Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 13


Bhagavad-gita illustration, 16th c.

Apr 14, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Pahlavas

As we noted in our last segment, the Pahlavas who entered northern India are sometimes referred to synonymously with the famous South Indian Pallava dynasty. While the focus of our series on the Middle Kingdoms refers specifically to the earliest Pallavas/Pahlavas who entered India from the north, it's also interesting to consider the historical connections bridging the two groups. To get a sense of the vast time periods at issue, consider this timeline:

The Battle of Kurukshetra is generally dated back to approximately 5,000 years ago. That would be around the year 3000 B.C., or the 30th Century B.C. The Mahabharata details the participation of the Pallavas of north India in the great war at Kurukshetra.

The start of the Middle Kingdom period of ancient India is dated to the 3rd Century B.C., somewhere between the years of 300 and 201 B.C., and the Pahlavas are recorded as being one of the earliest groups of invaders who played a role in that era, following the Scythians, Greeks and Parthians. Clearly, the Pahlavas entered India long before the start of the Middle Kingdoms.

Now compare these dates to the historical records of the South Indian Pallava dynasty. The oldest epigraphic records of South Indian dynasties date from around the 3rd Century A.D. Among these early accounts are the records of the Pallava kings of the Prakrit charters, from the 3rd and 4th Centuries A.D. Their rule extended over the Tamil, Kanarese and Telugu territories. There are later Pallava dynasty records in the Sanskrit charters, circa 5th through 7th Centuries A.D. The first Pallava ruler we find on record is King Simhavarman I, who ruled from 275 to 300 A.D. This puts his rule at approximately 500 years after the start of the Middle Kingdom period. So we can see how much earlier the Pallavas referred to in the Mahabharata entered Bharat.

Nor was the later Pallava influence restricted to South India. They dominated the south for about six hundred years, until the end of the 9th Century, but their presence was also felt in Andhra Pradesh, from where they had migrated to the south. During the 13th and 14th Centuries the Kadava dynasty came into brief prominence, helping to bring about the demise of the Cholas. They claimed to be descendants of the Pallavas, and helped to extend the influence of the kingdom. Many historical sources say that Bodhidharma, who founded the Zen school of Buddhism in China (late 5th Century A.D.) was actually a prince of the Pallava dynasty. [13b]

But in concluding our summary of the early Pahlavas, we present two key passages from the Mahabharata. The first, from the Vana Parva, narrates a key moment in the pre-history of the Kurukshetra War. Here, Sanjaya is relating Sri Krsna's pledge to Yudhishthira:

    "Sanjaya said, "This hath been thy great fault, O king, viz., that though capable, thou didst not, from affection prevent thy son from doing what he hath done. The slayer of Madhu, that hero of unfading glory, hearing that the Pandavas had been defeated at dice, soon went to the woods of Kamyaka and consoled them there. And Draupadi's sons also headed by Dhrishtadyumna, and Virata, and Dhrishtaketu, and those mighty warriors, the Kekayas, all went there. All that was said by these warriors at the sight of Pandu's son defeated at dice, was learnt by me through our spies. I have also told thee all, O king.

    When the slayer of Madhu met the Pandavas, they requested him to become the charioteer of Phalguna in battle. Hari himself, thus requested, answered them, saying, 'so be it.' And even Krishna himself beholding the sons of Pritha dressed in deer skins, became filled with rage, and addressing Yudhishthira, said, 'That prosperity which the sons of Pritha had acquired at Indraprastha, and which, unobtainable by other kings, was beheld by me at the Rajasuya sacrifice, at which, besides, I saw all kings, even those of the Vangas and Angas and Paundras and Odras and Cholas and Dravidas and Andhakas, and the chiefs of many islands and countries on the sea-board as also of frontier states, including the rulers of the Sinhalas, the barbarous mlecchas, the natives of Lanka, and all the kings of the West by hundreds, and all the chiefs of the sea-coast, and the kings of the Pahlavas and the Daradas and the various tribes of the Kiratas and Yavanas and Sakras and the Harahunas and Chinas and Tukharas and the Sindhavas and the Jagudas and the Ramathas and the Mundas and the inhabitants of the kingdom of women and the Tanganas and the Kekayas and the Malavas and the inhabitants of Kasmira, afraid of the prowess of your weapons, present in obedience to your invitation, performing various offices,--that prosperity, O king, so unstable and waiting at present on the foe, I shall restore to thee, depriving thy foe of his very life.

    I shall, O chief of the Kurus, assisted by Rama and Bhima and Arjuna and the twins and Akrura and Gada and Shamva and Pradyumna and Ahuka and the heroic Dhrishtadyumna and the son of Sisupala, slay in battle in course of a day Duryodhana and Karna and Dussasana and Suvala's son and all others who may fight against us. And thou shalt, O Bharata, living at Hastinapura along with thy brothers, and snatching from Dhritarashtra's party the prosperity they are enjoying, rule this earth.'"

    (Mahabharata, Indralokagamana Parva of the Vana Parva, section 51)

The second passage, from the Bhagavad-gita Parva, narrates this scene from the battle:

    "And on a golden car unto which were yoked red steeds, the high-souled Drona, bow in hand and with never-failing heart, the preceptor of almost all the kings, remained behind all the troops, protecting them like Indra. And Saradwat's son, that fighter in the van, that high-souled and mighty bowman, called also Gautama, conversant with all modes of warfare, accompanied by the Sakas, the Kiratas, the Yavanas, and the Pahlavas, took up his position at the northern point of the army. That large force which was well protected by mighty car-warriors of the Vrishni and the Bhoja races, as also by the warriors of Surashtra well-armed and well-acquainted with the uses of weapons, and which was led by Kritavarman, proceeded towards the south of the army. Ten thousand cars of the Samasaptakas who were created for either the death or the fame of Arjuna, and who, accomplished in arms, intended to follow Arjuna at his heels all went out as also the brave Trigartas.

    In thy army, O Bharata, were a thousand elephants of the foremost fighting powers. Unto each elephant was assigned a century of cars; unto each car, a hundred horsemen; unto each horseman, ten bowmen; and unto each bowman ten combatants armed with sword and shield. Thus, O Bharata, were thy divisions arrayed by Bhishma. Thy generalissimo Bhishma, the son of Santanu, as each day dawned, sometimes disposed thy troops in the human army, sometimes in the celestial, sometimes in the Gandharva, and sometimes in the Asura. Thronged with a large number of Maharathas, and roaring like the very ocean, the Dhartarashtra army, arrayed by Bhishma, stood facing the west for battle. Illimitable as thy army was, O ruler of men, it looked terrible; but the army of the Pandavas, although it was not such (in number), yet seemed to me to be very large and invincible since Kesava and Arjuna were its leader."

    (Mahabharata, Bhumi Parva of the Bhagavad-gita parva, section 20)


[13b] Worship of Lord Brahma, Part 77


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