Varmans (in eastern India) with their contemporaries, c. 550 CE
|Capital||Pragjyotishpura (present-day Guwahati) |
|Languages||Kamarupi Prakrit, Sanskrit|
|•||c. 350 - c. 374||Pushya Varman|
|•||c. 518 – c. 542||Bhuti Varman|
|•||c. 600 – c. 650||Bhaskar Varman|
|Historical era||Classical India|
The Varman dynasty (350-650) is the first historical dynasty of the Kamarupa kingdom. It was established by Pushya Varman, a contemporary of Samudragupta. This dynasty became vassals of the Gupta Empire, but as the power of the Guptas waned, Mahendra Varman (470-494) performed two horse sacrifices and threw off the imperial yoke. The first of the three Kamarupa dynasties, the Varmans were followed by the Mlechchha and then the Pala dynasties.
The genealogy of the Varman dynasty appears most fully in the Dubi and Nidhanpur copperplate inscription of the last Varman king, Bhaskar Varman (600-650), where Pushya Varman is named the founder. The Dubi copper plate inscription of Bhaskar Varman asserts that Pushya Varman was born in the family of Naraka, Bhagadatta and Vajradatta (as did the other two Kamarupa dynasties) three thousand years after these mythical ancestors. The middle or Mlechha (Mech) dynasty, though claim same descent, are native tribal rulers. K.L. Barua opines that there was a Mlechha (i.e., Mech) revolt in Kamarupa and Salastambha, the leader or governor of the Mlecchas usurped the throne by deposing Bhaskar Varman's immediate successor Avanti Varman.
The exact ethnic genealogy of Naraka is in dispute, with authors such as N N Vasu and K L Barua claiming he was Dravidian, whereas authors like P C Choudhury consider him to be of Alpine origin. Since the claim to Naraka's lineage was made at the end of the Varman dynasty (Bhaskarvarman); and since it was natural for the ruling house to fabricate a respectable lineage, authors like Sircar refuse to give much importance to these claims.
Historical documents and legends are contradictory on the ethnicity of this dynasty. Naraka, according to an early account was the son of an asura named Hiranksha and Bhumi (Earth). In the late 10th-century Kalika Purana, Naraka is said to be the son of Vishnu in his Varaha form and Bhumi, who grew up in household of Janaka. The Kalika Purana goes on to describe two Narakas: one who was religious and the other who was hostile to Brahminism.
The relationship of Bhagadatta, also mentioned as an ancestor of the Varmans, with Naraka is not clear from legendary sources either: Bhagadatta is called a grandson (Kalika Purana), a son (Bhagavata Purana) or not specified at all (Mahabharata, Harivamsha and Vishnu Purana). In the Mahabharata, a much earlier text, Bhagadatta, the son of Naraka is mentioned as Mleccha, an appellation used sometimes for degraded Aryans, non-Aryans and also foreigners, such as Hunas. All three Kamarupa dynasties draw their lineage from Naraka and Bhagadatta and Vajradatta.
Lévi Sylvain wrote, when Bhaskar Varman had business with others than Indians, the same prince boasted of another origin altogether. Bhaskar Varman told She-Kia-Fang-Che that his ancestors hailed from China, four thousand years ago, flying through air as holy spirit. As though he would show sympathy for China, he asked the envoy to get him a portrait of Lao-tseu and a Sanskrit translation of the Tao-to-king. 
Suniti Kumar Chatterjee calls Bhaskar Varman a mleccha king, Mukunda Madhava Sharma considers all the dynasties of Kamarupa as of Aryan origin. Urban terms all kings of Brahmaputra Valley as non-Aryans.
Politics and diplomacy
The most illustrious of this dynasty was the last, Bhaskar Varman, who claimed be a descendant from god Vishnu and referred to as "lord of eastern India". He accompanied King Harshavardhana to religious processions from Pataliputra to Kannauj.
Kings of Varman dynasty maintained both diplomatic and matrimonial relations with other countries of Aryavarta. Pushya Varman who himself named after king Pushyamitra Shunga, named his son Samudra Varman after king Samudragupta in appreciations of kings of Aryavarta. King Bala Varman organised Swayamvara for his daughter Amrita Prabha; which was attended by princes of different countries. Princess eventually chosen prince of Kashmir Meghavahana as her groom. The alliance between king Harsha of Thanesar and Bhaskar Varman lead to spread of political influence of later to entire eastern India.
In Nidhanpur copper plate inscription of Bhaskar Varman, it is mentioned that "prakasit aryadharmaloka" i.e. king (Bhaskar Varman) spread the light of the Arya religion by dispelling the accumulated darkness of Kaliyuga. Yuan Chwang writes about existence of hundreds of Hindu temples. Brahmins and upper caste Hindus makes large chunk of lands population. Being a seat of learning people from other countries visits for studies.
In the Nidhanpur plate of Bhaskar Varman the genealogy of all rulers of dynasty mentioned therein is traced from Naraka, Bhagadatta and Vajradatta. Chinese traveller (Yuan Chwang) designated the rulers of this dynasty as of Brahmin caste.
|1||350-374||Pushya Varman||claimed descent from Bhagadatta||(unknown)|
|2||374-398||Samudra Varman||son of Pushya Varman||Dattadevi|
|3||398-422||Bala Varman||son of Samudra Varman||Ratnavati|
|4||422-446||Kalyana Varman||son of Bala Varman||Gandharavati|
|5||446-470||Ganapati Varman||son of Kalyana Varman||Yajnavati|
|6||470-494||Mahendra Varman||son of Ganapati Varman||Suvrata|
|7||494-518||Narayana Varman||son of Mahendra Varman||Devavati|
|8||518-542||Bhuti Varman||son of Narayana Varman||Vijnayavati|
|9||542-566||Chandramukha Varman||son of Bhuti Varman||Bhogavati|
|10||566-590||Sthita Varman||son of Chandramukha Varman||Nayanadevi|
|11||590-595||Susthita Varman||son of Sthita Varman||Syamadevi|
|12||595-600||Supratisthita Varman||son of Susthita Varman||(Bachelor)|
|13||600-650||Bhaskar Varman||brother of Supratisthita Varman||(Bachelor)|
- * Prakash, Col Ved, Encyclopedia of North-East India
- Arun Bhattacharjee (1993), Assam in Indian Independence, Page 143 While Pushyavarman was the contemporary of the Gupta Emperor Samudra Gupta, Bhaskaravarman was the contemporary of Harshavardhana of Kanauj.
- "Three thousand years after these mythical ancestors (Naraka, Bhagadatta and Vajradatta) there occurred Pushyavarman as the first historical king, after whom we have an uninterrupted line of rulers up to Bhaskarvarman." (Sharma 1978, p. xxix)
- "According to him (D C Sircar) Narayanavarma, the father of Bhutivarman, was the first Kamarupa king to perform horse-sacrifices and thus for the first time since the days of Pusyavarman freedom from the Gupta political supremacy was declared by Narayanavarma. But a careful study or even a casual perusal of the seal attached to the Dubi C.P. and of the nalanda seals should show that it is Sri Mahendra, the father of Narayanavarma himself, who is described as the performer of two horse-sacrifices." (Sharma 1978, p. 8)
- (Sharma 1978, p. 20)
- "(I)t is significant that like the kings of the Bhauma-Naraka family they also claim descent from Naraka or Bhagadatta, and this descent is acknowledged outside also outside their own kingdom when the Pashupatinath temple inscription of Nepal described Rajyamati, the daughter of Sri Harsha of the family of Salasthambha as bhagadatta-raja-kulaja.(Sharma 1978, p. xxxiv)
- "The mythical ancestors of this line of rulers were Naraka, Bhagadatta and Vajradatta. Three thousand years after these mythical ancestors there occurred Pushyavarman..." (Sharma 1978, p. xxix) In the Nidhanpur copperplate inscription, it is mentioned: "When the kings of his (Vajradatta's) family having enjoyed the position (of rulers) for three thousand years had (all) attained the state of gods, Pushyavarman became the lord of the world." (Sharma 1978, p. 50)
- George van Driem (2001), India - Volume 2; Volume 10, Page 506 Although Kamarupa was at times ruled by Indo-Aryan dynasties and at times by native Mleccha dynasties
- Sarkar, Ichhimuddin (1992). Aspects of historical geography of Prāgjyotiṣa-Kāmarūpa (ancient Assam). Naya Prokash. p. 295.
- Biswanarayan Shastri (1994), Kalikapurana, p.xxviii, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts
- Kali Prasad Goswami (1998), Kāmākhyā Temple: Past and Present, p.49, APH Publishing
- The Cooch Behar State and Its Land Revenue Settlements (1903), Page 213 Naraka was not a native of the soil. He was evidently an Aryan conqueror and came from the Aryavarta.
- Kurt A. Raaflaub, Richard J. A. Talbert (2009), Geography and Ethnography: Perceptions of the World in ..., Page 19 The narrative space thus delineated coincides with the Bharata that is featured in the “theoretical” Puranic geographies, with the land of the Aryans (Aryavarta) at its centre.
- (Choudhury 1966:111)
- (Choudhury 1966:113)
- (Sircar 1990:95)
- "Since the Epico-Pauranic myths associated Pragjyotisha with Naraka and his descendants, it was quite natural for the kings of ancient Assam to fabricate the story of descent from Naraka's family" (Sircar 1990:96)
- (Sircar 1990:96)
- (Sharma 1978, p. xiv)
- Dalal, Roshen (2011) "Narakasura" in Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide p274
- B M Barua Common Ancestry of Pre-Ahom rulers and some problems of early History of Assam in "Discovery of Northeast India" (ed Sharma S. K et al.) p277.
- B M Barua Common Ancestry of Pre-Ahom rulers and some problems of early History of Assam in "Discovery of Northeast India" (ed Sharma S. K et al.) p277. "In some sections of the Great Epic, Bhagadatta is represented as Yavana or Mleccha ruler, although a friend of Indra."
- Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, India (1983),Vishveshvaranand Indological Series - Issue 77, P 26 tribes designated as Yavanas, Mlecchas or Dasyus were degraded Aryans is also indicated by the story in the Mahabharata
- "The present king belongs to the old line (tso yari) of Narayana-deva. He is of the Brahman caste. His name is Bhaskaravarman, and his title Kumara (Keu-mo-lo)." (Beal 1884, p. 196)
- "But the She-Kia-Fang-Che records that Bhaskarvarman was a Kshatriya (and not a Brahmin) and his ancestors hailed from China (=Han) itself having nothing to do with Narayana Deva" (Sharma 1978, p. xiv)
- (Sylvain 1929, p. 114) At the time of Hiuan-tsang's visit King Bhaskaravarman, was "a descendant of the God Narayana" ; he was "of the caste of the Brahman, as," and had the title of " Kumara." "Since the possession of the kingdom by his family up to his time, the succession of princes covers a space of a thousand generations" (Mem.II,77.)The evidence of his contemporary Bana (Harsacarita, chap. VII) confirms almost all these details. Finally we possess since a few years ago an inscription of King Bhaskaravarman (Nidhanpur plates,Ep.Ind.,XII,65), which takes back the genealogy up to King Bhagadatta, the famous adversary of the by a long list of ancestors. However, when he had business with others than Indians, the same prince boasted of another origin altogether. When the envoy of the T'ang dynasty, Li Yi-piao, paid him a visit during the course of his mission (643-646) the king in a private conversation told him: "the royal family has handed down its power for 4,000 years. The first was a holy spirit which came from China (Han-ti) flying through the air." (She-kia fang tche, ed. Tok. XXXV, 1, 94b, col. ult.) As though he would show sympathy for China, he asked the envoy to get him a portrait of Lao-tseu and a Sanskrit translation of the Tao-to-king. (She-kia fang tche, ed. Tok. XXXV, 1, 94b, col. ult.).
- Kāmarūpa Anusandhāna Samiti, Readings in the history & culture of Assam - Page 179, 1984 "The Varman dynasty, which was probably the first Indo-Aryan dynasty in Assam was overthrown by Salastambha, a man of Mleccha or non-Aryan (Mongolian) origin."
- Niśipada Caudhurī, Historical archaeology of central Assam - Page 83, 1985 "K.N. Dutta seems to be right in concluding that the Varman dynasty, which was probably the first Indo-Aryan dynasty in Assam, was overthrown by Salastambha, (Mongoloid) origin, who then made himself the king of Kamarupa."
- Suresh Kant Sharma, Usha Sharma, Discovery of North-East India: Geography, History, Culture ..., Volume 3 - Page 275, 2005 "One may go perhaps a step further and suggest that Pusyavarman was the first Indo-Aryan ruler set up by Samudragupta over the two territories of Kamarupa and Davaka unified into a single kingdom. None can or should deny it as a fact if Bhattasali simply means to say that the process leading to the assertion of independence by the Varmans of Kamarupa commenced earlier, ie., before Bhutivarman, even without specifically bringing Mahendravarman into play. The above suggestion, that the first Indo-Aryan rule favourable to Brahmanism was founded in Kamarupa with Pusyavarman as the first ruler under Samudragupta, received its support from these two facts: (1) that Bhagadatta the great legendary ancestor of the Varmans, is described in the Nidhanpur grant of Bhaskaravarman as Indrasakhah, "The friend of Indra (the heavenly prototype of the earthly Indo-Aryan monarch)", and his father and predecessor Naraka as one begotten of the Varaha form of vishnu, and (2) the descent claimed, as known to Hwen Thsang, by the Varmans from "the god Narayana." If thus the earlier rulers of the Varmans line were Vaisnavas, at least up till Bhutivarman."
- "Hiuen Ts’ang by mistake described Bhaskara-varman as a Brahman, but he was just a neo-Kshatriya, a member of a Hinduised mleccha or non-Hindu Indo-Mongoloid family which had been accepted within the fold of Hindu orthodoxy" (Chatterji 1974, p. 91)
- Sharma, Mukunda Madhava (1978), Inscriptions of Ancient Assam
- "Virtually all of Assam’s kings, from the fourth-century Varmans down to the eighteenth-century Ahoms, came from non-Aryan tribes that were only gradually Sanskritised." (Urban 2011, p. 234)
- (Barua 1933:91) "Suffice is to say that he (Bhaskar Varman) was Hindu by religion spreading light of Arya Dharma though he has great preverence for learned Buddhist priests and professors of his time and was distinctly inclined towards Buddhism. The text of his message to Silabhadra leave no doubt in this point. The very high functions allotted to him during the famous religious assembly at Kanauj by the Hindu emperor Sri Harsha proves that he was not a Hindu of despised low caste. He was undoubtedly looked upon as a good Kshatriya, as his surname Varma indicates, whatever might have been his origin. In any case he was certainly not a Hinduized Koch. All the kings of his dynasty beginning from Pushya Varman were Kshatriya monarchs. When Yuan Chwang visited the kingdom he found hundreds of Hindu temples there and evidently there were large numbers of Brahmans and other high caste Hindus living within the kingdom which was a seat of learning that people of other countries came there for study."
- P. 501 The ancient geography of India: The Buddhist period, including the campaigns... By Sir Alexander Cunningham
- (Gait 1926:23–24)
- Though there exists no direct evidence, there are indirect evidence of a king who ruled for a short period after Bhaskarvarman, but was ousted by Salasthamba (Sharma 1978, pp. xxxi-xxxii).
- Barua, Kanak Lal (1933). Early History Of Kamarupa.
- Beal, Samuel (1884). Si-Yu-Ki. Buddhist Records of the Western World (PDF). II. Ludgate Hill: Trubner & Co. Retrieved February 17, 2013.
- Chatterji, S. K. (1974). Kirata-Jana-Krt. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society.
- Chattopadhyaya, S (1990), "Social Life", in Barpujari, H K, The Comprehensive History of Assam, I, Guwahati: Publication Board, Assam, pp. 195–232
- Choudhury, P. C. (1966). The History of the Civilisation of the People of Assam to the Twelfth Century AD. Gauhati: Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies of Assam.
- Sharma, Mukunda Madhava (1978). Inscriptions of Ancient Assam. Gauhati University, Assam.
- Sircar, D C (1990), "Political History", in Barpujari, H K, The Comprehensive History of Assam, I, Guwahati: Publication Board, Assam, pp. 94–171
- Sylvain, Lévi (1929). Pre-Aryan and Pre-Dravidian in India. Calcutta: University of Calcutta. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
- Urban, Hugh B. (2011). "The Womb of Tantra: Goddesses, Tribals, and Kings in Assam". The Journal of Hindu Studies. 4: 231–247. doi:10.1093/jhs/hir034.