The whole of the territory known to the Vedic Aryans was divided into a number of tribal principalities, ruled normally by the leaders or kings of various tribes. In connection with the famous Dasrajna Yudha or the Battle of Ten Kings, alluded to in various hymns of the Rigveda, many important Vedic tribes and their personalities are found mentioned.
The battle of ten kings was between Sudas, a Bharata king of the Tritsu family and the confederacy of ten well-known tribes – Puru, Yadu, Turvasa, Anu, Druhyu, Alina, Paktha, Bhalanas, Shiva and Vishanin. In the bloody and decisive battle on the banks of river Parusni, the Bharatas emerged victorious.
The Bharatas were, in the Rigvedic age, settled in the region between the Saraswati and Yamuna. The Purus was another very important tribe in the days of the Rigveda. They were closely connected with Tritsus and the Bharatas, and lived on either side of the Saraswati. The Anus, Druhyus, Yadus and Turvasas were the allies of the Purus against the Bharatas.
These five, according to Zimmer, are ‘the five peoples’ (Panchjanah) of the Rigveda. The name Yadu and Turvasa normally occur together in the Rigveda. These two closely allied tribes lived in the Southern Punjab. The Gandharis, one of the frontier people, lived to the extreme North-west of India. The Matsyas and Chedis were settled to the South of the Punjab in the region of Rajasthan and Malwa.
The Srinjaya tribe seems to correspond to Achaemenid Zranke. Assuming a movement to Punjab, its chief Daivavata is shown as defeating the Turvasas and Vricivants. The Bhalanas were settled around the Bolan Pass. The Paktha tribe appears as Pactyice in Herodotus and was settled on the borders of the fertile basin of Kurram.
Vaikarnas were placed in Kashmir. The Krivi tribe was settled along the Sindhu and Asikni. Sivas has been identified with the Sibi or Siboi of Alexander’s historians who found them occupying the land along the united Hydaspes-Acesine (Chenab) River.
Besides the above Aryan tribes, there were also a number of non-Aryan tribes, often collectively mentioned as the Dasas and Dasyus who were the enemies of the Aryans. The Aryan chief named Divodasa fought against a Dasa chieftain named Sambara. Sudas crushed a hostile combination of indigenous tribes on the banks of the Yamuna. Bharatas seemed to have fought against the Kikatas led by Pramaganda.
One of the Puru kings bore the title Trasadasyu, i.e. terror of the Dasyus. According to one view Visvamitra also belonged to some aboriginal group. The Panis, often mentioned with the Dasas and Dasyus, have been described as selfish, non-sacrificing and notorious cattle lifters.
It is mentioned in the Rigveda that Indra employed a hunting bitch named Sarama to track down the cattle lifters like the Panis. In one instance Sarama is said to have swam the waters of Rasa (Syr Dariya) after which it ascended a steep mountain country before reaching out to the cattle of the Panis. Vritra, the enemy of Sudasa, might have been non-Aryan indigenous peoples.
In later-Vedic literature many more tribes are mentioned which shows the widening of their knowledge about India. Thus the Atharvaveda banishes fever to the Mujavants, Mahavrsas and the Bahliks. Bahliks were aboriginal people identifiable with the Avestan Bakhdhi and the Greek Bactria. Kambojas had a speech different from that of the other Aryans.
Uttara Madra and Uttara Kuru are mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana. Sakala appears in the Aitareya and Satapatha Brahmanas. Aitareya Brahmana also mentions Ambasthas who are identified with the ‘Abastanoi’ of Alexander’s historians. Panchala or Kuru-Panchalas appears in the Kanva version of the Satapatha Brahmana which bordered Kosala-Videha, the Sadanira River forming the dividing line. Parvatas are placed on the Yamuna by the Panchavimsa Brahmana.
Mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana, Kosala is located on the borders of Videha, which corresponded roughly with Bihar, north of Ganga, and possibly included parts of eastern UP. The Angas and Magadha’s appear in the Atharvaveda as alien people to whom fever is to be banished.
Vanga is mentioned in the Aitareya Aranyakas in the compound work Vangamagad. Aitareya Brahmana mentions Pundras (Eastern Bengal) as people deemed outcastes. Jaiminiya Upanishad mentions Vidarbha as a distant wild region. Aitareya Brahmana mentions Andhras as outcastes along with Pundras. The above enumeration shows clearly the eastern penetration of the Aryans.