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The position of the Kuru kingdom in Iron Age Vedic India.

Kuru (Sanskrit: कुरु) was the name of an Indo-Aryan kshatriya tribe[1] and their kingdom in the Vedic period of India, and later a republican Mahajanapada state. Their kingdom was located in the area of modern Haryana and Delhi. They formed the first political center of the Indo-Aryans after the Rigvedic period, and after their emergence from the Punjab, and it was there that the codification and redaction of the Vedic texts began. Archaeologically, they most likely correspond to the black and red ware culture of the 12th to 9th centuries BC. At this time, iron first appears in western India. Iron is still absent from the Rigvedic hymns, and makes its first appearance as "black metal" (śyāma ayas) in the Atharvaveda.

The Atharvaveda (XX.127) refers to Parikshit as the king of the Kurus.[2] His son Janamejaya figures in Satapatha Brahmana as well as in the Aitareya Brahmana. The Kurus in association with the Panchalas are frequently mentioned in the later Vedic literature.

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Geographical Location of Kuru

In the epic times (8th-6th centuries BC), the region between the triangle of Thaneshwar, Hissar and Hastinapur was distinguished by three different names: (1) Kuru-Jangala equal to Rohtak, Hansi, Hissar; (2) Kuru-rashtra proper between the Ganges and Yamuna with its capital at Hastinapura and (3) the Kuru-kshetra comprising Thaneshwar, Kaithal and Karnal.

The whole kingdom roughly corresponded to modern Thanesar, Delhi and the greater part of Upper Gangetic Doab.

The rivers Aruna, Ashumati, Hiranvati, Apaya, Kausiki, Sarasvati and Drishadvati or Rakshi washed the lands of Kurus.

Kurus of Buddha's times

The Kuru kingdom figures in the list of the sixteen great kingdoms, the Mahajanapadas of the early Buddhist Anguttara Nikaya. At the time of Buddha, the Kuru realm was only three hundred leagues in extent. Legendary Buddhist stories -the Jatakas attest that the capital of the Kurus was Indraprastha (Indapatta) near modern Delhi. It extended for seven leagues. The other city in the realm was Hatthinipura i.e. Hastinapura. The reigning king Dhananjaya is stated as prince from the race of Yudhishtra. But he was merely a titular chieftain (king consul).

During Buddha's time, Ratthapala, son of the Kuru ruler had embraced Buddhism.

The Buddha taught important and profound discourses in the Kurus such as the "Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta", the Great Discourse on the Foundation of Mindfulness, "Mahānidāna Sutta", The Great Discourse on Causation, and "Āneñjasappāya Sutta", the Way to the Imperturbable. Other discourses, as recorded in the Pali Canon, taught by the Buddha in the Kurus are Māgaṇḍiya Sutta, Raṭṭhapāla Sutta, Sammasa Sutta, Dutiya Ariyāvāsa Sutta.

The Kurus of the Buddhist period did not occupy the same position as they did in the Vedic period but they continued to enjoy their ancient reputation for deep wisdom and sound health. The Kurus had matrimonial relations with Yadavas, the Bhojas and the Panchalas.

Though a well known monarchical people in earlier period, the Kurus are known to have switched to republic form of government during sixth/fifth century BCE. Fourth century BCE Kautiliya's Arthashastra also attests the Kurus as following the Rajashabdopajivin (king consul) constitution (11/1/1-4).

Kurus are mentioned by Panini (Astadhyayi 4.1.168-75) as one of the fifteen powerful Kshatriya Janapadas of his times, with Hastinapura as its capital.

Panini refers to the house-holders' way of life as against ascetic way obtaining amongst the Kurus.

Kuru Dharma

In Buddhism, "Kuru Dharma" specifically refers to the Five Precepts of moral restraints which every Buddhist must take along with the Triple Gem. Buddhists trace the origins of the 5 precepts in the "Kuru Dhamma Jataka".

Kurus have frequently been coupled with the Panchalas in later Vedic and Puranic literature. The Kurus were followers of Brahmanical way of life, and the early kingdom in all probability is the location of the codification of the Vedas and the establishment of major schools of Vedic priesthood. They insisted on the purity of family life and cultivation of proper domestic relations and virtues, a way of life and philosophy that are reflected in the basic doctrine of Bhagvadgita expounded at Kurukshetra. In the land of Kurus-Panchalas, the speech is said to have its particular home. The mode of sacrifice among the Kuru-Panchalas is proclaimed to be the best. The Kuru Panchala kings are said to have performed Rajasuya sacrifice. There are numerous references to the Brahmanas of Kuru-Panchala country. Kurus were noted for deep wisdom and purity of life.

Speculations on origins

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Kuru-Puru-Bharata connection

Epic traditions reveal that the kings of Kuru belonged to the Puru-Bharata family.

The Kuru-Puru connection is suggested by Rigveda (10.33.4) which attests Kuru-Sravana as the descendant of famous Puru king Trasadasyu. (4.38.1, 7.19.3).

A connection of the Bharatas with Kurukshetra is attested by Rigveda 3.23, Shatapatha Brahmana 13.5.4, Aitareya Brahmana 8.23 as well as the Mahabharata 7.66.8. The former Purus, Bharatas and several other minor clans were later fused together and amalgamated into the powerful Kurus who expanded east from the Punjab.

Mahabharata refers to kings Puru-ravas Aila, Ayu, Yayati Nahushya, Puru-Bharata Dauhshanti Saudyumni, Ajamidha, Riksha, Samavarana, Kuru, Uchchaihsravas Kaupayeya, Prati sutvana, Bahlika Pratipeya, Santnu and Dhritarashtra in the ancestral line of Parikshit, the grandson of Pandava Arjuna.

Speculations on origin of Kuru kingdom and Kurus

Kuru dynesty kings were called med-bhuti or med kshatriyas and Kuru forces were med or mair rajputs from ancient time in India. According to Bhagvata and Vishnu Puran, Medes or Mair Kshatriyas are one of the oldest warriors. Mair Kshatriyas are originally from Lord Brahama dynesty King Ajmenid अजमीढ़ . Badmer, Ajmer, Jesalmer are some of ancient cities of old Aryans Medes,mer or mair. After Golden age the Mahabharat fall of the Mairs Empire a power vacuum shortly existed in the region.(In the Sanskrit Mahabharat The Word MAIRBHUTI मैढ़-भूति, Ajmenid-nandan अजमीढ़-नंदन, KURU-KULAM कुरु कुल वंशी used for Rajas so many times), Kurukshetra War against the Kuruavas which is detailed in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. In this war, the Kshatriyas assumed the role of warriors for either side of the battle,after the war of Mahabharat Pandavs had gone for Swargarohan(Battle of heven) with all armies. Dispersal and dissolving of Mairs resulted medes had gone for movement to ancient Median Empires of Indian mair kshatriyas in Iran. The Medes are credited with the foundation of the first Iranian empire, the largest of its day until Cyrus (KURUS)कुरु the Great established a unified Iranian empire of the Medes(Indian origin) and Persians, often referred to as the Achaemenid Empire,( KING Ajmenid of India great grandfather of all Medes ). by defeating his grandfather and overlord, Astyages the Raja of Media. In present time med kshatriyas of India claims that they are from KURU dynesty and in Iran and rest of the world Kurdish community also claim to related with ancient meds. Kurdish are from Indo-European language origin, they can be from ancient Kurukshetra. Mahabharata and the Puranas attest the Kurus as the most important branch of the Ailas i.e. descendants of king Puru-ravas Aila.

The princes of Aila lineage are also designated as Karddameyas.[citation needed] This designation connects the Ailas to river Karddama, located in Persia (Arthashastra, p 76, n.5). Hence the home of the Karddameyas or the Aila princes (Kurus) is often identified with Bahlika or Balkh (Bactria) in Iran and not in India proper (Studies in Antiquities, 234).

Puru-ravas Aila, first king in the line of ancestors of the Kurus above, is mentioned in Ramayana stories as the son of a ruler who came, in some remote antiquity, from Bahli (Balkh) in Central Asia to Mid India (Ramayana, VII,103.21-22).

Mahabharata locates the birth place of king Puru-ravas Aila on a hill near the source of a river called Ganga (3.90.22-25).

This ancient Ganga is said to be different from the main Ganga and finds reference in ancient Sanskrit texts like Raghuvamsa, where it is found located in the neighborhood of the Kambojas of Pamirs/Badakshan. This river and river Sita (Yarkand) are said to be originating from Anavtapat Sarovar (in Pamirs or in Karakoram Jot, somewhere)[1]

Papancha-sudanai also refers to the Kurus, as colonists from trans-Himalayan region known as Uttarakuru (Dr B. C. Law, Ancient Indian Mid-Indian Kshatriya Tribes, p 16). .

The Kurus are associated with the Mahavrishas (See: Vedic Index, II, 279n) and the Bahlikas according to Mahabharata (II.63.2-7).

This association of the Kuru, Mahavrishas and the Bahlikas powerfully supports the northern origin of the Kurus. Shatapatha Brahmana also attests one king called Bahlika Pratipiya whom it designates as Koravya i.e. one from Kuru lineage.

We also know that Bahlika Pratipiya is an important epic king of the Kurus. He was from the Puru-rava Aila lineage and hence from the line of Kurus of Kurukshetra.

The word Bahlika in the name of Kuru king Bahlika Pratipiya is his personal designation and points to northern (Bahlika or Bactria) origin of the Kurus of Middle country, in accordance with ancient naming conventions.

A section of the Kurus, known as Uttarakurus, is stated to be living beyond the Himalayan region in the days of Mahabharata and Aitreya Brahmana as we learn from Aitareya Brahmana verse (VIII.14).

It is also to be noted that the Himalaya of the ancient Indian traditions extended from the east occean to the west ocean, and even today is not separated from it (See: Kumarasambhavam by Kalidasa).

Mahabharata also attests that the ancestors of the Kauravas and Pandavas originally migrated from Uttarakuru (MBH 1/187/28).

Buddhaghosa also records a tradition which states that, when Vedic king Mandhata returned to Jambudvipa from his sojourn in the four Mahadipas, there were, in his retinue, a large number of the people of Uttarakuru. They all settled down in Jambudípa, and their settlement became known as Kururattha (Kuru Rashtra).

Majjhima Commentary (Vol I, p 184) also attests that the people of Kururatha had originally belonged to the Uttarakuru.

The above several references would indicate that the ancestors of the Kurus of Middle India had migrated from Bahlika/Uttarakuru which was a region stated to be to the north of Himalaya /Hindukush.

But Przyluski has also shown that Bahlika or Balkh was the original home the Madra peoples known as the Uttaramadras. This shows that Uttarakuru, the original home of the Kurus, was not precisely located in Bahlika, but probably in some nearby region, north of Bahlika in Central Asia, possibly bordering with it. We know that on the east side of Bahlika i.e. the Uttaramadra, was located the Parama-Kamboja (say Uttara-Kambojas) branch of the Kambojas.

Thus it appears likely that the Uttarakurus as immediate neighbors to the Uttaramadras/Bahlikas were located to north-east of Uttaramadras and to north of Parama-Kambojas (Badakshan/Pamir).

By the way, if Bahlika is to be insisted upon to be same as Uttarakuru, then one can assume that the Madras and Kurus in the remote antiquity were one people.

Later, the Kurus of the Middle country became known as Kuru proper or the Dakshina Kuru (MBH I, 109-10).

None of the above sources claim knowledge or information from any of the four Vedas, nor do they cite references. Therefore they must understood in a presumptive manner rather than as facts.

Puranic View of Kuru Origin

The Puranas trace the lineage of the Pauravas, the line of kings who are related to the Kuru-Panchalas, to king Puru-rava Aila, who is stated to be king of Pratishthana.(This Pratishthana is near modern Allahabad and is not to be confused with the western Indian one, now called Paithan). It is stated that Kuru was the son of king Samvarna and Tapti. He had given his name to Kurukshetra. At Kurukshetra, he had performed tapasya (penance) and pleased Indra. Kuru's descendants became known as Kauravas (Brahmanda Purana III.68.21).

This Puranic view, in view of the evidence presented before, is not considered reliable.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Law, B.C. (1973). Tribes in Ancient India, Bhandarkar Oriental Series No.4, Poona:Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, p.19
  2. ^ Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India: From the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty, Calcutta:University of Calcutta, pp.11

^  Bharata Bhumi aur Unke Nivasi, 1930, pp 297–304, Jaychandra Vidyalankar; Abhidharamkosa, Vasubandhu, Varanasi, 1930, 3/57; Yuan Chwang p 32-35

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