The Age of the Gandharvas

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As per Hindu mythology, this age in which we live, is called the Kali Yuga or the age of Kali. Dwapara was the brother of Kali. Dwapara was also mentioned sometimes as a friend and some times as a companion of Kali. The age (Yuga) before Kali Yuga was called Dwapara Yuga, named after Kali's brother Dwapara. As per Hindu mythology (Mbh 1.123, 3.58), Kali and Dwapara were Gandharvas. It is strange that two successive ages of pre-history were named after two Gandharvas! One would expect Kali and Dwapara to be mentioned as Asuras (Asuras were in absolute opposition with the Devas as per Hindu belief. Asuras were usually represented as evil in Hindu tradition and Gandharvas were usually not represented so. At the most Gandharvas were considered mischievous or dangerous but generally considered as benevolent and as allies of the Devas). Since, the last two Yugas belongs to Dwapara and Kali, they thus belongs to the Gandharvas.

The Gandharva-Gandhara connection

There are several references in Mahabharata were the words Gandharvas and Gandharas were used interchangeably. There were also found references in Mahabharata, of Gandharva-territories in ancient India, which some times coincided with the Gandhara kingdom in the north-west or sometimes with the colonies of the Gandharas in and around India. This included territories in north-west (coinciding with Gandhara), north (southern Tibet), Saraswati basin (western Rajastan) and Saurashtra (Surat). Balarama in his pilgrimage along the dried up Saraswati river found several settlements of the Gandharvas along the river. Mahabharata also mentions about the Gandharvas living in the north of Himalayas in company of the Devas and Yakshas. Arjuna in his millitary campaigns had visited and defeated some of these Gandharva kingdoms. Ramayana mentions about a kingdom of Gandharvas (called Sailushas) which coincides with the Gandhara kingdom. Raghava Rama's brother Bharata and his two sons defeated these Gandharvas and established the towns of Puskalavati and Takshasila named after the two sons of Bharata, viz Taksha and Puskala. Both these cities were later well known as the important cities of Gandhara.

Thus, there is a lot of reason to speculate that the Gandharvas were same as the Gandharas or in some point of time in history both these words meant the same people or geography.This would mean that the age of Dwapara and Kali were the ages in which the Gandharas (Gandharvas) got more prominence or power in ancient India.

The Gandhara-Gandharva influence in the ancient Indian politics, culture and society

Sakuni, a Gandhara chief, interfered with the politics of Kuru Kingdom, which was the center of power of ancient India during the period of Mahabharata. Sakuni was the maternal uncle of the Kuru king Duryodhana and had great influence on him. Sakuni was sometimes mentioned as a Gandharva and sometimes his sons and brothers too were mentioned as Gandharvas. A Gandharva by the name of Chitrangada is mentioned as killing the Kuru prince Chitrangada. Gandharvas were mentioned as having some military advantage over ordinary warriors as they possess some weapons that can create illusions (Chakshusi) during battle. Thus the Gandharvas had some advanced military technology with them. The Gandharva military formation in battle also is mentioned in Mahabharata, during the Kurukshetra war. Another Gandharva of the name Angaraparna has fought with Arjuna. In yet another incident the Gandharva Chitrasena has fought with Duryodhana. Thus the Gandharvas started influencing ancient Indian politics right from Mahabharata age (Dwapara Yuga). It is a possibility that after the rule of the last Kuru kings viz, Parikshit and Janamejaya, the Gandharvas dominated the ancient Indian politics and ancient India which was reeling under a socio economic depression due to the after effects of the Kurukshetra War. Thus this period was considered as the Kali Yuga or the age of Kali, where Kali could be a powerful Gandhara (Gandharva) ruler who conquered ancient Indo-Gangatic plane.

There is reason to speculate that Kali was a real ruler probably of Gandhara origin, since in Mahabharata, where it explain the life of Parikshit (grandson of Arjuna, son of Abhimanyu) it mention about the encounter of Parikshit with Kali. Parikshit and his son Janamejaya is mentioned as battling with the Gandharas. Janamejaya is mentioned as conquering Takshasila, a stronghold of the Gandharas. The epic also mentions about the contrast of the culture expounded by Kali and Parikshit. In Gandhara, there was no special status to priesthood and caste was a matter of choice and there were no strict distinction of four castes. This culture is mentioned in Mahabharata as Bahlika culture. Gandhara was one of the Bahlika countries along with Kekeya, Madra and Kamboja. The word Bahlika was used to denote 'outsiders', and all the people in the north-western part of ancient India were collectively called the Bahlikas (the outsiders). They followed a variant of Vedic culture (called the Bahlika culture), while the Vedic religion in its dogmatic form was followed strictly in the Indo-Gangatic plain of ancient India.

The predominance of the Bahlika culture with the rise of Gandhara power in ancient India through Gandharva (Gandhara) rulers like Kali and his brother Dwapara, could have come in conflict with the priest-class of ancient India who might have considered these developments as unwelcome and they might have coined the term 'Kali Yuga'. They might have held Kali responsible for all the evil that prevailed, including the socio economic depression that ensued after the great war of Mahabharata.

The changes in the cultural fabric of ancient India, that became predominant in the Kali Yuga, were also present in the age before Kali (ie during the period of Kurukshetra war). Hence that era that preceded Kali era might have subsequently got named as Dwapara Yuga, named after that constant companion of Kali. There is also a remote possibility that Dwapara and Kali where two successive Gandharva rulers separated by decades or centuries who brought tremendous change in the ancient Indian cultural fabric.

Several cultural traditions in India are named after the Gandharvas. A form of folk-music was called the Gandharva music (Gandharvan paattu) in Kerala. A folk-dance-music form found in Karnataka is called Yaksha-gaana. It served as a medium to spread the stories of epics like Mahabharata in southern India. The Yakshas were considered as related to the Gandharvas. The Gandharvas, even from the epic age, were famous for their patronage for dance, music and art. A type of recital of Indian classical music is named after Gandhara. A form of sculpturing is described as Gandhara sculpturing.
In Mahabharata, the art of music and dance is termed as Gandharva-Veda (meaning the knowledge of the Gandharvas). Arjuna is mentioned as learning this art from the Gandharvas.

The system of marriage, in which a man and a woman marries or unites based on mutual consent is known as the Gandharva marriage. This is in contrast to the traditional marriage system in India, which needs the consent of the parents. Women who enjoyed more freedom in later Indian societies, especially in Kerala, were sometimes nick named as 'Kaantaari' (Gandhari) and some women who expressed their emotions more openly were considered to be under the influence of the Gandharvas. More freedom to women, less rigid caste-system, greater interest in art, dance, music and sculpturing, greater importance of trade and commerce, greater prominence of the Vaisyas (traders) and the Sudras (farmers, craftsmen, sculptures, architects and workers skilled in animal husbandry, medicine, metal industry, mining, road construction etc) - all of these were characteristics of the change in culture, brought forth by the Gandharas (Gandharvas).

Rise of dominance of the trading kingdoms in ancient India

It is also a known fact that, there were several colonies of Kambojas (who along with the Gandharas were all Bahlikas) in ancient India after the epic age (after the Kurukshetra war). These colonies belonged to Kamboja traders (Gulf of Khabhat in Gujarat, Kalyan in Maharastra etc). There was a Kalinga city of the name Rajapura and there was a Kamboja city of the name Rajapura, showing a Kamboja-Kalinga connection. The Kamboja's of Simhapura, near Kashmir (visited by Arjuna during his northern military campaign, as per the epic Mahabharata), as part of their sea-trade established colonies in Lanka as Sinhalas. They reached south-east Asia and formed Kampuchia (Cambodia). There were some notable Gandhara colonies also spread across India, attested by place-names like the Gandhara village and the Gandhari river in Kalyan, Maharashtra. The colonies of Dwaraka at places like Gomanta (Goa) and in the western shores upto Kerala were also notable. Some of them were trade-centers and some were sea-ports. Kambojas, Gandharas and the Yadavas of Dwaraka had given extreme importance to trade, that include sea-trade and trade though land using the trade-routes like the Uttarapatha, the Dakshinapatha, the Dwaraka-Kamboja route and the silk-route. Sea shore Kingdoms like Kerala, Pandya, Lanka, Chola, Andhra, Telinga, Kalinga and Vanga had sea-trade relationships with Dwaraka, Sindhu-Sauvira, Sivi, Madra, Kekeya, Gandhara and Kamboja. Relationship of the Sivis in the Indus valley and the Cholas in the south-eastern shore of India is mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. Some traditions in Kerala like the inheritance laws where sister's son, not ones own son, inheriting property, is similar to the practice prevailed in Madraka and other Bahlika countries of the Indus valley, indicating a cultural exchange, which most likely occurred through sea-trade. The mainstream Vedic kingdoms like Kuru and Panchala which were dominated by Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, did not focus much on this sea-trade culture. However, one of the main trade-route through the land, called Uttarapatha was dominated by Kuru-Panchala kingdoms and their allies like the Kasi-Kosalas, the Magadhas and the Angas. These kingdoms demanded excessive toll on all the goods traded through these trade route which carried goods from the sea-ports of Vanga in the east and Dwaraka in the west.

However there were goods exchanged between the trading Bahlika kingdoms and the Kuru-Panchalas as well as other kingdoms of the Uttarapatha route, like the Kasis, Kosalas, Magadhas and Angas. The most important commodity that the Bahlika kingdoms traded with the Kuru-Panchalas and Kasi-Kosalas were the horses. Horses of excellent bread, that were used in battles were of Sindhu breed or were from Kamboja or from the highlands of the Gandhara kingdom. The Gandharva Angaraparna is mentioned as trading with Arjuna where he gave him excellent horses belonging to the Gandharva country in exchange of Arjuna's weapon of fire. Arjuna also collected as tribute, excellent horses from the Gandharva country to the north of Himalayas. In Kalyan (Maharashtra) which was an ancient sea-port belonging to the Kamboja or the Gandhara traders, we find mention of horse-trade, where horses were transported through land and also through sea in ships. The places like Ghodbunder (Thane, Maharastra) where horses (Ghoda) were held, attest this fact.

The difference of the Kuru-Panchala, Kasi-Kosala culture with the trading kingdoms is evident from the fact that the Kuru-Panchalas called all those tribes in the eastern and western shores of India as the Mlechaas. Pandava Bhima, in his millitary campaign is mentioned as having collecting tribute from the Mlechaas inhabiting the mouths of Ganga (on the shores of Bay of Bangal in West Bangal and Bangladesh). Nakula's military campaign to the west led him to the Mlechaas in the west along the Indus river and upto where the Indus joined the Arabian sea. Some time the term Mlechaa included the southern countries like the Cholas, Pandyas and Keralas encountered by Sahadeva in his military campagin to the south. The Vangas and Kalingas were sometimes included with the Vedic kingdoms (that followed the Vedic culture of the Kuru-Panchalas) but sometimes termed as Mlechaas. All of these Mlechaa kingdoms engaged in sea-trade with the Yadavas of Dwaraka, with the Sindhu-Sauviras and Sivis, with the Bahlikas (the north-western traders who followed a variant form of Vedic religion viz the Madrakas, the Kekeyas, the Kuru-Bahlikas, the Gandharas and the Kambojas) and with the other trading civilizations of the world that probably included the Yavanas (the Greeks) and the Chinas. Interestingly, even the Yavanas and the Chinas were counted as Mlechas by the Kuru-Panchala people according to the references in Mahabharata. Among all these Mlechaas, the Mlechaas of India who were on the western shore of India, probably centered around the mouths of Indus river joining the Arabian sea were known to the outside world as 'Meluha'. (There are others who identify Meluha with Kerala).

It is speculated that the great war of Kurukshetra was a conspiracy of the trading kingdoms of ancient India to eliminate this Kuru-Panchala nexus which failed to recognize the importance of trade (a pre-occupation of the Vaisyas), but focused more on military excellence (a domain of the Kshatriyas) and religious scholarship (a domain of the Brahmanas). Though the seed of the war was sown as a dispute between two factions of the Kuru kingdom (the Pandavas and the Kauravas), this war was grown into such great proportions due to the vested interest of individual kingdoms who participated in the war. Kambojas were known to sell their troops to both the warring parties. Sudakshina Kamboja sided with the Kauravas, while the Panchalas bought an elite class of Kamboja warriors called Prabadrakas for their side favoring the Pandavas. After receiving favors from Kaurava king Duryodhana, Madra king Shalya is mentioned as siding with the Kauravas in the great war. Similarly the Yadavas of Dwaraka also (another trading kingdom like the Kambojas) fought the war on both sides, probably seeking monitory gains like the Kambojas. The Narayana troops of Dwaraka were bought by Duryodhana to fight for him, while Vasudeva-Krisha and Satyaki with his force sided with the Pandavas. The Bhoja Yadavas under Kritavarma sided with Duryodhana. At the end of the war, the Panchalas who survived the battle was mysteriously annihilated in a night attack, though this intelligence was available to Vasudeva Krishna Yadava. Thus we see that the Kuru-Panchalas were completely annihilated in the war, to the exception of the Pandavas, who were in favor of the Dwaraka-Yadavas and thus to the trading culture.

Power struggles within the trading kingdoms

Though there was some common objective and common culture shared among the trading kingdoms of the west like Dwaraka, Gandhara and Kamboja (as well as the Sindhu, Sauvira, Sivi, Madra and Kekeya kingdoms that lied on the banks of Sindhu (Indus) river), there were political differenced between these kingdom. There is reason to speculate that these trading kingdoms themselves competed for dominance. Hence they sided with the opposing parties in the Kuru Pandava struggle.

Gandharas favored the Kauravas. There is a myth in Mahabharata, where Duryodhana is mentioned as an incarnation of Kali, the Gandharva!. Sakuni is mentioned as an incarnation of Dwapara, the Gandharva. Dhritarashtra, the father of Duryodhana is mentioned (Mbh 18.4) as an incarnation of a Gandharva king of the name Dhritarashtra! Duryodhana's mother was a Gandhara lady (Gandhari), and thus he had inherited Gandhara (Gandharva) genes from mother's side. Similarly, the Pandavas had the genes of Yadavas (since Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna were sons of Kunti who was a Yadava lady) and Madrakas (since Nakula and Sahadeva were sons of a Madra lady (Madri)). The Kambojas and the Sindhu-Sauviras sided with the Kauravas due to nuptial relationships. The Madrakas headed by Shalya (maternal uncle of the Pandava-twins) though were in favor of the Pandavas were forced to side with Duryodhana. A main reason could be that all the other trading kingdoms that surrounds Madra, like the Gandharas, the Kambojas the Sindhu-Sauviras, the Sivis, the Kuru-Bahlikas (kingdom of Somadata and Bhurisrava), and the ruling elite of the Kekayas all sided with the Kauravas and Madra king Shalya had no choice but to side with Duryodhana, pretending to repaying his debt of becoming a guest in Duryodhana's military camp.

Thus the trading kingdoms were severely polarized. Kingdoms like Kekeya were split with one group supporting the Pandavas and the other group supporting the Kauravas. Similarly the Yadavas with their capital in Dwaraka were also split with one group (headed by Kritavarma) favoring the Kauravas and the other group (headed by Satyaki) favoring the Pandavas. The Yadavas at Dwaraka and the Gandharas at Puskalavati were the two major trading kingdoms who were engaged in a constant struggle for dominance. There were mentions in Mahabharata of war between Dwaraka and Gandhara, some of them led by Vasudeva Krishna, who once abducted Gandhara ladies and humiliated Gandhara chiefs. The Dwaraka-Gandhara conflict was probably for establishing dominance on the Dwaraka-Kamboja trade-route that connected the sea-ports of Dwaraka with Uttarapatha, a route which connected the sea-ports of Vanga, and which lead to the silk-route of the north west, giving access to rich trade of goods from China and central Asia. The Dwaraka-Gandhara conflict was also fought diplomatically, as it is very evident from the epic Mahabharata. Both established blood relationship with the Kurus. While Sakuni influenced Duryodhana through politically motivated activities, Vasudeva Krisha from Dwaraka influenced the Pandavas and tilted the politics of Hastinapura in favor of the Yadavas.

The decline of Dwaraka and the rise of Gandhara

It is difficult today, to ascertain who had the last laugh. If we examine what has happened after the Kurukshetra war, we find that 36 years after the war, the seed of in-fighting that was sown into the Yadava community of Dwaraka, probably through the conspiracy of the Gandharas and which was strengthened in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, grew larger and larger, and led to a great war among the Dwaraka-Yadavas. Though the Mahabharata epic gives very less detail about this war compared to the Kurukshetra war, it is certain that the rule of Yadavas in Dwaraka ended with that colossal mutual destruction. The great trading nation of Dwaraka is gone and the magnificent sea-port of Dwaraka sank into oblivion. The only clue left in the epic is the mention of the curse of Gandhari! The epic attribute the curse of Gandhari to the destruction of the kingdom of the Yadavas in Dwaraka. This Gandhari connection gives away the clue that it was the Gandharas (Gandharvas) who conspired for the destruction of Dwaraka.

Subsequently we find mention that the remnant unit of Yadava forces led by Arjuna from Dwaraka to Kuru kingdom were met with destruction by forces of Abhiras and Sudras. Yadava ladies were abducted by them. These people seem to be allied to the Gandharas, since Abhiras were considered as a trading community migrated from the north-west which includes Gandhara kingdom. Thus we find the emergence of a Vaisya (Abhira) - Sudra power against the prevalent dominance of the priest class and the warrior class. Yadavas, though were considered initially as equal to the trading community, started behaving like they were the warrior class and thus alienated from the trading class. This explains why in Mahabharata epic Vasudeva Krishna is mentioned as desiring to eliminate his own kinsmen (the Yadavas) due to their mis-use of power and their warrior type behavior, though they had a background as traders, and should have focused on constructive trade and economic progress, thus building a prosperous nation rather than on war and destruction.

However, the epic mentions that Yadava rulers were installed at Indraprastha (in the Kuru kingdom) and at Martikavati (in Salva kingdom, which now had become part of the Kuru kingdom). We also find mention in the epic about the encounter of the Gandharva Kali with the Kuru king Parikshit and the encounter of Gandharas in Takshasila with the Kuru king Janamejaya. In both these encounters the Gandharvas were defeated temporarily. In spite of this, the Gandhara (Gandharva) influence had later dominated ancient India, so that the age was known as Kali Yuga, named after Gandharva Kali. Yet today we find that Kali was mentioned in a bad light and Krishna is worshiped as a divinity. We find that the Gandharva marriages (where a man and woman marry or unite with mutual consent, without the involvement of the parents) are prevalent in this current age of the Gandharva Kali, while Krishna worship also is predominant in this age!

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Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 05 Jan 2010 18:30 and updated at 10 Jun 2010 13:37

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