The kingdom of Tushara according to Ancient Indian literature, such as the epic Mahabharata was a land located beyond north-west India. In the Mahabharata, its inhabitants, known as the Tusharas, are depicted as mlechchas (“barbarians”) and fierce warriors.
Modern scholars generally see Tushara as synonymous with the historical “Tukhara“, also known as Tokhara or Tokharistan – another name for Bactria. This area was the stronghold of the Kushan Empire, which dominated India between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE.
Its inhabitants were known later to Ancient Greek scholars as the Tokharoi and to the Ancient Romans as Tochari. Modern scholars appear to have conflated the Tukhara with the so-called Tocharians – an Indo-European people who lived in the Tarim Basin, in present-day Xinjiang, China, until the 1st millennium. When the Tocharian languages of the Tarim were rediscovered in the early 20th century, most scholars accepted a hypothesis that they were linked to the Tukhara (who were known to have migrated to Central Asia from China, with the other founding Kushan peoples ). However, the subjects of the Tarim kingdoms appear to have referred to themselves by names such as Agni, Kuči and Krorän. These peoples are also known to have spoken centum languages, whereas the Tukhara of Bactria spoke a satem language.
The Tukhara were among Indo-European tribes that conquered Central Asia during the 2nd century BCE, according to both Chinese and Greek sources. Ancient Chinese sources refer to these tribes collectively as the Da Yuezhi (“Greater Yuezhi“). In subsequent centuries the Tukhara and other tribes founded the Kushan Empire, which dominated Central and South Asia.
The account in Mahabharata (Mbh) 1:85 depicts the Tusharas as mlechchas (“barbarians”) and descendants of Anu, one of the cursed sons of King Yayati. Yayati’s eldest son Yadu, gave rise to the Yadavas and his youngest son Puru to the Pauravas that includes the Kurus and Panchalas. Only the fifth son of Puru’s line was considered to be the successors of Yayati’s throne, as he cursed the other four sons and denied them kingship. The Pauravas inherited the Yayati’s original empire and stayed in the Gangetic plain who later created the Kuru and Panchala Kingdoms. They were followers of the Vedic culture. The Yadavas made central and western India their stronghold. The descendants of Anu, known as the Anavas, are said to have migrated to Iran.
Various regional terms and proper names may have originated with, or been derived from, the Tusharas including: Takhar Province in Afghanistan; the Pakistani village of Thakra; the surname Thakkar, found across India; the Marathi surname Thakere, sometimes anglicised as Thackeray; the Takhar Jat clan in Rajasthan, and; the Thakar tribe of Maharashtra. It is also possible that the Thakor (or Thakore) caste of Gujarat, the Thakar caste of Maharashtra and; the title Thakur originated with names such as Tushara/Tukhara. The Sanskrit word thakkura “administrator” may be the source of some such names, or may itself be derived from one of them.