(Last Updated on : 09/11/2010)
Genealogy of Kings in Indian Puranas
has proven to be an important storehouse of information on Indian history. In the Indian Puranas are found the genealogical lists of the ancient royal households, continued from the first kings, whose origin is traced back to the sun and moon, down to the heroes of the great war of the Mahabharata
. As the Puranas are ascribed to Ved Vyas, who is said to have lived at the beginning of the Kaliyuga, a contemporary of the heroes of the Mahabharata, the history of the past ends with the death of the Pandavas or shortly afterwards. However, in several of the Puranas, the royal dynasties of the past are followed by lists of the kings of the "future" in the form of prophecies.
In the lists of kings of the Kali era, one can see among others, Om dynasties of the Sisunagas, Nandas, Mauryas, Sungas, Andhras and Guptas which are well known in history. Among the Sisunagas are Bimbisara
, who are mentioned in Jain and Buddhist writings as contemporaries of Lord Mahavira
and Lord Buddha
(6th to 5th century B. C.); and with the Maurya Chandragupta, who came to the throne in 322 B.C., we emerge into clearly identifiable history. These can be used as quite reliable historical sources, though a little caution and discrimination needs to be exercised.
The Vishnu Purana
is very a very reliable source of information as regards the Maurya dynasty (326-185 B. C.). Similarly, the Matsya Purana
is also very reliable as regards the Andhra dynasty (which came to an end about 225 A. D.) while the Vayu Purana describes the rule of the Guptas as it was under Chandragupta I (about 320-330 A. D.)-
At the end of the lists of kings, these Puranas enumerate a series of dynasties of low and barbarian descent (Sudras
and Mlecchas), such as Abhiras
, Gardabhas, Sakas, Yavanas, Tusaras, Hunas and so on. Following this is a description of the Kali age.
The data given in the Puranas cannot be accurately verified until the point where there are clear historical references. For instance, as an explanation of the Kaliyug there is the account given by the Chinese pilgrim Sung-yun of the barbarian invasions in the northern Punjab
in about 465 A. D. and of Kalhana
's vivid description of the rule of the Hun chieftains Toramana (about 500 A. D.) and Mihirakula (about 515 A. D.) who ruled "like the god of death in the kingdom swamped by the barbarian hordes," and, surrounded day and night by thousands of murderers, took no pity even on women and children. Moreover, foreign dynasties ruled in India over and over again as early as in the first centuries of the Christian era. It is possible that we may have to interpret the prophecies about the evil Kaliyuga as an echo of these various barbarian invasions and foreign rules. The data are, however, too confused to serve as a basis for safe conclusions as to the date of origin of the Puranas. All that we can safely conclude is that the earlier Puranas must have come into being before the 7th century, for neither later dynasties nor later famous rulers such as for instance Harsha Vardhana, occurs in the lists of kings.
The Puranas are valuable to the historian and to the antiquarian as sources of political history for their genealogies, even though they can only be used with great caution and careful discrimination. At all events they are of inestimable value from the point of view of the history of religion, and on this head alone deserve far more careful study than has earlier been devoted to them.