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Karnasuvarna the capital of king shashanka, said to be the first independent ruler of Bengal, is referred to as Kie-lo-na-su-fa-la-na in the Xiyu Ji, the itinerary of the Chinese pilgrim hiuen-tsang. According to the pilgrim, he moved from Tan-mo-li-ti (tamralipti) to the country of Kie-lo-na-su-fa-la-na (Karnasuvarna), near the capital of which was the Lo-to-mi-chih monastery. On the strength of the identification of Lo-to-mi-chih (Raktamrttika) monastery with the excavated monastery at Rajbadidanga (in village Jadupur near Chiruti railway station in the Sadar subdivision of Murshidabad district, West Bengal) Karnasuvarna can now be located with greater exactitude in the neighbourhood of the excavated site. It is also locally known as Raja Karna's palace. The discovery of inscribed terracotta sealings recording the name of raktamrttika mahavihara has removed all doubts about the identification.

Hiuen-Tsang gives a graphic description of Karnasuvarna, which acquaints us with the locality and its people. According to him 'the country was well inhabited and the people were very rich. The land was low and moist, farming operations were regular, flowers and fruits were abundant, the climate was temperate and the people were of good character and were patrons of learning'. This description indicates a flourishing state of the country.

Epigraphic reference to Karnasuvarna is found in the Nidhanpur grant of the kamarupa ruler Bhaskaravarman, which was issued from the victory camp at Karnasuvarna [jaya-sard-anvartha-skandhavarat Karnasuvarnna-vasakat]. Thus Karnasuvarna, the capital of the Gauda king Shashanka, passed into the hands of the Kamarupa ruler Bhaskarvarman, perhaps for a short period. In the middle of the 7th century AD, Karnasuvarna, was for a brief period also the royal seat of administration of Jayanaga. This is evident from the Vappa Ghoshavata grant of Jayanaga [svasti Karnna(s)uvarnnakavasthitasya maharajadhirajah (ja) parama bhagavata xri-Jayanaga(d)evasya].

A glimpse of the religious life of Karnasuvarna can be guessed from the writings of Hiuen Tsang. People belonging to different religions lived there. That Buddhism was in a flourishing state is amply evident from the magnificent and famous Raktamrttika mahavihara situated in its neighbourhood. From Hiuen Tsang we also learn that Buddhists of the Sammatiya School mainly resided in the ten monasteries at Karnasuvarna. Apart from the monasteries there were also fifty Deva temples.

The archaeological remains found from the excavated site of Rajbaridanga points to the fact that Karnasuvarna was an urban centre. It is likely that a number of rural settlements like Gokarna, Mahalandi, Saktipur etc came into existence around the capital city to cater to the daily needs of its citizens. Perhaps trade relations existed between this region and Southeast Asia. An inscription from the Wellesly region of Malay Peninsula, datable to 5th century AD, refers to a 'mahanavika Buddhagupta' who hailed from Raktamrttika. The presence of a master mariner/captain of a large ship, hailing from Raktamrttika, in the Malay Peninsula suggests maritime trade links between Bengal and Southeast Asia. It is significant that the Chiruti region is adjacent to the Bhagirathi, which could have served as one of the channels of maritime trade.

Thus Karnasuvarna was famous as a prosperous politico-administrative, military and religious urban centre. Its fame was however short lived. It came into prominence with the rise of Shashanka in the early part of the 7th century AD and passed into oblivion by the end of that very century. However, such an important capital city did not find mention in any of the many Pala and Sena records. [Suchandra Ghosh]