Rajput Culture and History: The distortions, the conspiracies, and the truth – Part 7 (  Who was King Porus?)

Acknowledgements: The author is indebted to Yogendra Singhji for the insightful notes, he shared with him, dealing with the historicity of King Porus, and his clan.

In this article, we intend to present some little known facts bearing upon King Porus, his lineage, the nature of his engagement with the Greeks, and the relation his clan had with the ‘Trigartas’.

# Do Mahabharat and the Greek accounts speak of the same Paurava?

[1]: Chroniclers of Alexander in their accounts of his Indian campaign agree that a king by name Poros was the ruler of all the land enclosed by rivers Hydespas (Jhelum) and Akesines (Chenab), starting from their upper courses to the place where the two rivers merge to form a single flood. Their accounts make it abundantly clear that of all the Indian rulers whose territory the Greek king invaded, Poros was not only the most belligerent but the only one who refused to accept the offer of truce on terms of submission and challenged Alexander for a fight.

[2]: Yet, we obtain no clear references as regards his family or dynasty from the Greek writings. It is a shame to note that from the Indian historical lore this hero has since long vanished. The man has had a rather tragicomic fate, if you will – At once a great hero whose name remained preserved through all vicissitude in the annals of his foreign foe, and in the records of the nations with which he had no acquaintance, whereas his own compatriots have failed to treasure his heroic memory.

[3]: It is generally agreed upon that the Hellenized name Poros/Porus corresponds to the Sanskrit nominative ‘Paurava, which must have been pronounced in its Prakrit form as ‘Porova’ or ‘Poro-o’. The name ‘Paurava’ appears to have been derived either from a territory/country/region or a family/clan/dynasty. Now, we know that there is no place by that name, but the Puru clan of Kshatriyas which descended from the youngest son of Emperor Yayati is renowned in history.

[4]: In Mahabharata, “Paurava” is an ancient clan name which however doesn’t feature as frequently as the name of those other clans that in turn descended from it such as the Kuru/Kauravas, Panchalas, or Bharatas. The Greek historians tell us that Poros was a substantial king who could field 200 war elephants, 300 war chariots, 4000 horse men, and 30,000 infantry men on the battlefield at a short notice. He had designs on the powerful kingdom of Taxila, contesting with which was no mean task.

[5]: In Mahabharata, 5.4.14 [ see the translation by Johannes A. B. van Buitenen], the chief of Panchalas, the father-in-law of Pandavas, King Dhrupadha encourages King Yuddhistra to seek alliances with various kings, thereupon he mentions ‘Paurava’ as a ‘Maharatha’, and if we judge by the geographical context, this king is placed in the vicinity of Parvatiyas, Panjab (Pancanada nrpah), western Anupakas, Daradas, Pahlavas, Sakas, and Bahlikas. These tribes cover the regions of Punjab, foothills of Kashmir, Bactria, Persia, and the coastal areas of Indus basin. Moreover, this ‘Paurava’ must be the same king who was defeated by Arjuna on his conquest of the North. [ Mahabharat, 2.24.13 …]: –“Abhyagacchat Pauravam vijitya cahave suran parvatiyan……dhvajinya puram pauravaraksitam…[14]. The Parvatiyas mentioned herein clearly belong to the hills leading up to Kashmir (the Greeks records also concur with this observation.), as also indicated by the following verses [15-16]: Pauravam tu vijitya dasyun parvatavasinah…..tatah kasmirakan viran…vyajayat. Further, in 6.111 -112, Paurava and Dhrstaketu are engaged in an evenly matched fight in which both heroes lose their chariots, eventually Paurava’s son Jayatsena lifts him on his chariot and the duel remains undecided. In 6.57.20, it is reported that Paurava’s heir ‘Damana’ has been killed.

[6]: Now Arrian reports that Poros was allied with a certain king Abisares by name, a king of high land tribes of Rajauri and Bhimber of Kashmir. And in the context of ‘Digvijay’ of Arjuna, it is mentioned that he also subdued the king of Abhisara in close vicinity of the Paurava. To sum up, the evidence from the second and the fifth books of the Mahabharat clearly indicates that the composers of the epic were fully aware of the Purus/Pauravas and their kingdom located in upper approaches of the north-eastern Punjab in close vicinity of Abhisaras, but clearly the two kingdoms were independent as they were subjugated one after another in succession by Arjuna. The Mahabharat treats ‘Paurava’ at once as a single individual and a titular head of a ruling clan with a certain fixed background. This in my opinion, is a clear evidence to establish that the ‘Pauravas’ of the Mahabharat, is same as the ‘Paurava/Poros’ of the Greeks, Paurava being the eponym for every titular head of the clan.

# Who won at Hydespas? Alexander or Poros?

In the recent years, a new narrative has come up, according to which it was Porus who won at Hydespas. While it is not my intention to produce a detailed critique of this narrative here, let me however point out a couple of observations in the passing that seriously undercut this narrative.

[1]: The Greek chroniclers note that Alexander stayed in the country of Poros for considerable time after the battle to plan and prepare for further conquest in the territories east of Chenab. And when he did embark on this project, his supply lines passed right across the country of Porus. Such being the case, it is very unlikely that Porus would have been the winner of the contest, for a winner would never host and support further expedition of a vanquished enemy.

[2]: Arrian records that after the battle at Hydespas, king Abisares sent a second embassy to Alexander offering his submission and assistance in further conquest. The first embassy was sent by him at the occasion of surrender of Taxila by king Ambhi. In the intervening period, between the surrender of Taxila and defeat of Poros at Hydespas, the king of Kashmir remained a hesitating ally of Puru. If Alexander had lost at Hydespas, there is no way Abisares would have sent him an embassy with lavish gifts and presents including an elephant corp.

[3]: Arrian records that after the battle, Alexander had brought about a truce between the arch rivals Poros and Ambhi of Taxila. This was executed by the contrivance of a matrimonial alliance between the two royal families. This is only possible in the event of a Greek victory. Porus and Ambhi being both vassals had no option but to comply with the wishes of their master. On the contrary, if Alexander had lost the battle, Porus would have certainly invaded Taxila along with his ally Abisares and might have forced even Alexander to join in the pursuit. Thus, the balance of argument slants in favor of a Macedonian victory at Hydespas.

[4]: It is often claimed that after the encounter at Hydespas, the territorial influence of king Porus expanded. But, this is only a half-baked truth. His territories expanded towards the east and south of Akesines, and not towards the west of Hydespas which must be expected in the event of a Greek defeat at Hydespas.

[5]: We have a detailed account of Greek exploits after their encounter with Porus. Not only did they march eastward after crossing Akesines, and later southwards from Beas, fighting battles and conquering every nation they came at, but also all along constructing ports, altars, laying the foundations of new cities and strengthening existing garrison towns, and appointing satrapies after every conquest, from Bhimber to Sindh. They appeared to have been consolidating their new conquests. A vanquished and despoiled army doesn’t conduct itself in this fashion. 

# The curious case of a second Poros   

Arrian records that after Alexander had crossed over to the eastern bank of Akesines, he had to contend with the ruler of that territory who had refused to accept the offer of truce on terms of submission. The name of the ruler strikingly was also Poros, the Greek chroniclers have called him second Poros, and a nephew of senior Porus in their accounts.

Arrian reports that this king retreated to the neighboring hilly regions of his country after the news of Alexander’s crossing of Chenab had reached him. A few skirmishes and resistance followed for some time, during which the Greeks conquered many important towns and villages of that country. Eventually, the king accepted truce on terms of submission, and his territories were added to that of senior king Porus. The Greeks tell us that this nation was inhabited by the warriors called ‘Glausai or Glaukanikoi’. V.de Saint Martin has identified these tribesmen with ‘Kalaka’ of the Varah Samhita, and the ‘Kalaja’ of Mahabharata, and ‘Kalacha’ of the later Rajput chronicles.

# Connection between Pauravas and Trigartas

The Mahabharat describes the exploits of Prince Arjuna during his ‘Digvijay’ campaign in the glowing terms –

“In the midst of all of them the glorious bull of men marched upon King Visvagasva Paurava; and after vanquishing the warlike and heroic mountaineers he conquered with his bannered army the city ruled by the Paurava. After Paurava’s defeat the Pandava subjugated the seven Utsavasamketa tribes of Dasyus who live in the mountains. Later the bull of the barons vanquished the Kashmirian barons and Lohita with ten encircling armies, as well as the Trigartas, the Darvas, the Kokanadas, and many other barons who together attacked him, king. The scion of Kuru went on to conquer the lovely town of Abhisari and to defeat in battle Rocamana of Urasa.”

[1]: Here, the composers have made a clear distinction between the Pauravas and the Trigartas. That these two were independent kingdoms, situated in close vicinity of the kingdom of Abhisara around the time of the great war, there could be no doubt. But, the point that must not be lost on us is that ‘Trigarta’ is merely a territorial nominative and is not synonymous with any clan/dynasty/family.

[2]: Let us now venture to understand if there exits a relationship between the Pauravas and the Trigartas. We know that at the time of the great war, the titular head of the Trigartas was King Susharaman, whereas Pauravas were represented by King Visvagasva Paurava, and both these kings had chosen to fight on the side of the Kauravas.

[3]: As has already been pointed out, Trigarta is merely a territorial nominative, and doesn’t essentially represent a lineage. A native of the Trigarta country i.e. the modern ‘Kangra valley’ would be called a ‘Trigarta’. And a king of the Trigarta people, in possession of that territory, would be naturally decorated with the territorial appellation, much like the Greek territorial titles for other Indian kings such as Taxiles, and Abisares. This however doesn’t give us any insight into the lineage of the king Susharaman. Let us now find out what the epic tells us about this royal family.

[4]: In every record that is available today including Mahabharat, king Susharaman has been spoken of as a king belonging to the lunar dynasty =[Chandravamsi]. Now about the lunar dynasty, we know that Emperoror Yayati had five sons – Yadu, Turvasu, Anu, Druhyu, and Puru. And all the later Chandravamsi families descended from these five sons from whom the five great tribes =[Pancajanya] originated. The Rig Veda tells us that the Purus were originally housed in a country enclosed by the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The Yadus and Turvasus were originally present in ‘Madhyadesa’, whereas the Anus and Druhyus were present in regions of the north and northwest, of these two the farthest regions in the north-west were occupied by the Druhyus. Gradually, the Anus pushed the Druhyus further away from their home around river Oxus, as former expanded in the northwesterly direction. In due course of time, the Puru-bharatas also expanded in the northwesterly direction from their seat of power, and this brought them into conflict with the Anus. This conflict was ultimately decided by the ‘Dasaranjaya war’ wherein the Puru-bharatas summarily defeated the Anus and took control of the ‘Sapta-Sidhu’ as well as all the territory east and north of river Saraswathi. Pushed back farther northwest, the Anus continued to stay in the regions of Kambhoja, Gandhara, Bahlikas, before they eventually moved out of the pale of Aryavarta towards the close of late Vedic period to lay the foundations of the Avestan culture.

[5]: Since the first entry in the Trigarta genealogy table corresponds to a much later date than the Dasaranjaya war, it is clear that they could not have descended from the Druhyus or the Anus. Yadus and Turvasus also don’t fit the bill, for they ventured into northern regions much later – From Rajtarangini, we know that the relatives of ‘Jarasandha’, the King of Magadha, of the Haihaya subclan of the Yadus gained Kashmir approximately sometime close to the date of the great war or after it. These kings therefore couldn’t be associated with the Trigartas because there are about 200 kings in the genealogy table that ruled before Susharaman. Mahabharat tells us that after the city of Dwarka had been inundated by a massive flood, Arjuna settled the war widows along with the remnants of Yadus near Kurukshetra. But, even this event is of a later antiquity and will have no bearing on the issue at hand. With Yadus, Turvasus, Anus, and Druhyus out of reckoning, the only line of lunar dynasty to which the ‘Trigartas’ can belong must be that of the Purus -Bharatas. This line of reasoning gains more weight from the fact that we find other coterminous derivatives of the Purus such as Kurus, Panchalas, and other Bharata clans occupying the northern approaches of the Sapta-Sindhu region. The presence of a Paurava king in close proximity also adds more strength to the argument.

[6]: From the foregoing discussion, it follows that the Trigartas were perhaps of the same lunar family as the Pauravas. Further, Mahabharat tells us that king Susharaman was a brother-in-law of King Duryodhana. His sister was given in marriage to the Kuru family. This marriage, which took place after Arjuna succeeded in winning the hand of the princess of Panchala, and therefore also the friendship of the mighty Panchalas, makes a lot of political sense. As the Pandavas found a friend and an ally in King Dhrupadha, King Duryodhana countermanded this move by establishing a similar matrimonial alliance with the Trigartas, whose territory lay further north from the Panchala country.

[7]: The country mentioned by the Greeks under King Porus was at the time of Mahabharata hosted two independent kingdoms with their respective capitals at Kangra and Jallandhar; the Trigarta genealogy table mentions the name of Susharaman as the adversary of Arjuna, but the same table tells us that it was ‘Paramanda Chandra’ aka Poros who fought Alexander in 326 BCE at the bank of Hydespas. How are we going to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory observations? We know that Panini who lived sometime between (6th and 4th   century BCE), according to orthodox chronology, styled Trigartas as a “Ayudhajivi Samgha”, a republic that lived by the profession of arms. Between Mahabharat, and the times of Panini it appears that the two monarchies faded away to form a single republic which was famously known by the territorial appellation, ‘Trigarta’. However, it appears that the exigencies and the revolutions of time led to significant political changes in the era following the times of Panini, and once again a monarchical state led by the old Purus/Pauravas rose to supplant the erstwhile republic. At any rate, the Greek accounts make it amply clear that the people in the Trigarta country were not free but led by a king who had descended from a long line of warrior kings. The fact that the Greeks don’t mention the name ‘Trigarta’ anywhere in their accounts although they certainly were acquainted with that country adds more muscle to the argument that the words, ‘Paurava’ and ‘Trigarta’, could be interchangeably used for both referred to same nation and people. This conclusion easily reconciles the presence of seemingly conflicting (due to difference in clans) names – Susharaman and Porus in the genealogy table of the Katoch Rajputs.

[8]: From the traditional historical lore of the Trigartas, we know that these people had three capitals i.e. Jallandhar, Kangra, and Multan. But, the Greek accounts tell us that they were in possession of only the first two in 326 BCE. It is possible that they lost Multan to some other adversary before the arrival of the Greeks, or it could be that it was added to the realm of Porus only when the Greeks conquered it from another warring tribe later in their campaign. Arrian explicitly tells us that a southward joint expedition of Porus and Abisares had earlier failed, which gives us sufficient ground to surmise that it could have been launched to recover Multan which had been a Trigarta principality.