Dharmapala of Vangala, Vanga and Gauda and the Bangash Tribes
The changes in the courses of the Indus and Saraswati rivers may have influenced the early history of Bengal. The Indus culture may have declined due to geological change that led to an increase in the water flow of the Yamuna whereas the Indus river
The eastward migration of the Vanga-Magadhas may be due to stream capture
system declined and the Saraswati (Ghaggar) became defunct. This stream capture probably led to the birth of Bengal and other Gangetic cultures. That Kalidasa’s hero Raghu uprooted and replanted the Vaňgas like rice plants hints at a migration in a later period.
A similar dichotomy exists in relation to Gauda in Bengal and Gour (Firuzabad) in Iran. As Iranian history does not know who ruled Fars in this era, it is not impossible that Dharmapala was the suzerain of Gour. It was also a prosperous city which shows the complex nature of history. R. N. Frye writes about the strong Buddhist heritage of this area. Another possibility is that after losing control over Gour Dharmapala concentrated more on Gauda in Bengal. Significantly, Vaidyadeva's Kamauli grant of Assam links the Palas to Mihirasya vamsa or Sun/Fire worshipers who may have been from the Fars area which was once a part of greater India. Besides, Sandhyakar Nandi, a court poet of the later Palas, stated that the Pala dynasty belonged to Samudrakula (Ocean lineage). This appears to be an allusion to the sea-link of the Palas and Vanga with not only Gour in the the Fars area but also Ramaratta and Palambong in the far-east.
Ramaratta, Vengi, Vanga and Palambong in the Chola dominions reveal a complex multilayered history
Curiously the Arya-Manjushri-mula-kalpa states that the people of Gauda spoke an Asura dialect. Thatta, near Vangala was famous for the Jama Masjid of Shah Jehan and appears to be Samatata of the texts. The prefix Sama may be a memory of the Samma dynasty which ruled during the city for a long period. It was once the the capital of Lower Sindh province. The Makli Hills of Thatta may echo Makali or goddess Kali, one of the chief deities of the Hindus of Bengal. As with the case of Vanga, Samatata later became linked to the Bengal area. This may have been part of the Thatagudiya (Sattagudiya) satrapy of the Achaemenids. Also famous Bengalees such as the Sena kings, Rupa and Sanatan Goswami came from Karnataka. It is just possible that like Kempe Gauda, the Sena kings were also linked to King Dahir Sen of Vaňgâla (Sindh). Incidentally, the Kambojas, who are closely linked to the history of Bengal are called Asuras in the Markandeya Purana.
Place-names like Konarak and Katak in south-east Iran show that this was once early Kaliňga. Thus the presence in this area of Vaňga, which was adjacent to Kaliňga, can be easily inferred. The Aitareya Āraņyaka refers to Vaňgā-Magadhāh which indicates that the Vaňgas and the Magadhas were neighbouring people. As Magadha has been identified with Magan in the Baluchistan area it follows that there must have been another Vaňga in the north-west. Aňga, Vaňga and Kaliňga were adjacent states and the as city-names like Zaranj (Dvara-Anga) and Mohenjodaro (Maha-Anga-Dvara) indicate, ancient Aňga was in the north-west. Pundra is linked to modern Bengal and this clashes with Punt in the Gulf area which is referred to in the very early Egyptian documents.
Apart from Gour in Fars there was also a Kohnouj and Patali in the Karman area. The Buddhist text Arya-Manjushri-mula-kalpa refers to the rise of Gopala in Gauda, which may be Gaur in modern Bengal where relics of the Palas have been found, but the scenario is complicated by that there was another Gour (Firuzabad) in Fars. Surprisingly, Dharmapala is called Ruhmi by Sulaiman (~851 A.D.). The eminent writer Masudi also uses the appellation 'Rahma' which may imply that, like the Mauryas who were descendants of the Amorite rulers of the Indus era, Dharmapala was also related to the great Rama who once ruled the Indus cities. This may be why even the Sailendra Empire of Ramaratta (Java), Malaya and Sumatra expressed allegiance to Dharmapala. Ram Shahristan in Seistan, capital of the Surens, may be a memory of Rama. R. N. Frye writes that many cities in Sasanid Persia had Ram-names.
There is a plaque near the great lake at Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh which says that the name Bhopal is a transform of Gopala who was the ruler of the area. This appears to be very likely but there is much more to Gopala, the true extent of whose empire remains a mystery.
The origin of the Palas has been ascribed to the Sea, Samudrakula, which is an allusion to Vangala which was once a great port of antiquity, and the Persian Gulf area which was once a part of India. The strong influence of Buddhist art in eastern Iran has been noted by R.N. Frye. (The Golden Age of Persia, p.41). V. Elisseeff (Encyclopedia of World Art, Asiatic Prehistory) also remarks with striking clarity that from the viewpoint of archaeology, eastern Iran was closer to India.
Ajanta-like murals at Gour in Fars (Picture courtesy CHN)
This Buddhist influence can be clearly seen from the murals recently discovered at Gour in Iran which clearly reveal the close affinity with the Buddhist art of Ajanta. But history of art cannot be studied in a political vacuum. What was the political background behind this strong Buddhist influence or more precisely, who were the rulers of Fars in the 8th century AD? Iranian experts have ascribed the murals of Gour to the Sasanian princes but this is not the whole story.
The Palace of Gour
Vincent Smith’s remarks about Iranian influence on Ajanta art irked R. Thapar and other Indian writers but it contains more than a grain of truth. However what Smith thought to be Persia was in fact Greater India. In Vihara I at Ajanta is a picture of a king and his queen in Persian attire, which harks back to the unbroken Indo-Iranian fraternity. Madeline Hallade writes in the Encyclopedia of World Art,
Symbolic and decorative motifs adopted directly from the Iranian world, or transmitted through its agency, enriched the repertory of Indian art from its first inception; indeed its versatility is early attested by the Buddhist monuments of the 2nd century B.C. (balustrades at Sanchi and Bharhut)
This influence on Indian Art 'from its first inception' cannot be explained without considering an early India in Iran. Indian art cannot be understood without scrapping Jones' amateurish theory and going back to an unfractured Indo-Iranian fraternity.