XuenZang’s Maharashtra (MO-HOLA-CH’A) -Part III

Capital of the Empire

XuenZang and his co-travellers continued their journey towards the North East from Paravipura the capital of Kokanpur. XuenZang has described this journey in these words.

From this going north-west, we enter a great forest wild, where savage beasts and bands of robbers inflict injury on travellers. Going thus 2400 or 25000 li, we come to the country of Mo-ho-la-ch’a (Maharashtra). ”

I find this description to be very general kind of statement without giving any details. It only reflects the fact that the terrain covered by him, had many wild forests in between the cities. These wild forests were not under control of any kingdom and were essentially ruled by armed brigands or robbers, who would inflict injury on the travellers. This statement, I am afraid does not add anything new to our knowledge.

After this narration, XuenZang describes the capital of Maharashtra. Surprisingly, unlike other places, he does not mention the name of this capital. I would like to make an attempt here to locate this capital city, as described by XuenZang, in present day state of Maharashtra. Even though XuenZang fails to mention the name of the capital, he has described the kingdom of Maharashtra and it’s ruler Pulikeshin II in some details. I quote here again from XuenZang’s book (Beal translation)

This country is about 5000 li in circuit. The soil is rich and fertile ; it is regularly cultivated and very productive. The climate is hot ; the disposition of the people is honest and simple ; they are tall of stature, and of a stern, vindictive character. To their benefactors they are grateful ; to their enemies relentless. If they are insulted, they will risk their life to avenge themselves. If they are asked to help one in distress, they will forget themselves in their haste to render assistance. If they are going to seek revenge, they first give their enemy warning ; then, each being armed, they attack each other with lances (spears). When one turns to flee, the other pursues him, but they do not kill a man down (a

person who submits). If a general loses a battle, they do not inflict punishment, but present him with woman’s clothes, and so he is driven to seek death for himself. The country provides for a band of champions to the number of several hundred. Each time they are about to engage in conflict they intoxicate themselves with wine, and then one man with lance in hand will meet ten thousand and challenge them in fight. If one of these champions meets a man and kills him, the laws of the

country do not punish him. Every time they go forth they beat drums before them. Moreover, they inebriate many hundred heads of elephants, and, taking them out to fight, they themselves first drink their wine, and then rushing forward in mass, they trample everything down, so that no enemy can stand before them. The king, in consequence of his possessing these men and elephants, treats his neighbours with contempt. He is of the Kshattriya caste, and his name is Pulikeshin (Pulo-

ki-she). His plans and undertakings are wide-spread, and his beneficent actions are felt over a great distance. His subjects obey him with perfect submission. At the present time Siladitya (Harshvardhan)

Maharaja has conquered the nations from east to west, and carried his arms to remote districts, but the people of this country alone have not submitted to him. He has gathered troops from the five Indies, and summoned the best leaders from all countries, and himself gone at the head of his army to punish and subdue these people, but he has not yet conquered their troops.

So much for their habits. The men are fond of learning, and study both heretical and orthodox (books)”. This appears to me a very realistic and true description of the people, land and the political situation in the region during those ancient times.

Coming to the capital of Maharashtra or Pulikeshin II ‘s empire, Xuen Zang describes it in following words.

The capital borders on the west on a great river. It is about 30 li round There are about 100 sangharamas, with 5000 or so priests. They practice both the Great and Small Vehicle. There are

about 100 Deva temples, in which very many heretics of different persuasions dwell.

Within and without the capital are five stupas to mark the spots where the four past Buddhas walked and sat. They were built by Asoka-raja. There are, besides these, other stupas made of brick or stone, so many that it would be difficult to name them all. Not far to the south of the city is a sangharama in

which is a stone image of Kwan-tsz’-tsai Bodhisattva. Its spiritual powers extend (far and wide), so that many of those who have secretly prayed to it have obtained

their wishes. On the eastern frontier of the country is a great mountain with towering crags and a continuous stretch of piled-up rocks and scarped precipice. In this there is

a sanghdrdma constructed, in a dark valley. Its lofty halls and deep side-aisles stretch through the (or open into the) face of the rocks. Storey above storey they are backed by the crag and face the valley (watercourse).

Going from this 1000 li or so to the west, and crossing the Nai-mo-to (Narmada) river, we arrive at the kingdom of Po-lu-kie-che-po (Bharukachheva ; Barygaza or Bharoch). ”

From this rather lengthy description, it can bee seen that following are the important features of the capital city of Maharashtra as seen by XuenZang.

1.The capital city is located on the west border of the empire and is situated on the banks of a great river.

2.There are 100 Buddhist sangharamas with 5000 monks. There are 100 Hindu Deva temples in which many heretics of different persuasions dwell.

3.Not far from this city there is a Sangharama with a stone image of Bodhisatwa.

4. On the eastern frontier of the country, there is a great mountain with deep valleys, towering peaks and piled up rocks. In these mountains a great multistoried sangharama has been costructed in a dark valley. It has lofty halls and deep side aisles. All these halls face the valley and the river flowing through it.

5. About 1000 Li to the west and across the Narmada river, the city of Bhadoch in present day Gujarat is located.

City of Badami (called Vatapi in XuenZang’s times) had been the traditional Capital of the Chalukya kings, since Pulikeshin II’s grandfather, Pulikeshin I, had shifted it there from the earlier place called ‘Aihole’. I have already mentioned before, about a rock inscription, that exists in one of the Jain temples situated in this village. This inscription mentions this shifting of the capital by Pulkeshin I. Surprisingly, the same inscription is completely silent about Badami of Pulikeshin II’s time, except on one occasion. It does mention that the victorious army of Pulikeshin II , after defeating Pallava king ‘MahendraVarman’, went back to Badami and was greeted there in a grand fashion. Many Kannada and other historians have always presumed that Badami was the Chalukya capital even in Pulikeshin II’s times. We are told about the visit of XuenZang’s visit to Pulikeshin II’s court in Badami.

From XuenZang’s description given above, this belief about Badami city being the Chalukya capital, does not seem to receive any support at all. On the contrary, it seems doubtful, whether XuenZang even had any audience with the king Pulikeshin II. Later on, after reaching the empire of King Harshvardhan in the north, XuenZang was invited by that king to participate in a religious congregation. XuenZang has described that meeting in great details. It is entirely possible that the king Pulikeshin II might have been engaged is some warfare, during the times of the visit of the monk.

Let us first see the reasons for which Badami city could not have been the place, which Xuenzang describes as the capital of Maharashtra.

The first thing that any visitor to Badami notices is the presence of a huge red coloured mountain in which many caves and a fort was built by the founder king Pulikeshin I right in the middle of the city. This red coloured mountain is somewhat similar to the one that exists at Sedona in Arizona USA. XuenZang has been known for his detailed description about all the places that he has visited. It is unlikely that he would have missed writing about the Badami red mountain, if he had visited the same. There is a river ( Malaprabha river) that flows few miles away from Badami. However in no circumstances it could be called a great river. Badami city was in South-East corner of Pulikeshin II’s empire and could not be on the west border as mentioned by XuenZang. It is known for its famous caves, but there are hardly any Buddhist monumentsthere. All caves have been created either by Hindu or Jain rulers. No great mountains exist to the east of Badami, which have great Sangharama and caves built in overlooking a river. Lastly, Badami is certainly not 1000 Li away (120-170 Miles) from city of Bhadoch situated on the banks of Narmada river.

It therefore becomes profoundly clear that Badami city could not have been the city described by XuenZang as Maharashtra’s capital. Before going further to make an educated guess about the capital city, I would like to mention here possible choices made by nineteenth century historians.

St. Martin has suggested Doulatabad, whereas Cunningham feels that Kalyani village (presently known as Basavakalyan) in Bidar district of karnataka is the right place. Even though Kalyani was the capital of the Western Chalukya Dynasty in a later period, both these places are at much larger distance from Bhadoch. Besides, no big river flows in the vicinity of these places and no major Buddhist ruins or caves have ever been found near these places. Fergusson has suggested three places, which are on the bank of Godavari river. Out of these three, Tok or Newasa as well as Puntambe have no place in history and no ruins of any kind have been ever found there.

Fregusson’s third choice, the city of Paithan, however seems to be an important candidate. This city is situated on the banks of the Godavari river, which fully qualifies as a great river. This place has a long history. It was the capital of the Satavahana dynasty, which ruled over this region from about 200 BC to 200 or 300 AD. A large number of temples can be found here and there could also have been Buddhist Sangharams and Stupas here. This place however is about 220 Miles from Bhadoch.

I however find that the opinions expressed by J.F.Fleet, a civil servant posted in this region during nineteenth century, appear to be very rational and reasonable. He has suggested that City of Nashik or Nasik must have been the Capital city of Pulikeshin II’s empire. Before we look at the merits of this city as a possible candidate, let us first look at what XuanZang has said about eastern frontier of Pulikeshin II’s Mahrashtra empire. He talks of a huge multistoried Sangharama carved in a great mountain with many halls which look towards a river. There is complete unanimity amongst all the historians that this Sangharama and the caves must be the world famous caves of Ajintha. We thus have another important clue. From XuanZang’s description, it is seen that Ajintha has to be on the east of the Capital city. We can see from the map, that Ajintha is situated almost North of Paithan (Fergusson’s third choice) and thus rules it out.

We are now left with Nashik, as the only alternative suggested by the historians. Let us try to see if Nashik matches with the description given by XuenZang.

1.Nashik is situated on the bank of Godavari river, which is certainly a great river of India.

2.Nashik can be considered to be on the west of Pulikeshin II’ empire.

3.Bhadoch is about 128 Miles from Nashik. However, because of the geographical location of Nashik, way to Bhadoch is possible only through Manmad city area, thus increasing this distance slightly.

4.On South-West of Nashik, world famous caves and Buddhist viharas have existed since 300 BC at least at Pandu-Lenee. There are standing Buddha carvings at this place. (Ref. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Vol 16 pp. 543)

5.Ruins of at least one old stupa hav been found in the vicinity of Nashik. (Ref. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Vol 16 pp. 539)

6.Finally, world famous caves of Ajintha are on East of Nashik.

We can thus see that description of Nashik matches with almost all points which had been mentioned by XuenZang in his travelogue. There should be no doubt that Xuen Zang had visited Nashik and has described it as the Capital of Maharshtra, during Pulikeshin II’s time.

There is one more issue raised by ZuenZang, which needs clarification. If we again see the location of Ajintha on the map, it is not very clear why XuenZang describes it as a frontier town. However, if we see it closely, from Ajintha, a long range of mountains known as ‘Satamala mountains’ is spread eastwards till it meets Western Ghats mountain range near Nashik. North of this Satamala range two great rivers, Tapi and Narmada flow westwards in deep gorges. In the times of Pulkeshin II, these two mountain ranges therefore must have been real geographical boundaries of the Maharshtra empire. Ajintha being on the east end of this mountain range, is therefore aptly described as eastern frontier town by XuenZang.

To conclude, I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind, that Nashik must have been the capital of Pulikeshin II. Why he must have shifted it to Nashik from Badami is an open question and it is unlikely that it would ever be answered. In any case, within years of XuanZang’s visit, Pulikeshi II was defeated by Pallava King MahendraVarman’s son, NrisinhVarman. Pallava army had then snatched away Badami and all the adjoing areas from the Chalukya kings and only after 13 long years, Chalukya kings were able to re -capture their traditional capital Badami again from Pallava kings. This war also saw end of Pulikeshin II’s regime. It therefore appears logical, that if Nashik had been the capital of Chalukya kings around that time, they had lost only an important town to the enemy and not their capital, which was far away.

XuenZang’s travelogue is perhaps the most researched and commented travel book of all times. I feel honoured indeed to present my infinitesimal contribution here to a gray area of this great travelogue.

3rd June 2011






About chandrashekhara

I am a retired electronics engineer. I am interested in writing, reading books. Other hobbies include Paper models, wooden fret work and social networking.


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