Nala was a king of Nishadas

Vrihadaswa said, "There was a king named Nala, the son of Virasena. And he was strong, and handsome, and well-versed in (the knowledge of) horses, and possessed of every desirable accomplishment. And he was at the head of all the kings, even like the lord of the celestials. And exalted over all, he resembled the sun in glory. And he was the king of the Nishadhas, intent on the welfare of the Brahmanas, versed in the Vedas, and possessed of heroism. ..."

[Section 53, Nalopakhyana Parva, Vana Parva, The Mahabharata]

Who exactly are the Nishadas in this context?


Nishada is a mixed caste born from a Shudras mother and Kshatriya father.

A son by a Brahmana father on a Shudra woman, is called either a Nishada or a Parvata.

Garuda Purana

Manusmriti 10:8:- From a Brahmana a with the daughter of a Vaisya is born (a son) called an Ambashtha, with the daughter of a sudra a Nishada, who is also called Parasava.

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In this context, it seems to be the name of some small kingdom and the people living there at the time, whose king is Nala. Where exactly this would be in present-day India is a bit difficult to say. However, there are many other references to niṣādas elsewhere in the Mahābhārata, which could well refer to the same people. A few examples (with links to the same translation you referenced although it is a bit inexact) are -

  • The niṣādas live in an ocean-bay (samudra-kukṣau)
  • Ekalavya is the son of the king of the niṣādas
  • Sahadeva goes very far to the south conquering many peoples, among them niṣādas - this seems to be some coastal region of South India as the coastline is mentioned and a few lines afterwards, Copper Island ("dvīpaṃ tāmrāhvayaṃ") is mentioned, seemingly referring to Sri Lanka. In fact, other nearby places are also mentioned which could probably be identified through some research.
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