Subtitle: Alternative History
I am writing today about the story of one thread of migrants who settled in India two thousand years ago and tied together a number of countries, cultures and peoples.
Three hundred years after Alexander, a group of people from Parthia in Central Asia (Northern Iran) seem to have, in a series of migrations, settled in India between Sindh and Kashmir, and on the Konkan coast. Upon entering India in 100 AD, they established a kingdom extending from Sindh to Kashmir. Historians call this group of Parthians the Indo-Parthians.
Two hundred years later, they were forced south by another group of migrants called the Indo-Scythians (the Kushans) who then came to rule the land between Sindh and Kashmir.
The Kushans are thought to have come from the area around Kashgar in Xinjiang province in China. One of the names for Kashgar in Chinese is Kāshí (喀什) which is a shortened form of Kāshígé’ěr (喀什噶爾). The Kushans were also known by the Chinese name Yuezhi (月氏).
What happened to the Indo-Parthians after they were driven South? Inscriptions indicate that they went South all the way to the Konkan between 100 AD and 300 AD.
In 400 AD, the Pallava dynasty came to power in Tamil Nadu. It is thought by some that the Pallava Kings were Indo-Parthians (assuming the name Pallava was a corruption of Pahlava meaning Parthian). What is interesting is that the first inscriptions of the Pallava Kings were in Sanskrit and Pali, and it was only later in the Pallava period that their inscriptions changed to Tamil.
What is also very interesting is that their influence went East possibly all the way to Vietnam. The Pallava Kings after 275 AD had names like Simhavarman and Mahendravarman, and the ‘varman’ suffix in their nomenclature was one that no other South Indian dynasty used.
When I visited Ayutthaya (the city of Siam in Thailand), I met an amateur historian who told me that the Khmer Kings were influenced by the Pallavas. The Khmer Kings of Cambodia had names like Jayavarman (the name means Victorious Shield).
To celebrate the independence of Khambuja (Cambodia) from Java, Jayavarman 2nd had a ritual performed on Mahendraparvata, now known as Phnom Kulen, declaring him Kamraten jagad ta Raja in Cambodian.
From the Wikipedia: ‘An inscription from the Sdok Kak Thom temple recounts that on the top of the Kulen Hills, Jayavarman instructed a Brahman priest named Hiranhadama to conduct a religious ritual which placed him as a chakravartin, universal monarch.’
The Angkor Wat was built by someone known as Suryavarman (the name means Sun’s Shield).
Recently, I read an account by a mariner on Zheng He’s expedition to the southern seas. He mentions that the King of Thailand looked South Indian. He also talks of a stop at a city called Panduranga in a country called Champa (Champa was the name of South Vietnam, and Champa remained a distinct political entity till the mid nineteenth century).
I looked up the Kings of Champa. Their names were Manorathavarman, Devavarman, Vijayavarman. But could the suffix ‘varman’ have been transferred from India to Vietnam, and did the Pallavas have anything to do with it?
Two of the earliest known Kingdoms in South East Asia were Tarumanagara and Salakanagara in Java. They came into existence at around the same time as Champa in Vietman.
According to their respective legends, these three kingdoms (Tarumanagara, Salakanagara and Champa) were established by Indian traders or priests who arrived and married local princesses.
The story of Tarumanagara is particularly detailed. A man called Jayasingawarman is said to have founded the Tarumanagara kingdom in 358 AD. Jayasingawarman hailed from the kingdom of the Salankayanas in India. He married the daughter of King Dewawarman VIII of Salakanagara in Java and established the Kingdom of Tarumanagara.
The Wikipedia has this to say about the Salankayana kingdom: ‘The Salankayanas succeeded the Andhra Ikshvaku dynasty and were vassals of the Pallava kings of southern India.’
The earliest inscriptions in Java were by the Kings of Tarumanagara. These inscriptions were in Wengi script (a Pallava period script) and in the Sanskrit language.
So, three South East Asian kingdoms had very similar origin stories, and the same royal suffix, and were established at about the same time, and in at least one case, could have had a connection to the Pallavas.
If these name suffixes had indeed come from the Pallavas, as the amateur historian in Siam informed me, and if the Pallavas were related to the Indo-Parthians, that’s a long way for the immigrants from northern Iran to have gone.
Some day, I’ll probably also tell you the story of the Yuezhi, which, trust me, is no less interesting.
Caveat Emptor: A lot of what I have talked about in this article is based on conjecture. I read or heard all that I’ve written, but they were often no more than guesses by historians.