The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Gauda-bhumi

BY: SUN STAFF - 6.9 2019

Bengala (the region of Gauda)

A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 51.

Following his South India tirtha-yatra, Lord Caitanya's association with the Goswamis, Srila Rupa and Srila Sanatana, is described by Srila Prabhupada in his Prologue to Teachings of Lord Caitanya, which also gives some interesting information on Gauda-bhumi (also known as Gauda or Gauda-desa):

"Upon his return to Puri, Raja Prataparudra-deva and several pandita brahmanas joined the banner of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He was now twenty-seven years of age. In his twenty-eighth year he went to Bengal as far as Gauda in Malda. There he picked up two great personages named Rupa and Sanatana. Though descended from the lines of the Karnatic brahmanas, these two brothers turned demi-Moslems by their continual contact with Hussain Shah, the then Emperor of Gauda. Their names had been changed by the Emperor into Dabira Khasa and Sakara Mallika, and their master loved them heartily since they were both learned in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit and were loyal servants of the state. The two gentlemen had found no way to come back as regular Hindus and had written to Mahaprabhu for spiritual help while he was at Puri. Mahaprabhu had written in reply that he would come to them and extricate them from their spiritual difficulties. Now that he had come to Gauda, both the brothers appeared before him with their long-standing prayer. Mahaprabhu ordered them to go to Vrndavana and meet him there."

(Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Prologue)

Modern historians have provided further details on the history and geographic territory of Gauda desa, such as this explanation written by Suchandra Ghosh for Banglopedia:

"Gauda (Janapada) was an important geographical entity in ancient and medieval Bengal. The Arthashastra refers to it along with Vanga, Pundra and Kamarupa. Though the geographical limit of the Gauda country is not mentioned, the fact that it is linked with Vanga and Pundra definitely indicates its location in eastern India. Vatsayana (3rd-4th century A.D.) was familiar with this country. This geographical idea continues even in the Puranas, as it is regarded as one of the Janapadas of the eastern quarter.

Varahamihira (circa 6th century A.D.) was also aware of Gauda Janapada. In his Brhat Samhhita he mentions six distinct Janapadas: Gaudaka, Paundra, Vanga, Samatata, Vardhamana and Tamralipta. It appears from his narration that Murshidabad, Birbhum, and western Burdwan formed the territory of ancient Gauda.

The earliest epigraphic evidence referring to the territory of the Gauda people is the Haraha inscription of the Maukhari ruler, Ishanavarman, which is datable to 554 A.D.. It is stated in the inscription that Ishanavarman defeated the Gaudas who live near the sea (Gaudan samudrashrayan). This statement finds corroboration in the undated Gurgi inscription of Prabodhashiva (circa 11th c. A.D.) which describes the Lord of Gauda as 'lying in the watery fort of the sea' (jalanidhi jaladurggam gauda rajo dhishete). The evidence of these two epigraphs drives home the fact that the Gaudas, at least at one point of history, lived in the coastal region.

With the passage of time and change in the political scenario the connotation of Gauda, however, underwent changes. The rise of Shashanka, the ruler of Gauda, as a formidable power in the early part of the 7th century A.D. definitely led to the extension of the territorial limits of Gauda. From the accounts of Hiuen-tsang we learn that he travelled from the country of Karnasuvarna to a region in coastal Orissa, and the area was ruled by Shashanka. Obviously, the territory of Karnasuvarna stretched up to littoral West Bengal.

Interestingly, this king Shashanka is described in Banabhatta's Harsacharita as the Lord of Gauda, whose capital was at Karnasuvarna. In fact, Bana castigates him as Gauda Bhujanga (the dangerous Gauda snake). Thus in the early part of the 7th century, Gauda and Karnasuvarna were co-terminous. On the basis of Hiuen Tsang's itinerary and the archaeological remains of Raktamrittika Mahavihara, Karnasuvarna, the capital city of Gauda kingdom has been located near Chiruti in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. Hence Murshidabad formed the core area of Gauda.

The political limits of the geographical name Gauda further extended to the region of north Bengal, i.e., Pundravardhana. From the Aryamanjushri Mulakalpa we learn that Pundravardhana was ruled by Shashanka. This statement finds corroboration in the allusion to a struggle in the Dubi plates between Susthitavarman and Bhaskarvarman of Kamarupa on the one side, and the king of Gauda on the other. As a ruler, Bhaskarvarman's contemporary was Shashanka. The struggle might have taken place in north Bengal. We know from Hiuen Tsang that Pundravardhana and Kamarupa were contiguous territories. Thus Gauda under Shashanka embraced parts of West Bengal, including its coasts, and North Bengal, at least for a short time.

The appellation Gauda was applied even to areas outside Bengal. It was used in a political sense in the Gaudavaho of Vakpati. In Vakpati's account, Magadha was included within the realm of the Gauda ruler.

In the early medieval period, the term Gauda had a wider connotation. The Rastrakuta and the Pratihara records styled the Pala rulers as Gaudeshvara, Gaudendra, Gaudaraja, etc. This obviously implies that the name Gauda, which originally denoted parts of West Bengal, became so diffused that during the 8th and 9th centuries it was sometimes synonymous with the entire Pala Kingdom.

We come across the term Pancha Gauda for the first time in the famous historical chronicle of Kashmir, the Rajatarangini of Kalhana. This indicates the widest diffusion of the name Gauda. Pancha Gauda referred to Gauda in association with Sarasvata, Kanyakubja, Mithila, and Utkala.

It thus appears that originally Gauda Janapada lay to the west of Bhagirathi and that its core area was Murshidabad. Gradually, with the increase of the political might of Shashanka, the first independent ruler of Gauda in the early part of the 7th century A.D., the political limits of Gauda extended, stretching in the south to coastal Orissa and the north to Pundravardhana.

In the 13th century, Gaur under the Bengal Sultans denoted the entire area of the sultanate. Its capital, also called Gaur, stood at the site previously known as Laksmanavati, and renamed Lakhnauti by the Muslim sultans."



Amitabh Bhattacharyya, Historical Geography of Ancient and Early Medieval Bengal, Calcutta, 1977

DC Sircar, Gauda, Indian Historical Quarterly, 28, 123-34.