The Uttarakuru country or Uttara Kuru Kingdom and its people are sometimes described as belonging to the real world, whereas at other times they are mythical or otherworldly spiritual beings.
The name Uttara Kuru means "North Kuru". The Kurus were a tribe during the Vedic civilization of India. The Uttara Kuru were therefore a population to the north of the Kurus, or north of the Himalayas.
At some point during the reign of Pururavas-Aila (the first king mentioned in the line of lunar dynasty of Indian kings) Uttara Kuru and the Kurus of India belonged to the same Kuru Empire. Arjuna collected tribute from Uttara Kuru during his northern military campaign for Yudhishthira's Rajasuya sacrifice. The epics also mention that they followed a republican constitution with no monarchy. Further the royalty amongst them claimed descent from the royal clans and nobilities originating in North Indian kingdoms, specially Ayodhya, modern day Bihar and Delhi.
Aitareya Brahmana makes first reference to Uttarakuru and Uttaramadra as real-life Janapadas. According to Aitareya Brahmana, these two nations lay beyond the Himalayan ranges (Hindukush). The Aitareya Brahmana adduces these two people as examples of republican (vairajiya) nations, where whole Janapada took the consecration of rulership.
Aitareya Brahmana again notes that Uttarakuru was a deva-kshetra or divine land.
In literature like Puranas, the Uttarakurus their description seems to place them in the real world.
Puranic cosmography divides our earth into seven concentric islands called Jambu, Plaksha, Salmali, Kushadvipa, Kraunca, Sakaldwipiya, and Pushkara, that are separated by the seven encircling seas. The insular continent Jambudvipa forms the innermost concentric island in the scheme of continents. Jambudvipa includes nine countries (varṣa) and nine mountains. The land of Illa-vrta lies at the center of Jambudivipa at whose center is located Mount Meru(Hindu Kush). The land of Uttarakuru lies to the north of Mount Meru/ Kailash.
The Bhagavata Purana notes the Uttarakuru as the land of the "northern Kurus", a people separate from the Dakisha Kurus. The Brahmanda Purana and Vayu Purana state that Pururavas, the ancestors of the Puru race once lived with Urvasi in Uttarakuru. In Matsya Purana, Uttarakuru is described as 'Tirtha', that is: a pure place where one went to undergo ritual ablutions.
Mahabharata sometimes glorifies the Uttarakuru as a fairy land. It is stated to be the ultimate abode of the blessed souls. The souls of the blessed ones and the glorious Kshatriyas who fall in battle go to Uttarakuru after death.
Adiparva of Mahabharata refers to a practice of free love among the denizens of Uttarakuru, like the one followed by birds and the beasts, and is not regarded sinful as it is stated to have the approval of the rishis and the sanction of antiquity. At other times, the epic describes the Uttarakurus as real entity and associates them with the real Kurus.
The ancestors of the Kauravas and Pandavas had migrated to Uttarakuru, becoming their rulers and married the beautiful maidens there.
At the Rajasuya Sacrifice performed by king Yudhishtra, the kings of north-west brought gifts, some of which belonged to Uttarakuru.
After reducing the Kambojas and Daradas on south of Hindukush, Arjuna proceeded to Trans-Hindukush countries and fought with the Lohas, Parama-Kambojas and the Rishikas. Thereafter, Arjuna subjugated the Kimpuruhas, Haratakas and the Uttarakurus, which were the neighboring tribes in the trans-Himalaya region.
Karna in practice of war started Vijayatra conquering whole Eurasia.
In the enumeration of the countries of north, Ramayana references Kambojas, Yavanas, Shakas, Paradas and then further northwards, it refers to the land of the Uttarakurus lying beyond river Shailoda and Kichaka bamboos valleys. It gives very vivid and graphic picture of Uttarakuru region.
Uttarakuru also finds numerous references in Buddhist literature. In Digha Nikaya, Uttarakuru is said to be the name of city. Lalita-Vistara describes the Uttarakuru as Pratyanta-dvipa or a frontier island.
Uttarakuru is well described in the Atanatiya Sutta of the Digha Nikaya. It is an island 24000 Yojanas away from Jambudvipa. It is one of the great Mahadvipas or continents. It is said to be a place of great abundance. It falls under the rule of the heavenly king Vessavana. Atanatiya is one of the great cities of this land. The inhabitants are elegant in complexion, unselfish, have no marital relationships (for more than 7 days), have no property of their own, no houses. But they are able to sleep on the earth, sweet smelling rice without husk grows on its own accord, rice is cooked on pots using stoves and self heating crystals. The people of Uttarakuru naturally have great virtue of Pancasila and a fixed lifespan. Trees have an abundance of fruits, birds sing beautiful songs (some cry saying "jiva" or long life) and there is an all giving Kalparuksha. It is also said that only those with great iddhi powers or cakkavattin kings who can visit this place. These people cannot comprehend the Dhamma.
A Burmese text called Lokapannatti gives further details on Uttarakuru.
Buddhaghosa records a tradition which states that, when Vedic king Mandhata returned to Jambudvipa from his sojourn in the four Mahadipas, there were, in his retinue, a large number of the people of Uttarakuru. They all settled down in Jambudípa, and their settlement became known as Kururattha (Kuru Rashtra). Majjhima Commentary also attests that the people of Kururatha had originally belonged to the Uttarakuru. Uttarakuru is mentioned in Dhammapada Verse 416 in relation to Jotika, a treasurer and extraordinarily rich person of Rajagaha who was a follower of the Buddha and later became an arahat. He had an alien wife who was brought to him by the gods and she came from Uttarakuru or the 'Northern Island' since it is situated in the North of Mt. Meru, a mythical structure in the cosmos that harbours various abodes/planets including the earth. Her name was Satulakayi and she brought with her a pint-pot of rice and three crystals stone-stove that cooked rice automatically and could serve food for many people. She stayed with Jotika until he joined the Order and became an arahat. She went back to Uttarakuru, a place in the cosmos which may be identifiable with Pleiades since its inhabitants are like humans that live for 800 to 1000 years and have a physical body unlike a spiritual body of deva gods. Uttarakuru is also mentioned in the Abhidhamma text in relation to the Buddha's visit to Tavatimsa, a heavenly world of devas where the Buddha went for the whole of the three-month period of the rains (vassa) to expound the Abhidhamma to the gods. Since the Buddha was a human he required to feed his physical body during a short tenure in Tavatismsa which is equal to four calendar months on earth. He went for alms to Uttarakuru which is an abode of humanoid beings that lies near Tavatimsa and he did not come back to the earth. <DhA.iv.199-213>
Rajatarangini of Kalhana
According to Rajatarangini of Kalhana, king Lalitaditya Muktapida of Kashmir leads a war expedition against the tribes of north (i.e. north of Kashmir) and in sequence, encounters the Kambojas, Tusharas, Bhauttas, Daradas, Valukambudhis, Uttarakurus, Strirajya (mythical or otherwise) and Pragjyotisha with whom he fights one after the other.
Ptolemy's Geography refers to Ottorokorai (Uttarakuru) tribe, Ottorokora as a city, and Ottorokoras as a river [need quotation to verify]. The Ottorokora city is shown as located at longitude of 165° 37' 25"E. Ptolemy has also referred to one mountain by the same name and fixes at with longitude from 169° 39' to 176° 39' E[need quotation to verify].
Though the later texts mix up the facts with the fancies on Uttarakurus, yet in the earlier, and some of the later texts, Uttarakurus indeed appear to be historical people. Hence scholars have attempted to identify the actual location of Uttarakuru.
The Uttarakuru is taken by some as identical with the Kuru country mentioned in the Rig-Veda. The Kurus and Krivis (Panchala) are said to form the Vaikarana of Rigveda and the Vaikarana is often identified with Kashmir. Therefore, Dr Zimmer likes to identify the Vaikarana Kurus with the Uttarakurus and places them in Kashmir
According to some scholars, the above locations however do not seem to be correct since they go against Aitareya Brahmana evidence which clearly states that Uttarakuru and Uttaramadra lay beyond Himalaya (pren himvantam janapada Uttarakurva Uttaramadra). Moreover, no notice of the Uttaramadras (Bahlika, Bactria) has been taken of while fixing up the above location of Uttarakuru. Uttarakurus and Uttaramadras are stated to be immediate neighbors in the Trans-Himalaya region per Aitareya Brahmana evidence.
Ramayana testifies that the original home of the Kurus was in Bahli country. Ila, son of Parajapati Karddama was a king of Bahli, where Bahli represents Sanskrit Bahlika (Bactria). Also the kings from Aila lineage have been called Karddameyas. The Aila is also stated to be the lineage of the Kurus themselves. The Karddamas obtained their name from river Karddama in Persia/ancient Iran. Moreover, Sathapatha Brahmana attests a king named Bahlika Pratipeya as of the Kauravya lineage. Bahlika Pratipeya, as the name implies, was a prince of Bahlika (Bactria). Thus, the Bahli, Bahlika was the original home of the Kurus. Thus, Bahlika or Bactria may have constituted the Uttarakuru. Mahabharata and Sumangalavilasini also note that the people of Kuru had originally migrated from Uttarakutru. Bactria is evidently beyond the Hindukush i.e. Himalaya. In ancient literature, Himalaya is said to be extending from eastern occean to western occean and even today is not separated from it.
The above identification of Uttarakuru comes from Dr M. R. Singh.
V. S. Aggarwala thinks that the Uttarakuru was located to north of Pamirs in Central Asia and was also famous for its horses of Tittirakalamasha variety. Thus it probably comprised parts of Kirgizstan and Tian-Shan. Incidentally, the reference to horses from Uttarakuru rules out any possibility of locating Uttarakurus in Kashmir and Uttarakhand states since these regions have never been noted for their horses.
The Mt Meru of Hindu traditions is identified with the knot of Pamirs. Mountain Nila may have been the Altai-Mt.
The Mahabharata refers to the Kichaka bamboos growing on the banks of river Shailoda. Mahabharata further attests that the Kichaka bamboo region was situated between Mountain Meru (Pamirs) and Mountain Mandara (Alta Tag). The river valleys between these two mountains are still overgrown with forests of Kichaka Bamboos.
Ramayana also attests that the valleys of river Shailoda were overgrown with Kichhaka bamboos and the country of Uttarakuru lay beyond river Shailoda as well as the valleys of Kichaka bamboos.
The above discussion shows that the land of Uttarakurus was located north of river Shailoda as well as of the Kichaka bamboo valley.
Thus, the Uttarakuru which finds reference in the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Rajatarangini probably can not be identified with the Bahlika or Bactria as M. R. Singh has concluded.
Some writers, however, assert that Uttarakuru was the name for the vast area lying north of Himalaya and extending as far as Arctic Circle.
Tokhari or Tukharas, the later Yucchis, are the same as the Rishikas of Mahabharata.
- tasmad atasyam udichya dishi ye ke ca pren himvantam janapada uttarakurva uttaramadra
- iti vairajyaya te.abhishichyante
- — (Aitareya Brahmana, VIII/14).
- Singh, M.R. (1981). Geographical Data in Early Puranas.
- Ramayana 4.43.1-62.
- Vol I, p 184.
- "... vassa ('rains') signifies a three-month period of residence in one place during the rainy season, enjoined upon bhikkhus by the Buddha in order that they should not travel about trampling down crops and so annoy farmers. To translate it by 'lent' as is sometimes done lets in a historical background and religious atmosphere of mourning and fasting quite alien to it (with no etymological support)." The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga by Bhadantarariya Buddhaghosa & translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli, pg. liii-liv, (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nanamoli/PathofPurification2011.pdf).
- Altindisches Leben: Die Cultur der vedischen Arier nach den Samḣitā, 1869, p 103, Dr Heinrich Zimmer - Indo-Europeans; See also: Vedic Index, p. 84, A. B. Keith and A. A. Macdonell.
- Aitreya Brahmana VIII.14.
- Ramayana , Uttarakanda, 89.3-23.
- Kumarasambhavam, I, 1.
- Geographiacl Data in Early Puranas, 1972, pp 63-65
- Hindu Polity, 1978, p 124, 138-39.
- India as Known to Panini, p 61.
- MBH, II, 48-2.
- Ramayana 4.43.37-38
- MBH II.48.2-4.
- Raghu 4.73.
- I, p 330.
- Quoted in Original Sanskrit Texts, by J Muir.
- Geographical Data in Early Puranas, 1972, Dr M. R. Singh
- Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43878-0.
- Wilson, H. H. (2006). The Vishnu Purana: A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition. Cambridge: Read Country Books. ISBN 1-84664-664-2.
- Mahabharata of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, translated to English by Kisari Mohan Ganguli