List of Mahabharata tribes

by Laxman Burdak | 19,468 words

This content is based mainly on Ch. V of book by Sandhya Jain: Adi Deo Arya Devata - A Panoramic View of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface, Rupa & Co, 7/16, Ansari Road Daryaganj, New Delhi, 2004...

Famous Warrior Tribes

The epic Mahabharata Parvas which mention about the tribes are as under with chapters

S.No Parva Chapters with mention of tribes
1 Adi Parva Ch: I.32, I.35, I.57, I.66, I.67, I.75, I.80, I.94, I.95, I.104, I.109, I.144, I.158, I.185, I.188,I.221
2 Sabha Parva Ch : II.9, II.13, II.23-29, II.31, II.46, II.47, II.48,
3 Vana Parva Ch: III.48, III.114, III.116.
4 Virata Parva Ch:
5 Udyoga Parva Ch: V.7, V.19, V.31, V.53, V.72, V.82, V.157,
6 Bhisma Parva Ch: VI.6, VI.9, VI.10, VI.18, VI.20, VI.46, VI.47, VI.52, VI.68, VI.83, VI.112
7 Drona Parva CH: VII.15, VII.61, VII.66, VII.67, VII.68, VII.165
8 Karna Parva Ch: VIII.4 , VIII.17, VIII.30
9 Shalya Parva Ch: IX.43, IX.44
10 Sauptika Parva Ch:
12 Shanti Parva Ch: XII.29, XII.200
13 Anusasana Parva Ch: XIII.31, XIII.127
14 Aswamedha Parva Ch: XIV.8

- This table is compiled by Laxman Burdak लक्ष्मण बुरड़क

The most remarkable aspect of the Mahabharata war was the recruitment by both the Pandavas and Kauravas of a veritable host of primitive tribes from jungles and inaccessible valleys, without discrimination, into their respective armies. Bands of fierce jungle tribes, known as atavika formed the bulk of the fighting forces on both sides (II.5.53; XV.7; 7). The epic duly acknowledged individual tribal warriors such as Eklayya (a Bhil) and Ghatotkacha (a Rakshasa) for their legendary courage and fighting skills.

The epic displays intimate knowledge of the different tribes in the different regions, as also of the special fighting skills for which they were renowned. Bhishma instructed Yudhisthira (XII.102) to recruit people in the various wings of the army after studying their particular modes of fighting. He expressed a preference for frontier peoples for handling different missiles, while the Gandhara, Sindhu, and Sauvira tribes were accomplished in fighting With nails and lances. The Usinaras were skilled in all weaponry, while the easterners were adept in elephant-back warfare, and notorious for using unfair tricks in fighting (Kutaayodhinah, XII.102.19f).

The Yavana, Kamboja and Surasena tribes (Mathura region) were proficient in fighting duels, and were also expert infantrymen (niyuddhakusala). The southern tribes were competent with the sword (XII.102.3-5), while the northwest frontier and Central Asian tribes were expert cavalrymen. The epic made a special mention of the Kamboja horse (VI.88) and the redoubtable Kamboja warriors who were celebrated for their stiff resistance, unity, discipline and military strategy (VII. 87.42f, 95.20).

The Shakas were reputed to be as powerful as Indra (VII.111.50). The Gandhara horsemen were skilled with the lance (prasa;, VII.6.3). The Ambashthas wielded the club with dexterity (gada, VII.68.59). The fearsome Trigarta warriors (comprising the Lalittha, Malva, Mavellaka and Yaudheya tribes) took a ritual oath to "do" or "die" (VII.16). The Madra army was notable for its unique paraphernalia (V.8.3f).

The eastern tribes were experts in fighting on elephant back. The Magadha army was renowned for elephant warfare (V.164.24) and their king, Jarasandha, fought on elephant back (VII.91-26). Yet the most gifted fighters on elephant back were the tribes of Pragjyotisha (Assam), who trained their elephants to fight an offensive (not just defensive) war, as seen in the narrative about the elephant of king Bhagadatta (VII.25.26f) who led an army of Kiratas and Chinas. The Kiratas fought on elephants (VII.87.28f) and applied poison to their arrows (VII.87.30f).

Salvas were adept at the Asura mode of fighting (III.22,23), while the Shakas,Yavanas, Paradas and Balhikas were proficient in trick-fighting (VII.68.41.42). The Dravidas were capable warriors. The northern mountaineer tribes fought with stone weapons, a method of fighting (asmayuddha) unknown amongst the Kurus and other plains tribes (VII.97.29f)

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