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Surasena - Ancient Hindu King And Kingdom

Surasena was a king of the Yadu race. Puranic tradition mentions that there had been a conflict between Haihaya Kshatriyas and Bhrigus, culminating in Parashurama vanquishing Haihayas several times. Haihayas belonged to Yaduvamsha a branch of Chandravamsha. They recovered from the reverses and extended their power in North India. Surasena, one of the sons of the famous Kartaviryarjuna (Sahasrarjun), established kingdom around Mathura, which came to be known as Surasena after him.

Yadavas, another branch of Yaduvamsha, had established themselves in Vidarbha. Their king Madhu was successful in unifying various branches of Yadavas to establish a large empire. In Madhu’s fourth generation, Satvata started his own Satvata dynastic ruler, which was confined to the Surasena area. At the time of Rama, Surasena was ruled by Bhima, son of Satvata.

Shatrughna, brother of Rama, defeated Bhima and established himself at Mathura. However his sons could not retain their rule and Bhima Satvata was successful in re-establishing himself in Surasena.

Andhaka and Vrishni, among Bhima’s sons, established their own dynastic rule. In the Mahabharata times, Andhakas had grown in power and ruled over most of Surasena and Mathura, whereas Vrishnis held only a small territory. Kamsa of Mathura belonged to Andhakas. Krishna belonged to the Vrishni clan.

In the Mahabharata war, Yadavas were divided in their allegiance; Andhakas of Surasena supported Kauravas, while Vrishnis went with Pandavas. Even Krishna while himself helping Pandavas as a non-combatant prime advisor, had seconded his large army to Kauravas. Balarama had remained neutral.

Puranas mention 23 Surasenas after the Mahabharata war up to the period of Nanda but without any mention of dynastic lists.

Saurasenas of yore were known to be brilliant warriors. Manusmriti suggests that the van of the army should be composed of men born in Kurukshetra, Virata, Panchala or Surasena.

In the historical period, Surasena is known to be one of the sixteen mahajanapadas as mentioned in Pali texts like Anguttara Nikaya. These mahajanapadas were kingdoms and were continually at war with each other, without political stability. Only four of these mahajanapadas survived, namely Magadha, Kosala, Avanti and Vatsa. Eventually Magadha became more powerful and its authority prevailed over the entire North India.

Small silver square coins showing a lion to the right with a fish above and some ancillary symbols around, known for long and available in two denominations of half Karsapana and Masaka, weighing 1.8 grams and 0.3 grams respectively, and issued between 400 – 350 BC have recently been attributed to Surasenas.

Source – The ocean of story: Being C H Twaney’s Translation of Somadeva’s Katha Sarit Sagara or Ocean of Streams of Story (tr) Charles Henry Tawny New Delhi Motilal Banarsidass.
Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume X – page 199 - IHRF