Dvaravati–Kamboja route

The Kamboja–Dvaravati Route is an ancient land trade route that was an important branch of the Silk Road during antiquity and the early medieval era. It is referred to in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain works. It connected the Kamboja Kingdom in today's Afghanistan and Tajikistan via Pakistan to Dvārakā and other major ports in Gujarat, India, permitting goods from Afghanistan and China to be exported by sea to southern India, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Ancient Greece and Rome. The road was the second most important ancient caravan route linking India with the nations of the northwest.

The route

A horse caravan.

The Kamboja–Dvaravati trade route began at the seaport of Dvaravati. It passed through the Anarta region to Madhyamika, a city near Chittor. South of Aravalli, the road reached the Indus River, where it turned north. At Roruka (modern Rodi), the route split in two: one road turned east and followed the river Sarasvati to Hastinapura and Indraprastha, while the second branch continued north to join the main east-west road (the Uttarapatha Route across northern India from Pataliputra to Bamyan) at Pushkalavati.[1][2][3][4][5]

From Pushkalavati, the Kamboja-Dvaravati and Uttarapatha routes ran together to Bahlika through Kabul and Bamyan. At Bahlika, the road turned east to pass through the Pamir Mountains and Badakshan, finally connecting with the Silk Road to China.[1][4][5][6]

Land trade

Both the historical record and archaeological evidence show that the ancient kingdoms in the northwest (Gandhāra and Kamboja) had economic and political relations with the western Indian kingdoms (Anarta and Saurashtra) since Pre-Christian times. This commercial intercourse appears to have led to the adoption of similar sociopolitical institutions by both the Kambojas and the Saurashtras.[1][4][5]

Historical records

References in both Hindu and Buddhist scriptures mention trading activities of the ancient Kambojas with other nations:

Archaeological evidence

Numerous precious objects discovered in excavations in Afghanistan, at Bamyan, Taxila and Begram, bear evidence to a close trade relationship between the region and ancient Phoenicia and Rome to the west and Sri Lanka to the south.

Because archaeological digs in Gujarat have also found ancient ports, the Kamboja–Dvaravati Route is viewed as the logical corridor for those trade items that reached the sea before traveling on east and west.[11]

The seaport and international trade

Lapis lazuli.

From the port of Dvaravati at the terminus of the Kamboja–Dvaravati Route, traders connected with sea trading routes to exchange goods as far west as Rome and as far east as Kampuchea. Goods shipped at Dvaravati also reached Greece, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, southern India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the land of Suwannaphum (whose location has still not been determined) and the Indochinese peninsula.

Dvaravati was, however, not the only port at the route's terminus. Perhaps more important was Barygaza or Bharukaccha (modern Bharuch, located on the mainland to the east of the Kathiawar peninsula on the river Narbada.

Horse dealers from north-west Kamboja traded as far as Sri Lanka, and there may have been a trading community of them living in Anuradhapura, possibly along with some Greek traders.[12] This trade continued for centuries, long after the Kambhojans had converted to Islam in the 9th century CE.[13]

The chief export products from Kamboja were horses, ponies, blankets embroidered with threads of gold, Kambu/Kambuka silver, zinc, mashapurni, asafoetida, somvalak or punga, walnuts, almonds, saffron, raisins and precious stones including lapis lazuli, green turquoise and emeralds.

Historical records: western sea trade

The sea trade from the southern end of the Kamboja–Dvaravati Route to the west is documented in Greek, Buddhist and Jain records:

The commerce of the western Indian coast was lucrative. Bharukacchan and Soparan traders who established settlements or trading posts in the Persian Gulf reaped enormous profits from the Indo-Roman trade and, according to the Vienna Papyrus, written in the mid-2nd century CE, paid high rates of interest.[19]

Archaeological evidence: western sea trade

A Roman coin.

There is good archaeological evidence of Roman trade goods in the first two centuries CE reaching Kamboja and Bactria through the Gujarati peninsula. Archaeologists have found frescoes, stucco decorations and statuary from ancient Phoenicia and Rome in Bamian, Begram and Taxila in Afghanistan.[20]

Goods from Rome on the trade route included frankincense, coral of various colors (particularly red), figured linen from Egypt, wines, decorated silver vessels, gum, stone, opaque glass and Greek or European slave?women. Roman gold coins were also traded and were usually melted into bullion in Afghanistan, although very little gold came from Rome after 70 CE. In exchange, ships bound for Rome and the west loaded up in Barbaricum/Bharukaccha with lapis lazuli from Badakshan, green turquoise from the Hindu Kush and Chinese silk (mentioned as reaching Barbaricum via Bactria in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea).[21]

Historical records: eastern sea trade

The eastern and southern sea trade from the ports at the southern terminus of the Kamboja–Dvaravati Route is described in Buddhist, Jain and Sri Lankan documents.

The Pali work called Petavatthu says that traders went with caravans with wagons loaded with goods from Dvāravati to Kamboja.[7] The Pali work Apadāna refers to a saint named Bāhiya Dārucīriya who was born in the port of Bharakuccha and according to a commentary who made several trade voyages. He sailed the length of the Indus seven times, and also travelled across the sea as far as Suvannabhumi and returned safely home.[24] Also, the 4th century CE Pali text Sihalavatthu refers to Kambojas being in the Province of Rohana on the island of Tambapanni, or Sri Lanka.[25]

Archaeological evidence: eastern sea trade

Archaeological digs in Sri Lanka have turned up coins, beads and intaglios from Bactria and Afghanistan. A fragment of a Gandhara Buddha statue in schist was recently unearthed from the excavations at Jetavanaramaya in Anuradhapura. Other finds in Sri Lanka, such as lapis lazuli of the Badakshan type, connect that island with Kamboja, ancient source of the material.

Facts in the original Pali sources

According to Malalasekara, in the entry 'Kamboja' in Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: 'The country was evidently on one of the great caravan routes, and there was a road direct from Dvāraka to Kamboja (Pv.p. 23).'[29] The Pali work called Petavatthu that Malalasekera refers to (as Pv.p. 23) says that caravan wagons loaded with goods went from Dvāraka to Kamboja.[30] The introductory story as given in the Petavatthu Commentary says that the thousand caravan carts that went from Dvāravatī to Kamboja passed through an arid desert where they got lost.[31]

With regards Bāhiya Dārucīriya, Malalasekara writes that he 'engaged himself in trade, voyaging in a ship. Seven times he sailed down the Indus and across the sea and returned safely home. On the eighth occasion, while on his way to Suvaṇṇabhūmi, his ship was wrecked, and he floated ashore on a plank, reaching land near Suppāraka.'[24]

The Apadāna verses of Bāhiya say that he was born in the town of Bhārukaccha ( modern Bharuch) and departed on a ship from there. After being on sea for a few days, he fell into the sea due to a frightful, horrible sea-monster (makara), but on a plank managed to reach the port of Suppāraka.[32]

The source for Malalasekera's statement that Bāhiya sailed down the Indus and went to Suvaṇṇabhūmi is the Udāna Commentary of Dhammapāla, which says that Bāhiya was born in the country of Bāhiya, and was a merchant. Masefield translates the commentary as follows: 'He filled a ship with abundant goods, ..., for the purposes of trade, entered upon the ocean and, in successively roaming about, on seven occasions approached his own city via an expedition up the Indus. But on the eighth occasion, he embarked into his ship with his goods loaded on board thinking he would go to Suvaṇṇabhūmi. Having ventured deep into the Great Ocean, the ship went off-course in the midst of the ocean, without reaching the desired destination, with the people (on board) becoming a meal for fish and turtles. But Bāhiya, being tossed about ever so slowly by the motion of the waves as he made his way (to safety) after grabbing hold of a ship’s plank, on the seventh day reached the shore in the locality of the port of Suppāraka.'[33]

The port of Suppāraka, is either modern Sopara near Bhārukaccha or modern Bharuch, or Vasai near Mumbai, about 290 kilometers south of Bhārukaccha.[34]


  1. 1 2 3 Proceedings and Transactions of the All-India Oriental Conference, 1966, p 122, Oriental philology.
  2. India, a Nation, 1983, p 77, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala.
  3. Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India, 1977, pp vii, 94 Dr Moti Chandra.
  4. 1 2 3 Trade routes; Encyclopaedia Indica: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh., 1999, p 537, Shyam Singh Shashi – History).
  5. 1 2 3 B.C. Law Volume, 1945, p 218, Indian Research Institute, Devadatta Ramakrishna Bhandarkar, Indian Research Institute – Dr B. C. Law.
  6. The Puranas, Vol V, No 2, July 1963; India, a Nation, 1983, p 76, Dr Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala.
  7. 1 2 Petavatthu, Pali Text Society edition p. 32: Yassa atthāya gacchāma, kambojaṃ dhanahārakā; ... Yānaṃ āropayitvāna, khippaṃ gacchāma dvārakan-ti.
  8. Kamboja. Sauraastra.ksatriya.shreny.adayo vartta.shastra.upajivinah || 11.1.04 || .
  9. Panchala Kalinga Shurasenah Kamboja Udra Kirata shastra varttah || 5.35ab ||.
  10. Kambojah.................yama vaishravan.opamah...|| MBH 7.23.42 || i.e the Kambojas ferocious like Yama, the god of death (in war), and rich like Kubera, the god of wealth, in material wealth.
  11. Ancient Ports of Gujarat, A.R. Dasgupta, Deputy Director, SIIPA, SAC, Ahmedabad, M. H. Raval Ex. Director, Directorate of Archaeology, Ahmedabad.
  12. Epigraphia Zeylanica, by Don Martino, Vol II, No 13, pp 75- 76.
  13. (Journal of Royal Asiatic Societry, XV, p 171, E. Muller.
  14. Ptolemy's Geography, p 38.
  15. Yuan Chwang, p 248
  16. 1 2 Life as depicted in Jain canons, p 273, Bombay, 1947, J. C. Jain; Geographical Data in Early Purana, 1972, p 321, Dr M. R. Singh.
  17. Brhatkalpa Bhashya, I, 2506.
  18. G. Buhler, Indian Antiquary, VI, 1877, pp 191–92 as Kamboika.
  19. The Indian Ocean in Antiquity, p. 295, J. Reade; A Resurvey of Roman Contacts with the West, H. P. Ray, Ed. Baussac and Salles, p. 103.
  20. Peter T Blood, Lib of Congress, Federal Research Division, 1997.
  21. Rome Beyond the Imperial Frontiers, M. Wheeler, p. 156
  22. cf: All Gratitude To Myanmar, S. N. Goenka, Vipassana Newsletter Vol. 7, No. 10 Dec 97.
  23. Jataka Fausboll, Vol II, p 188; Apadana. Vol II,.p 476; Manorathapurani, Anguttara Commentary, Vol I. p 156.
  24. 1 2 Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, Vol II, 1960, G. P. Malalasekera, sv. 'Bāhiya'
  25. Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology on the Indian Ocean, 2002, pp 108–109, David Parkin and Ruth Barnes.
  26. Early History of Education in Ceylon: from earliest times to Mahasena, 1969, p. 33, U. D. Jayasekara
  27. See Bhallika, Bhalliya, Bhalluka Thera in: Online Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names.
  28. Dr S. Parnavitana, Dr J. L. Kamboj and others; see talk page for Kambojas and for Migration of Kambojas.
  29. Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, Vol I, 1960, G. P. Malalasekera, p 526
  30. Petavatthu, Pali Text Society edition p. 32: Yassa atthāya gacchāma, kambojaṃ dhanahārakā; ... Yānaṃ āropayitvāna, khippaṃ gacchāma dvārakan-ti. The story and verses are translated in Stories of the Departed, pp. 45-54.
  31. Petavatthu-aṭṭhakathā, Pali Text Society edition p. 112. Burmese edition p. 105: ... sakaṭasahassena bhaṇḍaṃ ādāya marukantāramaggaṃ paṭipannā maggamūḷhā hutvā ... The story and verses are translated in Stories of the Departed tr. Henry S. Gehman, in Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon, volume IV, 1942, Pali Text Society, Bristol , pp. 45-54.
  32. Apadana, Pali Text Society edition, II 476. Burmese edition II 128: Tatohaṃ bāhiyo jāto, bhārukacche puruttame; Tato nāvāya pakkhando [pakkhanto (sī.), pakkanto (pī.)], sāgaraṃ appasiddhiyaṃ [atthasiddhiyaṃ (ka.)]. Tato nāvā abhijjittha, gantvāna katipāhakaṃ; Tadā bhīsanake ghore, patito makarākare. Tadāhaṃ vāyamitvāna, santaritvā mahodadhiṃ; Suppādapaṭṭanavaraṃ [suppārapaṭṭanavaraṃ (sī. pī.)], sampatto mandavedhito [mandamedhiko (sī.), mandavedito (syā.), maddaverataṃ (ka.)].
  33. Translation Peter Masefield in Udāna Commentary, Volume 1, 1994, PTS, Oxford, p. 118. Pali text, PTS edition, p. 78: taṃ bāhiyaraṭṭhe jātattā bāhiyoti sañjāniṃsu. So vayappatto gharāvāsaṃ vasanto vaṇijjatthāya bahūnaṃ bhaṇḍānaṃ nāvaṃ pūretvā samuddaṃ pavisitvā aparāparaṃ sañcaranto sattavāre sindhuyātratāya (Be: saddhiṃ parisāya) attano nagaraṃ upagañchi. Aṭṭhame vāre pana suvaṇṇabhūmiṃ gamissāmī ti āropitabhaṇḍo nāvaṃ abhiruhi. Nāvā mahāsamuddaṃ ajjhogāhetvā icchitadesaṃ apatvāva samuddamajjhe vipannā. Mahājano macchakacchapabhakkho ahosi. Bāhiyo pana ekaṃ nāvāphalakaṃ gahetvā taranto ūmivegena mandamandaṃ khippamāno suppārakapaṭṭanapadesatīre papuṇi.
  34. See Peter Masefield Udāna Commentary, Volume 1, 1994, PTS, Oxford, p. 240.

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