Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “King Jarasandha” as it appears in the case study regarding the settlements in the Early Historic Ganga Plain made by Chirantani Das. The study examines this process in relation to Rajagriha and Varanasi (important nodal centres of the respective Mahajanapadas named Magadha and Kashi).

Part 6 - Rājagṛha supreme seat (a): King Jarāsandha

The Ᾱdiparva of the Mahābhārata calls Jarāsandha the incarnation of the demon Viprachiti and hence a devil by birth. A. Sen thinks both names-Viprachiti and Jarāsandha are sanskritised.[1] Probably he is of non-Aryan origin and his frequent fights with Aryan stocks made him a villain in the Sanskrit literary tradition. The Viṣṇu Purāṇa and Brahma Purāṇa furnish a long list of rulers reigning over Rājagṛha and Magadha which included both semi-historical or Mythical figures like Jarāsandha or historical rulers mentioned in other types of sources as well.

Bṛhadratha has been mentioned as one of the earliest kings of Magadha. He had seven children. Of them Jarāsandha was the most important and he ruled from Rājagṛha. He, on his turn was followed by a long line of successors and they ruled for thousand years altogether.[2] Bṛhadratha was described the lord of Magadha. Militarily he was very powerful and had a large army of three aukshaunis of soldiers. He married twin princesses of Kāśī. From them he begot two halves of a child, joined by a female fiend Jara and the child named after her as Jarāsandha.[3] Among all the mythical characters of Rājagṛha he appears to be the most powerful and important one. Jarāsandha has been referred in both Puranic and epic literature in connection with his relation to Krishna, his clan and the Pandavas. From the literary evidences we learn that Jarāsandha married his two daughters to Kamsa the ruler of Mathura, who happened to be the maternal uncle of Kṛṣṇa. When Krishna killed Kaṃsa and occupied Mathura Jarāsandha was out to take revenge for the assassination of his son-in-law. Viṣṇu Purāṇa informs us that he marched with 320 numerous division of his forces but was defeated by a small but resolute army and superior weapons of Krishna and Balarama.[4] Jarāsandha left just to return after a while. This way he attacked Kṛṣṇa and the Yādava clan for eighteen times with large armies but each time he was defeated by a small army of the opponents. Jarāsandha was called wicked and base for being engaged in war with Krishna.[5] Brahma Purāṇa narrates almost the same. It also says after Kaṃsa’s death Jarāsandha reached Mathurā with a large army of 23 aukṣinis.[6] Brahma Purāṇa also speaks that Jarāsandha fought altogether eighteen battles with the Yādavas and attribute the defeat of the large army of Jarāsandha to the endless supply of new, improved and variety of weapons of the Yādava clan. The Purāṇa relates the victory particularly to the discus bearing Kṛṣṇa (Viṣṇu in a human form).[7] Both Purāṇas also mention the diplomatic ploys employed by Krishna to weaken the enemy’s strength. It involved a process of negotiations or peaceful overtures, giving presents or gifting, threats or creating dissensions among them and finally attacking the enemy.[8] This event brings to our notice that a political nexus was formed among Kāśī, Rājagṛha and Mathurā by matrimonial alliances. It augmented the political power by strong extra political ties. This tradition of conducting politically important marriages were continued even in the early historic period and Bimbisāra championed the cause of winning political alliances in favour of Magadha, through his marriages with Kāśī, Kośala and Licchavis and so on.

The Mahābhārata version is slightly different form this. According to this version Jarāsandha was counted among those Kṣatriyas who are the all-time worshipped for their wealth and prosperity. Hamsa and Dimbaka were his two most trusted allies and probably of non-Aryan origin as their names suggest. Jarāsandha overpowered a number of kings of northern India and brought a vast territory under his suzerainty. Karuśa, Karabha, Yavana kings of the west, Mura and Naraka, Bhagadatta of some southern location, Purujit of Kunti race, Chedis, King of Vaṅga, Pundra, Kiratas, Bhismaka-the king of the Bhojas have fled to the west, so did the Śūrasenas, Bhadrakas, Bodhas, Śalvas, Patachharas, Susthalas, Sukuttas, Kulindas, Kuntis, Śalvayanas, southern Pañcalas, eastern Kosśalas, Matsyas, Samyastapadas have all gone to the south or in other directions.[9] So practically, his military campaigns ravaged the whole of northern India and created terror in everybody’s heart. The Mahabharata also refers to the matrimonial alliance between Kaṃsa and Jarāsandha. When Kamsa was killed by Krishna, Jarāsandha decided to take revenge to Krishna and his clan. It made the whole clan upset and frightened. They decided to flee. The whole clan was divided into small parts and fled to the west and took shelter in a city named Kuśasthalī near the Raivatake mountain.[10] From this epic reference we can trace the beginning of the process of an imperial march that became the hallmark of the Magadhan identity in the early historical times. There was a resultant concentration of power in the capital Rājagṛha. So from the prehistoric times, Rājagṛha had the pride to be the most important capital city of this region and certainly one of the prime cities of the northern India of this period.

Whether Jarāsandha was defeated by Kṛṣṇa according to Purāṇic tradition or Krishna and his clan left Mathura out of Jarāsandha’s fear it appears from all angles that Jarāsandha was a very powerful king, well known for his military and monetary strength. Even if Kṛṣṇa had defeated him, it was not an easy victory and some corrupt practices were involved in it.

For his might and power he was considered to be the greatest obstacle on Yudhiṣṭhira’s way of performing the Rajasuya sacrifice which could confer the paramount status of an emperor to him. But Jarāsandha’s power was equal or even superior to Yudhiṣṭhira. Jarāsandha was a devotee of Shiva and he took a vow to sacrifice hundred kings to his lord. He already captured eighty six kings and imprisoned them at Girivraja–his capital.[11] Therefore it appears that both mighty kings were ambitious of paramount status and were taking parallel preparations for that. Here A. Sen raises a very crucial point. He points to the possibility that Jarāsandha’s Shiva worship was a Non-Aryan practice. He traces the beginning of the Shiva cult from the famous Pashupati cult of the Harappans i.e. before the coming of the Aryans. In fact Shiva was incorporated in the Brahmanical pantheon in a fairly later date.[12] Jarasandha’s affiliation to Shiva posed him as a non-Aryan. Hence, Jarāsandha’s rivalry to Yadavas or the Pandavas may be viewed as the fight between the indigenous people of the land, often known as the non-Aryans and the newcomers or the Vedic tribes. Such fights are frequently mentioned in the vedic sources. It is also notable that Magadha was not Aryanised or was inhabited by non Aryan people is well known in the vedic texts.[13] So from all probability Jarāsandha emerges to be a non Aryan. His fights with Krishna and his allies reflect the Aryan versus non-Aryan fights commonly mentioned in the Vedas.

From all angles Jarāsandha appears to be a potential threat to Yudhiṣṭhira’s authority. Both were aspirants of paramount power and it became necessary to eliminate Jarāsandha from that competition. The Pānḍavas under the guidance of Krishna made a definite planning to kill Jarāsandha and Bhima, Arjuna, Krishna reached Rājagṛha in the disguise of Brahmanas.[14] By suppressing their true identity as kshatriyas[15] they wanted to know Jarāsandha’s strength and weaknesses which helped in their planning to kill him. However Jarāsandha was smart enough to identify them as kshatriyas from the cut marks that they were bearing. So he openly asked them their purpose of coming to Magadha. The trio also clearly said that for liberating the kings in his prison and to kill him. They challenged him to come for a fight if he does not readily agree to their proposal. Assisted by Kauśika and Chitrasena (known in their previous births as Hamsa and Dimbhaka)[16] Jarāsandha chose to fight with Bhima. Before going to fight he placed his son Sahadeva on the throne of Rājagṛha.[17] Both the Mahābhārata and the Bhagavata purāṇa agree that Jarāsandha was defeated and finally killed by Bhima. The Bhagavata purana says that both fighters were equal to each other in strength and Bhima found it impossible to defeat him in an open battle. This way twenty seven days passed. But at last on Krishna’s advice Bhima split the body of Jarasandha into two halves just the way he was born. Then Jarāsandha was dead.[18] Both the Mahābhārata and the purana agree to that point. But there are some differences in these two accounts as well. While the Mahābhārata portrayed Jarāsandha as an arrogant, unjust and evil person, the Bhagavata Purāṇa spoke amply on Jarāsandha’s noble and courteous behaviour with Krishna, Bhīma and Arjuṇa. Knowing well that the three in the disguise of Brāhmaṇas are not actually the same, he still decided to offer them whatever they ask for according to custom. While they fought in the daytime, but after the sunset the king behaved and mixed with them like friends.[19] Nevertheless the Purāṇas too mention him as a demon.[20] The Pandavas and Krishna gained immensely from this battle. They liberated Jarāsandha’s captive kings and received their allegiance[21] and huge gifts from them. The Pandavas also took possession of Jarāsandha’s mighty car.[22] On the other hand Jarāsandha’s son Sahadeva was largely perplexed by the sudden flow of incidents. He was placed on the throne of Magadha after accepting the overlordship of his father’s slayers. He also offered them huge tribute. He remained a vassal king of the Pandavas.[23] The mystery in the birth of Jarāsandha, his enormous power and his direct confrontation with the Aryans is reflective of the mood of his times. Magadha being outside the orbit of Vedic culture was a stronghold of the autochthons. Jarāsandha legend reveals the last vicissitudes of non–Vedic association of this place and the eventual fall of the indigenous power. It paved the way for the Aryanization of this area.

Despite the negative representation of Jarāsandha it emerges beyond doubt that he was a very powerful king and under him Magadha at large and Rājagṛha–the capital city was a very wealthy and prosperous place-the fact found in different literary sources.

Naturally defended by five hills and hence called Girivraja,[24] the city was described as full of cattle, other beasts of burden, great stock of water and decorated by fine mansions.[25] the city was impregnable and abode of happy and well-fed people of four orders. The city was cosmopolitan in nature and celebrated festivals frequently.[26] The city was also held pious because it was associated with sage Gautama of puranic fame. So the kings of Aṅga, Vaṅga and other countries came to the hermitage of Gautama.[27] Lesser sects like Nāgas, Arbuda, Cakrapaṇi, swastika also resided here.[28] So as early as the time of Jarāsandha the city had a stable government with a clear and definite ambitious programme and all the signs of economic solvency. So from a very early time, we get the picture of a vibrant urban life existing at Rājagṛha. The community feeling, civic population and an urban culture described in these literary sources, surely points to the fact that Rājagṛha was one of the early cities in the middle Gaṅgā plain, whose beginning was probably laid in the proto historic times. However, the base and identity of the city was essentially as an administrative centre.

Since Jarāsandha appears in the fictional type of literature like Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata he could not be assigned the status of a purely historical figure. But his existence cannot be ruled out altogether. His legend is very alive in Rājagṛha’s oral folk tradition. Here D. K. Chakrabarti comments association of some legend with a historical place is not unusual. But Jarāsandha’s case calls for serious attention for his presence in important literary tradition.[29] Moreover Jarāsandha was mentioned in the Jaina Vividha-Tirtha-Kalpa which B.C.Law considers none other than the Jarāsandha of the Mahabharata.[30] Jarāsandha’s association to Rājagṛha was archaeologically verifiable too. Jarasandh ka baithak, Ran bhumi or Chariot marks, carefully conserved and meant to attract tourist attention actually speak of a mighty proto historic local chief. Francis Buchanan has tried to correlate these archaeological spots with the oral folk tradition in his journal of Patna and Gaya. He speaks of some points which are named after Jarāsandha. The Brahmanas of Rājagṛha calls Jarāsandha the king of Giriyak and the road leading to Giriyak was associated with this tradition.Another place located between five hills, a little west from Sonbhandar was named ranabhumi. As per the popular tradition this was the place where the wrestling between Jarāsandha and Bhima took place. It was popularly believed that red colour of the soil was due to Jarāsandha’s blood because he was defeated and killed by Bhima here.[31] But the most important spot associated with Jarāsandha’s legend was a tower, made of brick, built over the lower peak of the northern range of mountains overhanging the Panchana river–locally known as Jarasandha ki baithak or Jarāsandha’s throne.[32] Buchanan says it is located quite above the hot spring Brahmakunda. No road connected his seat. Buchanan believes that the difficulty was perhaps voluntary. Most probably Jarāsandha had a vow. He first took a bath in the sacred pool and then moved to the mentioned seat. Here he received gifts from his courtiers which may not be voluntary all the times. In the Mahabharata also we are told that he was practicing some kind of penance. So the folk tradition finds support from epic tradition also. Interestingly enough, even at modern times near the kunds or hot springs religious mendicants erect similar platforms for them and raise funds during the season of pilgrimage.[33]

Though Jarāsandha’s historicity is not beyond doubt, folk tradition and classical literary tradition both speak of him as a very powerful and ambitious monarch who created terror among the contemporary rulers and even among the figures as mighty as Kṛṣṇa and the Pānḍavas by his valour. His contest to Yudhiṣṭhira not only point to the usual Aryan-non Aryan relation of the time but also point to the fact that both rulers were desirous of imperial status. As a matter of fact, a faint beginning of Magadha’s imperial designs can be traced from this period. Moreover, Jarāsandha’s association with Magadha and Rājagṛha earned them a status of awe and respect from contemporary states. From all considerations Jarāsandha seems to be an important tribal chieftain of some remote antiquity whose history is not quite clear.

Footnotes and references:


Adiparva, The Mahabharata, cited by Amulyachandra Sen, Rajagriha and Nalanda, Mumbai, 1954, p. 17.


Manmatha Nath Dutt ed. andbased on professor H. H. Wilson’s translation,Vishnupuranam, Calcutta, published for the society for the Resuscitation of Indian literature, part IV, section-XXII, 1912, pp.306-7


Dr. Ishwar Chandra Sharma and Dr. O. N. Bimali ed and M.N. Dutt Translated The Mahabharata, Sanskrit text with English translation, Sabha Parva, ch. 17, Delhi, Parimal publications, 2001, pp. 680.


Vishnupuranam, op. cit. section XXII, pp. 379-80


J. L. Shastri ed. and translated by a board of scholars, Brahma Purana, part II, Ancient Indian tradition and Mythology Series, vol.34, New Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1985, chapter 87, 3 p. 467


Brahma Purana, op. cit. ch. 87. 6-8, p. 467, Vishnu Purana, op. cit. section XXII, p.379


Brahma Purana, op.cit. ch.87.17-18, p. 467,Vishnu Purana, op. cit. section XXII, pp.379-80.


The Mahabharata, op.cit. Sabha Parva, ch.14, pp.672- 74


The Mahabharata, op. cit. Sabha Parva, ch.14.53, p.675


The Mahabharata, op. cit. Sabha Parva, ch. 15.24,p.678


A. Sen, op. cit. p.19.


Ralph T. H. Griffith translated The hymns of the Rig veda, Delhi, Low price Publications, lll.53.14, 1991 p. 149,


Ralph T. H. Griffith translated The Hymns of Atharva Veda, New Delhi, Low Price Publications, V. 22.14,1995, p.184.


Translated and annotated by Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, Bhagavata Purana, Part IV, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. 1988, ch. 72.17,pp.1707- 12, The Mahabhrata, op. cit. Sabha Parva, Ch. 20.22 pp.688.


Bhagavata Purana op. cit. ch. 72. 16, pp. 1707- 12, The Mahabharata, op.cit. Sabha Parva, ch. 20.22, p.688


The Mahabharata, Sabha Parva, op. cit, ch.22. 32, 33 p.694.


Ibid, ch. 22. 32, 33 p.694, Bhagavata Purana, op.cit, ch 72.45,46, p. 1712.


Bhagavata Purana, op.cit, ch. 72. 39, p.1711.


Ibid, ch.72.40, pp.1707-12.


Ibid, ch.72.25, pp.1707-12.


The Mahabharata, op.cit, Sabha Parva, ch. 24.37,38, p.700.


Ibid, Sabha Parva, ch.24. 12,13, p.698.


Ibid, Sabha Parva, ch. 24. 40, 41, 42, p. 700.


Ibid, Sabha Parva, ch. 21. 2, p.688.


Ibid, Sabha Parva, ch. 21.1, p.688.


Ibid, Sabha Parva, ch.21.13,p. 689.


Ibid, Sabha Parva, ch. 21. 6,7,8 p.689.


Ibid, Sabha Parva, ch.21.9, p.689.


D. K. Chakrabarti, op.cit., 1976, pp.261-68.


B.C.Law, Rajagriha in ancient literature, Memoirs of the Archaeological survey of India, no. 58, Delhi, 1938,p.22.


Francis Buchanan, Journal of Francis Buchanan kept during the survey of the districts Patna and Gaya in 1811-12, Patna, Superintendent, Printing, Bihar and Orissa, p.132/


B.C. Law op.cit. 1938, p.4.


Francis Buchanan op. cit. p.140.

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