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Author: Laxman Burdak.

Yavanas (यवन) as people were known to Panini and mentioned Mahabharata at various places. In the Indian epic Mahabharata, the word "Yavana" is used to identify the Greeks. In the Buddhist discourse of the Middle Length Sayings, in which the Buddha mentions to the Brahman Assalayana the existence of the Kamboja and Yavana people who have only two castes, master or slave.

Variants of name

Jat Gotras


V. S. Agrawala[3] writes that Panini’s reference to the Yavana Yavanānī writing, possesses distinct value for his date. The term Yauna (=Sanskrit Yavana) for Ionia and the

[p.466]: the Ionian Greeks is first used in inscriptions of Darius I (516 BC). It must have been after this that the term Yavana came into circulation in parts of India which also formed part of the Achaemenian empire. It would not be right to suppose that the Macedonian Greeks who first came into India with Alexander about two centuries later first became known as Yavanas. In fact the Yavanas had been known much before Alexander who already found in the Kabul Valley a colony of Nysian Greeks. In the old-persian Inscriptions of Darius (521-485 BC) we find the term Yauna denoting Ionia and an Ionian, and Yaunā, Ionians corresponding to Sanskrit Yavanaḥ and Yavanāḥ (Sukumar, Old Persian Inscriptions, p.223).

Both Ionia and Gandhara, the home of Panini, formed part of the empire of Darius and also continued under the reign of Xerxes, who recruited to his army a contingent of Indians from Gandhara in his expedition against Greece about the year 479 BC. Thus was furnished a first hand opportunity for the Indians to become acquainted with the Greeks even before Alexander. As Prof Keith has observed : ‘If it is born in mind that Panini was a native of Gandhara according to Xuanzang, a view confirmed by the references in his grammar, it will not seem far fetched to consider that it was most probably from the older tradition that the name Yavanani was derived'. The word lipi borrowed from the Achaemenian dipi meaning edict is conspicuous by absence in the Buddhist canonical works and seems to have been borrowed from Achaemenian Iran. It may further be assumed that the Yavanani lipi was known only in Gandhara and the north-west at that time (ante, p.312).

V. S. Agrawala[4] writes that Patanjali makes clear the social status of the sudras in his time. Firstly there were sudras who were not excluded from Aryavrata but were living within its social system. Secondly, there was another class of sudras who were living outside Aryavrata and its society. He cites as examples (1) Kishkindha-Gabdikam (2) Shaka-Yavanam and (3) Saurya-Krauncham. Of these

Tej Ram Sharma[5] writes that The Madras are mentioned in the Puranas as well.[6] The Visnu Purana (2, 3, 17 ) refers to the Madras along with the Aramas, Parasikas, and others and in the Matsya Purana (114,41.) with Gandhara, Yavana and others. The latter [7] mentions king Asvapati of Sakala in the kingdom of the Madras.

Tej Ram Sharma[8] writes that Surashtra [9] is mentioned in the Junagarh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman I (A.D. 150). It was governed by Pusyagupta, under Chandragupta Maurya and by a Yavana Tusaspa under Asoka. [10]

Tej Ram Sharma[11] writes that Sudarsana ( सुदर्शन) is the name of a lake situated at some distance from Girinagara as mentioned in the Junagarh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman I (A.D. 150). [12] The lake was originally constructed by the Vaisya Pusyagupta, the provincial governor of the Maurya king Chandragupta. Later on during the reign of Asoka it was adorned with conduits, by the Yavana governor Tusaspha. [13]

The Harsha Charita of Bana/Chapter VI tells ....[[[Kakavarna]], being curious of marvels, was carried away no one knows whither on an artificial aerial car made by a Yavana condemned to death.

Ram Sarup Joon[14] writes that Some people in Greece consider Balram, brother of Lord Krishna as their ancestor. Yunan, the other name of Greece is after the name of Chandra Vanshi King Yavan who was from Satjit branch of Yadu.

Jat History

Hukum Singh Panwar (Pauria)[15] writes that consequent upon the latest researches, the ethnologists generally assert and agree that the Scythians, the Caucasoids, the Kushanas, the Huns or the Ephthalites and the Yavanas were not separate races but in reality belonged to the White race. Scythian, Caucasoid and Kushana give the geographical sense rather than racial. The Huns or Ephthalites, barring a negligible Mongol element in them, were a branch of the Whites. The term "Yavana", like "Aryan", conveys a cultural meaning. So these terms should not be confused with racial ones.

Bhim Singh Dahiya[16] writes that ...Mayura attacked the capital of Indra. Here, as in the other Purana, the name of Mura is Sanskritised into Mayura, the reasons for which have already been discussed earlier. The second name Ugra, is again a tribal name, the Ugrians of Greek writers, and the present Uighur of Soviet Central Asia. The name of the ropes of Muraa, called Mourava ropes, is again the same as the name of the City and the clan, Maurav, as per Persian records. Thus the Mura and Naraka are identical with the Mura and Nairi of Assyriyan records, the present Mor and Nara clan of the Jats. This area was definitely in the west of India, rather in the northhwest and Pragjyotisha was its capital city. At the time of Mahabharata, it was ruled over by Bhagadatta who is called a king of Yavanas and also a king of Asuras. He was a friend of Pandu.[17] He attended the Rajasuya sacrifice of Yudhisthira.[18] Arjuna, defeats him in the North,[19] and in the war he is killed by Arjuna.[20] Vajradatta, son of Bhaga Datta was also killed by Arjuna.[21] In Sabha Parva both Mura and Naraka are stated to be rulers in the West.[22]

All this discussion clearly establishes that the country of Mura was in the North-West of India, and the present city of Merv can very well be identified with their ancient capital. As already mentioned, this city in the Iranian literature, is called Mourav or Maur.

Direct identification

Direct identification of these words with the Greeks include:

  • King Menander and his bodyguard of "500 Yonas" in the Milinda Panha.
  • The description of Greek astrology and Greek terminology in the Yavanajataka ("Sayings of the Yavanas") (150 CE).

In Indian literature

"Yona" is a Pali word used in ancient India to designate Greek speakers. Its equivalent in Sanskrit, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil is the word "Yavana" and "Javanan" in Bengali. "Yona" and "Yavana" are both transliterations of the Greek word for "Ionians" (Homer Iāones, older *Iāwones), who were probably the first Greeks to be known in the East.

Harsha Charita[23] mentions ....The fate of a Yavana king was encompassed by the holder of his golden chowrie, who read the letters of a document reflected in his crest jewel. By slashes of drawn swords Viduratha's army minced the avaricious Mathura king Brihadratha while he was digging treasure at dead of night.

Rajatarangini[24] mentions .... The queen Ratnadevi set up a religious school named Vaikuntha and mathas and other edifices, and with her own money made arrangements for their permanent maintenance.

At Ratnapura, a town of great value, and which had many gates, the spotless religions school was the receptacle of virtue, and looked like a large cage for a swan. Mahadeva graced by his presence her white washed houses, like a white light, to destroy the transient state of man's existence. When she built sheds for cows, Shuravarmma and the other builders were reckoned as cows. There [at Ratnapura] adorned with cowsheds, where the kine roamed unrestricted, and which was washed by the waves of the Vitasta, she parted with her diseased body (died), At Nandikshetra she had raised religious schools, and in the principal places of the Yavanas she had built delightful mathas. In Dārvvā she built a town like the city of Indra, and named it after her name. It contained a beautiful and grand house befitting a king. The queen who was kind towards her dependants built various monuments consecrated to the memory of the great, the honored and the principal men who were dead.

The world held such jewels of women who were its ornaments. (p.217-218)

Old World usage

This usage was shared by many of the countries east of Greece, from the Mediterranean to India:

  • Egyptians used the word j-w-n(-n)-’
  • Assyrians used the word Iawanu
  • Persians used the word Yauna or Yavanu
  • Indians - used the word Yavana in Mahabharata and other historic texts.
  • Sri Lankans - used the word Yona in Mahawamsa and other historic texts.
  • In Biblical writings, the word was Yāvān (and still is, in modern Israeli Hebrew - יוון)
  • In Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu it is Yunan]

In Afghanistan

H. W. Bellew[25] writes that Muhammadan name appears among the sections of many of the Afghan' tribes, especially in those inhabiting the Indus Valley about the Peshawar district, which was one of the principal seats of the Greek dominion. But in the Sanskrit writings the name Ionian appears in the form of Yona or Yavana, and Jona or Javana.

In Puranas

Vishnu Purana[26] gives list of Kings who ruled Magadha. ...After these, various races will reign, as seven Ábhíras, ten Garddhabas, sixteen Śakas, eight Yavanas, fourteen Tusháras, thirteen Mundas, eleven Maunas, altogether seventy-nine princes , who will be sovereigns of the earth for one thousand three hundred and ninety years.

Total--85 kings, Váyu; 89, Matsya; 76, and 1399 years, Bhág.

In Ramayana

Kishkindha Kanda Sarga 43 of Ramayana tells ...Sugreeva sends troops to north in search of Seeta. He gives an account of the snowy regions and provinces of northern side and asks them to search in the places of Yavana, Kuru, and Daradas etc., civilisations. Sugreeva specially informs them about a divine province called Uttara Kuru and a heavenly mountain called Mt. Soma on which Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva make sojourn for its sacredness. Verses (4.43.11,12) mention Yavana....."There in the north, the provinces of Mlecchas, Pulindas, that way Shurashena - Prasthala - Bharata - Kuru - Madraka - Kamboja - Yavana shall be scrutinized along with the cities of Shaka and Darada, and then search in Himalayas." [4-43-11,12]. [27]

In Mahabharata

Yavana (यवन) is used in various verses in Mahabharata (I.80.26), (II.13.13), (II.28.49),(II.47.12),(III.48.20),(V.19.21),(VI.10.64),(VI.20.13),(VI.47.7),(VI.83.10),(VIII.30.80),(VIII.51.18)

Adi Parva, Mahabharata/Mahabharata Book I Chapter 80 mentions in the Story of Yayati and his wives Devayani and Sarmishtha. Yavana appears in verse (I.80.26). [28]

Sabha Parva, Mahabharata/Book II Chapter 13 mentions the List of Kshatriyas leaving their dominions in the north, fled to other countries out of fear of Jarasandha: Kshatriyas in support of Jarasandha includes Yavana kings Mura and Naraka in verse (II.13.13). "that king of the Yavanas, who hath chastised Mura and Naraka, whose power is unlimited, and who ruleth the west like another Varuna, who is called Bhagadatta..." [29]

Sabha Parva, Mahabharata/Book II Chapter 28 mentions the Kingdoms subjugated by Sahadeva, who marched towards the southern direction...."The hero brought under his subjection and exacted tributes from the delightful city of Antakhis, the Romas and that of the Yavanas". [30]

Sabha Parva, Mahabharata/Book II Chapter 47 mentions Kings who brought tributes to Yudhishthira. This includes Yavanas in verse (II.47.12)..." And 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 unable to enter..." [31]

Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 48 describes Rajasuya sacrifice of Yudhisthira attended by the chiefs of many islands and countries. This includes Yavanas in verse (III.48.20)....."and all the kings of the West by hundreds, and all the chiefs of the sea-coast, and the kings of the Pahlavas and the Daradas and the various tribes of the Kiratas and Yavanas and Shakas...." [32]

Udyoga Parva/Mahabharata Book V Chapter 19 mentions Who joined Duryodhana for war. This includes Yavanas in verse (V.19.21)... "And Sudakshina, the king of the Kambojas, accompanied by the Yavanas and Sakas, came to the Kuru chief with an Akshauhini of troops." [33]

Bhisma Parva, Mahabharata/Book VI Chapter 10 Describes geography and provinces of Bharatavarsha. The other Provinces in south include Yavanas in verse (VI.10.64). [34]

Bhisma Parva, Mahabharata/Book VI Chapter 20 mentions warriors in Bhisma's division: This includes Yavanas in verse (VI.20.13). ...."Saradwat's son, that fighter in the van, that high-souled and mighty bowman, called also Gautama and Chitrayudha, conversant with all modes of warfare, accompanied by the Sakas, the Kiratas, the Yavanas, and the Pahlavas, took up his position at the northern point of the army." [35]

Bhisma Parva, Mahabharata/Book VI Chapter 47 describes immeasurable heroes assembled for battle. This includes Yavanas in verse (VI.47.7). ...." Let the Samsthanas, the Surasenas, the Venikas, the Kukkuras, the Rechakas, the Trigartas, the Madrakas, the Yavanas,...protect Bhishma with their (respective) troops." [36]

Bhisma Parva, Mahabharata/Book VI Chapter 83 mentions Kauravas and the Pandavas, once more proceeded to battle. This includes Yavanas in verse (VI.83.10)...."Next to Vrihadvala was the brave Trigarta, the ruler of the Prasthala, accompanied by a large number of the Kambojas, and by Yavanas in thousands" [37]

Karna Parva/Mahabharata Book VIII Chapter 30 gives description blaming the Vahikas and Madrakas. This includes Yavanas in verse (VIII.30.80) ..."The Yavanas, are omniscient; the Suras are particularly so. The mlecchas are wedded to the creations of their own fancy. Other peoples cannot understand." [38]

Karna Parva/Mahabharata Book VIII Chapter 51 Describes terrible massacre on seventeenth day of War. This includes Yavanas in verse (VIII.51.18)...." Of terrible deeds and exceedingly fierce, the Tusharas, the Yavanas, the Khasas, the Darvabhisaras, the Daradas, the Sakas, the Kamathas, the Ramathas, the Tanganas...." [39]


  1. An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan:H. W. Bellew, p.55
  2. A glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province By H.A. Rose Vol II/C, p.174,f.n.
  3. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.465-466
  4. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p. 78
  5. Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Tribes,p.145
  6. B.C. Law, Tribes in Ancient India. p. 54.
  7. Ibid., 208, 5.
  8. Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Place-Names and their Suffixes,p.211
  9. D.C. Sircar, Select Inscriptions. p. 178, L. 11.
  10. Ibid-, p. 177, L.8. Cf. B.C. Law, Historical Geography of Ancient India, p. 298.
  11. Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Names of the Rivers and the Mountains,p.297
  12. Sircar, Select Inscriptions. p. 176 : L.I. इदं तड़ाकं सुदर्शनं गिरिनगराद् ...। Also see f.n. 2 : Girinagara was the name of the ancient city now represented by Junagarh (in South Kathiawad). The Sudarsana lake was formed in the valley round the foot of the Girnar hills by an embankment across the gorge.
  13. Ibid., p. 177 LL. 8-9; मौर्यस्य राज्ञ चंद्रगुप्तस्य राष्ट्रियेना वैश्येण पुष्यगुप्तेन कारितं, अशोकस्य मौर्यस्य कृते यवनराजेन तुषास्फेनधिष्ठाया प्रणालीभिरलंकृतम्
  14. Ram Sarup Joon: History of the Jats/Chapter III, p.41
  15. The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations/An Historico-Somatometrical study bearing on the origin of the Jats ,p.122-123
  16. Jats the Ancient Rulers (A clan study)/Porus and the Mauryas, p.162
  17. Sabha Parvan, op. cit., 14/14.
  18. ibid., 51/14.
  19. ibid., 26/7.
  20. Drona Parvan,29/48.
  21. Ashvamedha Parva, chap. 76.
  22. Sabha Parva 13/13. मुरं च नरकं चैव शास्ति यॊ यवनाधिपौ, अपर्यन्त बलॊ राजा परतीच्यां वरुणॊ यदा (II.13.13)
  23. The Harsha Charita of Bana/Chapter VI
  24. Kings of Kashmira Vol 2 (Rajatarangini of Kalhana)/Book VIII (i) ,pp.217-218
  25. An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan By H. W. Bellew, The Oriental University Institute, Woking, 1891, p.55
  26. Vishnu Purana/Book IV:Chapter XXIV pp.474-476
  27. तत्र म्लेच्छान् पुलिन्दान् च शूरसेनान् तथैव च । प्रस्थालान् भरतान् चैव कुरूम् च सह मद्रकैः ॥४-४३-११॥ कांबोज यवनान् चैव शकान् पत्तनानि च । अन्वीक्ष्य दरदान् चैव हिमवन्तम् विचिन्वथ ॥४-४३-१२॥
  28. यथॊस तु यादवा जातास तुर्वसॊर यवनाः सुताः, थरुह्यॊर अपि सुता भॊजा अनॊस तु मलेच्छ जातयः (I.80.26)
  29. मुरं च नरकं चैव शास्ति यॊ यवनाधिपौ, अपर्यन्त बलॊ राजा परतीच्यां वरुणॊ यदा (II.13.13)
  30. अन्ताखीं चैव रॊमांयवनानां पुरं तदा, दूतैर एव वशे चक्रे करं चैनान अथापयत Mahabharata (2.28.49)
  31. पराग्ज्यॊतिषाधिपः शूरॊ मलेच्छानाम अधिपॊ बली, यनवैः सहितॊ राजा भगथत्तॊ महारदः (II.47.12)
  32. पश्चिमानि च राज्यानि शतशः सागरान्तिकान, पह्लवान थरथान सर्वान किरातान यवनाञ शकान (III.48.20)
  33. सुदक्षिणश च काम्बॊजॊ यवनैश च शकैस तदा, उपाजगाम कौरव्यम अक्षौहिण्या विशां पते (V.19.21)
  34. यवनाश च स काम्बॊजा थारुणा मलेच्छ जातयः, सक्षद्द्रुहः कुन्तलाश च हूणाः पारतकैः सह (VI.10.64)
  35. शारदवतश चॊत्तरधूर महात्मा; महेष्वासॊ गौतमश चित्रयॊधी, शकैः किरातैर यवनैः पह्लवैश च; सार्धं चमूम उत्तरतॊ ऽभिपाति (VI.20.13)
  36. संस्थानाः शूरसेनाश च वेणिकाः कुकुरास तदा, आरेवकास तरिगर्ताश च मथ्रका यवनास तदा (VI.47.7)
  37. बृहथ्बलात ततः शूरस तरिगर्तः परस्दलाधिपः, काम्बॊजैर बहुभिः सार्धं यवनैश च सहस्रशः (VI.83.10)
  38. सर्वज्ञा यवना राजञ शूराश चैव विशेषतः, मलेच्छाः सवसंज्ञा नियता नानुक्त इतरॊ जनः (VIII.30.80)
  39. उग्राश च करूरकर्माणस तुखारा यवनाः खशाः, दार्वाभिसारा दरदा: शका रमठ तङ्गणाः (VIII.51.18)

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