Varanavata To Kampilya

Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 06 Oct 2010 16:39 and updated at 31 Oct 2010 05:26

This article describes the journey of the Pandavas after escaping from Varanavata. It spanned many kingdoms and took a couple of years as the Pandavas stayed one year in the territory of Rakshasa Hidimba and another year in the town named Ekachakra. This article is part of a series of articles related to narrations of journeys mentioned in Mahabharata. These travel narratives are extremely important for researchers who study about the ancient geography that existed during the period of Mahabharata.

The Raksasa territory

After leaving Varanavata in night, the Pandavas traveled south and reached a dense forest at midnight. Then they felt thirsty and sleepy and stopped to sleep under a banyan tree. Bhima sensed that a town existed not far off from the forest Mbh.1.153. Bhima also fetched water from a nearby pool in the forest. At Mbh.1.154 a passage mentions that Rakshasa Hidimba lived in a Sala tree. He is depicted as a cannibal. However there is a possibility that these are poetic exaggerations. The town sensed by Bhima as nearby could be the hamlet of Rakshasa Hidimba. (It could as well be some town of the Airavata Nagas who had some settlements close to Gangadwara (Haridwar), like the city of Kauravya Naga, the father of Ulupi, a wife of Arjuna.) Some Rakshasas like Hidimba lived in small hamlets. They were humans but some of them practiced cannibalism. Not all of them were man-eaters. The territory or kingdom of the Rakshasas spread from the west of Varanavata (Rishikesh) in Uttarakhand north-westward into Himachal_Pradesh. Their major center or capital was in Manali (Himachal_Pradesh. Rakshasa Hidimba's sister was named Hidimbaa. There is a temple dedicated to Hidimbaa, named Hidimba_Devi_Temple at Manali. Bhima slew the Rakshasa Hidimba (Mbh.1.156) and made his sister Hidimbaa, his wife.

It is likely that Hidimbaa led Bhima and Pandavas through the Rakshasa territories in a north western route. Finally they reached the major Rakshasa center or capital (Manali) in Himachal Pradesh. It would have taken them a month to reach there from Varanavata, assuming they traversed 10 km of hilly terrain every day, traveling for 10 hours per day (at a speed of 1 km / hr). To the east of this territory was the region of Kinnaras, another hilly tribe, like the Rakshasas. To the west was the kingdom of Trigarta, who were Vedic people like the Kurus unlike the Rakshasas and the Kinnaras. Trigarta was the next destination of the Pandavas.

One year life in Rakshasa territory

Bhima alone sported with Hidimba in the surrounding territories including a large lake described as Manasarovara. This could be the Tso-moriri lake or the Manasarovara near Kailas in which is far away in the east in the territory of the Guhyakas (another name for the Yakshas, which sometimes also included the Kinnaras and the Kimpurushas). It could as well be one of the several lakes in Himachal Pradesh. The passage in Mahabharata describing the places visited by Bhima and Hidimbaa indicates the places in Himachal_Pradesh.

Places Bhima traveled along with Hidimba is explained in detail here, Mbh.1.158:- On mountain peaks of picturesque scenery and regions sacred to the gods, abounding with dappled herds and echoing with the melodies of feathered tribes, herself assuming the handsomest form decked with every ornament and pouring forth at times mellifluous strains. Hidimva sported with the Pandava and studied to make him happy. So also, in inaccessible regions of forests, and on mountain-breasts overgrown with blossoming trees on lakes resplendent with lotuses and lilies, islands of rivers and their pebbly banks, on sylvan streams with beautiful banks and mountain-currents, in picturesque woods with blossoming trees and creepers in Himalayan bowers, and various caves, on crystal pools smiling with lotuses, on sea-shores shining with gold and pearls, in beautiful towns and fine gardens, in woods sacred to the gods and on hill-sides, in the regions of Guhyakas and ascetics, on the banks of Manasarovara abounding with fruits and flowers of every season Hidimva, assuming the handsomest form, sported with Bhima and studied to make him happy. Endued with the speed of the mind, she sported with Bhima in all these regions, till in time, she conceived and brought forth a mighty son begotten upon her by the Pandava.

The son born to Bhima and Hidimbaa is named Ghatotkacha (the pot-headed), since the baby had a bald head (resembling a 'Ghata' or 'pot'). Ghatotkacha became a mighty bowman and took part in Kurukshetra War. During the one year Bhima spent with Hidimba, till the birth of Ghatotkacha, the Pandavas stayed in the center of Rakshasa territories, viz. Manali. Since Rakshasa territories were not frequented my people from the Vedic kingdoms like Kuru, it helped them to stay in anonymity. It also allowed them to mingle with Rakshasa tribes and Rakshasa warriors, who helped them in Kurukshetra War under the leadership of Bhima's son Ghatotkacha.

The territories of Rakshasas and that of the Nagas like that of Naga Aryaka who rescued Bhima at Pramanakoti and that of Ulupi, the Naga wife of Arjuna who met him at Gangadwara (Haridwar) thus lied in the northern fringes of Kuru kingdom and were considered as hinterlands.
Apart from the territories of the Nagas, there were territories of Kiratas (around Kiratpur, in Uttarpradesh) in the north-eastern outskirts of the Kuru kingdom. The Nishadas lived in the southern outskirts. Ekalavya, a Nishada prince, was from such a Nishada hamlet. Ekalavya later became the king of Nishadas who lived along the banks of Charmanwati(Chambal) river. He thus ruled the territories from Gwalior in the north upto Bhilwara in the south.

Journey towards Ekachakra

(Mbh.1.158:- And in the course of their wanderings they saw the countries of the Matsyas, the Trigartas, the Panchalas and then of the Kichakas, and also many beautiful woods and lakes therein. And they all had matted locks on their heads and were attired in barks of trees and the skins of animals. Indeed, with Kunti in their company those illustrious heroes were attired in the garbs of ascetics. And those mighty car-warriors sometimes proceeded in haste, carrying their mother on their backs; and sometimes they proceeded in disguise, and sometimes again with great celerity.

The Pandavas, conversant with the science of morals, met, in course of their wanderings their grandfather Vyasa. And Vyasa, the son of Satyavati, thus comforting the Pandavas, led them into the town of Ekachakra.

After one year stay in the territory of the Rakshasas and after Ghatotkacha was born, Pandavas left the territory of the Rakshasas and entered the boarders of Trigarta kingdom that lied to the west of the Rakshasa territories centered around Manali. Trigarta territories started from the foothills of Himalayas in Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) and extended westward through the middle of Punjab. Their capital was Prasthala (Jalandhar, in Punjab). From there they entered the Matsya territory that lied along the Yamuna river. The western shore of Yamuna from the foothills of Himalayas up to Matsya-proper (Alwar and Bharatpur regions in Rajastan) was occupied by the Matsyas, then. This was the territory of Satyavati, the great grandmother of the Pandavas, and the wife of Kuru king Santanu. Satyavati's father was a Matsya chief who ruled this territory in the western banks of Yamuna, close to Trigarta in the north-west. These Matsya territories were also vulnerable to attack due to their proximity to Trigarta, the enemy of the Matsyas. (When the kingdom of Pandavas were formed to the west of Yamuna, due to the partition of the Kuru kingdom, these pockets of Matsya territories became part of the kingdom of Pandavas.) These Matsya territories that lied in the western borderlands of Kuru territory too were considered as hinterland by the Kurus, like the territories of the Rakshasas and the Naga kings in the north and north-east. The Pandavas traveled along these Matsya territories, without knowing that in future they will rule these regions as part of their own kingdom. Traveling along the western shore of Yamuna, they entered Matsya proper. From there they moved eastward into the Kichaka territories that lied along the southern banks of Yamuna bordering Matsya and Panchala. Finally they entered the Panchala territories and settled in a village named Ekachakra. It is now known as Chakar Nagar (in Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh).

It seems that, after led by Hidimbaa in the Raksasa territory up to the borders of Trigarta and after the Pandavas reached the Matsya territories on the banks of Yamuna (Yamunanagar, district of Hariyana), they met Vyasa there (close to Yamunanagar town). It was the land where Vyasa's mother Satyavati lived. Vyasa might have advised them to disguise as Brahmanas. It would have taken around half a month for the Pandavas from the city of the Rakshasas (Manali) to reach the homeland of Satyavati (around Yamunanagar), assuming they traveled 2 km in an hour and 10 hours a day. From there onwards, Vyasa accompanied them up to Ekachakra, leading them through the territories of Matsya, Kichaka and Panchala. The journey to Ekachakra would be faster since they are traveling along the plains. Assuming that they traveled 4 km in an hour and 10 hours every day, they could easily reach Ekachakra in half a month.

The map shows the path traversed by the Pandavas in their journey from Varanavata to the Rakshasa stronghold and from there to Ekachakra, journeying through Trigarta, Matsya, Kichaka and Panchala territories. Finally they reached capital of Panchala traversing the locale of Gandharva Angaraparna and the place called Utkochaka where they met Dhaumya and made him their priest. The map also shows the probable locations where Bhima and Hidimba wandered as a couple till their son Ghatotkacha was born. Click to Enlarge.

One year life in Ekachakra

Ekachakara lied in a territory that overlapped with Panchala and another small kingdom named Vetrakiya. Its capital lied along the banks of river Vetravati (Betwa) towards the east of Ekachakra. However the town of Ekachakra was dominated by the rule of a Rakshasa named Vaka who ruled from Bakewar. The king of Vetrakiya was powerless against Vaka. The Pandavas stayed in this town disguised as a Brahmana family for one year. Vaka (also known as Baka) protected the people of the town from outside attacks, but insisted that he should be fed by the inhabitants of the city. Everyday, each family in the village had to arrange food, huge in quantity, for Vaka. I guess the huge quantity of food was for Vaka and his relatives, not just for Vaka alone as portrayed in the narrations in Mahabharata. Some of these Rakshasas including Vaka seems to be cannibals who liked to eat human flesh. Hence there was no guarantee, that the person bringing food to Vaka will ever return. During the stay in Ekachakra, Bhima slew the Rakshasa Vaka and ended the Rakshasa rule in Ekachakra. He went to Vaka with the food on behalf of the family where the Pandavas stayed as guests. After slewing Vaka he put the body at the gates of the city of Bakewar.

We cannot resolve, if Vaka was really a cannibal or cannibalism was alluded to him by Mahabharata narrators to enhance the portrayal of his cruelty. Often cruel and oppressive rulers are portrayed as cannibals and as vampires. Vaka could be an oppressive ruler for the people of Ekachakra, who disliked him for his cruelty and Bhima ended his rule giving relief for the people.


At Mbh.1.170 we have Kunti telling to Yudhisthira:- If thou wishest it would be well for us now to go to Panchala; we have not seen that country. This means that the Pandavas in their journey from Trigarta to Ekachakra had not entered into the main territories of Panchala. Probably they only touched the borders of Panchala in their journey. By 'Panchala', Kunti was actually referring to Kampilya, the capital city of Panchala, the southern Panchala ruled by Drupada.

At section-172 we have:- The Pandavas then proceeded towards Panchala with joyous hearts and with their mother walking before them. Those slayers of all foes, in order to reach their destination, proceeded in a due northerly direction, walking day and night till they reached a sacred shrine of Siva with the crescent mark on his brow. Then those tigers among men, the sons of Pandu, arrived at the banks of the Ganga. There they met a Gandharva named Angaraparna. Angaraparna (Angara:- red hot, burning-red, red-glow of fire, red-glow of wood while burning; Parna:- wings, feathers, body-hair) means the red-haired one. This Gandharva probably had red hair. The whole of the forest near Ganga was called Angaraparna forest. (This my forest on the banks of the Ganga, where I sport to gratify all my senses, is called Angaraparna after my own name.//) Thus it was a Gandharva territory. The forest of Angaraparna seems to be an extension of the Naimisha forest, that separated Panchala from Kosala in the east. The Gandharva Angaraparna is mentioned to be same as Chitraratha, another Gandharva. The territory of Chitraratha was named Chaitraratha. One such territory lied close to Kalakuta mountains. It was visited by Pandu. This is described in the article named Pandu's travels. Angaraparna could be the son or relative of Chitraratha. Like Chitraratha, Angaraparna too is mentioned as a friend or a sub-ordinate of Kuvera, the king of the Yakshas.

Angaraparna, told to Arjuna, about the mother of Kuru, the founder of Kuru dynasty. Her name was Tapati. She belonged to a solar-dynasty king who ruled in the banks of Tapati (Tapti) river in Maharashtra. The Puru king Samvarana was then living in south-western regions on the banks of Sindhu (Indus) river banished by Panchalas from their kingdom on the banks of Ganga. Samvarana married Tapati and their son was the famous king Kuru. This indicates that the maternal line of the Kurus belonged to Solar Dynasty who were geographically situated in southern regions like the valley of Tapti river. (Mbh.1.172).

Kanyakubja and Utkochaka

Angaraparna also narrated the history of Vishwamitra who was a king who ruled a kingdom named Kanyakubja (Kanauj) which lied nearby. (Mbh.1.176). After telling several other stories related to Vasistha (who lived close to Gaya, south to Magadha), Viswamitra, Kalmashapada ( a king who ruled at the city of Ayodhya of Kosala kingdom), Asmaka, Bhargava-Rama and Parasara, Angaraparna directed the Pandavas to a place called Utkochaka (Mbh.1.184. There they met Dhaumya. They made him their priest. It is also speculated that Dhaumya was the father of Nakula and Sahadeva who beget them through the practice of Niyoga upon Madri. This place is situated in the territory of Angaraparna.


Along with Dhaumya, the Pandavas proceeded towards Kampilya. They were joined by Vyasa. Together they reached the city of Kampilya. Assuming that the Pandavas traveled at a rate of 5 km in an hour and 10 hours a day, they would have reached the sacred shrine of Shiva in the first day. They might have rested there for the night. In the next day they would have reached the locale of Angaraparna towards the night (of the second day), as indicated by the narration. By the next day before noon they could reach Utkochaka and by evening they could easily reach the city of Kampilya. Thus it would have taken them three days to reach Kampilya from Ekachakra. After reaching the city of Kampilya, the Pandavas settled in the house of a potter in the outskirts of the city. From there they went to see the self choice ceremony of Panchali which was inside the palace at the city-center. Arjuna won Panchali in that ceremony. Panchali became the wife of all the five Pandavas.

After winning Panchali and forging alliance with the Panchalas and also with the Vrishnis (Balarama and Krishna), the Pandavas went back to Hastinapura, invited by Kuru king Dhritarashtra, as the news reached the king that the Pandavas were alive and not burned to death at Varanavata.

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