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Gauda, Janapada


Gauda, Janapada an important geographical entity in ancient and medieval Bengal. The Arthashastra refers to it along with vanga, pundra and kamarupa. Though the geographical limit of the Gauda country is not mentioned, the fact that it is linked with Vanga and Pundra definitely indicates its location in eastern India. Vatsayana (3rd - 4th century AD) was familiar with this country. This geographical idea continues even in the Puranas as it is regarded as one of the janapadas of the eastern quarter. Varahamihira (c 6th century AD) was also aware of Gauda janapada. In his Brhat Sanghita he mentions six distinct janapadas viz: Gaudaka, Paundra, Vanga, samatata, Vardhamana and tamralipta. It appears from his narration that Murshidabad, Birbhum, and western Burdwan formed the territory of ancient Gauda.

The earliest epigraphic evidence referring to the territory of the Gauda people is the Haraha inscription of the Maukhari ruler Ishanavarman and is datable to 554 AD. It is stated in the inscription that Ishanavarman defeated the Gaudas who live near the sea (Gaudan samudraxrayan). This statement finds corroboration in the undated Gurgi inscription of Prabodhashiva (c 11th century AD), which describes the Lord of Gauda as 'lying in the watery fort of the sea' (jalanidhi jaladurggam Gauda rajo dhishete). The evidence of these two epigraphs drives home the fact that the Gaudas, at least at one point of history, lived in the coastal region.

With the passage of time and change in the political scenario the connotation of Gauda, however, underwent changes. The rise of shashanka, the ruler of Gauda, as a formidable power in the early part of the 7th century AD definitely led to the extension of the territorial limits of Gauda. From the accounts of hiuen-tsang we learn that he travelled from the country of karnasuvarna to a region in coastal Orissa, and Shashanka ruled the area. Obviously, the territory of Karnasuvarna stretched up to littoral West Bengal. Interestingly, this king Shashanka is described in Banabhatta's Harsacharita as the Lord of Gauda whose capital was at Karnasuvarna. In fact, Bana castigates him as Gauda bhujanga (the dangerous Gauda snake). Thus in the early part of the 7th century Gauda and Karnasuvarna were co-terminous. On the basis of Hiuen Tsang's itinerary and the archaeological remains of raktamrttika mahavihara, Karnasuvarna, the capital city of Gauda kingdom has been located near Chiruti in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. Hence Murshidabad formed the core area of Gauda.

The political limits of the geographical name Gauda further extended to the region of north Bengal, ie Pundravardhana. From the Aryamanjuxri Mulakalpa we learn that Shashanka ruled Pundravardhana. This statement finds corroboration in the allusion to a struggle in the Dubi plates between Susthitavarman and Bhaskarvarman of Kamarupa on the one side and the king of Gauda on the other. As a ruler Bhaskarvarman's contemporary was Shashanka. The struggle might have taken place in north Bengal. We know from Hiuen Tsang that Pundravardhana and Kamarupa were contiguous territories. Thus Gauda under Shashanka embraced parts of west Bengal, including its coasts, and north Bengal (at least for a short time).

The appellation Gauda was applied even to areas outside Bengal. It was used in a political sense in the Gaudavaho of Vakpati. In Vakpati's account Magadha was included within the realm of the Gauda ruler.

In the early medieval period, the term Gauda had a wider connotation. The Rastrakuta and the Pratihara records styled the Pala rulers as Gaudexvara, Gaudendra, Gaudaraja etc. This obviously implies that the name Gauda, which originally denoted parts of West Bengal, became so diffused that during the 8th and 9th centuries it was sometimes synonymous with the entire Pala kingdom.

We come across the term Pancha Gauda for the first time in the famous historical chronicle of Kashmir, the Rajatarangini of Kalhana. This indicates the widest diffusion of the name Gauda. Pancha Gauda referred to Gauda in association with Sarasvata, Kanyakubja, Mithila, and Utkala.

It thus appears that originally Gauda janapada lay to the west of Bhagirathi and that its core area was Murshidabad. Gradually, with the increase of the political might of Shashanka, the first independent ruler of Gauda, in the early part of 7th century AD, the political limits of Gauda extended stretching in the south to coastal Orissa and the north to Pundravardhana. The term sometimes even denotes the entire Pala empire. In the 13th century gaur under the Bengal Sultans denoted the entire area of the sultanate. Its capital, also called Gaur, stood at the site previously known as Laksmanavati, and renamed lakhnauti by the Muslim sultans. [Suchandra Ghosh]

Bibliography Amitabh Bhattacharyya, Historical Geography of Ancient and Early Medieval Bengal, Calcutta, 1977; DC Sircar, 'Gauda', Indian Historical Quarterly, 28, 123-34.