Indraprastha is referenced in the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit Indian text compiled over a period of 800 years from around 400BCE. Primarily a story, it does nonetheless describe events that may in fact have happened. The Mahabharata records Indraprastha as being home to the Pandavas, whose wars with the Kauravas it describes. The location of Indraprastha is uncertain but Purana Qila in present-day New Delhi is frequently cited and has been noted as such in texts as old as the 14th-century CE. Purana Qila is certainly an ancient settlement but archaeological studies performed at there since the 1950s[a] have failed to reveal structures and artefacts that would confirm the architectural grandeur and rich lives in the period that the Mahabharata describes. The historian Upinder Singh notes that despite academic debate, "Ultimately, there is no way of conclusively proving or disproving whether the Pandavas or Kauravas ever lived ...".
D. C. Sircar, an epigraphist, believes Indraprastha was a significant city in the Mauryan period, based on analysis of a stone carving found in the Delhi area at Srinivaspuri which records the reign of the Mauryan empreror Ashoka. Singh has cast doubt on this interpretation because the inscription does not actually refer to Indraprastha and although "... a place of importance must certainly have been located in the vicinity of the rock edit, exactly which one it was and what it was known as, is uncertain." Similarly, remains, such as an iron pillar, that have been associated with Ashoka are not indubitably so: their composition is atypical and the inscriptions are vague.
- Archaeological surveys were carried out in 1954-1955 and between 1969 and 1973.