The Kambojas were a Kshatriya tribe of Iron Age India, frequently mentioned in Sanskrit and Pali literature. Modern scholars conclude that the Kambojas were an Avestan speaking Eastern Iranian tribe who later settled in at the boundary of the ancient India. The Kambojas are classified as a Mleccha or barbarous tribe by the Vedic Inhabitants of India. Indologists believe that Kambojas have adopted Hinduism in a late Vedic Period.
Ethnicity and language
The ancient Kambojas were an Indo-Iranian tribe. They are however, sometimes described as Indo-Aryans and sometimes as having both Indian and Iranian affinities. The Kambojas are also described as a royal clan of the Sakas.
The earliest reference to the Kamboja is in the works of Pāṇini, around the 5th century BCE. Other pre-Common Era references appear in the Manusmriti (2nd century) and the Mahabharata (1st century), both of which described the Kambojas as former kshatriyas who had degraded through a failure to abide by Hindu sacred rituals. Their territories were located beyond Gandhara, which lay in the area of northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, and the 3rd century BCE Edicts of Asoka refers to the area under Kamboja control as being independent of the Mauryan empire in which it was situated.
Some sections of the Kambojas crossed the Hindu Kush and planted Kamboja colonies in Paropamisadae and as far as Rajauri. The Mahabharata locates the Kambojas on the near side of the Hindu Kush as neighbors to the Daradas, and the Parama-Kambojas across the Hindu Kush as neighbors to the Rishikas (or Tukharas) of the Ferghana region.
The confederation of the Kambojas may have stretched from the valley of Rajauri in the south-western part of Kashmir to the Hindu Kush Range; in the south–west the borders extended probably as far as the regions of Kabul, Ghazni and Kandahar, with the nucleus in the area north-east of the present day Kabul, between the Hindu Kush Range and the Kunar river, including Kapisa possibly extending from the Kabul valleys to Kandahar.
Others locate the Kambojas and the Parama-Kambojas in the areas spanning Balkh, Badakshan, the Pamirs and Kafiristan, or in various settlements in the wide area lying between Punjab, Iran and Balkh. and the Parama-Kamboja even farther north, in the Trans-Pamirian territories comprising the Zeravshan valley, towards the Farghana region, in the Scythia of the classical writers. The mountainous region between the Oxus and Jaxartes is also suggested as the location of the ancient Kambojas.
The name Kamboja may derive from (Kam + bhuj), referring to the people of a country known as "Kum" or "Kam". The mountainous highlands where the Jaxartes and its confluents arise are called the highlands of the Komedes by Ptolemy. Ammianus Marcellinus also names these mountains as Komedas. The Kiu-mi-to in the writings of Hiuen Tsang have also been identified with the Komudha-dvipa of the Puranic literature and the Iranian Kambojas.
The two Kamboja settlements on either side of the Hindu Kush are also substantiated from Ptolemy's Geography, which refers to the Tambyzoi located north of the Hindu Kush on the river Oxus in Bactria, and the Ambautai people on the southern side of Hindukush in the Paropamisadae. Scholars have identified both the Ptolemian Tambyzoi and Ambautai with Sanskrit Kamboja. Ptolemy also mentions a people called Khomaroi and Komoi in Sogdiana. The Ptolemian Komoi is a classical form of Kamboi (or Kamboika, from Pali Kambojika, Sanskrit Kamboja).
Theory of Origin - Eurasian Nomads
Some scholars believe that the Trans-Caucasian hydronyms and toponyms viz. Cyrus, Cambyses and Cambysene were due to tribal extension of the Iranian ethnics — the Kurus and Kambojas of the Indian texts, who according to them, had moved to the north of the Medes in Armenian Districts in remote antiquity. The Cambyses (Jora/Yori or Gori) was the sacred river Champsis of the Scythians before they went to the north Caucasus isthmus via Caspian and Nlanytsch.
But German scholar Friedrich Spiegel speculates that the Kambojas of the Kabul/Indus-land as mentioned in the Indian texts had originally migrated from Kambuja (Kambysene) of Transcaucasian Steppe (in Armenia and Albania). Chandra Chakraberty also theorizes that the Kambojas---the Kambohs of NW Panjab was a branch of the Scythian Cambysene from ancient Armenia.
As against the above, Buddha Prakash, S. Misra and others have done further research on this topic and have come to the conclusion that the Kurus and Kambojas were in fact, a Eurasian Nomads from the Central Asian Steppe who, as a composite horde, had entered Iran, Armenia, Anatolia as well as Indian Sub-continent through the passage between the Pamir mountains and the Caspian sea around 8th or 9th century BCE (or even earlier).
The Kambojan States
Kautiliya's Arthashastra and Ashoka's Edict No. XIII attest that the Kambojas followed a republican constitution. Pāṇini's Sutras tend to convey that the Kamboja of Pāṇini was a "Kshatriya monarchy", but "the special rule and the exceptional form of derivative" he gives to denote the ruler of the Kambojas implies that the king of Kamboja was a titular head (king consul) only.
The Kambojas were famous in ancient times for their excellent breed of horses and as remarkable horsemen located in the Uttarapatha or north-west. They were constituted into military sanghas and corporations to manage their political and military affairs. The Kamboja cavalry offered their military services to other nations as well. There are numerous references to Kamboja having been requisitioned as cavalry troopers in ancient wars by outside nations.
It was on account of their supreme position in horse (Ashva) culture that the ancient Kambojas were also popularly known as Ashvakas, i.e. horsemen. Their clans in the Kunar and Swat valleys have been referred to as Assakenoi and Aspasioi in classical writings, and Ashvakayanas and Ashvayanas in Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi.
The Kambojas were famous for their horses and as cavalry-men (aśva-yuddha-Kuśalah), Aśvakas, 'horsemen', was the term popularly applied to them... The Aśvakas inhabited Eastern Afghanistan, and were included within the more general term Kambojas.—K.P.Jayswal
Elsewhere Kamboja is regularly mentioned as "the country of horses" (Asvanam ayatanam), and it was perhaps this well-established reputation that won for the horsebreeders of Bajaur and Swat the designation Aspasioi (from the Old Pali aspa) and assakenoi (from the Sanskrit asva "horse").
Alexander's Conflict with the Kambojas
The Kambojas entered into conflict with Alexander the Great as he invaded Central Asia. The Macedonian conqueror made short shrifts of the arrangements of Darius and after over-running the Achaemenid Empire he dashed into Afghanistan. There he encountered incredible resistance of the Kamboja Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes.
These Ashvayana and Ashvakayana clans fought the invader to a man. When worse came to worst, even the Ashvakayana Kamboj women took up arms and joined their fighting husbands.
The Ashvakas fielded 30,000 strong cavalry, 30 elephants and 20,000 infantry against Alexander.
The Ashvayans (Aspasioi) were also good cattle breeders and agriculturists. This is clear from the large number of bullocks, 230,000 according to Arrian, of a size and shape superior to what the Macedonians had known, that Alexander captured from them and decided to send to Macedonia for agriculture.
During the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, clans of the Kambojas from north Afghanistan in alliance the with Sakas, Pahlavas and the Yavanas entered India, spread into Sindhu, Saurashtra, Malwa, Rajasthan, Punjab and Surasena, and set up independent principalities in western and south-western India. Later, a branch of the same people took Gauda and Varendra territories from the Palas and established the Kamboja-Pala Dynasty of Bengal in Eastern India.
There are references to the hordes of the Sakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, and Pahlavas in the Bala Kanda of the Valmiki Ramayana. In these verses one may see glimpses of the struggles of the Hindus with the invading hordes from the north-west. The invading hordes from the north-west entered Punjab, Sindhu, Rajasthan and Gujarat in large numbers, wrested political control of northern India from the Indo-Aryans and established their respective kingdoms as independent rulers in the land of the Indo-Aryans, as also attested by the Mahabharata as well as the Kalki Purana. There is literary as well as inscriptional evidence supporting the Yavana and Kamboja overlordship in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The royal family of the Kamuias mentioned in the Mathura Lion Capital are believed to be linked to the royal house of Taxila in Gandhara. The Maitraka Dynasty of Saurashtra, in all probability, belonged to the Kambojas, who had settled down in south-western India around the beginning of the Christian era. In the medieval era, the Kambojas are known to have seized north-west Bengal (Gauda and Radha) from the Palas of Bengal and established their own Kamboja-Pala Dynasty. Indian texts like Markandeya Purana, Vishnu Dharmottari Agni Purana,
A branch of Kambojas seems to have migrated eastwards towards Tibet in the wake of Kushana (1st century) or else Huna (5th century) pressure and hence their notice in the chronicles of Tibet ("Kam-po-tsa, Kam-po-ce, Kam-po-ji") and Nepal (Kambojadesa). The 5th-century Brahma Purana mentions the Kambojas around Pragjyotisha and Tamraliptika.
The Kambojas of ancient India are known to have been living in north-west, but in this period (9th century AD), they are known to have been living in the north-east India also, and very probably, it was meant Tibet.—R.R. Diwarkar
Later these Kambojas appear to have moved towards Assam from where they may have invaded Bengal during the Pala Empire and wrested north-west Bengal from them. These Kambojas had made a first bid to conquer Bengal during the reign of king Devapala (810–850) but were repulsed. A later attempt was successful when they were able to deprive the Palas of the suzerainty over northern and western Bengal and set up a Kamboja dynasty in Bengal towards the middle of the 10th century.
The Kambojas find prominent mention as a unit in the 3rd-century BCE Edicts of Ashoka. Rock Edict XIII tells us that the Kambojas had enjoyed autonomy under the Mauryas. The republics mentioned in Rock Edict V are the Yonas, Kambojas, Gandharas, Nabhakas and the Nabhapamkitas. They are designated as araja. vishaya in Rock Edict XIII, which means that they were kingless, i.e. republican polities. In other words, the Kambojas formed a self-governing political unit under the Maurya emperors.
- Dwivedi 1977: 287 "The Kambojas were probably the descendants of the Indo-Iranians popularly known later on as the Sassanians and Parthians who occupied parts of north-western India in the first and second centuries of the Christian era."
- Mishra 1987
- Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Achut Dattatrya Pusalker, A. K. Majumdar, Dilip Kumar Ghose, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Vishvanath Govind Dighe. The History and Culture of the Indian People, 1962, p 264,
- "Political History of Ancient India", H. C. Raychaudhuri, B. N. Mukerjee, University of Calcutta, 1996.
- See: Vedic Index of names & subjects by Arthur Anthony Macdonnel, Arthur. B Keath, I.84, p 138.
- See more Refs: Ethnology of Ancient Bhārata, 1970, p 107, Ram Chandra Jain; The Journal of Asian Studies, 1956, p 384, Association for Asian Studies, Far Eastern Association (U.S.)
- India as Known to Pāṇini: A Study of the Cultural Material in the Ashṭādhyāyī, 1953, p 49, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala; Afghanistan, p 58, W. K. Fraser, M. C. Gillet; Afghanistan, its People, its Society, its Culture, Donal N. Wilber, 1962, p 80, 311
- Thion 1993, p. 51
- Walker and Tapp 2001
- Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania, Barbara A. West, Infobase Publishing (2009), ISBN 9781438119137 p. 359
- Encyclopaedia Indica, "The Kambojas: Land and its Identification", First Edition, 1998 New Delhi, page 528
- Sethna, K. D. (2000) Problems of Ancient India, New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. ISBN 81-7742-026-7
- Numerous scholars now locate the Kamboja realm on the southern side of the Hindu Kush ranges (in the Kabul, Swat, and Kunar valleys) and the Parama-Kambojas in the territories on the north side of the Hindu Kush. See: Geographical and Economic Studies in the Mahābhārata: Upāyana Parva, 1945, p 11-13, Moti Chandra - India; Geographical Data in the Early Purāṇas: A Critical Study, 1972, p 165/66, M. R. Singh
- Purana, Vol VI, No 1, January 1964, p 207 sqq; Inscriptions of Asoka: Translation and Glossary, 1990, p 86, Beni Madhab Barua, Binayendra Nath Chaudhury - Inscriptions, Prakrit).
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- See: Proceedings and Transactions of the All-India Oriental Conference, 1930, p 118, J. C. Vidyalankara
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- Central Asiatic Provinces of the Mauryan Empire, p 403, H. C. Seth; See also: Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. XIII, 1937, No 3, p. 400; Journal of the Asiatic Society, 1940, p 37, (India) Asiatic Society (Calcutta, Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal - Asia; cf: History and Archaeology of India's Contacts with Other Countries, from Earliest Times to 300 B.C., 176, p 152, Shashi P. Asthana; Mahabharata Myth and Reality, 1976, p 232, Swarajya Prakash Gupta, K. S. Ramachandran. Cf also: India and Central Asia, p 25 etc, P. C. Bagchi.
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- History and Archaeology of India's Contacts with Other Countries, from Earliest Times to 300 B.C., 1976, p 152, Shashi Asthana; Mahabharata Myth and Reality, 1976, p 232, Swarajya Prakash Gupta, K. S. Ramachandran.
- "The Town of Darwaz in Badakshan is sill called Khum (Kum) or Kala-i-Khum. It stands for the valley of Basht. The name Khum or Kum conceals the relics of ancient Kamboja" (Journal of the Asiatic Society, 1956, p 256, Buddha Prakash [Asiatic Society (Calcutta, India), Asiatic Society of Bengal]).
- India and the World, p 71, Buddha Prakash; also see: Central Asiatic Provinces of Maurya Empire, p 403, H. C. Seth; India and Central Asia, p 25, P. C. Bagchi
- Journal of the Asiatic Society, 1956, p 256, Asiatic Society (Calcutta, India), Asiatic Society of Bengal.
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- For Tambyzoi=Kamboja, see refs: Pre Aryan and Pre Dravidian in India, 1993, p 122, Sylvain Lévi, Jean Przyluski, Jules Bloch, Asian Educational Services; Cities and Civilization, 1962, p 172, Govind Sadashiv Ghurye
- Lalye 1985, p. 133
- For Ambautai=Kamboja, see Witzel 1999a
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- Afghanistan, p 58, W. K. Fraser, M. C. Gillet.
- Afghanistan, its People, its Society, its Culture, Donal N. Wilber, 1962, p 80, 311 etc.
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- "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")". E. Lamotte, Historie du Bouddhisme Indien, p. 110. (WP translation. Quotation should be taken from the published English translation: Lamotte 1988, p. 100)
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