The Ashvakas or Ashvayanas, classically called the Asenes ( _la. Aseni), are a very ancient people of north-east Afghanistan (Nuristan) and the entire Peshawar-Valley up to Punjab, Pakistan. They are/were a sub-group of the Greater Kamboja tribe profusely referenced in ancient Sanskrit/Pali literature and were partitioned into eastern and western Ashvakas [The History and Culture of the Indian People, 1968, p 49, Dr Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bhāratīya Itihāsa Samiti - India; Hindu Civilization; 1936, p 283, Dr Radhakumud Mookerji - Civilization; Great Men of India, 1939, p 15, L. F. Rushbrook Williams.] . They find mention in the Puranas, Mahabharata and numerous other ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts. Today, their descendants are mostly heterogeneous people.

The Sanskrit term "ashva" , Iranian "aspa" and Prakrit "assa" means horse. The name "Ashvaka"/"Ashvakan" or "Assaka" is said to be derived from Sanskrit "Ashva" or Prakrit "Assa" and it literally denotes someone connected with the horses---hence: a horseman, or a cavalryman [Ethnic Settlements in Ancient India, 1955, p 51, Dr Sashi Bhusan Chaudhuri; Histoire du bouddhisme indien, 1967, p 110, Etienne Lamotte; East and West: A quarterly review for the study of missions, 1950, p 28, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente; The Ancient Geography of India: By Alexander Cunningham, 1975, p xvi, Alexander Cunningham; History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, 1988, p 100, Etienne Lamotte, Sara Webb-Boin; The Indian Historical Quarterly, 1925, p 104, India; Cf: The History and Culture of the Indian People, 1977, p 45, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Achut Dattatrya Pusalker, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, A. K. Majumdar, Dilip Kumar Ghose, Vishvanath Govind Dighe.] or "breeder of horses" [Encyclopedia of Religions Or Faiths of Man Part 1: V. 1, 2003, p 555, J. G. R. Forlong; History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, 1988, p 105, Etienne Lamotte, Sara Webb-Boin - History.] . The Ashvakas were especially engaged in the occupation of breeding, raising and training war horses, as also in providing expert cavalry services to outside nations, hence they also constituted an excellent class of Kshatriyas (warriors). "Like tribal term Kamboja, the tribal term Ashvaka is also interpreted as "land or home of horses"".

Panini styles the Aspas and the Ashvakas of modern Nuristan - formerly known as Kafirstan [Hindu Civilization, 1936, p 283, Dr Radhakumud Mookerji - Civilization; Sīmevarūna parata jā!: Tīna aṅkī aitihāsika naṭaka, 1963, Bāḷa Kolhaṭakara, Balkrishna Hari Kolhatkar.] and Gandhara valleys, which included north-western Punjab, as "Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas" respectively [Ashtadshyayi: Sutra IV-1, 110; Nadadi gana IV-1, 99.] . Classical writers use the respective equivalents Aspasioi or "Aspasii" ("Hippasii") and Assakenoi (or "Assaceni/Assacani"). Based on evidence from "Indika" of Megasthenes (c. 350 BC-290 BC), Pliny ("Gaius Plinius Secundus") (23 AD–79 AD) also refers to a clan of "Asenes" in his "Historia Naturalis" [Pliny: Historia Naturalis, VI.21.8-23.11.] [Read: "List of Indian races": "Then next to these towards the Indus come, in an order which is easy to follow, the Amatae, Bolingae, Gallitalutae, Dimuri, Megari, Ordabae, Mese; after these the Uri and Sileni. Immediately beyond come deserts extending for 250 miles. These being passed, we come to the Organagae, Abaortae, Sibarae, Suertae, and after these to deserts as extensive as the former. Then come the Sarophages, Sorgae, Baraomatae, and the Umbrittae, who consist of twelve tribes, each possessing two cities, and the Aseni, who possess three cities. Their capital is Bucephala, built where Alexander's famous horse of that name was buried. Hillmen follow next, inhabiting the base of Caucasus (Hindukush), the Soleadae, and the Sondrae; and if we cross to the other side of the Indus and follow its course downward we meet the Samarabriae, Sambruceni, Bisambritae, Osii, Antixeni, and the Taxillae with a famous city. Then succeeds a level tract of country known by the general name of Amanda, whereof the tribes are four in number the Peucolaitae, Arsagalitae, Geretae, Asoi. Many writers, however, do not give the river Indus as the western boundary of India, but include within it four satrapies,--the Gedrosi, Arachotae, Arii, Paropamisadae, making the river Cophes its furthest limit; though others prefer to consider all these as belonging to the Arii." (Megasthenes: Indika FRAGM. LVI. Plin. Hist. Nat. VI. 21. 8-23. 11. List of the Indian Races). See Link: [] .] and locates them all mainly on northern part of modern Pakistan. Bucephala was the capital of "Aseni" which stood on Hydaspes (Jhelum) [See: Alexander the Great, Sources and Studies, p 236, Dr W. W. Tarn; Political History of Indian People, 1996, p 232, Dr H. C. Raychaudhury, Dr B. N. Mukerjee] . Alexander had named this city after his horse Becephalus when it had died sometime in June of 326 BC after being fatally wounded at the Battle of Hydaspes with king Porus (Paurava) of Punjab. The clan names like "Osii", "Asioi", and "Aseni" obviously equate to "Asii" referred to by Strabo and "Asiani" as referred to in "Historiae Philippicae" by Trogue Pompey (all in all, the Osians) and further, they also equate to the Aspasioi ("Aspasii, Hipasii") and Assakenoi ("Assacenii/Assacani") clans of upper Indus referred to as "Ashvayana" and "Ashvakayana" in Panini's Ashtadhyayi.

Geographical location

The Ashvakas were resident in the eastern parts of modern Afghanistan, south of Hindukush and their population reached up to the Indus River and to parts of Punjab in Pakistan. Their metropolitan areas were in the area of Swat (near modern Kalash-Valley and Pakistani side of Nuristan) and in some part regions of Gandhara (today Peshawar), again in Pakistan.

Ancient Sanskrit literature also refers to another clan called "Ashmaka" or "Assaka" (Asvakas) which represented an Indo-Aryan Janapada located on river Godavari in south-west India. Ashmaka literally means "land of stone". Some scholars believe that the south-western Asmakas/Assakas were also an offshoot from the North-west Ashvakas.

Ashvakas: a branch of Kambojas

Buddhist Texts evidence

Aruppa-Niddesa of Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghosa describes the Kamboja land as the base of horses. [Aruppa-Niddesa 10.28.]

Buddhist texts like Manorathapurni, Kunala Jataka, and Samangalavilasini speak of Kamboja land as the land of horses e.g:

:"Kambojo assa.nam ayata.nam..." [Samangalavilasini, Vol I, p 124.] or "Kambojo asvdnda ayatanam..." [The Murundas and the Ancient Trade-Route from Taxila to Ujjain, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 9, No. 3, Dec 1966, pp 257-296, P. H. L. Eggermont.] .

:Translation::"Kamboja, "the land/home of horses" (assa)" [Political History of Ancient India, 1953, p 149, Dr Hemchandra Raychaudhuri, University of Calcutta - India; Some Kṣatriya Tribes of Ancient India, 1975, Kshatriyas; Tribes in Ancient India, 1943, p 4, Dr Bimala Churn Law - Ethnology; Geographical and Economic Studies in the Mahābhārata: Upāyana Parva, 1945, p 36, Dr Moti Chandra - India; Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: Pali-English, 2003, p 526, G. P. Malalasekera - Reference; The Mahāvastu, 1949, p 179, John James Jones - Legends, Buddhist; Political and social movements in ancient Panjab, 1964, p 226, Dr Buddha Prakash - Punjab (India).] .

The cluster assa in the above expression of "Sumangavilasini" means horse [Note: In Prakrit, "Assa" means horse (See: Pali-english Dictionary, 1993, p 90, Dr T. W. Rhys Davids, Dr William Stede - Foreign Language Study; East and West: A quarterly review for the study of missions, 1950, p 28, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente - Art, Asian.] , which on adding suffix "-ka" gives the Prakrit "Assaka" which term when considered in the context of the above expression denotes the following:

*Assaka = The Kambojas connected with horses; horsemen; cavalry.
*Assaka = The Kamboja land or Janapada.

Similarly, the Sanskrit "Ashvaka" can be derived from Sanskrit Ashva meaning horse [ Linguistic Science in the Nineteenth Century: Methods and Results, 1931, p 22, Holger Pedersen, John Webster Spargo - Philology; The Discovery of Language: Linguistic Science in the Nineteenth Century, 1965, p 22, Holger Pedersen, John Webster Spargo.] [Term Ashva/Ashwa may itself mean cavalier, horseman, Asvaka. See Mahabharata Sabhaparava, Section LXVII. Otherwise Asvaka/Aswaka = "of the Aswa/Asva".] , which, likewise, denote the following:

*Ashvaka = The Kambojas connected with horses; horsemen; cavalry.
*Ashvaka = The Kamboja land or Janapada.

From the above statement, it is quite obvious that term "Assaka" or "Ashvaka" stood for the Kamboja land, Kamboja people, Kamboja horsemen or the Kamboja cavalry.

The formation of clannish name Ashvaka or Assaka from the Sanskrit "Ashva" or the Prakrit "Assa" has exactly a similar formation as followed by tribal terms such as Kambojika/Kambojaka (from Kamboja), Madaraka (from Madra) and Yonaka (from Yona), Lichchhivika (from Lichchhivi), Vrijika (from Vriji), Mallaka (from Malla), Jartaka (from Jarta = modern Jat) etc etc.

For obvious reasons, the name Ashvaka has also been interpreted by scholars as the "Land of Horses" [ Proceedings.... World Sanskrit Conference, 1985, p 783, International Association of Sanskrit Studies, International Association of Sanskrit Studies - Sanskrit philology; Ethnic Settlements in Ancient India, 1955, p 51, Dr Sashi Bhusan Chaudhuri; Military History of India, 1980, p 38, Hemendra Chandra Kar - History; Encyclopaedia of Historiography, 2006, p 321, M.M. Rahman; Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India: 2d Ed. 1968, p 224, Ram Sharan Sharma - India- Politics and government; Cf: Political History of Ancient India, 1953, p 245, Dr Hemchandra Raychaudhuri, University of Calcutta.] . Thus, based on the meaning and the geographical location of Ashvaka tribe, the scholars have rightly concluded that the Ashvakas were a sub-branch of the more general tribal name Kamboja. Kamboja has also invariably been spoken in ancient Buddhist and Brahmanical texts as the "Land or home of horses".

Mahabharata evidence

In the Anushasnaparava section of Mahabharata, the Kambojas are specifically designated as ashava."yuddha.kushalah" (expert cavalry). [ :Sanskrit::"tatha Yavana Kamboja Mathuram.abhitash cha ye "| :"ete 'ashava.yuddha.kushalahdasinatyasi charminah" || 5 || : (MBH 12.101.5, Kumbhakonam Ed).]

Commenting on the above verse of Mahabharta, noted scholars like Dr K. P. Jayswal observe that "Since the Kambojas were famous for their "horses" (ashva) and as a "cavalry-men" (Ashva-yudhah kushalah), hence the "Ashvakas" i.e. "horsemen" was the term popularly applied to them". [Hindu Polity, 1978, pp 121, 140, Dr K. P. Jayswal.]

Vishnudharmotra Purana/Agni Purana evidence

"Vishnudharmotra Purana" too specifically attests that the Kambojas and Gandharas were proficient in cavalry warfare i.e. in "Ashva-Yuddha". [Vishnudharmotra Purana, Part II, Ch 118 .] [Post Gupta Polity (AD 500-700): A Study of the Growth of Feudal Elements and Rural Administration 1972, p 136, Ganesh Prasad Sinha; Military Wisdom in the Purānas, 1979, p 64, Prof P. Sensarma; Ancient Indian Civilization, 1985, p 120, Grigoriĭ Maksimovich Bongard-Levin; Kashmir Polity, C. 600-1200 A.D., 1986, p 237, V. N. Drabu; Polity in the Agni Purāna, 1965, Bambahadur Mishra; etc etc.] . A similar information is also provided in the Agni Purana [Polity in the Agni Purāna, 1965, p 175, B. b. Mishra - Puranas, Agnipurāṇa.] .

hakti Sangham Tantra evidence

"Shatt.panchashad.desha.vibhaga" of "Shakti Sangama Tantra" also testifies that the Kamboja was not only famous for its fine horses but also for its excellent horsemen [:Sanskrit::"Panchaldeshamarambhya mlechhad dakishinahpurvatah"
:"Kambojadesho deveshi vajiraashi.prayanah" || 24 |
:Shakati-Sangam-Tantra, 'Shatpanchashadddeshavibhag' , Verse 24.
] [ A View of the History, Literature, and Mythology of the Hindoos, 1818, p 559, William Ward - India.] [ History, Literature and Religion of the Hindoos, 1820, p 451, William Ward.] .

Ashvaka coins and Arthashastra evidence

The coins of Ashsvakas refer to themselves as "vatasvaka" (vata.asvaka), which in Sanskrit, equals "varta-ashvaka" i.e "Ashvakas engaged in varta profession". [Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, pp 98-100: History and Culture of Indian People, the Age of Imperial Unity, Vol II, p 45, Dr A. D. Pusalkar, Dr R. C. Majumdar, Dr Munshi etc.]

The use of prikritic "vata" (Sanskrit varta) appellation by the Ashvakas in their coins reminds one of the "Varta.shastr.opajivin" descriptions of the Kambojas as attested by Kautiliya in his Arthashastra. [Arthashastra 11.1.4.]

The above view is further reinforced by "Brahtsamhita" of "Varaha Mihira" which also says that the Kambojas lived by "shastr" and varta. [Brhatsamhita, 5.35]

The Asvayanas (Kambojas) have been attested to be good cattle breeders and agricuturists by classical writers. This is clear from big number of the bullocks, 230,000 according to Arrian, of a size and shape superior to what the Macedonians had not known, which Alexander captured from them and decided to send them to Macedonia for agriculture. [History of Panjab, Vol I, p 226, Dr L. M. Joshi, Dr Fauja Singh; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p 247, Dr J. L. Kamboj; cf: A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food (Oxford India Paperbacks), p 91, K. T. Achaya February 2001.]

The Ashvaka Kambojas are also attested to have fielded 30,000 strong cavalry, 30 elephants and 20,000 infantry against Alexander. [Ancient India, 2000, p 261, Dr V. D. Mahajan.]

These above staggering figures about "agricultural cattle" and the "war horses" of the Ashvakas sufficiently prove the correctness of Kautiliya's statement on the Kambojas which portrays the Kambojas as living both by "warfare" (shastr.opajivin) as well as by "agriculture/cattle-culture" (varta.opajivin).

The above facts, when viewed in the light of time and space propinquity, evidently connect the Ashvakas with the "varta.shastr.opajivin" Kambojas of the Arthashastra. [Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p 11, 226.]

More opinions from scholars

Sir Thomas H. Holdich, in the his classic book, "The Gates of India", writes that the "Aspasians" (Aspasioi) represent the modern Kafirs. [The Gates of India, p 102-03.] But the modern Kafirs, especially the "Siyah-Posh" Kafirs (Kamoz/Camoje, Kamtoz) etc are considered to be modern representatives of the ancient Kambojas [] , this shows that the Aspasioi (Aspas), who were the western branch of the Assakenoi (Ashvakas) of classical writings, represented a section of the Sanskrit Kambojas.

French scholars Dr E. Lamotte has also identified the Ashvakas with the Kambojas of ancient Sanskrit literature. "Par ailleurs le Kamboja est régulièrement mentionné comme la "patrie des chevaux" (Asvanam ayatanam), et cette reputation bien etablie valnut 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”)" [Historie du Bouddhisme Indien, p 110, E. Lamotte.]

While discussing Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes living west of Indus and north of river Kabul in the valleys of Alishang, Kunar, Swat and Panjkora, in context of Alexander's invasion of India, Paul Goukowsky observes: "Pour les sources Indiennes, ce pays est celui des Kamboja eleveurs de chevaux. De fait, les tribus signalées dans cette région par les historiens d'Alexandre portent des noms tirés de celui du cheval (iranien aspa, sanscrit asva...). Panini connait deux peuplades les Asvayana (vallees de l'Alishang et du Kunar) et les Asvakayana (habitat l'Udyana, cest-a-dire le Swat le Buner et la vallee de la Panjkora. Les premiers paraissent correspondre aux Aspasiens/Hipasiens (par l'intermediate d'une forme Iranienne en "Aspa"); les seconds aux Assakeniens (la forme pracrite en "Assa" etant celle de la langue parlee a l'epoque le d'Alexandre). Il semble donc que la langue Iranienne predominait au nord du Kunar le pracrit au sud" [Essai sur les origines du mythe d'Alexandre: 336-270 av. J. C:, 1978, p 152, Paul Goukowsky.] . Thus, Paul considers the Assakenoi and Aspasioi as sections of the Kambojas.

Cf: "Kamboja is regularly mentioned as the "homeland of horses" and it was this well-established reputation which possibly earned the horse-breeders of Bajaur and Swat the epithet of Aspasioi (from Old Pers Aspa) and Assakenoi (from Sanskrit Asva “horse”)" [ History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, 1988, p 100 - History. ] [See also: East and West, 1950, pp 28, 157-58, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Editor, Prof Giuseppe Tucci, Co-editors Prof Mario Bussagli, Prof Lionello Lanciotti.] .

While referring to a certain Sakya legend connected with Udyana locale (north-west frontiers province of Pakistan), James Fergusson connects the Udyana country with the Kambojas of the Hindu texts [ Tree and Serpent Worship Or Illustrations of Mythology & Art in India: In the 1st and 4th Century After Christ, 2004 edition, p 48, J. Fergusson.] . But the territories of Kunar, Udyana, Swat and Varana ("Aorna of classical writers") etc were the very habitats of the Asvaka Kambojas since remote antiquity...thus proving that the Asvakas were same as the Kambojas.

J. W. McCrindle says that the modern Afghanistan -- the Kaofue (Kambu) of Hiun Tsang was ancient Kamboja, and further says that the name "Afghan" evidently derives from the "Ashavakan", the "Assakenoi" of Arrian. Thus it can be seen that Dr McCrindle clearly identifies the classical Assakenoi/Aspasioi with the Sanskrit Kambojas. [Alexandra's Invasion of India, p 38; Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180, J. McCrindle.]

While discussing Kambojas, Dr H. C. Raychayudhury, Dr B. N. Mukerjee write: "With the expression "Assa.nam Ayata.nam"---"land of horses" used by Pali texts in reference to the "Kambojas", may be compared the names "Aspasioi" and "Assakenoi" given by classical writers to the sturdy people living in the Alishang and Swat valleys in the days of Alexander " [Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 133, p 216 ffn 2, p 576; Commentary Dr B. N. Mukerjee; cf: MBH VI.90.3.] .

"Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente" has also identified the "Aspasioi-Asvayanas", "Assakenoi-Asvakayanas" with the Kambojas of Eastern Afghanistan, who were noted for their horses [ East and West, 1950, pp 28, 149/158, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Editor, Prof Giuseppe Tucci, Co-editors Prof Mario Bussagli, Prof Lionello Lanciotti.] .

According to John Muir [ Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, 1848, p 15.; Origin; Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India: Their Religion and Institutions, 1874, p 355/56, Johm Muir; ] , "the Kambojas had inhabited north-west of India from river Indus to as far as Hindukush. They had the same Aryan origin as the Indians however, they were afterwards reckoned to be barbarians because their manners became changed afterwards and they were justly called Indians and barbarians by the Chinese [Yauan Chawang, Vol I, p 284 by Thomas Watters; Si-yu-ki, by Hiuen Tsang, pp 54/55, Trans S. Beal (1906); Records of Buddhist Kingdoms by Fa-hien, p 34, Trans James Legge (1886); Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 133 fn 5, 134, Dr H. C. raychaudhury.] and the Greeks" [ Anabasis Alexandri, 4B, chapter xxiii, xxiv, xxvi, by Arrian, Trans. E.J. Chinnock (1893).] . The same therefore, happened to the Kambojas although in a less marked manner as took place between the Zend people and the Indians in a more remote period". Since Fah-hien's Indians were people of Swat/Udyana, Hiuen Tsang's Indians were the people of Kapisa to Rajapura (Rajauri) and Arrian's Indians were the Assakenoi, Aspasio and Asteknoi localised in Kapisa/Swat/Kunar/Aornos regions of Paropamisadae in the west of Indus and north of Kabol as far as upto the Hindukush, hence, Johm Muir's Kambojas are exactly the same as the Aspasio, Guraeus, Assakenoi and Astekenoi of Arrian, or the people from Kapisa to Udyana/Swat territories, stated to be rude frontier Indians by Chinese pilgrims Hiuen Tsang and Fa-hien. Dr S. M. Ali has identified the ancient Kambojas of the Puranic literature with the inhabitants of the Kafir valleys, [Geography of the Puranas p 143.] who, as we know from classical writings, were none else than the "Aspasioi" off-shoot of the Ashvakan Kambojas.

"History of Panjab" by Dr L. M. Joshi and Dr Fauja Singh (Ed) also identifies the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of the classical writings with the clans of the Kambojas. [History of Panjab, Vol I, (Editors): Dr Fauja Singh, Dr L. M. Josh, Publication Bureau, Panjabi University, Patiala; see also Ancient Kamboja, People and country, 1981, pp 271-72, 278, Dr J. L. Kamboj; These Kamboj People, 1979, pp 119, 192, K. S. Dardi.] .

Dr R. C. Majumdar, Romila Thappar, noted historians of India also take the Ashvakas to be same people as the Kambojas and they all connect them with the people of Kafirstan.

Dr Buddha Parkash notes: "The Macedonian conqueror made short shrifts of the arrangements of Darius and over-running Achaemenian empire, dashed into modern Pakistan (achemenid satrapen) and encountered stiff residstence of the Kamboja tribes called Aspasioi and Assakenoi known in the Indian texts as Ashvayana and Ashvakayana " [Panjab Past and Present, pp 9-10, Dr Buddha Parkash; See also: History of Porus, pp 12, 38; Glimpses of Ancient Panjab, 1966, p 23, Dr Buddha Prakash - Punjab (India); Raja Poros, 1990, Publication Buareau, Punjabi University, Patiala; History of Poros, 1967, pp 12,39, Dr Buddha Prakash.] .

These Asvayana and Asvakayana clans had fought the invader to a man. When worst came to worst, even the Asvakayana Kamboj women had taken up arms and joined their fighting husbands, thus preferring "a glorious death to a life of dishonor". [Diodorus in McCrindle, p 270; History of Civilizations of Central Asia, 1999, p 76, Ahmad Hasan Dani, Vadim Mikhaĭlovich Masson, János Harmatta, Boris Abramovich Litvinovskiĭ, Clifford Edmund Bosworth, UNESCO - Asia, Central.] Diodorus gives a detailed graphic picture as to how the Ashvakayanas (Kambojs) had conducted themselves when faced with the sudden treacherous onslaught from Alexander. [Writes Diodorus: "Undismayed by the greatness of their danger, the Asvakayanas (Kambojas) drew their ranks together in the form of a ring within which they placed their women and children to guard them on all sides against their assailants. As they had now become desperate, and by their audacity and feats of valour, made the conflict in which they closed, hot work for the enemy--great was the astonishment and alarm which the peril of the crisis had created. For, as the combatants were locked together fighting hand-to-hand, death and wounds were dealt round in every variety of form. While many were thus wounded, and not a few killed, the women, taking the arms of the fallen, fought side by side with their men. Accordingly, some of them who had supplied themselves with arms, did their best to cover their husbands with their shields, while the others, who were without arms, did much to impede the enemy by flinging themselves upon them and catching hold of their shields. The defenders, however, after fighting desperately along with their wives, were at last overpowered by superior numbers, and thus met a glorious death which they would have disdained to exchange for the life of dishonour" (See: Diodorus in McCrindle, p 269/270; History of Civilizations of Central Asia, 1999, p 76, Ahmad Hasan Dani, Vadim Mikhaĭlovich Masson, János Harmatta, Boris Abramovich Litvinovskiĭ, Clifford Edmund Bosworth, Unesco - Asia, Central; History of Punjab, 1997, p 229, Editors: Dr Fauja Singh, Dr L. M. Joshi; Classical Accounts of India, p 112-113; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p 283-286, Dr J. L. Kamboj; The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 134, Kirpal Singh).]

Commenting on the heroic resistance and courage displayed by the Ashvakayanas (Kambojas) in the face of treacerous onslaught of Alexander, Dr Buddha Prakash remarks: "Hardly could any Thermopylae be more glorious !" [History of Punjab, Vol I, 1997, p 229.]

Afghan and Ashvakan relationship

Numerous scholars of note now believe that the name "Afghan" has been derived from Sanskrit Ashvaka or Ashvakan (q.v), the Assakenoi of Arrian [ Arrian writes them Assakenoi. Strabo also calls them Assakanoi, but Curtius calls them Assacani.] . This view was propounded by scholars like Dr Christian Lassen [ Indische Alterthumskunde, Vol I, fn 6; also Vol II, p 129, et al.] , Dr J. W. McCrindle ["The name Afghan has been derived from Asvakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian... " (Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180. See also: Alexander's Invasion of India, p 38; J. W. McCrindle).] , M. V. de Saint Martin [Etude Sur la Geog Grecque & c, pp 39-47, M. V. de Saint Martin.] etc, and has been supported by numerous modern scholars [ This includes Dr H. H. Wilson, L. Bishop, W. Crooke, H. K. Kakar, J. C. Vidyalnar, Chandra Chakravorty, Dr M. R. Singh, P. Smith, N. L. Dey, Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell, Dr J. L. Kamboj, S. Kirpal Singh and several others.] [Literary History of Ancient India in Relation to Its Racial and Linguistic Affiliations, 1970, p 17, Chandra Chakraberty.] [Shi jie jian wen, 1980, p 68, Shi jie zhi shi chu ban she.] . In Sanskrit, word "ashva" (Iranian "aspa", Prakrit "assa") means "horse", and "ashvaka" (Prakrit "assaka") means "horseman" [Ref: Sva, 1915, p 113, Christopher Molesworth Birdwood.] , "horse people" [Al-Hind, The Making of Indo-Islamic World, 2002, p 84, Andre Wink; Journal of Indian History Golden Jubilee Volume, 1973, p 470, University of Kerala, Department of History.] , "land of horses" [Historical Geography of Madhya Pradesh, From Early Records, 1977, p 3, Dr P. K. Bhattacharya; Proceedings of the World of Sanskrit Conference. 1985, p 783, International association of Sanskrit.]

"See article": Origins of the name Afghan

The Aryan ancestral-line of modern Afghans ("modern Pashtuns are descandants of different people with different origine, including Turkic and Mongolic"), should correspondingly have belonged to the southern Ashvakans of part of modern Pashtunwa and parts of Baluchistan who immigrated as nomads first from the north to the Sulaiman Mountains and in the second Millennium A.D to eastward to north India until Bengal. In Peshawar and its surrounding regions and valleys they replaced the indigenous population of Gakhars and other ethnic Indians slowly but for certain and their settled areas Babur mentioned in his Baburnamah as Afghanistan and the people as Afghans. The Afghans as a "united nation" started their career in the 18th century after killing the Iranian-Khurasanian ruler Nader Khan Afshar. After his death on of his Qezilbash commander, Ahmad Khan Abdali, declared himself as king of Khorasan and based the first fundaments of modern Afghanistan that became developed under Abdurrahman Khan. Some ancestors of Pashtuns (mostly of Turkic origine) began making career in army of the Persian Ghurids. Their Turkic slave under Persian general Aybak established the Indo-Ghurid empire of India which also give the birth for the Delhi-Sultanat and Mamluk-Dynasties of India. The Mamluk-Dynasty is further known as Slave-Dynasty known also as Mamluk dynasty of Delhi. See: Lodhi dynasty and Suri dynasty .

Kamboja Cavalry in ancient wars

The Kambojas had been famous throughout all periods of history for their excellent breed of horses as well as as famous horsemen or cavalry troopers [The Indian Historical Quarterly, 1963, p 103; Some Kṣatriya Tribes of Ancient India, 1924, p 239, Dr B. C. Law.] [Hindu Polity, 1978, pp 121, 140, Dr K. P. Jayswal.] [::Sanskrit::Panchaldeshamarambhya mlechhad dakishinahpurvatah
:Kambojadesho deveshi vajiraashi.prayanah || 24 |
:"(Shakati-Sangam-Tantra, 'Shatpanchashadddeshavibhag' , Verse 24)".
] [ History, Literature and Religion of the Hindus, 1820, p 451; A View of the History, Literature, and Mythology of the Hindus, 1818, p 559, William Ward - India.] [India in Early Greek Literature: academic dissertation, 1989, p 225, Klaus Karttunen - Greek literature.] . "They repeatedly appear in the characteristic Iranian roles of splendid horsemen and breeders of notable horses" [A history of Zoroastrianism: Zoroastraianism Under Macedonian and Roman Rule, 1991, p 129, Mary Boyce, Frantz Grenet, Roger Beck.] . The epic, the Puranic and numerous other ancient literature profusely attest the Kambojas among the finest horsemen [The Social and Military Position of the Ruling Caste in Ancient India, 1889, p 257, Edward Washburn Hopkins; Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1889, p 257, American Oriental Society - Oriental philology.] . They were constituted into "Military Sanghas" and "Corporations" to manage their political affairs, as Kautiliya and Mahabharata amply attest for us. They are also attested to have been living as "Ayuddha-jivi" or "Shastr-opajivis", which means that the Kamboja cavalry offered their military services to other nations as well. There are numerous references to Kambojas being requistioned as cavalry troopers in ancient wars by outside nations.

Greek historiographers

Herodotus attests that the Gandarian mercenaries ("Gandharans/Kambojans") from the twentieth strapy of the Achaemenids were recruited in the army of emperor Xerxes I (486-465 BCE) which he led against the Hellas. [Herodotus, IV.65-66.]

Similarly, the "men of the Mountain Land " (Akaufaka), from north of Kabol-River equivalent to medieval Kohistan (Pakistan), figure in the army of Darius III against Alexander at Arbela with a cavalry and fifteen elephants. [History of Persian Empire, p 232, Dr A. M. Olmstead; Arrian's Anabasis III, 8.3-6; Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 216, Dr Raychaudhury.]

These mercenaries were the well known "parvatiya Ayuddhajivins" of Panini's Ashtadhyayi [Ashtadhyayi Sutra IV.3.91.] located on either side of the Hindukush and who belonged to Kamboja/Gandhara group of a warrior caste. [India as Known to Panini, pp 49, 437, Dr V. S. Aggarwala.]

anskrit epics

General Sudakshina of the Kambojas was invited by Duryodhana, the Kuru king of Hastinapura to help him in the Mahabharata war against the Pandavas. Sudakshina Kamboj came to his side with one Akshauhini powerful army of ferocious Central Asian warriors which also included the Shakas and Yavanas, besides the Kambojas. [MBH 5.19.21-23.] Of the ten distinguished Generals appointed by Duryodhana to efficiently manage his vast host of army, Sudakshina Kamboja was one such distinguished General. [MBH 5.155.30-33.]

Bala Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana refers to a battle between sage Vasishtha and king Vishwamitra of Kanauj. Sage Visishtha had sought the military assistance of the Kambojas, Shakas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, Kiratas and other Mlechchas from the north-west. King Vishwamitra had lost all his sons in the battle. In remorse, he renounced the world and turned into an ascetic after the war. [Ramayana, 1.54, 1.55.]

Mauryan period

The ancient Sanskrit drama "Mudra-rakashas" by "Vishakhadatta" and the Jaina work "Parisishtaparvan" refer to Chandragupta's alliance with Himalayan king "Parvataka". The Himalayan alliance gave Chandragupta a formidable composite army made up of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Kiratas, Parasikas and Bahlikas as attested by Mudra-Rakashas (Mudra-Rakshasa 2). [:Sanskrit::"asti tava Shaka-Yavana-Kirata-Kamboja-Parasika-Bahlika parbhutibhih" :"Chankyamatipragrahittaishcha Chandergupta Parvateshvara" :"balairudidhibhiriva parchalitsalilaih samantaad uprudham Kusumpurama" : (Mudra-Rakshasa 2).]

With the help of these frontier martial tribes from Central Asia, Chandragupta was able to defeat the Greek successors of Alexander the Great and the Nanda/Nandin rulers of Magadha so as to found the powerful Maurya empire in northern India, at least for a short time till the Kushans and other ruler conquered north-west India.

The Kalika Purana, one of the eighteen "Upa-Puranas" of the Hindus, refers to a war between Brahmanical king "Kalika" (supposed to be Pusyamitra Sunga) and Buddhist king "Kali" (supposed to be Maurya king Brihadratha (187-180 BCE)) and notes the "Shakas, Kambojas, Khasas" etc as a powerful military allies of king Kali. The Purana further notes these Barbarians as "taking orders from their women", [Kalika Purana, III (6), 22-40.] which culture was typical of tribes located on Oxus/north-west.


Patanjali around 150 BCE and "Yuga Purana" chapter of "Gargi-Samhita" refer to second century BCE "Yavana attack" on Saketa, Panchala, Mathura and Pataliputra located in "Majjhima-desa" or "Mid India". "Anushasnaparava" of Mahabharata attests that "Mathura country" in Mid India was under the joint control of the Yavanas and the Kambojas (12.101.05). The Kamboja royal family at Mathura is also attested from Mathura Lion Capitol inscriptions of Saka Strap (Kshatrapa) Rajuvula. Vanaparava of Mahabharata woefully deplores that the sacred earth (Indo-Aryan land), in Kaliyuga, would be ruled un-righteously by Mlechchha kings of the Yavanas, Kambojas, Sakas etc. [ MBH 3.188.34-36.] These references show that the Kamboja cavalry from north-west in conjunction with the Yavanas had invaded Mid India and ruled over it prior to Christian era [] [] .


According to numerous Puranas, the military Corporations of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas and Paradas, known as pānca-ganah ("five hordes") as well as "foremost of the Kshatriya or warrior clans" (Kshatriya-ganah & Ksatriya pungvah), had militarily supported the Haihaya and Talajunga Kshatriyas in depriving Ikshvaku king Bahu (the 7th king in descent from Harishchandra), of his Ayodhya kingdom.

A generation later, Bahu's son, Sagara recaptured Ayodhya after totally destroying the Haihaya and Talajangha Kshatriyas in the battle. Story goes that king Sagara had punished these foreign hordes by changing their "hair-styles" and turning them into "degraded Kshatriyas". [Harivamsa 14.1-19]

Bhagavata Purana refers to a war between Jarasandha and Yadavas led by Sri Krshna. The Kambojas came as military allies of Jarasandha, king of Magadha. There is reference to the siege of "Gomant Parvata" where the Kamboja army was positioned on its east flank. [Bhagvata Purana, 10.52.22.] Bhagavata Purana [Bhagavata Purana 2.7.35.] speaks of the Kamboja General as a powerfully armed mighty warrior ("samiti-salina atta-capah Kamboja").

Pala Empire

The Palas employed mercenary forces and certainly recruited horses from Kambojas as is clear from their own Inscriptions. [Munghyr Inscriptions B.8, V.13; See also: Epigraphia Indica, Vol XVIII, 1926-27, p 305; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p 9-10, Dr J. L. Kamboj.] According to Dr N. G. Majumdar, "if horses could be brought from Kamboja, it is also perfectly reasonable to suppose that for trade and other purposes, some adventurers (from Kamboja) could also have found their way into that province". [Epigraphia Indica, XXII.153.] Scholars like Dr R. C. Majumdar observe that the armed forces of Pala Dynasty of Bengal had included foreigners like the Khasas, Hunas, Kambojas, Kulitas, Karnatas, Latas and Malavas etc. Writes Dr R. C. Majumdar: "Mercenary soldiers (Specially cavalry) might have been recruited from the Kambojas and some of them might have been influential chiefs". According Dr Majumdar and many other scholars, some courageous military General of the Kambojas had later captured north-western parts of Bengal from the Palas and founded the Kamboja dynasty in Bengal. [History of Ancient Bengal, 1971, p 127, Dr R. C. Majumdar; The Dacca University Studies, Vol I, No 2, April 1936, p 132; Also: Indian Historical Quarterly, XV-4, Dec. 1939, p 511, Dr H. C. Ray; The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 216, 228, S Kirpal Singh; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, pp 330-332.]

Scholars also state that the Kamboja cavalry had also formed part of the Gurjara-Pratihara armed forces in 8th/10th centuries AD. They had come to Bengal with the Pratiharas when the latter conquered part of the province. [Indian Historical Quarterly, XV-4, Dec, 1939, p 511 Dr H. C. Ray.] [ History of Ancient Bengal, 1971, pp 182-83, Dr R. C. Majumdar.] [Indian Historical Quarterly, 1963, p 625.] [Dynastic History of Magadha, 1977, p 208.] [ Epigraphia Indiaca, XVIII, p 304ff.] [The Dynamics of Santal Traditions in Present Society, 2003, p 208 etc; Journal of Oriental studies, 1954, p 381, University of Hong Kong, Institute of Oriental Studies (Also see refs quoted by the authors)] In fact, there is stated to have been a separate regiment of the Kambojas in the army of the Pratiharas which was given the responsibility to defend the northern-eastern parts of their empire adjoining with the Palas of Bengal. When the fortunes of the Palas sagged low after the death of Narayanapala in early tenth century, these Kambojas, the military associates of the Pratiharas had seized Gauda from Pala king Rajyapala and laid the foundation of the Kamboja empire in north-west Bengal. [ The Dynastic History of the Northern India, p 311, fn.1, Dr H. C. Raychaudhury.] [The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 216, 228, S Kirpal Singh; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, pp 330-332, Dr Kamboj.]


ee also

*Kamboja Horsemen
*Parama Kambojas
*List of country name etymologies

Books and Articles

*Geographical Data in Early Puranas, A Critical Study, 1972, p 179 Dr M. R. Singh
*Dictionary of Greek & Roman Geography, Vol-I, 1966, William Smith, Phillip Smith
*Geographical Dictionary of ancient and Medieval India, Dr Nundo Lal Dey
*Itihaas Parvesh (Hindi), 1948, Dr Jaychandra Vidyalankar
*Ancient India as Described in Megasthenes and Arrian, 1960, J. W. McCrindle
*The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great, 1896, J. W. McCrindle
*The Gates of India, Sir Thomas H. Holdich
*Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, Dr J. L. Kamboj
*The Geographical Data in Early Purana, 1972, Dr M. R. Singh
*Hindu Polity, Part I & II, 1978, Dr K. P. Jayswal
*Panjab Past and Present, Dr Buddha Parkash
*Historie du bouddhisme Indien, p 110, Dr E. Lammotte
*East and West, 1950, pp 28, 157-58, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Editor, Prof Giuseppe Tucci, Co-editors Prof Mario Bussagli, Prof Lionello Lanciotti.
*History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, 1988, p 100 - History
*Raja Poros, 1990, Publication Buareau, Punjabi University, Patiala
*History of Poros, 1967, pp 12,39, Dr Buddha Prakash
*Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol XX
*Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, 1900
*History and Culture of Indian People, Age of Imperial Unity, Vol II, Dr A. D. Pusalkar, Dr R. C. Majumdar
*History of Panjab, Vol I, Dr Fauja Singh, Dr L. M. Joshi.
*The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, Kirpal Singh.

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