Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Kopiyā is Aye-mu-k'a (Ayemukha)

The Kopiyā (Kopia) Mound

Xuanzang travelled more than three hundred Li i.e. approximately 80-100 km East from Ayōdhyā (26°48' N, 82°12' E) to reach Aye-mu-k'a, a country in the domain of Central India (Rongxi 1996:135). Thomas Watters has restored Aye-mu-k'a as Ayemukha (Watters 2004) and Li Rongxi has restored it as Ayamukha (Rongxi 1996).  As per the biography (Beal 1914) of Xuanzang, he boarded a boat at Ayōdhyā to go to Ayemukha. After travelling 100 Li East some pirates took him and 80 fellow travelers hostage. Pirates were followers of the goddess Durgā.  The pirates wanted to kill Xuanzang and sacrifice his flesh and blood to their divinity. This according to the pirates would procure them good fortune. But, miraculously, the events that followed later, led the pirates to believe in the spiritual mastery of Xuanzang. Pirates had a change of heart.  They sought forgiveness from Xuanzang and became lay believers of the Dhamma.  From here, Xuanzang travelled 300 Li East to reach Ayemukha.

I visited Kopiyā (Kopia) on the  October 10th, 2023. Kopiyā (26°52' N, 83°4' E) is in the Sant Kabir Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh. Kopiyā is an ancient site that represents the remains of some old city.   These ancient remains of Kopiyā from a distance look like a 10ft high rectangular landmass sitting in the middle of a lush green expanse of paddy fields.  The moat surrounding the mound was concealed in tall, dense marshy vegetation. Almost the whole of the mound was under cultivation.  In my estimation, the ancient remains of Kopiyā, 90 km East, as the crow flies from Ayōdhyā represent the capital city of Ayemukha.  This proposition can be further established on the following grounds:

Information board by Archaeological Survey of India, Kopiyā.

A temple is situated on the Kopiyā mound.  The priest of the temple.

The Kopiyā mound is surrounded by tall, dense marshy vegetation

Almost the whole of the Kopiyā mound is under cultivation

1. Distance and Direction

Kopiyā fulfils the essential requirement of its location as described by Xuanzang, i.e., the distance and direction of Kopiyā from Ayōdhyā (See Fig.1). Xuanzang travelled 300 Li ( 400 Li according to his biography) which comes to around 80-120 km East of Ayōdhyā [One Li was equal to 325 mt during the Tang period (618-907 CE)]. Kopiyā is situated 90 km as the crow flies East of Ayōdhyā. The Capital city according to Xuanzang was 20 Li in circumference i.e. approximately 5-6 km. Kopiyā mound is one square kilometre in area which is like 4km in perimeter (Kanungo, Misra 2004: 116).

2. Interpretation of the Name 

Stainless Julien, the first translator of the travelogues of Xuanzang from the original Chinese to French has restored the name of the place as ‘O-ye-mou-khie’ (or Hayamoukha) (Julien 1857: 274).  Cunningham has interpreted  Hayamukha as ‘Horse face’ or ‘Iron face’ which was the name of one of the Danavas or Titans (Cunningham 1871: 296). Thomas Watter has proposed that the correct form (of the name) may have been ‘Hayamukha’ meaning ‘Horse-face’ or ‘Āyamukha’ meaning a ‘creek’ or ‘channel’(Watters 1904: 359).  Kopiyā is situated in the flood plains between two rivers, Churmā on the east and Āmi on the west. In addition, the place is surrounded by many ancient river channels and natural lakes. Villagers informed me how the surroundings of the Kopiyā mound are submerged during the monsoon months. Given the facts, it is distinctly possible that the place was called Āyamukha meaning Creek.

3.  Ashokan stūpa by the Ganges

Not far away to the southwest of the city, Xuanzang saw an Aśokan stūpa at the bank of the Ganges. The stūpa was two hundred feet high to mark the place where the Buddha preached Dharma for three months. Also, surrounding the Aśokan stūpa, there were shrines and stūpas to mark the place of four past Buddhas and a stūpa containing the hair and nail relics of the Buddha. There was a monastery near these shrines which had over two hundred monks. This monastery was the place where in olden times the śāstra master Buddhadāsa composed the Mahāvibhāṣā-śāstra of the Sarvāstivāda school (Rongxi 1996: 135-136).

A little more than 1 km as the crow flies southwest of the Kopiyā mound is another mound.  This mound is locally called Dīhwā (26°52' 15'' N, 83°03' 37'' E) meaning mound/raised land. In my more than a decade-long experience of explorations in the Gangetic plains, I have observed that villagers usually call only those raised lands (mounds) Dīh/Dīhwā/Tīlahā/Gaḍh which are filled with ancient bricks or potshards. The Dīhwā mound is spread over more than 5 acres and situated on the east bank of river Āmi (see Fig. 2). The mound has a few mud houses and one abandoned clinic on it. It also has pottery and brickbats scattered all over it. I noticed ancient bricks, broken and of different sizes repurposed in the dwellings over the mound. A  brick collage in an outdoor scullery caught my attention.  The tile-shaped bricks in the scullery were mostly unbroken and measured 8in X 7in X 2in. These bricks are very ancient, probably from 1st-2nd CE (Kushāna period). What surprised me most was the name of the village. Dīhwā mound is situated on the outskirts of the village called ‘Vihāre’. Buddhist monasteries are traditionally called ‘Vihāra’. The name ‘Vihāre’ of the village is probably a remnant of the past. It is conceivable, that there may have existed a Buddhist monastery here. After the monastery was abandoned the new settlers may have continued with the name ‘Vihāra’.    The Dīhwā is situated 400m south of the village ‘Vihāre’. The complete truth of whether the ancient remains of Dīhwā represent a Buddhist setup will be revealed following a systematic excavation, but, prima facie these remains are in striking agreement with the descriptions of Xuanzang.

There is an inconsistency that needs to be resolved. Ayemukha according to Xuanzang was on the banks of the Ganges (Gangā) and Kopiyā is almost 150 km away from the Ganges, situated on the banks of river Āmi. On several occasions, Xuanzang mentioned having crossed the river Ganges in his travels in the Gangetic plains, but the circumstantial evidence and facts didn't support Xuanzang’s description. For example, Xuanzang has placed Ayodhyā on the banks of the Ganges (Watters 1904) but we know historically, the river in question is not the Ganges but Sarayū (or Ghāghrā). Similarly, when Xuanzang was on his way to Vaishālī from Sārnātha touching Ghāzipur, he mentions crossing the Ganges to reach Vaishālī (Beal 1914: 100; Watters 1904). But, in fact, following the route from Sārnātha to Vaishālī touching Ghāzipur and travelling on the northern side of the Ganges, Xuanzang would need to first cross the river Ghāghrā and then the Ganḍak (Anand 2020). The only explanation for such inconsistency is most likely, that the Ganges in ancient times was a generic name used for any big river.  The Pali sources even mention five Gangās emerging from the Himālayās (Vyas 2013: 2025).  Probably, in ancient times any large river emerging from the Himālayās was referred to as the Gangā. On my foot journey, I remember meeting some people in the village Khairahani (in Nepal) who referred to river Ganḍak as the Gangā. According to them, any river emerging from the Himalayas is sacred and venerable like the Gangā.

Fig.1. Map depicting Kopiyā, Ayōdhyā, Newal, Prayāg and identifications offered by Cunningham.

Fig.2. Map depicting Kopiyā Mound, VihāreVillage and Dihwa Mound.

4.  Kopiyā Excavations

Three seasons of excavations in Kopiyā from 2004 to 2006 have revealed that Kopiyā may not have been a flourishing place at the time of the visit of Xuanzang (7th CE).  Excavations suggest  Kopiyā was a  glass manufacturing centre whose economy revolved around glassmaking and glassworking (Kanungo, Brill 2009). Kopiyā was first occupied in the 7th BCE and it continued to remain a flourishing glassmaking centre through the Mauryan (300 BCE) and Sunga-Kushāna (200 BCE-CE 100) periods. Though there were cultural deposits such as seals and terra-cotta figurines from the Gupta period (about CE 400 600)  the archaeological study suggests, that the shine of the Kopiyā site as a glass-making centre was on the wane by the end of 6th CE (Kanungo, Brill 2009).  Xuanzang was in the Gangetic plains in 630 CE. Consequently, if  Kopiyā is the Ayemukha of Xuanzang then at least, Ayemukha may not have been a very thriving capital at the time of his visit.  Xuanzang in his descriptions has not mentioned if Ayemukha was a flourishing place or not, but, he surely mentions the presence of a sizeable monk community and numerous Deva temples (Brahmanical shrines).

The Kopiyā mound has some settlements and the remaining part is under intensive cultivation.  Twenty-six trenches were excavated in three seasons covering a total area of 418.75 square meters. Eight of these trenches were in the centre of the mound, inside the fortification, and three were located on the western boundary of the fortification (Kanungo, Brill 2009).  This limited excavation provides a general picture and does not reveal the complete occupational history. Also, we are not aware of the occupational profile of the Dīhwā mound.

Available circumstantial evidence favours Kopiyā being the remains of Ayemukha of Xuanzang.   What is weighty is that there are no other remains of an ancient city like Kopiyā 80 to 120 km east of Ayōdhyā.  Even so, the archaeological study of the Dīhwā mound is indispensable to establish Kopiyā as the remains of Ayemukha.

Unfortunately, the Dīhwā mound like many such abandoned archaeological sites in the Gangetic plains is under threat. Uttar Pradesh State Irrigation Department is developing a submersible tube well on Dīhwā. I noticed broken brickbats all around the borehole. The mound at present is around 10 ft higher than the surroundings. But, just a few years ago, the mound was at least 4 ft higher.  Two local men Dharmendra and Mahesh, who have their house on the mound informed me how a few years ago the mound was mauled to remove bricks and earth material. Though a few people objected to vandalization that didn't help. Such waif archaeological sites as the Dīhwā mound, are easy prey of land grabbers, mining and many times Government uses these lands to make schools, hospitals etc., over them.

The vandalisation of the Dīhwā mound by the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department.  

Ancient bricks and brickbats were exposed because of the action of the Irrigation department. 

(Ancient) brick collage in an outdoor scullery.

(Ancient) brick collage in an outdoor scullery.

Temporary huts on the Dīhwā mound. 

The Dīhwā mound. 

Ancient bricks on the Dīhwā mound. 
Ancient bricks on the Dīhwā mound.
With Dharmendra Ravidas, Dīhwā mound.
The Dīhwā mound.

The Dīhwā mound.

Mahesh with his wife, mother and daughter in front of his house. Mahesh is holding an ancient brick. 

The Dīhwā mound and the high-tension transmission line.

With the village head Shri Ram Lochan Choudhary.

With the family of Shri Ram Lochan Choudhary.

Both these local inhabitants Dharmendra and Mahesh realise the importance of the Dīhwā mound. According to them, the Dīhwā mound was connected with Kopiyā through a ‘brick’ road. The remains of the ancient highway were exposed in the agricultural fields when high-power transmission poles were installed a few years back. Villagers found a similar brick pathway connecting the  Dīhwā mound with a big brick flooring on the bank of river Āmi. Villagers call this ancient brick flooring Vishrām Ghāt. Vishrām Ghāt was probably a bathing place for the inhabitants of the Dīhwā mound.

I learnt from the villagers that the officials from the state archaeology visited the site a few years ago. The state archaeology department even arranged a few security guards for the protection of the Dīhwā mound but the guards left after they were threatened by the encroachers. After completing the survey, I met Shri Ram Lochan Choudhary, the elected village head of the Vihāre village. I shared the importance of the place and the reason why it should be protected. I requested Shri Lochan ji to speak to Shri Krishna Mohan Dubey at the State Archaeology headquarters in Lucknow to protect the Dīhwā site. On my responsibility,  I wrote an email to the State Archaeology Department appraising them about the situation of the Dīhwā mound and the need to protect it.


Alexander Cunningham proposed Daunḍikherā (Cunningham 1871: 295-296) as Ayemukha. He later proposed Tusāran Bihār in the Pratapgarh district and Singraur in the Allahabad district as two other alternative identifications of Ayemukha (Cunningham 1880: 63-70). Identifications of Ayemukha offered by Cunningham are untenable because he made the wrong identification of A-yü-t'ê  (Ayudha or Ayōdhyā). Cunningham wrongly believed that there were two Ayōdhyās. First,  Ayōdhyā of Epic Rāmāyana on the banks of Sarayū and another of Xuanzang which was on the bank of the Ganges.  Therefore, he proposed Kākupur situated south of the Ganges as Ayōdhyā of Xuanzang (Cunningham 2000: 295). Since Xuanzang travelled to Ayemukha from Ayōdhyā, this wrong identification of Ayōdhyā led him to propose Daunḍikherā/Tusāran Bihār/Singraur (see fig-1) as possible sites of Ayemukha which were also incorrect.

The story chronicled by Deepa Nandi.


Anand, D. (2020, December 23). Vaiśālī to Sārnātha: Foot journey down the Ganges following Xuanzang. [Blog post]. Available from:


[Accessed 8th January 2024]

Beal, S.;  1914,  The life of Hiuen-Tsiang by Shaman Hwui Li by Kegan Paul. London: Trench Trubner and Co.

Cunningham, A.; 1871, The Ancient Geography of India - I: The Buddhist Period. London: Trubner and Co.

Cunningham, A.; 2000, Archaeological Survey of India Four Reports Made During the Years 1862-63-64-65, Vol-I, Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in 1871).

Cunningham, A.; 1880, Archaeological Survey of India Report of Tours in the Gangetic Provinces from Badaon to Bihar, in 1875-76 and 1877-78, Vol -XI. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing.

Julien, Stanislas.; 1857,  Mémoires sur les contrées occidentales. Paris: L'Imprimerie impériale.

Kanungo A.K., Misra V. N.; 2004, Excavation at Kopia: A Preliminary Report. Purātattva No. 34. New Delhi: Indian Archaeological Society.

Kanungo A.K., Shinde V. S.; 2005, Excavation at Kopia 2005: A Preliminary Report. Purātattva No. 35. New Delhi: Indian Archaeological Society.

Kanungo A.K.; 2006, Excavation at Kopia 2006: A Preliminary Report. Purātattva No. 36. New Delhi: Indian Archaeological Society.

Kanungo, A. K.; Brill, R. H.; 2009,  Kopia, India’s First Glassmaking Site: Dating and Chemical Analysis.  Journal of Glass Studies vol. 51, pp. 11-25.

Rongxi, Li.; 1996, The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions, BDK America, Inc.

Vyas, U S.; 2013, Pali Hindi Dictionary. Vols. II (Part-I). Nalanda: Nava Nalanda Mahavihara.

Watters, Thomas.; 1904, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, (Edited by T. W. Rhys Davids and  S.W. Bushell). London:  Royal Asiatic Society. 

No comments: