The Mahajanapadas of Jambudvipa, Part 12

BY: SUN STAFF - 30.5 2017

Vishvamitra in the Sky, imploring the Sun 
Paithan, 19th c., Karnataka
British Museum Collection

A serial exploration of the island of Jambudvipa and the sixteen Great States residing there.

The Matsya Kingdom

The Matsya were one of the prominent tribes of Vedic India. Their kingdom resided in the country south of the Kurus and west of the Yamuna, which separated them from the Panchalas. It roughly corresponds to the former state of Jaipur in Rajasthan, and included the whole of Alwar with portions of Bharatpur.

The capital of Matsya was at Viratanagara (modern Bairat), which is said to have been named after its founder, King Virata. In Pali literature, the Matsyas are usually associated with the Surasenas. The western Matsya Kingdom was the hill tract on the north bank of the Chambal. A branch of Matsya was also found in later days in the Vizagapatam region.

The Matsyas did not hold much political power during the time of Buddha. The Mahabharata (74,16) mentions that King Sujata ruled over both the Chedis and Matsyas, thus showing that Matsya once formed a part of the Chedi kingdom.

Other than the Matsya Kingdom to the south of Kuru Kingdom, which falls in the Alwar, Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan, the Mahabharata refers to as many as six other Matsya kingdoms, which may indicate a less powerful, and thus fragmented kingdom. Upaplavya was another famous city in the kingdom.

According to Rigveda, the Matsya Kingdom lay to the south or south-west of Indraprastha and to the south of Surasena.

The medieval Meenas of Rajasthan claim their descent from the Matsyas. They used an emblem of a fish like the Pandyan kingdom (Paravar, Karava, Karaiyar) of the south.

By the time of the Ramayana pastimes, the Matsya Kingdom had lost its potency. It is mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana (XIII, 5.4.9) that a Matsya king was one of the great ancient Indian monarchs who acquired renown by performing the horse-sacrifice. In the Kurukshetra battle the Matsyas occupied a preeminent position, both because of the purity of their conduct and custom and through their bravery and prowess. The Matsyas (Macchas) witnessed the dice play of the king of the Kurus with the Yakkha Punnaka ( Vidhurapandita Jataka, Jat IV).

Viratanagara is also called Matsyanagara (Mahabharata 4,13,1). It was the royal seat of the epic King Virata, the friend of the Pandavas. There was a fight between King Virata and the Trigarttas with the result that the king was captured by them, but was rescued by Bhima.

It was in the Matsya kingdom that the Pandava brothers remained incognito for a year. They later disclosed their identity and a marriage was celebrated between Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna, and Uttara, daughter of King Virata Mahabharata 72).

The Sun fulfills Vishvamitra's Request 
Paithan, 19th c., Karnataka
British Museum Collection


Sources: Mahabharata, Wiki, British Museum