Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Measurement units and verifications

In the previous posts you must have come across the old measurement units that are no longer considered a standard unit of distance. In this post we try to clarify a little on those terms and while you are trying to gauge distances based on these unit try to imagine the challenge that initial explorers must have had the first time they had to decipher what each unit might stand for…

Fahien has recorded the places in “Yojan”. “Yojan” and “Kos” is the Indian unit for measurement of long distances. Xuanzang has given equivalent of “Yojan” in terms of “Li”, he says traditionally one “Yojan” consists of 40Li but at his time of visit it was only 30Li. But Xuanzang didn’t mention the equivalent he used in his travelogue.

Li- it’s a traditional measurement unit in China and founds it origin in 2600 BC by Yellow Emperor. Its values have changed with periods reaching up to 644 Mts in Qing dynasty. At the time of Xuanzang when Tang dynasty (618- 907 AD) was in power the value was approximately 323 Mts. The Present value is 1 Li = 500Mts

Yojan- it was the longest unit of measurement employed in ancient India and it had as many meanings. Yojan has emanated from Yoga, it used to indicate how much distance a cow can pull the cart. Xuanzang in his “Travels” accounts has elaborately defined the measurement units existing in India at that point of time. Yojan according to him was distance covered by a royal army in a day. And it was obvious its value differed in different places at different times. Yojan was further divided into Krosa. Krosa or Kos for example meant the distance at which the cow could be heard. One “kos” for a Buddhist monk meant ideal place to live from a Village.

Jain tradition= 1 Yojan= 4 Kos=9 miles
As per kautaliya’ Arthasastra 4 Kos= 1 Yojan= 9 Miles
Value of Li and Yojan by different Orientalists,


Cunningham Estimation
We will study how Cunningham came to his values based on his observations. Cunningham has gone into roots of traditional measurement systems and calculated the values of “Li” and “Yojan”. He has corroborated values with real distance between the places mentioned by Fahien and Xuanzang. Fahien has recorded distance in “Yojan” and Xuanzang has used “Li”, to estimate the measure of “Li” and “Yojan” Cunningham recorded distance between well known places and found equivalent of Li, Yojan in terms of Meter and Mile by taking average.
1 Yojan= 39.25 Li


1 Yojan of Fahien = 6.71 Miles

1 Mile= 5.925 Li= 329 Meters


All the later explorer and archaeologists have used the values mentioned by Cunningham as a standard.

But the calculation by Cunningham was based a lot on assumptions. A Basic mistake in the calculation done by Cunningham is that Fahien never visited Nalanda Mahavihara instead he talks about Nala, the birth place of Sariputra. And the Sariputra’s birth place as per Xuanzang was 20li South East of meeting place of Bimbisara and Buddha which is around 14 Li south-west of Nalanda Mahavihara. Hence the place Nalanda mentioned for the comparison is different for Fahien and Xuanzang. Also Giriyak he assumes as the site of Indrasaila Guha which is again wrong as the Indrasaila guha was later identified near Parvati village which is further north -East of Giriyak. Also It’s not explained how General Cunningham comes up with the figure of 58 Li between Nalanda to Giriyak. 

NEXT: Travelogue matrix for Nalanda and Rajgir  

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