Kuru kingdom (Mahabharata)

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The historical Kuru Kingdom features in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata.

Kuru Kingdom was sometimes spoken of composed of three geographical regions: Kuru-region (populated region); Kurujangala (sparingly populated with many forests); and Kurukshetra (a vast plain with minor bushlands).

Kurukshetra was a plain-land south of the Saraswati and north of the Drishadwati (3,83). Many battles during the epic-age were fought there. The encounter of Gandharva king and Kuru king Chitrangada (1,101), the encounter between Bhishma and Bhargava Rama (5,181), and the Kurukshetra War, occurred there. It was also known as Brahmakshetra, due to its religious significance (3,83).

Kurukshetra lies between Tarantuka and Arantuka and the lakes of Rama and Machakruka. It is also called Samantapanchaka and is the northern sacrificial altar of the Grandsire (3,83). (9,53)

Places named after Yaksha, Mankanaka and Vishnu were mentioned here. Other places include Pariplava, Prithivi, Shalukini, Sarpadevi (Naga-Tirtha), Tarantuka the gatekeeper, Panchananda, Koti, Aswina, Varaha, Sama (Jayanti), Ekahansa, Kritasaucha, Munjavata, Yakshini (the gate of Kurukshetra, created by Bhargava Rama), Rama-hrada (5 lakes called Samantapanchaka), Vansamulaka, Kayasodhana, Lokoddara, Kapila, Surya, Gobhavana, Shankhini, Devi-tirtha, Tarantuka (on Saraswati), Brahmavarta, Sutirtha (on river Amvumati), Kasiswara, Matri tirtha, Shitavana, Shwavillomapaha, Dasaswamedhika and Manusha. To the east of Manusha is the river Apaga. Beyond it are places like Brahmodumvara, Kedara (Kapila), Saraka, Rudrakoti, Ilaspada, Kindana, Kinjapya, Kalasi, Anajanma of Narada (east of Saraka), Pundarika, Tripishtapa, Vaitarani river, Phalakivana, Dhrishadwati, Sarvadeva, Panikhata, Misraka, Vyasavana, Manojava, Madhuvati (Devi Tirtha), the confluence of the Kausiki and the Drishadwati, Vyasasthali, Kindatta, Vedi, Ahas, Sudina, Mrigadhuma, Devi tirtha, Vamanaka, Kulampuna, Pavana-hrada, Amara-hrada, Sali surya, Sreekunja (on Saraswati), Naimishakunja (on Saraswati), Kanya, Brahma, Soma, Saptasaraswata, Ausanasa, Kapalamochana, Agni, Viswamitra, Brahmayoni, Prithudaka, Madhusrava, confluence of Saraswati and Aruna, Ardhakila, Satasahasraka, Sahasraka, Renuka, Vimochana, Panchavati, Taijasa (Varuna Tirta. Here Guha (Kartikeya) became the generalissimo of DEva army), Kuru-Tirta, Svargadwara, Anaraka, Swastipura, Pavana, Ganga-hrada, Kupa, Sthanuvata, Vadaripachana (Vasistha), Indramarga, Ekaratra, Aditya, Soma, Dadhicha, Kanyasrama, Sannihati (on Saraswati) and Koti-tirtha (of Yaksha Machakruka) (3,83).

King Pandu made the kingdom grow in prosperity (1,109). Kurukshetra was the place where king Kuru, the founder of the Kuru dynasty, lived as an ascetic (1,94). Kuru used this land for agriculture also (9,53). Nagas also lived there (1,3). Similarly Asuras viz Sunda and Upasunda also lived there (1,213). The general of Deva army, Guha (Kartikeya), is linked with Kurukshetra. (This could be one among the many places where the Devas vanquished the Asuras). Janamejaya performed a long sacrifice at Kurukshetra (1,3). Dhritarashtra spent his last days in the forests close to Kurukshetra (15,19). (See Also Kekeya Kingdom)

The portion of Saraswati River that flowed through Kurukshetra was known as Oghavati (9,38). Bhishma lay during his last days on the banks of the Oghavati (12,50). Oghavat was a king (grandfather of Nriga), whose daughter was named Oghavati and lived in Kurukshetra, with his fire-worshiping husband Sudarsana (13,2). Another king Oghavat is mentioned as an ally of King Salwa who took part in Kurukshetra War and was slain by Bhima (8,5). On the last day of the war Pandavas came to its banks, leaving their camp at Hiranwati river (9,62).

Duryodhana had a force which numbered eleven Akshauhinis bristling with banners. There was no space in the city of Hastinapura even for the principal leaders of Duryodhana’s army. For this reason the land of the five rivers (Punjab), and the whole of the region called Kurujangala (Delhi and eastern Hariyana), and the forest of Rohitaka (Rohtak district in Hariyana) which was uniformly wild, and Ahichatra and Kalakuta (both in Northern Panchala (i.e. Uttara-Panchala viz Uttarakhand), and the banks of the Ganges, and Varana, and Vatadhana, and the hill tracts on the border of the Yamuna—the whole of this extensive tract—full of abundant corn and wealth, was entirely overrun with the army of the Kauravas, to battle in the Kurukshetra War. (5,19).

King Yudhishthira encamped troops on a part of the field that was level, cool, and abounding with grass and fuel. They avoided cemeteries, temples and compounds consecrated to the deities, asylums of sages, shrines, and other sacred plots. Dhristadyumna and Satyaki measured the ground for encampment. The camp was constructed on the banks of Hiranwati which flows through Kurukshetra, whose bed was divested of pointed pebbles and mire (5,153).


Vardhamana was a small town at the northern gate of the Kuru capital Hastinapura. Pandavas on their exile to woods passed this town. They headed in a northerly direction to reach Pramana (Pramanakoti) at night (3,1).

Pramanakoti was a beautiful spot on the banks of Ganges, north of Hastinapura (1,128). Duryodhana built a palace here for disporting himself in the Ganges' waters. A huge banyan tree marked that place (3,12). Here Duryodhana poisoned Bhimas food, then bound him and threw him into the river. The Naga tribes living in the vicinity rescued Bhima (1,128) (8,83) (9,56). The Pandavas, in exile, ascended their cars, and setting out from Vardhamana reached the mighty banyan tree (3,1). From here the Pandavas set out for the forests of Kamyaka (3,3).

This place could be in Muzaffarnagar district, where the Ganges turns from an east to west direction to a north to south direction. A small village near this place called Nagal, upstream and on the other (east) side of the river could be the territory of the Nagas who rescued Bhima[citation needed]

Kamyaka Forest is situated at the western boundary of the kingdom (Kuru Proper + Kurujangala), on the banks of the Saraswati River. It lies to the west of the Kurukshetra plain. It contains within it a lake called Kamyaka lake (2,51). Pandavas spent their exile in Kamyaka and Dwaita forests.

Dwaita Forest is south of Kamyaka. Within it is Dwaita lake. Pandavas spent a considerable part of their exile in this forest. Bala Rama during his pilgrimage along Saraswati River visited the lake (9,37).

Varanavata was the ancient capital of the Kuru kings and their forefathers. It lies on the foothills of the Himalayas, like the capital of northern Panchala viz Ahichatra. This city could be a place called Shibpuri to the north-east of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. It was north of Hastinapura and Pramanakoti. Pandavas lived there for one year commanded by Dhritarashtra, which was like a banishment from Hastinapura (1-61,95). At that time a festival of Siva had commenced in the town of Varanavata (1,145). The concourse of people was great and the procession was the most delightful ever witnessed. Varanavata was a beautiful and populous town. Pandavas lived there in a house made of inflammable materials like lac. Duryodhana wanted to murder the Pandavas by setting that mansion ablaze. Pandavas escaped through an underground passage (1,150) that took them to the city outskirts. Emerging, they reached the northern banks of the Ganges. They crossed the river and moved south. Finally they reached a dense forest (1,152). They were then in the territory of Rakshasas. Here Bhima slew Rakshasa Hidimba (1,156) and begat Ghatotkacha with Rakshasas' sister. Bhima sported with her for one year in the regions of Guhyakas (southern Tibet) and ascetics, on the banks of Manasa-sarovara (a lake in southern Tibet) (1,157).

  • The Kuru army for Kurukshetra War camped at Varnavata (Varana) (5,19).
  • Pandavas asked for Varanavata, if Duryodhana is unwilling to give half the kingdom: "Give us even Kusasthala, Vrikasthala, Makandi, Varanavata, and for the fifth any other that Duryodhana liked" (5,31).
  • Yudhishthira wrote: "I prayed for only five villages, viz, Avishthala, Vrikasthala, Makandi, Varanavata, with any other as the fifth;--Grant us, we said, five villages or towns where we five may dwell in union" (5,72) (5,82).
  • Yuyutsu, fought in Varanavata with many kings together, and was for six months unvanquished. In another battle at Varanasi he overthrew with a broad-headed arrow the prince of Kasi, desirous of seizing a maiden to marry at a Swayamvara (self-choice ceremony) (7,10). Thus it is clear that Varanavata and Varanasi (capital of Kasi, Banaras) were two different towns, though sounds similar.
  • Vyasa met Pandavas at Varanavata (2,76).
  • Hanuman mistook Varanavata to be the capital of Kurus (3,150).

Vrikasthala province and town were situated in the southern part of Kuru Kingdom. After setting out from Upaplavya a city in the Matsya Kingdom, Vasudeva Krishna, on his journey to Hastinapura, passed through many villages with many bees, and many cities and minor provinces. He then reached a village called Salibhavana (Salaheri, on the Rajasthan-Hariyana border), which was filled with every kind of crop, a spot that was delicious and sacred. It was the southern-most populated village in the kingdom. It was protected by Bharatas. The citizens of Upaplavya followed Krishna to Salibhavana. Bidding them farewell Krishna reached the town of Vrikasthala (in Gurgaon district of Hariyana) by evening and camped there that night (5,84). Duryodhana erected many pavilions full of precious gems, on the road extending from Vrikasthala to Hasthinapura, to welcome Krishna (5,85). Next day Krishna took leave of the Bharatas and proceeded to Hastinapura. Citizens of Vrikasthala bid farewell to him. (5,89).

Makandi was central a province running along the banks of the Ganges, south of Hastinapura. The province extended to southern Panchala Kingdom, also with the same name. Kampilya, the capital city of Panchala, was situated in the Makandi province within the southern Panchala kingdom (1,140).