The Sanskrit term ashva , Iranian aspa and Prakrit assa means horse. The name Ashvaka/Ashvakan or Assaka is said to be derived from Sanskrit Ashva or Prakrit Assa and it literally denotes someone connected with the horses---hence: a horseman, or a cavalryman or "breeder of horses" . The Ashvakas were especially engaged in the occupation of breeding, raising and training war horses, as also in providing expert cavalry services to outside nations, hence they also constituted an excellent class of Kshatriyas (warriors). Like tribal term Kamboja, the tribal term Ashvaka is also interpreted as "land or home of horses".
Panini styles the Aspas and the Ashvakas of modern Nuristan - formerly known as Kafirstan and Gandhara valleys, which included north-western Punjab, as Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas respectively . Classical writers use the respective equivalents Aspasioi or Aspasii (Hippasii) and Assakenoi (or Assaceni/Assacani). Based on evidence from Indika of Megasthenes (c. 350 BC-290 BC), Pliny (Gaius Plinius Secundus) (23 AD–79 AD) also refers to a clan of Asenes in his Historia Naturalis and locates them all mainly on northern part of modern Pakistan. Bucephala was the capital of Aseni which stood on Hydaspes (Jhelum) . Alexander had named this city after his horse Becephalus when it had died sometime in June of 326 BC after being fatally wounded at the Battle of Hydaspes with king Porus (Paurava) of Punjab. The clan names like Osii, Asioi, and Aseni obviously equate to Asii referred to by Strabo and Asiani as referred to in Historiae Philippicae by Trogue Pompey (all in all, the Osians) and further, they also equate to the Aspasioi (Aspasii, Hipasii) and Assakenoi (Assacenii/Assacani) clans of upper Indus referred to as Ashvayana and Ashvakayana in Panini's Ashtadhyayi.
Ancient Sanskrit literature also refers to another clan called Ashmaka or Assaka (Asvakas) which represented an Indo-Aryan Janapada located on river Godavari in south-west India. Ashmaka literally means land of stone. Some scholars believe that the south-western Asmakas/Assakas were also an offshoot from the North-west Ashvakas.
Buddhist texts like Manorathapurni, Kunala Jataka, and Samangalavilasini speak of Kamboja land as the land of horses e.g:
The cluster assa in the above expression of Sumangavilasini means horse , which on adding suffix -ka gives the Prakrit Assaka which term when considered in the context of the above expression denotes the following:
Similarly, the Sanskrit Ashvaka can be derived from Sanskrit Ashva meaning horse , which, likewise, denote the following:
From the above statement, it is quite obvious that term Assaka or Ashvaka stood for the Kamboja land, Kamboja people, Kamboja horsemen or the Kamboja cavalry.
The formation of clannish name Ashvaka or Assaka from the Sanskrit "Ashva" or the Prakrit "Assa" has exactly a similar formation as followed by tribal terms such as Kambojika/Kambojaka (from Kamboja), Madaraka (from Madra) and Yonaka (from Yona), Lichchhivika (from Lichchhivi), Vrijika (from Vriji), Mallaka (from Malla), Jartaka (from Jarta = modern Jat) etc etc.
For obvious reasons, the name Ashvaka has also been interpreted by scholars as the "Land of Horses" . Thus, based on the meaning and the geographical location of Ashvaka tribe, the scholars have rightly concluded that the Ashvakas were a sub-branch of the more general tribal name Kamboja. Kamboja has also invariably been spoken in ancient Buddhist and Brahmanical texts as the "Land or home of horses".
Commenting on the above verse of Mahabharta, noted scholars like Dr K. P. Jayswal observe that "Since the Kambojas were famous for their horses (ashva) and as a cavalry-men (Ashva-yudhah kushalah), hence the Ashvakas i.e. horsemen was the term popularly applied to them".
The use of prikritic vata (Sanskrit varta) appellation by the Ashvakas in their coins reminds one of the Varta.shastr.opajivin descriptions of the Kambojas as attested by Kautiliya in his Arthashastra.
The above view is further reinforced by Brahtsamhita of Varaha Mihira which also says that the Kambojas lived by shastr and varta.
The Asvayanas (Kambojas) have been attested to be good cattle breeders and agricuturists by classical writers. This is clear from big number of the bullocks, 230,000 according to Arrian, of a size and shape superior to what the Macedonians had not known, which Alexander captured from them and decided to send them to Macedonia for agriculture.
The Ashvaka Kambojas are also attested to have fielded 30,000 strong cavalry, 30 elephants and 20,000 infantry against Alexander.
These above staggering figures about agricultural cattle and the war horses of the Ashvakas sufficiently prove the correctness of Kautiliya's statement on the Kambojas which portrays the Kambojas as living both by warfare (shastr.opajivin) as well as by agriculture/cattle-culture (varta.opajivin).
The above facts, when viewed in the light of time and space propinquity, evidently connect the Ashvakas with the varta.shastr.opajivin Kambojas of the Arthashastra.
French scholars Dr E. Lamotte has also identified the Ashvakas with the Kambojas of ancient Sanskrit literature. "Par ailleurs le Kamboja est régulièrement mentionné comme la "patrie des chevaux" (Asvanam ayatanam), et cette reputation bien etablie valnut peut-etre aux eleveurs de chevaux du Bajaur et du Swat l'appellation d'Aspasioi (du v.-p. aspa) et d’assakenoi (du skt asva “cheval”)"
While discussing Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes living west of Indus and north of river Kabul in the valleys of Alishang, Kunar, Swat and Panjkora, in context of Alexander's invasion of India, Paul Goukowsky observes: "Pour les sources Indiennes, ce pays est celui des Kamboja eleveurs de chevaux. De fait, les tribus signalées dans cette région par les historiens d'Alexandre portent des noms tirés de celui du cheval (iranien aspa, sanscrit asva...). Panini connait deux peuplades les Asvayana (vallees de l'Alishang et du Kunar) et les Asvakayana (habitat l'Udyana, cest-a-dire le Swat le Buner et la vallee de la Panjkora. Les premiers paraissent correspondre aux Aspasiens/Hipasiens (par l'intermediate d'une forme Iranienne en Aspa); les seconds aux Assakeniens (la forme pracrite en Assa etant celle de la langue parlee a l'epoque le d'Alexandre). Il semble donc que la langue Iranienne predominait au nord du Kunar le pracrit au sud" . Thus, Paul considers the Assakenoi and Aspasioi as sections of the Kambojas.
Cf: "Kamboja is regularly mentioned as the "homeland of horses" and it was this well-established reputation which possibly earned the horse-breeders of Bajaur and Swat the epithet of Aspasioi (from Old Pers Aspa) and Assakenoi (from Sanskrit Asva “horse”)" .
While referring to a certain Sakya legend connected with Udyana locale (north-west frontiers province of Pakistan), James Fergusson connects the Udyana country with the Kambojas of the Hindu texts . But the territories of Kunar, Udyana, Swat and Varana (Aorna of classical writers) etc were the very habitats of the Asvaka Kambojas since remote antiquity...thus proving that the Asvakas were same as the Kambojas.
J. W. McCrindle says that the modern Afghanistan -- the Kaofue (Kambu) of Hiun Tsang was ancient Kamboja, and further says that the name Afghan evidently derives from the Ashavakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian. Thus it can be seen that Dr McCrindle clearly identifies the classical Assakenoi/Aspasioi with the Sanskrit Kambojas.
While discussing Kambojas, Dr H. C. Raychayudhury, Dr B. N. Mukerjee write: "With the expression Assa.nam Ayata.nam---land of horses used by Pali texts in reference to the Kambojas, may be compared the names Aspasioi and Assakenoi given by classical writers to the sturdy people living in the Alishang and Swat valleys in the days of Alexander ".
Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente has also identified the Aspasioi-Asvayanas, Assakenoi-Asvakayanas with the Kambojas of Eastern Afghanistan, who were noted for their horses .
According to John Muir, the Kambojas had inhabited north-west of India from river Indus to as far as Hindukush. They had the same Aryan origin as the Indians however, they were afterwards reckoned to be barbarians because their manners became changed afterwards and they were justly called Indians and barbarians by the Chinese and the Greeks . The same therefore, happened to the Kambojas although in a less marked manner as took place between the Zend people and the Indians in a more remote period". Since Fah-hien's Indians were people of Swat/Udyana, Hiuen Tsang's Indians were the people of Kapisa to Rajapura (Rajauri) and Arrian's Indians were the Assakenoi, Aspasio and Asteknoi localised in Kapisa/Swat/Kunar/Aornos regions of Paropamisadae in the west of Indus and north of Kabol as far as upto the Hindukush, hence, Johm Muir's Kambojas are exactly the same as the Aspasio, Guraeus, Assakenoi and Astekenoi of Arrian, or the people from Kapisa to Udyana/Swat territories, stated to be rude frontier Indians by Chinese pilgrims Hiuen Tsang and Fa-hien. Dr S. M. Ali has identified the ancient Kambojas of the Puranic literature with the inhabitants of the Kafir valleys, who, as we know from classical writings, were none else than the Aspasioi off-shoot of the Ashvakan Kambojas.
"History of Panjab" by Dr L. M. Joshi and Dr Fauja Singh (Ed) also identifies the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of the classical writings with the clans of the Kambojas..
Dr R. C. Majumdar, Romila Thappar, noted historians of India also take the Ashvakas to be same people as the Kambojas and they all connect them with the people of Kafirstan.
Dr Buddha Parkash notes: "The Macedonian conqueror made short shrifts of the arrangements of Darius and over-running Achaemenian empire, dashed into modern Pakistan (achemenid satrapen) and encountered stiff residstence of the Kamboja tribes called Aspasioi and Assakenoi known in the Indian texts as Ashvayana and Ashvakayana " .
These Asvayana and Asvakayana clans had fought the invader to a man. When worst came to worst, even the Asvakayana Kamboj women had taken up arms and joined their fighting husbands, thus preferring "a glorious death to a life of dishonor". Diodorus gives a detailed graphic picture as to how the Ashvakayanas (Kambojs) had conducted themselves when faced with the sudden treacherous onslaught from Alexander.
Commenting on the heroic resistance and courage displayed by the Ashvakayanas (Kambojas) in the face of treacerous onslaught of Alexander, Dr Buddha Prakash remarks: "Hardly could any Thermopylae be more glorious !"
Numerous scholars of note now believe that the name Afghan has been derived from Sanskrit Ashvaka or Ashvakan (q.v), the Assakenoi of Arrian. This view was propounded by scholars like Dr Christian Lassen , Dr J. W. McCrindle , M. V. de Saint Martin etc, and has been supported by numerous modern scholars . In Sanskrit, word ashva (Iranian aspa, Prakrit assa) means "horse", and ashvaka (Prakrit assaka) means "horseman" , "horse people" , "land of horses"
See article: Origins of the name Afghan
The Aryan ancestral-line of modern Afghans (modern Pashtuns are descandants of different people with different origine, including Turkic and Mongolic), should correspondingly have belonged to the southern Ashvakans of part of modern Pashtunwa and parts of Baluchistan who immigrated as nomads first from the north to the Sulaiman Mountains and in the second Millennium A.D to eastward to north India until Bengal. In Peshawar and its surrounding regions and valleys they replaced the indigenous population of Gakhars and other ethnic Indians slowly but for certain and their settled areas Babur mentioned in his Baburnamah as Afghanistan and the people as Afghans. The Afghans as a united nation started their career in the 18th century after killing the Iranian-Khurasanian ruler Nader Khan Afshar. After his death on of his Qezilbash commander, Ahmad Khan Abdali, declared himself as king of Khorasan and based the first fundaments of modern Afghanistan that became developed under Abdurrahman Khan. Some ancestors of Pashtuns (mostly of Turkic origine) began making career in army of the Persian Ghurids. Their Turkic slave under Persian general Aybak established the Indo-Ghurid empire of India which also give the birth for the Delhi-Sultanat and Mamluk-Dynasties of India. The Mamluk-Dynasty is further known as Slave-Dynasty known also as Mamluk dynasty of Delhi. See: Lodhi dynasty and Suri dynasty .
Similarly, the men of the Mountain Land (Akaufaka), from north of Kabol-River equivalent to medieval Kohistan (Pakistan), figure in the army of Darius III against Alexander at Arbela with a cavalry and fifteen elephants.
Bala Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana refers to a battle between sage Vasishtha and king Vishwamitra of Kanauj. Sage Visishtha had sought the military assistance of the Kambojas, Shakas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, Kiratas and other Mlechchas from the north-west. King Vishwamitra had lost all his sons in the battle. In remorse, he renounced the world and turned into an ascetic after the war.
With the help of these frontier martial tribes from Central Asia, Chandragupta was able to defeat the Greek successors of Alexander the Great and the Nanda/Nandin rulers of Magadha so as to found the powerful Maurya empire in northern India, at least for a short time till the Kushans and other ruler conquered north-west India.
The Kalika Purana, one of the eighteen Upa-Puranas of the Hindus, refers to a war between Brahmanical king Kalika (supposed to be Pusyamitra Sunga) and Buddhist king Kali (supposed to be Maurya king Brihadratha (187-180 BCE)) and notes the Shakas, Kambojas, Khasas etc as a powerful military allies of king Kali. The Purana further notes these Barbarians as taking orders from their women, which culture was typical of tribes located on Oxus/north-west.
A generation later, Bahu's son, Sagara recaptured Ayodhya after totally destroying the Haihaya and Talajangha Kshatriyas in the battle. Story goes that king Sagara had punished these foreign hordes by changing their hair-styles and turning them into degraded Kshatriyas.
Bhagavata Purana refers to a war between Jarasandha and Yadavas led by Sri Krshna. The Kambojas came as military allies of Jarasandha, king of Magadha. There is reference to the siege of Gomant Parvata where the Kamboja army was positioned on its east flank. Bhagavata Purana speaks of the Kamboja General as a powerfully armed mighty warrior (samiti-salina atta-capah Kamboja).
Scholars also state that the Kamboja cavalry had also formed part of the Gurjara-Pratihara armed forces in 8th/10th centuries AD. They had come to Bengal with the Pratiharas when the latter conquered part of the province. In fact, there is stated to have been a separate regiment of the Kambojas in the army of the Pratiharas which was given the responsibility to defend the northern-eastern parts of their empire adjoining with the Palas of Bengal. When the fortunes of the Palas sagged low after the death of Narayanapala in early tenth century, these Kambojas, the military associates of the Pratiharas had seized Gauda from Pala king Rajyapala and laid the foundation of the Kamboja empire in north-west Bengal.
[Category:Pre-Islamic heritage of Pakistan]]