Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vanaras were human beings in disguise to escape from Parashurama (Mundas – 6)

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Oraons are an important Munda speaking tribes. They claim their descent from the Vanaras of Ramayana.  Perhaps the name Oraon was a corrupted form of Vanara. Yet another group of Munda tribes, namely the Bhuiyas also claim themselves as coming in the race of Hanuman. {1} It is easy to dismiss these claims as myths or figments of imagination. But “Vanaras” of Ramayana fame were once in the line of attack of Parashurama!

There does exist an inscription saying that Vali and his clan were descendants of a race of Kshatriyas who emerged in the aftermath of Parashurama’s hunt for kshatriyas.  An inscription dated in “the 38th regnal year of King Vikramadhitya VI (i.e., in AD 1112) dealing with the origin of his feudatory of his Dadiga, son of king Gunda, of the Bali race and of Bappura family, ruler over KisukAd, says the following:- ‘When JAmadagnya came in the course of his wanderings in which he destroyed the Ksatriya race, there were born from the caves of mount KiskindhA certain heroes from whom sprang the members of Bali race, who were the ornaments of Bappuras{2}

This is a crucial piece of evidence that stems out some of the mythical-parts of Ramayana. The Bali race mentioned here refers to the race of Vaali, the valiant vanara king. This name should not be confused with Bali (Mahabali), as Mahabali was a Daitya coming in the lineage of Prahlada and Virochana and was vanquished by Vamana. This inscription talks about Parashurama who came later to Vamana. So Bali mentioned here is not the Bali of Vamana avatara.

The inscription also says that the members of this Bali race sprang up at or after the time of Parashurama - from the people who had hidden themselves. Kishkindha being the location where they sprang up is an additional confirmation for this Bali as Vaali, the Vanara.

The members of Bali race are mentioned as Bappuras in the above inscription. In the 11- 12 century AD inscriptions of Kalyani Chalukyas, two females of Bappura family have been mentioned. One was Durlabhadevi, who married Pulikeshi –I and another one was Nagiyakka married to Naga-Perggede. In the case of Durlabhadevi, the inscription gives a prefix as “Adi Maha Bappura Vamsha”, indicating the antiquity of her lineage. Nagiyakka of Bappura vamsha is mentioned as being instrumental in getting carved the icon of Tara-Bhagawati, a Buddhist deity. The foremost information we deduce from this is that the Bappuras or the people of Vaali vamsha were not vanaras or monkeys! They were human beings like any one of us.

The name Bappura came from Balipura (Vaali-pura), the place ruled by Vaali. Balipura is the Sanskrit name for the place known as “Baligave” or “Balligave” – perhaps a modification from Vaali- Guhaa or Vali-guhe or Bali-guhe – the cave of Vaali which is mentioned in the inscription. According to Valmiki Ramayana Sugreeva was living in a cave when Rama went to meet him. It was perhaps the cave where his ancestors lived in hiding when Parashurama was roaming in search of kshatriyas. The Vaali guha could also refer to the cave where Vaali was trapped and sealed by Sugreeva while he was fighting with Mayavi. The identity of this place was not forgotten down the ages as there are inscriptions of the 11th and 12th century AD saying that Pandavas had consecrated five Shiva lingas in this place. {3}. What was Balligave 1000 years ago is now known as Belagavi. It is in Shikaripur Taluk of Shimoga district, Karnataka {4}

The following illustration shows the location of Balligave and other places related to Ramayana in that region. Balligave was the Vaali guhe, or Vaali’s cave. Gokarna and Murudeshwara are linked to events in Ravana’s life. Hanuman was born when his father Kesri was in Gokarna. 

Dadiga mentioned in this inscription refers to King Didiga known as Konganivarma or Konkani varma of the 5th century AD. This name sounds like Dadhimukha, the maternal uncle of Sugreeva and Vaali. Both Dadhiga and Dadhi in Dadhimukha refer to dairy products. In Ramayana, Dadhimukha was the keeper of Madhuvana, the sacred grove of Vaali and Sugreeva!

The sacred grove culture that is supposed to be uniquely found among Mundari speaking people is also found in the culture of vanaras. The grove named Madhuvana is described in Valmiki Ramayana {5 }. Any sacred grove is maintained for some purpose. The Madhuvana of Kishkindha was meant for growing plants to extract honey. From one of Dadhimukha’s dialogues, we come to know that this grove was maintained from the times of the grandfather of Vaali and Sugreeva. After him, Riksharaja, the father of Vaali and Sugreeva maintained it. After him Vaali and then Sugreeva had maintained it.

The name Riksharaja for the father of Sugreeva is intriguing. Riksha means bear. But this Vanara had been named as Rikshraja – the king of bears. It would have been more appropriate to hear his name as Kapiraja – the king of monkeys, but why Riskharaja?  There is a popular riksha character in Ramayana by name Jambavan. Jambavan and vanaras were friends. At several places in Ramayana, Jambavan is mentioned as “Kapi-shreshta” – as the best among the monkeys. Why this inter-change between bears and monkeys is seen?

Probing deeply, we find that there was a mountain by name Rikshavaan where the son of Viduratha of Puru vamsha grew up under the protection of ‘bears’ (rikshas)  in secrecy to escape from the fury of Parashurama! {6}. Many kshatriyas were on the run and many had hidden themselves in forests to escape from Parashurama. This king of Puru vamsha too had taken shelter in the Rikshavan mountain which is situated at a place where river Narmada divides as a fork.  He was given protection by the bears of whom Jambavan was a descendant.

Jambavan had never been an ordinary bear but behaved like an intelligent human being. Jambavati, who married Krishna came in the lineage of Jambavan. She could not have been a bear. But the bears and monkeys (vanaras) had existed at Rikshavan and Kishkindha and had interchanged their identities. This could be possible only if they were human beings in disguise as bears and monkeys to escape the wrath of Parashurama. This means they were originally kshatriyas who went into hiding – one group in Rikshavan in the northern part of Dandaka forests and another in Kishkindha caves, south of Dandaka forests.  

The first generation person to go into hiding seems to be the grandfather of Vaali as we find Dadhimukha saying that Madhuvana was maintained by him (grandfather) {7}. He was a kshatriya and had taken shelter in a cave in Kishkindha along with his clan when Parashurama was wandering in that region. At the same time another group of this clan had taken shelter in mount Rikshavan and camouflaged their appearance as bears. Initially all of them in Rikshavan and Kishkindha had appeared as bears. That could be the reason why the father of Vaali came to be called as Riksharaja. But the next generation descendants could have started moving out of the cave to test the outside conditions. There comes Vaali, the valiant son of Riksharaja. 

The best way to roam around the forests swiftly without being identified and harmed by forest animals is to jump from tree to tree. Like the Tarzan of the apes, Vaali could have started moving around by tying a tail-like rope made from forest products. The name “Vaali” sounds like a Tamil word for tail called “Vaal”. Vaalin in Sanskrit means “haired or tailed”. This appearance could have become a success and others of his clan too had started sporting it. That could be reason why Jambavan is at times a bear and described at other times as a monkey. The advantages of this kind of artificial tail were used in full by Hanuman. He was able to stretch it long or shrink short at his will. He did not get hurt when his tail was set on fire.

This kind of changing the form done by vanaras  is mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana. Kabhanda refers to Sugreeva as one who can change his form at will {8}.This is not a special attribute of Sugreeva but something which all the vanaras were capable of. While speaking to Sita, Hanuman describes the vanaras as those who can change their forms at will {9}.  Hanuman himself changed his form from a vanara to an ascetic while going to meet Rama for the first time. He took up vanara form after talking to Rama{10}.

That they were not monkeys is being made out from a verse in Ramayana. While talking to Sugreeva, Hanuman ridiculed him “oh monkey, you made a monkey of yourself” when Sugreeva was found confused {11} [अहो शाखा मृगत्वम् ते व्यक्तम् एव प्लवंगम |
लघु चित्ततया आत्मानम् स्थापयसि यो मतौ]
If Sugreeva is already a monkey, how can he be told that he made a monkey of himself?

Other clues come from expressions like Arya for the vanaras.  Tara addressed Vaali as Arya. {12}  Vaali was praised by Sugreeva as having  arya-bhaava” {13}. Even Valmiki characterises Tara as “Aryaa” the female of Arya. {14}. In Ramayana, the vanaras were not shown as just monkeys but as elite human beings. Vaali exhibited the greatest power of a kshatriya as one who defeated Ravana!

Wife swiping done by both Vaali and Sugreeva might perhaps be to do with creating strong off-springs. It was an accepted practice among kshatriyas and in times of distress when there was a decline in number of valiant people. Sugreeva, the son of Riksharaja was the ‘aurasa putra’ (legitimate son) of Sun, according to Kabhanda {15}. Similarly Hanuman was an aurasa putra of Vayu Deva and not Kesri. It was not looked down in those days and in those circumstances. Even Pandava brothers were not aurasa putras of Pandu. Exigencies of the situation allowed them to seek other ways to produce strong kshatriya men. This feature found among vanaras can be treated as a proof of their kshatriya roots and the need to hold on to kshatriya-hood.

Even the vulture brothers, Jatayu and Sampati seemed to be kshatriyas in disguise. They along with bears like Jambavan and vanaras were seen to meet often and in touch with each other in Ramayana. Some kind of fraternity existed among them.

The vulture brothers stand a good chance to have become “Ganda-Berunda” in course of time in the depictions of the kings of Karnataka and presently adopted as the state emblem of Karnataka. A strong feature in support of this is that the earliest form of this mythical bird is found in Balligave – the cave of Vaali.

This name Ganda-Bherunda has a meaning in Tamil too. Ganda(n) means a valiant person. In Kannada it means the same as “mighty”. The Chola warriors came with a title Kanda (there is no ka-ga difference in Tamil). Bherunda sounds like “PeraNda(m)” which refers to huge world. By this, the name Ganda-Bherunda in Tamil refers to the vulture brothers who were valiant and were capable of going round the world. Of them sampati lost his wings and could not move around, but he kept himself informed of all the happenings in the world. He was the one who told the vanaras the location of Sita. The might of the other vulture namely Jatayu is well known to all as one fought with Ravana.

These two brothers of the same stock of the vanaras and bears must have chosen to be disguised in the form of vultures perhaps due to their swiftness, keen eye sight and short neck! Kantha (कण्ठ) means neck. Kantha could have corrupted into Ganda. Greeva in Sugreeva also refers to neck. Dadhimukha refers to Sugreeva as a thick necked one (vipula greevah) {16}. For one having a wide and think neck, taking up the guise of a bird is not a good idea (Sugreeva). But a short and slender necked one can take up that guise as he can stretch his head and watch the ground from a tree branch (Jatayu- Sampati / Ganda Bherunda).

The underlying feature in all these is that these people had gone into hiding for fear of Parashurama. The appearance as Vanara was a convenient form of disguise. Ramavatara overlaps with the time of Parashurama. Therefore the vanaras and bears had not discarded their disguise at the time of Rama. But after Ramavatara, there is no trace of vanaras. They had come back to normal life after the coronation of Rama. The Bappura lineage of Dadiga having lived till 1000 years ago with the memory of their beginnings is a proof of kshatriya roots of vanaras and the havoc caused in their life by Parashurama.

The strange but probable connection between these vanaras and Mundari speaking people can be established in the following ways:

{1} The appearance of Oraons: From the records of the 19th century, Oraons were described as a ‘small race, averaging 4 feet and 5 inches”. They had “projecting jaws and teeth, thick lips, low narrow foreheads and broad flat noses” {17}. In the absence of cross-breeding with others down the ages, the ancestors at the time of Parashurama or Rama could have looked the same as described above. With an artificially appended tail, they could have been accepted as vanaras.  

{2} Migration of Oraons: The legends of Oraons indicate movement from South India to Chota Nagpur. “The Oraons claim their descent from the Vanaras of the Ramayana period...The Oraon legends suggest that the Oraons took part in the Ram-Ravan yuddha. Later the Oraons appear to have proceeded upto Narbada till they reached the Sone valley.” {18}

{3} Oraons  as Kurukhs: The Oraons are also called as Kurukhs. “Kurukku”  is a Tamil word for ‘short’. Perhaps they were called as Kurukh due to this reason. “Kurugu” is also a Tamil word that refers to eagle or vulture. Eagle is the totem of the one of the septs of Oraons. The vulture brothers (Jatayu and Sampati) being a part of the same vanara clan can be related here.

{4} Kabiraj, the medicine man:  The physician in the Munda clan is called as “Kabiraj”. Kabiraj goes to the forests and collects herbs and roots to prepare the medicine. “Kabi” resemble Kapi, the vanara. As dwellers of forests and contemporaries of Hanuman who lifted the mountain to gather Sanjivani herb, the vanaras could have possessed good knowledge of medicinal herbs. The continuing knowledge among those vanaras or oraons could have given rise to a class of physicians who came to be called as Kapi-raj which in course of time corrupted into Kabi-raj.

{5} Phonetic similarity between Kisku and KisukAd:  A clan of Santals is called as “Kisku”. It sounds similar to Kishku or Kishkindha. {The Santals have 12 gotras namely Kisku, Hambrom, Murmu, Tudu, Baske, Sorain, Besra, Pauria, Chore, Hansda, Bedia and Marandi}. Were they from Kishkindha which came to be called as KisukAd in later days?

There is yet another derivation of Oraon from “Uran” having a connection to Parashurama. We will discuss it in the next article.

(continued in Part 7)
{1} “The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India”, Vol 3 by R. V. Russell
{2} Epigraphia Indica, XV., p 106. Quoted from “Ancient Karnataka” Vol 1- ‘History of Tuluva’. P 17 & 18.
{5} Valmiki Ramayana 4-62
{6} Mahabharata 12-51
{7} Valmiki Ramayana 5-62-33
{8} Valmiki Ramayana  3-72- 18&19
{9} Valmiki Ramayana 5-31-13
{10} Valmiki Ramayana 4-3
{11} Valmiki Ramayana 4-2-17
{12} Valmiki Ramayana 4-20-13.
{13} Valmiki Ramayana 4-24-12
{14} Valmiki Ramayana 4-24-29
{15} Valmiki Ramayana 3-72-21
{16} Valmiki Ramayana 5-62-31
{17} ‘The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India’ - Volume IV of IV, by R.V. Russell.
{18} “The tribal culture of India” by Lalita Prasad Vidyarthi and Binay Kumar Rai, p32 


Jayasree Saranathan said...

Mr Arun Upadhyay writes,

//Vana usually means forest. It has also been used to indicate ocean. Persons who travel in ocean are Vanara. This has given rise to Bandar (port) used from Iraq to Indonesia)-Bandar-abbas (Iran), Porbandar in Gujarat which is Boribandar of Mumbai, Bandar-sri-Bhagvan of Borneo.

Regards for your great study

Anonymous said...

What if they were neanderthals. What if they were bigfoot legend. Some bigfoot experts say they are bearmen and some say they are apemen. Jambavan was bearman and Hanuman was apeman. It is clearly said that devas made them from ordinary monkey's like some experiment to help rama. :-)

Jayasree Saranathan said...


How could Neanderthals whose presence some 40K years ago has been proved only in Europe and Bigfoot whose authenticity is still questionable even in North Americas, be present in India? It is remote to even hypothesize so. Suppose you have thought of vanaras to be Denizovans or their variation, there is a chance to explore further as the recent studies have shown that their genes is present in some people of the Himalayan / Tibetan regions.

Moreover the truth about Vanaras is such that they are found in a Ithihasa whose period is / must be as recent as a few millennium ago, or else every monument and feature about Ramayana would be only mythical and not historical. Another issue with vanaras is that there is no fossil proof or otherwise of them anywhere in India which makes it difficult to prove the authenticity of Ramayana.

But so far we have got many proofs of Ramayana - cultural, archaeological, inscriptional etc- on its historicity in a decipherable past wherein only the authenticity of vanaras is a misfit.

To solve this, just think from the root. What does vanara mean? vah+ nara? Like kinnara (kim+nara = which nara), vanara means you (vah), the nara (man). That means vanara refers to some 'you who is a man'.

The first introduction of a vanara comes in the narration of Kabandha who asks Rama to go and befriend the Vanara Sugreeva. In chapter 4-72-19 of Valmiki Ramayana Kabandha cautions Rama not to undermine Sugreeva as he is (among other attributes) is capable of changing his form at will (kaama ruupi). That aspect is common to all vanaras who changed form from bear to vanarana and even to a bird. This is aspect to be commonly found in people who wish to remain incognito. Why should they remain incognito? The fear of Parashurama is the cause. Why should they fear Parashurama? They must have been kshatriyas originally. I think my article can be read with this background.

For additional readings to understand the historicity of Ramayana, read my other articles such as


Satyavathi said...

Koti pranama to do madam.
Is it possible that Jambvan of Ramayana was merely a human representation of the Riksha constellation? (Ursa Major or The Great Bear)