Panchala Kingdom extended from the Himalayas in the north to the River Charmanwati in the south during the period of Mahabharata. The Kuru, Surasena and Matsya kingdoms were to the west, and the forest of Naimisha was to the east. Later, Panchala was divided into Southern Panchala (Panchala proper ruled by King Drupada, the father-in-law of the Pandavas) and Northern Panchala (ruled by Ashwathama, the son of Drona. Drona was Drupada’s former friend who became his enemy later). The Ganges River separated the two Panchalas.

Panchala Kingdom extended from the Himalayas in the north to the River Charmanwati in the south during the period of Mahabharata. The Kuru, Surasena and Matsya kingdoms were to the west, and the forest of Naimisha was to the east. Later, Panchala was divided into Southern Panchala (Panchala proper ruled by King Drupada, the father-in-law of the Pandavas) and Northern Panchala (ruled by Ashwathama, the son of Drona. Drona was Drupada’s former friend who became his enemy later). The Ganges River separated the two Panchalas.

Northern Panchala had Ahichatra as its capital. It is identified as an archeological site near Ramnagar town of Uttar pradesh state. This kingdom extended from Himalayas to the river Ganga. Southern Panchala, or Panchala-proper, had Kampilya city as its capital, now a small town named Kampil near Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh. This kingdom extended from the Ganges River to River Charmanwati.

Lineage of Puru Kings up to the Branching of the Panchala Tribe

Puru had by his wife Paushti three sons: Pravira, Iswara, and Raudraswa. Amongst them, Pravira was the perpetuator of the dynasty. Pravira had by his wife Suraseni a son named Manasyu. Manasyu had for his wife Sauviri. Together they had three sons named Sakta, Sahana, and Vagmi. Raudraswa and the Apsara Misrakesi produced ten sons, and they all had sons. They are Richeyu, Kaksreyu Vrikeyu, Sthandileyu, Vaneyu, Jaleyu, Tejeyu, Satyeyu, Dharmeyu and Sannateyu the tenth.

Amongst them all, Richeyu became the sole monarch and was known by the name of Anadhrishti. Anadhristi had a son by the name of Matinara, who became a famous and virtuous king and performed the Rajasuya and the Ashwamedha. Matinara had four sons viz., Tansu, Mahan, Atiratha, and Druhyu. Amongst them, Tansu of great prowess became the perpetrator of Puru’s line.

Tansu produced a son named Ilina. Ilina and his wife Rathantara had five sons, Dushmanta, Sura, Bhima, Pravasu, and Vasu. The eldest of them, Dushmanta, became king. Dushmanta had by his wife Sakuntala an intelligent son named Bharata, who became king. Bharata gave his name to the race of which he was the founder. It is from him that the fame of that dynasty has spread so wide. Bharata and his three wives produced nine sons in all, but none of them were like their father, so Bharata was not at all pleased with them. Their mothers, therefore, became angry and killed them all. The procreation of children by Bharata, therefore, was attempted in vain.

The monarch then performed a great sacrifice and through the grace of Bharadwaja, obtained a son named Bhumanyu. Then Bharata, the great descendant of Puru, regarding himself as really possessing a son, installed that son as his heir-apparent. Bhumanyu begat upon his wife, Pushkarini, six sons named Suhotra, Suhotri, Suhavih, Sujeya, Diviratha and Kichika. During the virtuous reign of Suhotra, the surface of the whole earth was dotted all over with hundreds and thousands of sacrificial stakes. Suhotra and his wife Aikshaki produced three sons: Ajamidha, Sumidha, and Purumidha. The eldest of them, Ajamidha, was the perpetuator of the royal line. And he begat six sons. Riksha was born of the womb of his wife Dhumini; Dushmanta and Parameshthin, of his wife Nili; Jahnu, Jala and Rupina were born of his wife Kesini. Kushikas are the sons of Jahnu.

All the tribes of the Panchalas are descended from Dushmanta and Parameshthin, two sons of the second wife of Puru, King Ajamidha.

War between Panchalas and the Forefathers of Kurus

A continuous war between the Kurus and Panchalas led the defeated Kurus to be exiled from their kingdom. They lived in the forests on the banks of the Sindhu. Later, the Kurus retook their capital.

Riksha, who was older than both Jala and Rupina, became king. Riksha begat Samvarana, the perpetuator of the royal line. While Samvarana, the son of Riksha, was ruling, there occurred a great loss of people from famine, pestilence, drought, and disease. The Bharata princes were beaten by the troops of enemies.

The Panchalas, setting out to invade the whole land with their four kinds of troops, soon brought the whole land under their sway. And with their ten Akshauhinis, the King of the Panchalas defeated the Bharata prince. Samvarana then with his wife and ministers, sons and relatives, fled in fear and took shelter in the forest, on the banks of the Sindhu River, extending to the foot of the western mountains. There the Bharatas lived for some thousand years, within their fort. One day, a long time after they began living there, the sage Vasishtha approached the exiled Bharatas.

It is said that Vasishtha (becoming the priest) installed the Bharata prince in the sovereignty of all the Kshatriyas. The king retook the capital that had been taken away from him and once more made all monarchs pay tribute to him. The powerful Samvarana, was thus installed once more in the actual sovereignty of the whole land.

Samvarana and his wife, Tapati (whose abode was on the banks of the River Tapati (Tapti, Maharashtra), the daughter of Surya (a king of the Solar Dynasty), produced a son named Kuru. This Kuru was exceedingly virtuous, and therefore he was installed on the throne by his people. It is after his name that the field called Kurujangala, in eastern Hariyana, has become so famous in the world. Devoted to asceticism, he made the field of Kurukshetra sacred by practising asceticism there. He was thus the founder of the Kuru dynasty and the Kuru Kingdom.

It seems that the Samvarana who retook the capital was another king in the line of the exiled king Samvarana. The sages in the line of Vasistha were priests of the Solar Dynasty of kings (especially the Ikshwakus) for many generations. This could be the reason why Samvarana, who took Vasistha as his priest, married from the Solar Dynasty. The history of Samvarana falling in love with Tapati, while he roamed in the vicinity of Tapati River (Maharashtra), and Vasistha’s help in getting the consent of King Surya, her father, to give her in marriage to Samvaran — all these are mentioned in the Mahabharata.

This map shows the locations of Kingdoms mentioned in the epic Mahabharata and Ramayana. The locations of the kingdoms are based on the current knowledge about their locations. Names of kingdoms are in yellow. Kingdoms outside ancient India, but which are mentioned in the epics, are in orange. Their locations are highly speculative. Pink coloured names are the territories of various tribes that have spread to many other places. “Rakshasa Kingdom” indicates the territory of Ghatotkacha. “Asura Kingdom” is the kingdom of Vrishaparvan, a royal sage asura. The river names are shown in blue, the mountains in purple, and forests in green as a background for the locations of the kingdoms. Most of these natural boundaries serve as the boundaries of the kingdoms.

The Partition of the Panchala Kingdom

Drona defeated Drupada, by means of his disciple Arjuna, to settle his old scores. Drona spoke as follows to the captive Drupada: ‘Thou toldest me before that none who was not a king could be a king’s friend. Therefore is it, O Yajnasena (Drupada), that I retain half thy kingdom. Thou art the king of all the territory lying on the southern side of the Bhagirathi (Ganga), while I become king of all the territory on the north of that river. And, O Panchala, if it pleaseth thee, know me hence for thy friend.’

On hearing these words, Drupada answered, ‘Thou art of noble soul and great prowess. Therefore, O Brahmana, I am not surprised at what thou doest. I am very much gratified with thee, and I desire thy eternal friendship.’

After this, Drona released the king of Panchala, and cheerfully performing the usual offices of regard, bestowed upon him half the kingdom. Thenceforth Drupada began to reside sorrowfully in the city of Kampilya within the province of Makandi on the banks of the Ganga filled with many towns and cities. And after his defeat by Drona, Drupada ruled the Southern Panchalas up to the bank of the Charmanwati River. Meanwhile Drona continued to reside in Ahichatra. Thus was the territory of Ahicchatra full of towns and cities, obtained by Arjuna, and bestowed upon Drona. (Later, Drona gave the rulership of Northern Panchala kingdom to his son Ashwathama and stayed at Hastinapura the capital of Kuru Kingdom.)

(Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva, Chapter 140: Arjuna takes Drupada captive)

The Higher Status of the Panchalas and Kurus in Ancient India

The Kuru-Panchala was considered as the foremost among the provinces in Bharata Varsha (ancient India) comprised of the Kuru and Panchala Kingdoms. The Kurus and Panchalas were considered as foremost among the ruling tribes in ancient India, adhering closely to the Vedic religion. They were the proponents of the Vedic religion in its dogmatic and purest form. Other tribes imitated the practices of these tribes and thus got accepted into the Vedic religions.

Commencing with the Panchalas, the Kauravas, the Naimishas (a forest-country to the east of Panchala), the Matsyas, all these, know what religion is. The old men among the Northerners, the Angas, the Magadhas, without themselves knowing what virtue is, follow the practices of the Kuru-Panchalas.

The Kurus and the Panchalas comprehend from a half-uttered speech; the Salwas cannot comprehend till the whole speech is uttered. The Magadhas are comprehenders of signs; the Koshalas comprehend from what they see. The Mountaineers, like the Sivis, are very stupid. The Yavanas are omniscient; the Suras are particularly so. The mlecchas are wedded to the creations of their own fancy that other peoples cannot understand.

The Panchalas observe the duties enjoined in the Vedas; the Kauravas observe truth; the Matsyas and the Surasenas perform sacrifices. Beginning with the Matsyas, the residents of the Kuru and the Panchala countries, the Naimishas as well and the other respectable peoples, the pious among all races are conversant with the eternal truths of religion. The Kauravas with the Panchalas, the Salwas, the Matsyas, the Naimishas, the Koshalas, the Kasapaundras, the Kalingas, the Magadhas, and the Chedis who are all highly blessed, know what the eternal religion is.

Territories and Locations within the Panchala Kingdom

Kichaka Kingdom was a territory lying to the south of Panchala. It was ruled by the Kichaka clan of kings. They belonged to the Suta caste (offsprings of Kshatriyas upon Brahmana ladies). One among the Kichakas was the commander-in-chief of the Matsya army under King Virata. He was slain by Pandava Bhima due to his bad conduct towards the wife of Pandavas, viz Draupadi.

Kichaka kingdom also laid to the east of the Matsya Kingdom under the rule of King Virata. It seems that this territory was allied to both the Matsyas and Panchalas, with its own independent rulers. Its capital was mentioned to be Vetrakiya, on the banks of river Vetravati (Betwa) also known as Suktimati.

It is believed that the Pandavas lived in a small town named Ekachakra, belonging to this territory, during their wanderings after Duryodhana attempted to murder them at Varanavata (a Kuru city).

In the course of their wanderings the Pandavas saw the countries of the Matsyas, the Trigartas, the Panchalas and then of the Kichakas, and also many beautiful woods and lakes therein. They all had matted locks on their heads and were attired in barks of trees and the skins of animals. They attired in the garbs of ascetics. They used to study the Rig and the other Vedas and also all the Vedangas, as well as the sciences of morals and politics. Finally they met Vyasa. He told them: ‘Not far off before you is a delightful town.’ Saying this, he led them into the town of Ekachakra. On arriving at Ekachakra, the Pandavas lived for a short time in the abode of a Brahmana, leading an eleemosynary life.

During this period, Bhima slew a Rakhsasa named Baka (Vaka), at Vetrakiya. He controlled the affairs of the Kichaka Kingdom, making the king of the kingdom a name-sake king. By slaying the Rakshasa, Bhima freed that kingdom from Baka’s the reign of terror.

The Pandavas Journey from Ekachakra to Kampilya

The Pandavas proceeded towards Panchala with their mother, to attend an event of princess Draupadi’s. In order to reach their destination, they proceeded in a due northerly direction, walking day and night till they reached a sacred shrine of Siva, with the crescent mark on his brow. Then those tigers among men, the sons of Pandu, arrived at the banks of the Ganga. It was a forest called Angaraparna.

Here, they encountered a Gandharva named Angaraparna. After that encounter they went to a place called Utkochaka, where they met the sage Dhaumya. They appointed Dhaumya, the younger brother of Devala, as their pries. Then they proceeded towards the country of the southern Panchalas, ruled over by the King Drupada. They proceeded by slow stages, staying for some time within those beautiful woods and by fine lakes that they beheld along their way and entered the capital of the Panchalas.

Beholding the capital (Kampilya), as also the fort, they took up their quarters in the house of a potter. Desirous of beholding the Swayamvara (the self-choice ceremony of the princess), the citizens, roaring like the sea, all took their seats on the platforms that were erected around the amphitheatre.

The kings from diverse countries entered the grand amphitheatre by the north-eastern gate. The amphitheatre, which itself had been erected on an auspicious and level plain to the north-east of Drupada’s capital, was surrounded by beautiful mansions. It was enclosed on all sides with high walls and a moat with arched doorways here and there. The Pandavas, too, entering that amphitheatre, sat with the brahmanas and beheld the unequalled affluence of the king of the Panchalas. Arjuna won the competition set for winning Draupadi in the self-choice ceremony.

Kanyakubja Kingdom

The Kanyakubja kingdom is known as the modern day Kannauj district of Uttar Pradesh. During the reign of King Drupada of southern Panchala, this territory formed a part of the southern Panchala.

Gadhi, who was born in the race of King Kusika, and Gadhi’s son Viswamitra, were mentioned as the earlier rulers of this kingdom. Gadhi’s daughter was married to Richik, belonging to the Bhargava clan. Richika’s son was Jamadagni and Jamadagni’s son was the celebrated Bhargava Rama.

Gadhi mentions to Richika about a custom followed by their race; during marriage, the bridegroom should give to the bride’s side a dowery of 3,000 fleet steeds with brown color. (This custom is similar to that of Madra culture.) Richika get the horses from Varuna. (Note that Arjuna also got his excellent chariot, horses and bow from Varuna.) The horses reached Kanyakubja capital, crossing the river Ganga. The spot where they crossed the river was known by the name “Horse’s Landing Place.” Not far from Kanyakubja is a spot on the sacred bank of the Ganga, still famous among men as Aswatirtha, in consequence of the appearance of horses at that place.
Both the Kusikas and the Bhargava-Richikas seems to have links with the ancient western cultures (e.g., Bahlika culture, Madra culture, Rishika Kingdom, and Rishikas). Viswamitra (Kusika’s race) was born as a Kshatriya and later became a Brahmana, much like what was common in Madra cultures. Bhargava Rama (Richika’s race) was mentioned as an expert in the use of the battle-axe, which he got from the Kailasa region (Kailasa range, Tibet).

The location of the Rishika tribe, who were experts in the use of battle-axes, was not far away from this region. The custom of donating or accepting horses as dowry also indicate a north-western culture. It seems that neither the Bhargavas (and Richikas or Rishikas) nor the Kusikas maintained any distinctions such as Brahmana and Kshatriya upon themselves. However during the later periods, when the Vedic religion became rigid in its four-order caste-system, the Bhargavas were accepted as brahmanas and the Kusikas as Kshatriyas.

Gadhi was mentioned as a sovereign whose military force was exceedingly great. Viswamitra also was mentioned as possessing a large army and many animals and vehicles. Using those animals and vehicles, he used to roam around in forests in search of deer. During his wanderings he met the sage Vasistha and engaged in a dispute with this sage on the matter of the wealth of cattle possessed by the sage. Cattle wealth often caused disputes in the ancient kingdoms. Viswamitra had to encounter many local armies in his attempts to seize the cattle wealth, and he was vanquished by the local armies. After the defeat from Vasistha, Viswamitra adopted the life of an ascetic.

Bhargava Rama is also mentioned as defeating many tribes like Heheyas, and later adopting the life of an ascetic. Thus both the Kusikas and Bhargava-Richikas were warrior tribes who also were a priest-like class of people.

The Pandavas’s Route from Dwiata Lake to Matsya Kingdom

Panchala was one among the countries considered by the Pandavas in which to spend their 13th year of anonymity, along with the kingdoms of Chedi, Matsya, Surasena, Pattachchara, Dasarna, Navarashtra, Malla, Salva, Yugandhara, Saurashtra, Avanti, and the spacious Kuntirashtra. However, the Pandavas selected the Matsya Kingdom for their 13th year of anonymous life.

They ordered their chief servant, Indrasena, and the others to take with them the empty chariots and to speedily proceeded to Dwaravati. All the maid-servants of Draupadi were orderd to go to the Panchala kingdom. After that, the Pandavas left Dwaita lake in the Dwaita forest and proceeded to Matsya kingdom. Dhaumya, their priest, taking their sacred fires, set out for the Panchala Kingdom.

The Pandavas, traveling eastwards, reached the River Yamuna. Traveling along the southern banks of the Yamuna, they passed through Yakrilloma, Surasena. Then they turned westwards (possibly to deceive the spies of Duryodhana, who might have been following them), leaving behind on their right (the north side) the country of the Panchalas, and on their left (south side) that of the Dasarnas, entering the Matsya Kingdom.

Impact of Magadha Kings on Panchala

Due to the power of Magadha King Jarasandha, many ancient tribes had to shift their domains. Prominent among them were the Yadavas, who fled from Surasena Kingdom southwest, to Anarta Kingdom. The King of the Salwayana tribe with their brethren and followers, and the southern Panchalas and the eastern Kosalas also had to flee to the country of the Kuntis, which was south to these kingdoms.

Even though only King Jarasandha is mentioned, this situation might have arisen due to many generations of powerful Magadha kings, who were forefathers of Jarasandha. During the reign of Drupada, no shift in the location of southern Panchala is mentioned explicitly. If the situation was created by Jarasandha alone, and no other Magadha kings later or earlier to him, then this shift of southern-Panchala could be temporary.

Panchala’s Alliance with the Pandava King Yudhisthira

Bhima, during his military campaign to the east to collect tribute for Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya sacrifice, first visited the Panchala Kingdom after leaving his home city of Indraprastha. Only two tribes did not pay tribute unto Yudhisthira, viz., the Panchalas in consequence of their relationship by marriage, and the Andhakas and Vrishnis (Anarta Yadavas) in consequence of their friendship.

When the Pandavas were banished by Duryodhana to the woods, by unrighteously taking over their kingdom, both the Panchalas and Yadavas visited them along with other cousins like Chedis and Kekeyas. The Pandavas five sons by Draupadi spent some of their life in Panchala, and some in Dwaraka during the 13 year long exile of the Pandavas.

During their pilgrimage all around India, Yudhisthira asked the weak men among his followers to go to King Dhritarashtra of Kuru Kingdom, and if he didn’t take care of them, then to King Drupada of southern Panchala.

Yudhishthira and his followers, with the Matsya King Virata, began to make preparations for the Kurukshetra War. Virata and his relatives sent word to all the monarchs, and Panchala King Drupada also did the same. And at the request of the Pandavas, as also of the two kings of the Matsyas and the Panchalas, many kings gathered for their cause. Drupada sent his priest to Hastinapura for the initial peace talks.

Drupada, the king of the Panchalas, surrounded by his ten heroic sons, Satyajit and others, headed by Dhrishtadyumna. Well-protected by Shikhandi and having furnished his soldiers with necessary things, they joined the Pandavas with a full akshauhini.

Panchalas in Kurukshetra War

The Panchalas were the closest among all the allies of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War. Panchala prince Dhristadyumna was the commander-in-chief for the whole of the Pandava army. Many heroes from Panchala battled in the war. Most of them were alive till the end of the war, however all of them were slain by Ashwathama in an ambush, while they slept in their tents on the last day of the war.

Ashwathama was the ruler of half of the Panchala Kingdom, viz the northern Panchala, under Kuru King Duryodhana. Northern Panchala was then reduced to the status of a province of the Kuru Kingdom. This could be the political factor that caused the southern Panchalas to become kinsmen of the Pandavas, who were a rebel force in the Kuru Kingdom. By supporting the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War, they might have sought to regain their lost Panchala territories.

Panchala Heroes

Satyajit is mentioned in Mahabharata as the commander-in-chief of the Panchala army under king Drupada, who fought against Arjuna, who was then a disciple of Drona, the preceptor in warfare in the Kuru Kingdom. He came to the Kurukshetra War leading the one akshouhini of the Panchala army. The brave warriors among the Panchalas, viz., Jayanta, Amitaujas and the great car-warrior Satyajit were mentioned as great car-warriors (Maharathas) by Bhishma.

The Panchala princes, Yudhamanyu and Uttamaujas were protectors of Arjuna’s car-wheels during the battle. Similarly, the Panchala prince Kumara is mentioned as one of the protectors of Yudhisthira’s car-wheels, along with another hero, Yugadhara (hailing from the city of Yugandhara, located somewhere to the west of Kurujangala, either in Hariyana or Punjab. Kumara and Yugandhara were slain by Drona, and Vyaghradatta, another Panchala prince, was slain by Drona along with Sinhasena.

Dhrishtadyumna, Sikhandin, Janamejaya (the son of Durmuksha), Chandrasen, Madrasen, Kritavarman, Dhruva, Dhara, Vasuchandra and Sutejana were mentioned as Panchala heroes, some of them being the sons of Drupada. The 10 sons of Drupada and his five sons are mentioned as participating in the Kurukshetra War. Suratha and Satrunjaya are mentioned as sons of Drupada slain by Ashwathama. Drupada’s three grandsons were also mentioned as battling in the war. Shikhandi’s son Khsatradeva was mentioned as battling in the war. Dhristadyumna’s sons, tender in year, were mentioned as slain by Drona in the war. Valanika, Jayanika, Jaya, Prishdhra, and Chandrasena — these heroes were also believed to be of the Panchala, slain by Ashwathama.

The Somakas, Srinjayas and the Prabhadrakas

These three names were mentioned frequently in the narration the Kurukshetra War, either as being related to the Panchalas or as synonymous to the Panchalas. The Srinjayas and Somakas were tribes allied to the Panchalas by kinship, born off from the various branches of the same royal lineage that brought forth the Panchala tribe. They dwelled in the various provinces of the Panchala kingdom. Prabhadrakas seems to be an elite group of the Panchala army, employed in Kurukshetra War.

The Somakas

‘Somaka’ seems to be a name used to denote all the tribes of the Panchalas. The word ‘Somaka’ means ‘the one who belonged to the Lunar Dynasty’. This name could have been given by rulers of Solar Dynasty. The Kosala Kingdom ruled by Solar Dynasty of kings laid to the east of Panchala, so this name could have coined by the Kosalas to denote the Panchalas. Thus the name could be collective to the whole of the Panchala tribes and specific to the tribes that lie close to Kosala, i.e., the tribes that dwell in the eastern parts of Panchala.

The Srinjayas

Srinjaya King Hotravahana is mentioned as the maternal grandfather of the Kasi princess Amba (Amva). Amva, coming from Salwa, stayed in the asylum of sage Saikhavatya (who dwelled on the banks of the Saikavati River). Hotravahana met her granddaughter there. He is mentioned as a friend of Bhargava Rama.

The Prabhadrakas

The Prabhadrakas appear to be an elite army obtained by the Panchalas from the Kambojas. They could also be a Panchala army unit or a Panchala tribe that got trained in cavalry warfare by the Kambojas.

The Prabhadrakas were mentioned as hailing from Kamboja Kingdom. They could be the army brought by the Panchals from the Kambojas, since Kambojas were famous for lending their horses or cavalry to any party on a payment basis.

The Prabhadrakas of the Kamvoja country, numbering 6,000, with upraised weapons and stretched bows, and with excellent steeds on their gold-decked cars, supported Dhristadyumna. To distinguish them from the proper Panchala army or from other Prabhadrakas, they were mentioned as Prabhadraka-Panchalas. This army is mentioned as battling on the side of stretched bows Pandavas. Karna slew 770 foremost of warriors among the Prabhadrakas initially, then he then slew 1,700 of them.

A group of Prabhadrakas is mentioned as battling against Dhristadyumna. The chief of Avanti, with the Sauviras and the cruel Prabhadrakas, resisted stretched bows wrathful Dhrishtadyumna. The Kasayas (Kasis), the Chedis, the Matsyas, the Srinjayas, the Panchalas, and the Prabhadrakas are mentioned in Mahabharata as separate armies.

When Ashwathama slaughtered the Panchalas in an ambush at night while they were asleep, the Prabhadrakas headed by Shikhandi woke up and tried to put up some resistance. But Ashwathama and his army slew them all, including Shikhandi.

Thus, the inconceivable pastimes of the epic Battle at Kurukshetra is recorded in Sri Mahabharata.