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The Rishikas (also Rshika and Ṛṣika) are a possibly mythical tribe of Central Asia and South Asia mentioned in Hindu and/or other Sanskrit texts, including the: Mahabharata, Ramayana, Brhat Samhita, and Markendeya Purana and the Mahabhasya of Patanjali. The Mahabharata divides them into Uttara Rishikas ("Northern Rishikas") and Parama Rishikas ("Supreme Rishikas"). The Rishikas are stated to have been neighbors to the Parama-Kambojas and the Lohas, in Transoxiana, which was considered to be part of Saka-dvipa ("Saka-land").
Possible historical identity
Modern scholars have forward two different theories about the historical identity of the Rishikas. Some hold that the Rishikas are synonymous with the Yuezhi of ancient Chinese sources, and/or the Asii mentioned by ancient Greek scholars.
A link to the Yuezhi may be inferred from scholars such as: P. C. Bagchi, who holds that the classical work Rajatrangini links the Tukharas (or Tusharas) to the Yuezhi.  and; Dr J. C. Vidyalankar believes that the Kushanas or Kanishkas are the Rishikas. Similarly, based on the syntactical construction of the Mahabharata verse 5.5.15, and verse 2.27.25, the Sanskrit scholar Ishwa Mishra believes that the Rishikas were a section of the Kambojas i.e. Parama Kambojas. Dr V. S. Aggarwala also relates the Parama Kambojas of the Trans-Pamirs to the Rishikas of Mahabharata  located in the Shakadvipa (or Scythia). According to Dr B. N. Puri, the Kambojas were a branch of the Tukharas. Based on the above Rishika-Kamboja connections, some scholars also claim that the Kambojas were a branch of the Yuezhi themselves. Dr Moti Chander also sees a close ethnic connections between the Kambojas and the Yuezhi.
The name of the Asii or Asioi mentioned by Strabo, according to one view, alludes to their connections with horses (asva or assa). Based on the earlier information from Indika of Megasthenes (350 BCE- 290 BCE), Pliny (23 AD–79 AD) also mentions Osii/Orsi, Asoi, Aseni, Taxillae, Peucolaitae etc. among the Indian races living in the upper Indus valley south of Hindukush. The Taxillae and Peucolaitae are obviously the Gandharans of the Indian traditions while the Asoi, Osii/Orsi and Aseni appear yet other variants of the Assaceni/Aspasioi and Assacani/Assakenoi (Asvayana and Asvakayana of Pāṇini and Katyayana). The Aspasios and Assakenois (q.v.) were important clans of the Kambojas exclusively engaged in horse culture. It is therefore, very likely that the Asioi/Asii or Asiani of Strabo may have been or part of the people of Parama-Kamboja (the bigger and the further branch of the Kambojas and Parama-Rishikas living in Scythia or Shaka-dvipa, across the Hindukush/Himalaya) in Transoxiana region. Thus, the Assakenoi and Aspasioi (the Asvakas) of Swat/Kunar valley appear to have been the earlier migrants from the Transoxian Parama Kambojas/Parama Rishikas.
Rishikas participated in the great war of Mahabharata, fighting for the Pandavas; therefore the Rishikas are not considered Mlechha or barbarians. later known as Khandesh (north-western Maharashtra). This settlement of the Rishikas is known as Southern Rishikas. The southern Rshikas are also attested as Saha.isikas, Saha.chaisika and Saha.vaisikyas in Puranic literature. The Prakrit form of Rishika is said to be Isika/Ishika, Esika/Eshika or Asika/Ashika (Dr Motichandra). The Prishakas of Al biruni, are stated to be same as the Rishikas. The Uttara Rishikas were the military allies as well as the cultural & geographical neighbors of the Parama Kambojas.
These northern Rishikas have been called Uttara Rishikas (i.e. Rishikan.uttaranapi) and Parama Rishikas and are shown to be very close neighbors of the northern division of the Kambojas i.e. the Parama-Kambojas and the Lohans.
According to the Mahabharata, the allied tribes of the Lohans, Parama-Kambojas, northern Rishikas and Parama Rishikas had fought a fierce war with the forces of Pandava Arjuna during latter's Digvijay expedition against the tribes of Uttarapatha or northern division.
The Kishikindha Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana also refers to these northern Rishikas  and locates them in Saka-dvipa, in the neighborhood of the Sakas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Bahlikas, Tanganas, Chinas, Parama-Chinas etc. of Central Asia.
The Saka invasion of India in 2nd century BCE was a joint military venture in which the allied tribes of the Shakas, the Pahlavas, Kambojas, Paradas, Rishikas, Bahlika people etc. seem to have participated. These tribes had spread into and occupied the parts of western and south-western India.
Thus, the Rishikas are attested in later literature as living in south-western/southern parts of India also.
Some verses in Karanaparava and Bhishmaparava of Mahabharata composed and edited around 400 AD refer to the Rishikas in the Dakshinapatha or southern India and show them as a Janapada located in close vicinity to the Vidarbhas and the Ashmakas.
Many scholars assume that the current version of the Valmiki Ramayana was a creation of 200 BCE to 200 CE, hence this reference to the southern Rishikas .
Likewise, Varāhamihira attests the Rishikas in Dakshinapatha "southern division" in the Brhat Samhita. The geographical location of the Rishikas is said to fall on river Krsnavena. Rishika country laid on south of Vindhya, north of Mulakas, northeast of Nasika, west of Vidharba and south of Anupa or Anupadesha.
Modern Khandesh is stated to have formed part of southern Rishika country.
- Shakanam Pahlavana.n cha Daradanam cha ye nripah |
- Kamboja Rishika ye cha pashchim.anupakash cha ye ||5.5.15||
- The kings of the Shakas, Pahlavas and the Daradas, and the Kamboja Rishikas live in the west in Anupadesa or sea coast regions.
The Daradas in the verse above appears to be a copyist's mistake since the Paradas, not the Daradas, are associated with the corporate military confederation of the Sakas, Kambojas and Pahlavas. (Pānca-ganah or five hordes of Kshatriyas in the Puranic texts, for instance).
Whatever may be the context, these verses probably reflect on the post-Current scenario when mass encroachment of interior India had occurred due to invasion of India by these foreign hordes.
On Kamboja Rishika Connection?
There are not many references in ancient literature on Rishika clan. But it looks like there is somehow, a connection between the ancient Rishikas and the ancient Kambojas. Some notable observations follow:
- The Sabhaparava of Mahabharata portrays the Lohas, Kambojas and the Rishikas as very close neighborly and allied tribes and places them all in Saka-dvipa in trans-Himalayan territory.
- Adiparva of Mahabharata collates the Kambojas and the Rishikas together and views them both as despised people. Chandravarma, the king of Kambojas is branded as an incarnation of Daitya Chandra and also the sage Rishika (from the Rishika tribe), likewise is branded as an incarnation of Danva Arka. One version of Mahabharata substitutes Chandravarma as Risika king in place of Kamboja. The Kambojas and Rishikas here are placed side-by-side in the same verse, thus implying them as possibly related or else closely connected together, geographically and culturally, at least.
- The Udyogaparava of Mahabharata  also connects the Kambojas and Rishikas together and treats them as if they are one people (Kambojarishika). Based on the wording of this verse of Mahabharata, Prof Ishwa Misra, a very outstanding Sanskrit scholar and notable contributor on Indiancivilization forum, identifies the Rishikas as a sub-section of the Kambojas themselves.
- As noted above, both the Brhat Samhita as well as Markendeya Purana locate one section of the Rishikas in Dakshinapatha (south/south-west India), on river Krsnavena, probably in Khandesh (Maharashtra). Interestingly, the same two texts also locate one section of the Kambojas and the Pahlavas in south-west India, in Anupadesha, which region borders on this south-western Rishika country. All these people are obviously sections of the invading hordes who had come and settled in India in the wake of 2nd century BCE Saka invasion of India.
- Some scholars say that the tribal name Rishika implies scholarly class of people as Matsya Purana and the Vayu Purana would like us to believe. Thus Rishikas had either sprung from Rishis i.e. the scholarly parentage or else they, themselves, were a scholarly people. This may compare well with the Kambojas who, in Dronaparava section of Mahabharata, are also portrayed as a scholarly people.
A firm ethnic connection between the ancient Rishikas and the Kambojas may not be easy to establish due to inadequacy of sufficient reliable references, but the limited evidence we have definitely points towards this connection and at least indicates that these two groups were culturally, militarily, politically and geographically connected. Therefore, it may be that the Rishikas were a geographically distant subgroup of the Parama-Kambojas.
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- However, the Rishikas are not mentioned in the Ashtadhyayi of Pāṇini.
- Lohan.ParamaKambojan.Rishikan.uttaranapi |
- sahita.nstanmaharaja vyajayatpakashasanih ||24||
- Rishikeshu tu sanggramo babhuvAtibhaya.n karah|
- taraka maya sankashah Paramarshika parthayoh ||25||
- India as Known to Pāṇini: A Study of the Cultural Material in the Ashtadhyayi, 1953, p 321, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala.
- Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Reprint (2002), Vol I, p. 64. Also see: pp. 51–54, 87, 95; Vol-2, P 2, James Tod; The Cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia, 1885, p 196, Edward Balfour; The racial history of India, 1944, p 814-15, Chandra Chakraberty – Ethnology; Literary History of Ancient India in Relation to Its Racial and Linguistic Affiliations, 1953, pp 148, 152, Chandra Chakraberty – Sanskrit literature.
- Rajatrangini, I, p 136 fn.
- India and Central Asia, p 24, Dr P. C. Bagchi.
- See quote in: Problems of Ancient India, 2000, p 4, K. D. Sethna.
- Shakanam Pahlavana.n cha Daradanam cha ye nripah |
- Kamboja Rishika ye cha pashchim.anupakash cha ye ||5.5.15||
- LohanParamaKambojanRishikanuttaran api ||v 2.27.25||
- See: The Deeds of Harsha: Being a Cultural Study of Bāṇa's Harshacharita, 1969, p 199, Dr Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala.
- India as Known to Pāṇini: A Study of the Cultural Material in the Ashṭādhyāyī, 1953, p 64, Dr Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala – India.
- Buddhism in Central Asia, p. 90.
- Journal of Tamil Studies, 1969, pp 86, 87, International Institute of Tamil Studies – Tamil philology; Also see: International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics: IJDL., 1984, p 348, University of Kerala Dept. of Linguistics – Dravidian languages; India and Central Asia, 1955, p 31-32, Prof P. C. Bagchi.
- Geographical and Economic Studies in the Mahābhārata: Upāyana Parva, 1945, p 19, Dr Moti Chandra – India.
- See: List of Indian Races, p 129 of Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and Arrian, 1877,, a tr. of the fragments of the Indika of Megasthenes collected by Schwanbeck and of the 1st part of the Indika of Arrian, by J.W. McCrindle. With intr., notes. Repr., with additions, from the 'Indian antiquary', . Megasthenes, Flavius Arrianus, Translated by John Watson McCrindle.
- Pliny's Natural History, 1848, p 126, Philemon Holland, Wernerian Club, Wernerian Club. Pliny only borrowed the information earlier prepared by Megasthenese, who is believed to have been a Greek ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya after the Chandragupta Maurya had won war against Seleucid in about 302 BCE.
- Mahabharata 2.27.25.
- Rishika.putra.rishikastu.. 145.86; See also: Vayu Purana 59.84–94; Geographical Data in Early Puranas, p 31).
- LOHAAN.PARAMA KAMBOJAAN.RSIKAAN.UTTARAN.api./
- taarakaa.maya.samkaazah.PARAMA RSIKA.paarthayoh.//
- (Mahabharata, Critical Editions 2.25.24)
- Mahabharata 2.27.27.
- The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India, Volume 4: Kiskindhakanda, 151, Rosalind Lefeber; Ethnic Settlements in Ancient India: (a Study on the Puranic Lists of the Peoples of Bharatavarsa), 1955, p 71, Dr Sashi Bhusan Chaudhuri.
- Mahabharata 6.10.63.
- Op cit., R. Lefeber, p 145.
- Markendeya Purana Chapter 58.20–28.
- Brhat Samhita Ch XIV.11–16.
- Brhat Samhita XIV.17–19.
- Markendeya Purana 58.30–32.
- Geographical data in Early Puranas, p 135. See also: Migration of Kambojas#The Kambojas in West.2FSouthwest India.
- cf: Ethnic Settlements in Ancient India: (a Study on the Puranic Lists of the Peoples of Bharatavarsa), 1955, p 71, Dr Sashi Bhusan Chaudhuri.
- Harivamsa 14.1–19; Vayu Purana: v 88.127-43.
- Cultural History from Vayu Purana, 1973, p 27, fn 185, Reprint of 1946 Edition, published by Deccan College Post Graduate Research Institute, Poona; Foreign Elements in Ancient Indian Society, 2nd Century BC to 7th Century AD – 1979, p 125, Uma Prasad Thapliyal.
- MBH II.27.25
- MBH 1/67/31-32.
- Mahabharata 5.5.15, see the verse above.
- IndianCivilization : Studies of Civilization of Bha_rata
- ye tvete rathino rajandrishyante kanchanadhvajah.|
- ete durvarana nama Kamboja yadi te shrutah.||43||
- shurashcha kritavidyashcha dhanurvede cha nishthitah.|
- sa.nhatashcha bhrisha.n hyete anyonyasya hitaishinah.||44||
- akshauhinyashcha sa.nrabdha dhartarahhtrasya bharata.|
- — (MBH 7.112.43–44)
- English Trans:
Books and Magazines
- Mahabharata, Tans: Kisari Mohan Ganguli.
- Matsya Purana
- Vayu Purana
- Brhat Samhita of Varaha Mihira
- Markendeya Purana
- Mahabhasya of Patanjali
- India as Known to Pāṇini, Dr V. S. Aggarwala
- Geographical Data in Early Puranas 1972, Dr M. R. Singh
- Ancient Kamboja, People and Country, 1981, Dr J. L. Kamboj.
- The Mahabharata, Volume 2 : Book 2; Book 3: 1981, J. A. B. Van Buitenen
- The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India, Volume 4 Kiskindhakanda 1994, Rosalind Lefeber.
- Ethnic Settlements in Ancient India: (a Study on the Puranic Lists of the Peoples of Bharatavarsa), 1955, p 71, Dr Sashi Bhusan Chaudhuri