Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Identity and genetic trail of the Śaka tribes defeated by the Śakakāraka-s and solving the issues on Vikrama Śaka (Supplement to Mahabharata date series:14)



The Śaka tribes are heard for the first time in Ikshvaku King Sagara’s period. Sagara was the ancestor of Rama who defeated Haihayas and Talajanghas to take back his country overrun by them. Mention of Śaka tribes appears in that context. Śaka-s, Yavanas, Kambojas, Paradas, and Pahlavas were defeated in that war but were let free by Sagara at the advice of the family priest Vasishtha.

But this was done after imposing certain distinguishing marks on them, by which the Śaka-s were compelled to shave half of their head, the Yavanas to shave their heads completely, Paradas to let their hair long and Pahlavas not to shave their beards.[1]  They were branded as Mlecchas and driven out of the country to live in uninhabitable terrains such as mountains and deserts. Such regions in Afghanistan and Iran to the west of the Indus basin match with this description.

The bottom line is that the Śaka-s were originally from Bharatavarsha and therefore likely to carry the same genetic markers. 

The probable period of the defeat of these tribes was just before the River Ganga was brought down by his fourth descendant of Sagara, i.e. Bhagiratha. The time period of birth of Ganga was already deduced in Part 8 to be around 8000 – 7500 BCE. Around this time these Mlechas were sent out of India to live in the tough desert and mountainous terrains of Afghanistan and Iran, to the west of the Indus River. Nearly after 1000 years, they started fanning out due to pressures of population and climatic considerations.

This period matches with the genetic evidences given by Dr. Premendra Priyadarshi on migrations from Iran – Afghanistan region starting from 6000 BCE that continued till 1000 BCE through north of Black sea (Ukrainian) and Anatolia (Turkey) in the south of Black Sea.[2] They had taken along with them the language and the customs of the Vedic society that they were following, though cut off from the main stream Vedic people.

Their presence however continued in the W-NW of India. This is known from the next appearance of these tribes at the time of the fight between Vasishtha and Vishwamitra for the possession of Shabala, the sacred cow. Vishwamitra’s presence marks this period around Rama’s time (late 6th millennium BCE). According to Valmiki Ramayana the above mentioned tribes including the Śaka-s were created along with many other tribes by Vasishtha to fight against Vishwamitra’s army.[3]  Connecting this with the Sagara episode it appears that the Śaka-s and other Mlechas who were already thriving in the west of India, came to rescue Shabala on behalf of Vasishtha, in gratitude for the lease of life granted to their forefathers by Vasishtha of Sagara’s time.

From Sugreeva’s route map given in Kishkindha Kanda it is known that the Yavanas and the cities of Śaka-s were close to the Himalayas in the north.[4] Their occupation by robbery did not allow them to be accepted by the Vedic society though they were entitled to do pitru yajnas and Paka-yajnas.[5]  The genetic trail of R1a1 from India to Iran to Europe around this time (vide Priyadarshi) can be attributed to a group of Śaka-s / Mlechas emerging around this time.

Further down in time, newer settlements appeared after Mahabharata times. Of interest in this regard is a genetic study by Keyser et al, on 26 ancient human specimens from the Krasnoyarsk area supposed to have been inhabited by Śaka tribes (Scythians) dated from between the middle of the second millennium BCE to the fourth century CE, indicating R1a1-M17 marker.[6] This is used by AIT proponents to push through the idea of Aryan migration, but the upper limit of the date coming after the Mahabharata war shows a push out of these people from Bharatavarsha after the war in 3136 BCE.

The Śaka tribes defeated by Yudhishthira, the Śakakāraka 

By the time of Mahabharata Śaka presence is noticed in pockets within the Indian mainland. They had lived in Videha country at the foot hills of the Himalayas in Nepal- Bihar region. Bhima had subjugated them.[7] In the description of Bharatavarsha by Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra, Śaka occupation appears along with Videha and Magadha and also near Yamuna and Anarta in Gujarat region.[8]  

Many Śaka tribes were concentrated in the west of India, in and around a mountain called “Amara” and near the sea shore at the north of the Arabian Sea which is identifiable with Makran coast.

Nakula’s military expedition to these regions to subjugate them is found in Mahabharata.[9] One of those tribes by name Ramatha, conquered by Nakula, appears in Kalidasa’s Jyothirvidabharana, as a people defeated by the king Vikrama! Mount Amara or Amara Parvata seems to refer to Amarnath peak in J &K. Since this region was occupied by Mlechas for long the abode of Shiva in the Amarnath cave had remained out of reach and therefore unknown to Bharatiya people for a long time. However this peak was visited by the Tamil Kings until 2000 years ago. We will talk about is at an appropriate context.

The Śaka-s along with other Mlechas had taken part in the Mahabharata war, but fought on behalf of the Kauravas. They always fought along with Yavanas, Kambhojas, Paradas and such other tribes living in the west- North West beyond the Indus River. They were all vanquished by the Pandavas in the war. Other tribes of that region were subjugated before Ashwamedha yajna. That is how Yudhishthira became the Śakakāraka of the first Śaka of Kali Yuga.

The spread of Śaka people outside India after Mahabharata war

After the Mahabharata war, the Śaka tribes seemed to have spread far into North of Europe. As we try to locate them by the external appearance of half shaven head, Maxyes of Libya, in North Africa were known to have grown hair on the right side of the head and shave the left side. According to Herodotus they claimed ancestry from the people who once lived in Troy, in modern Turkey. [10] Also known as Meshwesh of Berber origin they were in constant conflict with the Egyptians between 11th and 13th century BCE in their bid to settle down in that region.[11] They were also known as Mazices in Late Greek and Latin sources.[12]

Maxyes and Meshwash appear as cognates of Mleccha that changed into Meluhha in course of time. “The Cursing of Agade” of Naram-Sin of early 3rd millennium BCE of Mesopotamia refers to Meluhha as the people of Black land, a reference to Egypt.

Their Berber origin links them with the region of Amarnath peak (Amara Parvata) in Kashmir. This peak was known in Tamil as Paruppadam – a term corrupted to Barbara, due to occupation by the Mleccha tribes known by the same name in Mahabharata!  Barbara tribes appear along with Śaka-s, Kambhojas, Yavanas and other Mlechas in Mahabharata. The half shaven appearance stipulated for Śaka-s seen in Berber / Barbara tribes indicate the presence of many sub divisions among the Śaka-s and Śaka becoming a common name for all of them. 

Barbaras along with Yavanas, Śaka-s, Ramathas and a host of other Mleccha names appear in Mahabharata as those subsisting on robbery but following Vedic practices.[13] Their separation from the Vedic people caused their Vedic practices degenerate in course of time – the remnants of which are seen wherever they went but now mistaken as origin traditions of the Vedic society giving rise to the misplaced notion of Aryan Invasion / migration theory.

By the 6th and the 5th century BCE these tribes seemed to have become active in their previous locations to the west of India. By this time the Śaka-s had diversified into many sub classes depending on location and avocation. Their names start appearing in Persian inscriptions around this time, though they came to be collectively known as Scythian. Scythian was the Greek term for Śaka-s and their region was known as “Śakastan” that later came to be known as Sistan.

                                                       Sakastan – the land of Śaka-s    

Sakastan was originally home to Jiroft culture that started flourishing after the Mahabharata war ended.[14] With peace restored right from the beginning of Yudhiṣṭhira Śaka for nearly the next 2500 years, the Śaka-s settled in this region were able to develop a culture of their own.

This location of Śaka-s matches with the version of Pliny the Elder who lived after the start of the Vikrama Śaka, that the Persians called the tribes ‘Sakai’ (Sacae – pronounce it here)[15] who lived closer to their territories. The Persian domain extending between the Persian and the Caspian Sea, this location of Sakastan between Persia and India fits with the Indic references of Śaka-s living in west of the Indus. This also matches with the description of Varahamihira of the regions of Ramatha, Śaka and the rude Mleccha tribes to the west of India.[16]

In addition to traditional Śaka-s, new groups of Śaka seemed to have appeared after the Mahabharata war. One of them was the Trigartas who fled after Arjuna pursued them after the war. The name “Saka Tigraxauda” who descended from king Targitaüs in the legends of Śaka recounted by Herodotus is phonetically closer to Trigartas who lost heavily in the Mahabharata war. Later when Arjuna went to their territories in the west following the Ashwamedha horse, the Trigartas refused to budge and attacked him to avenge for the loss of their people in the Kurukshetra war. Arjuna killed their king Suryavarman, his brother Ketuvarman and a mighty warrior Dhrithavarman causing the Trigartas to flee.[17]

Śaka tribes including Saka Tigraxauda were known to wear pointed hat. Pointed hat seems to be a better choice to hide the half shaven head. In course of time they could have stopped the half shaving practice but continued to wear the pointed hat. The Trigartas defeated by Arjuna might have been ordained to half-shave their heads like any Śaka. 

Śaka-s with pointed hat.

The appearance of Targitaüs in the Black Sea region around 1,500 BC in the chronicles of Herodotus seems to convey the re-surfacing of Trigartas as Śaka - the Mlechas driven out by Arjuna long ago.[18] Their previous affinity with the Mlechas to the west of Bharatavarsha along with whom they fought the Mahabharata war in support of Kauravas made it easier to merge with the other Śaka tribes who made newer homes in Europe by then.

By 600 to 500 BCE those who had left seemed to have come back to the former habitat in the west of the river Indus. This period concurs with Bhagavatam version of start of Kali Yuga (in Dharmic measures) when the Saptarishis were in the star Magha.

Cyrus and the Śakas

Different types of Śaka tribes appear in the inscriptions of Persia around this time. Of them the Sakâ haumavargâ ("haoma-drinking Sacae") were subjected by Cyrus the Great. The Sakâ tigrakhaudâ ("Sacae with pointed hats") were defeated in 520/519 BCE by the Persian king Darius I the Great.[19]

The issue at hand is that a few Indic scholars are of the opinion that the Śaka era found in the inscriptions could have been initiated by Cyrus the Great or the Śaka tribes!

In this regard some clarification:

·         Cyrus the Great was never known to have conquered any part of India.

·         The Behistun inscription of Darius the Great giving the list of countries inherited by him from the earlier Persian kings including Cyrus does not mention any region of India or Indus valley.[20]

·         There is no indication of any era started by Cyrus the Great.

·         According to Herodotus, Cyrus was killed by a Śaka tribe called “Massagetes” who were not known to have started any era.

There is an opinion that Massagetes was known as Mâh-Sakâ, which means "Moon Sacae” in Persian but this name sounds closer to Maha-Śaka or Great Śaka. They were sun worshipers. That period dotted with many insurgencies and fights, it is not possible to trace any distinct era attributed to them.  

Different Śaka tribes collectively known as Scythians had often overrun the Indian territories and that was when King Vikramāditya came into the picture to sanitize the region by driving them out.

Śaka – territories as per Persian records.[21]

In the above map, the blue line to the west of India roughly marked the eastern boundary of the Mleccha tribes. Their northern extent went upto Amarnath peak in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sakâ haumavargâ in the east of Aral Sea were conquered by Cyrus.

Sakâ tigrakhaudâ to the east of Caspian Sea were defeated by Darius.

Sakâ paradrayâ were living to the north of Black Sea near Ukraine.

In addition there was Sakastan (Sistan), a major location of Śaka tribes.

There were other Sacae tribes too, all of them carrying semblance of Vedic culture from different times (from Sagara onwards) they were driven out of Bharata varsha.

By the 1st century BCE, some of them were crossing over to the Indian territories and giving troubles.

The Śaka tribes defeated by Vikrama, the Śakakāraka  

Kalidasa mentions in his composition Jyothirvidabharana, the defeat of the Śaka tribes and Ramatha tribes in the hands of King Vikrama.   

·         In the 43rd sloka of the 17th chapter he says that the King Vikrama established the Śaka era after driving away the Śaka-s.

·         In the 13th sloka of the 22nd chapter, he again says that the King Vikrama defeated innumerable Śaka-s.

·         In the 17th sloka of the 22nd chapter, he says that ‘Vikrama of irresistible valour defeated the Saka king of the province of Rumma, brought him to Ujjain, took him round the city as a captive and released him.’[22]

Rumma is likely to be Ramatha according to Kota Venkata Chelam.[23] The name Ramatha appears in Mahabharata too, as those subjugated by Nakula. King Vikrama had subdued them as also other Śaka tribes by which he was qualified to be crowned as Śakakāraka. This crowning had taken place on completion of Kali year 3044.

Surprisingly, the name Rumma (the tribes defeated by king Vikrama as per Kalidasa) appears as surname all across Europe with high incidence in India. Though the collected number is very small, say 568, as many as 209 persons with the surname, Rumma are found in India while the highest frequency of recurrence of this name is found in Estonia![24] This shows that there is complete assimilation of the so-called Mlechas into the population of India of today. And they had also spread all across Europe carrying Indic markers genetically, linguistically and culturally.

Incidence of the surname ‘Rumma’

Confusions in Vikrama Śaka sorted out.

Four major issues are raised about Vikrama Śaka:

1.      Was the king Vikrama who initiated the Śaka era legendary or true?

2.      If true, did he really initiate the Śaka era?

3.      Did Vikrama Śaka start on Caitra or Kartika?

4.      Did this Śaka start in 56 BCE or 57 BCE?

The analysis:

1.      Many writers could not and did not recognize the existence of Vikrama and his Śaka era. However a gold coin purportedly of Vikrama was recently found on the banks of Kshipra in Ujjain and was found to belong to 1st century BCE.[25] This is considered to be a major evidence for the historicity of King Vikrama.

Gold coin with Vikramaditya’s image.

2.      As per the currently available inscriptions, his Śaka name appears in 8th century CE while there is ample evidence to say that this Śaka was earlier known as Krita or Malava Śaka. To put at rest any doubts on the initiation of this Śaka by Vikrama at Kali 3044 years, let me quote the Buddhist text of Nepal named, “ParvatIya Vamshavali” giving the history of Nepal. It is stated in this text that King Vikramaditya came to Nepal and introduced his Śaka era.[26] This evidence must put at rest any doubts on king Vikrama initiating a new Śaka in his time.

3.      This Śaka coming up after a very long time of the previous Yudhishthira Śaka, it seems to have underwent some teething problems in picking up the right time, in order to align with the stipulations stated by the “Pura-vidah”. That is evident in the choice of the date that has led to a perception now whether this Śaka followed two different dates, in Caitra and Kartika. There is another school of thought that the month may be either Purnimanta or Amanta – used differently in north and south India.

To get into the root of this problem, I went by the standard requirements for the initiation of a Śaka, in the lines of similar rules for the starting date of Kali Yuga. They are,

1.      The Śaka must start at the expiry of 3044 Kali Years. 3101- 3044 = 57 BCE. The new Śaka must have started on 57 BCE.

2.      The cycles of Pancanga features namely tithi (Shukla Pratipat), month (sun in Mesha), star (Aswini), yoga (Vishkambha) and karana (Bava) must begin together on this date. If not all, atleast the tithi and the month must have coincided.

When I checked the Jhora astrology software for the month Caitra in 57 BCE, it showed that the sun was in Pisces on the day of Caitra Shukla Pratipat. The karana cycle started in Bava, but the Yuga cycle was a day behind. Aindra Yoga that was running on that day must be followed by Vaidhriti and only after that a new cycle would begin. The simulation is shown below for Surya Siddhanta ayanamsa. No other ayanamsa comes any closer to these features.

At the expiry of Kali 3044

The cycles do not match for this date. Since the Kartikadi tradition is hinted, I checked for the beginning of Kartika and was in for a pleasant surprise. All the cycles – tithi, vaara, yoga and karana started together as was on the 1st day of Kali Yuga. The week day was Friday. The sun was in zero degree Libra the previous day when the conjunction (amāvāsyā) occurred. The simulation is reproduced below.

Vikrama Śaka at the beginning of Kartika

The stipulation on the conjunction of the cycles is useful for tithi, star computation etc. Even for fixing Muhurta, a calculation is there that starts from the beginning of every cycle. The choice of Kalrtikadi tradition is proof of computational utility of the Kali Yuga and the Śaka system. In this case the Śaka Era computation starts six months after the expiry of the Yudhishthira Śaka. This calls for adjustment of the delayed time (in terms of tithi, yoga etc) whenever the elapsed days and years are counted.

4.      This must have made them to look for the nearest date where the cycles had matched. To my surprise, I found that all the features matched for the previous year, 56 BCE, but the Kali date was a year earlier. The simulation is shown below.

Vikrama Śaka at Kali 3045

The sun and moon had just entered Aries. Tithi, Nakshatra, yoga and karana started their cycles. The day was Sunday. Main cycles matching together on this date must have made the scholars of that time identify this year (56 BCE), Raktaakshi as the first year of the Vikrama Śaka. But this year coming ahead of the expiry of the Yudhiṣṭhira Śaka, they must have chosen Kartika pratipat in the next year (57 BCE) when the Yudhishthira Śaka 3044 had expired. 

Thus Vikrama Śaka seems to have come up with three dates, Kartikadi, Caitradi at the expiry of Kali 3044 and Caitradi at Kali 3045, when the Yudhishthira Śaka was not yet over. The month started after Amavasya, no doubt. The presence of twin years is a proof for the Śaka classification to have been proposed right at the time of the beginning of Kali Yuga. The scholars of the time seemed to have had a tough time in initiating the Śaka that came up long after the rishi tradition was lost.

This Śaka was very much a Vedic tradition, initiated by a Bharatiya king for having overpowered the Mleccha tribes. The supposed-to-be present another Śaka gets solved as I was going through this methodically and as per standard guidelines. The above date, 12th March 56 BCE, has a surprise element of a Mleccha Era beginning on that date – the details of which are found only in astrology texts of the Mlechas, not in any other text.

In the next part let us know about that Mleccha era applicable to Mlechas but wrongly understood as Bharatiya by a section of Indic scholars. Along with that we will explore the identity of Shalivahana and the Śaka tribes overpowered by him. After that I would demonstrate why the Śaka dates attributed to an old era as given by the scholars are untenable.

(To be continued)

[1] Vishnu Purana: 4-3

[2] Priyadarshi, Premendra, 2016, “The Climate Change and the Environmental basis for the Human migrations during Holocene”, Concept Paper presented to the seminar Chronology of Indian Culture since the beginning of Holocene through Scientific Evidence, organised by Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas (I-SERVE), Delhi on 16 July 2016, pp.1-7

[3] Valmiki Ramayana: 1-55-2,3

[4] Valmiki Ramayana: 4-43-11,12

[5] Mahabharata: 12-64

[6] Keyser et al, “Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of South Siberian Kurgan people” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19449030/

[7] Mahabharata: 2-29

[8] Mahabharata: 6-9

[9] Mahabharata: 2-31

[15] Pliny, Natural History: Book 6 – 50 http://attalus.org/translate/pliny_hn6a.html#50

[16] Brihat Samhita: 14-21

[17] Mahabharata: 14-74