yojana

In India, at least as early as 4th century bce – 20th century, a unit of itinerant distance.

The Arthaśāstra1 (4th century bce) says that 1 yojana = 4 gorutas; 1 goruta = 1000 dhanus; 1 dhanu = 96 angulas. Taking the angula as ¾ inch makes the yojana about 4.54 statute miles. During the colonial period the British administration set the yojana at 5 miles; however, this seems to be smaller than its usual value. The ancient commentator on the Arthaśāstra says the goruta is 2000 dhanus, which would make the yojana about 9 miles.

T. W. Rhys Davids complied a list of occurrences of the term and compared each with distances on modern maps. He concluded2:

The conclusion to which I come is that we have no data as yet for determining the sense in which the word yojana is used in the Three Piṭakas; that in fifth-century Páli literature it means between seven and eight miles3, and that the traditions preserved by Ceylon authors of that date as to distances in North India in the time of Gautama agree pretty well, except in the cases of Kapilavastu and Sankassa, with the sites fixed by General Cunningham.

3. As when Professor Childers, in his Dictionary, s.v., looks upon the yojana “as about equivalent to twelve miles,” he is following Moggallána, though he especially instances No. 16, so also when the Burmese make it = 13½ miles (teste Rogers, Bud. Par. p. 42), this probably rests on some similar calculation.

Doursther (1840) says 1 yojana = 4 krosa or cos = 400 tenah = 1600 bamboos = 3200 vansas = 8000 dandas = 20,000 guz, about 20.048 km (12.73 miles). His source is not given. Klimpert, under the headword Jodschan, says it= 4 cos and is 7315 meters in Bengal, which is a restatement of the reasoning from the Arthaśāstra.

Stein (1900, see example 1 below) says the usual value of the kruh in early 20th century Kashmir is 1½ miles, making the yojana (= 4 kruh) about 6 miles.

The unit occurs in Buddhist sutras.  In Chinese translations of the sutras, yojana is rendered as you xun. Even longer values seem appropriate in some of the sutras.

1. R. Shamasasatry, trans.
Kautila's Arthaśāstra. 8th ed.
Mysore: Mysore Printing and Publishing House, 1967.

See footnote 4, page 121.

 

2. T. W. Rhys Davids.
On the Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon.
London: Trübner and Company, 1877.

Page 17.

Examples

1

Book 1

264. When she learned from afar [at a place] where more than one Yojana yet remained of her way [to Narapura], that her brother had accomplished his work, she left that hail of stones among the villages.

265. For five Yojanas from that place the village-land became a waste buried under mighty boulders, and known to this very day as the Ramaṇyātavi ('the forest of Ramaṇyā').

[Footnote to verses] 263-265. ...In the stony waste above Litar I recognize the place where, according to our verse, the Ramaṇyā is supposed to have dropped her stones.  The distance between it and Tsakadar is about eight miles, which corresponds exactly to the expression of the text...

The 'five Yojanas' which the next verse mentions as the length of the ground laid waste by the Ramanyatavi, seems a less accurate measurement. From above Hura por to the locality near Litar above indicated the map shows only a distance of about twenty-two miles, which is considerably less than the five Yojanas, or twenty Krosas of verse 265. The modern Kruh (Kōś) of Kasmi is about one and a half miles, and to judge from the evidence of vii. 393, and of Bilhana's measurement, Vikram. xviii. 70, the ancient Krośa in Kasmir could not have been less.

...

Book 7.

393. Full of energy, he accomplished the [way of] five Yojanas in half a moment by spurring on his steed which was as fast as thought.

[Footnote to verse] 393. The direct distance by road from S'ringar to Vijebror is about thirty miles. This corresponds exactly to five Yojanas or twenty Krośas, if the Krośa is taken at the usual valuation of the modern Kaśmiri Kruh (Kōś) as equal to one and a half miles; comp. note i. 265

M. A. Stein, trans.
Kalhana's Rajatarangini. A Chronicle of the Kings of Kasmir. Vol. 1.
Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1961.
Reprint of the 1900 edition.

These footnotes of Sir Aurel Stein's have often been described as if Stein had made precise measurements of distances with somewhat precise endpoints, in the manner of modern studies of, for example, the stade. As can be seen, that is not the case.

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