Yavana or Yona is grouped under western countries along with Sindhu, Madra, Kekeya, Gandhara and Kamboja as per the descriptions in the epic Mahabharata. In later history, this word was used to indicate the Greeks and the Arabs, leading to much confusion. Hence, the Yavana of Mahabharata could be a colony of the Greeks in the western region of India; however, this remains speculation as conservative dates for the Mahabharata war precede the Greco-Bactrian colony by 300 years.
Location in Ancient India
Yavanas were described to be beyond Gandhara. There was another country mentioned in the epic as Parama Yona, in the far west of Yavana. This could be the Ionia of Greece, somehow related to Indian Ionians or Yavanas. The name Yavana could be the Sanskritized form of the name Ionia. Some believes that the name Ionia oringinated from the Sanskrit word Ayonija meaning one who born not from a (human) woumb or people with extra ordinary origins. Yavanas, Sakas, Pahlavas and Hunas were sometimes described as Mlechhas. Sometiems along with them, the Madras, Kambojas, Kekeyas, Sindhus and Gandharas were included. This name was used to indicate their cultrural differences with the Vedic culture, prevailed in the Kuru-Panchala Kingdoms.
Integration with the Vedic culture
Thus the Vedic society acknowledged their extra ordinary skills, but kept them as outcasts. An account in the epic depicts Yavanas as the decendands of Turvusu, one of the cursed sons of king Yayati. Only the fifth son Puru's line was considered to be the successors of Yayati's throne, as he cursed the other four sons and denied them kingship. Pauravas inherited the Yayati's original empire and stayed in the Gangatic plain who later created the Kuru and Panchala Kingdoms. They were the followers of proper Vedic culture.
References in Mahabharata
Among the tribes of the north and west are the Mlecchas, and the Kruras, the Yavanas, the Chinas, the Kamvojas, the Darunas, and many Mleccha tribes; the Sukritvahas, the Kulatthas, the Hunas, and the Parasikas; the Ramanas, and the Dasamalikas. These countries are, besides, the abodes of many Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra tribes. Then again there are the Sudra-Abhiras, the Dardas, the Kasmiras, and the Pattis; the Khasiras; the Atreyas, the Bharadwajas etc(6:9)
The races originated from Yayati's sons
King Yayati a king of the Lunar Dynasty is mentioned to have 5 sons, all of whome became the founders of many royal dynastiesThe sons of Yadu are known by the name of the Yadavas: while those of Turvasu have come to be called the Yavanas. And the sons of Drahyu are the Bhojas, while those of Anu, the Mlechchhas. The progeny of Puru, however, are the Pauravas (1:85). Yadavas became strong in central India. The Pauravas (Kurus and Panchalas were branches of this race) became strong in northern India. The sons of Anu were also called Anavas, thought to be the Iranian tribes, who were all grouped as Mlechas. The Yavanas along with the Anavas established themselves in the far western regions. It is not clear if the Bhojas mentioned here represents the Bhoja-Yadavas, a sub-sect of the Yadavas. However the epic mentiones about a king named Kunti-Bhoja (the king of Kunti and the foster-father of Pandava's mother Kunti) and a city named Bhojakata in Vidarbha. There is a highly speculative possibility that the Druids of Ireland were the descendands of Drahyu.
The tale of Nandini's army
When the sage Vasistha was attacked by king Viswamitra's army, Vasistha's cow, Nandini, brought forth from her tail, an army of Palhavas, and from her udders, an army of Dravidas and Sakas; and from her womb, an army of Yavanas, and from her dung, an army of Savaras; and from her urine, an army of Kanchis; and from her sides, an army of Savaras. And from the froth of her mouth came out hosts of Paundras and Kiratas, Yavanas and Sinhalas, and the barbarous tribes of Khasas and Chivukas and Pulindas and Chinas and Hunas with Keralas, and numerous other Mlechchhas.
//In the ancient Indian literature, cow is a symbol of earth or land. Thus the myth mentioned above simply means that, these tribes gathered for the protection of sage Vasistha's land against the army of king Viswamitra. //This myth is also found in Ramayana:- the tribes like the Kambojas, Barbaras, Pahlavas, Yavanas, Sakas, Mlecchas, Haritas and Kiratas etc had originated from the body parts of the divine cow, Kamadhenu of sage Vasistha, as hords of army men, to protect him from the attack of the king Viswamitra (Ramayana 1.55.2-3). This myth indicates that the ancient people could not understand the real oringins of these Mlechcha tribes who were highly skilled in weapons, warfare and material sciences but never followed the Vedic rites properly. The confusion of ancient Vedic people in dealing with the unfamilier tribes is evidient in the following passage from Mahabharata. At (12:35) is mentioned:- What duties should be performed by the Yavanas, the Kiratas, the Gandharvas, the Chinas, the Savaras, the Barbaras, the Sakas, the Tusharas, the Kankas, the Pathavas, the Andhras, the Madrakas, the Paundras, the Pulindas, the Ramathas, the Kamvojas, the several castes that have sprung up from Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, the Vaisyas, and the Sudras, that reside in the dominions of (Arya) kings?. They were later given the status of Sudras. The Mekalas, the Dravidas, the Lathas, the Paundras, the Konwasiras, the Saundikas, the Daradas, the Darvas, the Chauras, the Savaras, the Varvaras, the Kiratas, the Yavanas, and numerous other tribes of Kshatriyas, have become degraded into the status of Sudras through the wrath of Brahmanas. (13:35). It is in consequence of the absence of Brahmanas from among them that the Sakas, the Yavanas, the Kamvojas and other Kshatriya tribes have become fallen and degraded into the status of Sudras. The Dravidas, the Kalingas, the Pulandas, the Usinaras, the Kolisarpas, the Mahishakas and other Kshatriyas, have, in consequence of the absence of Brahmanas from among their midst, become degraded
into Sudras (13:33).
The rising power of Yavanas
Mahabharata also reckons the technological knowledge of the Yavanas. At (8:45) Karna in his comparison of various Vedic and non-Vedic tribes mentions thus:- The Yavanas, are omniscient (8:45). Another passage which is rendered as a futuristic prediction mentions thus:- The Andhhas, the Sakas, the Pulindas, the Yavanas, the Kamvojas, the Valhikas and the Abhiras, will then become possessed of bravery and the sovereignty of the earth (3:187).
Encounters with Yavanas of ancient India
Yavana rulers might have spread throughout ancient India, who established their city-states or small kingdoms during the period of Mahabharata. Many ancient Indian warriors like Pandu, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, Karna and Vasudeva Krishna were mentioned as encountering Yavana kings.Mention of Yavanas who fought with Arjuna and his father Pandu:- The king of the Yavanas himself whom the powerful Pandu even had failed to bring under subjection was brought by Arjuna under control (1:141). Mention of a Yavana strong-hold in Mathura:- The Yavanas, the Kamvojas, and those that dwell around Mathura are well skilled in fighting with bare arms (12:100). Nakula the son of Pandu reduced to subjection the fierce Mlechchas residing on the sea coast, as also the wild tribes of the Palhavas, the Kiratas, the Yavanas, and the Sakas. And having subjugated various monarchs, and making all of them pay tributes, Nakula that foremost of the Kurus, full of resources, retraced his way towards his own city (2:31). Sahadeva, the son of Pandu, brought under his subjection and exacted tributes from the Paundrayas and the Dravidas along with the Udrakeralas and the Andhras and the Talavanas, the Kalingas and the Ushtrakarnikas, and also the delightful city of Atavi and that of the Yavanas (2:30). The Yavana city mentioned here seems to be a south Indian port city of the Yavanas during the acient era.Having come to the western regions, Karna made all the Yavana and Varvara kings pay tribute . The Suta’s son brought the Sasakas and the Yavanas under his sway.(3:252). Vasudeva Krishna slew the Yavana called Kaseruman (3:12). The Sakas, and the Yavanas with followers, were all vanquished by Krishna. (7:11).
Kings in Yudhisthira's court
A king named Chanur is mentioned as present in the court of Pandava king Yudhisthira. Another king Kampana is mentioned to make the Yavanas tremble. He was also present in the court of Yudhisthira at Indraprastha(2:4).
King Bhagadatta (ruler of Pragjyotisha (in Assam)) is mentioned as a Yavana king at some passages in Mahabharata.He also that beareth on his head that gem which is known as the most wonderful on earth, that king of the Yavanas, who hath chastised Muru and Naraka, whose power is unlimited, and who ruleth the west (or east?) like another Varuna, who is called Bhagadatta, and who is the old friend of Pandu, hath bowed his head before Jarasandha (of Magadha), by speech and specially by act (2:14). That great warrior king Bhagadatta, the brave ruler of Pragjyotisha and the mighty sovereign of the mlechchas, at the head of a large number of Yavanas waited at the gate of king Yudhisthira(2:50).
In Kurukshetra War
In Kurukshetra War, the Yavanas sided with the Kauravas under the Kamboja king Sudakshina.Sudakshina, the king of the Kambhojas, accompanied by the Yavanas and Sakas, came to the Kuru chief with an Akshauhini of troops (5:19). The Sakas, the Kiratas, and Yavanas, the Sivis and the Vasatis with their Maharathas at the heads of their respective divisions joined the Kaurava army(5:198). The Sakas, the Kiratas, and Yavanas, and the Pahlavas, took up his position at the northern point of the army (6:20).Of terrible deeds and exceedingly fierce, the Tusharas, the Yavanas, the Khasas, the Darvabhisaras, the Daradas, the Sakas, the Kamathas, the Ramathas, the Tanganas the Andhrakas, the Pulindas, the Kiratas of fierce prowess, the Mlecchas, the Parvatas, and the races hailing from the sea-side, all endued with great wrath and great might, delighting in battle and armed with maces, these all united with the Kurus(8:73).Yavanas were armed with bow and arrows and skilled in smiting. They were followed by Sakas and Daradas and Barbaras and Tamraliptakas, and other countless Mlecchas (7:116). Three thousand bowmen headed by Duryodhana, with a number of Sakas and
Kamvojas and Valhikas and Yavanas and Paradas, and Kalingas and Tanganas and Amvashtas and Pisachas and Barbaras and Parvatas, inflamed with rage and armed with stone, all rushed against Satyaki(7:118). Having the vanquished the Yavanas and the Kamvojas that foremost of car-warriors, viz., Yuyudhana (Satyaki), proceeded towards Arjuna (7:117).
Yavanas were mentioned along with other tribes like the Sudras, the Abhiras, the Daserakas, the Sakas, the Kamvojas, the Hangsapadas, the Paradas, the Vahlikas, the Samsthanas, the Surasenas, the Venikas, the Kukkuras, the Rechakas, the Trigartas, the Madrakas, the Tusharas and the Chulikas as battling on the side of Kauravas at various passages.(6:51,75,88, 7:20,90).A number of Saka and Tukhara and Yavana horsemen, accompanied by some of the foremost combatants among the Kambojas, quickly rushed against Arjuna (8:88). All the Samsaptakas, the Kambojas together with the Sakas, the Mlecchas, the Parvatas, and the Yavanas, have also been slain by Arjuna(9:1)
Arjuna's campaign after the Kurukshetra War
Yavanas continued in ancient India even after the Kurukshetra War as eveident from the following passage:-
Innumerable Kiratas, Yavanas, all excellent bowmen, and diverse tribes of Mlechechas too, who had been discomfited before (by the Pandavas on the field of Kurukshetra), and many Arya kings, possessed of soldiers and animals endued with great alacrity, and all irresistible in fight encountered Arjuna in battle. (14:73).
- Yavana king was present in the self choice ceremony of Panchala princess (1:189).
- King Jayadratha of Sindhu had a Kamboja princess and a Yavana princess as his wives (11:22).
- A Yavana king is mentioned in the list of great kings that includes Yayati, Nahusha, Puru, Bharata and Yadu (13:165)
Kingdoms of Ancient India