Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Battle of Ten Kings

India and sorroundings: 1300BC; (c)

Socio-economic conditions in India in 1300 BC

The Aryans (or the Indo-Aryans, the descendants of the Indo-European and Indo-Iranians) started migrating into India since 1700 BC through Gandhara region, present day Swat in Pakistan. The prosperousIndus Valley civilization was declining at that time. The incoming Aryans came in some sort of conflict with the people of Indus Valley, who were gradually getting scattered throughout India. Though historical and archaeological records suggest that the earliest Aryans settled in Punjab since 1600 BC, it's not unlikely that the Aryans entered into India across several centuries. The Aryans settled in Punjab were indeed the composers of Rig Veda since 1500 BC, but earlier Aryans could have entered deep inside into India even before or around 1500 BC. The Aryans were nomadic and pastoral people moving and settling in groups. Unlike the people of Indus Valley, they didn't know the art and science of urban dwelling. They stayed in villages and constructed houses with woods and other easily perishable materials. Perhaps that's the reason why there's absolutely no archaeological evidence of the Aryans, where as the cities of the earlier Indus Valley civilization didn't perish even after 5000 years. The only accounts of the life and society of the early Aryans can be constructed from their literature - the Vedas, the Upanishads and the epics Ramayana andMahabharata.

It can be argued that literature can't be treated as historical accounts. But it's also true that only till recent past, most of the works of literature used to be period dramas, based on some historical events. Most ofShakespeare's works are based on historical events. Same is the case with Kalidas' works. Most early literatures across the world in any language used to derive their content directly from interesting historical events. In some cases they were also based on mythology, but then mythologies are also some sort of literary creations of even more ancient periods. So it's always possible to segregate the historical content from the imaginations of the writers. Each and every dialogue between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, as depicted by Shakespeare, may not be accurate from historical point, but most of the characters and the chronology of events are indeed historical. Even if some of the characters are not historical, but the depiction of the society, the lives of the people and the political and economic conditions of the nation and kingdoms are very accurate in most cases. Even in the accounts of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doylegave a very true picture of London and England of the 19th century. So it's not unrealistic to depend on Rig Veda for an account of the earliest Aryans in India. Even if we discount the authenticity of the names of the Kings and Kingdoms still we can get a picture of the Aryan society of that period.

Rig Veda speaks about several confederation of tribes, many of which are referred to as non-Aryans - which can be either the native people of India like that of the Indus Valley or the earlier Aryans. The initial few years, since the Aryans started entering into India in 1700 BC, are marked with several conflicts - between the different Rig Vedic tribes, and also between the Rig Vedic and non Rig Vedic people. These conflicts are mainly for control over more pastures. The tribes were generally led by kings chosen democratically by the people but the kingship also became hereditary at many places. There was no direct form of taxation for the people. Warfares provided one of the main sources of accumulating wealth for the kings. The plunders of the wars were also shared among the people. Apart from the accumulation of wealth there was also the urge for consolidation.

Such warfares among the various tribes were not unique to India. Even in Mesopotamia there were continuous warfares between the various city states till Hammurabi consolidated most of them underBabylonian Empire (Iraq) in 1700s BC. He drove the Elamites (Iranians) out and created quite a big Empire. The Kassites (Iran) attacked Babylon in 1600s BC during the reign of Hammurabi's son. In the mean time the Indo-European Hittite Kingdom (Turkey) were gaining prominence to the west of Babylon which finally fell to the Hittites in 1532 BC. By that time the Kassites had already gained control over the northern part of Babylonia. By 1475 BC they gained control over the southern part also. By 1300s BC the various kingdoms ruling over middle east were Kassite (Iraq), Elam (Iran), Assyria (Syria), Hittite (Turkey) and Mittani, the Hurrian speaking vassal of Hittite, to the west of Assyria. It's not something exceptional that at the same time in India the various smaller kingdoms or confederations of tribes were involved in constant flights with the urge to create a consolidated empire in India. Also that was the period when the culture and language of the Aryans were influencing most of the native people in Northern India. Though the Aryans were a minority compared to the native people, still in due course most of the earlier languages and cultures were finally absorbed into their language and culture. It's very likely that all these amalgamations would be associated with conflicts and confrontations between opponent parties. Nevertheless, none of these conflicts can be termed as Aryan invasion. These conflicts were just natural events in course of amalgamation of different languages and cultures.

Battle of Ten Kings

The Rig Veda mentions a battle of ten Kings in the various hymns. An interesting one is the 18th hymn in book 7 (7.18)

purolaa it turvasho yakshur aasheed raaye matsyaaso nishitaa apeeva |
shrushtim cakrur bhrgavo druhyavash ca sakhaa sakhaayam atarad vishuco || 7.018.06

Eager for spoil was Turvaśa Purodas, fain to win wealth, like fishes urged by hunger.
The Bhṛgus and the Druhyus quickly listened: friend rescued friend mid the two distant peoples.

aa pakthaaso bhalaanaso bhanantaalinaaso vishaninah shivaasah |
aa yo anayat sadhamaa aaryasya gavyaa trstubhyo ajagan yudhaa nrn || 7.018.07

Together came the Pakthas, the Bhalanas, the Alinas, the Sivaas, the Visanins.
Yet to the Trtsus came the Ārya's Comrade, through love of spoil and heroes' war, to lead them.

This hymn (7.18) is dedicated to Lord Indra, who is mentioned to take side with King Sudas of the Trstutribe, fighting against at least ten other tribes. Eight of the tribes opposing Trstu, as mentioned in the above verse, are Druhyu, Bhrigu, Turvasha, Paktha, Bhalaanas, Alina, Vishanin and Shiva. Indra is referred to as the friend of Arya, 'Sadhamaa Aaryasya'.

The Bhrigu and Druhyu tribes are referred to as friends rescuing friends (sakhaa sakhaayam atarad) mid the two distant people (vishuco). They may be historically identified with the people of Central Asia (the site of the BMAC culture) - more specifically Bactria, present Balkh in Afghanistan and the Sanskrit Balhika of the epics. They are also sometime identified with the people of Gandhar, also in Afghanistan. Whatever be the true historical identification of the Drurhus the reference to 'distant people' may point to the fact that they are not native people. The Bhrigus, who are also 'distant people' along with the Druhyus, may be the people who eventually separate from the Rig Vedic Indo-Aryans and become the followers of Zoroaster, who himself may be one of the Bhrigus. There are striking similarities between the language and the content of the Rig Veda and the Avestan Gatha - the earliest books of the Zoroastrianism (present day Parsi religion) and believed to be composed by Zoroaster himself. Historically the Gatha is younger than Rig Veda and contemporary to Atharva Veda.

Paktha may be identified with present day Pathan or Pasthun or Pakhtun in Afghanistan. The Bolan Pass in Pakistan might have been derived from the Bhalaanas tribe. The Alinas are sometimes identified with the people of Nuristan in Afghanistan.

arṇāṃsi cit paprathānā sudāsa indro gādhāni akṛṇot supārā |
śardhantaṃ śimyum ucathasya navyaḥ śāpaṃ sindhūnām akṛṇod aśastīḥ || 7.018.05

What though the floods spread widely, Indra made them shallow and easy for Sudās to traverse.
He, worthy of our praises, caused the Simyu, foe of our hymn, to curse the rivers' fury.

The climax of the battle is fought on the banks of the river Parushni, the modern Ravi in Punjab. Sudas, the leader of the Tritsus crosses the river even though the flood is spreading wildly. Indra is praised for making the river shallow and thus facilitating Sudas to cross it easily. But Shimyu, the leader of the ten kings, fighting against Sudas, is swept away by the furious flood. He curses the river's fury.

īyur gāvo na yavasād agopā yathākṛtam abhi mitraṃ citāsaḥ |
pṛśnighāvaḥ pṛśninipreṣitāsaḥ śruṣṭiṃ cakrur niyuto rantayaś ca || 7.018.10

They went like kine unherded from the pasture, each clinging to a friend as chance directed.
They who drive spotted steeds, sent down by Pṛśni, gave ear, the Warriors and the harnessed horses.

ekaṃ ca yo viṃśatiṃ ca śravasyā vaikarṇayor janān rājā ni astaḥ |
dasmo na sadman ni śiśāti barhiḥ śūraḥ sargham akṛṇod indra eṣām || 7.018.11

The King who scattered one-and-twenty people of both Vaikarna tribes through lust of glory-
As the skilled priest clips grass within the chamber, so hath the Hero Indra, wrought their downfall.

adha śrutaṃ kavaṣaṃ vṛddham apsu anu druhyuṃ ni vṛṇag vajrabāhuḥ |
vṛṇānā atra sakhyāya sakhyaṃ tvāyanto ye amadan anu tvā || 7.018.12

Thou, thunder-armed, o’erwhelmedst in the waters famed ancient Kavasa and then the Druhyu.
Others here claiming friendship to their friendship, devoted unto thee, in thee were joyful.

These three verses give a graphical description of the war. The enemies, the warriors of the confederation of ten Kings, are running like unherded cattle. This may imply that most of the leaders of the enemies are killed and hence they are unherded, agopā. Kavasha along with the Druhyus are killed in the waters. Kavasha, referred to as famed and ancient - śrutaṃ, vṛddham - may be a Druhyu King and one of the leaders of the enemies. The reference to famed and ancient Kavasha may hint at the reputation of the Druhyus as a powerful and strong race of ancient times. Together with the reference to the Druhyus, also as distant people (mentioned above), it may be implied that they might have been a group of powerful and famous people much older than the composers of Rig Veda. None of the ten Kings, who are fighting against Sudas, is referred to as non-Aryan. Druhyu is in fact one of the 'five peoples' or Panajana or Pancakrishti(Yadu, Turvasha, Anu, Druhyu & Puru) of the Aryans. But still some of these tribes or peoples are considered to be older and distant compared to the others. This may imply that the Aryans migrated to India in waves - some came late and some early from near and distant places. As mentioned earlier the Druhyus can be identified with the people from the BMAC culture of Central Asia, the last phase of which preceded the Rig Vedic Age only by a few centuries.

In the first of the three verses above it's mentioned that the enemies are riding 'spotted horses', pṛśnighāvaḥ, brought by Prishni. Spotted horse or Appaloosa, is a horse breed - one of the oldest breeds known to humanity and depicted in cave paintings in Asia and China - which originated from Central Asia. It became a subject of art around 1400 BC in Egypt and Greece. It was also very important in ancient Persia, where it was worshiped. So from the timing of Rig veda and the probable dating of the battle of Ten Kings (around 1300 BC) it's likely that the 'spotted steeds' or pṛśnighāvaḥ might have come from Central Asia. Then Prishni, the person who brought these spotted steeds, might have been a King of the Druhyu or Anu or Bhrigu, all of whom may be identified with the people of Central Asia.

A later verse of the same hymn mentions the other two tribes in opposition - Anu and Puru. So the list of ten tribes are: Bhrigu, Druhyu, Turvasha, Paktha, Bhalanas, Alina, Vishanin, Shiva, Anu and Puru. All these Ten tribes are led by their respective Kings and thus making the Ten Kings. Few other tribes, like Aja, Yakshu and Shigru, are also mentioned, in connection to the Battle of Ten Kings, as oppositions. But they may not be led by their own Kings. Not all the Kings are named. Some of them may be Kavasha, Bheda and Prishni.

vi saddho vishvaa drmhitaany eshaam indrah purah sahasaa sapta dardah |
vi aanabashya trtsave gayam bhaag jeshma purum vidathe mrdhravaacam || 7.018.13

Indra at once with conquering might demolished all their strong places and their seven castles.
The goods of Anu's son he gave to Trtsu. May we in sacrifice conquer scorned Pūru

ni gavyavo anavo druhyavash ca shashtih shataa sushupuh shat sahasraa |
shashtir veeraaso adhi shad duvoyu vishved indrasya veeryaa krtaani || 7.018.14

The Anavas and Druhyus, seeking booty, have slept, the sixty hundred, yea, six thousand,
And six-and-sixty heroes. For the pious were all these mighty exploits done by Indra.

About Puru it's said that they speak a slang language - mrdhra-vaacam [language or vaacam of the mridhra]. A probable etymology for the word mrdhra or mleccha is interesting. The Babylonians referred to the people of Indus Valley Civilization as Meluhha, which may be the source of mleccha and mrdhra - both meaning "a foreigner, barbarian, non-Aryan, man of an outcast race, any person who does not speak Sanskrit". This makes sense only when we assume that the Aryans immigrated from outside into India, the native place of the people of Indus Valley. Here it may not be implied that Puru spoke the language of the people of Indus Valley. Probably they spoke some dialect which is different from that of the Tritsus - the people who won the Battle of Ten Kings. This logically leads to the idea that not all the Aryans spoke the same language. This goes well with the observation made earlier that the Aryans came in waves carrying with them different but still related cognate languages.

No doubt all these tribes did exist during the time of Rig Veda. It might not be illogical to place all these tribes and the battle around 1300 BC - little later than the period since the first Rig Veda was written in 1500 BC.

A very interesting thing in the last of the three verses is the use of six thousand synonymously with sixty hundred. This means that the Aryans used the same numeric system, the place value system, with ten as the unit - which we still use now and which was later evolved significantly into the modern day place value system by Aryabhat in 5th century AD and which traveled to Europe via Arab much later.

The above verse mentions that in the battle of ten Kings, the tribes Anu and Druhyu lost 6666 people. Though this figure might not be taken very seriously, but it's indeed a rough indication of the order of number of people belonging to any tribe in those days.

In another verse we get to know that the Tritsu wore white robes and made hair knots, like cowry shells, on the right sides of their heads.

ādhreṇa cit tad vekaṃ cakāra siṃhyaṃ cit petvenā jaghāna |
ava sraktīr veśyāvṛścad indraḥ prāyachad viśvā bhojanā sudāse || 7.018.17

E’en with the weak he wrought this matchless exploit: e’en with a goat he did to death a lion.
He pared the pillar's angles with a needle. Thus to Sudās Indra gave all provisions.

śaśvanto hi śatravo rāradhuṣ ṭe bhedasya cicchardhato vinda randhim |
martānena stuvato yaḥ kṛṇoti tighmaṃ tasmin ni jahi vajramindra || 7.018.18

To thee have all thine enemies submitted: e’en the fierce Bheda hast thou made thy subject.
Cast down thy sharpened thunderbolt, O Indra, on him who harms the men who sing thy praises.

āvadindraṃ yamunā tṛtsavaśca prātra bhedaṃ sarvatātā muṣāyat |
ajāsaśca śighravo yakṣavaśca baliṃ śīrṣāṇi jabhrur aśvyāni || 7.018.19

Yamuna and the Trtsus aided Indra. There he stripped Bheda bare of all his treasures.
The Ajas and the Sigrus and the Yaksus brought in to him as tribute heads of horses.

The above verses give some more details about how Sudas, leading the Tritsus, inflicts a decisive defeat on his enemies. Bheda, may be a King of the enemy tribes, is stripped off all his belongings and finally killed. Three other Kings or leaders from the enemy side - Aja, Shigru and Yakshu bring the heads of all the horses killed in the battle.

A very important thing that comes out in the first of the three verses is that this battle is a very skewed one - as if the goats (petva) are fighting against lions (siṃhya). This reminds of the skewed battle that the Pandavas fight against the mighty Kauravas in Mahabharata.

This Battle of ten Kings has striking similarities with the war depicted in Mahabharata. Both the wars are some form of civil war involving multiple parties with one side, the much weaker one, supported by some divine power and both are for consolidation of power over North India. In Mahabharata the weaker Pandavas are helped by Krishna and here Indra is helping the Tritsus. Keeping aside the divinity and other super natural elements in Mahabharata as poetic license, the historical elements are not very hard to identify. Various people have given different dates for the historical period of the Mahabharata War. The most logical period appears to be sometime in the 14th century BC, mentioned also by Jawaharlal Nehru in 'Discovery of India'. This period coincides with the probable period of the Battle of the ten Kings.


    1. Wikipedia
    2. 'Discovery of India' by Jawaharlal Nehru
    3. Book 7 of Rig Veda, which contains the hymn 7.18 about Battle of Ten Kings (in Devanagari)
    4. English translation of hymn 7.18 of Rig Veda - by Griffith
    5. Ancient Indian History and Civilization - by Shailendra Nath Sen (about the Battle of Ten Kings)