The Aśvakas or
Aśvakayanas, classically called the Assacenii/Assacani (Sanskrit:
is the Sanskrit name of a people who supposedly lived in northeastern
Afghanistan and the Peshawar Valley. They are/were believed to be a
sub-group of the Greater Kamboja tribe profusely referenced in
ancient Sanskrit/Pali literature and were partitioned into eastern
and western Aśvakas. They find mention in the Puranas,
Mahabharata and numerous other ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts.
Today, their descendants are mostly heterogeneous people. The modern
ethnonym Afghan, which was attested in the 6th century in the form of
Avagānā by the Indian astronomer Varāhamihira, may have
evidently derived from Aśvaka.
The Sanskrit term
aśva, Iranian aspa and Prakrit assa means horse. The name
Aśvaka/Aśvakan or Assaka is said to be derived from Sanskrit Aśva
or Prakrit Assa and it literally denotes someone connected with the
horses---hence: a horseman, or a cavalryman  or "breeder of
horses". The Aśvakas were especially engaged in the
occupation of breeding, raising and training war horses, as also in
providing expert cavalry services to outside nations, hence they also
constituted an excellent class of Kshatriyas (warriors). Like tribal
term Kamboja, the appellative term Aśvaka is also interpreted as
land of horses.
Pāṇini styled the
Aspa and the Aśvaka clans of the Kunar and Swat valleys (earlier
Kafiristan--- modern Nuristan)  as Aśvayanas and Aśvakayanas
respectively. The Classical writers use the respective equivalents
Aspasioi or Aspasii (Hippasii) and Assakenoi (or Assaceni/Assacani).
Based on evidence from Indika of Megasthenes (c. 350 BC - 290 BC),
Pliny (Gaius Plinius Secundus) (23 AD–79 AD) refers to clans like
Osii (Asii), Asoi, and Aseni in his Historia Naturalis  and
locates them on river Indus mainly in the northern western frontier
parts parts of modern Pakistan which region exactly constituted the
ancient Kamboja. The Osii, Taxilae, Amanda, Peucolaitae, Arsagalitae
(=Urasa + Gilgit), Asoi, Geretae and Aseni etc were all related clans
and constituted mostly the Gandhara and Kamboja population. Amanda
(Gandhara), Taxilae, Peucolaitae etc belonged to the Gandhara
set-up whereas Asoi (Aspasioi—the Aśvayanas), Geretaei
(Guraeans), Asii (Aśvakas/Aśvakayanas), Aurasa (=Hazaras),
(i.e. the Arsa-(Aurasa-) component of the Arsagalitae), and the Aseni
etc belonged to the Kamboja. John Watson McCrindle  also regards
the Asoi and Geretae to be respectively equivalent to the Aspasioi
and the Gouraei of Arian--both being western-branch of the Assakenoi
(Aśvakas). Bucephala was the capital of Aseni which stood on
Hydaspes (Jhelum). Alexander had named this city after his horse
Becephalus when it had died sometime in June 326 BC after being
fatally wounded at the Battle of Hydaspes with king Porus (Paurava)
of Punjab. A view has been held that the clan names like Osii, Asioi,
and Aseni of Indika of Megasthenes equate to Asii referred to by
Strabo and Asiani as referred to in Historiae Philippicae by Trogue
Pompey and further, they also equate to the Aspasioi (Aspasii,
Hipasii) and Assakenoi (Assacenii/Assacani) clans of upper Indus
referred to as Aśvayana and Aśvakayana in Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi.
according to Hindu tradition, were resident in the eastern parts of
modern Afghanistan, south of Hindu Kush and their population reached
up to the Indus River and to parts of Punjab in Pakistan. Their
metropolitan areas were believed to be in the area of Swat (near
modern Kalash-Valley and Pakistani side of Nuristan) and in some part
regions of Gandhara (today Peshawar), in present day Pakistan.
literature also refers to another clan called Asmaka or Assaka
(Asvakas) which represented an Indo-Aryan Janapada located on river
Godavari in south-west India. Aśmaka literally means land of stone.
Some scholars believe that the south-western Asmakas/Assakas were
also an offshoot from the North-west Aśvakas.
Buddhist texts like
Aruppa-Niddeesa, Manorathapurni, Kunala Jataka, Samangalavilasini
etc speak of Kamboja land as the land of horses e.g:
The cluster assa in
the above expression of Sumangavilasini means horse, which on
adding suffix -ka gives the Prakrit Assaka which term when considered
in the context of the above expression denotes the following:
Assaka = The
Kambojas connected with horses; horsemen; cavalry.
Assaka = The Kamboja
land or Janapada.
Sanskrit Aśvaka can be derived from Sanskrit Aśva meaning
horse, which, likewise, denote the following:
Aśvaka = The
Kambojas connected with horses; horsemen; cavalry.
Aśvaka = The
Kamboja land or Janapada.
From the above
statement, it is quite obvious that term Assaka or Aśvaka stood for
the Kamboja land, Kamboja pe ople, Kamboja horsemen or the Kamboja
The formation of
clannish name Aśvaka or Assaka from the Sanskrit "Aśva"
or the Prakrit "Assa" has exactly a similar formation as
followed by tribal terms such as Kambojika/Kambojaka (from Kamboja),
Madaraka (from Madra) and Yonaka (from Yona), Lichchhivika (from
Lichchhivi), Vrijika (from Vriji), Mallaka (from Malla), Jartaka
(from Jarta = modern Jat).
reasons, the name Aśvaka has also been interpreted by scholars as
the "land of horses". In
ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts, Kamboja has repeatedly been styled
as the "home of
horses". Thus, based
on the name and the geographical location of Aśvaka tribe, numerous
scholars have concluded that the Aśvakas were a sub-branch of the
more general tribal name Kamboja.
Bevan and many other
scholars have connected the Greek name Assakenoi and Asapasio with
Sanskrit Asva i.e. horse.
The companions of
Alexander (~326 BCE) do not record the names of Kamboja and Gandhara
and rather locate numerous small political units in their
us that the region on west of Indus up to Kophen (Kabul) was
inhabited by tribes called Assakenoi and Aspasioi. In the dominions
of the Assakenoi there was a great city called Massaka, the seat of
sovereign power, which controlled whole region. And there was another
city called Peukelaitis which was also of great size and was not far
from Indus. It was the seat of Astakenoi (western Gandharas). These
settlements were on the west side of Indus and extended in the
western direction as far as the Kophen. From Arrian we learn that the
Aspasioi and the Assakenoi (Asvakas) were located west of Indus on
river Kabul extending towards Hindukush. The Astakenoi (western
Gandharas) had occupied Peukelaitis and their other section—the
Taxilae (eastern Gandharas) were located on east of Indus.
Fifth Major Rock
Edict (~250 BCE) of king Asoka found at Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra in
north-west frontier province of Pakistan (the supposed location of
the Kambojas) enumerates the Yavanas, Kambojas and Gandhara in that
order. Scholars believe that the order of enumeration implies that
these people were geographically located in that order. Asoka's
Thirteenth Major Rock Edict (~250 BCE) found in the same locations
speaks saliently of the Yonas and the Kambojas but excludes the
Gandharas altogether. His Minor Rock Edict (~342 BCE) inscribed in
Greek and Aramaic languages and located in Kandahar is said to be
specifically directed at the Yonas and the Kambojas. His other
three epigraphic inscriptions in Aramaic found in 1932, 1969 and 1973
in Lamghan valley at Pul-i-Darunta, Sultan Baba and Sam Baba
respectively, and yet another one found in Kandhahar in 1964, again
in Aramaic, undoubtedly speak high of the eminence of the Kambojas
during Maurya rule.
Thus, we see that
the Yonas and the Kambojas are referenced more numerously and more
prominently in king Asoka's edicts whereas the Gandharas find only
lesser reference. This clearly implies that during Asoka's time, the
Yonas and the Kambojas were more significant people of
Now king Asoka's
Yavanas were undoubtedly located in Arachosia (Kandhahar) 
And his Gandharas
were in Pushkalavati/Peshawar west of Indus (territory of the
Astakenoi of Arrian) as well as in Taxila (the kingdom of Taxiles) on
east side of river Indus.
Kambojas of king Asoka are left with no alternative other than to be
placed exactly and precisely in the same position as the Assakenoi
and Aspasioi of Arrian. The Kambojas had accordingly occupied
Paropamisadae (Kabul, Kunar and Swat valleys) where the Aramaic
records of king Asoka have been found.
Cf: 'Where the
Kambojas geographically should have been we exactly find the
Assakenoi and the Aspasioi whose names were derived from the
reputation they enjoyed for the excellence of their horse. And the
Kambojas—found as they are in Indian traditions as the splendid
horsemen and breeders of notable horses—surely are included among
Aśvaka derived from Aśva a horse signified merely the cavaliers (or
horsemen); it was less an ethnic in the rigorous acceptance of the
word than a general appellation applied by the Indians of Punjab to
the tribes of the region of Kophes (Kabul) renowned from antiquity
for the excellence of its horses. In popular dialect, the Sanskrit
word took the usual form Assaka which reappears scarecely unmodified
Since the Kophese
(or Kabul valley) was precisely the seat of the Kamboja tribes, hence
Aśvaka as an appellation was undoubtedly applied to this people i.e
We, thus get another
name for the Kambojas i.e Asvakas. Since the Kambojas were famous as
cavalrymen (Asva-yuddhah-Kushalah); Aśvakas, 'horsemen' was the term
popularly applied to them.
The Yonas of king
Asoka get adequately accounted for in Arachosia. And his Gandharas
get adequately accounted for by the Astakenoi of Peukelaitis (eastern
Gandharas) and the Taxilae located on east side of Indus (Eastern
Gandharas). Could any scholar tell as to how can we account for the
Kambojas unless we equate them to the Aspasioi and Assakenoi of
Arrian?. Do we have any answer?
How could the
Kambojas who otherwise find so prominent a mention (1) as independent
rulers of a great Mahajanapada per Buddhist texts of 500 BCE; 2)
as a very salient Kshatriya tribe in Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi of 400
BCE; (3) as an important self-ruling people in Arthashastra of
Kautiliya (~300 BCE)–the prime minister of Chandragupta Maurya
which authority also glorifies the war horses of the Kamboja to be
the foremost among the best breed of the known horses  while
making no reference whatsoever to the Gandharas or their horses; and
(4) lastly but not the least, also being so importantly referred to
the Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra Rock Edicts of Asoka (~250 BCE)
etc–fell out of limelight so abruptly and becoming virtually
extinct so suddenly in the intervening period of Alexander's invasion
(326 BCE) just 50–60 years anterior to king Asoka's reign unless we
equate them to same people as the Aspasioi and Assakenoi of the Greek
It is quite
remarkable that, whereas the companions of Alexander (326 BCE) give
very high prominence to the Aspasioi of Kunar valley, the Assakenoi
of Swat valley and Astakenoi of Peukelaitis, the Edicts (~250 BCE)
king Asoka, on the other hand give high prominence only to Yonas (in
Arachosia) and Kambojas (in Kabul/Swat valleys). There is no
mention of any Aśvaka people in Asoka's records. The contemporary
Buddhist texts also repeatedly refer to the Kambojas and Gandharas
but not to the Aśvakas of Kabul valley. Also although the
numerous Buddhist texts repeatedly style the Kamboja as the "home
of horses"', there is absolutely no reference to any Gandhara
horse or to the Gandhara being a "home of horses" in the
same Buddhist sources.
This single and very
important historical fact rules out any identification of the Aśvakas
with the Gandharas as some writers erroneously tend to establish.
Thus, the expression
"home of horses" specifically used by numerous Buddhist
texts with reference to the Kambojas (and only the Kambojas) should
clearly establish their identity and connection with the Aśvakas.
Indisputably, the Aśvakas were a sub-section of the wider Kamboja
tribe (K. P. Jayaswal).
Apart from the
Buddhist sources, the epic Mahabharata as well as numerous Puranic
texts also repeatedly refer to the excellent horses (Aśvas) of the
Kambojas and also frequently style the latter people as
"Aśva-yudha-Kushalah" (expert cavalry), yet none of
them makes even a slightest reference to the Aśvakas of Kabul or
their horses. Very interestingly, Mahabharata in its enumeration
of best class horses, mentions the Kamboja, Aratta, Mahi, Sindhu and
Vanayu horses only but makes no reference to the Gandhara as well as
any Aśvaka horses. Valmiki Ramayana also glorifies the horses of
Kamboja, Bahlika, Vanayu etc and styles them as of foremost breed but
it does not refer to any Gandhara or any Aśvaka horses at all.
Arthashastra of Kautiliya gives high prominence to the Kambhoja,
Sindhu, Aratta and Vanayu horses and lesser to those from the Bahlíka
(Bactria), Papeya, Sauvira and Taitala countries but this important
text on state-craft also makes no reference to the Gandhara and
Aśvaka horses. Similarly, numerous other ancient Indian texts
like Upamiti Bhava Prapancha Katha, Abhidhamma Ratanamala,
Samaraiccakaha of Haribhadra Suri, Manasollasa of Chalukya king
Somesavara III, Amarakosa of Amara Simha, Asvashastra of Nakula,
Karanabhara of Bhasa etc refer to the horses from countries like
Kamboja, Bahlika, Vanayu, Sindhu, Saka, Yavana, Tushara, Khorasan,
Tajik, Turushaka etc but not mention any horses from Gandhara or
Asvaka country. As a matter-of-fact, none of the numerous Hindu,
Buddhist as well as the Jaina texts make even a slightest reference
to the Aśvaka horses while references to the Kamboja horses loom
very large in all of these texts.
The Bengal recension
of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vayu Purana, Brahamanda
Purana, Vishnudharmottara Mahapurana  Matsya Purana, and
Markendeya Purana  etc all refer to the southern Asmakas (Assakas
of the Buddhist texts) only  but has no reference to the Kabul
Asvakas. Padma Purana however, seems to locate the Asmakas in
northern  as well as in southern India. Brhat-Samhita of
Varaha Mihira (6th century CE) mentions the Asmakas living near to
the Madras in north-western division. The northern Asmakas of
Padama Purana as well as Brhatsamhita are obviously the same people
as the Asvakas of Kunar/Swat valleys. Ashtadhyayi of Pāṇini
specifically refers to the Asvakas of the Kunar/Swat valleys as
Asvayanas and the Asvakayanas  (highlander republican people)
located south of Hindukush who are considered equivalent to Arrian's
Aspasioi and Assakenoi respectively. They had constituted the Ganas
of the Paropamisadian Kambojas. In his sutras, Pāṇini also makes
separate mention of the Asmakas of south and associates them with
Avantis in a single appellation as Avantyasmakah, thus obviously
referring to the southern Asmakas located on Godavary.
PURANA/AGNI PURANA EVIDENCE
Puranic text like
Vishnudharmotra Purana too specifically attests that the Kambojas and
Gandharas were proficient in cavalry warfare i.e. in
Aśva'-Yuddha. A similar information is also provided in the
Agni Purana. This again seems to confirm a connection between the
Kambojas and Aśvakas.
Anushasnaparava section of Mahabharata, the Kambojas are specifically
designated as aśava.yuddha.kushalah (expert cavalry).
Commenting on the
above verse of Mahabharta, noted scholars like Dr K. P. Jayswal
observe that "Since the Kambojas were famous for their horses
(aśva) and as a cavalry-men (Aśva-yudhah kushalah), hence the
Aśvakas i.e. horsemen was the term popularly applied to them".
of Shakti Sangama Tantra also testifies that the Kamboja was not only
famous for its fine horses (aśva) but also for its excellent
AŚVAKA COINS AND
The coins of Aśvakas
refer to themselves as vatasvaka (vata.asvaka), which in Sanskrit,
equals varta-aśvaka i.e Aśvakas engaged in varta profession.
The use of prikritic
vata (Sanskrit varta) appellation by the Aśvakas in their coins
reminds one of the Varta.shastr.opajivin descriptions of the Kambojas
as attested by Kautiliya in his Arthashastra.
The above view is
further reinforced by Brahtsamhita of Varaha Mihira which also says
that the Kambojas lived by shastr and varta.
(Kambojas) have been attested to be good cattle breeders and
agriculturists by classical writers. This is clear from big number of
the bullocks, 230,000 according to Arrian, of a size and shape
superior to what the Macedonians had not known, which Alexander
captured from them and decided to send them to Macedonia for
The Aśvaka Kambojas
are also attested to have fielded 30,000 strong cavalry, 30 elephants
and 20,000 infantry against Alexander.
staggering figures about agricultural cattle and the war horses of
the Aśvakas sufficiently prove the correctness of Kautiliya's
statement on the Kambojas which portrays the Kambojas as living both
by warfare (shastr.opajivin) as well as by agriculture/cattle-culture
The above facts,
when viewed in the light of time and space propinquity, evidently
connect the Aśvakas with the varta.shastr.opajivin Kambojas of the
Sir Thomas H.
Holdich, in the his classic book, The Gates of India, writes that the
Aspasians (Aspasioi) represent the modern Kafirs. But the modern
Kafirs, especially the Siyah-Posh Kafirs (Kamoz/Camoje, Kamtoz) etc
are considered to be modern representatives of the ancient Kambojas
Kafirs of Hindu Kush and the Kambojas, this shows that the Aspasioi
(Aspas), who were the western branch of the Assakenoi (Aśvakas) of
classical writings, represented a section of the Sanskrit Kambojas.
Pakistan Review: "These Kafirs once occupied a wider region
before the pressure of events squeezed them into their present narrow
valleys. They or some earlier ethnic type on which they become
superimposed, may have been the Kambhojas and the Alinas of the Vedas
whose offshoots were probably the tribes encountered by Alexander in
Kunar, Bajaur and Swat. Among the Greek writers Arrian refers to them
as Assakenoi and Aspasioi. These names are associated with the old
Aryan word for horse (asva) and that the horse's head is still
recognized as a sacred symbol by these Kafir remnants...".
Thus according to this view also, the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of
Arrian were offshoots from the Kambojas.
French scholars Dr
E. Lamotte has also identified the Aśvakas with the Kambojas of
ancient Sanskrit literature. "Par ailleurs le Kamboja est
régulièrement mentionné comme la "patrie des chevaux"
(Asvanam ayatanam), et cette reputation bien etablie gagné peut-etre
aux eleveurs de chevaux du Bajaur et du Swat l'appellation d'Aspasioi
(du v.-p. aspa) et d’assakenoi (du skt asva "cheval")"
Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes living west of Indus and north of river
Kabul in the valleys of Alishang, Kunar, Swat and Panjkora, in
context of Alexander's invasion of India, Paul Goukowsky observes:
"Pour les sources Indiennes, ce pays est celui des Kamboja
eleveurs de chevaux. De fait, les tribus signalées dans cette région
par les historiens d'Alexandre portent des noms tirés de celui du
cheval (iranien aspa, sanscrit asva...). Pāṇini connait deux
peuplades les Asvayana (vallees de l'Alishang et du Kunar) et les
Asvakayana (habitat l'Udyana, cest-a-dire le Swat le Buner et la
vallee de la Panjkora. Les premiers paraissent correspondre aux
Aspasiens/Hipasiens (par l'intermediate d'une forme Iranienne en
Aspa); les seconds aux Assakeniens (la forme pracrite en Assa etant
celle de la langue parlee a l'epoque le d'Alexandre). Il semble donc
que la langue Iranienne predominait au nord du Kunar le pracrit au
sud". Thus, Paul considers the Assakenoi and Aspasioi as
sections of the Kambojas.
Cf: "Kamboja is
regularly mentioned as the "homeland of horses" and it was
this well-established reputation which possibly earned the
horse-breeders of Bajaur and Swat the epithet of Aspasioi (from Old
Pers Aspa) and Assakenoi (from Sanskrit Asva "horse")".
While referring to a
certain Sakya legend connected with Udyana locale (north-west
frontiers province of Pakistan), James Fergusson connects the Udyana
country with the Kambojas of the Hindu texts. But the territories
of Kunar, Udyana, Swat and Varana (Aorna of classical writers) etc
were the very habitats of the Aśvaka Kambojas since remote
antiquity...thus proving that the Asvakas were same as the Kambojas.
J. W. McCrindle says
that the modern Afghanistan -- the Kaofue (Kambu) of Hiun Tsang was
ancient Kamboja, and further says that the name Afghan evidently
derives from the Aśavakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian. Thus it can be
seen that Dr McCrindle clearly identifies the classical
Assakenoi/Aspasioi with the Sanskrit Kambojas.
Kambojas, Dr H. C. Raychayudhury, Dr B. N. Mukerjee write: "With
the expression Assa.nam Ayata.nam---land of horses used by Pali texts
in reference to the Kambojas, may be compared the names Aspasioi and
Assakenoi given by classical writers to the sturdy people living in
the Alishang and Swat valleys in the days of Alexander ".
According to John
Muir, the Kambojas had inhabited north-west of India from river
Indus to as far as Hindukush. They had the same Aryan origin as the
Indians however, they were afterwards reckoned to be barbarians
because their manners became changed afterwards and they were justly
called Indians and barbarians by the Chinese  and the
Greeks. The same therefore, happened to the Kambojas although in
a less marked manner as took place between the Zend people and the
Indians in a more remote period". Since Fah-hien's Indians were
people of Swat/Udyana, Hiuen Tsang's Indians were the people of
Kapisa to Rajapura (Rajauri) and Arrian's Indians were the Assakenoi,
Aspasio and Asteknoi localised in Kapisa/Swat/Kunar/Aornos regions of
Paropamisadae in the west of Indus and north of Kabol as far as up to
the Hindu Kush, hence, Johm Muir's Kambojas are exactly the same as
the Aspasio, Guraeus, Assakenoi and Astekenoi of Arrian, or the
people from Kapisa to Udyana/Swat territories, stated to be rude
frontier Indians by Chinese pilgrims Hiuen Tsang and Fa-hien.
Dr S. M. Ali has
identified the ancient Kambojas of the Puranic literature with the
inhabitants of the Kafir valleys, who, as we know from classical
writings, were none else than the Aspasioi off-shoot of the Aśvakan
According to Dr J.
L. Kamboj: "It is now generally accepted that the Ashvakas
(Assakenoi/Aspasioi of Arrian, Ashvakayanas/Asvayanas of Pāṇini)
were a sub-branch of the Kambojas. Their coins have been found with
the legend 'Vatasvaka'. The significance of the Prakritic word 'vata'
in 'Vatasvaka' (Vata+asvaka) is to be sought in its Sanskrit form
(Varta) which means (among other things) trade, industry, and
agriculture. These were also precisely the professions of the
Kambojas since Kautilya specifically styles the Kambojas as
Varta.sastr.opajivin i.e living by agriculture, trade and wielding
weapons. The Asvaka coins also bear a long robed figure in
trousers (i.e an Asvaka) standing with folding hands before the
moon-on-hill. In a series of coins from Pataliputra (Mauriyas), a
similar moon-on-hill symbol is placed over a standard. The homageful
figure in Vatasvaka coins has been interpreted by some scholars to
express the subordination of the Asvakas to the dynasty of Candra
(i.e Chandragupta Maurya)".
Panjab" by Dr L. M. Joshi and Dr Fauja Singh (Ed) also
identifies the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of the classical writings with
the clans of the Kambojas.
Dr R. C. Majumdar,
Romila Thappar, noted historians of India also take the Aśvakas to
be same people as the Kambojas and they all connect them with the
people of Kafirstan.
Dr Buddha Parkash
notes: "The Macedonian conqueror made short shrifts of the
arrangements of Darius and over-running Achaemenian empire, dashed
into modern Pakistan (achemenid satrapen) and encountered stiff
residstence of the Kamboja tribes called Aspasioi and Assakenoi known
in the Indian texts as Aśvayana and Aśvakayana ".
These Asvayana and
Asvakayana clans had fought the invader to a man. When worst came to
worst, even the Asvakayana Kamboj women had taken up arms and joined
their fighting husbands, thus preferring "a glorious death to a
life of dishonor". Diodorus gives a detailed graphic
picture as to how the Aśvakayanas (Kambojs) had conducted themselves
when faced with the sudden treacherous onslaught from Alexander.
Commenting on the
heroic resistance and courage displayed by the Aśvakayanas
(Kambojas) in the face of treacerous onslaught of Alexander, Dr
Buddha Prakash remarks: "Hardly could any Thermopylae be more
Numerous scholars of
note now believe that the name Afghan has been derived from Sanskrit
Aśvaka or Aśvakan (Aśvakayana), the Assakenoi of Arrian. This
view was propounded by scholars like Dr Christian Lassen, Dr. J.
W. McCrindle, M. V. de Saint Martin etc, and has been
supported by numerous modern scholars . In Sanskrit,
the word aśva (Iranian aspa, Prakrit assa) means "horse",
and aśvaka (Prakrit assaka) means "horseman", "horse
people", "land of horses"
IN ANCIENT WARS
The Kambojas had
been famous throughout all periods of history for their excellent
breed of horses as well as famous horsemen or cavalry
troopers. They repeatedly appear in the
characteristic Iranian roles of splendid horsemen and breeders of
notable horses. The epic, the Puranic and numerous other ancient
literature profusely attest the Kambojas among the finest
horsemen. They were constituted into Military Sanghas and
Corporations to manage their political affairs, as Kautiliya and
Mahabharata amply attest for us. They are also attested to have been
living as Ayuddha-jivi or Shastr-opajivis, which means that the
Kamboja cavalry offered their military services to other nations as
well. There are numerous references to Kambojas being requistioned as
cavalry troopers in ancient wars by outside nations. V. R.
Ramachandra Dikshitar observes: "Both the Puranas and the epics
agree that the horses of the Sindhu and Kamboja regions were of the
finest breed, and that the services of the Kambojas as cavalry
troopers were requisitioned in ancient wars".
that the Gandarian mercenaries (Gandharans/Kambojans) from the
twentieth strapy of the Achaemenids were recruited in the army of
emperor Xerxes I (486-465 BCE) which he led against the Hellas.
Similarly, the men
of the Mountain Land (Akaufaka), from north of Kabol-River equivalent
to medieval Kohistan (Pakistan), figure in the army of Darius III
against Alexander at Arbela with a cavalry and fifteen
were the well known parvatiya Ayuddhajivins of Pāṇini's
Ashtadhyayi located on either side of the Hindu Kush and who
belonged to Kamboja/Gandhara group of a warrior caste.
of the Kambojas was invited by Duryodhana, the Kuru king of
Hastinapura to help him in the Mahabharata war against the Pandavas.
Sudakshina Kamboj came to his side with one Akshauhini powerful army
of ferocious Central Asian warriors which also included the Shakas
and Yavanas, besides the Kambojas. Of the ten distinguished
Generals appointed by Duryodhana to efficiently manage his vast host
of army, Sudakshina Kamboja was one such distinguished General.
Bala Kanda of
Valmiki Ramayana refers to a battle between sage Vasishtha and king
Vishwamitra of Kanauj. Sage Visishtha had sought the military
assistance of the Kambojas, Shakas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, Kiratas and
other Mlechchas from the North-west. King Vishwamitra had lost all
his sons in the battle. In remorse, he renounced the world and turned
into an ascetic after the war.
The ancient Sanskrit
drama Mudra-rakashas by Vishakhadatta and the Jaina work
Parisishtaparvan refer to Chandragupta's alliance with Himalayan king
Parvataka. The Himalayan alliance gave Chandragupta a formidable
composite army made up of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Kiratas,
Parasikas and Bahlikas as attested by Mudra-Rakashas (Mudra-Rakshasa
With the help of
these frontier martial tribes from Central Asia, Chandragupta was
able to defeat the Greek successors of Alexander the Great and the
Nanda/Nandin rulers of Magadha so as to found the powerful Maurya
empire in northern India, at least for a short time till the Kushans
and other ruler conquered north-west India.
The Kalika Purana,
one of the eighteen Upa-Puranas of the Hindus, refers to a war
between King Kalika and notes the Shakas, Kambojas, Khasas etc as a
powerful military allies of king Kali. The Purana further notes these
Barbarians as taking orders from their women, which culture was
typical of tribes located on Oxus/north-west.
Patanjali around 150
BCE and Yuga Purana chapter of Gargi-Samhita refer to 2nd-century BCE
Yavana attack on Saketa, Panchala, Mathura and Pataliputra located in
Majjhima-desa or Mid India. Anushasnaparava of Mahabharata attests
that Mathura country in Mid India was under the joint control of the
Yavanas and the Kambojas (12.101.05). The Kamboja royal family at
Mathura is also attested from Mathura Lion Capitol inscriptions of
Saka Strap (Kshatrapa) Rajuvula. Vanaparava of Mahabharata woefully
deplores that the sacred earth (Indo-Aryan land), in Kaliyuga, would
be ruled un-righteously by Mlechchha kings of the Yavanas, Kambojas,
Sakas etc. These references show that the Kamboja cavalry from
north-west in conjunction with the Yavanas had invaded India and
ruled over it prior to Christian era migration of Kambojas and Yona
invasion of India.
numerous Puranas, the military Corporations of the Shakas, Yavanas,
Kambojas, Pahlavas and Paradas, known as pānca-ganah (five hordes)
as well as foremost of the Kshatriya or warrior clans
(Kshatriya-ganah Ksatriya pungvah), had militarily supported
the Haihaya and Talajunga Kshatriyas in depriving Ikshvaku king Bahu
(the 7th king in descent from Harishchandra), of his Ayodhya kingdom.
A generation later,
Bahu's son, Sagara recaptured Ayodhya after totally destroying the
Haihaya and Talajangha Kshatriyas in the battle. Story goes that king
Sagara had punished these foreign hordes by changing their
hair-styles and turning them into degraded Kshatriyas.
refers to a war between Jarasandha and Yadavas led by Sri Krshna. The
Kambojas came as military allies of Jarasandha, king of Magadha.
There is reference to the siege of Gomant Parvata where the Kamboja
army was positioned on its east flank. Bhagavata Purana
speaks of the Kamboja General as a powerfully armed mighty warrior
(samiti-salina atta-capah Kamboja).
The Palas employed
mercenary forces and certainly recruited horses from Kambojas as is
clear from their own Inscriptions. According to Dr N. G.
Majumdar, if horses could be brought from Kamboja, it is also
perfectly reasonable to suppose that for trade and other purposes,
some adventurers (from Kamboja) could also have found their way into
that province. Scholars like Dr R. C. Majumdar observe that the
armed forces of Pala Dynasty of Bengal had included foreigners like
the Khasas, Hunas, Kambojas, Kulitas, Karnatas, Latas and Malavas
etc. Writes Dr R. C. Majumdar: "Mercenary soldiers (Specially
cavalry) might have been recruited from the Kambojas and some of them
might have been influential chiefs". According Dr Majumdar and
many other scholars, some courageous military General of the Kambojas
had later captured north-western parts of Bengal from the Palas and
founded the Kamboja dynasty in Bengal.
Scholars also state
that the Kamboja cavalry had also formed part of the
Gurjara-Pratihara armed forces in 8th to 10th centuries AD. They had
come to Bengal with the Pratiharas when the latter conquered part of
the province. In fact, there is stated
to have been a separate regiment of the Kambojas in the army of the
Pratiharas which was given the responsibility to defend the
northern-eastern parts of their empire adjoining with the Palas of
Bengal. When the fortunes of the Palas sagged low after the death of
Narayanapala in early 10th century, these Kambojas, the military
associates of the Pratiharas had seized Gauda from Pala king
Rajyapala and laid the foundation of the Kamboja empire in north-west
List of country name
Geographical Data in
Early Puranas, A Critical Study, 1972, p 179 Dr M. R. Singh
Dictionary of Greek
Roman Geography, Vol-I, 1966, William Smith, Phillip Smith
Dictionary of ancient and Medieval India, Dr Nundo Lal Dey
(Hindi), 1948, Dr Jaychandra Vidyalankar
Ancient India as
Described in Megasthenes and Arrian, 1960, J. W. McCrindle
The Invasion of
India by Alexander the Great, 1896, J. W. McCrindle
The Gates of India,
Sir Thomas H. Holdich
People and the Country, 1981, Dr J. L. Kamboj
Data in Early Purana, 1972, Dr M. R. Singh
Hindu Polity, Part I
II, 1978, Dr K. P. Jayswal
Panjab Past and
Present, Dr Buddha Parkash
bouddhisme Indien, p 110, Dr E. Lammotte
East and West, 1950,
pp 28, 157-58, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente,
Editor, Prof Giuseppe Tucci, Co-editors Prof Mario Bussagli, Prof
History of Indian
Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, 1988, p 100 - History
Raja Poros, 1990,
Publication Buareau, Punjabi University, Patiala
History of Poros,
1967, pp 12,39, Dr Buddha Prakash
Journal of Bihar and
Orissa Research Society, Vol XX
Journal of Royal
Asiatic Society, 1900
History and Culture
of Indian People, Age of Imperial Unity, Vol II, Dr A. D. Pusalkar,
Dr R. C. Majumdar
History of Panjab,
Vol I, Dr Fauja Singh, Dr L. M. Joshi.
The Kambojas Through
the Ages, 2005, Kirpal Singh.