Ancient Places: Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh

Kannauj, for sure, has to be counted among the cities with the most names. References to this place have started from the Ramayana and have continued since. Of the many names, Kannauj was known as Kanyakubja and by far, this is the most interesting story, of the city’s various names.

According to the Valmiki Ramayan, there was once a great king by the name of Kuśa and was married to the princess of Berar (modern Vidarbha). Together, they had four sons — Kuśhanābha, Kuśāmbha, Asūrtaraja, and Vasu. Each of these sons founded their own cities and helped protect the kingdom. The cities they built were:

  1. Kuśhanābha built Kaushambī (Possibly, Kosambi, (Prayag) Allahabad)
  2. Kuśāmbha built Mahodaya (Kannauj)
  3. Asūrtaraja built Dharmāranya, (Very close to Bodh Gaya, Bihar) and
  4. Vasu built Girivraja (Rajgir, Bihar)

Of these four places, however, our story is about Mahodaya, the city built by Kuśāmbha (the second one). In this grand city, Kuśāmbha sired a hundred daughters, all of them amazingly beautiful, with the help of the celestial damsel, Ghritāchi.

Much later, as these hundred young ladies were out in the garden one day, Vāyu, the Wind-God was besotted by them and offered to marry them all, and even offered them eternal life. The girls, notwithstanding that he was, well, God — made haughty remarks and scornfully rejected the proposal outright, invoking their father’s eminence.

Needless to say, Vāyu was enraged and entered their bodies (प्रविश्य सर्व गात्राणि) and disfigured them, turning them all into hunchbacks.

This city, then, came to be called Kanyā-Kubja — “the city of the hunchbacked maidens.”

As Rama Shankar Tripathi has mentioned in his book, History of Kanauj: To the Moslem Conquest, this story has little use from a historical point of view, except that this place has found mention in ancient times.


Kannauj has had many other names.

Gadhipura or Gadhinagaram, was another name, after the a legendary ruler, named Gadhi.

It has been called Kuśasthala, named — either after the kuśa grass (sacred for sacrificial needs), or after the name of the father of the founder of this city, Kuśāmbha.

The renowned geographer, Ptolemy mentions Kannauj as Kangora or Kanogiza (C.140 A.D.)

In the documents of Huen Tsang who traveled to this place in 636AD, gives the original name of this place as Kusumapura (Keu-su-mo-pu-lo)— city of flowers, before it came to be called Kanyā-Kubja. Fa-Hien, who visited Kannauj before Huen Tsang during the fifth century, refers to the city as Kannauj (Ka-nao-yi), which was probably in use by the natives. Harshavardhan or Śilāditya II reigned when Huen Tsang visited Kannauj.

Around 836CE, Mahodaya became the name of the city, while Kanyā-Kubja, was used to refer to the province.

Finally, the British spelled it as Connodge, and post-independence, it reverted to Kannauj, which is the name of the city as well as of the district.

Featured Image: By w:user:Planemad [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Dey, Nundo Lal. The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Mediaeval India. New Delhi: Oriental Reprint; Exclusively Distributed by Munshiram Manoharlal, 1971. Print.
  2. Tripathi, Rama Shankar. History of Kanauj: To the Moslem Conquest. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1964. Print.
  3. Valmiki Ramayana – Baala Kanda – Sarga 32 .” Valmiki Ramayana – Baala Kanda – Sarga 32 . Desiraju Hanumanta Rao, K.M.K.Murthy. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. .
  4. Watters, Thomas. On Yuang Chwan’s Travels in India. Vol. XIV. London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1904. Print.
  5. Faxian.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <;.
  6. Xuanzang.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <;.

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