Kamarupa of Bhaskar Varman

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Nidhanpur Inscription of Bhaskar Varman

Kamarupa of Bhaskar Varman is a period of Kamarupa kingdom during the reign of king Bhaskar Varman.


Susthita Varman, known also as Sri Mriganka, had two sons viz. Supratisthita Varman and Bhaskar Varman. It is stated in the Harsha Charita that the second son Bhaskar Varman was the direct successor of his father on the throne of Pragjyotisha. On the other hand, it is stated in Bhaskar Varman's inscription that "surrounded by learned men and accompanied by a well equipped army consisting of war-elephants his (Supratisthita Varman's) birth (rise) was for the good of others".[1]

Pandit Vidya Vinod detects here an indication that Supratisthita Varman actually succeeded his father and having ruled for a few years died (probably without leaving any issue). He supposes that during his short reign Supratisthita Varman introduced various reforms the good results of which were enjoyed by his brother who succeeded him.[2] Previously however, the learned Pandit supposed that, during the life-time of his father, Supratisthita Varman, as heir-apparent, introduced various measures of progress and reform in the administration of the kingdom the beneficial effects of which he could not himself enjoy; as king but which were actually enjoyed by his younger brother Bhaskar Varman when he became King.[3] It may lead to a thought that the Pandit's previous supposition was correct.[4]

The reference to the "Supratisthita Kataka" indicates that the army was re-organized. Supratisthita Varman must have witnessed the defeat sustained by his father at the hands of the Magadha king Mahasena Gupta. His first duty, as heir-apparent, was therefore to strengthen the army, particularly that arm of it which consisted of war-elephants. Unfortunately it seems he died during the life-time of his father and could not therefore succeed as king but his brother, on ascending the throne, found himself at the head of a strong and well-equipped army with the aid of which he subsequently defeated Sasanka and conquered Bengal. Bhaskar Varman therefore actually enjoyed the fruits of the labours of his deceased brother and this is exactly what the writer of his inscription seems to have meant.[5]

Bhaskar Varman's accession to throne[edit]

Bhaskar Varman, even after he succeeded to the throne, used to be known as Kumara (Prince). In this respect a parallel can be found in his celebrated contemporary Harshavardhana of Thaneswar who in 606 A.D., on being invited to ascend the throne, after the murder of his elder brother Rajya Vardhana, at first refused to consent but after consulting a Buddhist oracle agreed to carry on the government designating himself as Prince Siladitya till 612 A.D., when his formal coronation took place.[6][7] Bhaskar Varman became king earlier, probably about 600 A.D. and so it can not be said that he emulated the example of Harshavardhana and styled himself as Kumara or Prince. Rather the reverse might have been the case.

The actual reasons why Bhaskar Varman was called Kumara are not quite clear. It can be suspected that he was a bachelor throughout his life. In any case it seems that he occupied the throne on his father's death and soon gave abundant proofs of his political sagacity which, in the words of his panegyrist, the writer of the Nidhanpur inscription, "earned for him the reputation of a second Brihaspati well known to others."[8]


On ascending the throne Bhaskar Varman found two strong rival powers growing in northern India, viz. one in central and northern Bengal under Sasanka and the other in mid-India under Prabhakaravardhana, the father of the famous Sri Harshavardhana.[9]

The origin of Sasanka is shrouded in mystery. Some scholars suppose that he belonged to the line of the later Guptas of Magadha and Pandit Vidya Vinod seems to have found no difficulty in assuming that he was a son of Mahasena Gupta.[10] It is however curious that the Aphshad inscription of Adityasena, the grandson of Mahasena Gupta, makes no mention of Sasanka. It is known that Sasanka was a devotee of Siva while the Guptas were Vaisnavas. His descent from the Gupta line is therefore extremely doubtful.[11] In the Rhotasgarh rock-inscription of a seal one Sasanka is mentioned as Mahasamanta. It seems therefore that Sasanka was at first only a local chief or samanta owning allegiance to a superior over-lord who was probably Mahasena Gupta.[12]

Kamarupa kings had extended their sway over northern and perhaps central Bengal after the decline of the Gupta power. About the last quarter of the sixth century, Mahasena Gupta tried to check the growing aggressions of the Kamarupa kings. It seems that Sasanka gave powerful aid to Mahasena Gupta who inflicted a defeat on Susthita Varman, the king of Kamarupa. The Magadha king thus recovered northern and central Bengal over which Sasanka was appointed as Maha-samanta or governor. Subsequently, taking advantage of the death of Mahasena Gupta and the weakness of his minor son Madhava Gupta, Sasanka proclaimed himself as independent kin of central and northern Bengal and also struck coins. Nagendranath Basu surmises that he was a Kayastha of the Deva family.[13][14]

In the Ganjam inscription of Madhava Varman also he is named "Maharajadhiraja Sasanka Deva".[15] As he was king of central and northern Bengal he is mentioned by Yuan Chwang as king of Karnasuvarna (central Bengal) and by Banabhatta as king of Gauda (northern Bengal). He soon attained to such power that he not onlv challenged the feeble Magadha ruler Madhava Gupta on the west and the Kamarupa power on the east but also subjugated the whole of lower Bengal, Chota Nagpur and Orissa on the south.[16]

About 600 A.D., evidently after the death of Mahasena Gupta, he appears to have successfully invaded Magadha where his zeal for the orthodox system of Hindu religion led him to perpetrate acts which gained for him notoriety for ever. He is said to have uprooted the sacred Bodhi-tree in Gaya and thrown into the river the sacred stone bearing the footprints of Gautama Buddha. The Guptas of Magadha were noted for their benign toleration of Buddhism during centuries. It is hardly conceivable that a scion of that noble family did not scruple to perform such acts of sacrilege. The theory that he belonged to the Gupta family is therefore quite untenable.[17] Towards the west of Kamarupa, Sasanka appears to have held possession of that portion of territory which included the lands granted by Mahabhuta Varman to a large number of Brahmans. It is therefore unnecessary to stress why he was regarded as the natural enemy of Bhaskar Varman who must have been waiting for a favorable opportunity to regain the lost dominions and to retaliate the defeat inflicted on his father. Sasanka was however too powerful a ruler to be dealt with and Bhaskar Varman therefore wisely refrained from precipitating matters by himself launching an attack on Karnasuvarna, the capital founded by Sasanka.[18]

The long looked for opportunity came at last. On the death of Prabhakaravardhana his eldest son Rajyavardhana ascended the throne at Thaneswar. It appears that a branch of the Gupta family then ruled at Malwa. Deva Gupta of this family had overthrown the Maukhari king Graha Varman who was the brother in law of Rajyavardhana. Deva Gupta had insulted Rajyasri, the sister of Rajyavardhana, who at once marched to the assistance of Graha Varman. In the meantime, Sasanka appears to have marched to the assistance of Deva Gupta. The fact that he allied with Deva Gupta led R.D Banerji to suppose that he belonged to the Gupta family. Whatever that may be, Rajyavardhana easily defeated Deva Gupta but Sasanka managed to invite him to his camp can a false promise and there treacherously murdered him. This incident is mentioned not only by Bana but also by the Chinese pilgrim Yuan Chwang. On getting this information Sri Harsha resolved to take revenge on the murderer. He made preparations to subdue the arrogant and powerful king of Gauda and had just started on his march when he was met by Hangsavega, an ambassador from Bhaskar Varman of Kamarupa, with valuable presents.[19]

Alliance with Harsha Vardhana[edit]

The Harsha Charita of Bana gives a detailed account of Hangsavega's meeting with Sri Harsha. When the chamberlain announced that Hangshavega "a confidential messenger" sent by the Kumara raja of Pragjyotisha was waiting at the gate, Sri Harsha commanded "admit him at once".[20] The chamberlain then entered with Hangsavega "whose very exterior, delighting the eye with graceful flexions, belied the weight of his qualities".[21] The messenger was followed by a long train of men carrying munificent presents".[22] When Hangsavega had gone through the usual ceremonies of paying homage Sri Harsha asked, "Hangsavega is the noble prince well? Hangsavega replied, "At this moment he is well, since your majesty so respectfully inquires with a voice bathed in affection and moist with a flow of friendship".[23]

After this Hangsavega began to unfold the presents one by one saying "excepting only a heart replete with respect, a present worthy of your majesty, who is the vessel for the grandeur of governing the four oceans, is with difficulty attainable in the world". Nevertheless, Hangsavega made particular mention of the royal umbrella named Abhoga which the Kumara raja sent and which was a family heirloom derived from Varuna.[24] He declared that "fire does not burn it, nor wind tear it away, nor water wet it, nor dust defile it, nor age corrode it."[25][26]

The king inspected all the presents and this done he dismissed all the servants and addressing Hangsavega said explain your errand. Hangsavega then said:[27][28]

This remarkable speech of the consummate diplomat seems to have moved the youthful Sri Harsha. When the messenger ceased speaking the king, who from previous reports of the prince's great qualities had conceived a very high respect for him and whose affection had been raised to a climax by the affair of the umbrella Abhoga, replied almost bashfully with profound respect[29][30]

After this Hangsavega suitably replied to the king and took his leave. It appears that Sri Harsha sent "a load of answering gifts in charge of eminent envoys."[31] An offensive and defensive alliance was thus formed between Sri Harsha and Bhaskar Varman.[32]

Assault on Sasanka[edit]

The newly formed alliance was disastrous for Sasanka for while Sri Harsha's cousin and general Bhandi probably attacked from the west, Bhaskar Varman at once attacked from the east and occupied Karnasuvarna which was near to Kamarupa.[33]

From his Nidhanpur copperplate inscription it appears that Bhaskar Varman attacked with a strong navy of huge boats, which must have passed down the Brahmaputra and then proceeded up the Ganges, and that his army consisted of war-elephants, cavalry and infantry (Maha nau hastyaswa patti). Being attacked from two sides and thus outflanked Sasanka fled towards Orissa.[34] The Nidhanpur copper-plate grant was issued from Bhaskar Varman's victorious camp at Karnasuvarna (Jaya sabdartha skandhabhara Karnasuvarna vasakat).[35] Thus the defeat of his father was avenged and the lost dominions were regained. Bhaskar Varman now became the master or overlord of practically the whole of Gauda excluding only Magadha which was included in the dominions of Sri Harsha.[36]

Scholarly views[edit]

Sir Edward Gait, relying on Vincent Smith and Pandit Padmanath Vidya Vinod, holds that Bhaskar Varman came into possession of Karnasuvarna after the death of Sri Harsha. This supposition is evidently incorrect.[37]

Sasanka held sway over central and lower Bengal and also perhaps over part of Magadha and Orissa. It appears that being overthrown by Bhaskar Varman in Karnasuvarna he retired to the south and continued to rule there as evidenced by the Ganjam inscription of Madhava Varman, a Samanta under him.[38] This inscription is dated 619 A.D. and from this fact Pandit Vidyavinod and some other scholars have wrongly assumed that Sasanka continued to rule at Karnasuvarna till 619 A.D. Nagendranath Basu believes that after the alliance between Sri Harsha and Bhaskar Varman, Sasanka lost Karnasuvarna and was obliged to retire to the hilly country in the south.[39] He holds also that probably Sri Harsha allowed Bhaskar Varman to rule over Gauda and Karnasuvarna and established Madhava Gupta, son of Mahasena Gupta, in Magadha as a vassal ruler. This was probably the fact. R.D Banerji also thinks that Sasanka was overthrown by the combined efforts of Bhaskar Varman and Sri Harsha.[40] In his work, the History of Orissa, R. D. Banerji writes:[41]

The theory of Sir Edward Gait and Vincent Smith that Bhaskar Varman acquired Karnasuvarna after the death of Sri Harsha is therefore quite incorrect. It is reasonable to suppose that Sasanka was driven out of Karnasuvarna about 610 A.D.[42]

The coronation of Sri Harsha took place about 612 A.D. after Sasanka had been overthrown and Bhaskar Varman had come into possession of Karnasuvarna. A writer in the Indian Historical Quarterly[43] points out that Sri Harsha's sway never reached Bengal and that Sasanka's kingdom passed to Bhaskar Varman as otherwise he could not have controlled the sea-route to China and promised a safe passage to Yuan Chwang.[44] It appears clear from Bana's Harsha Charita that after the alliance with Bhaskar Varman, Sri Harsha felt at ease concerning the conquest of Gauda and despatching his cousin Bhandi to invade Gauda (perhaps in collaboration with Bhaskar Varman), he himself set out to search for his sister Rajyasri who had escaped to the jungles of Vindhya. Karnasuvarna was actually conquered by Bhaskar Varman as stated in the Nidhanpur plate. Another well known scholar, Mr. Ramaprasad Chanda, writing in a Bengali magazine, rejects Vidyavavinod's theory that Bhaskar Varman occupied Karnasuvarna only temporarily and holds that during; the seventh century Gauda was included within the kingdom of Kamarupa.[45] Beal, in his introduction to the biography, states, "Bhaskar Varman the king of Kamarupa and probably former kings of that kingdom had the sea-route to China under their special protection".[46] Perhaps Beal would have been more correct if he had stated that Bhaskar Varman and his successors had the control over the Tamralipti region and the sea-route for at least 100 years after the death of Bhaskar Varman.[47]

Nalanda seal of Bhaskar Varman dated 643 A.D

Royal inscriptions and pilgrimage accounts[edit]

The biographers of Yuan Chwang mention Kumara raja as the Lord of Eastern India and this was the appellation applied by subsequent Chinese writers to the kings of Kamarupa. The "five Indies" of the Chinese writers were Northern India, Western India, Central or Mid-India, Southern India and Eastern India. "Eastern India" comprised modern Assam and Bengal proper including the whole of the delta of the Ganges together with Sambalpur, Orissa and Ganjam.[48][49]

The fact that both in the biography and the Si-yu ki; Pundravardhana, Samatata, Karnasuvarna and Timralipti are separately mentioned, does not mean that these countries were then independent principalities. As a matter of fact it is significant that the names of the kings of these countries are not mentioned but the name of the reigning king of Kamarupa is mentioned. They were probably then administered by local chief who were vassals of the king of Kamarupa. In his Nidhanpur inscription the kings who were vassals of Bhaskar Varman are referred to and it is stated that he "equalled the prowess of the whole ring of his feudatories by the strength of his own arm".[50] The pilgrim while describing his travels in mid-India similarly mentions countries like Brahmapura, Ahi Khetra, Virasana, Kapitha, Kanauj, Ayodhya, Prayaga, Kausambi, Kapilavasthu, Kusinagara, Benares and Magadha over all of which Sri Harsha was admittedly the suzerain power.[51]

Yuan Chwang mentions Sasanka as a "recent king" of Karnasuvarna, but in his account of his visit to Karnasuvarna he makes no mention of the reigning king of that principality as he does in the case of Kamarupa. The fact is that nearly 20 years before he arrived in India, Sasanka had been overthrown and driven out of Central Bengal over which Bhaskar Varman became the overlord. Yuan Chwang makes no mention of any king reigning in Samatata which was near the sea, but when the next Chinese traveller I-Tsing visited Eastern India about 670 A.D. one Rajabhata was the Raja of Samatata. This Rajabhata was either a vassal under the Kamarupa king or Samatata was outside the dominions acquired by Bhaskar Varman.[52]

Beal mentions that according to the records left by I-Tsing, respecting other pilgrims visiting India shortly after Yuan Chwang, a Korean priest named Hwui Lun, otherwise known as Prajnavarma, visited India, some years after the departure of Yuan Chwang. He was evidently a contemporary of Adityasena, the author of the Aphshad inscription, for it appears he recorded that at Nalanda "recently a king called Sun-army (Adityasena) built, by the side of the old temple, another which is now newly finished".[53] It is further mentioned in the records that "formerly a Maharaja called Sri-Gupta built this temple (the Deer temple) for the use of Chinese priests. He was prompted to do so by the arrival of about twenty priests of that country who had travelled from Szechuen to the Mahabudhi temple to pay their worship. Being impressed by their pious demeanour he gave them the land and the revenues of about twenty villages as an endowment.[54]

This occurred some 500 years ago. The land has now reverted to the king of Eastern India, whose name is Deva Varma, but he is said to be willing to give back the temple land and the endowment in case any priest came from China".[55] Sri Gupta mentioned in the above extract, was undoubtedly the grandfather of Chandra Gupta I, the founder of the Gupta empire. Sri Gupta was only a local chief in Magadha with his capital at Patna or its vicinity. So the twenty villages endowed by him, must have been within his small principality, probably not very far from Nalanda.[56] It appears that after Sri Harsha's death these twenty villages of Magadha came into the possession of Bhaskar Varman, the king of "Eastern India", from whom they were inherited by Deva Varma who was perhaps his immediate successor. It is not possible to trace a king called Deva Varma of another dynasty ruling in Eastern India at that time. The Varmans of Maukhari belonged to Madhyadesha or mid-India. The kings of Kamarupa used the suffix "Varma Deva" after their names. The full name of Bhaskar Varman, given in the Nidhanpur plate, is "Bhaskara - varma - Deva".[57]

It is therefore very probable that the Korean priest transposed "Varma Deva" into "Deva Varma". In any case, it seems certain that the king named as Deva-varma was a Kamarupa king. It is therefore clear that even after Bhaskar Varman at least the Eastern part of Magadha with perhaps the whole of modern Bengal, excepting probably Samatata, was under the overlordship of the Kamarupa kings. This supremacy lasted for at least 100 years till the overthrow of the Kamarupa king Sri Harsha Varma Deva about 750 A.D.[58]

Yuan Chwang came to India with the object of studying Buddhistic lore and seeing for himself the various Buddhist shrines in India. He had no idea of visiting Kamarupa which according to him had no trace of Buddhism till that time. In fact after his first stay at Nalanda lie set out to see the sacred Buddhist places and though visiting Karnasuvarna and Samatata which contained Buddhist stupas he did not care to enter Kamarupa proper. After traversing through southern India and western India he returned to Nalanda and had decided to return to China when by chance he came to visit Kamarupa and thereafter meet emperor Harsha-Vardhana. Had it not been for his visit to Kamarupa under unforeseen circumstances and the subsequent meeting of the two kings on the banks of the Ganges perhaps he would not have been present at the great assembly at Kanauj. The circumstances leading to his visit to Kamarupa are therefore interesting and these can, be gathered from the biography of Yuan Chwang written by his disciple Hwui—li and subsequently enlarged by Yen Thsang.[59]

It appears that a certain Brahman from "Eastern India" who was a heretic (probably a non-Buddhist or at least a non-believer of the Mahayana system) came to Nalanda when Yuan Chwang was residing there with Silabhadra, the great Buddhist professor. The Brahman came to dispute with the monks at Nalanda. He was defeated and returning to Kamarupa he told Kumara raja about the high qualities of the Chinese monk. Bhaskar Varman then sent an invitation to the Chinese traveller addressed to Silabhadra. Before the message was received Yuan Chwang chanced to meet a Nirgrantha and asked him to foretell whether he would be able to return to China safe together with all the sacred books and images collected by him. The Nirgrantha then took a piece of white stone and drew a figure on the ground, and after casting the lot he replied "Do not be anxious. Siladitya raja and Kumara raja will themselves despatch men as escort. The Master will successfully return without accident." Yuan Chwang then asked, "As to these two kings I have never yet seen them. How then can such a kindness befall me?" The Nirgrantha replied, "Kumara raja has already sent messengers to invite you to go to him. In two or three days they should arrive. After you have seen Kumara you will also see Siladitya." The Nirgrantha then went away.[60]

After two days the messengers sent by Kumara raja of "Eastern India" arrived and presented a letter to Silabhadra. The letter ran as follows[61]

On getting this message Silabhadra called the congregation and said that as Yuan Chwang had already agreed to come to Sri Harsha's capital for a disputation with the exponents of Hinayana he should not go to Kamarupa. He then replied to the messenger in the following terms:

On hearing this reply Bhaskar Varman again despatched another messenger with the following letter:

Silabhadra having again refused to consent Bhaskar Varman was greatly enraged and sent yet another messenger with a personal despatch for Silabhadra to the following effect:

The threat uttered towards the end of the message had the desired effect for Silabhadra having read the letter addressed Yuan Chwang, saying:[62]

Yuan Chwang agreed and soon after left for Kamarupa accompanied by the envoy. When he reached the capital of Kamarupa he was received by Bhaskar Varman and his high officers in state and conducted to the palace. Every day the king arranged music and banquets with religious offerings of flowers and incense. In this way more than a month passed. At this time, while on his way back from the Ganjam campaign, Sri Harsha heard that Yuan Chwang was then a guest of Bhaskar Varman. Being much annoyed he despatched a messenger peremptorily asking the Kumara raja to send the Chinese priest at once to him. Bhaskar Varman did not like the tone of the message and haughtily replied: "He (Sri Harsha)can take my head but he can not take the Master of the Law yet". Sri Harsha was greatly enraged on receiving this message and calling together his attendants he said "Kumara raja despises me. How comes he to use such coarse language in the matter of a single priest?" Then he sent another messenger to Kamarupa with the following imperial order: "Send the head, that I may have it immediately by my messenger who is to bring it here".[63]

On receipt of this message Bhaskar Varman realized the folly of his language and the danger of courting a conflict with the more powerful monarch who had been his ally in disposing of Sasanka. He therefore at once ordered an array of "20,000 elephants and 30,000 ships" to be equipped. Then embarking with Yuan Chwang they together "passed up the Ganges" and reached a place called Kio-shu-ho-kio-lo (Kajurgira)where Sri Harsha was encamping. Keeping Yuan Chwang in a pavilion-on-travel erected on the north bank of the Ganges, Bhaskar Varman with his ministers himself proceeded to meet Sri Harsha who received the Kumara raja courteously and enquired where the Chinese priest was stopping. Kumara replied, "He is staying in a certain pavilion-on-travel. Sri Harsha again asked, And why did he not come with you?" To this Kumara replied, "Maharaja has respect for the virtuous and loves religion. Why not send for the Master to come to confer with the King?" Sri Harsha then realized that he should himself come and see the priest at the pavilion. During the night Sri Harsha came and visited Yuan Chwang with whom he had a long discourse. Sri Harsha at length declared that he proposed to call a grand assembly at Kanauj and "command the Sramans and Brahmans and heretics of the five Indies to attend in order to exhibit the refinements of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) and demolish their abusive mind, to make manifest the exceeding merit of the Master and over-throw their proud thought of self."[64]

Then at the beginning of the winter Sri Harsha having; issued invitations to the leading princes and religious professors of all sects marched all the way to Kanauj in procession accompanied by Bhaskar Varman and Yuan Chang. It is related that Sri Harsha marched in state along the south bank of the Ganges while Bhaskar Varman marched along the north bank at the head of 500 elephants, clad in armour, both keeping pace with each other. They reached Kanauj after a march of 90 days. At Kanauj itself daily processions took place. At these processions the image of Buddha was carried. Sri Harsha, attired as Indra, held the chattra over the image while Bhaskar Varman, dressed as Brahma, waved a white chameri. There were assembled no less than 18 vassal kings of different countries of India besides three thousand Buddhist priests, about the same number of Brahmans and Nirgranthas and about a thousand monks from Nalanda. It is said that of all the kings assembled only "Sri Harsha and Bhaskar Varman wore tiaras like the Devas with flower wreaths and jewelled ribons."[65]

It have given above rather full quotations from Yuan Chwang's biography, written by his favourite disciple, to show the importance of Bhaskar Varman and the kingdom of Kamarupa at this time. It is clear that emperor Sri Harsha treated Bhaskar Varman, in every way, as a respected ally and friend and not as a vassal king. Even Sri Harsha's own son-in-law, Dhruvabhatta, the kin, of South India, was treated as a monarch inferior to Bhaskar Varman in rank.[66]

After the assembly in Kanauj was dissolved Sri Harsha arranged a grand distribution of charity at Allahabad at the confluence of the two holy rivers, the Ganges and the Jamuna. Sri Harsha accompanied by all the 18 kings went there. The camp of Sri Harsha was on the north bank of the Ganges while that of Kumara raja was on the south of the Jamuna, by the side of a flowering grove. In the morning the military followers of Sri Harsha and Kumara raja embarked in ship; and the attendants of Dhruvabhatta mounted their elephants and, so arranged in an imposing order, proceeded to the place of the assembly. The kings of the eighteen kingdoms joined the cortege according to arrangement. Sri Harsha distributed untold wealth to Buddhists, Brahmans, heretics, the poor and the destitute. Even his own gems and wearing garments were given away. At length the king had to beg from his sister a second-hand garment to put on. Such was charity as was understood and practised by the ancient Hindu kings of India. It is fortunate that an eminent foreigner a savant was present to witness this distribution of charity and that he left a record of what he saw with his own eyes.[67]

After this ceremony was over, Yuan Chwang took leave of Sri Harsha and the Kumara raja Both of them were affected during the leave-taking. The Kumara raja addressed Yuan Chwan, saying: "If the Master is able to dwell in my dominion and receive my religious offerings I will undertake to found one hundred monasteries on the Masters' behalf". Yuan Chwang replied,

To this Kumara raja replied,

This shows that the southern sea-route from Tamralipti was then under the control of Bhaskar Varman. Yuan Chwang replied that he would return through North-west India. Kumara raja then asked, "I pray you let me know what provision you stand in need of". Yuan Chwang replied that he required nothing. Kumara raja said, "it is impossible to permit you to go thus" and he offered money and valuable articles. Similarly Sri Harsha also offered presents. Yuan Chwang refused to accept anything except a cape called ho-la-li made of coarse skin lined with soft down, a present from Bhaskar Varman, which was designed to protect one from rain and cold. Thus the eminent Chinese traveller took his departure with the escort provided by Sri Harsha. Three days after, Sri Harsha, accompanied by Kumara raja and Dhruvabhata, took several hundred light horsemen with them and, overtaking the pilgrim, accompanied him for some time and then finally returned.[68]

Certain conflicting statements in the Si-yu-ki or the "Record of Western lands" concerning the pilgrim's visit to Ka-mo-lu-po require to be explained. In his first volume "On Yuan Chwang's Travels in India" Watters quotes from the text to show that after the pilgrim had returned to Nalanda finishing his itinerary and had arranged to return to China he received the invitation from Bhaskar Varman and after much hesitation decided, on the advice of Silabhadra, to accept the king's invitation.[69] He then proceeded to Bhaskar Varman's capital straight from Nalanda. In the second volume of Watters work however it is quoted from the text of the Si-yu-ki to show that the pilgrim, when he started from Nalanda on his travels to the east and south of India, first came to Iranaparvat in the east and thence to Champa (Bhagalpur). From Champa the pilgrim traveled above 400 1i to Kachu - wo - ki - to (Kajughira or Kajangala). According to Cunningham this place is Kunkjol, now called Rajmahal. From this place travelling east he crossed the Ganges and came after a journey of more than 600 li to a country called Pun-na-fa-tan-na (Pundravardhana) which was more than 400 li in circuit. Proceeding east another distance of above 900 li he crossed a large river and came to "Ka-mo-lu-po" which was more than a myriad li in circuit."

According to the text the pilgrim proceeded from Kamarupa to Samatata, thence to Tamralipti, thence to Karnasuvarna and thence to Orissa and the south. This narrative conflicts with the account given in the pilgrim's biography and also in the Si-yu-ki itself as stated above.[70]

Watters in his second volume says that We need not suppose that the pilgrim made the journey as indicated in the text and again in the same volume he states that notwithstanding the statements of our text, however, Ave must consider him to have travelled in the manner indicated in the Life.[71][72] Possibly Watters is right and Gait has also rightly followed the account given in the biography and made the pilgrim visit Kamarupa towards the end of his stay in India. As already stated, the pilgrim, though he passed near Kamarupa at the earlier stage of his itinerary, did not actually enter Kamarupa as it contained, till then, no trace, of Buddhism. Watters thinks that at least three fourths of the text, as have now, were the compilation of Yuan Chwang himself, the remainder being additions or interpolations by Pein Chi and others.[73] The biography is however an authoritative work. Cunningham in his Ancient Geography of India holds that Yuan Chwang visited Kamarupa twice.[74] This is quite improbable because till his visit to Kamarupa about 643 A.D. he had not met Bhaskar Varman before. Whatever that may be, it can find from the text of the Si-yu-ki that the pilgrim found the western boundary of Kamarupa proper to have been a large river about 900 li to the east of Pundravardhana and that the country was more than a myriad li in circuit. In a subsequent Chinese work, the Tang-shu, the large river is called Ko-lo-tu which is evidently equivalent to Karatoya and not Brahmaputra as supposed by Watters.[75][76]

According to the text of the Si-yu-ki the circumference of the capital of Kamarupa was thirty li and the king who was named "Sun-armour" (Bhaskar Varman) was a Brahman by caste. His other name was "Youth" or Kumara. He was a lover of learning and his subjects followed his example. Men of ability came from far lands to study in Kamarupa. Though the king was not a Buddhist he treated accomplished sramans with respect. The reigning king was descended from a stock which originated from Narayana Deva (Vishnu) and the sovereignty had been transmitted in the family for 1000 generations.[77]

In his Nidhanpur copper-plate inscription Bhaskar Varman is said to have revealed the light of the Arya religion (prakasit aryadharmaloka) by dispelling the accumulated darkness of Kali age, by making a judicious application of his revenues; who has equaled the prowess of the whole ring of his feudatories by the strength of his own arm, who has derived many a way of enjoyment for his hereditary subjects whose loyal devotion to him was augmented by his steadiness, modesty and affability, who is adorned with a wonderful ornament of splendid fame made of the flowery words of praise variously composed by hundreds of kings vanquished by him in battle; whose virtuous activities, like those of Sivi, were applied in making gifts for the benefit of others; whose powers, as of a second preceptor of the Gods (Brihaspati), was recognized by others on account of his skill in devising and applying the means of politics that appear in suitable moments; whose own conduct was adorned by learning, valour, patience, prowess and good actions".[78][79]

It appears that Vasuvarna,the writer of the inscription, did not overdraw the picture of the illustrious king. The reference to the "ring of feudatories" seems to suggest that his vassal rulers combined to throw off the suzerainty of the Kumara raja but were unsuccessful.[80]


With regard to the country it is stated by the pilgrim that it was low and moist and that the crops were regular. Cocoa-nuts and jack-fruits grew abundantly and were appreciated by the people. The climate was genial. The people were honest. Their speech differed a little from that of mid-India. They were of violent disposition but were persevering students. They worshipped the Devas and did not believe in Buddhism. The Deva-temples were some hundreds in number and the various systems had some myriads of professed adherents. The few Buddhists in the country performed their acts of devotion in secret.[81]

The pilgrim ascertained from the people that to the east of the country was a series of hills which reached as far as the confines of China. The inhabitants of these hills were akin to the "Man of the Lao". In the south-east of the country elephants were plentiful. This shows that the kingdom then included the whole of the valleys of the Kopili and the Dhansiri which even now contain herds of wild elephants.[82]

The description, it should be noted, is of Kamarupa proper and not of the extensive dominions of Bhaskar Varman towards the west. Evidently the pilgrim came into the present district of Kamarupa and the capital of that time was probably the old Pragjyotishpura or Guwahati. The pilgrim, with the king and his retinue, must have therefore proceeded down the Brahmaputra and reached the Ganges by a stream which connected the two rivers and then going tip the Ganges reached Rajmahal. The countries passed throngh were both Kamarupa and Karnasuvarna (Central Bengal).[83]

Bhaskar Varman would not have selected this route if Karnasuvarna was not then under his sway. According to the account given in the Si-yu-ki the circumference of Kamarupa was about 1700 miles. As Gait has pointed out, this circumference must have included the whole of the Assam Valley, the whole of the Surma Valley, a part of North Bengal and a part of Mymensing. The question whether Sylhet was included within the kingdom at that time is a matter of some doubt. The Nidhanpur copper-plate was found in Panchakhanda within the district of Sylhet. Gait argues from this that Sylhet was within the dominions of Bhaskar Varman. One authority has recently pointed out that the lands mentioned in the Nidhanpur copper-plate were given to a number of Nagar Brahmans as indicated by their surnames which are now curiously confined to Kayasthas in Bengal, but which were usually borne by Nagar Brahmans of that time.[84] It is also pointed out that the deity which the Nagar Brahmans worshipped was Siva named Sri Hatakeswar.[85]

It is assumed by scholars like Kanak Lal Barua that the name of the country known as Sri Hatta (Sylhet) was derived from Sri Hatakeswar. On the other hand, Pandit Padmanath Bhattacharva Vidyavinod, who is himself a native of Sylhet, does not support this view.[86] He points out that while in Samatata the pilgrim came to know of six other countries which he could not visit, and one of them was Shih-li-cha-ta-lo which was to the north east of Samatata among the hills near the sea. Pandit Vidyavinod identifies shih-li-cha-ta-lo with Srihatta and points out that it is to the north east of Samatata or East Bengal and is confined on the north and the south by the Assam range and the Lushai hills respectively. Further the western portion of Sylhet and part of Mynmensing are even now very low-lying resembling a sea in the rainy season and which are still popularly called haor (sagara) or sea. If Sylhet was within the kingdom of Kamarupa the pilgrim would not have mentioned it as a separate country.[87]

On account of the mention of the sea some scholars identify shih-li-cha-ta-lo with Srikshetra but this is evidently incorrect as Srikshetra is not to the north-east of Samatata and is not girt by hills on both sides like the Sylhet plain. Vidyavinod's identification of shih-li-cha-ta-lo with Srihatta may probably be correct but, as has been already pointed out, the mere mention of Srihatta as a separate country, and not as a separate kingdom, does not necessarily prove that it was outside the dominions of Bhaskar Varman.[88]

Sri Harsha died in the year 648 A.D four years after Yuan Chwang left India, but Bhaskar Varman was reigning till about 650 A.D. Just after Sri Harsha's death his minister Arjun or Arjunaswa usurped the throne. At that time an embassy arrived from the emperor of China. Alas, Sri Harsha who had shown so much respect to the pious Chinese pilgrim who, on his return, must have prompted the Chinese emperor to despatch this friendly mission, was no longer living to receive the envoy in a befitting manner. On the contrary the usurper Arjun actually ill-treated the members of the mission and killed some of them. The rest, led by Wang-hiuen-tse, escaped to Nepal and sought the aid of the kings of Nepal and Tibet and of Bhaskar Varman.[89]

It appears from the Chinese accounts that the kings of Nepal and Tibet assisted with forces and Shi - kien ma (Sri Kumara), the "King of Eastern India" sent him "thirty thousand oxen and horses and provisions for all his army, to which he added bows, scimitars and collars of great value".[90] With such assistance Wang-hiuen-tse defeated the usurper Arjun and capturing him took him as a prisoner to China. Bhaskar Varman probably did not continue to reign long after this event.[91]

Status as Kshatriya[edit]

Bhaskar Varman was perhaps the most illustrious of the monarchs of ancient Kamarupa. His name has been immortalized by the accounts which Yuan Chwang and his biographers have left.[92]

It appears that during his time Kamarupa was one of the most advanced kingdoms in India. Suffice it to say that he was a Hindu by religion spreading "the light of Arya Dharma" though he had great reverence for learned Buddhist priests and professors of his time and was distinctly inclined towards Buddhism. The text of his messages to Silabhadra leave no doubt on this point.[93]

The very high functions allotted to him during the famous religious assembly at Kanauj by the Hindu emperor Sri Harsha proves that he was a Hindu of upper caste. He was undoubtedly looked upon as a good Kshatriya, as his surname Varman indicates. All the kings of his dynasty beginning from Pushya Varman were Kshatriya monarchs. When Yuan Chwang visited the kingdom he found hundreds of Hindu temples there and evidently there were large numbers of Brahmans and other high caste Hindus living within the kingdom which was a seat of learning that people of other countries came there for study.[94] Even during the reign of Mahabhuta Varman, the ancestor of Bhaskar Varman, in the early part of the sixth century, exists a colony of Nagar Brahmans in the kingdom. The Vyavahhari named in the Nidhanpur grant was a Kayastha named Hardatta. He is mentioned as Kayastha and not as Karana or Karanika". It appears that the caste name Kayastha had then come into use and that Kayasthas were among the earlier Aryan settlers in Kamarupa. The word Vyavahhara occurs also in the rock-inscription of Harjara Varman and Mahamahopadyaya Pandit H.P. Sastri has translated it as a lawsuit. The Vyavahari was therefore a lawyer. Hardatta Kayastha was either engaged by the Brahman donees to plead their case as against the revenue officers who had assessed the lands to revenue or he was the king's lawyer to see to the correct legal drafting of the grant. In any case it was evidently at the instance of this lawyer that the following line at the end of the inscription was recorded:-

"Because after the burning of the plates, these newly written letters are of different form (from those of the previous inscription), therefore they are not forged."[95]

Evidently in those clays the Kayasthas not only acted as District and Revenue officers but were also professional lawyers. The eastern part of the present district of Purnea bounded on the west by the Kosi river, formed a part of Mithila. A part of Mithila was therefore within Kamarupa at least from Mahabhuta Varman's reign till the reign of Susthita Varman and again from the time of Bhaskar Varman till the rise of the Pala power after the overthrow of Sri Harsha Varman in the eighth century. The Brahmans and Kayasthas of Mithila therefore spread to other parts of Kamarupa including perhaps Sylhet. Even now many Brahman families in Assam trace their origin from Mithila. On the north-eastern boundary of the Purnea district is the modern district of Jalpaiguri which continued to be included in Kamarupa even till the time of the medieval kings. There was therefore very close connection between Mithila and Kamarupa.[96]

Cultural growth[edit]

The Old Kamrupi language was a variety of eastern Maithili and that is why Yuan Chwang remarked that the spoken language of Kamarupa differed only a little from the language spoken in mid-India i.e. Magadha and Mithila. In prehistoric times Mithila (Videha) supplied a prince who founded the famous "Bhauma" dyansty in Pragjyotisha. During historic times it was through Mithila that Aryan culture and civilization spread into the rest of Kamarupa. It was again from Kamarupa in the north that the Aryans gradually spread towards the south to Gauda, north of the Ganges, and to Samatata, south of the Ganges.[97]

This is proved by the wide diffusion of the surnames of the Nagar Brahmans of Kamarupa, such as Ghosha, Datta, Dania, Deva, Soma, Yalita, Pala, Kundu, Dasa, Naga and Nandi throughout modern Bengal and Sylhet. Curiously enough, neither the Brahmans nor the Kayasthas of the modern Assam valley, except those who migrated to Assam from Bengal during the medieval times, appear to have used these surnames though among the oldest Assamese Brahman families there are still Misras, Sukuls, Tewaris and Tirotias (coming from Tirhut). According to Bhandarkar these Nagar Brahmans subsequently became Kayasthas.[98][99]

The Nidhanpur grant was issued from Karnasuvarna and the text of the inscription must there tore have been composed by a pandit of that part of the country who was named Vasuvarna. This probably explains the occurrence in this inscription of expressions and passages which we do not find in subsequent Kamarupa inscriptions, but which used to be inscribed in plates issued by the Gupta kings of Magadha and Pundravardhana and the subsequent Pala rulers of Gauda and Magadha. For instance, the expression Bhumi Chhidra does not occur in other inscriptions of the Kamarupa kings but it occurs in several of the Pala rulers of Gauda.[100]

The expression gangina, meaning perhaps a dried up channel, is also peculiar to Gauda. The penultimate stanza in which two slokas from the Vrihaspati Sanhita have been quoted was also due to observance of a Gaudian custom. The only other Kamarupa king in whose inscription we find this quotation is Vaidya Deva who was himself a Gaudian. There are also names of offices mentioned in this inscription which do not occur in subsequent Kamarupa inscriptions. The "officer issuing hundred commands who has obtained the pancha mahh sabda" is not mentioned in subsequent inscriptions.[101]

It seems that Bhaskar Varman after his conquest of Karnasuvarna and Gauda, finding himself in the exalted position of an emperor, introduced this high office, probably in imitation of the Gupta emperors. The expression "prapta pancha maha sabda" probably means the holder of five offices each of which is styled Maha or great such as Mahasamanta, Maha-sainya-pati (ride stray-plate of Harjara), Maha-sandhivi grahik and so forth.[102]

It is interesting to note that the person named in this inscription, who was to mark out the boundaries of the lands comprised in the grant, was one Srikshi kunda, the. headman of Chandrapuri. The donees named in the plate, who were all Nagar Brahmans, included seven persons with the surname Kunda. Srikshi Kunda, the headman of Chandrapuri, was therefore himself also a Nagar Brahman. The nyaya karanika, was evidently a judge and it appears that this office existed till the medieval regime. The Bhandaragaradhikara meant the officer in charge of the royal treasury. This office also, though not mentioned in subsequent inscriptions, existed till the time of the medieval kings. The revenue collector is called Utkhetayita and the engraver of the inscription on the copperplate is called Sekyakara. One Kaliya was the engraver of this inscription and it is a common Kamrupi name even till now.[103]

Art and industry[edit]

Arts and industries had then advanced to a remarkable extent. From the Harsha Charita of Bana it can find a list of the presents which Bhaskar Varman sent to Sri Harsha through his trusted envoy Hangshavega. These presents included an ingenuously constructed royal umbrella of exquisite workmanship studded with valuable gems, puthis written on Sachi bark, dyed cane mats, Agar-essence, musk in silk bags, liquid molasses in earthen pots, utensils, paintings, a pair of Brahmani ducks in a cage made of cane and overlaid with gold and a considerable quantity of silk fabrics some of which were so even and polished that they resembled Bhujapatra (probably Muga and pat fabrics).[104]

This list alone is sufficient to show that the arts and industries of Kamarupa, at such a distant period, reached a very high state of perfection. The Chinese accounts say that Bhaskar Varman could muster a fleet of 30,000 ships and an army of 20,000 elephants clad in mail. This may have been an overestimate but, even making due allowances for exaggeration we can conclude that Bhaskar Varman was a very powerful monarch and that during his time boat-building was a flourishing industry in Kamarupa and that iron, which must have been then available in abundance from the Khasi Hills, was largely manufactured into accoutrements of war. The manufacture of molasses in liquid form, from sugar-cane juice, is still a peculiar practice in the modern Kamrup district. Agar-essence is still prepared in Assam from the resin produced from the Agar tree (Aquilaria Aglochia). The Assamese Muga and pat silk fabrics are still produced in abundance. Puthis written on Sachi bark are still abundant in Assam and musk is still an important product of the Bhutan hills.[105]

Bhaskar Varman's close connection with Sri Harsha and Yuan Chwang led to his association with the famous Buddhist university of Magadha, for his seal has been discovered at the site of Nalanda in the company of two fragmentary seals of Sri Harsha. The seals were found by Dr. Spooner during the excavation of the ruins of Nalanda in the year 1917-18. Mr.K.N Dikshit in his "Epigraphical notes of the Nalanda finds" referred to this seal and stated that the kings mentioned therein were not known to belong to any north-India dynasty. This was corrected by the late Mr. R. D. Banerji in the journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society (Vol. V). The corrected reading of the text of the seal as subsequently given by Mr.Dikshit is as follows:-

  1. Sri Ganapati Varma Sri Yajnavatyam Sri Mahendra Varma.
  2. Sri Suvratayam Sri Narayanavarma Sri Devavatyam Sri Mahabhuta Varma.
  3. Sri Vijnana Vatyam Sri Chandramukha Varma Sri Bhogavatyam.
  4. Sri Sthitavarma tena Sri Nayana Sobhayam (Sri Susthitavarma)
  5. (Sri Syama Lakshmyam) Sri Supratisthita Varma.
  6. Sri Bhaskara Varmeti.[106][107]

This genealogy agrees with that given in the Nidhanpur plate and also in the Harsha Charita of Bana. The mother of Susthitavarma' is however named "Nayana Shova" instead of Nayana Devi and the mother of Bhaskar Varman is named Syamalakshmi instead of Syamadevi as appearing in the Nidhanpur plate. The importance of this discovery requires no emphasis. Mr. Dikshit thinks that the seal probably accompanied Bhaskar Varman's letter to Silabhadra inviting Yuan Chwang.[108][109]

As however it was found in the company of the two Sri Harsha seals the probability is that both Sri Harsha and Bhaskar Varman, on their march from Rajmahal to Kanauj, visited Nalanda together with the Chinese pilgrim and, to commemorate their visit, left their respective seals at the university. This custom was evidently in vogue, for a considerable number of similar broken seals were discovered at the site, during the excavation. These seals being impressed upon clay tablets or plaques are decipherable though they were entombed under debris for so many centuries.[110]

See also[edit]


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  102. ^ Barua, Kanak Lal (1933). Early History Of Kamarupa. p. 94. 
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Further reading[edit]

  • Vasu, Nagendranath (1922). The Social History of Kamarupa. 
  • Tripathi, Chandra Dhar (2008). Kamarupa-Kalinga-Mithila politico-cultural alignment in Eastern India : history, art, traditions. Indian Institute of Advanced Study. p. 197. 
  • Wilt, Verne David (1995). Kamarupa. V.D. Wilt. p. 47. 
  • Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra (1977). Ancient India. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. p. 538. 
  • Kapoor, Subodh (2002). Encyclopaedia of ancient Indian geography. Cosmo Publications. p. 364. 
  • Sen, Sailendra Nath (1999). Ancient Indian History and Civilization. New Age International. p. 668. 
  • Kapoor, Subodh (2002). The Indian encyclopaedia: biographical, historical, religious,administrative, ethnological, commercial and scientific. Genesis Publishing Pvt Ltd. p. 320. 
  • Sarkar, Ichhimuddin (1992). Aspects of historical geography of Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa (ancient Assam). Naya Prokash. p. 295. 
  • Deka, Phani (2007). The great Indian corridor in the east. Mittal Publications. p. 404. 
  • Pathak, Guptajit (2008). Assam's history and its graphics. Mittal Publications. p. 211. 
  • Samiti, Kamarupa Anusandhana (1984). Readings in the history & culture of Assam. Kamrupa Anusandhana Samiti. p. 227.