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Ashvaka (अश्वक) were a people who lived in what is now north-eastern Afghanistan and the Peshawar Valley. The region in which they lived is also called Aśvaka and should not be confused with the similarly named mahajanapada (great country) of south India that is recorded in ancient Buddhist texts.[1]

Variants of name


The Sanskrit term aśva, Iranian aspa and Prakrit assa means horse. The name Aśvaka/Aśvakan or Assaka is derived from the Sanskrit Aśva or Prakrit Assa and it denotes someone connected with the horses, hence a horseman, or a cavalryman[2][3][4] The Aśvakas were especially engaged in the occupation of breeding, raising and training war horses, as also in providing expert cavalry services.

Ancient Greek historians who documented the exploits of Alexander the Great refer to the Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes among his opponents. The historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar has said that these words are probably corruptions of Aśvaka.[5] It is possible that the corruption of the names occurred due to regional differences in pronunciation.[6] Rama Shankar Tripathi thinks it possible that the Assakenoi were either allied to or a branch of the Aspasioi.[7] The Greeks recorded the two groups as inhabiting different areas, with the Aspasioi in either the Alishang or Kunar Valley and the Assakenoi in the Swat Valley.[8]

The Aśvaka may have been a sub-group of the Kamboja tribe that is referenced in ancient Sanskrit and Pali literature, such as the Mahabharata and Puranas, and which were partitioned into eastern and western Aśvakas.[9] Barbara West treats the ethnonyms Kamboja, Aśvaka, Aspasioi, Assakenoi and Asvakayana as synonyms.[10]

Jat clans

Mention by Panini

Ariunava (आरिउनाव), a town of Asvakayanas, is mentioned by Panini in Ashtadhyayi. [11]

Ashvakayana (अश्वकायन) or Ashvayana (अश्वायन), a tribe, is mentioned by Panini in Ashtadhyayi. [12]


The Assakenoi fielded 2,000 cavalry, 30 elephants and 30,000 infantry[a] against Alexander during his campaign in India, which began in 327 BCE, but they eventually had to surrender after losses at places such as Beira, Massaga and Ora. The Aspasioi chose to flee into the hills but destroyed their city of Arigaion before doing so; 40,000 of them were captured, along with 230,000 oxen.[13] Diodorus recorded the strength of the Aśvaka opposition, noting that the women took up arms along with the men, preferring "a glorious death to a life of dishonour".[14]

The Asvayanas have been attested to be good cattle breeders and agriculturists by classical writers. Arrian said that, during the time of Alexander, there were a large number of bullocks - 230,000 - of a size and shape superior to what the Macedonians had known, which Alexander captured from them and decided to send to Macedonia for agriculture.[15]

V. S. Agrawala[16] writes that according to Greek writers Punjab was full of towns, centres of Industry and economic prosperity. Many of these figured as forts of centres of defence such as the famous town of Massage (Maśkāvatī) or Aornos (Varaṇā) in the country of Ashvakas.

V. S. Agrawala[17] writes about Art of war – The Āyudhajīvīns were warrior tribes organized on a military basis into Sanghas, occupying mostly the Vahika or Punjab. Their member were known as Āyudhīya, ‘making a living by the profession of arms’ (Āyudhena jīvati, IV.4.14). We know that these soldiers put up the stoutest resistance against the Greeks in the 4th century BC.

The Ashvakayanas of Masakavati and the Malavas, all ayudhajivins, constituted the finest soldiery, which extorted the admiration of foreigners. The Kshudrakas and Malavas (Ganapatha of IV.2.45) , we are informed by Katyayana, (p.422) pooled their military strength in a confederate army called the Kshudraka-Malavi senā. The foot soldiers (padāti) of the Salva country have been specially noted (IV.2.135). (p.423)

V. S. Agrawala[18] mentions Ayudhjivi Sanghas in the Ganapatha under Yaudheyadi group, repeated twice in the Panini's Ashtadhyayi (IV.1.178) and (V.3.117) which includes - Dhārteya – unidentified, probably the same as the Dārteyas. The Greek writers mention Dyrta as a town of Assakenoi or the Āśvakāyanas of Massaga, and this may have been the capital of the Darteyas.

V S Agarwal [19] writes names of some important tribes in the Ganapatha, which deserve to be mentioned as being of considerable importance. We are indebted to the Greek historians of Alexander for the information that most of these were republics. These tribes include - Hāstināyana, Āśvāyana, Āśvakāyana. The first is mentioned in Sutra VI.4.174, the second in IV.1.110, and the third in Naḍadi gana (IV.1.99)

[p.454]: While describing Alexander’s campaign from Kapisa towards the Indus through Gandhara, the Greek historians mention three warlike peoples, viz., Astakenoi, with capital at Peukelaotis, the Aspasioi in the valley of Kunar or Chitral River and the Assakenoi settled between the Swat and the Panjkora rivers, with the capital at Massaga, and more especially in the mountainous regions of the Swat. The Paninian evidence throws light on these three names for the first time:

The Asvayanas and the Asvakayanas were the bravest fighters of all, being strongly entrenched in their mountainous fortresses. Alexander himself directed the operations against them. The Ashvakayana capital at Massaga or Masakavati is given in Bhashya as the name of a river (IV.2.71), that should be looked for in that portion of the Suvastu in its lower reaches where Mazaga or Massanagar is situated on it at a distance of 24 miles from Bajaur in the Yusufzai country. In times of danger the Asvakayanas withdrew into the impregnable defences of their hilly fortress which the Greeks have named Aornos. It appears to be same as Varaṇā of the Ashtadhyayi (see ante, p.69, for its identification with modern Uṇrā on the Indus). The Greeks also mention another of their towns, viz., Arigaeon, which commanded the road between the Kunar and Panjkira valleys, and is comparable with Ārjunāva of the Kashika (ṛijunāvām nivāso deshaḥ, IV.2.69).

V S Agarwal [20] writes that We are told by the Greek historians of Alexander how the impregnable nature of the defences of Massaga and Aornos forts (Mashakāvati and Varaṇā) helped the heroic Ashvakayanas of Gandhara in offering resistance to the invaders.

V.K.Mathur[21] writes that Panini mentions Varaṇā in (IV.2.82). This has been reported near Varana (वरण) tree. This is located between Sindhu and Swat Rivers. Ashvakayanas were the inhabitants of this place.

Jat History

अश्मक - अस्सक - अश्मत

विजयेन्द्र कुमार माथुर[22] ने लेख किया है ...अश्मक, अस्सक, अश्मत (AS, p.49): अश्मक अथवा अस्सक महाजनपद पौराणिक 16 महाजनपदों में से एक था। नर्मदा और गोदावरी नदियों के बीच अवस्थित इस प्रदेश की राजधानी 'पाटन' थी। आधुनिक काल में इस प्रदेश को महाराष्ट्र कहते हैं।

बौद्ध साहित्य में इस प्रदेश का उल्लेख मिलता है, जो गोदावरी के तट पर स्थित था। 'महागोविन्दसूत्तन्त' के अनुसार यह प्रदेश रेणु और धृतराष्ट्र के समय में विद्यमान था। इस ग्रन्थ में अस्सक के राजा ब्रह्मदत्त का उल्लेख है। सुत्तनिपात (997) में अस्सक को गोदावरी तट पर स्थित बताया गया है। इसकी राजधानी पोतन, पौदन्य या पैठान (प्रतिष्ठान) में थी। पाणिनि ने अष्टाध्यायी (4,1,173) में भी अश्मकों का उल्लेख किया है। सोननंदजातक में अस्सक को अवंती से सम्बंधित कहा गया है। अश्मक नामक राजा का उल्लेख वायु पुराण (88, 177-178) और महाभारत में है--'अश्मकों नाम राजर्षि: पौदन्यं योन्यवेशयत्'। सम्भवत: इसी राजा के नाम से यह जनपद अश्मक कहलाया। ग्रीक लेखकों ने अस्सकेनोई (Assakenoi) लोगों का उत्तर-पश्चिमी भारत में उल्लेख किया है। इनका दक्षिणी अश्वकों से ऐतिहासिक सम्बन्ध रहा होगा या यह अश्वकों का रूपान्तर हो सकता है। (दे. अश्वक)


विजयेन्द्र कुमार माथुर[23] ने लेख किया है ...अश्वक (AS, p.50) गणराज्य अलक्षेंद्र के भारत पर आक्रमण के समय (327 ई. पू.) सिंध और पंजकौरा नदियों के बीच के प्रदेश में बजौरघाटी के अंतर्गत बसा हुआ था। ग्रीक लेखकों के अनुसार यहाँ की राजधानी मसागा नाम के सुदृढ़ एवं सुरक्षित नगर में थी। कैंब्रिज हिस्ट्री ऑफ इंडिया के अनुसार अश्व या फ़ारसी अस्प से ही इस जाति का नाम अश्वक हुआ था। अलक्षेंद्र मसागा की लड़ाई में तीर लगने से घायल हो गया था और वह वीरों की इस नगरी को केवल धोखे से ही जीत सका था।


Varanā वरणा (AS,p.833) - पाणिनि 4,2,82 में उल्लिखित है. इसको वरण वृक्ष के निकट बताया गया है. यह सिंधु और स्वात नदियों के बीच में स्थित एक स्थान का नाम है. आश्वकायानों का निवास इस भूमि में था.[24]

अश्मक का पौराणिक वर्णन

कूर्मपुराण तथा बृहत्संहिता (रचनाकाल 500 ई. के आसपास) में अश्मक उत्तर भारत का अंग माना गया है। इन ग्रंथों के अनुसार पंजाब के समीप अश्मक प्रदेश की स्थिति थी, परन्तु राजशेखर ने अपनी 'काव्य-मीमांसा'[17वां अध्याय] में इसकी स्थिति दक्षिण भारत के प्रदेशों में मानी है। राजशेखर के अनुसार माहिष्मती[इन्दौर से 40 मील दक्षिण नर्मदा के दाहिने किनारे बसे महेश्वर नामक नगर] से आगे दक्षिण की ओर 'दक्षिणापथ' का आरम्भ होता है, जिसमें महाराष्ट्र, विदर्भ, कुंतल, क्रथैशिक, सूर्पारक (सोपारा, कांची, केरल, चोल, पांड्य, कोंकण आदि जनपदों का समावेश बतलाया गया है। राजशेखर अश्मक जनपद को इसी दक्षिणापथ का अंग मानते हैं। ब्रह्मांडपुराण में यही स्थिति अंगीकृत की गई है।

'दश-कुमारचरित' में दंडी ने, 'हर्षचरित' में बाणभट्ट ने तथा 'अर्थशास्त्र' की टीका में भट्टस्वामी ने भी इसे महाराष्ट्र प्रान्त के अंतर्गत माना है। 'दशकुमार चरित' के अष्टम उच्छ्वास के अनुसार अश्मक के राजा ने कुंतल, कोंकण, वनवासि, मुरल, ऋचिक तथा नासिक के राजाओं को विदर्भ नरेश से युद्ध करने के लिए भड़काया, जिससे उन लोगों ने विदर्भ नरेश पर एक साथ ही आक्रमण कर दिया। इससे स्पष्ट है कि अश्मक महाराष्ट्र का ही कोई अंग या समग्र महाराष्ट्र का सूचक था, विदर्भ प्रान्त का किसी प्रकार अंग नहीं हो सकता, जैसा काव्यमीमांसा पर अंग्रेज़ी टिप्पणी में निर्दिष्ट किया गया है।[25]

अश्मक सौदास के क्षेत्रज पुत्र का नाम था। सौदास, जो कल्माषपाद और मित्रसह के नाम से विख्यात थे, उनकी रानी मदयन्ती के गर्भ से वशिष्ठ द्वारा अश्मक का जन्म हुआ था।[26] सात वर्षों तक अश्मक अपनी माता के गर्भ में रहा, तब वशिष्ठ ने रानी के पेट पर पत्थर का प्रहार किया और यह उत्पन्न हुआ। अश्मक 'मूलक' का पिता था।[27]

Ch.23:Battles (of Alexander) with the Aspasians

Arrian[28] writes....Alexander now took command of the shield-bearing guards, the Companion cavalry with the exception of those who had been joined with Hephaestion's division, the regiments of what were called foot-Companions, the archers, the Agrianians and thfe horse-lancers, and advanced with them into the land of the Aspasians, Guraeans and Assacenians.[1] Marching by a mountainous and rough road along the river called Choes,[2] which he crossed with difficulty, he ordered the main body of his infantry to follow at leisure; while he himself took all the cavalry, and 800 of the Macedonian infantry whom he mounted upon horses with their infantry shields, and made a forced march, because he had received information that the barbarians who inhabited that district had fled for safety into the mountains which extend through the land and into as many of their cities as were strong enough to resist attack. Assaulting the first of these cities which was situated on his route, he routed, at the first attack without any delay, the men whom he found drawn up in front of the city, and shut them up in it. He was himself wounded by a dart which penetrated through the breastplate into his shoulder; but the wound was only a slight one, for the breastplate prevented the dart from penetrating right through his shoulder. Leonnatus and Ptolemy, son of Lagus, were also wounded. Then he encamped near the city at the place where the wall seemed most easy to assault. At dawn on the following day the Macedonians easily forced their way through the first wall, as it had tiot been strongly built. The city had been surrounded with a double wall. At the second wall the barbarians stood their ground for a short time; but when the scaling ladders were now being fixed, and the defenders were being wounded with darts from all sides, they no longer stayed; but rushed through the gates out of the city towards the mountains. Some of them were killed in the flight and the Macedonians, being enraged because they had wounded Alexander, slew all whom they took prisoners. Most of them, however, escaped into the mountains, because they were not far from the city. Having levelled this city with the ground, he marched to another, named Audaca, which he got possession of by capitulation. He left Craterus there with the other commanders of the infantry to capture all the remaining cities which would not yield of their own accord, and to set the affairs of the whole country in such order as he should find most convenient under the circumstances.

1. These were tribes living in the north-west of the Punjab.

2. Probably the modern Kama, a tributary of the Cabul.


In Mahabharata

Ashmaka (अश्मक) is mentioned in Mahabharata (VI.10.42), (VII.61.39),

Bhisma Parva, Mahabharata/Book VI Chapter 10 describes geography and provinces of Bharatavarsha. Ashmaka (अश्मक) Province is mentioned in Mahabharata (VI.10.42).[29]


  1. Gupta, Parmanand (1989). Geography from Ancient Indian Coins & Seals. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-8-17022-248-4.
  2. Chaudhuri, Sashi Bhusan (1955). Ethnic Settlements in Ancient India: A Study on the Puranic Lists of the Peoples of Bharatavarsa. General Printers and Publishers. p. 51.
  3. Lamotte, Etienne (1988). History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era. Trans. Webb-Boin, Sara. Université Catholique de Louvain. p. 100.
  4. Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra; Pusalker, Achut Dattatrya; Bhavan, Bharatiya Vidya; Majumdar, A. K.; Ghose, Dilip Kumar; Dighe, Vishvanath Govind (1977). The History and Culture of the Indian People. 2. p. 45.
  5. Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra (1977) [1952]. Ancient India (Reprinted ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. p. 99. ISBN 978-8-12080-436-4.
  6. Bevan, E. R. (1955). "Alexander the Great". In Rapson, Edward James. The Cambridge History of India. 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 352.
  7. Tripathi, Rama Shankar (1992) [1942]. History of Ancient India (Reprinted ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. p. 119. ISBN 978-8-12080-018-2.
  8. Bevan, E. R. (1955). "Alexander the Great". In Rapson, Edward James. The Cambridge History of India. 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 352.
  9. Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra; Bhavan, Bharatiya Vidya (1968). The History and Culture of the Indian People. 2. p. 49.
  10. West, Barbara A. (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 359. ISBN 978-1-43811-913-7.
  11. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.454
  12. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.453, 454
  13. Heckel, Waldemar (2010) [2006]. "The Conquests of Alexander the Great". In Kinzl, Konrad H. A Companion to the Classical Greek World (Reprinted ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 577. ISBN 978-1-44433-412-8.
  14. Dani, Ahmad Hasan; Masson, Vadim Mikhaĭlovich; Harmatta, János; Litvinovskiĭ, Boris Abramovich; Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (1999). History of Civilizations of Central Asia (PDF). UNESCO. p. 76.
  15. Achaya, K. T. (2001). cf: A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food. Oxford India Paperbacks. p. 91.
  16. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.73
  17. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.422-423
  18. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.449
  19. V S Agarwal, India as Known to Panini,p.453-454
  20. V S Agarwal, India as Known to Panini,p.487
  21. V.K.Mathur:Aitihasik Sthanavali,p.833
  22. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.49
  23. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.50
  24. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.833
  25. द्र. 'काव्यमीमांसा', पृष्ठ 182, बड़ोदा संस्करण
  26. पौराणिक कोश |लेखक: राणाप्रसाद शर्मा |प्रकाशक: ज्ञानमण्डल लिमिटेड, आज भवन, संत कबीर मार्ग, वाराणसी |पृष्ठ संख्या: 36 |
  27. भागवतपुराण 9.9.39,40; ब्रह्मांडपुराण 3.63.177; वायुपुराण 88.177; विष्णुपुराण 4.4.72,73
  28. Arrian:The Anabasis of Alexander/4b , Ch.23
  29. गॊविन्दा मन्दकाः षण्डा विदर्भानूपवासिकाः, अश्मकाः पांसुराष्ट्राश च गॊप राष्ट्राः पनीतकाः (VI.10.42)