Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 12


Golden Winged Lion
Banner of the Parasikas (Pahlavas)

Apr 12, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Pahlavas

"The Pahlavas are a people mentioned in ancient Indian texts like the Manu Smriti, various Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Brhatsamhita. In some texts the Pahlavas are synonymous with the Pallavas, a dynasty of Southern India. For example, while the Vayu Purana distinguishes between Pahlava and Pahnava, the Vamana Purana and Matsya Purana refer to both as Pallava.

The Brahmanda Purana and Markendeya Purana refer to both as Pahlava or Pallava. Bhishama Parava of the Mahabharata does not distinguish between the Pahlavas and Pallavas. The Pahlavas are also said to be same as the Parasikas.

According to P. Carnegy,[11b] the Pahlava are probably those people who spoke Paluvi or Pehlvi, that is the Parthian language. Buhler similarly suggests Pahlava is an Indic form of Parthava meaning 'Parthian'.[12] In the 4th Century B.C., Vartika of Katyayana mentions the Sakah-Parthavah, demonstrating an awareness of these Saka-Parthians, probably by way of commerce."[13]

In a monograph by Ramaprasad Chanda, published by the Archaeological Survey of India (1998), he offers the views of the classic grammarian Patanjali on the nature of the Pallavas. Patanjali was a contemporary of Heliodorus. Here, he is describing the status of the Pallavas, Sakas, Yavanas etc. from the orthodox standpoint. He begins his Mahabhashya with this statement, "Grammar should be studied in order that we may not turn Mlechchhas." [1]

Chanda continues, narrating a scene in which the Pallavas, about to be slaughtered by King Sagara, goes to Sage Vasishtha for protection:

"In his commentary on Panini's sutra II. 4.10, Patanjali classifies the Sakas and the Yavanas as Sudras who are aniravasita, that is to say, who do not permanently pollute the utensils from which they take their food. The utensils from which such Sudras take their food may be purified by cleaning. Then, as now, the theory is the same: -- a Hindu is born and not made.

A man may be recognized as a born Hindu when he is born either as a Brahman, or a Kshatriya, or a Vaisya, or a Sudra, for, according to Manu, there is no fifth (nasti tu panchamah). So at a time when the Sakas and the Yavanas were recognized as clean Sudras, the door of the orthodox fold was open to them as Sudras, that is, on their acknowledging the supremacy of the Brahmans, and not, like the Kshatriyas of old, disputing the same.

Manu goes a step beyond Patanjali and says that alien peoples like the Sakas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, Chinas, etc., were originally Kshatriyas and have degenerated into Sudras on account of giving up sacred rites and not seeing or being in touch with the Brahmans (X. 43-44).

This and similar other texts from the Mahabharata are quoted and translated by Muir in his Original Sanskrit Texts, Vol. I (2nd Ed.), Chapter V. (pp. 480-488), including also legends from the Vishnu-Purana and the Harivamsa, which tell us that when Sagara, a king of the Ikshvaku race, was about to slaughter the Sakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Paradas and Pahlavas, they sought the protection of the sage Vasishtha, through whose intercession Sagara allowed them to escape after destroying their caste (dharma) and making them change their costumes.

A dialogue from Mahabharata, Box XII (quoted by Muir) between king Mandhatri and the god Indra is very interesting. In this dialogue the king asks the god, what religion (dharma) should a king like him prescribe for such folks as the Sakas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, Kambojas, etc., and "persons of the Vaisya and Sudra castes." Indra says in reply that these Dasyus should perform ceremonies ordained in the Vedas and on proper occasions bestow gifts on the Brahmans. It is to be noted that here the alien barbarians or Dasyus are placed in the same category as the Vaisyas and the Sudras. When such beliefs obtained among the Brahmans it was not difficult for a Saka or a Yavana immigrant to obtain admittance into the orthodox fold as a Vaisya or a Sudra and for an alien ruler to rank even as a Kshatriya."

There is another pastimes in which Rishi Vasishtha had a pastime involving the Pahlavas. This is described in Mahabharata:

Vishvamitra, the king of Kanyakubja, chanced upon Vasistha's hermitage, exhausted after a hunt. The sage entertained the king and his retinue with all types of food and gifts, with the help of Khamadhenu. Vishvamitra decided that he must have Nandini, the baby cow, for himself, and he attempted to take her from Rishi Vasistha by force.

Vasistha Rishi did not wish to oppose the king with violence, and as he told Nandini,

    "But what can I do? I am a Brahmin.
    I must overlook Vishvamitra 
    though he beats you
    and drags you away"… 
    But the maha-muni 
    would not give up patience, 
    nor would he break his vow,
    though touched by Nandini's suffering. 
    Vashishtha said, "A Ksatriya's strength
    lies in his body, a Brahmin's 
    lies in the spirit of fortitude.
    I will not give up fortitude."
    (Sambhava, Adi Parva, 177.24.27-28)

The Rishi tells Nandini that she is free to stay if she can manage to, and the moment she hears this, the cow produces myriads of Dravidas, Keralas, Kanchis, Simhalas, Pahlavas, Shakas, Yavanas, Kiratas, Paundras, Hunas, Chinas, Barbaras, Chibukas, Pulindas, and other mlechchha armies who then routed the king's forces.


[11b] See: Notes on the Races, Tribes, and Castes inhabiting the Province of Oudh, Lucknow, Oudh Government Press 1868, p 4; The Geographical Data in Early Puranas, a Critical Studies, 1972, p 135, Dr M. R. Singh; Sacred Books of the East, XXV, Intr. p cxv, Rapson, Coins of Ancient India, p 37, n.2.

[12] The Geographical Data in Early Puranas, a Critical Studies, 1972, p 135, M. R. Singh; Sacred Books of the East, XXV, Intr. p cxv; Rapson, Coins of Ancient India, p 37, n.2.

[13] Agarwala (1954), p. 444.

[13a] Vyakarana-Mahabhasya, edited by Kielthron, Vol. I, p. 2


The Sun News Editorials Features Sun Blogs Classifieds Events Recipes PodCasts

About Submit an Article Contact Us Advertise HareKrsna.com

Copyright 2005, 2015, HareKrsna.com. All rights reserved.