Battle of the Ten Kings

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The Battle of the Ten Kings (IAST|dāśarājñá) (दाश्राज्ञ-युद्ध) is a battle alluded to in Mandala 7 of the Rigveda (hymns 18, 33 and 83.4-8). It is a battle between Aryans (an "internecine war", as the 1911 Britannica puts it, as opposed to the more frequent accounts of Aryans fighting Dasyus), taking place as Puru tribes, allied with other tribes of the Punjab and goaded by the royal sage Vishvamitra, invade the country of the Trtsu (Bharata) king Sudas, and are defeated in an epic battle through the inspired power of the priestly sage Vasishtha, the composer of the hymns. Karl Friedrich Geldner in his 1951 translation of the Rigveda considers the hymns as "obviously based on an historical event", even though any details save for what is preserved in the hymns have been lost.

The tribes

see - Rigvedic tribes
  • Trtsu: The tribe of King Sudas.
  • Alinas: They were probably one of the tribes defeated by Sudas at the Dasarajna,[1] and it was suggested that they lived to the north-east of Nurestan, because the land was mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim Hiouen Thsang. (Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index, 1912, I, 39)
  • Anu: They were said to be a dynasty that lived in Kashmir.
  • Bhrigus: Probably the priestly family descended from Sage Bhrigu. They are related to the composition of the Atharva Veda.
  • Bhalanas: One of the tribes that fought against Sudas in the Dasarajna battle. Some scholars have argued that the Bhalanas lived in East Kabulistan, and that the Bolan Pass derives its name from the Bhalanas.
  • Dasa, Dasyu: A term labelled to all Iranian tribes that were in opposition to King Sudas, cognate to the Iranian ethnonym Dahae (also known as Dahan Scythians). In the Rig Veda, Dasyu refers to an inimical people and is generally a term of denigration.
  • Druhyus: From them came Gandhari, who gave his name to a region he settled in the Gandhara Valley.
  • Matsya, people living in Alwar-Bharatpur region.
  • Parsu: The Parsus have been connected with the Persian people, though this view is disputed by some.[2] This is based on the evidence of an Assyrian inscription from 844 BC referring to the Pesians as Parsu, and the Behistun Inscription of Darius I of Persia referring to Parsa as the origin of the Persians.[3]
  • Purus: Also the mother tribe of King Sudas. The Bharatas (Trtsu) were a clan among the Puru tribe. The Prithus were also a clan from the Puru tribe, judging from Arjuna's Pandava clan descending from the Kaurava clan in the Bhagavad Gita, which in turn descends from the Pauravas, but Krishna also referred to Arjuna as Pārtha (descendant of the Prthu clan.)
  • Panis: Also known as the Parni, a Scythian tribe which later founded the Parthian dynasty of the Persian Empire.


Hymns 7.18 and 7.83 are dedicated to Indra and Indra paired with Varuna, respectively, thanking the deity for helping Sudas defeat his enemies, while hymn 7.33 is addressed to Vasishtha himself, praising him for moving the gods to take Sudas' side by his prayers (Indra preferred Vasishtha's prayers over those of Pasadyumna, son of Vayata, 7.33.2) and addressing him as a son of Mitra and Varuna (7.33.11). The hymn makes sure to stress the importance of the priests (Vasistha is named along with Parashara and Satayatu) in winning Indra's favour, even though they were not present on the battlefield but invoked Indra "from at home" (grhāt, 7.18.21)

The situation leading up to the battle is described in 7.18.6: The Turvasas and Yaksus, together with the Matsya tribe (punned upon by the rishi by comparing them to hungry fish (matsya) flocking together) appear and ally themselves with the Bhrigus and the Druhyus. Their confederation was further increased by the Pakthas, the Bhalanas, the Alinas, the Shivas and the Visanins (7.18.7), while the Trtsus relied solely on the help of the "Arya's Comrade" (Aryasya Sadhamad), Indra.

The "ten kings" are mentioned in both 7.33 (verses 3 and 5) and 7.83 (verses 6, 7 and 8), but not in the most extensive account of 7.18 so that it is not made explicit how this number was broken down: Sudas himself is not to be included in the number (the Trtsus are surrounded by ten kings in 7.33.5), and if of the tribes mentioned in 7.18, the Turvasas, Yaksus, Matsyas, Bhrgus, Druhyus, Pakthas, Bhalanas, Alinas, Shivas and Visanins are counted, the full number is reached, leaving the Anavas (7.18.14), the Ajas and Sigrus (7.18.19) and the "21 men of both Vaikarna tribes" (7.18.11) without a king, and implying that Bheda (7.18.19, also mentioned 7.33.3 and 7.83.4, the main leader slain by Sudas), Shimyu (7.18.5), and Kavasa (7.18.12) are the names of individual kings. The Bharatas are named among the enemies in 7.33 but not in 7.18.

The battle

The battle itself took place on the banks of the Parusni. The warriors of Sudas are described as white-robed (shvityanca), wearing hair-knots on the right side of their heads (daksinataskaparda), and as pious (dhiyamjinvasa), flying banners (krtádhvaj) , while the ten kings are impious and do not worship (áyajyava). It appears (7.18.5) that Sudas was forced to retreat, and managed to cross the Parusni safely, while his foes, trying to pursue, were scattered in the crossing and either drowned or slaughtered by Sudas' men, Sudas himself slaying Bheda:

7.18.9 As to their goal they sped to their destruction: they sought Parusni; e'en the swift returned not.
Indra abandoned, to Sudas the manly, the swiftly flying foes, unmanly babblers.
7.18.9 They went like kine unherded from the pasture, each clinging to a friend as chance directed.
They who drive spotted steeds, sent down by Prsni, gave ear, the Warriors and the harnessed horses. (trans. Griffith)

Kavasa and the Druhyu were "overwhelmed by Indra" while still in the water (7.18.10). The slain of the Anavas and the Druhyus are numbered 6,666 (7.18.14).


In the aftermath of the battle, the Bharatas came under the dominion of Sudas (7.33.6), the Ajas, the Sigrus and the Yaksus likewise pay tribute (7.18.20), and Indra destroyed the seven castles of the enemies, and gave the treasures of Anu's son (or "the foreign man") to Sudas (7.18.13). 7.18.17 stresses that this was a victory against heavy odds, compared to a goat defeating a lion.

Back to Sources of History


  1. A. A. Macdonell and A. B. Keith (1912). Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, I, 39.
  2. A. A. Macdonell and A. B. Keith (1912). Vedic Index of Names and Subjects.
  3. Radhakumud Mookerji (1988). Chandragupta Maurya and His Times (p. 23). Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 8120804058.
  • Karl Friedrich Geldner, Der Rig-Veda: Aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche übersetzt Harvard Oriental Studies, vols. 33, 34, 35 (1951), reprint Harvard University Press (2003) ISBN 0-674-01226-7
  • Ralph T.H. Griffith, Hymns of the Rig Veda (1896)