Speculations about the Druhyus-Part 1
Speculations about the Druhyus
Part 1: Possible Founders of a Kshatriya-Centric Ritual Tradition?
Amongst the five tribes of the Chandravamshi, the Anu, Druhyu, Puru, Yadu and Turvashu; the Druhyu remains the most mysterious, having eclipsed into obscurity at a very early stage in traditional history as chronicled in the Puranas. The Druhyus were probably the most powerful amongst the five peoples of the lunar dynasty at the time when Yuvanashva was king of the solar-clan Iksvakus and his son Mandhatr was the prince and ready to assume leadership of the Iksvaku army from his father.
Yuvanashva was married to Gauri, daughter of Matinara, king of the Purus. Owing to this matrimonial alliance, the Iksvakus were obliged to defend the Purus from the threat of the Druhyus who were making inroads into Madhyadesa, the Vedic heartland and realm of the Purus. Mandhatr dealt the Druhyus a crushing defeat and killed their king, Angara. Succesive military intervention by Purukutsa successfully drove the Druhyus out of the Northwest frontier and the formerly Druhyu-controlled lands were soon occupied by the Yadu from the south and the west-ward moving Usinara faction of the Anava tribe. The Sivi branch of the Anu dynasty would go on to establish the famous kingdoms, including those of Madra and Kekaya.
So, what happened to the Druhyus since the Puranas cut short the geneaology, indicating that they fell into oblivion? Is it possible that some of the Druhyus might have remained for perhaps a few centuries more in the Northwest of what we call modern India? That is, could the Punjab continued to have been home to the Druhyu people after the recurring waves of Iksvaku offense, and be a safe haven for their cultural practices to flourish?
Although evidence is almost zero, and we can only make an educated guess for all of these questions, the following speculations might be of some merit by their sheer virtue of being able to connect several disparate threads in our recorded tradition and scripture.
A number of essential points to note in this regard:
- The slain ruler of the Druhyus, Angara, or Angara-setu as he is also known in some Puranas was succeeded by his son, Gandhara after whom the famous Gandhara country is named, and metamorphosed in modern times into Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mandhatr’s son Purukutsa is recorded to have engaged the Mauneya Gandharvas by attacking from the Narmada River, at the request of the Nagas who were despoiled by the Gandharvas.  Is this a sign of a brief Druhyu resurgence, led by their prince, Gandhara as the terms, “Gandhara” and “Gandharva” are etymologically related? It also makes sense since Angara and Mandhatr were contemporaneous. Their respective sons would have been contemporaries as well.
- Some of the Druhyus must have remained in the Punjab region, where the Anu established a number of kingdoms including those of the Madra and Kekaya. The reasoning for this is the fact that in the famous Battle of Ten Kings (Dasarajna) that pitted the North Panchala king and the Rig Veda’s greatest hero, Sudas against a conglomerate of other tribes; the latter includes the Anu and Druhyu, who are often mentioned together. This could very well imply the assimilation and thus the continued survival of the Druhyu tribe, and by extension, their traditions and practices in the Anu region.
- Just 2-3 generations before Sudas: Bharata, the brother of Rama of Ramayana fame, was the son of Dasaratha by Kaikeyi of the Kekaya kingdom. After Rama assumed rulership of the Ayodhya Kingdom, Bharata went over to the Kekaya country of his mother to rule. From there, his sons Taksha and Pushkara invaded the Gandhara country and established two capitals in their own names, Takshasila and Pushkaravati. The Madra kingdom seems to have been undisturbed by the accounts of both Ramayana and Mahabahrata. But as Pargiter points out in his seminal and ground-breaking work, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition (pg. 279-280)
“Bharata’s mother was a Kaikeya princess and he obtained that kingdom apparently. His two sons Taksa and Puskara are said to have conquered Gandhara and reigned there in Taksasila and Puskaravati respectively……The two states in Gandhara receive no further notice and were probably absorbed among the Druhyus.”
So, we can safely assume that the Druhyus and their culture managed to survive in Madra, Kekeya and Gandhara.
Keeping these points in mind, it would be now pertinent to examine some verses in a lengthy hate speech Karna makes to Shalya with respect to Shalya’s Madra heritage. That whole section of the Mahabharata is nothing but vitriol, and sparing not even Madra’s northwestern neighbours, extends the diatribe to the Gandhara people as well.
madrake saṃgataṃ nāsti madrako hi sacāpalaḥ madrakeṣu ca duḥsparśaṃ śaucaṃ gāndhārakeṣu ca rājayājaka yājyena naṣṭaṃ dattaṃ havir bhavet (Mbh: 27.80-81)
“The Madra is fickle-minded. Friendship is lost amongst the Madra as purity is lost amongst the Gandhara and a sacrifice where the King himself offers the libations.”
And after a protracted exchange between Shalya and Karna taking pot-shots at each other, Karna ends the colloquy by once again lashing out at the Madraka and related Northwestern peoples. Karna recounts a tale where the famous king-turned-demon Kalmashapada is rescued by another king while sinking in a stream. Upon being rescued, the demon reveals to the king the mantra by which demonic possession or the effect of poision can be overcome.
mānuṣāṇāṃ malaṃ mecchā mecchānāṃ mauṣṭikā malam mauṣṭikānāṃ malaṃ śaṇḍāḥ śaṇḍānāṃ rājayājakāḥ rājayājaka yājyānāṃ madrakāṇāṃ ca yan malam tad bhaved vai tava malaṃ yady asmān na vimuñcasi iti rakṣopasṛṣṭeṣu viṣavīryahateṣu ca rākṣasaṃ bheṣajaṃ proktaṃ saṃsiddhaṃ vacanottaram (Mbh: 30.70-72)
“The mlecchas are the dirt of mankind: the oilmen are the dirt of the Mlecchas; eunuchs are the dirt of oilmen; they who have Kings (Kshatriyas) offering oblations for them, are the dirt of eunuchs. The dirt of those who have Kshatriya priests, of also of the Madrakas, shall be thine if thou do not abandon me.”
It is quite striking that the poet through the medium of Karna, after insulting the chastity of women in the Madra and aforementioned countries and using a repertoire of harsh insults, should twice use the imagery of Kshatriya priests as the ultimate albeit rather unconvincing metaphor for the depravity of the Madra people. The poet, likely to be a Brahmana himself, must have felt very strongly against such a practice.
On a more important note, although the poet uses the “Kshatriya priests” idea only as a metaphor and does not directly accuse the Northwestern Madraka and Gandharaka peoples of it, it can be reasonably concluded that this practice must have been especially prominent amonst the Northwestern Madraka and Gandharaka peoples, given that he makes Karna repeatedly state how the Pancala, Kuru, Matsya, Surasena and Cedi, and even the eastern Anga, Magadha and Kalinga peoples are conversant with pious practices.
The hypothesis: Could it be that the Northwest inherited the tradition of Kshatriya priests from an ancient Druhyu or Anu-Druhyu culture?
At first, the scarcity of information about the Druhyus in the tradition compels us to see the hypothesis as a lost cause. However, Mandhatr’s grandson Trasadasyu would be a good starting point. Unfortunately, we do not have any narratives about this Trasadasyu who, from the dynastic lists reconstructed and synchronized by Pargiter, is understood to be the first one to bear this unique name. In the next post, we would explore the terms, “Dasyu” and “Dasa” to clarify our understanding of what the Druhyu culture might have been and conclude if the above hypothesis can at least make sense.
: The Nagas could have been one of the early, serpent-worshipping warrior tribes which was widespread in Northern India incuding parts of Rajasthan. Mandhatr had married Bindumati, daughter of king Sasabindhava, the then ruler of the Yadavas and fathered Purukutsa. The maternal connection with the Yadavas would have proven useful for Purukutsa’s offense against the Gandharvas, as the Narmada river was in Yadu territory. It is interesting that the Nagas sought the assistance of the Iksvakava.