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Kuru Kingdom

Kuru Kingdom
Sanskrit: कुरु

c. 1200 BC–c. 800 BC

Kuru and other Vedic kingdoms
Capital Āsandīvat, later Indraprastha (modern Delhi) and Hastinapura
Languages Vedic Sanskrit
Religion Hinduism
Government Monarchy
Historical era Iron Age
 -  Established c. 1200 BC
 -  Disestablished c. 800 BC
Today part of  India

Kuru (Sanskrit: कुरु) was the name of a Vedic Aryan tribal union in northern[note 1] Iron Age India, which appeared in the Middle Vedic period[2] (c. 1200 – c. 850 BCE) and developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asia around 1000 BCE,[3][note 2] corresponding archaeologically to the Painted Grey Ware culture.[4] It decisively changed the Vedic heritage of the early Vedic period, arranging the Vedic hymns into collections, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the orthodox srauta rituals,[3] which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis"[4] or "Hindu synthesis".[5]

It became the dominant political and cultural center of the middle Vedic Period during the reigns of Parikshit and Janamejaya,[3] but it declined in importance during the Late Vedic period (ca.850-500 BCE), and had become "something of a backwater"[4] by the Mahajanapada period in the 5th century BCE. However, traditions and legends about the Kurus continued into the post-Vedic period, providing the basis for the Mahabharata epic.[3]


  • History 1
  • Society 2
  • In epic literature 3
  • Kuru family tree 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9


Modern replica of utensils and falcon shaped altar used for Agnicayana, an elaborate srauta ritual from the Kuru period.

The Kurus figure prominently in the later Rigveda. The Kurus here appear as a branch of the early Indo-Aryans, ruling the Ganga-Jamuna Doab and modern Haryana (earlier Eastern Punjab). The focus in the later Vedic period shifted out of Punjab, into the Doab, and thus to the Kuru clan.[6] The increasing number and size of Painted Grey Ware (PGW) settlements in the Doab area shows this. These developments resulted in the substantial enlargement of certain settlements such as Hastinapur and Kaushambi towards the end of the Later Vedic period. These settlements slowly began to acquire characteristics of towns.

The Kuru tribe was formed, in the Middle Vedic period,[3] as a result of the alliance and merger between the Bharata and Puru tribes.[7] With their center of power in the Kurukshetra region, the Kurus formed the first political center of the Vedic period, and were dominant roughly from 1200 to 800 BCE. The first Kuru capital was at Āsandīvat,[3] identified with modern Assandh in Haryana.[8][9] Later literature refers to Indraprastha (modern Delhi) and Hastinapura as the main Kuru cities.[3]

The Atharvaveda (XX.127) praises Parikshit, the "King of the Kurus", as the great ruler of a thriving, prosperous realm. Other late Vedic texts, such as the Shatapatha Brahmana, commemorate Parikshit's son Janamejaya as a great conqueror who performed the ashvamedha (horse-sacrifice).[10] These two Kuru kings played a decisive role in the consolidation of the Kuru state and the development of the srauta rituals, and they also appear as important figures in later legends and traditions (e.g. in the Mahabharata).[3]

The Kurus declined after being defeated by the non-Vedic Salva tribe, and the center of Vedic culture shifted east, into the Panchala realm, in Uttar Pradesh.[3] In the later Vedic period, the capital of the Kurus was transferred to Kaushambi, in the lower Doab, after Hastinapur was destroyed by floods[1] as well as because of upheavals in the Kuru family itself.[11][12] In the late Vedic period (by the 6th century BC), the Kuru dynasty evolved into Kuru and Vatsa janapadas, ruling over Upper Doab/Delhi/Haryana and lower Doab, respectively. The Vatsa branch of the Kuru dynasty further divided into branches at Kaushambi and at Mathura.[13]


Modern performance of Agnicayana, an elaborate srauta ritual from the Kuru period

The tribes that consolidated into the Kuru kingdom were largely semi-nomadic, pastoral tribes. However, as settlement shifted into the western Ganges Plain, settled farming of rice and barley became more important. Vedic literature of this time period indicates the growth of surplus production and the emergence of specialized artisans and craftsmen. Iron was first mentioned as śyāma ayas (literally "black metal") in the Atharvaveda, a text of this era. Another important development was the varna system which divided society into four classes. The Brahmin priesthood and Kshatriya aristocracy dominated the common Vaishyas and the lowly non-Aryan Shudras.[3]

Kuru kings ruled with the assistance of a rudimentary administration, including purohita (priest), village headman, army chief, food distributor, emissary, herald and spies. They extracted mandatory tribute (bali) from their population of commoners as well as from weaker neighboring tribes. They led frequent raids and conquests against their neighbors, especially to the east and south. To aid in governing, the kings and their Brahmin priests arranged Vedic hymns into collections and developed a new set of rituals (the now orthodox Srauta rituals) to uphold social order and strengthen the class hierarchy. High-ranked nobles could perform very elaborate sacrifices, and many rituals primarily exalted the status of the king over his people. The ashvamedha or horse sacrifice was a way for a powerful king to assert his domination in northern India.[3]

In epic literature

The later Kuru state in the Mahajanapada period, c. 600 BCE

The epic poem, the Mahabharata, tells of a conflict between two branches of the reigning Kuru clan. Some historians believe it may have been based on a small-scale conflict (possibly about 1000 BCE) which was eventually "transformed into a gigantic epic war by bards and poets." However, archaeology has not furnished conclusive proof as to whether the specific events described have any historical basis. The existing text of the Mahabharata went through many layers of development and mostly belongs to the period between c. 400 BCE and 400 CE.[14] Within the frame story of the Mahabharata, the historical kings Parikshit and Janamejaya are featured significantly as scions of the Kuru clan.[3]

Kuru family tree

This shows the line of royal and family succession, not necessarily the parentage, according to the Mahabharata. See the notes below for detail.

(98 sons)

Key to Symbols


The birth order of siblings is correctly shown in the family tree (from left to right), except for Vyasa and Bhishma whose birth order is not described, and Vichitravirya who was born after them. The fact that Ambika and Ambalika are sisters is not shown in the family tree. The birth of Duryodhana took place after the birth of Karna, Yudhishtira and Bhima, but before the birth of the remaining Pandava brothers.

Some siblings of the characters shown here have been left out for clarity; these include Chitrāngada, the eldest brother of Vichitravirya. Vidura, half-brother to Dhritarashtra and Pandu.

See also


  1. ^ The Kuru-realm was based in the area of modern Haryana, Delhi and western parts of Uttar Pradesh (the region of Doab, till Prayag/Kaushambi) in northern India.[1]
  2. ^ also in B. Kölver (ed.)(1997), Recht, Staat und Verwaltung im klassischen Indien. The state, the Law, and Administration in Classical India, München, R. Oldenbourg, p.27-52


  1. ^ a b Pletcher2010, p. 63.
  2. ^ Witzel 1995, p. 6.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Witzel 1995.
  4. ^ a b c Samuel 2010.
  5. ^ Hiltebeitel 2002.
  6. ^ The Ganges In Myth And History
  7. ^ National Council of Educational Research and Training, History Text Book, Part 1, India
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Raychaudhuri, H. C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India: From the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty, Calcutta:University of Calcutta, pp.11-46
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Political History of Uttar Pradesh; Govt of Uttar Pradesh, official website.
  14. ^ Singh, U. (2009), A History of Ancient and Mediaeval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Delhi: Longman, p. 18-21, ISBN 978-81-317-1677-9


  • Hiltebeitel, Alf (2002), Hinduism. In: Joseph Kitagawa, "The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture", Routledge 
  • Pletcher, Kenneth (2010), The History of India, The Rosen Publishing Group 
  • Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press 
  • Witzel, Michael (1995), "Early Sanskritization: Origin and Development of the Kuru state", EJVS vol. 1 no. 4 (1995) 

External links

  • Kuru Kingdom
  • Mahabharata of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, translated to English by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  • The Kuru race in Sri Lanka - Web site of Kshatriya Maha Sabha
  • Coins of Kuru janapada
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