The Mahajanapadas of Jambudvipa, Part 9


Sarasvati and Hamsa-vahana 
Paithan, 19th c., Karnataka
British Museum Collection

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

The Kuru Kingdom

As noted in yesterday's segment, the Vatsas were a branch of the Kuru dynasty, whose origin is traced in the Puranas from the Puru-Bharata family. The Puru-Bharata dynasty came about as an alliance and merger between the Bharata and Puru tribes. Aitareya Brahmana locates the Kurus in Madhyadesha (Jambudvipa) and also refers to the Uttarakurus as living beyond the Himalayas.

According to the Buddhist text Sumangavilasini, the people of Kururashtra (the Kurus) came from the Uttarakuru. Vayu Purana attests that Kuru, the son of Samvarsana of the Puru lineage, was the eponymous ancestor of the Kurus and the founder of Kururashtra (Kuru Janapada) in Kurukshetra. The country of the Kurus roughly corresponded to the modern Thanesar, state of Delhi and Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.

The Kurus figure prominently in the Rigveda, as early rulers in the regions of Ganga-Jamuna Doab and modern Haryana (earlier Eastern Punjab). The focus in the later Vedic Period shifted out of Punjab, into the Doab, and thus to the Kuru clan.

According to the Jatakas, the capital of the Kurus was Indraprastha (Indapatta) near modern Delhi, which extended seven leagues. The capital is also mentioned as being at Hastinapur, from approximately 1200 to 800 B.C. Towards the end of the Early Vedic Period, the Kuru capital was moved to Kaushambi, in the lower Doab, when Hastinapur was destroyed by floods and the Kuru dynasty met with upheaval.

During Buddha's time, the Kuru country was ruled by a titular chieftain (king consul) named Korayvya. The Kurus of the Buddhist period did not occupy the same position as they did in the Vedic Period, but they continued to enjoy their ancient reputation for deep wisdom and sound health.

Vishnu and Shiva descend to Earth 
Paithan, 19th c., Karnataka
British Museum Collection


The Kurus had matrimonial relations with the Yadavas, the Bhojas, Trigratas and the Panchalas. There is a Jataka reference to King Dhananjaya, introduced as a prince from the race of Yudhishtra. Though a well known monarchical people in the earlier period, the Kurus are known to have switched to a republican form of government during the 6th-5th Century B.C. In the 4th Century B.C., Kautiliya's Arthashastra also attests the Kurus following the Rajashabdopajivin (king consul) constitution.

By the late Vedic Period (6th c. B.C.), the Kuru dynasty had evolved into two kingdoms -- the Kuru and Vats, ruling over Upper Doab/Delhil/Haryana and Lower Doab, respectively. The Vatsa branch of the Kuru dynasty further divided into the Vats at Kaushambi and the Vats at Mathura.

The Atharvaveda (XX.127) refers to Parikshita as the "Chief of the Kurus". Likewise, Srimad Bhagavatam 8.16.3 refers to kuru-udvaha: O Maharaja Pariksit, the best of the Kurus.


Sources: Mahabharata, Wiki, British Museum