Harikela a geographical entity in ancient Bengal, the identification of which has been a matter of controversy among scholars. Ancient Indian writers of the 7th century AD mention, among others, an eastern Indian country called Harikela. It was an important kingdom of eastern Bengal. I-tsing, the 7th century Chinese traveller, has defined its position as 'the eastern limit of eastern India'. This statement finds confirmation in the 9th century literary work Karpuramanjuri, which includes Harikeli girls among women of eastern Bengal. But, unfortunately, neither I-tsing nor anybody else has given any details about its geographical location. Hence our present difficulty of precisely locating and identifying it beyond any reasonable doubt.
Moreover, there are a few very confusing and conflicting statements about it by some late writers and chroniclers which has greatly increased the difficulties of locating and identifying this lost kingdom. For instance, Hemachandra, the 12th century Lexicographer, in his Abhidhanachintamani equates Harikela with vanga. This, however, has been contradicted in Manjuxrimulakalpa, where Harikela, Vanga and samatata are cited as distinct entities.
But in this respect the most confusing statement appears in two late manuscripts, now in the collection of Dhaka University Library. They take 'Harikola' (probably same as Harikela) as a synonym for Sylhet, without mentioning any source or evidence. This has created a lot of confusions in this regard.
It may be stated now with sufficient emphasis that Harikela was an important kingdom of ancient Bengal. But of all such kingdoms in this area, Harikela has been the best known and least documented. One main reason for this lacuna is probably its situation in an obscure corner of the country quite far from its political and cultural centres. But its position has been indicated by I-tsing quite clearly.
The most reliable documentary evidence of Harikela is supplied by the incomplete copperplate inscription of Kantideva (9th century AD) discovered in an old temple in the Nasirabad area of Chittagong. It clearly states that Maharajadhiraja Kantideva was the ruler of Harikela. But unfortunately this record has supplied no further information regarding either Kantideva himself or his kingdom. In the absence of such information both Kantideva and his kingdom 'Harikela' still remain unknown.
An illuminated 11th century manuscript of the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita contains the illustrations of a number of Mahayana Buddhist deities worshipped in different parts of Bengal. It includes an illustration of 'Lokanatha of Harikela'. Harikela is also included in a list of 64 sacred places or pithas of Tantric Buddhism of Bengal in the Dakarnava, a Buddhist Manuscript of about the 13th century AD. Evidently, Harikela was still then quite well known and well famed in Bengal, though we do not have the details.
The inscriptions of the Chandra rulers of Bengal (10th-11th centuries AD) unmistakably indicate that their original home was within Harikela and the dynasty rose to promineence from a feudatory position in that kingdom. The most positive hint in this regard is given in a metaphorical phrase of cryptic meaning occurring in a few plates of srichandra: adharo Harikelaraja-kakuda-chchhatra-smitanam xriyam. This has been interpreted to mean that trailokyachandra, the first ruler of the dynasty, was both de facto and de jure king of Harikela. Trailokyachandra inherited a feudatory position from his father in the Harikela kingdom and it was he who mustered power and became the mainstay of the harikela king and from that position he became a sovereign ruler. But, unfortunately, the Chandra inscriptions supplied no information necessary for the location and identification of this kingdom. However, detailed studies and researches on the Chandra inscriptions and careful analysis of their conquests in Bengal strongly indicate that this territory is most likely to be situated in the Chittagong area bordering arakan. The discovery of Kantideva's copperplate inscription at Chittagong strongly supports this view.
However, the most positive evidence in support of the above view has now been provided by the recent discoveries of 'Harikela' coins at mainamati. That Harikela was situated in the neighbourhood of Samatata and towards the direction of Arakan is strongly indicated by these discoveries. The vast collection of about 400 'Bull and Triglyph' type harikela coins include a number of specimens belonging to ancient Arakan kings. The rest bear a legend formerly read as yarikriya, Patikera, etc, which has now been correctly read as 'Harikela', and this reading has now been accepted by scholars. The great significance of this reading for the historical-geographical determinations not only of Harikela but also of other unidentified territories in this region is beyond any question. In any ease, the location of Harikela appears to be settled now quite fairly and squarely- short of a final proof.
That 'final proof' also now appears to be provided by the discovery of the Jobra coin hoard in to very heart of Chattagong. 36 'Bull and Triglyph' type thin silver coins, 35 of them with 'Harikela' legend and one with the ancient Arakan king 'Pritichandra' legend were discovered inside a small earthen pot at Jobra Village, situated adjacent to the Chittagong University campus at Hathazari in July, 1980.
Although conclusive evidence regarding the exact location Harikela does not as yet exist, these indications prove beyond doubt that the ancient kingdom of Harikela was situated in the Chittagong area, most probably in the Ramu, Dianga, or in Chittagong metropolitan area.
This, however, is no final solution; it only indicates the direction in which Harikela may lie. The only possible solution to the problem seems to lie in an extensive and intensive archaeological investigation in the Chittagong area, especially at Ramu and Ramkat, Dianga and Chittagong.
The hilly Chittagong area played a significant role in ancient times. It is through this mountainous and somewhat inaccessible territory that the ancient overland route to Burma, Cambodia and further-Asia lay and it served as the Eastern Gateway of India. The close relationship between Bengal and Arakan throughout the ancient period must have existed through this region. The narrow coastal plain backed by a number of low ranges and drained by hill streams is exceedingly fertile and was also culturally equally rich. It is unfortunate that the past of this region has been very little explored. Proper archaeological investigations at the following places may yet be profitable.
In ancient times the country to the south, Ramu (from ramya-beautiful) and Ramkot near Cox's Bazar on the Arakan road, may have been an important centre. This Ramu, Rama or Ramya represent the Kingdom of Rahma or Ruhmi of the Arab writers. If 'Harikela, the eastern limit of eastern India' of the Chinese traveller i-tsing, was situated hereabout, Ramu is most likely to reveal some clues to its past. Fortunately, Ramu has an archaeological background worth investigation.
On an ancient ridge near Ramu and adjacent to Ramkot Banasram on the old Arakan road, there are traces of ancient ruins covering a large area and the surface is littered with antiquities. Amateurish diggings have exposed interesting antiquities including an inscribed stone slab, many terracotta, stone images and fragments.
Derived probably from Devagrama, Dianga now survives as a low ridge running along the southern bank of the Karnafuli opposite to the port city. Casual survey of the ridge has revealed evidence of ancient remains. Very interesting finds of antiquities from the area have been reported. In the village of Jhewari at the foot of the Dianga ridge, an important archaeological discovery was made in 1972. The treasure consisted of 64 bronze votive images, two stupa replicas and many fragments. 25 of the images were inscribed. The Jhewari hoard together with other finds from the area, provide important evidence regarding the antiquity of Dianga and its ancient links with Samatata and Arakan.
Tibetan historian taranatha mentions 'Chategrama' as the capital of Gopichandra. The city may be identical with 'samandar` of the Arab geographers and the 'City of Bengala' of the early European writers. The Tibetan source also informs us that in ancient times there were many tirthikas (temples) and Viharas (Buddhist monasteries) at Chatigrama, which was the capital of the 'Ramma' country, a well known Buddhist centre.
According to the Buddhist traditions, the name of the city is derived from 'Chaitya-grama'. The famous Pandita Vihara was probably situated in or near this city. Incidentally, it was from an old temple of this very city that the copperplate inscription of Maharaja Kantideva of Harikela was recovered. [M Harunar Rashid]