A hypothesis inspired by tweets by INI Blogger Varnam on some recent Egyptian finds though not directly related to this topic.
It is known from the Mahabharata that Arjuna spent significant time during the forest exile away from his brothers.
The popular narrative is he went to visit Indra.
But then as with every episode where “celestials” are invoked the Mahabharata eventually describes what really happened. In this case there is an extensive description of Arjuna fighting alongside others who are clearly not “vedic indians” in some foreign territory.
It is understandable why the popular narrative disposes this off as some imaginary land because Arjuna clearly spent those years living amongst non-vedic people.
Some clues to where this could have been comes from the narrative itself:
- His path to this foreign land was by land through the Himalayas
- The pimary tribe he fights are called NivataKavacha
- A city he passes by after one of the major battles is called Hiranyapuri . The tribes are referred to as Kalakeyas and Paulamas taking off from some female dieties referred to as Pulama and Kalaka.
- A principal character in this episode is Matali, described as Indra’s charioteer
- Significant part of the narrative has to do with chariot riding skills and new weapons that Arjuna acquires
The Battle of Kadesh from 1274-75 BC stands out as the most likely candidate for the conquest in a foreign land that Arjuna participated in.
- It was the most significant Chariot car battles
- It involved a number of allies fighting for the Hittite King, almost all of who spoke an Indo-European language of one kind or another
- That list includes the Mittani who in a treaty a century before list the Vedic Gods Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya
- The principal Hittite character in the battle is Muwattali. Muwattali interestingly names his sons after Teshub (a Hurrian god of Thunderbolt who parallels Indra and is known for slaying the dragon Ilyunka who parallels Vrtra)
Whether a 1274-75 BC date for the period of exile agrees with other theories is a whole other subject of debate. As an example here is one analysis that puts the date of the Kurukshetra War around 1194 BC. The linguistics based theories that have examined the Vedas put it in a broad range betwen 1200 BC and 800 BC, taking a mid-date of around 1000 BC (Witzel’s theory is challenged to a degree by this find on Iron in India before 1200 BC).
Without delving into that contentious debate which gets us into the treacherous terrain of where the Vedic people originated, some things to consider:
- The city state political structure from the Hittite, Hurrian Mittani era is consistent with the narrative in Arjuna’s conquests
- A similar narrative is also found in the Uttara Kaanda with Ravana’s conquests of foreign City States where also are encountered - the Nivatakavachas, the Kalakas and the tribes who trace their origins to Varuna. The city of the Kalakas is called Asma nagara and that of the Nivatakavacahas as Manimati.
- The Hittites are credited with the advent of Iron weapons considered superior to the Egyptian bronze weapons in the Battle of Kadesh. One of Arjuna’s objectives in making the trip away from his brothers was the acquisition of superior weapons. (However the hypothesis of Iron in India only in 1200 BC is challenged by this find.)
- Who exactly were the Nivatakavachas - Egyptians if we assume Arjuna fought for the Hittites as one of the many Indo-European speaking allies. (The narrative in Uttara Kanda traces the lineage of Ravana on his maternal side to Heti and Praheti - Set and Osiris perhaps. Also note Ravana is advised against hostilities with the Nivatakavachas)
- Which city state is associated with the female dieties Pulama and Kalaka ? (Kadesh also refers to a female diety. Also there is a Kaska and Pala conflict from an earlier era along the Hittite frontiers. The Hittite called the Pala language palaumnili)
The quest goes on ….
Postscript: The narrative in the Uttara Kanda on the origin of Rakshasas merits attention for parallels with the Egyptian myth of creation. Uttar Kanda describes Rakshasas to have evolved from water and are described as those who protected the primordial water. In the Egyptian myth of creation, people are described to have evolved from the sweat and tears of Ra and are also called the “cattle of Ra”.