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Ancient India’s Northern Lands

In Sanskrit texts, ancient India’s northern lands beyond the Himalayas are called Uttarakuru (in the east) and Uttaramadra (in the west). These lands do not figure in the earliest Vedic books. The name “Kuru” is found just once in Ṛgveda 10.33.4 where there is a reference to Kuruśravaṇa Trasadasyu, who is a king of the Pūrus. The Kurus are mentioned in late books such as the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa and the Mahābhārata. Later another name Śākadvīpa is used for this entire region.

The Purāṇas speak of four regions of Jambudvīpa, Ketumāla, Bhadrāśva and Uttarakuru. Jambudvīpa is India proper, Ketumāla represents the Oxus region, Bhadrāśva is the Jaxartes region and Uttarakuru denotes the country beyond it. In the Mahābhārata, Uttarakuru is paired with Dakṣiṇakuru to the south of the Himalayas. The distance between these regions can be estimated from the military campaign of Arjuna described in the Sabhāparvan सभापर्व. After crossing the White Mountain (Śvetaparvata), Arjuna marches through Haimavata and reaches the Mānasarovara Lake in the country of the Hāṭakas, dominated by the Gandharvas. From there he enters the region called Harivarṣa, beyond which lies Uttarakuru. Clearly, by this time the name Uttarakuru had subsumed Uttaramadra.

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