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Theories regarding the origins of the ancient Abhira — the putative ancestors of the Ahirs — are varied for the same reasons as are the theories regarding their location; that is, there is a reliance on interpretation of linguistic and factual analysis of old texts that are known to be unreliable and ambiguous.1 S. D. S. Yadava describes how this situation impacts on theories of origin for the modern Ahir community because
Their origin is shrouded in mystery and is immersed in controversy, with many theories, most of which link the Ahirs to a people known to the ancients as the Abhiras.2
Some, such as A. P. Karmakar, consider the Abhira to be a Proto-Dravidian tribe who migrated to India and point to the Puranas as evidence. Others, such as Sunil Kumar Bhattacharya, dismiss this theory as anachronistic and say that the Abhira are recorded as being in India in the 1st-century CE work, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Bhattacharya considers the Abhira of old to be a race rather than a tribe.1 Whether they were a race or a tribe, nomadic in tendency or displaced or part of a conquering wave, with origins in Indo-Scythia or Central Asia, Aryan or Dravidian — there is no academic consensus, and much in the differences of opinion relate to fundamental aspects of historiography, such as controversies regarding dating the writing of the Mahabharata and acceptance or otherwise of the Aryan invasion theory.2 Similarly, there is no certainty regarding the occupational status of the Abhira, with ancient texts sometimes referring to them as pastoral and cowherders but at other times as robber tribes.3
In the opinion of Dr. Budh Prakash, the name of the state of Haryana may have been derived from Abhirayana, its ancient inhabitants having been Ahirs.8 Ahirs ruled the whole of Haryana under the Mogul rule and later were declared as independent kings.9
An inscription of the Saka era 102. or AD 180, speaks of the grant made by the senapati or commander in chief of the state, who is called an Abhira, the locality being Sunda in Kathiawar. Another inscription found in Nasik and assigned by Reginald Edward Enthoven to the fourth century speaks of an Abhira king, and the Puranas say that after the Andhrabhrityas the Deccan was held by the Abhiras, the west coast tract from the Tapti to Deogarhdisambiguation needed being called by their name.10
Enthoven believes that Abhiras might have entered India from Afghanistan.1112 The pastoral setting of the stories about Krishna's childhood may have originated in legends of a god worshipped by the Abhira tribe.However Hugh Nevill says that it is probable the Abhoras on being removed from Mesopotamia, across the river,may have called themselves Abhira,as we know they did so in Scinde; while the branch in Afghanistan are spoked of in the Assyrian inscription as of "the land of Abhiruz".13 Ramaprasad Chanda author of "The Indo-Aryan races" says that the Abhiras from whom the Gujaratis of our day have evidently sprung, were Aryan in speech and belonged to the Indo-Afghan stock.14 The Puranic Abhiras, have occupied the territories of Herat, which is probably a survival of their name, as they are invariably juxtaposed with the Kalatoyakas and Haritas — the peoples of Afghanistan.15 Journal of the Department of Pali believes that the Abhiras came to India from some part of eastern Iran.16 Skanda Purāṇa also puts Abhiras as one of the tribes of Afghanistan.17
Bhagwan Singh Suryavanshi, in his research, claims archaeological research in Deccan has revealed the presence of pastoral people of Neolithic era, who shares many attributes of Abhira. Hence, Abhira might have been present much earlier than what has been postulated so far. Finally he concludes, they spread from Indus to Mathura, and migrated southward and eastward.18 He also claims that similarity of culture and common belief that they are descendant of Lord Krishna, is the proof that they sprang from a common source. According to a theory advanced by A. P. Karmakar, Abhiras were a Proto Dravidian tribe, derived from Dravidian Ayir,19 which means cowherd, he further argues, Aitareva Brahmin refers to Vasah, as the name of people, which in vedic literature means cow.
Finally, he concludes from Padma Purana, where Vishnu informed Abhiras, "I shall be born among you, O Abhiras, at Mathura in my eighth birth". D. R. Bhandarkar, supports the non-aryan origin theory, by directly relating Krishna, to Rig Veda's "Krishna Drapsah", where he fights Aryan God Indra. Added to this Karmakar, shows Harivamsa says Yadu was born of Harynasva and Madhumati, who was the daughter of Madhu. Madhu says all the territory of Mathura belongs to Abhiras.20 Further, Mahabharata describes Abhira as forming one of the seven republics, Samsaptak Gunas, and as a friend of Matsyas, a pre-vedic tribe.19
The Abhiras split into both varna and jati categories; there were Abhira brahmins,2122 Abhira kshatriyas,72324 Abhira vaisyas,25 Abhira carpentars and Goldsmiths.26 For example Baradas Abhiras are of Rajput origin. They derive their name from acting as priests of Abhira.2728
Besides scriptural evidences, historical and semi-historical evidence is available for equating Ahirs with Yadav. The term Ahir comes from Abhira (Bhandarkar, 1911;16), who were once found in different parts of India, and who in several places wielded political power. Ancient Sanskrit classic, Amarkosa, calls gwal, gopa and ballabh to be the synonym of Abhira.A Chudasama prince styled Ra Graharipu and Ruling at Vanthali near Junagarh described in the Dyashraya kavya of Hemachandra, describes him both as a Abhira and a Yadav.29 Further, in their Bardic traditions as well as in popular stories Chudasmas are still called Ahir Ranas.29 Again, many remains of Khandesh (historical stronghold of abhiras) are popularly believed to be of Gawli Raj, which archaeologically belongs to the Yadvas of Devgiri.29
Ghurye, contradicts this by saying Abhira as a tribe is mentioned in the works of Patanjali, dated 150 BC, by most conservative sources, so they definitely haven't entered at the beginning of the Christian era and possibly their presence goes very far into antiquity.citation needed
However, Smith has raised two questions on this synthesis by above scholars. First, If Abhira are Yadavs then why Mahabharata mentions them having abducted wives and children of Krishna and second, why Abhira kings names are after Shiva and not Vishnu till as late as 800AD, who is a rival god.citation needed
Dr. J.N. Singh Yadav and MSA Rao has contradicted Smith by saying, Those Abhira who abducted Krishna's Wives and Children might be Yadavs who were supporters of Duryodhna, and they also shows there is no rivalry between Shiva and Krishna.Mahabharta says that those Abhiras who looted Arjuna were the supporters of the Kauravas.1930
According to Sarat Chandra Roy, the Gopas, whom Krishna had offered to Duryodhana to fight in his support when he himself joined Arjuna's side, were no other than the Yadavas themselves, who were also the Abhiras31
Hari Singh Bhati on closer inspection of the site of abduction near Indraprastha, as described in Mahabharata, along with Dr. Budh Prakash's identification of Haryana likely to be the post Mahabharata settlement, Abhirayana, of those Abhira, finds concentration of Yaduvanshi Ahirs in that area and says, all Yadvas post Mahabharata were descendants of those Abhira and abducted Vrisni women, hence they are both Abhira and Yadava.citation needed
P.A. Karmakar, shows in Padma Purana, Vishnu informs Abhira, saying, "O Abira, I'll be born among you in my eighth incarnation", and concludes Abhira and Yadava is same.citation needed
Abhiras are mentioned as warriors in support of Duryodhana. The Gopas, whom Krishna had offered to Duryodhana to fight in his support when he himself joined Arjuna's side, were no other than the Yadavas themselves, who were also the Abhiras.32 Ramayana refers to Abhiras as Ugradarshana — Mlecchas and dasyus.33 The Abhiras also have been described as Vratas. Pnaini mentions these Vratas as robbers. The Abhiras are said to have looted the train of Arjuna, the Pandava, when he was returning from Dwaraka being accompanied by some of the members of "Sri Krsna's family after the death of the latter.Abhiras are said to have waylaid Arjuna and deprived him of his treasure and beautiful women somewhere in Punjab.30 Abhiras who looted Arjuna were the supporters of the Kauravas, and in the Mahabharata,citation needed Abhir, Gopa, Gopal34 and Yadavas are all synonyms.191935 They defeated the hero of Mahabharatha war,and did spare him when he disclosed the identity of the members of the family of Sri Krishna.36
From 203 to 270 the Abhiras ruled over the whole of deccan as a paramount power.In deccan Abhiras were the immediate successors of the Satavahanas.37
Abhira king Isvarasena of Nasik Inscription XV. was one of the Abhira conquerors of the Andhras who took from them to west Deccan.A migration of Abhiras from Ptolemy's Abiria in Upper Sindh through Sindh by sea to the Konkan and then to Nasik.38 Abhira rule started about 203 AD following the end of Yajnasri Satakarni's reign and Abhira Isvarasena's accession took place in Saka 151 or 229 ADSakasena was the first abhira king.His inscriptions from Konkan and coins from Andhra Pradesh suggest that he ruled over the major part of the warstwhile Satavahana empire,It followed that Abhira Shivadatta founded the Abhira kingdom after Yajnasri in the Nasik-Konkan area.39 Indradutta Traikutaka was probably the viceroy of the Abhiras in the Western Coastal regin of their kingdom assumed sovereignty at the end of Vasusena region.citation needed
Abhiras lived in the desert; but later they gradually pushed towards the south,In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD; Aberia or the abhira country lay not far from Saurastra.12
The Abhiras were a strong and powerful people with well-built bodies40 and originally lived in the desert.12 Mahabharata (IX, 37, 1) locates the Abhiras in western Rajputana where the river Sarasvati disappears.3541 and north eastern Sind.19 In Samudragupta's time (c. AD 350) the Abhiras lived in Rajputana and Malava on the western frontier of the Gupta empire.42 Historian Dineshchandra Sircar thinks of Abiravan between Herat43 and Kandahar which may have been the original home of the Abhiras.12 Their occupation of Rajasthan also at later date is evident from the Jodhpurcitation needed inscription of Samvat 918, that the Abhira people of the area were a terror to their neighbours, because of their violent demeanour.4344 Abhiras of Rajputana were sturdy and regarded as Mlecchas, and carried on anti Brahmancial activities.As a result, life and property became unsafe. Pargiter points to the Pauranic tradition that the Yadavas, while retreating northwards after the Kurukshetra war from their western home in Dwarka and Gujarat, were attacked and broken up by the rude Abhiras of Rajasthan.45
The Abhiras did not stop in Rajasthan; some of their clans moved south and west reaching Saurastra and Maharastra and taking service under the Satavahanas and the Kshatrapas.46 Also founded a kingdom in the northern part of the Maratha country, and an inscription of the ninth year of the Abhira King Ishwarsena.4748
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