Geography of Early Buddhism
A comprehensive list and review of geographical sites mentioned in early Buddhist texts, and in selected later works.
Bimala Churn Law
Html Table of Contents
This is substantially an electronic edition of Bimala Churn Law’s book on the Geography of Early Buddhism as it was published in 1932, with the omission of the Appendix on the Cetiya.
I am very grateful to Ven. Bangladeshi Dīpananda, who prepared the initial version from a OCR-ed document, which I then further checked myself.
For anyone interested in the subject the book is a mine of information, even if some of it is dated by now, especially as it was written during the period of the British Raj in India, and place names, borders, and even countries have changed since then.
I have updated the book in only a few small ways: a couple of gross corrections and a breaking up of paragraphs to make it more readable and to separate the references. To do much more would really require a total rewrite, and so I present it as it is, as a still valauble source of reference information for the student.
In regard to the subject of the book I have made numerous maps which are published elsewhere on this website, and have also given several talks which have been made into videos, links to all these are on the Maps page of the website.
[v] The Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, by the late Professor A. A. Macdonell and Professor A. Berriedale Keith, incorporates in dictionary form all the geographical information contained in the most ancient Sanskrit writings; it is furnished with references to the works of the scholars of whose studies it has formed in some respects the culmination.
For the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahā-Bhārata the analyses of Professor Jacobi, with their useful indexes, had long been in the hands of students; and Sörensens’ Index to the Mahā-Bhārata, now happily completed, had been since several years in progress.
In the year 1904, Professor Rhys Davids had projected, as an item in his Indian Texts Series, a dictionary of Pāli proper names, and a basis for such a work has been steadily constructed in the indexes appended to the Pāli Text Society’s Editions. It seems that there is now good hope that the volume will actually be achieved. But naturally the geographical items will be scattered amid a mass of other subjects, and can hardly present a general view.
Dr. Bimala Churn Law, to whom we owe so many investigations of early Indian conditions, and whose publication of a volume of Buddhistic Studies, by so many respected scholars, is in recent favourable memory, has had the idea of assembling the geographical and topographical information in a somewhat systematic exposition. At this point Dr. Law has avoided a danger. For he might have been tempted with the domain of cosmography, which in Indian conceptions, as we may see, for instance, in Professor Kirfel’s valuable work, Die Kosmogmphie der Inder, is so much interwoven with geography, and which is not unrepresented in the Buddhist Piṭakas. Instead he has adopted the practical distinction of the ‘five Indies’, which has respectable authority in Sanskrit literature and is countenanced by the Chinese travellers in India.
Under each division, he commences with a general description of the boundaries and larger divisions; he continues in dictionary order with the minor subdivisions, towns, villages, etc., and proceeds similarly through the rivers, lakes, etc., and the mountains. In a concluding chapter he treats of Ceylon, Burma and other extra-India countries; and an appendix discusses the import of the term caitya. Reinforced with an adequate index, the brief treatise, ‘which is furnished with references in detail, will serve an useful purpose. The localities mentioned in the Pāli writings (even in the Jātakas) belong for the most part to the real world; the cities [vi] of fiction, so abundant in Sanskrit literature, appear but little, if at all.
Sir Alexander Cunningham’s Ancient Geography of India is based chiefly upon the Chinese travellers, taken in conjunction with his own great archaeological discoveries and the information supplied by the Greeks. It is a critical study and work of research, following the lines of investigation started by Sir William Jones and continued through Lassen, Vivien de St. Martin and Stanislas Julian.
There have been other means of approach to the historical geography of India, such as the early surveys, of which the most notable were those of Buchanan, Hamilton and Mackenzie, and which have culminated in the Imperial and Provincial Gazetteers, mines of information in detail. The surveys, however, like the statements of Musalman writers, are independent sources chiefly in regard to later times. For the early geography, since of Patañjali’s Mahābhāṣya and the Artha-śāstra, we have now full indexes, and but few minor Vedic works remain unexplored, while the Brāhmī and Kharoṣṭhī inscriptions are fully indexed, - the chief remaining desideratum would seem to be a collection of all the material contained in the texts of Sanskrit Buddhism and the earlier texts of the Jainas. It may then be possible to take seriously in hand the treatise on the geography of India which has so long been included in the design of the Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research.
The Archaeological Department is constantly adducing in its reports and in the Epigraphia Indica detailed knowledge of the most definite character in regard to both India proper and Burma, while for Further India in general we have the abundant harvest reaped by the French. Kashmīr is in fortunate possession of the special memoir of Sir Aurel Stein, worked out in connection with its unique historical work, the Rājataraṅgiṇī.
It may be stated that there is still room also for a compilation from the Purāṇas, such as was originally contemplated by Professor Rhys Davids, and also, we may add, from the innumerable Māhātmyas. But perhaps, as concerns the chief Purāṇas, Professor Kirfel’s before mentioned work has left little to be gleaned.
F. W. Thomas
[vii] This treatise attempts for the first time at presenting a geographical picture of ancient India as can be drawn from the Pāli Buddhist texts. I have embodied in it the researches of my predecessors in this line as far as they are necessary to construct the geography of the early Buddhists.
History and Geography are so very allied that in many places I have found it necessary to put in important historical materials along with geographical information. I have derived much help from by previous publications, especially from by works on the Kṣatriya Tribes.
I have added an appendix on the Cetiya in the Buddhist Literature (published in the Geiger Commemoration Volume) Omitted here. which, I hope, will be found useful. I have spared no pains to make this monograph as exhaustive as possible. I shall consider my labour amply rewarded if it is of some use to scholars interested in ancient Indian History and geography.
I are grateful to Dr. F. W. Thomas, C.I.E., M.A., Ph.D., F.B.A., for the trouble he has so kindly taken to read the book and contribute a foreword to it.
Bimala Churn Law.
43, Kailas Bose Street,
Calcutta, August, 1932.
Aṅguttara Nikāya (PTS).
Buddhacarita by Cowell (Anecdota Oxoniensia).
Buddhist Suttas, S.B.E., Vol. XI.
Cunningham’s Ancient Geography of India Ed. by S. N. Majumdar.
Cambridge History of India, Vol. I.
Carmichael Lectures, 1918, by Dr. Bhandarkar.
Dialogues of the Buddha (SBB).
Dhammapada Commentary (PTS).
Dīgha Nikāya (PTS).
Dīpavaṁsa (Oldenberg’s Ed.).
Divyāvadāna Ed. by Cowell and Neil.
Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Mediaeval India (2nd ed.) by N. L. Dey.
Lalitavistara by Dr. S. Lefmann.
Majjhima Nikāya (PTS).
Political History of Ancient India (2nd ed.) by Dr. H. C. Roy Chaudhuri.
Psalms of the Brethren.
Psalms of the Sisters.
Saṁyutta Nikāya (PTS).
Sutta Nipāta (PTS).
Sutta Nipāta Commentary (PTS).
Vinaya Piṭaka (PTS).
Vinaya Texts (SBE).
Vimāna-Vatthu Commentary (PTS).