The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Uttarakuru is located in the north, and is shaped like a square. It has a perimter of 8,000 yojanas, being 2,000 yojanas on each side. This continents tree is called a kalpavrksa (Pali: kapparukkha) or kalpa tree, because it lasts for the entire kalpa. The inhabitants of Uttarakuru are said to be extraordinarily wealthy. They do not need to labor for a living, as their Food grows by itself, and they have no private property. They have cities built in the air. Uttarakuru (Sanskrit) is the name of a dvipa ("continent") in ancient Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The Uttarakuru country and its people are sometimes described as belonging to the real world, whereas at other times they are mythical or otherworldly spiritual beings.
Aitareya Brahmana makes first reference to Uttarakuru and Uttaramadra as real-life Janapadas. According to Aitareya Brahmana , these two nations lied beyond the Himalayan ranges (Hindukush). The Aitareya Brahmana adduces these two people as examples of republican (vairajiya) nations, where whole Janapada took the consecration of rulership.
Puranic cosmography divides our earth into seven concentric islands called Jambu, Plaksha, Salmali, Kusha , Kraunca, Shaka, and Pushkara. They are separated by the seven encircling seas. The insular continent Jambudvipa forms the innermost concentric island in the scheme of continents. Jambudvipa includes nine countries (varṣa) and nine mountains. The land of Illa-vrta lies at the center of Jambudvipa at whose center is located Mount Meru. The land of Uttarakuru lies to the north of Mount Meru.
Mahabharata sometimes depicts the Uttarakuru as a fairy land. It is stated to be the ultimate abode of the blessed souls. The souls of the blessed ones and the glorious Kshatriyas who fall in battle go to Uttarakuru after death.
Adiparva of Mahabharata refers to a practice of free love among the denizens of Uttarakuru, like the one followed by birds and the beasts, and is not regarded sinful as it is stated to have the approval of the rishis and the sanction of antiquity. At other times, the epic describes the Uttarakurus as real entity and associates them with the real Kurus.
After reducing the Kambojas and Daradas on south of Hindukush, Arjuna proceeded to Trans-Hindukush countries and fought with the Lohas, Parama-Kambojas and the Rishikas. Thereafter, Arjuna encountered the Kimpuruhas, Haratakas and the Uttarakurus, which were the neighboring tribes in the trans-Himalaya region.
In the enumeration of the countries of north, Ramayana references Kambojas, Yavanas, Shakas, Paradas and then further northwards, it refers to the land of the Uttarakurus lying beyond river Shailoda and Kichaka bamboos valleys. It gives very vivid and graphic picture of Uttarakuru region.
Buddhaghosa records a tradition which states that, when Vedic king Mandhata returned to Jambudvipa from his sojourn in the four Mahadipas, there were, in his retinue, a large number of the people of Uttarakuru. They all settled down in Jambudípa, and their settlement became known as Kururattha (Kuru Rashtra). Majjhima Commentary also attests that the people of Kururatha had originally belonged to the Uttarakuru.
According to Rajatarangini of Kalhana, king Lalitaditya Muktapida of Kashmir leads a war expedition against the tribes of north (i.e. north of Kashmir) and in sequence, encounters the Kambojas, Tusharas, Bhauttas, Daradas, Valukambudhis, Uttarakurus, Strirajya (mythical or otherwise) and Pragjyotisha with whom he fights one after the other.
Ptolemy's Geography refers to Ottorokorai (Uttarakuru) tribe, Ottorokora as a city, and Ottorokoras as a river. The Ottorokora city is shown as located at longitude of 165° 37' 25" E. Ptolemy has also referred to one mountain by the same name and fixes at with longitude from 169° 39' to 176° 39' E.
Though the later texts mix up the facts with the fancies on Uttarakurus, yet in the earlier, and some of the later texts, Uttarakurus indeed appear to be historical people. Hence scholars have attempted to identify the actual location of Uttarakuru.
The Uttarakuru is taken by some as identical with the Kuru country mentioned in the Rig-Veda. The Kurus and Krivis (Panchala) are said to form the Vaikarana of Rigveda and the Vaikarana is often identified with Kashmir. Therefore, Dr Zimmer likes to identify the Vaikarana Kurus with the Uttarakurus and places them in Kashmir
According to some scholars, the above locations however do not seem to be correct since they go against Aitareya Brahmana evidence which clearly states that Uttarakuru and Uttaramadra lied beyond Himalaya ([[pren himvantam janapada Uttarakurva Uttaramadra). Moreover, no notice of the Uttaramadras (Bahlika, Bactria) has been taken of while fixing up the above location of Uttarakuru. Uttarakurus and Uttaramadras are stated to be immediate neighbors in the Trans-Himalaya region per Aitareya Brahmana evidence.
Ramayana testifies that the original home of the Kurus was in Bahli country. Ila, son of Parajapati Karddama was a king of Bahli, where Bahli represents Sanskrit Bahlika (Bactria). Also the kings from Aila lineage have been called Karddameyas. The Aila is also stated to be the lineage of the Kurus themselves. The Karddamas obtained their name from river Karddama in Persia/ancient Iran. Moreover, Sathapatha Brahmana attests a king named Bahlika Pratipeya as of the Kauravya lineage. Bahlika Pratipeya, as the name implies, was a prince of Bahlika (Bactria). Thus, the Bahli, Bahlika was the original home of the Kurus. Thus, Bahlika or Bactria may have constituted the Uttarakuru. Mahabharata and Sumangalavilasini also note that the people of Kuru had originally migrated from Uttarakuru. Bactria is evidently beyond the Hindukush i.e. Himalaya. In ancient literature, Himalaya is said to be extending from eastern occean to western occean and even today is not separated from it.
The above identification of Uttarakuru comes from Dr M. R. Singh.
V. S. Aggarwala thinks that the Uttarakuru was located to north of Pamirs in Central Asia and was also famous for its horses of Tittirakalamasha variety. Thus it probably comprised parts of Kirgizstan and Tian-Shan. Incidentally, the reference to horses from Uttarakuru rules out any possibility of locating Uttarakurus in Kashmir and Uttarakhand Pradesh since these regions have never been noted for their horses.
The Mahabharata refers to the Kichaka bamboos growing on the banks of river Shailoda. Mahabharata further attests that the Kichaka bamboo region was situated between Mountain Meru (Pamirs) and Mountain Mandara (Alta Tag). The river valleys between these two mountains are still overgrown with forests of Kichaka Bamboos.