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Gangaridai


Gangaridai occurs as the name of a people and of a country in Greek and Latin writings, dates of which range between 1st century BC and 2nd century AD. The term Gangaridai and its variants Gangaridae, Gangaridum and Gangarides are found in the works of classical authors.

Writing about the countries beyond the Indus on the basis of the knowledge obtained by Alexander and his soldiers, Diodorus (69 BC-16 AD) mentions that beyond the Ganges were the dominions of the Prasioi and the Gangaridai. Quintus Curtius Rufus tells us that two peoples, the Gangaridai and the Pharrisii, inhabited the further banks of the Ganges. Strabo (63 BC - 21 AD) informs us that the Ganges flows through the Gangaridae, forming its eastern boundary. Pliny (c 1st century AD) writes that the final part of the Ganges flowed through the country of the Gangarides. Virgil (c 30 BC) mentions Gangaridai without indicating its location.

Ptolemy (c 2nd century AD) gives a little more detailed location when he writes that Gangaridai occupies the entire region about the five mouths of the Ganges and that the royal residence was in the city of Gange. Ptolemy's five mouths of the Ganges cannot be definitely identified though he has given their names along with their longitudinal and latitudinal positions, although these are inaccurate. However, in his description 4 longitudinal degrees covered the coast from the westernmost to the easternmost mouth of the river. This, in effect, means that the Gangaridai country stretched a long way on the coastline of the bay of bengal between the westernmost and easternmost mouths of the Ganges. It is interesting to note that the longitudinal difference between the mouth of the Bhagirathi (near Tamluk) and the Padma (near Chittagong) at present is little more than 3.5 degrees. Thus on Ptolemy's evidence Gangaridai can be located in the area in between the two main channels of the Ganges in present West Bengal of India and Bangladesh. However, the city of Gange cannot be located for lack of details.

O Periplous tes Erythras Thalasses (Periplus Maris Erythraei), - [The Periplus of the Red Sea (English Trans), Published in Greek, in 1994] an account by a Greek sailor (c 1st century AD), mentions the 'Ganges country' on the Bay of Bengal to the east of Desarene (coastal Orissa) as having the river Ganges 'around (peri) or on all sides of it'. It goes on to note that on its bank is a market town which has the same name (Gange) as the river. It is apparent that Gangaridai of Ptolemy and the 'Ganges country' of the author of the Periplus is the same area located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. This sounds similar to the description of vanga found in Kalidasa's Raghuvangxa. Thus the Vanga janapada of ancient Bengal may be considered to be the same as the Gangaridai of Greek and Latin writers.

The stem in the various inflected forms - Gangaridai, Gangaridae and Gangaridum - is Gangarid. It has been suggested that Gangarid is a Greek formation of the Indian word Gangahrd, meaning 'the land with the Ganges at its heart' (Gangahrd > Gangarida > Gangaridai, nominative plural of Gangarid). The meaning fits well with the description of the Ganges country given by the author of Periplus.

It must be mentioned that we do not have any local source to ascertain the existence of a kingdom in Bengal in the few centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era to match the descriptions of military strength provided by the Classical writers for the country of Gangaridai. The king of Gangaridai is mentioned to be very powerful in the 4th century BC with 6000 feet soldiers, 1000 horsemen, and 700 elephants. However, the references indicate that the remote countries of the west came to know about their name and fame during the next five hundred years or so. [AM Chowdhury]

Bibliography Amitabha Bhattacharyya, Historical Geography of Ancient and Early Mediaeval Bengal, Calcutta, 1977; BN Mukherjee, The Territory of the Gangaridai, Indian Journal of Landscape Systems and Ecological Studies, X, 1987.