Vaṃsa, alternatively spelled as Vamsa or Vansha, is a Sanskrit word that means "family, lineage". It also refers to a genre of ancient and medieval literature in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. This genre focuses on genealogies. They resemble the conventional histories found in the European literature, but differ as they predominantly chronicle myths and may integrate spiritual doctrines such as rebirths. A vamsa can be focussed on a dynasty, family, individual such as a saint, line of teachers of a particular tradition, or a place particularly of pilgrimage. Some of these texts are titled with vamsa as a suffix.
The word Vamsa has ancient roots and refers to bamboo cane or sugar cane reed. According to Monier Monier-Williams, the term evolved to mean lineage, likely inspired by the periodic lengths of a cane, where one distinct segment follows the previous, grows, ends and is the basis of another. The word is found in the sense of "line of teachers", genealogy and family tree in the Vedic text Shatapatha Brahmana, as well as in Sanskrit grammar text Ashtadhyayi by Pāṇini. A related genre of Indic literature are the Charita, which focus on individual hagiographies.
Vamsa appears in other Indic languages in derivative forms, such as bans.
Buddhavaṃsa, Dipavaṃsa, and Mahāvaṃsa are examples of Buddhist vamsas. The Buddhavaṃsa chronicles the mythical lineage of 24 buddhas who preceded the actual human Buddha as Siddhartha, and includes the Bodhisatta doctrines. The Dipavaṃsa and Mahāvaṃsa both are Theravada chronicles of the island of Sri Lanka presenting legends about the place from the birth of the Buddha to about the early medieval era. According to Geiger, the Mahavamsa is likely based on Dipavamsa, these chronicles are of doubtful reliability.
The Dā-thāvaṃsa is the chronicle of the Buddha’s tooth relic until the 9th-century CE. The Thūpavaṃsa is the purported legendary chronicle of the great stupa in Sri Lanka, mostly ahistorical stories from the 1st millennium. The Sāsanavaṃsa is Burmese text, written in 1861, with a mythical description of central India from the 1st millennium BCE and thereafter, about the diffusion of Buddhism and its monastic institutions outside India. The Sangītivaṃsa is a Thai text, composed in the 18th-century traces the Buddha lineage in India, Buddhism's purported migration from India and its history in Thailand, as well as the speculations of its decline.
The Purana genre of Hindu literature includes genealogies just like Buddhist texts. Two common mythical lineages are called Surya-vamsa and Chandra-vamsa, solar (son-based) and lunar (daughter-based) lineages of kings, families and communities. The Harivamsa is the legendary genealogy and story of the Hindu god Krishna. It is found as an appendix to the Mahabharata.
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