Book Reviews

Quest for a Mahabharata City

Gian Giuseppe Filippi, Bruno Marcolongo (ed.):
Kampilya: Quest for a Mahabharata City
, D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd. 1999

Very few Indians are aware of this remarkable project by the Venetian Academy of Indian Studies, Department of Indology and Far Eastern Studies, Foscari Venice University, located at Soranzo, San Polo 2169, 300125 Venice, Italy.

Excavations to find Kampilya have revealed that its area corresponded to the districts of Etah, Mainpuri, Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh making up Drupada’s South Panchala. Northern Panchala (Ahicchatra) was wrested from him by Drona with Pandava help. Karimganj tehsil in district Farrukhabad is the area of Kampil-Rudain, where Kampilya flourished. Drupad Kila is a mound near the town of Kampil in district Farrukhabad which was excavated in collaboration with the Panchala Research Institute, Kanpur. A vast site of ruins exist about 5 km west from Kampil village that is 45 km north-west of Fatehgarh.

A big fortified town with walls measuring 780 mm x 660 mm was excavated in 1997-98. Unbaked bricks were used, typical of the first post-Harappan fortifications. Baked brick walls for defence begin from the Mauryan age. Their average width is about 350 cm with a maximum about 500 cm built with baked bricks on a lower mud structure. The town with a surface area of 50 hectares has been dated to the end of the 1st millennium BC. It is about 10 times bigger than most important towns. Ahicchatra is 180 ha, Sravasti 160 ha, Kausambi 160 ha, Mathura 295 ha.

Drupad Kila as important as Atranjikhera but is not mentioned in ancient literature. The shape is regular, suggesting precise planning in accordance with canonical directions: a rectangle with the major axis running east to west and the northern side next to the right bank of the river. Only Sisupalgarh in Bhubaneshvar district (Kalinganagar or Tosali) of the similar period has regular planimetry but with a different orientation. Drupad Kila is dated between 6th century BC and 1st century AD. The dimensions and orientation of Drupad Kila coincide exactly with those of Dholavira, a mature Harappan town (the maps overlap) demonstrating a continuity of urban models from Harappans till Kushana times following the shift of habitation from the Sarasvati towards the Doab. This provides another evidence against the old Aryan invasion theory.

There is a rectangular pool with steps called Draupadi Kund on the eastern side of the mound that has an ancient course of the Ganges with ghats nearby. From this she emerged on a lotus with a lingam in hand. Pottery is a hereditary occupation here. In village Manikpur, Ruplal Kumar is a well off landowner who does not make pottery anymore. He claims to be a descendant of Kaddhi Kumar who gave hospitality to Pandavas. The Svayamvara was held on the banks of a little pond called Vedutala half km north of Donpura village, surrounded by a grove linked to course of Ganges flowing 6 km north east. Donpura comes from from rishi Dhaumya, guru of Pandavas, who had his ashram here. These villagers call themselves Kshatriyas, add to their name “Shakya” with the suffix Singh. Perhaps they are of tribal origin as surrounding villages term them Shudra or Vaishya indicating confusion regarding their caste origin.

Between Manikpur and Jhinjauta lies a little pond called Dharmatal, Dharmashala or Dharmahuta surrounded by row of bricks and an islet with ashes and burnt seeds of ancient sacrifices. This is where Drupad performed his yajna. Jhinjauta is supposed to be the corrupt form of yajnahotra.

Yudhishthira as Dharmaraja also linked here, identified with Dharmakupa where he and Dharma talked. 400 metres away east-south-east is a small mound like a pre-Buddhist stupa supposed to be the samadhi of one of the 5 survivors of the Bharata war, waiting for kali yuga to end.

In Rudain a pilgrimage and a mela are held on amavasya consecrated to funeral rites of pindadana on the banks of a pond which is celebrated as superior in benefits to Gaya because Pandavas did so here on an amavasya falling on Monday that happened once a year in Dvapara in a sacred pond called Sardhipaktal. The original name of Rudain was Rudraprayag, where the blood of the fish shot by Arjuna squirted up right from Vedutala.

The area has multi-ethnic well integrated communities organised in confederations of villages and tribes with an administration based on the assembly system. The prosperous situation of south Panchala favoured the appearance of seers and leaders in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literatures. Even today the integration of multi- ethnic communities is evident with integration of tribes in villages and acceptance of democratic rules. It is a model of human sciences for peaceful coexistence, the preservation of tradition, an open attitude to external cultural data, denoting great human potentiality.

The findings are of late PGW period corresponding to the Janapada period in the middle of the Iron Age. Also found are red ware and fine grey ware and some NBP ware. There is no separate deposit of BRW below the PGW layer, so it cannot belong to the 1st period of the Iron Age, nor the late Iron Age. Terracotta figurines found belong between 2nd century BC and 1st century AD. Human presence does not occur before the 7th century BC. However, tradition dates it much further back. Kampilya is the birthplace of the 13th Tirthankara Vimalanath.

The grand route from Taxila to Vaishali split at Panipat into 2 branches. The southern one went through Kampilya, complementing the Ganges waterway. The Panchala kingdom was 10th of the 16 Janapadas in the times of Buddha and Mahavira. Sankisha, a town on the west edge of the district, became a holy Buddhist place. Coins found from 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD show that “Mitra” was suffixed to names of Panchala kings who were defeated by Kushanas during Kanishka’s reign and became vassals. Kanauj became an important town in the time of Hiuen Tsang in 643 AD with hundreds of Buddhist monasteries and 200 Hindu temples. It developed more under king Bhoja, Pratihara kingdom, 836-85 AD. In 1268 it became a Rajput stronghold against Balban.

Errors in the Book

  • P. 66 states that Pancala is not mentioned in the Rig Veda. Their archaic name could be Krivi, a Rig Vedic tribe linked to Kuru, probably from Sindhu and Chenab rivers moving east, crossing Yamuna to Panchala located in Brahmarshidesha of Aryavarta, i.e. Bareilly, Badaun, Farrukhabad etc.

  • However, in Harivamsa I.31, Mudgala is one of Vahyashva's five sons after whom the territory was named Panchala. One of the descendants is Divodasa of Kashi, whose twin sister is Ahalya.

  • P.72: From Draupadi Kund Draupadi emerged as a young girl seated on a lotus with a miraculous lingam in her hand.

  • But Draupadi emerges from the yajna-vedi, the sacrificial altar, without any lotus or lingam in hand.

  • P.76: In Donpura lives Rampal who is possessed by the goddess Kali or the god Pottu, i.e. Mahishasura's divinities who possess this oracle, and are particularly important for Mahabharata myth. A hypostasis of Shiva is the celestial husband of the goddess Kali who descends on earth in the form of Draupadi and Mahishasura. There is no such myth linking Draupadi as an avatar of Kali. Mahishasura is killed by Skanda in the epic.

  • P. 77: The pond of Dharmatal lying between Manikpur and Jhinjauta is also connected (to) the figure of Yudhishthira as Dharmaraja, the motive of the cult of corpses because Dharmaraja is another name of god Yama. The proximity of the abode of Dhaumya to the lake allows an identification of Dharmatal with the mythical Dharmakupa on whose shores a talk between Yudhishthira and Dhaumya would have been set. This is an obvious mistake confusing Dharma with Dhaumya in the episode in the Vana Parva where Yudhishthira answers the questions put by Dharma in the guise of a stork with his four brothers lying dead.


More by :  Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya

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