The Mahajanapadas of Jambudvipa, Part 2


The King and his Family Arrive in Kashi
Paithan School, Karnataka, 19th c.

Apr 19, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial exploration of the island of Jambudvipa and the sixteen Great States residing there.

The Kingdom of Kashi

Today we begin to explore the first of the sixteen Great States of Jambudvipa, whose rulers were topmost among Bharat's ancient kingdoms. Throughout this series we will include a number of illustrations done in the Paithan style, several from a late 19th c. Karnataka manuscript. Paithan paintings were used in storytelling performances and are considered to be non-different from illustrations in sacred texts.

Many of the Paithan illustrations in this series are from a set of 60 paintings in the collection of the British Museum. The set illustrates the pastimes of King Harishchandra, as narrated in the Mahabharata, Markandeya Purana and the Devi Bhagavatam. Other Paithan paintings illustrate famous scenes from the Vedic epics, and many of them depict places and pastimes associated with the sixteen mahajanapadas of Jambudvipa. Sri Krsna is featured in a number of paintings.

The illustration above depicts a scene from Mahabharata in which King Harishchandra and his family, who have been exiled from their home, arrive in Kashi. They take bath in the sacred Ganges, each one carrying a lota for their ritual ablutions. A fourth person, with a hawkish face, is the emissary of Vishvamitra. He bathes near the family, reminding the king of his unpaid debt. In typical Paithan style, there is a brilliantly colored row of trees forming the background, and the River Ganges is teeming with aquatic creatures: fish, tortoises and a crocodile.

In the painting below, the king and his family meet Vishvamitra's emissary, who reminds the king of his debt in the strongest terms. Harishchandra answers that he will repay his debts when he has arrived in Kashi and found work.

Vishvamitra's Emissary confronts Harishchandra
Paithan School, Karnataka, 19th c.

The Kingdom of Kashi was located in the region around Varanasi (modern Banaras), and the capital was at Varanasi. The ancient city was bounded by the rivers Varuna and Asi in the north and south, from which Varanasi gets its name. Before the time of Buddha, Kashi was the most powerful of the sixteen mahajanapadas.

Several Jatakas bear witness to the superiority of its capital over other cities of India, and speak highly of its prosperity and opulence. The Jatakas are a class of Buddhist texts which describe a former birth of Gautama Buddha. They speak of a long rivalry between Kashi and Kosala, Anga and Magadha, as these four ancient kingdoms struggled for supremacy. King Brihadratha of Kashi had conquered Kosala, but Kashi was later incorporated back into Kosala by King Kansa.

The Kashis, along with the Kosalas and Videhans are mentioned in various Vedic texts, and appear to have been closely allied with one another. The Matsya Purana and Alberuni refer to Kashi as Kausika and Kaushaka, respectively. All other ancient texts give the name Kashi.

The Kingdom of Kashi was founded by Khsetravridha, the son of Ayus of the Somavansa dynasty of Pratishthana. It lost independence in 1194 A.D. and was eventually ceded by the Nawab of Oudh (Awadh) to the British Raj in 1775, who recognized Benares as a family dominion.

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) of the Royal House of Varanasi (Benares) is believed to be a descendent of Lord Shiva. During Shivratri, the Kashi is the chief officiating priest, and no other priest is allowed entry into the sanctum sanctorum until he has completed his religious offerings.

According to orthodox Brahminical tradition, no one has seen a Kashi Naresh eat food, and none of the kings in this royal line have travelled abroad. The royal palace is currently at Ramnagar Fort near Varanasi, next to the Ganges.

The Puranas narrate a story in which Vyasa failed to receive alms in Varanasi, and put a curse on the city. Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa became so pleased with the alms he received there that he forgot his curse. However, because of Vyasa's bad temper Shiva banished him from Varanasi. Resolving to remain nearby, Vyasa then took up residence on the other side of the Ganges. That place is still worshipped, as the Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar.

Taramati in the Bhavani Temple
Paithan School, Karnataka, 19th c.

In the scene above, the women of Kashi take the queen, in whose hand is a small vessel, to the Bhavani temple. There she is made to sit on the pitha, along with her son and attendants. One of the women is busy combing the queen's long hair, while the goddess Ambika pours amrita on Rohidas, thus reviving him.

Sources: The British Museum, Sri Mahabharata, Wiki


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