Janaka: Real or mythical?

Yashwant Malaiya malaiya at CS.COLOSTATE.EDU
Wed May 10 23:28:11 UTC 2000

J. Kingston Cowart writes:

>Is there any *definitive information* as to whether Janaka was
>        1) an actual historical figure, or
>        2) a mythical construction?
>Or are we left to our own best guess on the subject?

I think one should consider other possibilities also. A historical
person could get surrounded by myths, such that he could become
more mythical than real. Or events relating to several real individuals
could get associated with a mythical person.

Mentions in contemporary inscriptions on stone would suggest
that a person was historic with near 100% certainty. If a person
is mentioned in multiple oral traditions, such that they are
highly statistically independent, probability of historicity
should be very high. But occurrence and survival of such records
is perhaps an exception and thus historicity of most historic
individuals is unascertainable. I think that rather than asking
for a 0/1 decision, the inherent fuzziness should be accepted.

Before 5-6th cent BCE in India, the lack of inscriptions/copperplates
and the lack of sufficiently disjoint oral traditions means that
establishing historicity would be very hard (i.e. would be subjective).


More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list