Nishada (niśāda) is the name of a kingdom mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata. The kingdom belonged to a tribe of the same name.
In the Mahabarata, Nishadas are mentioned as tribes that have the hills and the forests for their abode. They are linked with a king called Vena (See Saraswata Kingdom) who became a slave of wrath and malice, and became unrighteous. Brahmanas slew him. Some of Vena's descendants became Nishadas and some others were called Mlechchhas, who resided on the Vindhya mountains (12,58).
Ekalavya was a king of a Nishada tribe. He attacked Dwaraka once, and was killed by Vasudeva Krishna in the battle. This kingdom was located in Aravalli ranges in Rajasthan state of India, possibly the district named Bhilwara. Other than the kingdom of Ekalavya there were many other Nishada kingdoms.
Nishadha was the kingdom of the celebrated king Nala, who loved and married Damayanti the princess of Vidarbha Kingdom. The territory of the kingdom is identified with area around the present-day Gwalior district of Madhya Pradesh. Nishadha was connected to Dasarna and Kosala as well as with Vidarbha through trade routes.
Description in Ramayana
The main profession of Nishaadas was fishing and hunting. When a Nishaada had killed one bird from a pair, the other bird was remorseful of its loss and was in pangs of pain, observing this deep pain inspired the sage Valmiki to write the life history of king Rama of Ayodhya and his dutiful wife queen Sita, who lived in separation due to her capture by deceit by the egoistic demon-like king Ravana. This poetic historical record is revered in India as a guide to highest ideals of human-life, is known as the Ramayana, or the record of king Rama's life. In Ramayana, the king of Nishaadas, named Guha, was a very close friend of Rama. He helps Rama and Sita to cross Ganges river.
References in Mahabharata
The Mahabharata speaks of Nishaada (or Shabara) as forest hunters. Nishadas were mentioned as tribes that have the hills and the forests for their abode. They ruled over the hills, plains, land and dominated over the water. They were linked with a king called Vena (see Saraswata Kingdom) (12,58). Nishadas lived in hamlets (12,328).
Connection with the Kuru Dynasty of kings
- Mahabharata, Book 1, Chapter 94
Samvarana begat upon his wife, Tapati, the daughter of Surya, a son named Kuru. He was installed on the throne by his people. It is after his name that the field called Kurujangala has become so famous in the world. Devoted to asceticism, he made that field (Kurukshetra) sacred by practising asceticism there. Kuru’s wife, Vahini, brought forth five sons, viz., Avikshit, Bhavishyanta, Chaitraratha, Muni and the celebrated Janamejaya (Janamejaya the 2nd). And Avikshit begat Parikshit (Parikshit the 1st) the powerful, Savalaswa, Adhiraja (Dantavaktra was a king of the Adhirajas), Viraja, Salmali of great physical strength, Uchaihsravas, Bhangakara and Jitari the eighth. In the race of these were born, seven mighty chariot-warriors with Janamejaya (Janamejaya the 3rd) at their head. And unto Parikshit (Parikshit the 1st) were born Kakshasena and Ugrasena, and Chitrasena and Indrasena and Sushena and Bhimasena. And the sons of Janamejaya (Janamejaya the 3rd) were Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st)who was the eldest, and Pandu (Pandu the 1st) and Valhika (Vahlika the 1st), and Nishadha and Jamvunada, and then Kundodara and Padati and then Vasati the eighth.
Among them Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st) became king. And Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st) had eight sons, viz., Kundika, Hasti, Vitarka, Kratha the fifth, Havihsravas, Indrabha, and Bhumanyu, and Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st) had many grandsons, of whom three only were famous. They were, O king, Pratipa, Dharmanetra, Sunetra. Among these three, Pratipa became unrivalled on earth. And, Pratipa begat three sons, viz., Devapi, Santanu, and Valhika (Vahlika the 2nd). The eldest Devapi adopted the ascetism. And the kingdom was obtained by Santanu and Valhika.
The history of King Nala of Nishadha
- Mahabharata, Book 3, Chapter 50
There was a celebrated king among the Nishadhas, named Virasena. He had a son named Nala, versed in the knowledge of virtue and wealth. It hath been heard by us that, that king was deceitfully defeated by Pushkara, and afflicted with calamity, he dwelt in the woods with his spouse Damayanti.
Nala to Damayanti, on the roads running through Nishadha Kingdom
- Mahabharata, Book 3, Chapter 61
These many roads lead to the southern country, passing by (the city of) Avanti and the Rikshavat mountains. This is that mighty mountain called Vindhya; yon, the river Payasvini running seawards, and yonder are the asylums of the ascetics, furnished with various fruit and roots. This road leadeth to the country of the Vidarbhas—and that, to the country of the Kosalas. Beyond these roads to the south is the southern country.’ Addressing Bhima’s daughter, he distressed king Nala spake those words unto Damayanti over and over again.
Giriprastha, a place in Nishadha
- Mahabharata, Book 3, Chapter 313
Indra for the purpose of overcoming his foes, dwelt in disguise in the asylum of Giriprastha, in Nishadha and thus attained his end.
A Mountain Range named Nishadha
- Mahabharata, Book 6, Chapter 6
Stretching from east to west, are these six mountains that extend from the eastern to the western ocean. They are Himavat, Hemakuta, that best of mountains called Nishadha, Nila abounding with stones of lapis lazuli, Sweta white as the moon, and the mountains called Sringavat composed of all kinds of metals.
- Mahabharata, Book 6, Chapter 7
On the south of Nila and the north of Nishadha, there is a huge Jambu tree that is eternal.
- Mahabharata, Book 6, Chapter 8
On the south of Sweta and the north of Nishadha, is the Varsha (Region or a sub-continent), called Romanaka. The men that are born there are all of white complexion, of good parentage, and handsome features. And the men born there are also all without enemies. On the south of Nishadha is the Varsha called Hiranmaya where is the river called Hiranwati. There liveth the great Garuda. And the people there are all followers of the Yakshas, wealthy, and of handsome features. The men there are endued with great strength and have cheerful hearts.
Nishadha, in the list of Kingdoms in Bharata Varsha (Ancient India)
- Mahabharata, Book 6, Chapter 9
..........the Pundras, the Bhargas, the Kiratas, the Sudeshnas, and the Yamunas, the Sakas, the Nishadhas, the Anartas, the Nairitas, the Durgalas, the Pratimasyas, the Kuntalas, and the Kusalas; the Tiragrahas, the Ijakas, the Kanyakagunas, the Tilabharas, the Samiras, the Madhumattas,..........
Nishadhas in Kurukshetra War
- Mahabharata, Book 7, Chapter 20
Drona sets the troops in Garuda Military Configuration
In the tail of the array stood Vikartana’s son Karna, with his sons, kinsmen and friends, and surrounded by a large force raised from diverse realms, Jayadratha, and Bhimaratha, and Sampati, and the Jays, and the Bhojas, and Bhuminjaya, and Vrisha, and Kratha, and the mighty ruler of the Nishadhas, all accomplished in battle, surrounded by a large host, in the heart of that array.
Karna's Military Campaign
- Mahabharata, Book 8, Chapter 8
He had subjugated many invincible and mighty foes—the Gandharas, the Madrakas, the Matsyas, the Trigartas, the Tanganas, the Khasas, the Pancalas, the Videhas, the Kulindas, the Kasi-kosalas, the Suhmas, the Angas, the Nishadhas, the Pundras, the Kichakas, the Vatsas, the Kalingas, the Taralas, the Asmakas, and the Rishikas.
The different Nishada Kingdoms
Nishada Kingdom of Ekalavya
Ekalavya's kingdom was the most famous Nishada kingdom during the time of the Pandavas. This kingdom was located in Aravalli ranges in Rajasthan state of India, possibly the district named Bhilwara. This kingdom was visited by Sahadeva during his military campaign to the south, to collect tribute for Yudhishthira's Rajasuya sacrifice;- Sahadeva, the Kuru warrior, conquered the country of the Nishadas and also the high hill called Gosringa, and that lord of earth called Srenimat (2,30). Nishada and Srenimat were mentioned together again at (5,4).
Ekalavya, the king of the Nishadas, always used to challenge Vasudeva Krishna to battle; but he was slain by Krishna in battle (5,48), (7-178,179) (16,6).
Arjuna proceeded to the dominions of the Nishada king, viz., the son of Ekalavya. The son of Ekalavya received Arjuna in battle. The encounter that took place between the Kuru hero and the Nishadas was furious. Unvanquished in battle, the valiant son of Kunti defeated the Nishada king who proved an obstacle to the sacrifice. Having subjugated the son of Ekalavya, he proceeded towards the southern ocean. (14,83).
Nishadas on the banks of Saraswati
A spot named Vinasana on the banks of Sarasvati River is mentioned as the gate to the kingdom of the Nishadas. There the river is completely dried up and exist as a dry river channel (3,130). Pandavas were led to this place by their guide viz sage Lomasa, during their pilgrimage all over India.
Nishada Kingdom in the South India
This kingdom was visited by Sahadeva during his military campaign to the south, to collect tribute for Yudhishthira's Rajasuya sacrifice;- After defeating the Dandakas (Aurangabad, Maharashtra) the Kuru warrior, Sahadeva vanquished and brought under his subjection numberless kings of the Mlechchha tribe living on the sea coast, and the Nishadas and the cannibals and even the Karnapravarnas, and those tribes also called the Kalamukhas (2,30).
This Nishada's battled for the sake of Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War:- The Dravida, the Andhaka, and the Nishada foot-soldiers, urged on by Satyaki, once more rushed towards Karna in that battle (Kurukshetra War) (8,49).
Nishada Kingdom of Manimat
Manimat had his kingdom to the south of Kosala. This kingdom was visited by Bhima during his military campaign to the east, to collect tribute for Yudhishthira's Rajasuya sacrifice;- After conquering Vatsabhumi Bhima defeated the king of the Bhargas, as also the ruler of the Nishadas viz Manimat and numerous other kings (2,29). This kingdom is possibly the Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh. The famous Nishada king named Guha who befriended the Kosala prince Raghava Rama was also the king of this kingdom.
Nishada Kingdom close to Kalinga and Vanga
A prince named Ketumat is mentioned as battling along with the Kalingas against Bhima, in the Kurukshetra War. He was mentioned as the son of the Nishada king. He could be the son of Manimat the Nishada king, who was defeated formerly by Bhima. Ketumat was slain by Bhima along with the Kalinga heroes (6,54).
Mekalas (a kingdom close to Dakshina Kosala Kingdom, in Chathisgad) and Utkalas (western Orissa), and Kalingas, and Nishadas and Tamraliptakas (south of West Bengal), were mentioned as advancing against Nakula (8,22). The Kalingas, the Vangas, the Angas, the Nishadas and the Magadhas were mentioned together on the Kaurava side at (8,70).
Nishadas in Kurukshetra War
On Pandava Side
On Kaurava Side
Nishada prince Ketumat was mentioned who was slain by Bhima along with the Kalinga heroes (6,54). Nishada army was mentioned to fight for the sake of Kauravas at various instances (6-118), (7,44), (8-17,20,22,60,70). Bhima is said to slay a Nishada prince (other than Ketumat) at (8,60).
A Mountain Range named Nishada
A mountain range in ancient India is named Nishada, mentioned along with other mountains like Meru, Mahendra, Malaya, Sweta, Sringavat, Mandara, Nila Dardurna, Chitrakuta, Anjanabha, the Gandhamadana mountains and the sacred Somagiri (13,165).
Nishada as a musical note
Shadaja, Rishabha, together with Gandhara, Madhyama, and likewise Panchama; after this should be known Nishada, and then Dhaivata (14,50). The seven original notes are Shadja, Rishabha, Gandhara, Mahdhyama, Panchama, Dhaivata and Nishada (12,183).
- Swords of excellent quality were manufactured in the country of the Nishadas. Pandavas possessed such swords (2,42).
- The Utpalas, the Mekalas, the Paundras, the Kalingas, the Andhras, the Nishadas etc. were mentioned as defeated by Karna (7,4).
- The story of a robber of the name of Kayavya, born of a Kshatriya father and a Nishada mother is mentioned at (12,134).
- In a remote region in the midst of the ocean, the Nishadas have their fair home (1,28).
- Nishada king is equated with an Asura tribe called Krodhavardhana (1,67)
- The great Nishada king Nala, who was married to Vidarbha's king Bhima's beautiful daughter, Damayanti.
- In Indian music, Nishada is the seventh note (swara) of the octave.
- Gopal, Ram (1983). India of Vedic Kalpasūtras (2 ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. p. 116. ISBN 9780895816351. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Anand; Sekhar, Rukmini (2000). Vyasa and Vighneshwara. Katha. p. 31. ISBN 9788187649076. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Manish Kumar. Eklavya. Prabhat Prakashan. ISBN 9789351861447.
- Ramayana by Valmiki, Gita Press publication, Gorakhpur, India
- The Cultural Process in India by Irawati Karve, Vol. 51, Oct., 1951 (Oct., 1951), pp. 135-138
- Kisari Mohan Ganguli, The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Translated into English Prose, 1883-1896.