Sunday, 8 April 2018
H for Hastinapur
Hastinapur is certainly not an unfamiliar name to a reader of Indian mythology, as it is described as the glittering, glorious and powerful capital of the Kaurava clan in the epic Mahabharata. However, the first references to the location of Hastinapur comes as the capital of Emperor Bharata, the mythical king and ruler of the Chandravanshi (lunar dynasty) lineage from whom our country derives its name ‘Bharatvarsha’ or ‘Bharat’.
Mythology of the pre-Mahabharata times and the origins of Hastinapur
Before we trace the origins of Hastinapur, for better understanding of the context, let us briefly understand the Chandravanshi lineage of kings, where-from the Kuru clan emerged.
The Chandravanshi (Lunar dynasty) commenced with Pururava, who was the son of Budh and Ila (daughter of Manu) and came down through his eldest son Ayu. The fourth King in this lineage was Puru, younger son of King Yayati (a.k.a Jajati) who pleased his father by taking on his old age upon himself and was in return blessed with the privilege of carrying forward the royal lineage of the Lunar dynasty, despite being the younger son. It is in the line of Puru, that the Kauravas and Pandavas descend (jointly called the Pauravas after Puru’s name), while the Yadavas (Lord Krishna’s lineage) descend from King Yayati’s elder son, Yadu (thus Krishna’s lineage is called the Yadu-vansha).
King Bharata is the sixteenth in the lineage from Puru and was said to have ruled over the region between the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers. Evidences from the Mahabharata as well as different Puranas state that at that time Bharata’s capital was located on the earlier course of the Ganga River (now known as Ban-Ganga or Budhi-Ganga, as the river had moved its course over time). The location was approximately identified as forty miles south of Hardwar, where the Ganga breaks through the Sivalik Mountains and enters the plains of India. The Puranas also describe River Ganga near Bharata’s capital city to be “a mighty stream, rolling its masses of waters gushing down from the Himalyan glaciers, and joined by many auxiliary streams, descending on the plains with such a force that often brings destruction in its path…”
However, it is important to note that though this city was the capital of King Bharata’s empire, it had not yet acquired the name of Hastinapur at that time. It was four royal generations after Bharata that his descendant King Hasti accentuated the capital and built a royal city on it: one that was equally powerful and fortified as it was opulent and ornate. The imperial emblem adopted for the dynasty was the Elephant which signified might and grace, as also being aligned to the King’s name. Hasti in Sanskrit meant ‘Elephant’ and therefore the city which King Hasti founded started to be known as ‘Hastinapuram’ (or ‘The Elephant City’ as ‘puram’ in Sanskrit meant city). Later the place came to be popularly known and called as Hastinapur.
After King Hasti, the next most powerful and famous king to rule the Paurava kingdom was Kuru, who ascended the throne at Hastinapur four royal generations after Hasti. The Paurava dynasty thereafter has been referred to as Kuru’s dynasty and lineage, as Kuru is said to be the mightiest and the most illustrious king in the lineage. His kingdom was called the Kuru rashtra and his clan or descendants the Kauravas. It was only in the age of the Mahabharata that the Pandava line emerged from the Kaurava dynasty and was named after King Pandu.
Hastinapur in the times of Mahabharata
The story of Mahabharata primarily begins with King Shantanu, who is the thirteenth in the royal lineage and ascendency to the Hastinapur throne, after Kuru. King Shantanu’s eldest son Devavrat (better known as Bheeshma) gave up his claim to the Hastinapur throne in favour of his half-brothers Vichitra Virya and Chitrangad, and vowed to forever protect the throne and the kingdom of Hastinapur. It is from this line of the Kuru kings that we have the later heroes of the Mahabharat, King Dhritarashtra, King Pandu and their respective descendants who called themselves the Kauravas and Pandavas respectively.
At the time of the Mahabharata era, Hastinapur was undoubtedly the most powerful and opulent city in entire Aryavarta and the Kuru kingdom was the most extensive. Led by Devavrat, a proficient warrior and leader par-excellence, most of the neighbouring kingdoms across North India were subjugated to the power of the Kaurava King and owed their allegiance to Hastinapur. However, not all kingdoms were brought under subjugation by war by the Kauravas, but friendly ties and matrimonial alliances as well. The legends of the abduction of the princesses of Kashi (Benaras), Amba, Ambika and Ambalika by Devavrat and the subsequent marriage of Ambika and Ambalika to Vichitra Virya and Chitrangad; the marriage of the blind Dhritarashtra to Gandhari, the princess of the north-west kingdom of Gandhara; or the marriage of Kunti, adopted daughter of King Kunti-Bhoja in the Yaduvanshi line of the Bhoja kingdom in far west, are popular and well known in the Mahabharata and its related stories.
It is also mentioned in the Mahabharata and the Puranas that though many kings desired to rule over a grand and wealthy city like Hastinapur, no king in Aryavarta had the might to rage war against the Kauravas; and that the destruction of the Kauravas was brought about by their own feud and internal hostilities, is again well established.
The decline of Hastinapur and its destruction
Many have often thought that the imperial capital of the Kauravas, Hastinapur, was destroyed in the Mahabharata war as all the Kauravas were killed and the clan ended. Such is not the case as Hastinapur is said to have lived on for at least thirteen more generations after the Mahabharata before it was destroyed. The lineage left behind by Arjuna, however continued for twenty seven more royal generations after the Pandavas, though they were called the Kuru-vansh (lineage) kings once again (and not the Pandavas).
At the end of the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra, with the Kaurava clan being erased and Hastinapur being won over by the Pandavas, the eldest Pandava Yudhisthir ascended the throne at Hastinapur with queen Draupadi. While they had ensured that the Kaurava clan was completely decimated in the war, the Kauravas had also left no stone unturned in meting out the same treatment to the Pandavas. All their sons had been killed in the war and the only one left in the lineage was the un-born Parikshit, grandson of Arjuna, who was ensconced safely in his mother Uttara’s womb. Legend has it that after the Kaurava princes and stalwarts had trapped and killed Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu in the fatal ‘chakravyuh’, Duryodhan had wanted to even kill the un-born Parikshit in his mother’s womb, but Yudhisthir had miraculously protected and saved him.
So when the dejected Pandavas decided to retire from the world, which was soon after Krishna’s departure and the advent of Kali Yuga, they placed their only heir to the lineage, young Parikshit, on the throne of Hastinapur and departed from the kingdom towards the Himalayas.
[The Mahabharata era was towards the end of Dwapar Yuga which ended with the destruction of majority of Aryavarta at the Kurukshetra war. The time for this is estimated to be 3102 BC.]
The first two kings of Hastinapur during the immediate Kaliyuga, were of notable fame: Parikshit, who worked towards consolidation of the broken empire and rebuilding Hastinapur to a large extent; and his son Janmejaya who continued the work started by his father. It is also said that while wandering in the north-west regions of Aryavarta, King Janmejaya met sage Vaisampayan (son of the great sage Ved Vyas) at the location of Taxila (present day north Pakistan), who narrated to him the detailed story of his ancestors, which Janmejaya later recorded with the sage’s permission. This is said to be one of the first written sources of the epic Mahabharata. However, the later kings of Hastinapur failed to hold on to their empire or to the might and influence of Hastinapur and gradually the kingdom and its capital fell in its significance.
It was during the reign of King Nichakshu, estimated around 900 BC, that a great deluge hit Hastinapur as the Ganga suddenly swelled and rose in mighty force. The ancient texts, Matsya and Vayu Puranas, describe this tremendous deluge lashing upon Hastinapur as “swirling water columns of great force, risen to the perpendicular height of thirty feet bore away all within its sweep, thus lying Hastinapur to its ruin.” Post the deluge, the Ganga River moved its course away to its present location and left the city of Hastinapur completely submerged in silt and mud up to the height of a few storeys. Such was the destruction of this once grand and imperial city that the place was deserted and was not lived in by people for next few centuries. Later excavations and the inspection of the soil in Hastinapur region validate the great flood that is attributed to the destruction of the mythological city of Hastinapur.
The Kuru king Nichakshu left the place with his surviving people and moved his kingdom to Kaushambi, located 50 kms from modern day Allahabad. The Kuru lineage set up their new kingdom and continued to rule from Kaushambi for another fourteen generations, till they were decimated in territorial wars during the later Vedic period, at the time of King Kshemaka the last Kuru ruler. Mythology estimates that the time-period from Parikshit to the end of the Kuru line is 1050 years.
Resurgence of Hastinapur
It was almost towards the end of the later Vedic period that the region of Hastinapur started getting populated again. However, the place remained insignificant and its lost glory was never revived again. In later eras, some temples and structures were built in remembrance of the Mahabharata history and its heroes, in the region and it became a centre for Hindus to visit and reminiscence the mythological legends. Samrat Samprati, the grandson of Asoka is believed to have built quite a few temples in this region, but those had later fallen into ruin or have been destroyed.
During the onset of the Mughal Empire in India, Hastinapur was invaded by Babur. Later during the British Raj period, the region of Hastinapur was ruled over by the local Gujjar king Raja Nain Singh Nagar, who has been credited with noteworthy efforts of restoration of some of the ancient temples.
Hastinapur today, though stands as a small town and ‘nagar panchayat’ in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, still reminds us of its revered history and heritage of the Mahabharata era, and is one of the few ancient places in India which can be traced back to pre-mythological times.
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