Chronological Framework for Bharatiya Culture – Part 3

In this series of articles, we are introducing the research ‘On the Chronological Framework for Indian Culture’ by Shri Subhash Kak, to readers old and new. (To read Part 2 of the series, click here.)

Vedic and Puranic History

The vast Vedic literature can be analyzed on its own terms by considering its various layers. The Vedic books, such as the Samhitas and the Brahmanas (in particular, the Aitareya and the Satapatha), mention names of kings in an incidental fashion. But they do at times provide the genealogies of rishis. The Vedic books have been preserved with astonishing accuracy and a tradition has preserved the names of the authors of hymns or verses when a hymn has multiple authors. But not all the famous kings of the Rgvedic age are lauded in the hymns.

On the other hand, the bards (sutas) of the Puranas and the epics have preserved genealogies of kings and other people. “As seen by good people in the ancient times, the suta’s duty was to preserve the genealogies of gods, rishis and glorious kings and the traditions of great men.” (Vayu P. 1. 31-2)

According to the epics and the Puranas (e.g. Mahabharata 1.63.2417, Vayu P. 60. 11-12) the arranger of the Vedas was Parasara’s son Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa who lived at the time of the Bharata battle.

The most famous historical event mentioned in the Rgveda is “the Battle of the Ten Kings”, (dasarajna), mentioned in four hymns of the seventh book of the Rgveda (18, 19, 33, 83). The battle took place between Sudas, the Trtsu king, and a confederacy of ten people that include Pakthas, Bhalanas, Alinas, Sivas, and Visanins.

One of the hymns of the Rgveda (10.98) is, according to the indices, composed by Devapi, and this hymn mentions Santanu, Bhisma’s father.

This appears to be the youngest hymn in the Rgveda, and thus the reference is supportive of the Bharatiya tradition. The Yajurveda does not mention anyone later than Dhrtarastra, and the Atharvaveda mentions a Pariksit ruling over the Kurus. There is no mention in the Vedic Samhitas of any of the Puranic kings who came much after the Bharata battle.

Although the Puranas have suffered extensive revisions, the core Purana can be dated to Vedic times. Atharvaveda 11.7.24 mentions Purana along with the three other Vedas. Satapatha Brahmana refers specifically to the itihasa-puran. a and refers to the recitation of the Purana. There is a similar reference in the Chandogya Upanisad 3.4.1.

According to the Visnu Purana, the original Purana was transmitted to Romaharsana by Vyasa. Romaharsana taught it to his six disciples, including his son Ugrasravas. At that time the Purana consisted of 4,000 verses. The oldest three Puranas — the Vayu, the Matsya, and the Brahmanda — are supposed to have been narrated in the reign of Adhisimakrsna, the great-great grandson of Pariksit. The Vayu Purana was first narrated to a gathering of rishis, performing their twelve-year sacrifice in the Naimisa forest on the banks of the river Drsadvati.

A Purana is supposed to have five distinguishing marks: sarga (primary creation of the universe), pratisarga (secondary creation), vamsa (genealogy), manvantarani (the reigns of Manus in different yugas), and vamsanucarita (history). Within this framework, the bards have found fit to add new episodes, but king lists have always remained an important component of the books.

Over the centuries, the Puranas have become enlarged with additional material and reworking of old material. The Visnu Purana gives genealogies of the various dynasties of which that of the Aiksvakus is the most complete, giving ninety-three generations from the mythical Manu to Brhadbala of the Bharata battle. The dynasty of the Purus is assigned fifty three generations for the same period.

Clearly, the lists are not complete, and in fact the Puranic tradition itself claims that the lists are incomplete (e.g. Matsya Purana 49.72). This is true even of the Iksvaku line, which is the longest (e.g. Vayu Puran. a 88.213). It appears therefore that some other system of reckoning must have also been used, because we find it is still possible to obtain a consistent list by the use of internal synchronisms and through cross-validation with independent sources.

The Vedic genealogies of rishis can be found in the Satapatha Brahmana ( and Brhadaranyaka Upanisad (2.6; 4.6; 6.5), but such lists are not characteristic of the Vedic books. However, the Anukramanis provide invaluable references to the composers of the hymns. The Vedic books do not present history in any systematic fashion. Nevertheless, the isolated references to kings and rishis can be compared usefully with the independent references in the Puranas to obtain a chronological framework for the events of the Vedic era.

The famous kings of the epics and the Puranas were Mandhatr, Hariscandra, Sagara, Bhagiratha, Dasaratha, and Rama of Ayodhya; Sasabindu and Arjuna Kartavirya of the Yadavas; Dusyanta, Bharata, Ajamidha, Kuru and Santanu of the Pauravas; Jahnu and Gadhi of Kanyakubja; Divodasa and Pratardana of Kasi; Vasu Caidya of Cedi and Magadha; Marutta Aviksita and Trnabindu of the Vaisala kingdom; and Usinara and Sivi of the Anavas.

Of those that are mentioned in the Rgveda are Bharata (RV 6.14.4), Santanu (RV 10.98.1), Ajamidha (RV 4.44.6), Mandhatr (RV 1.112.13, 8.39.8, 8.40.12) and Rama (RV 10.93.14). Furthermore Rgveda 10.34 is attributed to Mandhatr, 10.179.1 is attributed to Sivi, and 10.179.2 is attributed to Pratardana.

Of the kings lauded in the Rgveda, Vadhryasva, Divodasa, Srnjaya, Sudas, Sahadeva and Somaka appear as kings in the North Pancala genealogy, but there is no description of their exploits. On the other hand, other Rgvedic kings such as Abhyavartin Cayamana, Srutarvan Arksa, Playogi Asanga and Svanaya Bhavya are unknown in the epics and the Puranas.

That Sudas, the most famous king of the Rgveda, should just be a name in the Puranas can be explained in two ways. First, this king lived long before the compilation of the genealogies and second, the focus of his exploits was far from the region where the Puranic genealogies were organized. The Puranas themselves claim that the sutas were originally from the eastern regions of Magadha and Anupa, and this was far from the locale of the Sudas battle in north Punjab.

The Puranic genealogies all begin with the mythical Manu Vaivasvata. He had several offspring of whom his daughter Ila bore a son named Pururavas Aila; their further successors represent the Aila or Lunar branch of the Vedic people. Manu’s chief son Iksvaku became the king of Madhyadesa with the capital at Ayodhya. The Aiksvakus are the Solar dynasty.

Amongst the Ailas, Pururavas was succeeded by Ayu; he in turn was succeeded by the famous king Nahusa, whose son and successor was Yayati. The kingdom expanded a great deal during his reign, and Yayati divided up this state amongst his sons Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu, Anu, and Puru.

Reconstruction of genealogies

The Visnu Purana and other Puranas provide various king lists. Pargiter collated the Puranic and the epic lists,[18] using synchronisms to place the kings of the main Aiksvaku list in relation to the kings in the even less complete lists of the other dynasties. He was also able to establish the general credibility of the lists by comparison with the well preserved information of the Vedic books. Pargiter drew attention to the fact that the genealogies are more complete in regard to the eastern kingdom of Ayodhya. He argued that the focus of the civilization described in the Puranas was eastern Bharat.

The king lists are traditionally placed in different yugas as follows: The Krita age ended with the destruction of the Haihayas [by Rama Jamadagnya]; the Treta began approximately with Sagara and ended with Rama Dasarathi’s destruction of the Raksasas; and the Dvapara began with his reinstatement at Ayodhya and ended with the Bharata battle. By taking the numbers in the table of genealogies, the division is approximately thus: the Krita Nos. 1-40, the Treta Nos. 41-65, and the Dvapara Nos. 66-95.

What was the Puranic theory of the yugas? According to the Vayu Purana 32.58-64, the Krita yuga is 4,000 years together with 400 years of sandhyas on either side; the Treta yuga is 3,000 years with total sandhya periods of 600 years; the Dvapara is 2,000 years with sandhyas of 400 years; and the Kaliyuga is 1,000 years with sandhy¯as of 200 years. In other words, the four yuga periods are 4,800, 3,600, 2,400 and 1,200 years, respectively. Taken together the cycle of the four yugas amounts to a total of 12,000 years.

To summarize the lists, one sees that there are ninety five generations before the Bharata War. The references to kings and rishis are distributed over the entire range. Yayati is at generation number six, Divodasa of Kasi at twenty five, Hariscandra of Ayodhya at thirty three, Bharata of the Pauravas at forty four, Bhagiratha of Ayodhya at forty five, Rama of Ayodhya at sixty five and Pratipa of the Pauravas is at eighty seven.

Pargiter uses the internal evidence to show that many kings and rishis at different periods shared the same names, and this has led to a lot of confusion. He placed the first Visvamitra at generation number thirty-two and Vamadeva, the author of the fourth book of the Rgveda, at sixty-ninth generation.

Pargiter places Sudas at number sixty-eight, whereas the Druhyus who are supposed to have left the country are placed at thirty-eight. This indicates a possible error in his synchronism. Pargiter’s lists cannot be considered to be the final word, but they are a useful starting point. In spite of the limitations of the lists, Pargiter is to be commended for the care that he took in obtaining his synchronisms. But his interpretation of the lists was vitiated by his implicit use of the incorrect but fashionable theories about the spread of Aryans within Bharat.

In order to conform with Max Muller’s date for the composition of the Rgveda, Pargiter considered that the Bharata battle took place around 950 BC. Assuming that each king ruled approximately for twelve years he traced the genealogies to about 2000 BC.

Since Pargiter’s work was done before the discovery of the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization, he was not able to use archaeological checks for his assumptions. He did not use the internal tradition in the Puranas regarding the time span between king Pariksit and the Nandas, and he also did not use the fact that the lists are incomplete. But he demonstrated that with the most conservative view of the data, there was no escaping the fact that the Bharatiya tradition went back to at least 2000 BC.

A later attempt by Bhargava departs from Pargiter in assigning a more realistic period of twenty years per generation. Considering one hundred generations of kings up to the time of the Bharata battle this took him to 3000 BC as the dawn of Bharatiya history. Although this work improves on Pargiter’s synchronism, Bhargava’s work remains limited because of two assumptions:

(i) that the Bharata battle took place in about 1000 BC (he also used unconvincing arguments to reconcile it with the Puranic statements);

(ii) seeing the Aryans only in the Sapta Saindhava area during the Rgveda era, which is in contradiction to the internal evidence of the Puranas. The provenance of the kings and the rishis shows that during the Rgvedic times itself the Aryans were spread to about the current geographical extent of the Indo-Aryan languages in Bharat.

The Rgveda (RV 8.9.2) speaks of five peoples (pancha manusn); in 1.108.8 they are named as Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu, Anu, and Puru. Identified by some as five Aryan tribes but described in the Puranas as the sons of Yayati. According to the Puranas, the Purus were located in the Punjab region, and a disproportionately large number of kings mentioned in the Rgveda belong to the Purus.

In summary, the evidence from the Puranas clearly indicates that there were at least one hundred kings in a genealogical succession before the Bharata battle. If an average span of twenty years is assigned to each king, this provides a period of 2,000 years for the duration of the Vedic age, which takes us back to the Harappan period, even if the most conservative chronology is used. This raises important questions about placing the Bharata battle within the framework provided by the recent archaeological discoveries from Bharat.


(To be continued…)

(Featured image for representational purpose only. Source)


18. Pargiter (1922); see Bhargava (1971), Frawley (1991), and Klostermaier (1994, 1998).


ResearchOn the Chronological Framework for Indian Culture

Author: Subhash Kak

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