I first became interested in the geography in the Pāḷi Canonical texts when I was translating the Discourse on the Great Emancipation (Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ) from the Dīghanikāya, which records the final journey the Buddha made over the last year of his life.
I realised then that, although I had a vague idea of where the places mentioned were, it was not really very clear to me, even as to which direction he was traveling in. I therefore decided to make a map, to understand the progress of the journey better. This was the origin of the Maps section of the Ancient Buddhist Texts website.
I later added many other biographical texts from the Canon, which again required an understanding of the Buddha’s locations and movements, which led on to a wider study of the subject and eventually to a series of videos mapping out the geography of Buddhist history as we understand it.
One of the best works written in this area of study is the Geography of Early Buddhism by the great Bengali scholar Bimala Churn Law, who was one of the foremost scholars of his age in a wide variety of areas in ancient India, including Buddhist, Vedic and Jaina studies and translations from Pāḷi and other texts.
He published this book in 1932, and it covers most of the geographical references in the texts, and indicates their location as well as was known at that time. I have now prepared the book for publication on Ancient Buddhist Texts, under the Reference section, where it is a part of a series of essays on Buddhist Literature and Art.
The book itself is part essay, part reference manual, and is organised through general descriptions, which are quite fascinating at times, and organised listings, such as Countries, Towns, Villages, Rivers, Lakes, Tanks, Mountains, Hills, Caves, Parks, Forests, Jungles, Cetiyas, Ārāmas and Vihāras.
It has to be said that some of the material is dated, as it was written during the British Raj period, when India was itself a very different political and geographical entity, but it still retains much of its worth, and I haven’t attempted to update it in any fundamental way, as this could only be done through a thorough rewriting of the material.
I hope for students this will further help with their studies and understanding of the places where the Lord Buddha lived and taught.
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