In the Mahabharata, Nishadas mentioned as tribes that have the hills and the forests their abode. They are linked with a king called Vena who became a slave of wrath and malice, and became unrighteous. Brahmanas slew him. Some of Vena`s descendants became Nishadas and some others were called Mlechchhas, who resided on the Vindhya mountains (12,58).
Nishadha was the kingdom of the celebrated king Nala, who loved and married Damayanti the princess of Vidarbha Kingdom. Nishadha was connected to Dasarna and Kosala as well as with Vidarbha through trade routes.
The main profession of Nishaadas was fishing and hunting. When a Nishaada had killed one bird from a pair, the other bird was remorseful of its loss and was in pangs of pain, observing this deep pain inspired the sage Valmiki to write the life history of king Rama of Ayodhya and his dutiful wife queen Sita, who lived in separation due to her capture by deceit by the egoistic demon-like king Ravana. This poetic mythology is revered in India as a guide to highest ideals of human-life, is known as the Ramayana, or the record of king Rama`s life. In Ramayana, the king of Nishaadas, named Guha, was a very close friend of Rama. He helps Rama and Sita to cross Ganges river.
The Mahabharata speaks of Nishaada as forest hunters and fishermen. Nishadas were mentioned as tribes that have the hills and the forests for their abode and fishing as their chief occupation. They ruled over the hills, plains, land and dominated over the water. They were linked with a king called Vena (see Saraswata Kingdom) (12,58). Nishadas lived in hamlets (12,328).
Samvarana begat upon his wife, Tapati, the daughter of Surya, a son named Kuru. He was installed on the throne by his people. It is after his name that the field called Kurujangala has become so famous in the world. Devoted to asceticism, he made that field (Kurukshetra) sacred by practising asceticism there. Kuru’s wife, Vahini, brought forth five sons, viz., Avikshit, Bhavishyanta, Chaitraratha, Muni and the celebrated Janamejaya (Janamejaya the 2nd). And Avikshit begat Parikshit (Parikshit the 1st) the powerful, Savalaswa, Adhiraja (Dantavaktra was a king of the Adhirajas), Viraja, Salmali of great physical strength, Uchaihsravas, Bhangakara and Jitari the eighth. In the race of these were born, seven mighty chariot-warriors with Janamejaya (Janamejaya the 3rd) at their head. And unto Parikshit (Parikshit the 1st) were born Kakshasena and Ugrasena, and Chitrasena and Indrasena and Sushena and Bhimasena. And the sons of Janamejaya (Janamejaya the 3rd) were Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st)who was the eldest, and Pandu (Pandu the 1st) and Valhika (Vahlika the 1st), and Nishadha and Jamvunada, and then Kundodara and Padati and then Vasati the eighth.
Among them Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st) became king. And Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st) had eight sons, viz., Kundika, Hasti, Vitarka, Kratha the fifth, Havihsravas, Indrabha, and Bhumanyu, and Dhritarashtra (Dhritarashtra the 1st) had many grandsons, of whom three only were famous. They were, O king, Pratipa, Dharmanetra, Sunetra. Among these three, Pratipa became unrivalled on earth. And, Pratipa begat three sons, viz., Devapi, Santanu, and Valhika (Vahlika the 2nd). The eldest Devapi adopted the ascetism. And the kingdom was obtained by Santanu and Valhika.