Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Kanyakubja Chronicles I

For the starting point of my research of the history of our family lineage I decided to choose exactly that point of reference till which my grandfather had been able to trace the line into our previous generations, and that point of reference was where the first ever roots of the lineage hailed from: the ancient city of Kanyakubja!

Not that I was immediately successful in being able to trace a line of our forefathers in Kanyakubja, beyond the names already cited in my grandfather’s research, but what offered itself was a splendid tale of this ancient city, meandering leisurely in and out of history and mythology which was captivating enough that at some point the fine line separating the two seem to blur.

While I attempt in this section of my research article, to present the story of Kanyakubja, the revered city of my forefathers’, centuries ago, I do so with a caveat. My research in this area, for understandable reasons, have been totally bookish, the sources of which however remain well validated. I have gained most of the information from a few Sanskrit books (the Indian epic Ramayana, the Puranas and a few others) detailing the times and references to Kanyakubja in various eras and ruled by many kings, about whom we have read in both Indian mythology and history. These books, which I was very fortunate to stumble upon recently in the small library in our Calcutta home that my aunt Jharna had bequeathed to us, also had the Sanskrit paragraphs explained in Bengali alongside thus making it possible for me to understand from. For once while reading these books, as I became deeply engrossed in the mythological tale of Kanyakubja, I regretted not perhaps having taken up Sanskrit as my elective subject way back in college when I did have such an opportunity.

Coupled with my reading of the mythological references to Kanyakubja, I also found strong validated mentions and descriptions of the ancient city in some books on the ancient Indian history (periods from 180 BC through till 1019 AD). Thus, we now have the knowledge from where our family lineage was born and in what historical environs it developed over the centuries to come down to the time of 753 AD where it blends or joins with the specific line for our Gautama Baidik family as defined in my grandfather’s notes (refer my blog: The Search: Research Series Part 1).

We will take a detour here to speak about the history and mythological connections of Kanyakubja, as that has direct context and bearing to the mainstream line of the family we are out to investigate and establish.

The Ramayana times (10th Century BC, during the Treta Yuga) and before

The coordinates of Kanyakubja as mentioned in many Indian mythological texts is briefly as follows:
Jamboodweep (Asia), Bharat Khand (India), Aryavarta desh (The land of the Aryans, mainly denoting the northern part of India), Vindhyachaley uttorey (to the north of the Vindhyachal mountains).

The Valmiki Ramayan, Bal-khand, Sargas 2 and 31 to 33, gives us a brief history of Kanyakubja and how the city came to get its name as such. When rishi Vishwamitra and Lord Ram reached the banks of the Son River near the ancient city of Girivraja, Lord Ram asked the rishi where they were, to which the great rishi told him about the location and history of the land:

One of Lord Brahma’s descendants was a King named Kusha, who had four sons by his wife Vaidarbhi, viz., Kushamba, Kushanabha, Asurtharaj and Vasu. King Kusha asked his sons, when they grew up, to rule like a true Kshatriya (warrior) ruler and for that they set up four cities in different parts of the kingdom. Kushamba’s city was named Kaushambi, Kushanabha built Mahodayapura, Asutharaj built the city Dharmaranya and Vasu called his city Girivraja. Amongst the lot, over course of time, only Kushanabha ruled according to the true Kshatriya practices and hence his city Mahodayapura flourished and soon many of his brothers’ cities also formed a part of his growing kingdom. The kingdom was mostly comprising of what we today can identify as the Indo-Gangetic plains.

Mahodayapura was the capital city of King Kushanabha and his glorious kingdom was called Madhyadesh (the central land). It was so named, chiefly because it occupied the central portion of the Aryavarta of the ancient times, with the Vindhyachal mountain range setting its barrier to the south, beyond which the Aryans had not ventured till that time.

King Kushanabha had a hundred daughters by his wife Ghritachi (also an apsara), and all of them were divinely beautiful. As they grew up to be exquisitely charming maidens, Vayu the wind god was infatuated by them but was rudely rejected by the maidens. In his anger and humiliation Vayu cursed the hundred daughters of King Kushanabha for their haughtiness, as a result of which the daughters developed hunches on their backs, thus deforming their once so praised physical beauty. Vayu told the King that the curse could only be lifted and the divine beauty of his daughters restored, if a Brahmin of upright character married them.

The news of the curse and the fate of the hundred princesses spread like wildfire in the city and across the kingdom. The city Mahodayapura soon became to be called “the city of the hunchback maidens” or ‘Kanyakubja’! (Kanya – daughter; kubja – hunchback). Thus was acquired the name which stayed on as long as the city stood in its glory across the centuries.

As the King went in frantic search of such a Brahmin, he heard of the sage Chooli who had set up his abode in the forests nearby and was meditating there. As the King approached the sage, he observed the sage’s son who was a young man and carried a certain halo about his persona. Upon meeting the sage, the King enquired if his son was married and when the sage replied in the negative, he promptly explained his predicament and proposed the marriage of his hundred daughters with the sage’s son Brahmadutt. Soon was the marriage was conducted and the moment Brahmadutt touched his hunch-backed wives, their hunches and deformity disappeared and their divine beauty was restored, thus ending the curse of Vayu. However, the name Kanyakubja stuck on and the city was thereafter always referred to by this name.

Rishi Vishwamitra though ended his story about the naming of Kanyakubja to Lord Ram, now surprised the exiled prince (Ram) by narrating his own connection and ancestry to the city of Kanyakubja.

King Kushanabha performed the ‘putrakamesti yajna’ in the hope of having a son who would be the future ruler, and was blessed with a son called Gadhi who, mythology states, was known to have qualities like Lord Indra, the King of Heaven and of the Gods. Some text versions in mythology also mention that Gadhi was an incarnation of Lord Indra himself who was mighty pleased with the devotion of King Kushanabha and was born to him as his son. Gadhi ruled the kingdom with great valour and pomp and had a daughter, Satyavati, and a son, Vishwarath. Vishwarath ruled in Kanyakubja after his father for some time as a powerful Kshatriya (warrior) king until he gave up his kingship and turned ascetic. Rishi Vishwamitra himself was none other than the erstwhile ruler of Kanyakubja, King Vishwarath, and the direct grandson of the mighty King Kushanabha.

On a related note, it is equally interesting to learn about the connection of Kanyakubja to another very famous mythological character of the same times, who traces his ancestry to the city and to the line of the Lunar Dynasty Kings. It is the story of the ancestry of Lord Parashurama, who is also believed to be the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu appearing in the Treta Yuga. King Gadhi’s daughter Satyavati was married to a Brahmin sage Richeek and their son was rishi Bhargava Jamadagni who, although a Brahmin sage by birth and vocation, had Kshatriya-like warrior qualities. Parashurama is the son of Bhargava Jamadagni and had inherited both the Brahmin-Kshatriya qualities from his father in abundance. Parashurama is famous as the slayer of the Kshatriyas and a master of the usage of the fearful Brahmastra (the most powerful and destructive weapon of Lord Brahma the creator, as described in Indian mythology).

After Vishwamitra abdicated the throne of Kanyakubja, Astaka another son of Gadhi became King of Madhyadesh and ruled over Kanyakubja. The last reference in the mythological texts about Kanyakubja is the mention of King Lauhi, Astaka’s son who rules after his father in King Kushanabha’s line. Kanyakubja re-emerges significantly on the scene, later in the times of the Indian epic Mahabharata (10th Century BC). In later historical references we find Kanyakubja described as a mighty city during times of the Gupta Empire (240 AD). During King Harshavardhan’s time (606 – 647 AD) the city had its most glorious period, standing as the capital of Harsha’s empire of undivided India.

We shall continue on the legends and history of Kanyakubja in the next article of our Research series as there is still much to know about this ancient city and its fate in the subsequent eras of history.

The Kanyakubja Brahmins –

The mythological texts and legends of the Vedic period say that the great Brahmin sage Brahmadutt continued to stay in Kanyakubja city and had many children by his hundred wives who were the daughters of King Kushanabha of Kanyakubja. Brahmadutt’s descendants were the original Kanyakubja Brahmins who started the lineage of resident Brahmins in Kanyakubja as over the years they stayed in the city glorifying it as an important seat of Vedic learning and preaching knowledge. These Brahmins and their next generations down the line we priests in the royal courts and temples and teachers of the Vedic texts in different educational institutions of the time. They were referred to as ‘Acharya’ and ‘Upadhyay’ as per the titles bestowed upon them by the Kings. The Kanyakubja Brahmins, as we shall see in our treatise on the later history of Kanyakubja, were the keepers of the Vedic knowledge and the mainstay in spreading Vedic education across the kingdom.

Therefore it would not be logically improper to assume that our forefathers came from this line of Kanyakubja Brahmins, though any chances of tracing a name beyond Jahnukar in the specific family lineage seem utterly impossible at this day.

The Brahmins developed the system of ‘Gotra’ meaning ‘lineage’ which is maintained patrilineal. Each gotra takes the name of a famous Rishi or sage from whom the lineage is said to have started in a patrilineal manner. Gotras are present for all people and not only for the Brahmins. However, in the earliest Vedic times, there were also instances of people attaching themselves to a particular Rishi or sage whose life and god-like qualities they had chosen to model themselves on. Thus a lineage (gotra) would have directly started from a Vedic rishi by ancestry or by adoption as in the case of a disciple adopting the name of his guru (the Vedic rishi) as his own ‘gotra’.

Whilst on one hand mythology states that the entire Kanyakubja Brahmin clan emanated from Brahmadutt on the paternal side and the hundred daughters of King Kushanabha of the Lunar Dynasty on the maternal side, there is no clear explanation of the allotment of the Gotras to the clan. However, we know that there are 26 Principal Gotras for the Kanyakubja Brahmins, which include direct and indirect lineages of the ‘Saptarshis’ (the seven sacred Rishis to whom the Vedas were first explained). These Saptarshi’s were:  Atri, Vasistha, Kashyap, Gautama, Bhrigu, Bharadwaja and Jamadagni. Later, Vishwamitra was added to the group when he was classified as ‘Brahmarshi’ (the superior-most attainment by a rishi in their levels of knowledge and penance) by Vasistha.  Therefore, based on the concept of Gotras and the fact that the Kanyakubja Brahmins were by generations the keepers of Vedic texts and learning, we can assume that they would have aligned their Gotras to their Vedic guru’s from whom the initial Vedic learning was derived. Thereafter the patrilineal concept of the ‘gotra’ would have followed in the respective families.

Why the question of Gotra becomes so important here and the quest for a logical answer to how the lineage derived the Gotra, is solely because our family lineage is classified as the ‘Gautama Baidik’ clan. This essentially means that our line owes its ‘gotra’ allegiance to Rishi Gautama, who was one of the Vedic Saptarshis. (Baidik being the localised version of Vedic). This explains the ‘Gautama gotra’ of the family which we still use today for all rituals and worship and that the lineage came from the Brahmins who studied and preached Vedic texts and knowledge in ancient Kanyakubja.

The tale and history of Kanyakubja intertwines multiple times with the lineage of our family forefathers and it was where their first abode was and it was from Kanyakubja that the family line historically originated.

Prequel (times from ages of mythological creation of India up to the 10th Century BC) –

The mythological references to King Kusa (father of King Kushanabha) states that he was the 10th descendant generation of Pururavas, the first King of the ‘Somavansha’ or ‘Chandravansha’ - the Lunar Dynasty in the Aryavarta lineage. Pururavas was the son born to Ila, daughter of Vaivaswat Manu (son of Lord Brahma and the King of mankind) and the celestial god Budh (Mercury). Budh (Mercury) was the son of Soma (the Moon) as stated in mythology; therefore the Dynasty which Pururavas (grandson of Soma) started was the Lunar Dynasty. It was from the Manu that both Suryavansh (Solar Dynasty – through his son Ikshvaku) and Chandravansh (Lunar Dynasty – through his daughter Ila) emanated.

Pururavas and his wife Urvashi had 6 sons: Ayus, Dhiman, Amavasu, Viswavasu, Satayus and Srutayus. It is said that Pururavas ruled over the Prayag (modern day Allahabad) region. At his time, the kingdom was called ‘Pratisthana’. It was from Pururavas and his Lunar Dynasty lineage that the Kauravas and the Pandavas of the Indian epic Mahabharata descended. Pururavas’ Lunar Dynasty was prominently taken forward by two of his sons Ayus and Amavasu. Ayus continued to succeed his father and rule from Pratisthana while Amavasu moved away to settle in a new land closer to the northern belt of the Ganges.

It is Amavasu’s line that we will enumerate in our research, as the prime line of the Lunar Dynasty, and given below are the names of the Kings who succeeded their fathers in the Lunar Dynasty:

Amavasu > Bhima* > Kanchana > Suhotra > Jahnu** > Sumanta > Ajaka > Balakeshava > Kusa > Kushanabha*** > Gadhi > (Gadhi was succeeded by his son Viswarath or Vishwamitra briefly, and later by his other son Astaka, as we have seen in our earlier treatise)

[It was from King Kushanabha’s 100 daughters and fathered by the great brahmin Brahmadutt, that the Kanyakubja Brahmins had descended, to which line belonged our forefathers… Thus it can be said that our family line firmly belonged to the Somavanshi or Chandravanshi line - the Lunar Dynasty of Aryavarta, from the maternal side.]

It was from the time of King Kusa and later King Kushanabha that the concentration of the kingdom came by to Madhyadesh with Kanyakubja as its capital city.


Bhima* - not to be confused with the Bhima of the Pandavas of Mahabharata. Probably the Pandava son was named after the former King Bhima of the Lunar Dynasty.

Jahnu** - There is a mythological legend about King Jahnu which goes as follows: King Jahnu was a benevolent king and very inclined to practising of knowledge and spirituality and spent much of his time in discussion with sages and taking part in holy ritualistic activities in their ashrams. It was during one such yajna (worshipping ritual) that King Jahnu was performing at a sage’s ashram when the River Ganges started flooding its banks and threatened to wash out the sage’s ashram. King Jahnu, enraged at the floods and the interruption to his yajna, is said to have drank up all the water of the Ganges and stopped the flood. However, upon frantic pleas from the Gods and other sages, he released the Ganges back from his body to flow into the river path. Coming from King Jahnu’s body, the River Ganges thus derived another name as ‘Jahnavi’.

It had been a common practice all over, to name new born children upon the illustrious people of the land or in the ancestry, and accordingly it would not be improper to assume that our forefather Jahnukar may have been named after the great King Jahnu of the Lunar Dynasty line.

Kushanabha*** - we have spoken in detail about King Kushanabha in our above treatise on the founding of the city of Kanyakubja. King Kushanabha is thus famous not only as the founder of the city but also as the grand sire of the maternal side of the line of the Kanyakubja Brahmins.

Coming Soon…. Research Series Part 3

In the next article of the Research Series, we trace the history of Kanyakubja during the times of the Mahabharata (3rd Century BC) and then its later history from the Gupta Empire period (240 AD) till the Muslim conquest and destruction of the city in 1019 AD. We shall see how historical events had impacted the society in different eras and what finally happened to the Kanyakubja Brahmins and our family line amongst them.


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