Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “ahicchatra (capital of northern pancala, present ramnagar)” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Appendix 2 - Ahicchatra (capital of northern Pañcala, present Ramnagar)

Note: Ahicchatra is one of the four great cities that are populous and wealthy, mentioned in chapter V part 4.

The Taisho texts has A lan tch’ö to lo (a70 and 5; 140 and 14; 159; 36 and 3; 122 and 14) which S. Lévi, Alexandre et Alexandrie dans les documents indiens, MSL, p. 418, n. 1, sees as Alexandria in Egypt. But the whole context indicates that it is not a matter of foreign cities but cities in India which the Buddha may have visited but where he did not reside for a long time. If A lan tch’ö lo transcribes Alexandria, it is not a matter of Alexandria in Egypt but some other Alexandria founded by the Macedonian conqueror during his expedition into India: Alexandria of Arie or Herat (Strabo, XI, 524 sq; XV, 723; Pliny, Hist. Nat., Vi, 61, 93); Alexandria of Arachosia or Kandahār; most likely Alexandria of Caucasia, i.e., of the Hindu-Kush (Arrien, Anabasis, III, 28. 4; IV, 22. 3; Diodorus of Sicily, XVII, 83; Quintus-Curcus, VII, 2, 22) which may be located at Parvān, the actual Djebel-Serādj (J. Hachkin, Recherches archéologoques a Begram, Paris, 1939, p. 4).

However, it is doubtful that A lan tcho to lo transcribes Alexandria. The Han of China knew Alexandria in Egypt under the name of Li k’an (93 and 8; 177 and 3) or Li kien (93 nd 8; 177 nd 9); on this subject see P. Pelliot in TP, 1915, p. 690; JA, 1921, p. 139.

– On the other hand, the Alasanda of the Milindapañha (p. 82, 327, 333, 359) is transcribed in the Chinese versions by the three characters A li san (170 and 5; 140 and 6; 66 and 8) which implies an original Alesan (cf. P. Demiéville, Les versions chinoises du Milindapañha, p. 168, n. 2). All of this calls for further research, first of all to verify the spelling of the name. In the oldest manuscripts, Tempyo Mss. (A.D. 729), etc., the city is designated under the name A hi (164 and 11) tchö to lo, which immediately suggests Ahicchatra. This doubt is lifted by the Fan fan yu, T 2130, k. 8, p. 1038a9, which also transcribed A hi (30 and 9) tchö to lo, and, to avoid any confusion, adds the translation Che san (142 and 3; 120 and 12), i.e., ‘Serpent-parasol’, in Sanskrit, Ahicchatra. This city is mentioned in the Mahāmāyūrī, studied by S. Lévi in JA, 1915, p. 19–138.

Ahicchatra, ‘capital of northern Pañcala; today Ramnagar, near Aonla, in the Barailly district of Rohilkand; it was part of the kingdom of Drupada, in Mahābhārata (I, 5516). Ptolemy records the Adeisattroi (VII, 1, v. 71) and the city of Adisdara (VII, 1, v. 53)’ (S. Lévi, o.c., p. 95).

Hiuan tsang visited Wo hi chi ta lo:

“Outside the main city, there is a nāga pool beside which there is a stūpa built by king Aśoka. It is there that the Tathāgata, while he was still in the world, preached the Dharma for seven days for the benefit of a nagarāja.” (Si yu ki, Y 2087, k. 4, p. 893a; tr. Beall, I, p. 200–201; Watters, I, p. 331–332).

E. Bazin-Foucher, Sur une monnaie du Pañcāla, ML, I, p. 145–153, compared this Buddhist story of the nāga with information given to Cunningham by the brahmins of Rohilkhand:

“They told a strange story of a snake… An old tradition going back to the Mahābhārata, has it that Droṇa, the conqueror of Pañcāla, one day found Adi, the founder of the ‘fort’, asleep in a cradle formed by the hood of a cobra; his future elevation to the throne was then foretold; and it is this extraordinary occurrence that gave the city its name of Snake-parasol.”

The same writer sees in the form Ahicchatra the product of a popular etymology and proposes to read Adicchatra, ‘Parasol of Adi’, based on the reading Adhicchatra found in the List of Brāhmī Inscriptions of Lüders and on the variant Adisatra, attested in a manuscript of Ptolemy (Paris, no. 4805). According to him, the nāga, the appointed protector of Ahicchatra (cf. Divyāvagāna, p. 435 sq.), was represented on a coin from northern Pañcala showing an individual hitherto unknown but who is none other than a many-headed nāga (Cunningham, Coins of Ancient India, pl. VI, no. 15; CHA, pl. V, no. 3).

– But the king of the snakes Ahicchatra is not linked indissolubly with the city bearing his name. In the Dhammapadaṭṭha, III, p. 241–247 (tr. Burlingame, Legends, III, p. 63–67), he lives in a great mound of sand (mahāvālukārāsi) erected by Aggidatta and his companions at the borders of the lands of the Aṅga-Magadhans and the kingdom of the Kurus (Aṅgamagadhānañ ca Kururaṭṭhassa ca antara). Moggallāna, sent by the Buddha to Aggidatta and his companions to convert them, upon not being received by the latter, wanted to take possession of the sand mound inhabited by the snake. A struggle ensued; by his magical power, Moggallāna triumphed over the snake and the next day, when Aggidatta and his friends came to the hill to see what had happened to Moggallāna, they found him sitting on the sand; Ahicchata, the snake king, set food around him and, spreading his hood to the size of a bell-tower, he held it above the head of the Elder (nāgarājā vālukārāsiṃ… upati dhāresi).