Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Prologue III

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Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

Tej Ram Sharma

Concept Publishing Company Delhi, 1978

The full text of this chapter has been converted into Wiki format by Laxman Burdak

Prologue III

Study the place names

"Place-names have an abiding interest : historical geographical, linguistic, and above all, human. They may tell us how our ancestors lived, and how they looked on life. Place-names may be picturesque, even poetical, or they may be pedestrian, even trivial. All are worthy of observation". 1

Their study needs serious scientific investigation. Every available recorded form must be studied minutely and an extensive knowledge of many languages and dialects may be required. Names of cities, castles, countries, towns, villages, hamlets, roads, lanes, footpaths, mountains, hills, islands, fields, forests, rivers, lakes and streams can provide us with a wealth of information about local history, geography, dialects and phonetic features. We should arrange the recorded forms in a chronological order and study them keeping in view the similar instances. We should study the place names by the following process :

(i) The initial terms and their significance,

(ii) The suffixes and their significance,

(iii) Synthesis of the above results.

By such study of place-names we can peep into the culture of the past and compare it with the existing culture.

Countries, towns, mountains and rivers are generally named after discoverers, conquerors, founders and celebrated men. We must also keep in view the situation of a place, its surroundings and inhabitants.

Study of place names in Western countries

The study of place names has received considerable attention in Western countries specially in Scandinavia, England and America.

In England the scientific investigation of local nomenclature began in the year 1901 when Walter William Skeat's book The place-names of Cambridgeshire was published. Skeat was constantly stimulated and encouraged by the erudite scholar Henry Bradley. Skeat and Bradley with Sir Allen

204 Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

Mawer founded in 1923 an English Place-name Society under the patronage of the British Academy. Scholars, archivists, librarians, curators, teachers, students and people from other professions have gladly helped in the work of the society and as the country surveys have appeared year by year, notable additions have been made to the knowledge of local archaeology, history and geography, of regional dialects, past and present. 2

Study of place names in India

In India 3 , S.K. Chatterji 4 , Sefti Pillar 5 , Krishnapada Goswami 6 , Bhayani 7 and Sandesara 8 have made the studies in this direction.

H.D. Sankalia 9 classifies the place-names into the following groups :

I. Place-names after a person, deity, spirit or tribe.

(i) Place-names after a person hero, saint, tribal leader

(ii) Place-names after a deity

(iii) Place-names after a sptrit

(iv) Place-names after tribes or peoples

II. Place-names after an event auspicious occasion, bad occasion.

III. Place-names after customs and superstitions.

IV. Place-names after geographical and physical features :

(i) Place-names after hills, mountains, mounds or any elevated place

(ii) Place-names after rivers, streams, lakes and ponds,

(iii) Place-names after forests, deserts, steppes, etc.

V. Place-names after animals, birds and reptiles :

(i) Animals

(ii) Birds

(iii) Reptiles

VI. Place-names after names of existing places.

Chatterji 10 would suggest the following classification :

(i) Place-names from tribes or castes living there originally,

(ii) Place-names from names of natural features,

(iii) Place-names of a religious character,

(iv) Place-names after names of persons or events,

(v) Place-names copied from other place-names.

Actually both the classifications mean the same thing and represent the general trends of naming the places. Dr. Sankalia seems to have just simplified and annotated Dr. Chatterji's

Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions 205


It may be pointed out that tradition, particularly as recorded in the Epics and Puranas ascribes the foundation of cities to particular kings, who are often believed to have given their name to the respective cities but sometimes it remains inconsistent with the original statements. This may indicate that sometimes it was thought that cities could be founded only by kings ; no other factor was envisaged to be responsible for the expansion of urbanism a belief which ignores the inter- play of variables that went into the making of cities. 11

Analysis by Panini

"The analysis which Panini gives of the underlying meanings which relate place-names to human society, shows conclusively that place-names do not originate by mere accident, but are the outcome of social and historical conditions with which a community is intimately connected. An etymological approach to the place-names of a country, therefore, introduces us to many a forgotten chapter of history and ethnography." 12

But Panini 13 also cautions his readers that the etymological meaning of place-names should not be held authoritative since the name should vanish when the people leave the place who gave their name to it.

Panini 14 gives the following ending of place-names :

1. Nagara (IV. 2.142)

2. Pura (IV. 2.122)

3. Grāma (IV. 2.142)

4. Kheṭa (VI. 2.126)

5. Ghoṣa (VI. 2.85)

(6-9) Kūla, Sūda, Sthala, Karṣa (VI. 2.129)

(10-11) Tīra, Rūpya (VI. 1.135)

(12-15) Kaccha, Agni, Vaktra, Garta (VI. 2.126)

(16) Palada (IV. 2.142)

(17) Arma (VI. 2.90)

(18) Vaha (IV. 2.122)

(19) Hrada (IV. 2.142)

(20) Prastha (IV. 2.122, IV. 2.110)

(21) Kanthā (IV. 2.142)

Panini gives the interesting information that the ending kanthā was in use in Usinara (II.4.20) and Varnu (Bannu) (IV. 2.103). Kantha was a Saka word for a town as in expression

206 Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

Kandavara-Kanthavara occurring in a Kharosthi inscription. 15 There are also instances when place-names have been very lengthy. 16

1. The longest place-name in Great Britain has 58 letters Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogercychwyrndrobwllllantsysiliogo- gogoch a railway station on the Holyhead-Euston line. 17

2. Kardivilliwarrakurrakurrieapparlarndoo 18

This is not a misprint. It is an Australian aboriginal word. It is the name of a lake in the Northern territory, and it means 'the starlight shining on the waters of the lake'. 19

Modern Place names

Modern place-names suffixes and prefixes may be divided into three main categories.

(i) Endings with Sanskrit influence Pura, Purā, Nagara,

Koṭa, Thala (Sthala), Kunḍa, Pokhrā, Pāḍā, Bāḍī, etc.

(ii) Endings with Persian-Arabic influence : Tālāba, Ganja, (Nawabganj, Daraganja, Vishveshwaraganja), Chaka.

(iii) Vernacular terms added before : Dera, Mohalla, Basti, etc.

(iv) English:- Colony, town, street, Road, Fountain, Sector, Block, Enclave, Gate, Bridge, Place and Cantt. (Cantonment).

According to the Mahabharata 20 , 'a place must be named after any of its peculiar features'.

In the Mahabharata 21 'Janapada' 'Desa' and Rastra are used synonymously. 22 Yet in practice, they must differ slightly. 'Desa' means 'a country', province or any 'patch of land', 'Janapada', a tribal settlement, 23 whereas 'Rastra' is definitely a political term, denoting 'whatever fell under the jurisdiction of the sovereignty'.

It will be interesting to note the antiquity of place-name terms. We find Rastra 24 as the oldest right from the Rigveda, and used for the biggest unit. Its equivalent Janapada came into being in the Brahmana-period. 25 The Rigveda frequently refers to tribes viz. the Yadus, the Purus, the Anus etc. who were residing in particular area without mentioning their territory, province or kingdom. 26 The ordinary people of a Janapada were called Vis which were divided into gramas or unions

Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions 207

of many families. So whenever the people of gramas settled they were termed as gramas (villages) and hence the word Samgrama came into being when a number of gramas united for a battle. Every Janapada had a pura or chief city (capital) where the king resided. Every Janapada was politically named as Rastra.27 Panini mentions a number of Janapadas in the Astadhyayi. 28 Kautilya also uses the term Janapada for territory as the constituent of State. 29 We find the mention of sixteen Mahajanapadas of Aryavarta in many places in the Buddhist literature. The term 'rājya' with its different kinds is referred to in the later Vedic period i.e. in the Brahmanas.

Later on we find that the connotations of the territorial units differed from place to place and time to time. Panini mentions separately the villages and towns of Eastern India (Pracamgramanagaranam, VII. 3.14), but with reference to Vahika and Udicya country he uses the term grama in a generic sense to include all centres of population (IV. 2. 117 and IV. 2. 109). Patanjali in commenting on the distinctions between the terms grama and pura remarks that these should not be settled by rules of grammar but by local usage (tatrātinirbandho na lābhah, III.321).

The two terms grāma and nagara were used indiscriminately in the Vahika country (Punjab) where the villages had also grown in prosperity like the towns, and hence the word grama here included nagara also in the connotation. 30

Yajnavalkya 31 uses the term Pūga which the Mitaksara explains as the assembly of the inhabitants of the same place with different castes and occupations such as village, city etc.

The Amarakosa gives the following words as synonymous, all standing for town or city : pur, purī, nagari, pattana, puṭabhedana, sthāniya and nigama32 It also differentiates the Mulanagara (main city) from the Sakha-nagara (branch town). 33


1. Simeon Potter, Wy. p.151.

2. Ibid., p. 156.

3. H.D. Sankalia,Pz. p.8.

208 Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

4. Chatterji, Hg. Vol. I, pp. 64-67, 68, 74 and 179-88.

5. AJ. IV (1939-40), 24-36, V (1940-41), 1-34.

6. RJ. 1943, 1-70.

7. OJ. IV (1942), 119-29.

8. Ibid., V (1943), 148-56, 157-58.

9. H.D. Sankalia,Pz. p. 47.

10. Ibid.,p.47,f.n. I.

11. A. Ghosh,Vz. pp. 43-44.

12. Pz. p.46, f.n. I, V.S. Agrawala,,VJ. XVI, ii.

13. 1/2/55 :योगप्रमाणे च तदभावेअदर्शन स्यात् ।

14. V.S. Agrawala, Jy. pp. 65-71.

15. Luders, UJ. 1934, p. 516, also Sten Konow, DX. p.43; Dz. pp.43, 149, Kantha, "town in feminine gender"

16. H., pp. 1-2.

17. Ibid., p.l, f.n. 1.

18. Ibid., pp. 1-2, f.n.2.

19. Ibid. "Wales and New Zealand have even longer place-names but the name of the Australian lake shows that aboriginal peoples of Australia thought by ethnologists to be among the oldest remaining types of original homosapiens were not behind-hand in inventing words which, besides having a poetically beautiful meaning, could twist the tongue of the uninitiated into knots".

20. Mahabharata I, 2-8

येन लिङ्गेन यो देश: युक्त: समुपलक्ष्यते ।
तेनैव नाम्ना तं देशं वाच्यामाहुर्मनीषिण ।।

21. Ibid. I. 102-12, 14.

22. तस्मिन् जनपदे रम्ये बहाव: कुरुभि: कृता: । ....तस्मिन राष्ट्रे सदोत्सावा । स देश: परराष्ट्राणि ।

23. Cf. 'The Genesis of Janapada', NJ. Vol. XLIV. Sep. Dec. 1958, Part III & IV pp. 204-14.

24. Vg., Vol. II, p. 223.

25. Ibid., Vol. I, p. 273.

26. A.S. Altekar, (Kz) 2 , p. 32.

27. See Ibid.

28. V.S. Agrawala, Jy. pp. 49-64, 15-16.

29. Arthasastra, p. 18.

30. Agrawala, Jy. p. 65. The Greek accounts testify to the existence of about five hundred towns, all rich and prosperous, in the Vahika country, where naturally the old distinction of grama and nagara must have lost its sharpness as reflected in the Astadhyayi.

31. II. 31.

32. Amarakosa, 2/2/1.

33. Ibid., 2/2/2

End of chapter Prologue III

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