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The Rishikas (also Rshika and Ṛṣika) are a possibly-mythical tribe of Central Asia and South Asia, who are mentioned in Hindu and Sanskrit literary texts, including the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Brhat-Samhita, the Markendeya Purana and Patanjali's Mahabhasya.[1]

Some historians believe the Rishikas were a part of, or synonymous with, the Kambojas. However, there are other theories regarding their origins.

Classical literary texts state that the Rishikas were neighbors of the Parama Kambojas and the Lohas in Saka-dvipa ("Sakaland") (most likely Transoxiana).

According to traditional accounts, during the 2nd century BCE a subgroup of Rishikas migrated to southwesterm India and settled there, crossing Afghanistan, Balochistan, Sindhu and Sovira. According to the Mahabharata, there two sub-tribal were divisions within the Rishikas: Uttara ("northern") and Parama ("supreme") .[2]

Theories regarding historical identity[edit]

Kamboja–Rishika connection[edit]

Sanskrit scholar Ishwa Mishra believes that the Rishikas were synonymous with the Parama Kambojas. V. S. Aggarwala also relates the Parama Kambojas of the trans-Pamirs to the Rishikas of the Mahabharata[3] located in the Shakdvipa.[4] According to B. N. Puri, the Kambojas were a branch of the Tukharas.[5] Based on Rishika-Kamboja connections, some scholars believe that the Kambojas were a branch of the Yuezhi.[6] Moti Chander also sees a close ethnic connection between the Kambojas and the Yuezhi.[7]

The Sabhaparava of the Mahabharata describes the Lohas, Kambojas and Rishikas as neighboring tribes west of the Himalayas.[8] The Adiparva of the Mahabharata compares the Kambojas and the Rishikas, describing them both as "despised" people. The Kambojan king Chandravarma is described as an incarnation of Daitya Chandra and the sage, Rishika ("from the Rishika tribe"), is described as an incarnation of Danva Arka.[vague]

In one version of the Mahabharata Chandravarma is a Rishikan, rather than a Kambojan, king. The Kambojas and Rishikas appear side-by-side in a verse.[9] In the Udyogaparava of the Mahabharata,[10] the Kambojas and Rishikas are described as one people (Kambojarishika).

A scholarly class of people is implied, according to some authorities, by the name "Rishika" in the Matsya and Vayu Puranas. The Kambojas, in the Dronaparava section of the Mahabharata, are also described as a scholarly people:[11]

Other theories[edit]

Some scholars have proposed that the Rishikas are the Yuezhi of ancient Chinese sources,[12] or the Asii cited by the ancient Greeks.[13] J. C. Vidyalankar believes that the Kushans (or Kanishkas) are the Rishikas.[14] Based on the syntactical construction of Mahabharata verses 5.5.15[15] and 2.27.25,[16]

The name "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 Megasthenes' (350-290 BC) Indica, Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) mentions Osii (Orsi), Asoi, Aseni, Taxillae and Peucolaitae as Indian peoples living in the upper Indus valley south of the Hindu Kush.[17][18] The Taxillae and Peucolaitae are Gandharans of the Indian traditions while the Asoi, Osii/Orsi and Aseni appear yet other variants of the Assaceni (Aspasioi) and Assacani (Assakenoi)—the Asvayana and Asvakayana of Pāṇini and Katyayana). The Aspasios and Assakenois were notable Kamboja groups engaged in horse culture.

Ancient Indian literary references[edit]

Mahabharata and Ramayana[edit]

The Rishikas fought in the war described in the Mahabharata.[19] The allied Lohan, Parama-Kamboja, northern and Parama Rishika tribes fought with the Pandava Arjuna during their Digvijay expedition against the tribes of Uttarapatha.[20] The Kishikindha Kanda of the Ramayana also refers to northern Rishikas.[21]

Matsya Purana[edit]

According to Matsya Purana the Rishikas were descendants of the Rishis, or inspired poets.[22]

Rishikas in southwestern India[edit]

Verses in Karanaparava and Bhishmaparava of the Mahabharata dating to about 400 AD refer to Rishikas in Dakshinapatha as a Janapada near Mahajanapada.[23] The Kishikindha Kanda of Valmiki's Ramayana refers to this second branch of the Rishikas, placing them in Dakshinapatha near the Vidarbhas.[24] The Markandeya Purana[25] also attests to the Rishikas of the Dakshinapatha.

Varāhamihira identifies Rishikas in Dakshinapatha in the Brhat Samhita.[26] Brhat Samhita[27] and Markendeya Purana[28] identify Kamboja and Pahlava settlements in southwestern India.[29]

Evidence from Udyogaparava of the Mahabharata associates the Rishikas with the Kambojas, Shakas and Pahlavas near the Anupa region (Anupadesha):[30]

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, Daradas and the Kamboja Rishikas live in the west in Anupadesa, or the seacoast regions."

The Daradas in the verse above appear to be a copyist's mistake, since the Paradas, not the Daradas, are associated with the military confederation of the Sakas, Kambojas and Pahlavas (Pānca-ganah or "five hordes" of Kshatriyas in the Puranic texts, for instance).[31][32]


  1. ^ However, the Rishikas are not mentioned in the Ashtadhyayi of Pāṇini.
  2. ^
    Lohan.ParamaKambojan.Rishikan.uttaranapi |
    sahita.nstanmaharaja vyajayatpakashasanih ||24||
    Rishikeshu tu sanggramo babhuvAtibhaya.n karah|
    taraka maya sankashah Paramarshika parthayoh ||25||
    {Mahabharata, Critical Edition, 2.25.24–25.
  3. ^ See: The Deeds of Harsha: Being a Cultural Study of Bāṇa's Harshacharita, 1969, p 199, Dr Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala.
  4. ^ India as Known to Pāṇini: A Study of the Cultural Material in the Ashṭādhyāyī, 1953, p 64, Dr Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala – India.
  5. ^ Buddhism in Central Asia, p. 90.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Geographical and Economic Studies in the Mahābhārata: Upāyana Parva, 1945, p 19, Dr Moti Chandra – India.
  8. ^ MBH II.27.25
  9. ^ MBH 1/67/31-32.
  10. ^ Mahabharata 5.5.15, see the verse above.
  11. ^
    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 translation:
    Those other car-warriors with golden standards, O king, whom you see, and who, like the wild elephants are difficult of being resisted, they are called the Kambojas. They are brave, a learned people (kritavidyash) and are firmly devoted to the science of weapons. Desiring one another's welfare, they are all highly united and mutually co-operative. They constitute a full Akshauhini of wrathful warriors.
  12. ^ India as Known to Pāṇini: A Study of the Cultural Material in the Ashtadhyayi, 1953, p 321, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala.
  13. ^ Chandra Chakraberty – Ethnology; Literary History of Ancient India in Relation to Its Racial and Linguistic Affiliations, 1953, pp 148, 152, Chandra Chakraberty – Sanskrit literature.
  14. ^ See quote in: Problems of Ancient India, 2000, p 4, K. D. Sethna.
  15. ^
    Shakanam Pahlavana.n cha Daradanam cha ye nripah |
    Kamboja Rishika ye cha pashchim.anupakash cha ye ||5.5.15||
    Trans: The kings of the Shakas, Pahlavas and the Daradas, and the Kamboja-Rishikas live in the west in the Anupa region.
  16. ^ LohanParamaKambojanRishikanuttaran api ||v 2.27.25||
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Mahabharata 2.27.25.
  20. ^ Mahabharata 2.27.27.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Rishika.putra.rishikastu.. 145.86; See also: Vayu Purana 59.84–94; Geographical Data in Early Puranas, p 31).
  23. ^ Mahabharata 6.10.63.
  24. ^ Kiskindhakanda, 145, Rosalind Lefeber
  25. ^ Markendeya Purana Chapter 58.20–28.
  26. ^ Brhat Samhita Ch XIV.11–16.
  27. ^ Brhat Samhita XIV.17–19.
  28. ^ Markendeya Purana 58.30–32.
  29. ^ Geographical data in Early Puranas, p 135. See also: Migration of Kambojas.
  30. ^ cf: Ethnic Settlements in Ancient India: (a Study on the Puranic Lists of the Peoples of Bharatavarsa), 1955, p 71, Dr Sashi Bhusan Chaudhuri.
  31. ^ Harivamsa 14.1–19; Vayu Purana: v 88.127-43.
  32. ^ 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.

See also[edit]