Āryāvarta is a term for northern parts of the Indian subcontinent in the ancient Hindu texts such as Dharmashastras and Sutras, referring to the area of the Indian subcontinent established by Indo-Aryan tribes and where Indo-Aryan religion and rituals predominated.
The limits of Āryāvarta extended over time, as indicated in the various sources, as the influence of the Brahmanical ideology spread eastwards in post-Vedic times.
Geographical boundaries of Āryāvarta
The Baudhayana Dharmasutra (BDS) 188.8.131.52 shows that Āryāvarta is the land that lies west of Kālakavana, east of Adarsana, south of the Himalayas, and north of the Vindhyas. However, in BDS 184.108.40.206 Āryāvarta is limited to the doab of the Ganges-Yamuna.
BDS 220.127.116.11-15 counts people from beyond this area as of mixed origin, and therefore not deserving of emulation by the Aryans.
Some sutras suggest expiatory acts for those who have crossed the boundaries of Aryavarta. Baudhayana Srautasutra suggests this for those who have crossed the boundaries of Aryavarta and ventured into faraway places.
The Vasistha Dharma Sutra (oldest sutras ca. 500–300 BCE) places the Āryāvarta to the east of the disappearance of the Sarasvati River in the desert, to the west of the Kālakavana, to the north of the Pariyatra Mountains and the Vindhya Range and the south of the Himalayas.
Patanjali’s Mahābhāṣya (mid 2nd century BCE) defines Āryāvarta like the Vasistha Dharmasutra. According to Bronkhost, he “situates it essentially in the Ganges plain, between the Thar desert in the west and the confluence of the rivers Ganges (Ganga) and Jumna (Yamuna) in the east.”
From sea to sea
The Manusmṛti (2nd cent. BCE to 3rd cent. CE) gives the name to “the tract between the Himalaya and the Vindhya ranges, from the Eastern Sea (Bay of Bengal) to the Western Sea (Arabian Sea)”.
The Manava Dharmasastra (ca.150-250 CE) gives aryavarta as extending from the eastern to the western seas, showing the increasing sphere of influence of the Brahmanical ideology.
Loss of northwest India
The post-Vedic period of the Second Urbanisation saw a decline of Brahmanism. With the growth of cities, which approached the income and patronage of the rural Brahmins; the rise of Buddhism; and the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great (327-325 BCE), the rise of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE), and the Saka invasions and rule of northwestern India (2nd c. BC – 4th c. CE), Brahmanism suffered a serious threat to its existence.
The decline of Brahmanism was defeated by implementing new services and combining the non-Vedic Indo-Aryan religious heritage of the eastern Ganges plain and local religious traditions, giving rise to modern Hinduism.
Other regional designations
These texts also identify other parts of the Indian subcontinent with specific designations. The Manusmṛti specifies Brahmavarta as the region between the rivers Saraswati and Drishadwati in north-western India.
The text describes the area as the place where the “good” people are born, with “goodness” being dependent on location rather than behavior.
The precise location and size of the region have been the subject of academic uncertainty. Some scholars, such as the archaeologists Bridget and Raymond Allchin, consider the term Brahmavarta to be synonymous with the Aryavarta region.
Madhyadesa spread from the upper reaches of the Ganga and the Yamuna to the confluence of the two rivers at Prayaga and was the region where, during the time of the Mahajanapadas, the Kurus and the Panchalas existed. The entire region is considered holy in Hindu mythology as gods and heroes named in the two epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, lived here.
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