Maharaja Agrasena (also Agrasen) (Devanagari: अग्रसेन) was a Legendary Indian King of Agroha, a city of traders, from whom the Agrawal and Agrahari clans trace its origin. He is credited with the establishment of a kingdom of traders in North India, and is known for his compassion in refusing to slaughter animals in yajnas.
Various legends about Agroha and Agrasena are found among the Agrawals. Noted Hindi author Bharatendu Harishchandra wrote Agarwalon ki Utpatti (The origin of Agrawals) in 1871, based on an account in the Mahalaksmi Vrat Katha manuscript.. According to this account, Maharaja Agrasena was a Suryavanshi Kshatriya king, born during the last stages of Dwapar Yuga in the Mahabharat epic era, he was contemporaneous to Lord Krishna. He was the eldest son of the King Ballabh of Pratapnagar. Agrasena fathered 18 children, from whom the Agrawal gotras came into being.
Agrasena attended the swayamvara of Madhavi, the daughter of the King Nagaraj. However, Indra, the God of Heaven and also the Lord of storms and rainfall, wanted to marry Madhavi, but she chose Agrasena as her husband. A furious Indra decided to take revenge by making sure that Pratapnagar did not receive any rain. As a result, a famine struck Agrasen's kingdom, who then decided to wage a war against Indra. Sage Narada was approached by Indra, who mediated peace between Agrasena and Indra. According to Vachanakosha of Bulakhichand (1680 AD), Agar Rishi married a naga-kanya and had 18 children. A similar account is given in 1885 Bombay Presidency Gazetteer, Rishi Agrasena married 17 naga-kanyas.
Later, Agrasena started a severe tapasya (penance) to propitiate Lord Shiva in the city of Kashi. Shiva was pleased with the penance and advised him to propitiate Goddess Mahalakshmi. Agrasena again started meditating on Mahalakshmi, who appeared before him and blessed him. She urged Agrasena (who was a Kshatriya) to take up the Vaishya tradition of business for the sake of the prosperity of his people. She asked him to establish a new kingdom, and promised that she would bless his descendants with prosperity and wealth.
Agrasena then traveled all over India with his queen to select a place for a new kingdom. At one point during his travels, he found a few tiger cubs and wolfs cubs playing together. To King Agrasena and Queen Madhavi, this was an auspicious indication that the area was veerabhoomi (land of the brave) and they decided to found their new kingdom at that location.
The place was named Agroha. Agroha is situated near present day Hisar in Haryana. Presently Agroha is developing as agrawal's holy station, Big Temple of Agrasen Maharaj & Vaishnav Devi. Under the leadership of Agrasena, Agroha became very prosperous. Legend has it that a hundred thousand traders lived in the city at its heyday. An immigrant wishing to settle in the city would be given a rupee and a brick by each of the inhabitants of the city. Thus, he would have a hundred thousand bricks to build a house for himself, and a hundred thousand rupees to start a new business. This is a unique example of a welfare state.
Agrasena divided his kingdom among his 18 children, resulting in eighteen Agrawal gotras. Often, the number of gotras is stated to be seventeen. Some sources attributed the half gotra to the illegitimate offspring. Another version suggests that Agrasena proceeded to conduct 18 mahayagnas ("Great yagnas"). During one such yagna, Agrasena noticed that a horse that had been brought to be sacrificed was trying hard to get away from the sacrificial altar. Seeing this Maharaj Agrasena was filled with compassion for the animal. The idea of ahimsa (non-violence) grabbed his mind. Therefore, he put a brake to his eighteenth yagna, announcing that no sacrifices will be made in his kingdom in name of yagnas. Thus, the eighteenth yagna wasn't completed and Agrasena had performed seventeen and a half yagnas. The gods appeared before him and blessed him with seventeen and a half gotras.
In the later part of his life, Agrasena nominated his eldest son Vibhu to the throne and took up the Vanaprastha ashram. According to the legend, Agroha was a prosperous city and a hundred thousand traders lived in the city during its heyday. An insolvent community man as well as an immigrant wishing to settle in the city would be given a rupee and a brick by each inhabitant of the city. Thus, he would have a hundred thousand bricks to build a house for himself, and a hundred thousand rupees to start a new business. Gradually, the city of Agroha declined and was finally destroyed in a huge fire. The residents of Agroha i.e. the Agrawals moved out of Agroha and spread in other parts of India.
It is believed that King Agrasen married Madhavi, daughter of King Kumud of Nagaloka (Snake Kingdom). Thus Agrawals are the progeny of Madhavi and that is why they worship Nagas (snakes) and consider them to be their maternal uncles. Following are the seventeen and a half gotras of Agrawals: Garga, Goila, Gavala, Batsila, Kasila, Simghala, Mamgala, Kuchhala, Tingala, Airana, Tairana, Thingala, Tittala, Mittala, Tundala, Tayala, Gobhila and Goina (considered as half gotra).
The kingdom of Agrasen flourished and extended from the Himalayas, Punjab, the valley of Yamuna, and the Mewar region. Agra continued to be a prominent place being the capital of the southern part of the kingdom. The other important regions were Gurgaon (ancient Gaudagrama), the goddess mother of this place is revered by Agrawals; Meerut, Rohtak, Hansi, Panipat, Karnal, and Kotkangra. The famous temple of Mahamaya, the Kuladevi of Agrawals is located at Kotknagra. Mandi, Vilaspur, Garhwal, Narnaul were all the parts of the kingdom. Agroha was the capital of the kingdom.
Agrawals are basically a commercial community or Vaishyas. They are one of the most respectable and enterprising of mercantile tribes. Two of Emperor Akbar’s famous ministers are said to have been Agrawals, viz, Todarmal, who introduced an assessment of land, and Madhushah, who introduced ‘Madhushahi’ pice.