Mahishmati was an ancient Indian city mentioned in several texts including Mahabharata and Digha Nikaya. It was the most important city in the southern part of the Avanti kingdom, and later served as the capital of the Anupa Kingdom. It was located in present-day Madhya Pradesh, on the banks of Narmada River, although its exact location is uncertain.
Although there are several references to Mahishmati in ancient Indian literature, its exact location is uncertain. The following things are known about Mahishmati's location:
- It was located on the banks of the Narmada river.
- It was located in the Avanti kingdom. The Buddhist text Digha Nikaya mentions Mahishmati as the capital of Avanti, while Anguttara Nikaya states that Ujjaini was Avanti's capital.
- Avanti was divided into two parts by the Vindhyas. While Ujjain was the main city of the northern part, Mahishmati was the centre of the southern part. When the southern part became a separate kingdom (Anupa), Mahishmati became its capital.
Several cities in Madhya Pradesh, located along the Narmada river, are claimed to be the ancient Mahishmati. These include:
- HD Sankalia, PN Bose and Francis Wilford, among others, identify Mahishmati with present-day Maheshwar.
- Writers such as Alexander Cunningham, John Faithfull Fleet and Girija Shankar Agrawal identify Mandla as the location of ancient Mahishmati.
- F. E. Pargiter, and G. C. Mendis, among others, identify Mahishmati with the Mandhata island (Omkareshwar).
Mention in Mahabharata
In the epic Mahabharata, it is mentioned as the capital of the kingdom named Heheya. Kartavirya Arjuna, a Yadava king, was the foremost ruler of Mahismati and Haiheya (Mbh 13:52). He was killed by Bhargava Rama. The epic Ramayana mentions about the attack of Rakshasa king Ravana on Mahishmati.
Pandava general Sahadeva attacked Mahishmati, when King Nila was its ruler (2:30). King Nila of Mahishmati is mentioned as a leader in the Kurukshetra War, rated by Bhishma as a Rathi. His coat of mail had blue colour (Mbh 5:19,167). It was a major trade centre in Mauryan and post Mauryan period. Mahishmati was terminus of Dakshinapath trade route which was extended to Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh.
During the 6th and 7th centuries, Mahishmati may have served as the capital of the Kalachuri Kingdom. The Kalachuris were the builders of the famous cave temples on Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbor and also of several caves at the well-known site of Ellora, including the famous Rameshwara cave (Cave 21). Both Elephanta and Ellora are World Heritage Sites. Adi Shankaracharya is said to have defeated Mandana Mishra in a debate at Mahishmati. Mandana Mishra became disciple of Adi Shankaracharya after the defeat.
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