Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 4

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BY: SUN STAFF - 5.10 2018

Akash Bhairav on Indra Jatra

Sri Krsna's liberation of Banasura, the Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed these pastimes.

The Kirat were among the earliest inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, an ancient crossroads of Indian and Asian civilization. For over two millennia, a large portion of the eastern Himalayan region has been home to the Kirat. During the Vedic Age, the region was known as 'Kimpurusha Desha', and later as 'Kirat Pradesh'.

The Kirat were among the earliest inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, an ancient crossroads of Indian and Asian civilization. For over two millennia, a large portion of the eastern Himalayan region has been home to the Kirat. During the Vedic Age, the region was known as 'Kimpurusha Desha', and later as 'Kirat Pradesh'.

Extant references earlier than the 9th Century B.C. reportedly establish the Kirat's habitation of this place. Mention is found in Atharva Veda (X.4,14), and the Yajur Veda (Shukla XXX.16; Krishna III.4,12,1), as well as the Mahabharata.

During the reign of the sixth Kirat king, Humati Hang, Arjuna, the son of Pandu of Indraprastha, visited the Kirat kingdom. The Sanskrit kavya Kiratarjuniya ('Of Arjuna and the Kirata') mentions that Arjuna adopted the name, nationality, and guise of a Kirat for a certain period in order to learn archery and the use of other weaponry from Shiva, a presiding Deity of the Kirat.

This is described in the Mahabharata, which tells of Arjuna's desire to use the famous Pashupati-astra of Lord Shiva. In Drona Parva there is a description of Arjuna's vow to kill Jayadratha, and Drona's vow to save him. Lord Krsna thus suggested to Arjuna that he fortify himself by seeking a boon from Shiva, so Arjuna performed tapas to obtain the use of Pashupati-astra.

Shiva Observing Arjuna's Penance 
Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

 

While Krsna was giving Arjuna this advice to approach Shiva, both he and Arjuna began to contemplate the glories of Shiva. Their praise of Shiva comprises another famous passage from Mahabharata. In Vana Parva is a description of Arjuna fighting with Shiva, which also resulted in his getting the use of Pashupati-astra.

The Pandavas eventually came to the Himalayas in search of Arjuna, because he was so late in returning back home from Indrakil Parvat, where he stayed while on his mission to acquire fighting skills and weaponry. The Kirat kings Subahu and Pulinda of the western Nepali regions received the Pandavas with great respect, and helped them to reach Indrakil Parvat and locate Arjuna.

Kirat King Viratha had also paid tribute to the Pandavas with great respect and hospitality while they enjoyed an extended visit at his palace. At that time, there were only Kirat kings in every village in North Bihar, North Bengal and Assam. Modern Assam and the Lohit were at that time known as Mlechha desh and the Mech people.

And while Dronacharya was roaming about with his five Pandava pupils, in the flat lands of what is today south Nepal, he was honored by the Kirat prince Ekalabya. This Ekalabya is said to be the 'god of the sky' (Lord Indra), also known in Nepal as Akash Bhairav. The head of this deity, pictured above, was dug up several hundred years ago in Kathmandu. It now resides in a temple near Durbar Square, and is taken out on procession each year for Indra Yatra.