Janaka: Real or mythical?

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Fri May 12 01:53:25 UTC 2000

>Is there any *definitive information* as to whether Janaka was
>        1) an actual historical figure, or
>        2) a mythical construction?

A historical person, with a lot of sagas and tales attached....

Indeed,  he is found both in early Hindu (Upanisad) texts,
as well as in Buddhist texts (Jaataka no. 539), as Mahaa-Janaka
(cf. Mahaa-Kosala for the King of Kosala!).

Thus, fairly well attested.  I did not check old Jaina texts yet.

Plus, of course, mentioned in later Hindu texts, in more such tales:
Mahabharata, Harivamsa, etc.

Another (?) Janaka, father of Siitaa,  in the Ramayana  and the Puranas.

Which famous historical figure has escaped such accretions?

Even today:  years ago I heard a Hindi film song detailing the life of
Nehru while clearly copying the Buddhacarita: "A prince born on the banks
of the Ganges... etc "
Ever heard of  the Indira-Zatakam, of 1977?  There also is a painting of
her, after the Bengal war,  as Mahisuramardini...  killing "the Pak.
buffalo demon".

So, who is surprised about ancient times, without writing, and with active
bards all around?

Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA

ph. 1- 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:  http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/mwpage.htm

Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies:  http://www1.shore.net/~india/ejvs

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