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Pundravardhana named after the Pundra (Pundra) people, is one of the most significant territorial divisions of ancient Bengal. The Pundras as a tribe are mentioned for the first time in the Aitareya Brahmana (c 8th century BC). They form a distinct group with the Andhras, the Shabaras, the Pulindas and the Mutibas. The name also occurs in other literary sources. The Pundras and their habitat are looked down upon as impure in later Vedic literature because they fell beyond the pale of Vedic culture.

The name based on a people gradually developed into a territorial unit. The identification of pundranagara with mahasthan, located on the right bank of the river Karatoya in the Bogra district, is now certain with the discovery of the mahasthan brahmi inscription, palaeographically assigned to the Maurya period (c 3rd cent. BC). Pundranagara was a politico-economic and religious centre.

In the Gupta period Pundravardhana or Paundravardhana became an important bhukti or territorial division. Epigraphic materials of the Gupta period from North Bengal (nine inscriptions) clearly show that Pundravardhana bhukti was divided into several visayas or districts, which were again subdivided into vithis and mandalas. The bhukti was entrusted to an Uparika or Uparikamaharaja (provincial governor) appointed directly by the reigning Gupta emperor.

The region bounded by the Padma in the south, Ganges in the west and either the Karatoya or the Jamuna in the east was known as Pundra, Pundravardhana or Paundravardhan, comprising the modern areas of Rajshahi, Bogra, Pabna in Bangladesh, Dinajpur (both of India and Bangladesh) and ancient varendra. According to the Damodarpur copperplate inscription of the time of Budhagupta (c 476-94 AD) the northern limit of Pundravardhana was the Himalayas (Himavacchikhara).

The administrative and territorial jurisdiction of Pundravardhana expanded in the Pala period. In the Pala, Chandra and Sena periods Pundravardhana included areas beyond the geographical boundaries of North Bengal. The Dhulla copperplate inscription of Shrichandra records a grant of land in the Ballimunda Khandala of the Khadiravilli visaya in Pundra bhukti, identified with the villages of Ballisuda and Khalli respectively in Manikganj district.

From the Mainamati plates of Ladahachandra and the Mehar copperplate of Damodaradeva (1234 AD) records that samatata mandala was within Paundravardhana bhukti. The Pashchimbhag copperplate of Shrichandra (930 AD) records the gift of land in Garala visaya, Pogara visaya and Chandrapura visaya belonging to Shrihatta mandala lying within Paundravardhana bhukti. Thus the Sylhet region in the northeastern fringe of Bengal was incorporated within Pundravardhana bhukti. It is evident from the land grant documents of the Pala-Sena period that vanga, which was geographically coextensive with almost the entire region of East Bengal, belonged to the administrative unit of Pundravardhana (Paundravardhanabhuktyantapatih Vange Vikramapura bhage).

This jurisdiction continued and later nearly the whole of Bengal excepting the western part, corresponding to radha and dandabhukti, came under the definition of Pundravardhana or Paundravardhana, as it was often designated. This is quite clear from a comparative study of epigraphic sources. While the tract east of the Bhagirathi is referred to as Pundravardhana, the west is not referred to as such.

That Pundravardhana bhukti continued to embrace its original territory in North Bengal even during the period of its extended denotation is demonstrated by the inclusion of Kausambi-Ashtagachchha khandala (Kusumba near Rajshahi) in an inscription of the Varmana ruler.

The location of Pundravardhana on an important route connecting China with Magadha enhanced its importance. The prosperity of this region is also indicated by the description of hiuen-tsang who visited this region in the second quarter of the 7th century AD. Hiuen Tsang travelled east from Ka-chu-wu-khi-lo (Kajangala, near rajmahal), crossed the Ganges and reached Pun-na-fa-tan-na (Pundravardhana) country, wherefrom he travelled further east and crossed a mighty river to reach Kia-mo-lu-po (kamarupa). Thus a route ran from Kajangala to Kamarupa through Pundravardhana. It was therefore ideally located to facilitate the percolation of the culture of the middle Ganga valley.

Pundranagara continued to be an important place up to the twelfth century AD, as is evidenced by the Karatoyamahatmya. However Pundranagara, as also Pundravardhana, passed into oblivion in the medieval period, when the locality came to be designated as Mahasthan. [Suchandra Ghosh]