About 48 tribes or groups of the people have been mentioned in the Rig Veda in different contexts. Many of the tribes are identified with their respective locations whereas some yet remain unidentified as there seems no geographical continuity of those tribes because of their possible assimilation with the other tribes living in the close vicinity or their losing political or monarchical identity in course of the time.
The Yadus, TurvaSas, Anus, Druhyus and Purus are the main tribes frequently mentioned in the Rig Veda. It is a general understanding that The Rig Vedic composition underwent under the hypothetical Puru patronage, or to be precise Puru’s branch Bharata clan (sub-branch Tritsu). Yadus and Turvasas are always mentioned together but they seem to be located at far distance from the Rig Vedic tribe, Rig Veda evidenced it thus…they were coming from far afar (RV I.36.18; VI.45.1) and from the further bank (RV V.31.8).
However, though both tribes were located far afar, Rig Veda does not clearly mention that both the tribes lived together in close vicinity, but mentioning them together implies their close geographical proximity. Though both the tribes have been mostly friendly with the Rig Vedic tribe, it does not indicate that the cordial alliance remained always the same. There are references in the Rig Veda that sometimes, they too, had turned foes which is apparent from verse VI.27.7; VII.18.6 and 19.8; IX.61.2. Hence, the federation of the five tribes, which is often referred as ‘Panchajana’, means that it was not case all the time. Rig Veda, though mentions ‘panchajana’ frequently, does not explicitly name the tribes. Hence, the identity of these panchajana tribes remains ambiguous.
However, as far as the identity of the both is concerned, Talageri suggests that both, Yadu and Turvasa, were certainly not the Vedic Aryans. 27 Then who were they? Were the Yadus of Rig Veda same tribe mentioned in the Mahabharata? Had it been the case there was no reason to call them Non-Vedic Aryans as they were sons of Yayati. However, Yadu and Turvasas of Rig Veda certainly are distinct tribes but located afar from the Vedic tribe.
Turvasas sometimes are mentioned as ‘Turva’ in Rig Veda (10.62.10). In later Indian tradition, the Turvasus seems to have been disappeared except their passing mention in Satapatha Brahmana. Though there is no certain identification of the tribe by either theorist, it seems that the Turvasas were none other than Turanians of Avesta, a historical tribe living in the region of Turan, which was always hostile to the Avestans. “The Yasht (13.143 & 144) lists the names of individuals who were the first "hearers and teachers" of Zarathushtra's teachings. …….The five nations mentioned are Airyana Vaeja (called Airyanam Dakhyunam in the Yasht) as well as four neighboring lands. These four lands neighboring Airyana Vaeja are Tuirya, Sairima, Saini and Dahi.” From Yasht, it is clear that the Tuirya people were an ancient tribe that delved in the Turan region.
The word Turvayana occurs four times in Rig Veda as the name of the person to whom Indra helped to win against some enemy tribes. Griffith refers to Sayana and concludes that it could be the epithet of Divodasa. Likewise, some scholars think that Turanians are mentioned as Tuiryas in Avesta and may be that the Tuirya word was derived from the word Aierya in its contrast for their enmity.
However, we find from the Rig Veda that the Turvasas (Turva-Turvayana), although hostile with Iranians, were mostly on friendly terms with Vedic people. Indra’s help to them winning some wars indicate Vedic peoples could have participated in few wars that the Turvasas fought. Max Muller asserts, “Turvasa and his descendants, who represent the Turanians, are described in the later epic poems of India as cursed and deprived of their inheritance in India.” It is but natural after the battle of ten kings, Turanians (Turvasas) would have become despised people to the Vedic folks.
Turvasas also can be explained as ‘Tur+Vasa”, residents of ‘Tur’ region. The name ‘Turk’ also is derived from ‘Tur’, same as the term ‘Turan’ or ‘Tuirya’ of Avesta, making it clear that the Turvasas of the Rig Veda and Turanians of Avestan texts are one and the same people. Turan was the land of the modern Turks.
To the people settled in Helmand region, Turanians alias Turvasas, positioned in Turan, would be the people coming from far afar looking at the geographical distance. Macdonell agrees that the Turvasas advanced from West to participate in the battle of ten kings, which does mean that their location was certainly towards west of the river Parusni, where the battle took place. Avesta mentions Tuirya (Turan) being the neighbouring land of Airyana Vaeja and with whom he was hostile, implies that the Turvasus of Rig Veda, with whom they were mostly on friendly terms, in all probability were none but Turanians.
As far the Yadus, although mostly have been equated with Yadus of Mathura, it seems unlikely that they were inhibited there, though they too are said to be coming ‘from far afar’ like Turvasas and with them. Macdonnel states in this regard that, “the Turvasas and Yadus were two distinct though closely allied tribes.” However, if Turvasas were coming from Turan, Yadus, too, must have been settled about them and not to the far opposite side like Mathura. We get an indicative proof from Rig Veda as followes:
“A hundred thousand have I gained from Parsu, from Tirindira,
And presents of the Yadavas.” (RV 8.6.46, Trans. Griffith)
Parsus are identified with Persians. In this verse, it shows that the Yadus were close to Persians too! Looking at association of Turvasas and Yadus and in above verse, the composer praising Parsus and Yadavas in same breath for the donations received from them, it would seem that the Yadus of Rig Veda were settled somewhere between Turan and the habitat of Persian tribes.
King Sudasa ousted an important tribe, the Puru, in the battle of Ten kings with the help of his chief priest Vashishtha. Sudasa is said to be belonging to the Bharata clan, a sub-tribe or the part of Puru tribe. There are many seers in the Rig Veda those are named after Puru, such as Purumeelha Angirasa, Puru Atreya, Puruhanma etc. However, it is clear that the Rig Vedic people (at the least during Sudasa clan’s reign) did not directly belong to the hypothetical Puru tribe. Rather, Puru seems to be a common name used for personal as well as for cities, towns and forts. Indra’s main epithet is ‘Purabhidya’, ‘Purandara’ that means destroyer of the cities and the forts.
We find the same tradition is Avesta as well. Zoroaster’s father’s name was Pourushaspa. ‘Pouru’ was a prefix of the many Avestan personal names, such as Pouru-Bangha, Pouruchista, Pouru-Dhakshiti, Pouru-Jira, Pouru-Dhakhsti, and so many others. There can be possible connection between Puru of the Rig Veda and Pouru of Avesta.
Vedic Puru and Pouru of Avesta are the same, which means ‘Plenty’, ‘Many’ or ‘More’. Or the “first man”. Sometimes, it also stands for ‘ancient’ and ‘predecessors’. The word Puratan, Purva for ancient could have been derived from ‘Puru’. According to Saul Levin, the word ‘Puru’ is of the basic vocabulary, is archaic, and is parallel with ‘Pouru’ of Avesta. No wonder, the same word came to be used as ‘Purush’ for man and ‘Purandhri’ for female while becoming cognate for cities or towns where both genders lived together to whom the term ‘Poura’ was applied. We also notice the term "Puru" used in Assyrian clay tablet denoting eponym elections. This does mean that the Puru was a term that was part of the archaic vocabulary and was used in different civilizations denoting close but slightly different meanings.
Whether Puru was a tribal name, or just an archaic epithet, or vocative case used for the men may be a question here. MacDonell asserts, “In several passages of the Rigveda, the Purus as a people seem to be meant.” He further adds that from Rig Veda we note sudden disappearance of the Purus. However, certainly, from Rig Veda, it appears that the name was variably used as a tribal name, epithet and prefix of the personal names. Given due consideration to this, Puru from the lineage of Mahabharata cannot be equated with either the Puru of Rig Veda or Pouru of Avesta. Surprisingly, Satapatha Brahmana explains Purus as Raksasas and Asuras. It only is in Mahabharata, Puru revives as a name of the son of Yayati and Sharmishtha.
In Rig Veda, though, Puru, as a tribe, is allied with Rig Vedic tribe sometimes but were chief adversaries during the battle of ten kings in which they were vanquished by Sudasa. Purus (if at all it was a tribe’s name) seems to be in the close vicinity of the Sudasa’s region. Traditionally, it is thought that the Puru tribe was later branched in many tribes, such as Bharat, Tritsu, Kushik etc, is not justifiable for Sudasa of the Tritsu clan cannot belong to Bharata or Puru tribe, because in all probabilities they were generic words, not tribal identities.
Pakhta are identified with the Pakhtun tribe that still delves at Pakhtunistan and Bhalanas at Baluchistan or nearer to the Bolan Pass. Pakhtas find mention in the history of Herodotus as ‘Pactiyans’ informing us that they were located on the eastern frontier of Achaemenid Arachosia Satrapy from as early as 1st millennium BCE. The present location of the Pakhtuns and Balochis, too, is as same as it was in the Rig Vedic times showing no displacement or migration for any reason. This also would indicate that there could not have been any reason for Vedic people to migrate in any direction too.
The Shivas in all probability were the people living in the vicinity of the Indus, along western tributaries. While name of the tribe appearing clearly as ‘Shiva’ in the Rig Veda, hardly any attempt has been made by any scholar to relate with the IGVC where abundant proof has been found of Shiva worship. Rather, we find utter silence on the identification of this tribe or group of people when the scholars have taken so much of efforts to identify miscellaneous tribes. The Visanin tribe, though not identified so far, but since the term means ‘person wearing horned headdress’, Tarkateertha Laxmanshastri Joshi identifies them with the people of IGVC where the deity images of horned headdresses are found.
Alina is other tribe to which Talageri wants to identify with Hellenes when renowned scholars identify it with the people of Nuristan, a province of Afghanistan or north-east of Kafiristan based on the accounts of the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang of seventh century AD. This tribe was also amongst ten tribes those had assembled against Sudasa in the battle of ten kings. The tribe finds mention only once in Rig Veda 7.18.7. It is pertinent to note here that the Kafirs were following ancient Hindu paganism till they were vanquished by Abdur Rahman in 19th century.
There is no ambiguity over the identification that the Parthavas are Parthians whereas Parsu were the Persians. Though, the identity of Druhyus is disputed, there is almost an agreement that they belonged to Gandhar region. Gandhari (And as Gandharvas) tribe, too, is mentioned in the Rig Veda. However, its geography is not mentioned. The Gandhari tribe must have been settled in Gandhara region of present Kandahar, as Sanskrit G changes to K in Gandhari language, along with the Druhyus who later either merged with Gandhara people or lost prominence and their identity in the course of time. Druhyus also were one among the ten tribes that had assembled against Sudasa in the battle of ten kings, whereas the Gandhari tribe seems to be neutral.
Historically, the Gandhar kingdom was located in the Swat (RV Suvastu) and Kabul (RV Kubha) river valleys. The capital was Purushpur (modern Peshavar), derived from the word ‘Puru’, it seems this city’s name must have travelled to us from the oldest Vedic and Avestan tradition.
The Bharata tribe, too, is another enigma. Though it has been attempted to relate this tribe with Sudasas (Tritsus) and Purus, the name Bharata does not appear in the Rig Veda as a name of any particular tribe whose existence can be shown independently. Bharata is mentioned in the Rig Veda in about 15 verses, but in at least four verses, the name Bharata appears as a synonym of Agni , at one place of Maruts and at some times of gods. At some places, the Bharatas are mentioned as insignificant, such as in RV 7.33.6. However, from Rig Veda, it seems that the term ‘Bharata’mostly is a generic term, like Puru, not specifically the name of any tribe. The seer Vishwamitra is said to be among sons of Bharata, the third Mandala of Rig Veda is attributed to Vishwamitra and hence, it often is called Bharata book. The geography of Bharatas, as per Rig Veda, was on Saraswati, Apaya and Drasadvati. (RV 3.23.4) Devasravas and and Devavata are mentioned in this hymn as Bharata chieftains, which may indicate that there could have been multiple tribes those identified themselves as Bharatas.
The word Bharata is derived from root ‘bhru’, which means to provide for, to be maintained, cherished or one who protects. From this root ‘Bhrata’ (Brother), Bhartru, and so the Bharata words have been evolved, all mean the same. Hence, in this respect, like Arya, Bharata could have been the epithet to be addressed for friendly tribes including self, claiming as descendants of some mythical Bharata. The name ‘Bharata’ for the country thus seems to have been derived from root ‘Bhru’ to mean the land that provides is more logical than to relate it with the mythological kings of that name.
Anus, mostly mentioned together with the Druhyus is another tribe mentioned in the Rig Veda, especially, as enemies who participated in the battle of ten kings against Sudasa. Talageri wants to identify Anus with Iranians. The identification is based on his assumption that the Bhrigus were their priests and since Bhrigus are meant to be Atharvans of Avesta, the Anus must be the Avestan Iranians. The identification is incorrect as Athravans of Avesta have nothing to do with the Atharvans of the Rig Veda or Atharvaveda, which we will see in detail in the next chapter. However, Rig Veda evidences that the Kavi Cayamana, Anu King, a participant in the battle of ten kings, was of Parthian origin. (RV 7.18.8) Abhyavartin Cayamana, although not certain whether a descendant of Kavi Cayamana or ancestor, also is mentioned in Rig Veda (6.27.8) as “Parthavanam” (Parthian) in a friendly manner. The original verse goes like this;
The verse clearly indicates the Parthian origin of the Anu tribe that delved in the norther part of the ancient Iran. They certainly not were Iranians themselves as Iran was never the name of the tribe but region.
Druhyus (and in all probabilities the Anus, too,) are always, even in later Indian tradition, are associated with the North-West, i.e. Gandhar or beyond. Anu could be the personal name of the King of the Druhyus as suggested by Edward Washburn Hopkins. In the same way, he suggests as well that, the Turvasa could be the name of Chieftain of the Yadus. However, this does not appear to be the case. The identification of the Druhyus with Druids has also been not accepted by the scholars.
However, Rig Veda clearly indicates Parthian origin of the Anu tribe. Parthia, in Avesta, is mentioned as ‘Parthava’, was located towards north-western Iran, bordered by the Karakuram desert. Anu Tribe in all probabilities was settled in this region. Since Anus and Druhyus are mentioned always together, it does not mean that they were the same but were distinct tribes who were settled along traversable distance from the Rig Vedic tribes.
The Gandhari tribe also is frequently mentioned in Rig Veda (also as Gandharva sometimes) is related with Gandhara region. The region must have acquired the name after this tribe because it could have been become powerful and had expanded its horizons in later times. Also, boundaries of the Gandhara of those times are not certain. It could have been name of the entire Helmand Valley, thus accommodating various tribes in that region, as we have discussed earlier in this chapter.
Another tribe or the name of the people mentioned in the Rig Veda is of Panis. The references to the Panis are quite hostile. Still, we find in the Rig Veda that Vedic people were happy to accept gifts from the Panis in later times. (RV 6.45.31-32) Though it has been attempted to identify Panis with expert traders Phoenicians or Parni tribe, recorded by Strabo as living in east Iranian region. However, the Panis could be the name of the people who lived in IGVC.
Panis, as mentioned in the Rig Veda, were expert merchants and farmers producing massive food grains and used to store surplus produce. (RV 1.130.1, 2.31.3, 3.2.7) They were immensely rich, both the male and female used to wear variety of golden ornaments. (RV 1.44.1) The hatred for their richness and trade appears so many times in Rig Veda, such as in RV. 6.51.14, 6.53.5. Rig Veda describes them as opponents of sacrifices, without faith on Yajnyas, of nasal or rude speech, Godless and deceitful. (RV 7.6.3) However, though, the Rig Vedic seers harboured a grudge against Panis, there is no instance of war between them.
Panis mean traders (Vani) in later Indian tradition, too, as Yaska has defined in Nirukta. Sayana, too, confirms this etymology. In a way, Rig Vedic description can be related to the mercantile community of the IGVC.
It should not come as a surprise as the Panis were traders and as the profession demanded, they must have been travelling with their merchandise across the regions crossing the settlements of Vedic tribes. The few finds of IGVC seals and ivory in BMAC sites confirms the IGVC trade with BMAC. On the decline of Sudasa’s Tritsu Clan, later Rig Vedic seers had to accept gifts from the Panis, which is evident from the RV 6.45. 31-32, where the Rig Vedic seer is praising a Pani named Bubu for his graciousness.
Tritsu, a tribe that prospered under Sudasa and it seems most of the Rig Veda shaped up in this tribe’s patronage, lived on the banks of the Sarasvati River, i.e. Helmand. Although there is no certainty in the identifications, about ten kings of his dynasty find mention in various contexts. Talageri designates them the Puru lineage, which seems to be improbable for all the listed kings. The scholars have attempted to connect Sudasa with the Bharatas who are said to be a branch of the Purus, as we have seen above, it does not seem to be the case.
Earlier, we have seen that the Puru and Bharata was mostly a generic term or epithet, addressing Sudasa or his predecessors with these alternate epithets does not make Sudasa a part of the tribe. Rather in Indian ancient tradition, the name Puru and Bharata are clearly personal names, unrelated to any tribe. Like others, in the hymn 7.18 Sudasa’s, the ‘Tritsu’ clan has been mentioned in the episode of battle of ten kings, showing its independent identity.
We will discuss the Battle of Ten Kings and its location in the next chapter. However, we should make a note of the fact that all the tribes mentioned in Rig Veda belong to the lands of ancient Iran and neighboring north-western border areas on the Indian subcontinent. Only in late Vedic literature, we find mentions of the tribes like Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Shudra etc. those delved here from ancient times, which also suggests the shift of the geography of the Vedic people.