Theories for the bhArata conundrum
We earlier described the major problem termed the bhArata conundrum, where we notice a silence regarding the pANDavas alone in the vedic textual layers, but they are prominently mentioned in all the later texts of Sanskrit and prakrit literature. The following plausible theories may be cited in this regard:
1) The vedic authors were of the kaurava party and hence purposely omitted references to the pANDus. The main problem with this theory is why do they mention the descendents of the pANDava-s as per the great epic in very positive light. In fact they do refer to dR^itarAShTra vaichitravIrya in negative light, just as the surviving version of the epic. They also refer to the pa~nchalas like shikhaNDin in positive light.
2) Generational difference theory: The people with the same names as the mahabhArata characters are in fact people of an earlier generation, coincidentally having same names as the epic characters. While there is some evidence for this from the paurANic genealogies, the patronymics typically only match the characters of the great epic.
3) Clearly in linguistic as well as historical terms the consolidation of the vedic literature preceded the consolidation of the oral epic. So is it indeed possible that the pANDavas were new comers superimposed on to the older vedic history with the composition of the bhArata epic? This theory implies that in the original sequence of events, the characters of the mahAbhArata, who find mention in the vedic literature, indeed comprise a real historical sequence as narrated earlier, but the pANDavas were completely absent in it. The pANDavas or their real descendents came later and captured power as a result of the bhArata war, and then superimposed themselves on the existing Indo-Aryan genealogies and historical epics by creating a new epic the mahAbhArata. What are the suggestions supporting this unusual contention beyond the silence of the vedic texts regarding the pANDavas: (i) The pANDavas are a younger branch of the kuru clan in the epic and are not actually pANDu’s biological sons but claim divine origin from the principal vedic gods. (ii) The pANDavas are associated with khANDava-prastha a fringe zone of the kuru realm as per the late vedic descriptions of the brAhmaNas. (iii) Most traditional Indo-Aryan rulers as well as brahmin orthodoxy of the a~ngirasas (kR^ipa and droNa) stand by the kauravas in the war, whereas the major pANDava alliances are all through marriage.
Thus, it is possible in this theory that the pANDavas were never a part of the vedic kuru-pA~nchAla realm nor were they progenitors of its prominent kings like parIkShita and janamejaya. They were actually outsiders, who (or their descendent) became active just after the core vedic period was over. They then seized power through marriage alliances with prominent Indo-Aryan dynasties and ensuing the great bhArata war to oust the original kurus. Thus, they established their own dynasty in place of the original kurus. Then they tried to establish their legitimacy by many means. Firstly, they created an epic where they placed their founders, the original pANDavas, as ancestors to the last of the pre-eminent kuru rulers known at that time who had great prestige in the vedic circles. Secondly, they obscured their own origins by using the device of divine origin and placing their ancestor pANDu within the kuru dynasty as a younger branch. Thirdly, they incorporated old astronomical observations to predate the bhArata war back to the hoary vedic period.
What remains unclear is whether they were really a younger branch of bhAratas or para-vedic outsiders. The latter is indeed very possible given the issue of the divine origins of the actual pANDava-s and the purely symbolic number 3+2, with two different mothers. That motif also occurs in the foundational myth of the Indo-Aryan pa~ncha jana (3= anu, druhyu, pUru through sharmiShThA and turvasha, yadu through devayAnI). This motif occurs outside India in the foundational myth of the Chingisid mongols (3+2 with different fathers but a common mother in this case, with the divine father being the wolf manifestation of the deity Koko Tengri himself). The main problem with this overall theory is that itihAsas, and the bhArata itself is mentioned in the vedic literature in itself albeit somewhat late. The only way out is that the pANDavas inserted themselves into a pre-existing bhArata epic itself, while reducing the exploits of janamejaya and parIkShita to a sideshow within it. If all this were true, perhaps we must look into the rise of historical paNDava-s for the cultural changes in the Indo-Aryan realm in post-vedic India.
An allied issue is the origin of the god subrahmaNya in the Indic pantheon (a historical analysis for a later day).