Sutradhara’s tales: Pune gets its first names... royal patronages recognise sacred headquarters
Those of you who have read Sherlock Holmes would know the name of the unusual Diogenes club for recluses and private people, of which Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft was a member. Such eccentric clubs are not figment of someone’s imagination, but exist even around us. You must have heard of the laughter club where people laugh their hearts out for better health, or the left-handers’ association.
I am a member of one such seemingly bizarre, but fascinating society called, Place Name Society of India. Society members study and analyse various identities and meanings which can be derived from the name of particular place.
The name of a place is central to its cultural identity. It often carries meaning which provides rationale for adoption and continuity of a particular name.
In this column, we have traced the origin of Pune’s settlement through the ages, and arrive at a settlement which had an urban character.
Dr M R Kantak, senior historian, associates Pune with Punnala/Punnata from the ancient Roman text of Ptolemy’s “Geography”, in an article in the book “Shahar Pune”.
However, except for similar sounding names, we do not have direct evidence to connect the name to Pune.
Other scholars have claimed that “Punnala/Punnata” resemble some ancient towns in south India.
So, the speculation of it being Pune cannot be fully substantiated.
An interesting connection is found at the famous Buddhist site of Sanchi, informing us of a donation from Pune.
The name in Brahmi script is mentioned as “Punyavardhana” and the late Dr Harihar Thosar claims it to be our very own Pune.
By virtue of it being on the confluence of the rivers Mutha and Mula, proximity to the Indo-Roman trade route and Buddhist activity, Pune always seem to be identified as Punya Kshetra, a sacred place.
The discovery of Satavahana period artifacts from Pune strengthens this claim to the original name of Pune.
The clenching evidence comes much later during the eighth century CE when various clans of kings named Rashtrakutas ruled this country.
On a new moon day of Ashwin month in year 758 CE, on the occasion of a solar eclipse, Krishna Raja I, the Rashtrakuta king donated land to a Brahmin called Pugadibhatta.
The donated village was “Bopkhelugram” (modern Bhopkhel suburb on Alandi road). The copperplate mentions the boundary of this village surrounded by “Kalas” village on the east (suburb Kalas by the same name), river “Muila” on the south (river Mula), “Darpapudika” to the west (Dapodi of the present day) and “Bhesuri” (Bhosari suburb) on the north.
The names of the areas could have been Sanskriticised to fit the prose in the order of things.
The copperplate describes all the above references to be belonging to the administrative unit of Pune, aka “Punya – vishaya”.
Vishay roughly encompasses around several hundred villages in those days and is used to denote the central headquarters, in this case “Punya” for Pune. Thus, it is the first time we are able to put a face and name to the silent entity, Pune.
Shortly after this, on March 23, 768 CE, another piece of land is granted on the occasion of the new moon, by the same king, Kishna Raja I.
It was donated to the Brahmins belonging to “Karad Vishaya”. The village of Kumarigram (Koregaon Bhima), along with other villages such Bhamropara (Bhowrapur), Aralva (Urali), (Sindugram (Sinadon) and Turudee (Tadavale) were donated. These villages were made free from all oppression through taxes and the records mention that the order should be respected by future kings from any linage.
It also mentions surrounding villages such as Khamgaon, Bori, Dalimb, Theur, and Alandi (Chorachi) on the boundaries and river Muila (Mula).
Pune is referred slightly in different manner as “Punak- vishaya”, again a headquarter. It could be derived from the older form “Punnaka”.
Another incomplete copper plate in Rajwade Sanshodhan Mandal, Dhule’s collection, belonging to Sind king Mahasamant Adityavarman, records a grant to Navashiv, a Brahmin from Madhya Pradesh.
On this copper plate, dated March 6, 965 CE, the Kinhika village (Kinhai to the north west of Pune) on the banks of river Indra (Indrayani) is donated.
This village falls under the settlement and administrative unit of Ramtirthika, which according to Dr Manjiri Bhalerao, can be identified on the banks of river Ram in Pune.
Rashtrakuta rule was followed by their feudatories, the Shilahara kings, who rose to power in subsequent centuries.
The Janjira copperplate of the Shilahara dynasty king, Aparajita, dated to August 20, 993, mentions the conquest of Punaka vishaya, i.e. Pune, as an important career achievement.
Shilahara king Aparajita ruled from his capital in Thane and Pune was part of his territory. The copper plate mentions Kramavid Brahmin, Kolama, from Karad as the donee who was gifted certain villages to perform religious rites related to solar eclipse
One finds another mention of the same Brahmin in the second set of Janjira copper plates. We get to know that the donee originally hailed from town of Khetaka (modern Rajgurunagar), part of Punaka country (Pune).
These scattered records finally break their silence and inform us that between eighth and the 10th centuries, various suburbs on the western and eastern side of Pune were independent villages falling under the imperial rule of sacred headquarters rightly known as “Punya vishaya”!