Matsya Kingdom was probably founded by fishermen community who later attained kingship. The Sanskrit word Matsya means fish. Satyavati, the wife of Kuru king Santanu was from this community. King Virata, a Matsya king, founded the kingdom of Virata. He was the father-in-law of Abhimanyu the son of Arjuna. The epic Mahabharata relates the founder of Matsya kingdom to the ruler of Chedi, viz Uparichara Vasu.An interesting fact is that fishing was the main occupation of the people who lived near river Saraswati. After the Saraswati River dried up, they migrated to river Charmanwati now known as Chambal meaning fish in Dravidian languages. Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, was son of Satyavati who belogned to this fishermen community and yet was a Vedic scholar, thus attesting the origin of Vedas from the Saraswati basin.
Other than the Matsya kingdom to the south of Kuru Kingdom, which falls in the Alwar, Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan, the epic refers to many other (as many as, six other) Matsya kingdoms. The Pandya Kingdom in the extreme south, also bears the icon of a fish on its official banner showing some connection with the Matsya kings. The main Matsyas under Virata had its capital named Viratanagari which is now known as Bairat in Jaipur district of Rajasthan. Upaplavya was another famous city in this kingdom.
References in Mahabharata
Matsya is mentioned in the list of kingdoms of Bharata Varsha (ancient India) at (6,9).
Origin of Matsya Kings
The first Matsya king was mentioned to be the son of a Chedi king named Uparichara Vasu. He was a Paurava, meaning a king beloning to the Puru dynasty (1,63). Apart from the five royal sons of this king, he had a son and a daughter born of a women of fisherman community. The male child, in due cource established the Matsya Kingdom and founded the royal dynasty called Matsya Dynasti. The female child lived as a member of fishermen community. Her descendants established as fishermen on the banks of river Yamuna, in the kingdom of Kurus. The famous Kuru king Santanu's wife Satyavati was from this fishermen community. The author of Mahabharata, vis Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa and the Kuru kings viz Chitrangada and Vichitravirya were the sons of Satyavati. Pandavas and Kauravas where the grandsons of Vichitravirya.(1,63).A king named Sahaja ruled the united Chedis and Matsyas. As per Bhima he became cause for the destruction of his own race (5,74).
The various Matsya kingdoms
The western Matsyas
A Matsya territory existed in the western regions along with the western countries like the Bahlikas, and the Kaikayas, the Vasatas, the Madras, and Saindhavas. Their location could be on the banks of river Sindhu. They were mentioned as battling for the sake of Duryodhana in Kurukshetra War (8,56), (6,18).
After escaping from the murder-attempt by Duryodhana, the Pandavas wandered in the forests. They met the Rakshasa Hidimba in the forests of lower Himalayas (in Uttarakhand), and continued their journey through forests and kingdoms.Pandavas, then went from forest to forest killing deer and many animals for their food. In the course of their wanderings they saw the countries of the Matsyas, the Trigartas (eastern part of Indian Punjab), the Panchalas (southern Uttar Pradesh) and then of the Kichakas (1,158). The Matsyas mentioned here could be the Matsyas who established their kingdom up-stream the river Yamuna, (Yamunanagar district of Hariyana). This kingdom lied to the east of Trigarta. Satyavati the wife of Santanu the fore-father of the Pandavas and Kauravas could be from this kingdom.
Matsya Proper (Virata Kingdom)
To identify the kingdom of Virata from other Matsya kingdoms, some of the ancient Indian literature, like the Bhagavata Purana, designate it as Virata Kingdom.The most famous Matsya kingdom was the one under the rule of king Virata, the ally of the Pandavas. Most of the other Matsyas joined with the Kauravas in Kurukshetra War. Sahadeva on his military campaign to the south, to collect tribute for Yudhisthira's Rajasuya sacrifice, encountered this Matysas. He also encountered the Matsya kingdom that lied to the south of Matsya-proper (Virata Kingdom).Sahadeva, dismissed with affection by king Yudhisthira the just, marched towards the southern direction accompanied by a mighty host. That mighty prince of the Kuru race, vanquishing completely at the outset the Surasenas (Mathura district in Uttar Pradesh), brought the king of Matsya under his sway. (2,30). Virata, the king of Matsya, gave as tribute two thousand elephants decked in gold. (2,51).Panchala, Chedi, Matsya, Surasena, Pattachchara, Dasarna, Nava-Rashtra, Malla, Salva, Yugandhara, Saurashtra, Avanti, and the spacious Kunti-Rashtra were mentioned as the kingdoms surrounding (and / or close to) the kingdom of Kurus (4,1).
Pandavas selected the Virata Kingdom to be their abode for one year, to live in anonymity, after the expiry of their twelve-year long forest life, both (12-years of forest life and one year of life in anonymity) being the conditions set up by their enemies viz the Kauravas, to give them back their kingdom (4,1). After leaving the Dwaita lake in the forest of Dwaita (on the banks of Saraswati River, western Rajasthan and south-western Hariyana) the Pandavas proceeded in the direction of Yamuna. Those bowmen living in inaccessible hills and forest fastnesses, now terminated their forest-life and proceeded to the southern bank of Yamuna. Leading the lives of hunters by killing the deer of the forest they passed through Yakrilloma and Surasena. Leaving behind, on their right, the country of the Panchalas, and on their left, that of the Dasarnas they entered Matsya’s dominions leaving the forest, giving themselves out as hunters. On arriving at that country, Draupadi addressed Yudhishthira, saying:- "We see footpaths here, and various fields. From this it appears that Virata’s metropolis is still at a distance." (4,5).The city of Virata was known as Virata-nagari, identified to be the Bairat town in Jaipur district of Rajasthan.
A Matsya kingdom lied to the south of Virata Kingdom. Sahadeva vanquished this Matsyas also. This territory lied possibly in the Tonk district, south of Jaipur in Rajasthan. It was ruled by the kinsmen of king Virata.Sahadeva then, defeating Dantavakra, the mighty king of the Adhirajas (Karusha Kingdom) and making him pay tribute, re-established him on his throne. The prince then brought under his sway, Sukumara and then king Sumitra, and he next vanquished the Apara-Matsyas (possibly the Tonk district, south of Jaipur in Rajasthan) and then the Patacharas. Endued with great intelligence, the Kuru warrior then conquered soon enough the country of the Nishadas ruled by Ekalavya (in the valley of Aravalli mountains of Rajasthan, possibly the Bhilwara district).(2,30).
Kichaka Kingdom is identified to be one of the Matsya kingdom ruled by Matsya rulers.Kichaka Kingdom was allied to King Virata. The Kichaka king (or chief), known by the name Kichaka was the commander-in-chief of the Matsya-army under king Virata. He belonged to the Suta caste (4,15). He was the main strength of king Virata against his arch-enemy viz the Trigarta king Susharman (2,25). He got attracted to the wife of Pandavas viz Draupadi (4,15). He was later slain by the Pandava Bhima (4,22). Some believe that the village named Ekachakra were the Pandavas finally settled after the escape from the murder-attempt, belonged to the kingdom of Kichaka. At (1,162) is mentioned that the city named Vetrakiya (a city on the banks of river Vetravati, the modern-day river Betwa) was the capital of this kingdom. Vetravati is believed to be same as the river Suktimati on the banks of which lied the Chedi capital Suktimati. It is a tributary of Yamuna to the east of Charmanvati, yet another tributary of Yamuna. Kingdom of Kichaka is identified to be lying between Charmanwati and Vetravati rivers, i.e., to the south of southern-Panchala; to the north of Chedi and to the east of Matsya-proper.
Matsyas near Magadha
A Matsya kingdom existed on the banks of Ganga, between Kasi and Magadha. Due to fear of Magadha King Jarasandha they fled south-wards and dwelled on the banks of river Swarna (modern-day Son). This kingdom was visited by Bhima during his military campaign to the east, to collect tribute for Yudhisthira's Rajasuya sacrifice.The Matsyas and the Sannyastapadas, overcome with fear due to Magadha king Jarasandha, leaving their dominions in the north, have fled into the southern country (2,14).Bhima vanquished in battle Suvahu the king of Kasi (modern-day Banaras in Uttar Pradesh). Then he defeated king Kratha reigning in the region lying about Suparsa. Then Bhima vanquished the Matsyas (south-east Uttar Pradesh, possibly Sonbhadra district) and the powerful Maladas and the country called Pasubhumi. He, coming from that land, conquered Madahara, Mahidara, and the Somadheyas, and turned his steps towards the north. Then he subjugated, the country called Vatsabhumi (Kausambi district in Uttar Pradesh) (2,29).
Paundra Matsyaka (Eastern Matsyas)
Paundramatsyaka is mentioned at (1,67). The king of this country is attributed to be an Asura. This kingdom lied close to the Pundra (northern parts of West Bengal), on the banks of river Ganga. They were the eastern Matsyas.A king named Poti-Matsyaka is mentioned at (5,4). It is not clear if he is Paundra-Matsyaka.
Other References of Matsya race
- A Matsya king is mentioned in the list of great kings including Trasadasyu, Yayati, Nahusha, Puru, Mandhatri, Somaka, Nriga, Kritavirya, Sautasravas, Arishtanemi, Siddha, Kritavega, Kriti, Nimi, Pratarddana, Sivi, Prithulaksha, Vrihadratha, Vartta, Marutta, Kusika, Sankasya, Sankriti, Dhruva, Chaturaswa, Sadaswormi and king Kartavirya, Bharata and Suratha, Sunitha, Nisatha, Nala, Divodasa, and Sumanas, Amvarisha, Bhagiratha etc. (2,8)
- A hundred kings of the Matsya race and hundred of the Vipa and a hundred of the Haya races were mentioned at (2,8)
Trigarta invasion over Virata Kingdom
The Suta named Kichaka, the commander of Matsya king Virata, aided by the Matsyas and the Salwas, have defeated many times the mighty king of the Trigartas, Susarman. He regarded the death of Kichaka by the hands of some unknown Gandharva (Bhima in disguise) as an opportunity to revenge upon king Virata. He met Kuru king Duryodhana and spoke thus:-"My kingdom hath many a time been forcibly invaded by the king of the Matsyas. The mighty Kichaka was that king’s generalissimo. Crooked and wrathful and of wicked soul, of prowess famed over all the world, sinful in deeds and highly cruel, that wretch, however, hath been slain by the Gandharvas, Kichaka being dead, king Virata, shorn of pride and his refuge gone, will, I imagine, lose all courage I think, we ought now to invade that kingdom. Virata Kingdom is abounding in corn. We will appropriate his gems and other wealth of diverse kinds, and let us go to share with each other as regards his villages and kingdom. Or, invading his city by force, let us carry off by thousands his excellent kine of various species. Uniting, O king, the forces of the Kauravas and the Trigartas, let us lift his cattle in droves. Or, uniting our forces well, we will check his power by forcing him to sue for peace. Or, destroying his entire host, we will bring Matsya under subjection. Having brought him under subjection by just means, we will live in our kingdom happily, while thy power also will, without doubt, be enhanced." Karna also agreed to Susarman:- "Let us, drawing up our forces in battle array and marshalling them in divisions, speedily set out."
Duryodhana ordered his borther Dussasana:- "Consulting with the elders, array without delay, our forces. We will, with all the Kauravas go to the appointed place. Let also the mighty warrior, king Susarman, accompanied by a sufficient force with vehicles and animals, set out with the Trigartas for the dominions of Matsyas. And let Susarman proceed first, carefully concealing his intention. Following in their wake, we will set out the day after in close array, for the prosperous dominions of king Matsya. Let the Trigartas, however, suddenly repair to the city of Virata, and coming upon the cowherds, seize that immense wealth of kine. We also marching in two divisions, will seize thousands of excellent kine furnished with auspicious marks."Then those warriors, the Trigartas, accompanied by their infantry of terrible prowess, marched towards the south-eastern direction, intending to wage hostilities with Virata from the desire of seizing his kine. And Susarman set out on the seventh day of the dark fortnight for seizing the kine. And then on the eighth day following of the dark fortnight, the Kauravas also accompanied by all their troops, began to seize the kine by thousands.Matsya army became ready to fight under the Matsya heroes viz king Virata, his brothers Satanika, Madirakhsya and Visalaksha all of them kings ruling other Matsya domanins, the military-general Suryadatta, Virata's eldest son Sankha (also known as Sanksha) and Sweta, his another son. The Pandavas except Arjuna also was in the army of Virata. These heroes opposed the Trigarta army. (4-31,32,33). Virata's youngest son Uttara and Arjuna defended the Kaurava army (4-54 to 65). Both the Trigarta army and the Kaurava army were defeated and they fled to their respective kingdoms.
Matsyas in Kurukshetra War
On the Side of Pandavas
Matsya king Virata was the principal ally of the Pandavas. The Pandavas camped at Upaplavya a Matsya city north to the capital Virata-puri. All the allies of Pandavas brought their armies to this city, before the Kurukshetra War. Virata, with his brothers like Satanika and sons like Sankha, Sweta, Uttara and Vabhru (5,57) battled in the Kurukshetra War on the side of the Pandavas. Virata was slain by Drona (7,184). Satyadhriti of the Matsyas, Madiraswa (Madirakhsa) and Suryadatta have all been slain by Drona (8,6). The remnant Matsya army (along with the remnant Panchala army) left after the Kurukshetra War was destroyed by Ashwathama(10,9) in a midnight ambush.
On the side of Kauravas
Some Matsya tribes (possibly all except the Virata Kingdom and the Southern Matsyas) allied with the Kauravas (5-161,162). At (6,18) they were described as one among the 12 tribes (The Abhishahas, the Surasenas, the Sivis, and the Vasatis, the Salweyas, the Matsyas, the Amvashtas, the Trigartas, and the Kekayas, the Sauviras, the Kitavas and another tribe) that protected the Kaurava commander-in-chief Bhishma. At (8,56) they were mentioned along with the Bahlikas, and the Kaikayas, the Vasatas, the Madras, and Saindhavas.
Culture and festivals
Main article Ancient Indian festivals.
Pandavas, while staying in the palace of Virata, witnessed a festival named after lord Brahma. This festival is still celebrated in Pushkar, Rajasthan, very close to the ancient Virata Kingdom.After three months had passed away, in the fourth, the grand festival in honour of the divine Brahma which was celebrated with pomp in the country of the Matsyas, came off. And there came athletes from all quarters by thousands, like hosts of celestials to the abode of Brahma or of Siva to witness that festival. And they were endued with huge bodies and great prowess, like the demons called Kalakhanjas. And elated with their prowess and proud of their strength, they were highly honoured by the king. And their shoulders and waists and necks were like those of lions, and their bodies were very clean, and their hearts were quite at ease (4,13).Matsya was within the reach of Vedic religion. The Kauravas with the Panchalas, the Salwas, the Matsyas, the Naimishas, the Koshalas, the Kasapaundras, the Kalingas, the Magadhas, and the Chedis who are all highly blessed, know what the eternal religion is (8,45).
Kingdoms of Ancient India