Kingdoms of ancient India

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This article is about the ancient Indian kingdoms as reflected in Sanskrit literature. See History of India for a historical overview, in particular Mahajanapadas and Middle kingdoms of India for historical kingdoms ca. 700 BCE–1200 CE.

This article tries to compile and classify all the kingdoms of ancient India mentioned in the Sanskrit/Vedic literature. This literature includes the two Indian epics viz. the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the Puranas and the Vedas with their supplement texts. The exact dates on which these kingdoms existed, is controversial. The focus of this article is not on the dating of these kingdoms, but on the classification of these kingdoms based on their geographical location in the Indian subcontinent, as well as based on the ancient Indian tribes that ruled these kingdoms.

Ancient or epic India as described in the itihasas is divided into a large number of independent kingdoms, spanning the whole of the Indian subcontinent.

Contents

Introduction

Much of the political and geographical mosaic of ancient India can be derived from the epic Mahabharata. The other great Indian epic Ramayana is yet another source. From the Vedas, notably Rig Veda, we get geo-political information about ancient India that predates the Mahabharata period. The Puranas forms a window to the geo-political situation of ancient India during the post-Mahabharata period.

The time coordinates in which these kingdoms existed is not exactly known. The classical "Golden Age" of ancient India spans the 1st millennia BCE and CE. Historical kingdoms arose from ca. 700 BCE with the Mahajanapadas. Glimpses of prehistoric political entities may be glimpsed from the early Vedic texts, in particular the Rigveda (dated to from around 25000 BC). The earliest parts of the epic Ramayana date to around 7560 BC and Mahabharata around 3008 BC. These early kingdoms lasted until the rise of the Maurya Empire in 321 BC, from which period the term middle kingdoms of India may be used. All these dates however are fixed according to the highly debatable and now increasingly untenable Aryan Invasion Theory. If one considers the astronomical and internal evidences available within the Vedic texts, then one can safely say that the Vedic and the Harappan civilizations were one and the same. The timescale given by the western scholars also assume that the Sandrakottos mentioned in writings of the Greek historian Megasthanese is the same as Chandragupta Maurya. However this is highly doubtful since the Greek makes no mention of Chanakya in his writings. It is more likely that he visited India during the reign of Chandragupta Gupta.

The kingdoms

The boundaries of the kingdoms

The kingdoms mentioned below existed when territorial boundaries were less important, due to the limited human population and sparse human settlements. Often rivers formed the boundaries of two neighbouring kingdoms, as was the case between northern and southern Panchala and the western (Pandava's Kingdom) and eastern (Kaurava's Kingdom) Kuru. Sometimes, large forests, which were larger than the kingdoms themselves, formed their boundaries as was the case of the Naimisha Forest between Panchala and Kosala kingdoms. Mountain ranges like Himalaya, Vindhya and Sahya also formed their boundaries.

The cities and villages

Some kingdoms possessed a main city that served as its capital. For example, the capital of Pandava's Kingdom was Indraprastha and the Kaurava's Kingdom was Hastinapura. Ahichatra was the capital of Northern Panchala where as Kampilya was the capital of Southern Panchala. Kosala Kingdom had its capital as Ayodhya. Apart from the main city or capital, where the palace of the ruling king was situated, there were small towns and villages spread in a kingdom. Tax was collected by the officers appointed by the king from these villages and towns. What the king offered in return to these villages and towns was protection from the attack of other kings and robber tribes, as well as from invading foreign nomadic tribes. The king also enforced code and order in his kingdom by punishing the guilty.

Interactions between kingdoms

There were no border security for a kingdom and border disputes were very rare. One king may conduct a military-campaign (often designated as Digvijaya meaning victory over all the directions) and defeat another king in a battle, lasting for a day. The defeated king would acknowledge the supremacy of the victorious king. The defeated king might some times be asked to give a tribute to the victorious king. Tribute will be collected only once, not in a periodic basis. The defeated king, in most cases, is free to rule his own kingdom, without maintaining any contact with the victorious king. There was no annexation of one kingdom by another kingdom. Often a military general makes these campaigns on behalf of his king. A military-campaign and tribute collection is often associated with a great sacrifice (like Rajasuya or Aswamedha) conducted in the kingdom of the campaigner king. The defeated king also was invited to attend these sacrifice ceremonies, as a friend and ally.

New kingdoms

New kingdoms were formed when a major clan produces more than one kings in a generation. The Kuru clan of kings and Ikshwaku clan of kings were very successful in spreading all over north India with their numerous kingdoms, formed after each successive generations. Similarly the Yadava clan of kings spread numerous kingdoms in the central India.

Cultural differences in the kingdoms

Western parts of India were dominated by tribes who had a slightly different culture that was considered as non-vedic by the mainstream Vedic culture prevailed in the Kuru and Panchala kingdoms. Probably these were due to the influence of Iranian cultures. Similarly tribes ruling south India were also considered as non-Vedic by the Kuru, Panchalas, though the differences were not so significant. This may be due to the Dravidian nature of these tribes. Similarly there were some tribes in the eastern regions of India, considered to be in this category. Tribes with a different culture was collectively termed by the Vedic tribes by the name Mlechha. Very little was mentioned in the ancient Indian literature, about the kingdoms to the north, beyond Himalayas. China was mentioned as a kingdom known as Chin, some times grouped with Mlechcha kingdoms. An astonishing fact is that, some other kingdoms in the north were mentioned with high respect and a sense of mystery. Prominent among them was the kingdom with the name Northern Kuru or Uttara Kuru. Some text mentions it as the dominion of Devas, the gods of ancient Indian people. Sometimes it was mentioned as just another kingdom, sometimes as a kingless country, sometimes as a republic. The similarity in the name, with the Kuru Kingdom in India, make them related to the Kurus (Kauravas and Pandavas) of India. Some historians argues that they were the forefathers of the Kuru's of India, that the Kuru clan originated in Northern Kuru (identified as Kyrgistan and Tajikistan) and spread to India, establishing their kingdoms in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states of India.

Main kingdoms of the Puru clan

The Puru clan was the main clan of ancient Indian kings belonging to the Lunar Dynasty or the Chandra Vamsa. It was founded by Puru the son of Yayati who himself was the grand grandson of Pururavas Aila the first king of the Lunar Dynasty.

Kuru Kingdom Panchala Kingdom Vatsa Kingdom


Main kingdoms of the Ikshwaku clan

The Ikswaku clan was the main clan of ancient Indian kings belonging to the Solar Dynasty or the Surya Vamsa.

Kosala Kingdom Kasi Kingdom Videha Kingdom Dakshina Kosala Kingdom Malla Kingdom

Yadava kingdoms

The Yadava kingdoms were ruled by the Yadava clan of kings founded by Yadu the elder brother of Puru.

Surasena Kingdom Dwaraka Kingdom Anarta Kingdom Saurashtra Kingdom Heheya Kingdom
Nishadha Kingdom Gurjara Kingdom Karusha Kingdom Chedi Kingdom Dasarna Kingdom
Kunti Kingdom Avanti Kingdom Malava Kingdom

Matsya kingdoms

Matsya Kingdom

Western kingdoms

Trigarta Kingdom Salwa Kingdom Madra Kingdom Sindhu Kingdom Sauvira Kingdom
Sivi Kingdom Kekeya Kingdom Gandhara Kingdom Youdheya Kingdom Pahlava Kingdom

Northwestern kingdoms

Bahlika Kingdom Parama Kamboja Kingdom Uttara Madra Kingdom Uttara Kuru Kingdom
Yavana Kingdom Khasa Kingdom Saka Kingdom

Northern kingdoms

Kasmira Kingdom Kamboja Kingdom Darada Kingdom Parada Kingdom Parasika Kingdom
Tushara Kingdom Huna Kingdom Hara Huna Kingdom Rishika Kingdom China Kingdom
Parama China Kingdom

Eastern kingdoms

Magadha Kingdom Kikata Kingdom Anga Kingdom Pragjyotisha Kingdom Sonita Kingdom
Lauhitya Kingdom Pundra Kingdom Suhma Kingdom Vanga Kingdom Odra Kingdom
Utkala Kingdom

Kingdoms south of the Vindhya Range

Vidarbha Kingdom Anupa Kingdom Surparaka Kingdom Nasikya Kingdom
Konkana Kingdom Asmaka Kingdom Danda Kingdom Kalinga Kingdom

Kingdoms in the extreme south

Telinga Kingdom Andhra Kingdom Kishkindha Kingdom Gomanta Kingdom Karnata Kingdom
Dravida Kingdom Kanchi Kingdom Chola Kingdom Pandya Kingdom Mahisha Kingdom
Tulu Kingdom Mushika Kingdom Satyaputra Kingdom Kerala Kingdom Sinhala Kingdom
Lanka Kingdom

Saraswati Valley kingdoms

Saraswata Kingdom Abhira Kingdom Sudra Kingdom Nishada Kingdom

Himalayan kingdoms

The table lands and valleys of the great Himalayan Mountain Ranges, which were almost inaccessible to the people settled in the Ganga, Saraswati and Sindhu river valleys, were inhabited by tribes who had very little interactions with the rest of the world. The Vedic people of the plains considered these tribes to be super-human and in later periods considered them even as natural-spirits. The domains of these exotic tribes are listed below:

To know about the mythological aspects of these exotic tribes see Hindu mythology. To know about the historical significance of these tribes see the Exotic tribes of ancient India.

Kimpurusha Kingdom Pisacha Kingdom Naga Kingdom Kinnara Kingdom Yaksha Kingdom
Gandharva Kingdom Kirata Kingdom Himalaya Kingdom Parvata Kingdom Nepa Kingdom

Other kingdoms

Jaffna Kingdom