Central Asians in Ancient Indian literature

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Central Asia and Ancient India have long traditions of social-cultural, religious, political and economic contact since remote antiquity.[1] The two regions have common and contiguous borders, climatic continuity, similar geographical features and geo-cultural affinity. But the flow of people and the impact on native population and its archaeogenetics have been negligible throughout the thousands of years of contact.

Physical map of Central Asia from the Caspian Sea to the west, to Inner Mongolia in the east.


The 2nd century Kushan Empire.

Ancient Indian and Central Asian texts, written before Islam, almost invariably claim a North Indian origin for the kings and clans of Central Asia, who at that time were practising Vedic religionists and later Buddhists. Some of the most famous kingdoms of Central Asia claimed descent from the legendary kings of Hinduism, such as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and Buddha. Early Islamic historians have noted these trends in their histories. Theories of continued migration of people from Central Asia to South Asia is of recent colonial origin and finds no mention in either the Indian or the later Islamic sources. Migration of peoples and tribes from Central Asia into India, and expansion of Central Asian empires into India, is a recurring theme in the currently propagated history of the region, from the theorised Indo-Aryan migration, to the Iron Age Kushan Empire, the Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Greeks (via Bactria) and the medieval Islamic conquest of the Indian subcontinent. Intrusion is typically across the Hindukush, and influence of the intrusive population is first established in the Punjab region, and sometimes further expanded into the Ganges Plain. These views of migration and the tribes as immigrants is subject to dispute as being historical corruption.

In classical Indian tradition clans of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas, Paradas and others are also attested to have been coming as invaders and that they were all finally absorbed into the community of Kshatriyas.[2] However, these theories are disputed.[3]

The Shakas were the inhabitants of trans-Hemodos region - the Shakadvipa of the Puranas or the Scythia of the classical writings. Later evidence attests them in Drangiana i.e. Shakasthana (modern Seistan) located south of Herat. 1st century CE Periplus of the Erythraean Sea as well as 2nd century CE Ptolemy evidence also attest Indo-Scythia situated in lower Indus in western India.

The Paradas, the former inhabitants of Oxus and Sailoda (eastern Xinjiang), are noted by Ptolemy as Paradane and are attested to be living in western India in Sindhu or Gedrosia, during 2nd century CE.

The facts presented above show that the so-called 2nd century BCE Saka invasion of western India was probably carried out jointly by the Sakas, Pahlavas, Kambojas, Paradas, Rishikas and other allied tribes from the north-west.[4]

Chinese author Ma-twan-lin writes that, "The nomenclature of the early Sakas in India shows an admixture of Scythian, Parthian and Iranian elements. In India the Scythians soon adapted themselves to their new environs and began to adopt Indian names and religious beliefs."[5]

Central Asian people in ancient Indian literature[edit]

There are extensive references to people of Central Asia in Indian literature like Atharvaveda, Vamsa Brahmana of Samveda, Aitareya Brahmana, Satapatha Brahmana, Puranas, Manusmiriti, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Raghuvamsa, Brihat-Katha -Manjari, Katha-Saritsagara, Rajaratrangini, Mudra-rakshasa, Kavymimansa and host of other old Sanskrit literature. They always maintain the basic assumptions that South Asian people migrated to Central Asia or that the South Asia was the original homeland of both South Asians and Afghanistan. A brief outline is given below:


Atharvaveda refers to Gandhari, Mujavat and Bahlika from the north-west (Central Asia). Gandharis are Gandharas, the Bahlikas are Bactrians, Mujavat (land of Soma) refer to Hindukush–Pamirs (the Kamboja region).

The post-Vedic Atharvaveda-Parisista (Ed Bolling & Negelein) makes first direct reference to the Kambojas (verse 57.2.5). It also juxtaposes the Kambojas, Bahlikas and Gandharas.[6]

Sama Veda[edit]

The Vamsa Brahmana[7][8] of the Sama Veda refers to Madrakara Shaungayani as the teacher of Aupamanyava Kamboja. Sage Shangayani Madrakara, as his name itself shows, and as the scholars have rightly pointed out, belonged to the Madra people.

Prof Jean Przylusky has shown that Bahlika (Balkh) was an Iranian settlement of the Madras who were known as Bahlika-Uttaramadras i.e. the northern Madras, living in Bahlika or Bactria country. These Bahlika Uttara Madras are the Uttara Madras of the Aitareya Brahamana.[citation needed]

This connection between the Uttara Madras and the Kambojas is said to be natural because they were close neighbours in the north-west.[9]


Manusmriti asserts that the Kambojas, Sakas, Yavanas, Paradas, Pahlavas, etc., had been Kshatriyas of good birth but were gradually degraded to the barbaric status due to their not following the Brahmanas and the Brahmanical code of conduct.[10][original research?]

The Silk road route through which erstwhile Hindu Vedic societies became partially Buddhists as well as the Hindu names and history of these kingdoms lend credence to this idea. Furthermore, almost invariably, the royal clans of Central Asia and Northwestern India claimed descent from historical Hindu royalties and royal lines such as Suryavanshi and Chandravanshi. Many of these kings and nobilities often claimed direct descent from Lord Rama and Pandavas to strengthen their claim to throne.[11]


The Haihaya Yadavas are the first known invaders in the recorded history of the sub-continent. Described in the Puranas as allying with four other groups, the invaders were eventually defeated and assimilated into the local community under different castes from Kshatriyas to Shudras.[12] Alberuni refers to this description, saying that the "five hordes" belonged to his own people, i.e. Central Asia.[13]

The Puranic Bhuvanakosha attests that Bahlika or Bactria was the northern-most Puranic Janapada of ancient India and was located in Udichya or Uttarapatha division of Indian sub-continent.[14] The Uttarapatha or northern division of Jambudvipa comprised an area of Central Asia from the Urals and the Caspian Sea to the Yenisei and from Turkistan and Tien Shan ranges to the Arctic (Dr S. M. Ali).[full citation needed]

Kavyamimamsa of Rajashekhara[edit]

The 10th century CE Kavyamimamsa of Pandit Rajashekhara knows about the existence of several Central Asian tribes. He furnishes an exhaustive list of the extant tribes of his times and places the Shakas, Tusharas, Vokanas, Hunas, Kambojas, Vahlika, Vahlava, Tangana, Limpaka, Turukshas and others together, styling them all as the tribes from Uttarapatha or north division.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alberuni's India, 2001, p 19-21, Edward C. Sachau - History; Dates of the Buddha, 1987, p 126, Shriram Sathe; Foundations of Indian Culture, 1984, p 20 sqq, Dr Govind Chandra Pande - History; India & Russia: Linguistic & Cultural Affinity, 1982, Weer Rajendra Rishi; Geographical and Economic Studies in the Mahābhārata: Upāyana Parva, 1945, Dr Moti Chandra - India; Linguistic & Cultural Affinity, 1982, Weer Rajendra Rishi; Racial Affinities of Early North Indian Tribes 1973, Myths of the Dog-Man, 1991, David Gordon White - Social Science; Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya - Ethnic Groups.
  2. ^ History and Culture of Indian People, The Vedic Age, pp 286-87, 313-14.
  3. ^ Gupta, R.K; Bakshi, S.R (2012). Studies In Indian History: Rajasthan Through The Ages The Heritage Of Rajputs By R.K. Gupta, S.R. Bakshi. ISBN 9788176258418.
  4. ^ cf: Interaction Between India and Western World, pp 75-93, H. G. Rawlinson.
  5. ^ Social and Cultural History of Ancient India, Manilal Bose, p.26
  6. ^ AV-Par, 57.2.5; cf Persica-9, 1980, p 106, Dr Michael Witzel.
  7. ^ Vamsa Brahmana 1/18.
  8. ^ Gippert, Jost. "TITUS Texts: Sama-Veda: Vamsa-Brahmana: Frame". titus.fkidg1.uni-frankfurt.de.
  9. ^ Vedic Index, 138
  10. ^ Manusmriti (X.43-44).
  11. ^ Cultural Heritage of India, I, p 612.
  12. ^ "The Hindu : Harappa and Vedic Civilisation". www.hindu.com.
  13. ^ Alberuni's India, Trans. Sachau, p 20-21.
  14. ^ Kirfel's list of the Uttarapatha countries of Bhuvanakosa.
  15. ^ Kavyamimamsa Ed. Gaekwad's Oriental Series, I (1916) Chapter 17; Introd., xxvi. Rajashekhara is dated c 880 AD - 920 AD.

Books and periodicals[edit]

  • Mahabharata
  • Valmiki Ramayana
  • Puranas
  • Manusmriti
  • Aitareya Brahmana
  • Raghuvamsa by Kalidasa
  • Brahata Katha, by Kshmendra
  • Rajatrangini by Kalhana
  • Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, Dr Kamboj
  • Political History of Ancient India, 1996, Dr H. C. Raychaudhury
  • India and Central Asia, 1955, Dr P. C., Bagchi.
  • Myths of the Dog-Man, 1991, David Gordon White.