Ancient Indian texts the Puranas and the epic Mahabharata contain accounts of a legendary emperor named Bharata. According to these texts, Bharata conquered vast areas of present day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, parts of China and Central Asia, thus conferring on him the befitting title of “Chakravarti” or “Emperor”.
So how does the Rig Veda remember this emperor? Does it remember him at all? Does it corroborate the accounts that exist in the Puranas and the epics which came later?
Yes and No.
The Rig Veda knows of him only as an ancestor of contemporary dynasties, tribes and clans. There is nothing in the Rig Veda about Bharata the person, let alone Bharata the emperor. There is absolutely no mention of any wars that he may have fought, enemies that he vanquished or territories annexed, not even the wealth he may have amassed or gifted (as danastutis). But nevertheless, he was important, for what reason we do not know, but he was important. For every family of priests that represent the composers of Mandala II to VII, seem eager to showcase their association and allegiance to a descendant of the Bharatas. There are several references to “sons of Bharatas” or where contemporary kings or chiefs are referred to as a “Bharata”, always suggestive of a virtue or praise.
So why Bharata and why not someone else? Clearly, Bharata must have been an extraordinary person of his time, that his name echoes throughout the Rig Veda. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Rig Veda that reveals what made him extraordinary.
Much of the history in the Rig Veda is suggestive of the ascendancy of the Puru (one amongst the five tribes of Nahusa, the others being Yadu, Turvasa, Anu and Druhyu) initially and then later the Bharatas who emerged as the most powerful amongst the Puru.
The two great kings of the Rig Veda – Divodasa and his grand-son Sudas were Bharatas. Between them, they had subjugated the non-Arya Dasa tribes and all the other principle Arya tribes including all the other branches of the Puru.
Might it be that the power of these Bharata kings and the sway they held over vast areas of present day India and beyond, was transposed to their great ancestor in later texts? Could it be that the conquests and power of the Bharatas as a people was ascribed as a legend in later times to Bharata the person?