The Joy of Discovering Synchronisms-Part 1

Note: I had received feedback that some of the posts are difficult to understand. Hence, I created a new page for downloads that can be seen next to the “About Me”. I will upload important documents there which might help readers better appreciate the articles. As of now, I have uploaded pdf files of certain pages from Pargiter’s Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, that will illustrate the map of Vedic India as well as the genealogical lists of the various, great dynasties that ruled Bhāratavarṣa. It is recommended that you read the articles in this blog in conjunction with the uploaded files.

In the previous post, we had noted the long and continuing neglect of the puranas’ testimony, and had also briefly mentioned Pargiter’s unique work, outstanding among western scholars for its emphasis on the overall credibility of the Puranas. However, even the most insightful contributions hardly escape the clutches of the thinkers’ biases and even Pargiter was no exception to this.

Pargiter had distinguished between two types of traditions-the Brahmanical and Kshatriya. The Brahmanical tradition was the Veda Samhitas, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads, which had their own ahistorical concerns and not too perturbed by the lack of historical consistency in their content. Hence, Pargiter would argue that such texts, with their main focal point being a religious agenda such as rituals or the greatness of Brahmanas, were not sufficiently reliable as sources from which a cogent history can be derived. On the other hand, the Kshatriya tradition consisted of the Puranas whose Vamsa accounts, in delineating the genealogies of kings, display a remarkable sense of consistency. This implies that these sources represented a dispassionate attempt to preserve the memory of one’s own renowned ancestors. Of course, the Puranas too had their share of fantastic myths, which Pargiter conveniently explained as a Brahmanical spin on an otherwise Kshatriya account. The Itihasas, namely the Mahabharata and Ramayana, were more difficult to fit into Pargiter’s neat, dualistic scheme. Pargiter, rightfully though, had greater respect for the historical value of the Mahabharata as compared to the Ramayana, where the sense of chronology/genealogy is a little anachronistic.

However, this excessive bias against the Sruti as a valid witness to the historical developments of the Brahma-Kshatra was a hindrance to realizations that might finish a particular historical puzzle. Sudasa Paijavana, one of the greatest heroes of the North Pancala dynasty and also the most memorable doyen of the Rig Veda. Sudasa and his troops were collectively addressed as the Bharatas in the RV while he battled a confederate of ten (Actually more than ten, but the RV rounded it off to ten for, perhaps, poetic or metrical reasons) kings, the Dasarajanya. One of these ten enemies he struggled against was the Puru. Many indologists, being outsiders to the Vedic tradition and of a lethargic disposition towards developing their narratives in consonance with Pauranika testimony, spout off nonsensical claims like, “The Bharatas and Purus were opposing tribes” and even worse, “The Bharatas and Purus later merged to form the Kuru state”! A brief study of the genealogical lists would demonstrate that Bharata Daushyanti was a distant descendant of Puru. The Bharatas had several offshoots later on and the eldest branch ruled at Hastinapura (Founded by the great Hastin, the fifth descendant of Bharata Daushyanti), while junior branches include the North and South Pancala dynasties as well as the Dvimidha. Hence, Pancalas, Dvimidha and the kings of the Hastinapura line are all Bharatas and thus Pauravas. Tradition does not remember any non-Bharata Paurava clans. Hence, the term, “Paurava” can only be applied to Bharatas unless it is explicitly used to refer to an individual born before the time of Bharata Daushyanti.

So who was this unnamed ‘Puru’ enemy that Sudasa and his ‘Bharatas’ had battled against as alluded to in the Rig Veda? Obviously, it was another Bharata clan, apart from North Pancala. The most logical hypothesis would be that it was the eldest branch of the Paurava-Bharata that reigned at Hastinapura. Sudasa’s campaign against the ‘ten kings’ was indeed a massive effort and must have been to overthrow the incumbent rulers of Hastinapura as well as other major kings in the region. There is an interesting piece of textual evidence from the Mahabharata to support this hypothesis, as Pargiter points out in his monograph, “The North Pancala Dynasty” and the relevant portions are worth quoting in full:

“Now epic tradition in one passage takes up this story and carries it to a conclusion which very naturally is not noticed in the Rigveda. It relates the story from the Paurava side, calling as usual the Pauravas Bharatas and this dynasty Pancalya. The passage condensed runs thus. While Samvarana was king (of Hastinapura) there was great destruction among the people. The kingdom was wasted by manifold calamities—famine, pestilence, drought, and sickness. His foes in great force smote the Bharatas. The victorious Pancalya defeated him in battle, and king Samvarana fled with his wife, ministers, son, etc., and dwelt in a forest fastness near the River Sindhu and the mountains a very long time. The rishi Vasiṣṭha went to them. They welcomed him and the king secured him as purohita. Vasiṣṭha espoused their cause and inaugurated him as Samraj over all Kshatriyas. Samvarana dwelt in Hastinapura and made all kings tributary.”

And also, “Puru, whom Sudas defeated at the Parusni, and even perhaps as far west as the Sindhu, was the Paurava Samvarana who was defeated and fled to the Sindhu. The decline of Sudas’s kingdom after his death and the defection of Vasiṣṭha from his family to Samvarana enabled Samvarana to take the field again against Sahadeva or Somaka, and not only recover his own kingdom but also reduce the power of the Pancala kingdom. The hymns give the Pancala version, but only in the first stage, and naturally there was nothing to glorify in the final result. The epic gives the Paurava version and notices the whole campaign, but yet deals tenderly with those Rigvedic kings in not mentioning the Pancalya’s name and in merely stating Samvarana’s final success curtly without any description of it.”

A number of interesting things to note from the Rig Vedic as well as the Mahabharata account:

  1. As per the Mahabharata account, a certain Vasiṣṭha became the priest-i.e. Chief Minister-of Samvarana. However, in the Rig Veda, Sudasa had won his battles with the guidance of the Vasiṣṭhās. Hence, the Vasiṣṭhās seem to have switched their loyalty and defected from North Pancala to support Samvarana’s return to power. Interestingly, there seems to be support for a confrontation between Sudasa and the Vasiṣṭhās following their short-lived honeymoon period that lasted till the end of the Dasarajanya battle, in which they had emerged victorious. Sakti, the son of Vasiṣṭha and probably also others among the Vasiṣṭhās, were killed by Sudasa’s party. This is remembered by the Taittiriyakas in their Samhita (TS 7.4.7). At any rate, the absence of Vasiṣṭhās in the hymns that concern Sahadeva and Somaka, Sudasa’s son and grandson respectively, also stands to prove that the Vasiṣṭhās had abandoned the North Pancala dynasty.
  1. But how the Vasiṣṭhās became the chosen priests of Sudasa is another fiasco in itself. A particular Visvamitra was the original priest of Sudasa before being rendered “mindless” (Vicetanah) at a sacrificial performance by Sakti, the Vasiṣṭha. The position of priest goes to Vasiṣṭha. The Visvamitras would later acknowledge the Jamadagnis for restoring them with the ‘Sasarpari’ speech. (RV 3.53.15-16) Also in this long and famous hymn, the last four verses are said to be imprecations against the Vasiṣṭhās and a focused study of it will be completed in the future. While this might initially seem like a combat with magic and rites, the political implications are obvious. The Visvamitras had made an alliance with the Jamadagnis, an observation that would later lead to the interesting synchronism I had discovered. Furthermore, this close association of the Visvamitras and Jamadagnis is remembered in the Taittiriya Samhita at two places, and that too in the context of their joint opposition to Vasiṣṭha. (TS 3.1.7; 5.4.11)
  1. The Mahabharata version calls Samvarana and his troops, ‘Bharatas’ whereas the Rig Veda uses the same to address Sudasa and his army. It was clear that by the time of the internecine conflict between the Bharatas of Sudas and Samvarana, the term, ‘Bharata’ had taken upon a meaning of royal power and connoted an imperial sovereignty. Hence, at least in the third, sixth and seventh books of Rig Veda, the North Pancala were referred to as Bharatas while in all other places, the term was exclusively reserved for the kings of Hastinapura. On the other hand, the term, ‘Paurava’ had become a generic term to describe a tribe, an ethnic group and could be used for both parties. This is why there are contradictory statements in the Rig Veda about Puru during the time of Sudasa’s confrontation. The following verse are both from the 7th Mandala of the Rig Veda, composed by the Vasiṣṭhās, when they had been allied with Sudasa.

“vaiśvānara pūrave śośucānaḥ puro yadagne darayannadīdeḥ” RV 7.5.3c

“For pūru, Oh vaiśvānara, you shone; which forts, oh Agni, you splitting/rending, would light up! (i.e. burn)”

“abhi yaḥ pūrum pṛtanāsu tasthau dyutāno daivyo atithiḥ śuśoca|” RV 7.8.4c

“He who overpowered pūru in battle, as a resplendent divine guest he shines!”

vy ānavasya tṛtsave gayam bhāg jeṣma pūruṃ vidathe mṛdhravācam || RV 7.18.13c

“The wealth of ānava (descendants of anu), to the tṛtsu-s, he apportioned (as spoils). In the fight (or, in the assembly?), we defeated pūru of contemptible speech!”

pra paurukutsiṃ trasadasyum āvaḥ kṣetrasātā vṛtrahatyeṣu pūrum || RV 7.19.3c

“You led trasadasyu, [the son] of purukutsa, to the obtainment of kṣetras; puru in the killing of vṛtras (metaphorically, enemies)”

This explains the varied use of the term, ‘Puru’; where the hostile use of ‘Puru’ is set up in contradistinction against ‘Bharata’ when the whole of Pauranika and Itihasika tradition agrees that the latter is a descendant (and therefore subset) of the former.

Now that we have clarified the four most critical points, we are ready to encounter another textual piece that will corroborate Pargiter’s solution to the puzzle of the mysterious ‘Puru’ foe of Sudasa in the Rig Veda (Whom we had identified as Samvarana) and also enlighten us on the related historical developments.

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