of the Uttara Kuru.

Raghuvamsha tells of a war expedition of king Raghu ( Chandragupta Vikramaditya) against the Parasikas (Sassanians), Hunas and the Kambojas located in northern division or Uttarapatha. The encounters with the Hunas and the Kambojas had occurred around river Oxus, right in Central Asia. [Raghuvamsa 4.66-70.]


Rajatarangini of Kalhana makes king "Lalitaditya Mukatapida" of Kashmir undertake a war expedition against his neighboring countries. He launched onto the region of north (from Kashmir) against the Kambojas, Tusharas, Bhauttas, Daradas, Valukambudhi, Strirajya and Uttarakurus (mythical or not). [Rajatrangini 4.164-174] There is also a reference to the humiliation of the Hunas by Lalitaditva in the Rajataramgini. [Rajatrangini 4.178-80] The nations named above are all located in Central Asia.

Brahata Katha of Kshmendra

"Brahata Katha" indicates that king Vikramaditya of Ujjaini (60 c BC) had mobilised his forces against the invading hordes of the Mlechchas from north west. He had ridded the mother earth off the sinfuls by completely destroying the Mlechcha hordes of the Sakas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Parasikas etc. [Brahata Katha, 10/1/285-86, Kshmendra.]

Katha-Saritsagara of Somadeva

The "Katha-Saritsagara" of Somadeva also refers to the subjugation of numerous kings and the destruction of the "Sanghas" (republics) of the Mlechchas by king Vikramditiya. Those who survived paid tributes to him or joined him militarily. [Katha-Saritsagara, 18.1.76-78.] The reference to the "Sanghas of the Mlechchas", undoubtedly alludes to the Sanghas of the Kambojas, Yavavans, Abhiras as well as of the Vahikas etc.

This, again affirms the ongoing inter-action between the Indian-mainland and the people of Central Asia.

Kavyamimamsa of Rajashekhara

The 10th century CE "Kavyamimamsa" of Pandit Rajashekhara knows about the existence of several Central Asian tribes. He furnishes an exhaustive list of the extant tribes of his times and places the Shakas, Tusharas, Vokanas, Hunas, Kambojas, Vahlika, Vahlava, Tangana, Limpaka, Turukshas etc together, styling them all as the tribes from Uttarapatha or north division. [Kavyamimamsa Ed. Gaekwad's Oriental Series, I (1916) Chapter 17; Introd., xxvi. Rajashekhara is dated c 880 AD - 920 AD.]


Books and periodicals

*"Valmiki Ramayana"
*"Aitareya Brahmana"
*"Raghuvamsa" by Kalidasa
*"Brahata Katha", by Kshmendra
*"Rajatrangini" by Kalhana
*"Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country", 1981, Dr Kamboj
*"Political History of Ancient India", 1996, Dr H. C. Raychaudhury
*"India and Central Asia", 1955, Dr P. C., Bagchi.
*"Myths of the Dog-Man", 1991, David Gordon White.

ee also

*Indo-Aryan migration
*Indo-Parthian Kingdom
*Uttara Madras
*Uttara Kurus
*The Kurus
*Indian-Iranian relations

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pederasty in the Middle East and Central Asia — For a generalized discussion of relations between men and boys see main article: Pederasty The practice of pederasty in the Middle East seems to have begun, according to surviving records, sometime during the 800s and ended, at least as an open… …   Wikipedia

  • Central Asia — Area 4,003,400 km2 (1,545,721 sq mi)[1] Population 61,551,945 …   Wikipedia

  • Central Asia, history of — Introduction       history of the area from prehistoric and ancient times to the present.       In its historical application the term Central Asia designates an area that is considerably larger than the heartland of the Asian continent. Were it… …   Universalium

  • Buddhism in Central Asia — [ Tarim Basin, China, 9th 10th century.] Although Buddhism never developed a missionary movement [ [ 225.htm THE SPREAD OF BUDDHISM] ] , Buddha s teachings nevertheless spread far and wide on the Indian… …   Wikipedia

  • History of Central Asia — The history of Central Asia has been determined primarily by the area s climate and geography. The aridity of the region makes agriculture difficult, and its distance from the sea cut it off from much trade. Thus, few major cities developed in… …   Wikipedia

  • Soviet Central Asia — refers to the section of Central Asia formerly controlled by the Soviet Union, as well as the time period of Soviet control (1918 1991). In terms of area, it is nearly synonymous with Russian Turkestan, the name for the region during the Russian… …   Wikipedia

  • Exotic tribes of ancient India — The classic Indian epics such as the Mahabharata , the Ramayana and the Puranas refer to many exotic tribes, describing them as superhuman or subhuman. Narrations about these tribes are often mixed with mythology and fiction. These tribes include …   Wikipedia

  • India–Iran relations — Relations between India and Iran date back to the common prehistoric Indo Iranian heritage (which connects all of Greater Persia and Greater India) and the Indo Parthian and Indo Scythian kingdoms of antiquity to the strongly Persianized Islamic… …   Wikipedia

  • India — • The peninsula is separated on the north from Tibet and Central Asia by the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram mountains, and some lower ranges divide it from Afghanistan and Baluchistan Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. India      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Asia — • Article intended to give a rapid survey of the geography, ethnography, political and religious history of Asia, and especially of the rise, progress, and actual condition of Asiatic Christianity and Catholicism Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin… …   Catholic encyclopedia