Thursday, October 04, 2007

Indian Warrior Clans

The period 100 BCE to 200 CE in Indian History has the vast continent neatly divided into three regions. The north, the historic heartland of the Maurya Empire, continues under the Sunga and Kanva Empires, later breaking-up into shadowy monarchies till the rise of the Gupta Empire in 320 CE. The Indian Peninsula sees the rise and fall of the Satvahan Empire and the emergence of the first historic kingdoms further south. The northwest experiences the formation of foreign states, and their very rapid demise, leaving behind the states of the Indian clans which were either their vassals or had resisted them all along.

The origins of these foreign states, their relations with each other, and the reasons why these foreigners could not affect the gene pool of the vast Indian population, were discussed in Foreign Tribes Indian Clans. Since these foreigners left behind no written histories, the details of their military campaigns were reconstructed from coinage and epigraphs in Politico-military impact of the Foreign Powers.

That post also mentioned the surreptitious methods of the colonial and leftist historians, in attributing foreign origins for the contemporary Indian clans and for the various communities of a much later period. They did this by creating 'evidence' from negative arguments, by interpreting scattered literary references and coinage as per their own convenience, and by making liberal use of false cognates in connecting Indian and foreign words.

Such methods, and the dubious evidence, will fall apart, as the Indian clans are studied in detail. But before that the phenomenon of warrior clans and their clan-states, which was a feature of Indian History even in later times, should be studied and compared with the monarchies and empires that both preceded and followed them.

Clan-states

It is a common mistake to refer to these clans as 'tribes' and to their clan-states as 'tribal' republics. Tribes, whose members follow varied professions, they may have been in the hoary past, but with the beginnings of agriculture and trade there was a natural division of labor. What emerged were a people (Vedic term visah) who inhabited cities and villages (rashtra) and were protected by the warriors among them who formed a clan (jan). When territory expanded by war, population increased and other warrior clans came under the ruler, there was a natural development into a monarchy.

From stories in the Vedic texts and in the Mahabharat, it is evident that clan-states and monarchies existed side-by-side. Broadly speaking, smaller states in remote hilly or forested regions were clan-states, while bigger states on the fertile plains were monarchies.

When referring to the clan-states before the period under review, the ancient grammarian Panini (500 BCE) uses the term ayudha-jivin or 'living by the profession of war' for the clans, which is a clear reference to only the ruling clans and not the whole population of the clan-state. The diverse population was represented in the governing councils, both in the villages and towns, but was dominated by the warrior class among them. Again Kautilya, the author of the famous Arthashastra, uses the term sastropajivin or 'living by bearing arms' for the clans.

The clans discussed in this post inhabited a broad belt of land stretching roughly across the modern Indian states of J&K, HP, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and MP. This entire region was earlier governed by the super-centralized Maurya Empire, which had centrally appointed town councils and centrally designated officials for certain administrative needs even of villages. The re-emergence of the clan-states after the fall of the Maurya Empire suggests that at the ground level Kshatriya clans continued with their own traditions and hierarchies even as they served in the Maurya army or paid tribute to Yavan invaders.

The case of the Maurya Empire itself is quite interesting. Its founder Chandragupta belonged to the Moriya clan of Pipphalivana, which lost its land to Magadha. Chandragupta started out as a rebel leading diverse groups against the ruler of Magadha, but gained enough of a name to be able to command the services of the warrior clans in Punjab. With this mixed army he conquered Magadha and became emperor. Members of the Maurya clan were recruited into his administration—serving most notably in the plateau region of Malwa. On the demise of the empire this region saw the emergence of a small clan-state ruled by this branch of the Maurya clan (the ancestors of the latter-day Mori Rajputs and More Marathas).

Independent clans

The list of clans, which maintained their independence during the foreign rule (except Madra and Uttambhadra), and which struck coins and recorded inscriptions as a sign of that independence, is as follows:

Madra (Jammu-Punjab)
Udumbara (Himachal Pradesh)
Kuluta (Himachal Pradesh)
Trigarta (Himachal-Punjab)
Kuninda (Himachal Pradesh)
Yaudheya (Punjab-Haryana-Rajasthan)
Rajanya (Rajasthan)
Uttambhadra (Rajasthan)
Arjunayan (Rajasthan)
Uddehika (Rajasthan)
Malav (Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh)
Bharasiva (Madhya Pradesh)

These clan-states formed a wall stretching south-west to north-east. Unfortunately the bricks of this wall were not joined together with cement——whenever a strong ruler rose among the foreigners, say like Menander or Kanishka, the wall was invariably breached. In these circumstances, each clan resisted as best as it could, or else joined the foreigners as vassals, or migrated to distant regions. They only waited for some weakness or divisions among the foreigners to re-assert their independence.

Each of these states suffered from the same deficiency as the foreign powers——none of them has left behind any written history[1]. So their accounts given above have been reconstructed from coins and inscriptions.

Indian clans stretching from Himachal to Rajasthan

Most of these clan-sates began striking coins in the fashion of the Indo-Greeks, whom they had overthrown. Coins were of course known and used since ancient times, but the Indo-Greeks began the practice of inscribing the ruler's name and image on them. The Indian states initially placed only the clan's name on their coins and only later were the ruler's name and title included, which suggests increasing power and development into a monarchy. These coins also reflect the prevailing religious sentiment in that part of India and in that period——mostly Shaiva icons and symbols are found on these coins. Some also have symbols of Buddhism and a few of Vaishnavism.

The Saka invaders can be divided into two segments——those that campaigned in the northwest and lost their independence to the Kushans, and the second set that remained semi-independent in Western India. The second set have recorded inscriptions at Junagadh and Nasik, which a rough outline of their military campaigns and the names of the Indian clans opposed to them (Malav and Yaudheya). They also record the names of vassals like the Uttambhadra and the Abhira. The latter served as generals to the Sakas and some of their descendants were attributed with mlechcha activity in Gujarat——for this reason they were regarded to be a foreign tribe but this point has been countered with other evidence.

The Kushans were responsible for crushing the Udumbara and Trigarta clans, and also for taming the Yaudheya and Kuninda clans. These achievements can be attributed to Kanishka (78-102 CE) whose coins and inscriptions are found all over North India. But the Yaudheya recovered their power after his death so that another major campaign had to be launched against them in the reign of Vasudeva (145-176 CE) the last prominent Kushan king. Subsequently vassals in Mathura declared independence, Haryana was lost to the Yaudheya and Kuninda alliance, the Malav and Bharasiva moved against the Sakas in Gujarat, while the Kushans were ultimately pushed back to their original home in Kabul, Bactria, and west Iran.

However the extent of these triumphs was limited to the neighborhood of each clan——no second Chandragupta arose to lead these clans in a war of expansion across India's boundaries. It was left to the Gupta Empire to unite the politically-fractured northwest under their rule.

Epilogue

This was not the end of the clan-system in Indian History. The vast region of Rajasthan, which had been a rugged base of resistance to the Saka-Kushan invaders, saw the emergence of new clan-states after the fall of the Gupta Empire. In the 7th century these clans (Pratihara, Chauhan, Solanki, Guhilot) formed a confederacy to defeat the Arab invaders.

These Rajput states had some similarities to the older clan-states——they too had a system of a ruling clan, to which the king belonged, hence the term used for them is 'clan-monarchies'. As in the past one clan dominated one state. And though these states were hereditary monarchies, the clan had a vote on who would be their next king (see the example of Rana Pratap's accession in Mewar State).

Now colonial historian, led by VA Smith, insisted that the Rajputs were (what else?) foreigners. While not providing any real evidence, they used negative arguments to state their case. First, the fact of foreign rule in the northwest was extended to their being ancestors of many Indian communities——otherwise, the colonials argued, where did these 'numerous tribes' go?

This ingenious question can be turned around——when the foreigners invaded where did the existing Indian population go? As has already been shown, the invasions were of states and not tribes, and even these tribes formed a minute proportion of the dense Indian population. Take the case of the Madra clan, which lost its lands and capital to the invaders, but re-emerged centuries later in exactly the same region. The foreigners that occupied their land were certainly eliminated.

The second argument is that Ancient Indian Literature describes the foreigners as 'degraded kshatriyas' or 'pure shudras', thus accommodating them in Indian society. Further, marriages took place between the foreigners and Indians so the former were 'certainly' absorbed into the latter. And lastly the foreign rulers became practicing Hindus as depicted on their coins.

Firstly the coins of the Kushans show diverse religious icons (including even Elamite, Greek, and Persian deities) reflecting the vast spread of their empire. Indian tradition makes the ruler respect all religions——so the foreigners respected the Indian religion but also continued their own religious traditions. Secondly marriages took place only among the royal families of foreigners and Indians (as they also did in later times), not among the general population. And lastly the designation of 'degraded kshatriyas' and 'pure shudras' was a temporary device——Indian Literature (down to the 19th century!) uses the terms Yavan and Saka only for foreign invaders.

In fact the only foreign tribe to be absorbed by Hindu society, for which there is evidence, were the Ahom in North-East India. And their account shows just why the Saka-Kushan could not have been absorbed as Indians:
· The Ahom preserved the titles of their nobles (Gohain, Baruah, Phukan, etc.) as surnames, which they use to this day.
· The Ahom continued using their traditional weapons and military tactics till centuries later.
· And they preserved their original language for almost five hundred years after they first settled in India.

None of these conditions are met by the foreign tribes vis-à-vis the Rajputs. Neither their foreign titles (Kshatrap), nor their military tactics (horse archery), and neither their language was seen in the Rajputs or in the other warrior communities of North India. In fact most Rajput clans in Rajasthan and Gujarat have an oral tradition that their ancestors fought against the brutal Saka invaders.

The colonial historians, and the leftists who followed them faithfully, rejected the Hindu texts like the Puranas and the Vamsavalis as myth or 'imaginative writings' when in fact their own works were the product of a wild imagination!

These Hindu texts are backed up by the discovery of coins, inscriptions, and archaeological remains. In the absence of any other counter-evidence it is safe to conclude that the Rajputs and allied communities were descended from the Indian warrior clans that resisted the Saka-Kushan invaders.
[1] The clan-states suffered too much from war and infighting to promote the arts or sciences. This shows how important political unity, military strength, and economic well-being are for cultural progress.