The History of the Bengali Language/Lecture 4

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LECTURE IV

Section 3.

Gauḍa, Rāḍha and Vanga


It is regrettable, that it is too often assumed by some Bengali scholars devoted to historical research, that in the tenth century and earlier, the name Gauḍa signifies Bengal. That the name Gauḍa is of comparatively recent origin, and that we do not meet with the name during the time of the Imperial Guptas, must be admitted by all. In the Calcutta edition of the Matsya Purāṇa (Ch. XII, 30), it has been stated that Śrāvasti, was founded in the Gauda deśa by Rājā Śrāvasta, son of Yuvanāśva of the Ikṣāku family.[1] The date of this passage is unknown, but it can be said that for the well-known town Śrāvasti to have been founded by the Rājā in the Gauḍa deśa, Gauḍa must have been lying to the north of Kośala and to the north-west of Mithilā. That this was the geography of Gauḍa in the eighth century A.D., is perfectly clear from poet Vākpati's description in his Gauḍa-vaho Kābya. The hero of the poem first proceeded against the king of Magadha who was also the Lord of Gauḍa, and after having slain him, led his army against the king of Bengal, whose territory lay far to the east near the sea coast (verses 413, 417, 418 and 419). On noticing the fact, that Yaśovarman did not proceed to any other part of Bengal, and some time after his return home at the termination of his warlike expedition, went straight to Oudh to erect a pillar at Ayodhya, to signify his already accomplished conquest of Magadha cum Gauḍa, we cannot but be inclined to hold, that Gauḍa at this time lay to the north of Magadha.

The meaning or import of the word Gauḍa is not very clear. Those who keep cattle and sell milk are called Gauḍa in Orissa; here this term must either be the Apabhraṁśa form of Gopāla or a slightly changed form of the Vedic word Gaura which meant wild ox as well as buffalo. If the origin of the name has anything to do with the term Gopāla, we may identify Gopāla Kakṣa of Mahābhārata with the Gauḍa country of our inquiry, since Gopāla Kakṣa is placed near about Kośala, and not far away from the Kauśīki Kaccha or the valley watered by the Kuśī (M. Bh., Sabhā, XXX, 3). The evidence of the Purāṇas is in support of this identification. We get the name of a tribe called Gomanta (those who keep cattle) just after the name of the Magadha people, in the enumeration of the eastern tribes in the 44th verse of the 57th chapter of the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa. In the Vāyu Purāṇa (XLV, 123), after enumerating the tribes of Assam and North Bengal, the Videhas and other tribes of north Bihār have been mentioned; in this enumeration the Govindas come after the Magadhas, while we get Gomanta for Govinda in the Mārkaṇḍeya. The geography of Gauḍa as indicated above and the presence of a tribe near about that Gauḍa with the name Gomanta or Govinda, persuade me to believe, that the word Gauḍa is derived from the name of a tribe who grazed cattle and kept dairy.

When Alberuni visited India, Thāneśwar was included in the Gauḍa country. Mr. Jackson has rightly observed with reference to this extension of Gauḍa country, that "this explains why the Sārasvat Brāhmaṇas of the holy Sarasvati are the Gauḍas pare cellence, and why Gauḍa and Vaṅga are mentioned separately in the Barodā grant of 812 A.D. We find in the second volume of the Cochin tribes and castes by Mr. A. K. Iyer, that the Brāhmaṇas in that country who claim to be Gauḍa Brāhmaṇas, and have now no manner of knowledge of the geography of northern India, assert on the strength of their family tradition, that a place called Trihotrapur was their original home. This Trihotrapur must be identified with Tirhut or Terhot, which also once fell within the limits of Gauḍa. Mr. Iyer says, that these Brāhmaṇas still use some words in their speech, which belong to the Prākṛta of Magadha and Mithilā. I myself noticed, that the women of this sect of the Brāhmaṇas, wear a single Sāree like the women of Mithilā and Bengal, and do not dress themselves like the other Brāhmaṇa women of the southern country.

The political condition of Bengal from the latter half of the eighth century to the twelfth century A.D. during the supremacy of the Rājās, who on account of their having compounded their names with the word Pāla, are known as Pāla kings, has been clearly set out by Babu Rakhaldas Banerjee, in two easily available works. I shall therefore refer briefly, to those facts alone of that period, as have direct bearing upon my subject. The early Pāla rulers were principally lords of Gauḍa and Magadha, and ruled Bengal from their headquarters in Bihar. As a dependency or as an annexed province of Magadha cum Gauḍa, Northern Bengal which lies between Mithilā and Assam, could at this time be called Gauḍa or a part of Gauḍa, but it must not be forgotten, that in the Geography of the Purāṇas, Northern Bengal has always been mentioned as a tract lying outside the limits of Gauḍa and Mithilā. Let me cite an analogous case to explain the situation. When Orissa constituted a part of the Presidency of Bengal, the term Bengal could be found, in some works of history and geography, to signify Orissa along with Bengal proper; if because of such political inclusion of Orissa in Bengal, no portion of Orissa could be confounded with Bengal proper, no one will be justified to identify any portion of the Barinda country, with the Gauḍa Deśa of the 10th century, or of earlier times.

When the Westerners such as the Gurjaras and the Rāṣṭrakuṭas became supreme all over Bihar, the successors of Nārāyana Pāla, ruled over a limited area which is supposed to be the Rāḍha country, having lost Gauḍa and Magadha. When these successors of Nārāyana Pāla, lost their real dignity, Northern Bengal came into the possession of a Mongolian tribe, known in History as the Kāmbojas. Very likely these Kāmbojas came from Farther India, but no discussion on the point is here necessary. When Mahīpāla regained the possession of Northern Bengal, he styled himself as Gauḍeśvara in memory of the past glory of the family. True it is, that Mahīpāla and his successors regained subsequently a footing in Mithilā and Magadha, but the good old time did not return. Constant invasion of Bihār by the Westerners and the permanent domination of the province by some of them, wrought such changes as had far-reaching effect both in Bihār and Bengal.

We have seen that in Rāḍha, Puṇḍrabardban, and Vaṅga, that is to say all throughout the country of Bengal, Māgadhi culture including the Māgadhi speech was prevailing since long; and now we see that at the transfer of the capital of the Pāla Rajas from Magadha to Bengal, the chance for a very free development of Māgadhi civilization in Bengal became very great. If we compare to-day, the eastern Bihāri speeches with Bengali on one side, and with what is called Western Bhojpuri on the other, we find that the Eastern Bihāri speeches, in their colloquial and vulgar form, agree in many essential points, with Bengali, and differ much from Western Bhojpuri. This fact has been noted by Hœrnle and Grierson. The fact is, that Bihār of to-day is altogether a changed country on account of the mighty influence of the Westerners, while Bengal continues to be the real heir and representative of old Bihar.

Incessant migrations and displacements of various tribes, make it uncertain as to which people formed the substantial lower stratum in Rāḍha, when the civilisation fostered in Karṇasuvarṇa, was humanizing the frontier lands of Vaṅga. The Puṇḍras are found mentioned in the Purāṇas, once in conjunction with the Suhmas and another time in North Bengal, on Assam frontier in the company of two other tribes, namely the Pravijayas and the Bhārgavas. It seems that the Puṇḍras thrived better in North Bengal, while in Rāḍha they could not secure any prominent position. Of the other tribes mentioned in the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa, either under the general name the Pravangas (i.e., the tribes of Vaṅga frontier), or as stray tribes such as Māla, Māhiṣika, and Mānabattika, we get to-day the representatives of the Māl people in Bānkura and Mānbhūm, and the Mānas or the Mānabattikas may only be surmised to have been the originators of the geographical name Mānbhūm.

The epigraphic records of a line of rulers of some parts of Orissa and Dakṣina Kośala, during the tenth and eleventh centuries, disclose some facts which are of real interest in the history of Bengal. I have given elsewhere these rulers, the designation Kośalendras, as their political activities lay principally in the Sambalpur tract. These Kośala Guptas, though they originally came of the family of Śiva Gupta cf Rājim and Ratanpur (Chattisgarh Division, C. P.), their immediate ancestors, or rather the branch of the Kośala family to which they belonged, got something to do in ruling some parts of Bengal. It is found recited in the plates of Yayāti, who is the second ruler of this line (vide my paper in J.B.& O., March, 1916) that his father Janamejaya, and after him he himself, became Kośalendra as well as the lords of Trikalinga or the sea-board tracts of Orissa and Gañjam, and that the family to which they belonged, was a ruling family somewhere in Vaṅga, as clearly distinguished from Rāḍha and Varinda. These Kośala Guptas had a large number of Bengali Kāyasthas in their service (vide my paper Ep. I. XI), and in the course of their inroads into the Sambalpur tract, helped lots of Bengali people to settle permanently in Sambalpur, Sonepur and Bolāngir-Pāṭnā. The Tewars (or Tivaras or Dhivaras) who migrated from Bengal in large number, call themselves Boṅgālis, though in language as well as in other matters, they have become Oria, and do not even know where Bengal is. The Orias call it a Baṅgāli Paḍā, where the Tewars live. It is amusing to note that the Tewars who live now over 400 miles away from the farthest limit of Bengal, and do not know even a syllable of our language, returned Bengali as their language at the census of 1911, to the census officer of Bolāngir Pāṭnā. As we meet with the Kalitās in Northern Bengal, and also get a very large number of Kultās in the Sambalpur tract, and as the widely apart Kultās and Kalitās agree in many social customs, I throw out this suggestion, that a clan of the Puṇḍras bore the caste name in question, and those of them who did not proceed to North Bengal, got into the Sambalpur tract, in the time of the Kośalendras, as Śūdra cultivators. That a large number of Aryanised people was necessary for the new Rājās in a backward country, full of aboriginal tribes, cannot be much doubted.

I shall show what indelible marks our language put upon the Oria speech, as prevails in the Sambalpur tract, when in a subsequent lecture, I shall take notice of the old forms of our language. The epigraphic records of Bengal proper, of the Kośala Guptas and of the Chola kings, have amply proved that even during the time of the later Pālas, the different parts of Bengal bore different country-names of Varendra, Uttara Rāḍha, Daksina Rāḍha and Vaṅga, though the general name Vaṅga prevailed as the country-name over all the tracts. It is only to be noted that, Suhma which lost its name long ago, became then a province of Vaṅga, and the tract covered by the Kantāi subdivision, got the name Daṇḍabhukti and became a Bhukti or subdivision of Vaṅga.

Some facts which reveal the plasticity of the society of Bengal, during the time of the Pālas and Senas, may be noted, to examine the old formative elements of our population. I have just spoken of the Bengali Kāyasthas, as were in the service of the Kośala Guptas; these Kāyasthas with their surnames Ghosa, Dutta, and Nāga, have described themselves as Rāṇakas, that is to say, as descendants of the Anabhiṣikta families of the Rājās of Kośala, who must be regarded as Kṣatriyas. The Kośala Guptas were Kṣatriyas, even though their remote ancestor comes of a clan of the Śabaras, since from Tibaradeva downwards, the Rājās of this line formed their marriage alliance with the recognised Kṣatriya families of Northern India; the Rājās of Kośala and their descendants, assumed the title Gupta from the time of their connection with the Magadha Guptas. I may mention here that the rule or custom still continues in the Rāj families of Orissa, that the descendants of the Anabhiṣikta members of the Rāj family, become Bābus,[2] and these Bābus are employed as ministerial officers.

More interesting seems to me the history of the Vaidyas or Bengal, who like the Kāyasthas are in no way inferior to the Brahmaṇs, in intellectual powers and moral virtues. The term Vaidya, we all know, is singularly peculiar to Bengal, to indicate a caste; this term for medical profession may be assumed, by any men of any caste from Brahmaṇ downwards, in other parts of India. It is an interesting history, how a high class of people got Vaidya as a caste-name in Bengal. As the Vaidyas acknowledge universally, because of their family tradition, that their origin has to be traced from the Sena Rājās of Bengal, we should see what history we may get of the origin of these Senas.

That the Senas described themselves as Karṇāṭa Kṣatriyas, i.e. the Kṣatriyas of the Dravidian country, is well known. Referring to these Senas and the rulers of their kin, who once became supreme in the Northern Mithilā, Mr. R. D. Banerjee writes in the Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. V, No. 3:—

The invasion of the Coḷa King did not change the political divisions of the country, but it left one permanent mark in the shape of a body of settlers, who occupied the thrones of Bengal and Mithilā, as the Sena and Karṇāṭa dynasties, during the latter days of the Pālas (p. 73). To unveil the mystery of the warlike people who came with Rājendra Coḷa and settled in Western Bengal, we have to peep into the history of some castes of Southern India.

Regular Brāhmaṇic supremacy and the settlement of new Brāhmaṇs in Southern India, commenced no doubt from the 10th century A.D., when Jaina supremacy came almost wholly to an end, but Brāhmaṇic ideas had commenced to prevail over Jainism nearly a century earlier, to pave the way for the new condition of things, which dates from the 10th century A.D. Very likely those who had priestly functions in the Jaina temples, assumed Brāhmaṇic rank during the earliest period of Brāhmaṇic influence, for we get such genuine Dravidian sects as the Kammalas and the Visva-Brāhmaṇs, who though not recognised by the modern Brāhmaṇs as men of Brāhmaṇic order, do return themselves as Brāhmaṇs, and perform priestly functions, in the houses of many people of lower order. The Vellālas, who were superior to the sects named above, and who were known for their military prowess, became Brāhmaṇs some time earlier than the 10th century A.D. As to the derivation of the term 'Vellāla,' there are two views; according to one it comes from 'Vellam' (flood) and 'alam' (ruler). According to the other derivation the word comes from 'vel' the god of war. Both these derivations suit the Vellālas who were once dominant people in the country. It is a historical fact, that these Vellālas of warlike disposition, studied the Vedas and performed fire-rights, when Brāhmaṇic influence commenced to grow in the land; on account of their knowledge or rather the study of the Vedas, they got the designation Vaidya in southern country. This term Vaidya does not signify or relate to medical profession. That besides being engaged in Vedic studies, the Vellālas or the Vaidyas, became military leaders and high civil officers of the Rājās, is what we know from the old records. Many Vaidyas are known to have become the priests of the Dravidian Kings, and their occupying the situation of high class officers of the Coḷa as well as the Pāṇḍya Rājās, is also on record. It is also very significant to note, that the Vaidyas or the Vellālas who were not employed in the Rāj service as mentioned above, followed very generally the medical profession, though this profession did not give them the name Vaidya. In Southern India, the physicians were called Ambaṭṭans and not Vaidyas. The barbers once took largely to the medical profession, and now the barbers in general are called by the honorific name Ambaṭṭan, though the term does not really indicate the barber caste.

I strongly suggest that the Vaidyas of Bengal, owe their origin to the Vellāla Vaidyas, on reference to the above facts, which may be summarized as below:—

(a) The Vellālas were Vaidyas because of their Vedic studies, were recruited as high officers of the Rājās and were physicians very commonly.
(b) The Vellāla Vaidyas are known to have been in the service of the Coḷa Rājās.
(c) Those who came in Bengal at the time of the Coḷa invasion, described them as the people of Karṇāṭa.
(d) Those who claim to be the descendants of the Senas, are physicians by profession, wear Brāhmaṇical thread, call themselves Vaidya, and assert the right and privilege to read the Vedas.
(e) The term Vaidya as the name of a caste is unknown elsewhere in Northern India and is peculiar to Bengal alone.

Though the surname Sena can be easily explained without referring to any caste-name in the southern country, I may mention this fact that a section of the Vellāla Vaidyas in the Tamilakam country is known by the name Shānan. If my suggestion is not a bad one and may at least be considered arguable, I point out the fact that an early Rājā of the Sena dynasty had the name Ballāla, which is meaningless in a sanskritic language but is honorific in the South Indian speech, according to the derivation already given. I may consider another fact along with it. The name of the ancestor of the Senas, who first settled in Bengal is not known, but the claim of the Senas that they belong to the Candra Vaṁśa, has some reference perhaps to the name of their ancestor; that the first military leader, from whom the Senas trace their pedigree, bore the name Candra, appears pretty certain from what the poet Gobardhan Ācārya has written in his Āryā Saptaśati; the word রাকা (full moon) as occurs in the 39th verse is what I allude to here. The line of the verse stands as:—

সকল কলাঃ কল্পয়িতুম্ প্রভুঃ প্রবন্ধস্য কুমুদবন্ধোশ্চ।
সেনকুলতিলক ভূপতি রেকো রাকা প্রদোষস্য॥

To complete my survey of the races and tribes of different parts of the presidency of Bengal, who after adopting the speech which flowed in from Magadha and Mithilā, developed some provincial peculiarities in the language, I should mention, that the Indo-Chinese people of Farther India, raided Bengal from time to time. The sway which the people of the Mekhong Valley established once in Eastern Bengal is perhaps still commemorated in some geographical names. I suspect that the river Meghnā in eastern Bengal is the changed form of the name Mekhong. As to the Indo-Chinese origin of the name Dacca I do not entertain any doubt: the word Ḍhakkā means "old Ganges" in the language of the people of the Mekhong Valley, and we get the river Buḍi-Gangā, flowing past the town called Dacca.[3]

Lots of geographical names in the Bengal Presidency as well as in other parts of India, remain unexplained, and such names as Hooghly, Bentra, Tāki, Jāguliā, etc., appear meaningless to us, though it is perfectly certain that our meaningless geographical names had some meaning, in some forgotten speeches of past time. That the anthropologists and the philologists have collected a deal of information, regarding the old races and their languages, by rightly interpreting the seemingly meaningless geographical names, is perhaps too well-known. In Bengal it is a huge task fraught with numerous difficulties. In the first place, many old tribal dialects have now died out altogether; secondly, many names have been partly transformed into other names, because of the altered pronunciation of them, by people who speak now quite a different speech; and thirdly, in our mania to Sanskritise the old names, we have intentionally effaced the history which was impressed upon the old geographical names. As this subject requires a separate and independent treatment, I need not dilate on it any further.

 


  1. On reference to the text of the Purāṇa, it will be unmistakably seen that the old Kośala country of the Ikṣākus, has been described and place names in Oudh and its neighbourhood, have been strictly discussed; there will then be no room for supposition, that this reference to Śrāvasti is to any other Śrāvasti of any other province lying outside the Oudh territory.
  2. The term Bābu is a diminutive of Bābā and is a term of endearment generally; the Bengali word Bāpu to signify this meaning is of similar origin being derived from Bāpā; Bāpā is another variant of Bāpu.
  3. The Lāos have been the principal people of the Mekhong Valley; this induces me to suppose that the name Lāo Sen as a name of an old time Emperor of Bengal, is only a generalised form to indicate that the Lāu people once came into Bengal. The curious form of the name is altogether non-Indian, for Lāu (a gourd) is not likely to be the name of an anointed Hindu Emperor.