The Coming of the Aryans and the Battle of the Ten Kings
The term “Aryans” is used to describe the ancient Indo-European people who migrated from Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BCE. There is a lot of debate over who the Aryans were, what they looked like, and what their religion was like. However, it is generally agreed that the Aryans were fair-skinned and that they believed in magic and sacrifice. They also claimed to be favored by the gods.
The Vedas, a collection of religious texts, provide a glimpse into the life and beliefs of the Aryans. While there is evidence of philosophical speculation in the Vedas, it is important to note that systematic religious thought is embedded only in the later literature connected with the Vedas. The Vedic gods were themselves dead and nearly forgotten by this time.
The Aryans were confined to the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent during the Rig Veda period. While the Jumna and the Ganges are mentioned in the Vedas, the geographical expansion of the Aryans did not extend further east. There was no continuous migration of the Aryans, so it cannot be maintained that the rest of the country came gradually to be peopled by the Aryans. The expansion from the Punjab was that of a civilization which had been evolved and which came to be known as Aryan but was predominantly that of the conquered people.
The disappearance of the Aryan gods in the post-Vedic civilization demonstrates the gulf between the pastoral Aryan people and the Hindu civilization that emerged from the synthesis of the Aryan and pre-Aryan people. The same sacrifices were performed but to gods who had ceased to be potent. The same mantras were repeated but to gods who were no longer worshiped. Even today, the same rituals are followed, but neither Agni nor Mitra nor even Indra is recognized as having divine powers.
The rishis of the Upanishads were not concerned with Vedic gods. In the later Vedic literature, allusions to the mother goddess also occur, evidencing the influence of the indigenous religion. Many of the rishis are alluded to by their mother’s name. As the Aryan society was patriarchal, this method of identification may perhaps indicate the influence of a matriarchal system. In fact, the system which had been evolved through the contact between Aryans and the indigenous inhabitants was a synthesis in which, while the forms of the conquerors predominated, the thought and tradition of the conquered found new expression.
With a settled society, the political life of the Aryans also developed. Against the Dasyus, the Aryans had fought under their chiefs. When territorial authority developed, the chiefs, in turn, became kings. When the Aryan settlement expanded to the Indo-Gangetic plain, a new monarchy, that of the Bharatas, came into existence. As the kingdom of the Bharatas contained a much larger percentage of indigenous people, the new monarchy was organized on a different basis and had little in common with the chiefships of the Aryan settlements of the Punjab. A struggle for supremacy between the two political systems was unavoidable. Thus was fought the great Battle of the Ten Kings, described in the Rig Veda, the first recorded event of importance in Indian history.
The Bharata king Sudas met in battle the ten allied kings of the earlier Aryan settlements. It is important to note that the Battle of the Ten Kings was not a battle solely of Aryan peoples. Non-Aryans under their own kings were ranged on both sides. The results of Sudas’ victory in this great battle, which justly became the central theme of later Vedic literature, were far-reaching.
In the first place, Sudas by this achievement became the paramount king, a conception which was destined to have a permanent hold on the mind of India. The idea of the victorious king becoming an overlord and exercising paramountcy over subordinate kings rather than annexing the States to form a bigger kingdom became one of the permanent features of Hindu political life. The establishment of the Bharata empire was the beginning of the tendency of the Indian people to think in terms of an all-India political unity, and that idea has persisted through the centuries.
The political unity achieved by Sudas was not long-lasting, however. The Bharata empire gradually disintegrated, and India returned to a pattern of small, localized kingdoms. It was not until the rise of the Mauryan empire in the 3rd century BCE that India was once again united under a single ruler. The Mauryan empire was the first to establish a centralized administration, with officials appointed by the emperor to govern various regions. The emperor also maintained a large army to enforce his authority.
The Mauryan empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, who overthrew the ruling Nanda dynasty. His grandson, Ashoka, is perhaps the most famous Mauryan emperor, known for his conversion to Buddhism and his promotion of nonviolence. Under Ashoka, the empire extended its influence throughout much of South Asia, with his edicts inscribed on rocks and pillars throughout the region.
The Mauryan empire declined after Ashoka’s death, and India once again returned to a pattern of small kingdoms. In the centuries that followed, India saw the rise and fall of numerous empires and dynasties, including the Gupta empire, the Mughal empire, and the Maratha empire.
Throughout its history, India has been shaped by a variety of influences, including the Aryans, the indigenous peoples, and the various conquerors who have sought to establish their rule over the subcontinent. The blending of these different cultures and traditions has resulted in a rich and diverse civilization, with a complex and fascinating history.
The Aryans were a complex and multifaceted people, who left a lasting impact on Indian history and culture. While they were originally confined to the Punjab, their civilization expanded to encompass much of North India, and their influence can still be felt throughout the subcontinent today. While the Aryans’ beliefs and practices may seem foreign or even objectionable to modern sensibilities, it is important to remember that they were products of their time and place, and their legacy continues to shape the world we live in today.