This article describes the travels of Arjuna as narrated in Mahabharata. These travel narratives are extremely important for researchers who study about the ancient geography that existed during the period of Mahabharata. Among all the five Pandavas, Arjuna had traveled most. He had traveled along with his brothers as well as alone.
The extent of the military campaign
Arjuna's military campaigns after he completed his military education under Drona is mentioned at Mbh.1.141:-
Arjuna and the other Pandava princes became so powerful that they slew in battle the great Sauvira who had performed a sacrifice extending over three years, undaunted by the raids of the Gandharvas. And the king of the Yavanas himself whom the powerful Pandu even had failed to bring under subjection was brought by Arjuna under control. Then again Vipula, the king of the Sauviras, endued with great prowess, who had always shown a disregard for the Kurus, was made by the intelligent Arjuna to feel the edge of his power. And Arjuna also repressed by means of his arrows the pride of king Sumitra of Sauvira, also known by the name of Dattamitra who had resolutely sought an encounter with him. The third of the Pandava princes, assisted by Bhima, on only a single car subjugated all the kings of the East backed by ten thousand cars. In the same way, having conquered on a single car the whole of the south, Dhananjaya sent unto the kingdom of the Kurus a large booty. Thus did those foremost of men, the illustrious Pandavas, conquering the territories of other kings, extend the limits of their own kingdom.
In these campaigns, he was assisted by his brothers viz. Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva. Most of the battle took place in the Sauvira territories in Indus_Valley.
|Map illustrates Arjuna's expeditions in Indus Valley along the Sauvira territories. Click to Enlarge. The raid of the Gandharvas upon Sauvira too is shown
Multiple Sauvira kingdoms
The name 'Sauvira' means 'the kingdom of a hundred brave men'. It also had another name 'Suvira' meaning 'the land of good brave men'. Mahabharata mentions as many as twelve Sauvira kingdoms that lied along Sindhu (Indus) river ruled by twelve princes. All of them were under the rule of Sindhu king Jayadratha. At Mbh.3.263 we have a passage where Sindhu king Jayadratha's ally Kotika, explains to Panchali about the kings ruling the territories of Indus valley directly or indirectly under the rule of Jayadratha:-
I am king Suratha's son whom people know by the name of Kotika, and that man with eyes large as the petals of the lotus, sitting on a chariot of gold, like the sacrificial fire on the altar, is the warrior known by the name of Kshemankara, king of Trigarta. And behind him is the famous son of the king of Pulinda, who is even now gazing on thee. Armed with a mighty bow and endued with large eyes, and decorated with floral wreaths, he always liveth on the breasts of mountains. The dark and handsome young man, the scourge of his enemies, standing at the edge of that tank, is the son of Suvala of the race of Ikshwaku. And if, O excellent lady, thou hast ever heard the name of Jayadratha, the king of Sauviras, even he is there at the head of six thousand chariots, with horses and elephants and infantry, and followed by twelve Sauvira princes as his standard-bearers, named Angaraka, Kunjara, Guptaka, Satrunjaya, Srinjaya, Suprabiddha, Prabhankara, Bhramara, Ravi, Sura, Pratapa and Kuhana, all mounted on chariots drawn by chestnut horses and every one of them looking like the fire on the sacrificial altar. The brothers also of the king, viz, the powerful Valahaka, Anika, Vidarana and others, are among his followers. These strong-limbed and noble youths are the flowers of the Sauvira chivalry. The king is journeying in the company of these his friends
Territories of Sindhu, Sauvira and Sivi
The kingdoms of Sauvira, Sindhu and Sivi were spread across the Sindhu river valley with their territories often overlapping and crossing over the other.
Sivi was mostly western and northern among them and contained mountainous territories. Sivis were often mentioned in Mahabharata as mountain dwellers. Their territories lied around Sibbi city in Pakistan (in Baluchistan). In later stages they had spread to northern course of Sindhu towards the western side of Indus river. Alexander had encountered them in his campaign towards the northwestern course of Indus in Gandhara (Peshawar) territories. Sivi (also known as Sibi) seems to be the oldest among all these three tribes viz. Sivi, Sindhu and Sauvira. Among them, only Sivi is mentioned in Rig Veda. A settlement excavated at Mehrgarh close to the Sivi city (Sibbi) is of 7000 BCE to 5000 BCE period. This could be the ancient capital of Sivis mentioned in Rig_Veda (authored between 10,000 BCE to 5000 BCE). A Sivi king is mentioned in Mahabharata and the Puranas as the forefather of kings who later founded the kingdoms of Sindhu, Sauvira and Vrishadarbha (Mithankot). Vrishadarbha was the eldest son of Sivi who founded his own kingdom later considered to be part of Sivi kingdom. The fable of a king who gave part of his flesh to a hawk to save a dove is mentioned in Mahabharata differently with the king in the story as king Sivi and in another passage as king Vrishadarbha. Interestingly Vrishadarbha's territories lied in the valley of Sulaiman Mountains, named after Sulaiman (known in the west as Solomon) and the same story is associated with king Solomon (or Sulaiman). It is possible that the tribe of Sulaiman or Solomon were originally from the Sivi kingdom or the kingdom of Vrishadarbha.
The founder king of Sauvira, the son of Sivi, is mentioned as 'Suvira'. Sauvira aka. Suvira was spread along the Sindhu river along with Sindhu kingdom. However Sauviras had port-cities and were engaged in sea-trade with Dwaraka (Dwarka, Gujarat) and other far away countries (like cities like Muskat, and sea-faring nations like Egypt). They were known to Egyptians as Sofir which is a corruption of Sauvira in Coptic languages. They are mentioned in Bible as Ophir. The northern portions of Sauvira belonged to modern day Punjab in Pakistan, especially the south-western Punjab province (Seraikistan) where the language Saraiki (Sauviraki) is spoken. The modern day Saraiki_people belonged to the ancient Sauvira kingdom.
Sindhu was often mentioned as a separate kingdom and also as a collective name to denote all of the Indus valley region, especially the southern course of Indus after all of its five tributaries are joined. Mahabharata mentions war between Sindhu and Saivira kings. This region roughly comprise modern day province of Sindh. It is this kingdom that gave the name India to what was formerly known as Bharatavarsha. The western sea-faring nations were familiar to Sindhu, Sauvira and Sivi than other kingdoms of ancient India. They were more familiar with the Sindhu region rather than the Gangatic region. Hence they used the name 'India' (a corruption of Sindhu) to denote this whole region.
Sudras and Abhiras
The Sudras and Abhiras were two tribes that lied along the Saraswati river valley. They were an extension of the Sindhu and Sauvira tribes. Some consider Abhiras as related to Sauviras. There is some similarity in the name also. Some others consider Abhiras as related to Sindhu and Sudras (who were also known as Suras) as related to Sauviras. Usually, these tribes are mentioned together in compound words like Sudrabhiras (Sudras and Abhiras), Surabhiras (Suras and Abhiras), Sindhusauviras (Sindhus and Sauviras), Sauvirabhiras (Sauviras and Abhiras) much like Kurupanchalas (Kurus and Panchalas, the two powerful kingdom in the Gangatic river basin). This indicate the geographical closeness as well as tribal kinship of these tribes (Sindhu, Sauvira, Sudra and Abhira). After the submergence of Dwaraka island, the remaining territories of controlled by Dwaraka were occupied by the Abhiras.
Arjuna's campaign in Sauvira
Arjuna, during his military campaign seems to have went in the western direction and defeated three Sauvira kings whose territories lied in the Indus valley. One was a Sauvira king who was troubled by the raids of Gandharvas. The Gandharvas seems to be from the territory now known as Kandahar in Afganistan. They were a western Gandhara tribe, a hilly tribe and hence distinct from the Gandharas who lived on the north western banks of Sindhu (around Peshawar), where Sakuni ruled. The city of this Sauvira king could be the city excavated at Mohanjodaro which is considered to be existing since 3300 BCE. (Arjuna's lived around 3150 BCE to 3000 BCE period).
The king Vipula seems to be ruling in a Sauvira city further south. Arjuna could not defeat Vipula but only make him feel the edge of his power as indicated by the passage. Arjuna, it seems could not attack the port-cities that lied in the sea shore, further south probably since he was stopped by Vipula.
Arjuna could easily win over the Sauvira king Sumitra, also known as Dattamitra. His territory seems to be the northern Sauvira around modern day Bahawalpur in southern Punjab of Pakistan.
There is a possibility that Arjuna also met Jayadratha during this military campaign. He was then probably the king of Sindhu territories only and not yet conquered Sauvira. It is mentioned in Mahabharata that Duhsala, the only sister of Pandavas and Kauravas, was married to Jayadratha. It is possible that this marriage happened before Arjuna's campaign and hence Jaydratha and Arjuna chose not to fight each other. Otherwise it is possible that Arjuna did encounter Jayadratha and failed to defeat him. This could be the reason why this encounter is not mentioned in the passage. It is possible then, that Duryodhana married his sister to Jayadratha, whom Arjuna could not defeat. It is also possible that Arjuna, himself led the way for this marriage between Duhsala and Jayadratha, seeing the heroism of Jayadratha. This is possible because Arjuna had a very close sisterly relation with Duhsala which is mentioned exclusively in Mahabharata.
Other territories and kings
Arjuna is mentioned as defeating a Yavana (Indo-Greek) king. This Yavana territory lied to the east close to Magadha Vanga and Pundra and not in Indus valley. It is also mentioned in the passage that Pandu (Arjuna's father) could not vanquish this Yavana. Pandu's military expedition was to the east and he reached up to Pundra (southern Bangladesh). Hence this Yavana seems to be ruling in a territory along with Pundra, in the southern sea shore of west-Bengal and Bangladesh. They were also known as Mlechas. The origin of Yavana race was considered to be Gaya that lied to the south of Magadha. Arjuna was assisted by Bhima in his eastern expedition. Bhima was an expert in mace-fight and knew how to counter an elephant army. Eastern kingdoms were well versed in elephant warfare. In the narration very little is mentioned about the expedition of Arjuna to eastern and southern directions. We can assume that he was following the route taken by his father Pandu. Thus he might have conquered Dasarna in the south and Kasi, Magadha, Videha, Suhma and Pundra in the east. In addition to these kingdom he could also defeat the Yavana in the eastern shore whom his father Pandu could not vanquish.
|Map illustrates the military campaigns of Arjuna in the east and south. He followed the path of his father Pandu but also defeated the Yavanas, whom Pandu could not defeat
In these military campaigns, which was the first military expedition undertaken by Arjuna, he went to west, east and south. The only direction he omitted was the northern direction. During his second military campaign (for collecting tribute for Yudhisthira's Rajasuya he went exclusively to the northern direction. In his last and final military campaign (for Yudhisthira's Aswamedha) he went to both east and west.
- Information on Sivi, Sindhu, Sauvira:- Alexander's campaigns in Sind and Baluchistan
- Vrishadarbha's city:- Mithankot