Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Vālakhilyas: Were they the descendants of “Hobbits” of Indonesia?

The name Vālakhilya evokes excitement and interest besides puzzlement for two main reasons. One is that it refers to a group of eleven hymns generally counted as an appendage to the 8th Mandala of Rig Veda. Opinions vary on why they are there and whether they are later additions. Another reason is that sages by a generic name Vālakhilya have existed in a remote past amply referenced in Mahabharata, with a couple of references appearing in Vālmiki Ramayana also. Mahabharata often refers to their height of unbelievable proportions - as ‘thumb’ size. Yet another often mentioned feature describes them as doing penance by hanging upside-down in the branches of the trees. A penance of this kind done by Vālakhilya rishis finds mention in Bhrṅgīśa samhita and also practiced as yogic posture by the name Vālakhilyāsana even today.

With enough source materials to decode the myths around Vālakhilyas, what is left improbable is their thumb sized height.  Even that can be interpreted as a symbolic reference to their short stature compared to normal human beings. Interestingly support comes from archaeological findings on very small beings, hardly of three feet height who walked on the earth along with normal human beings (Homo erectus) as recently until 13,000 years ago if we go by fossil records and until the 16th century CE as per many first person accounts. They were the “Hobbits” who had lived in Indonesia! The information we gather from the three texts (Rig Veda, Ramayana and Mahabharata) gives us ample leads to connect Vālakhilyas with Hobbits.

Such information includes the origins of Vālakhilyas, their olden location, their later location, their characteristics and their contribution. Of these let us first proceed from the information on their olden location to establish their origins in Indonesia!

Oldest story of Vālakhilyas.

Both Mahabharata and Vālmiki Ramayana repeat a similar incident involving Vālakhilyas in which the Garuda came to be identified as the king of birds for the first ever time. Interestingly enough, the name Garuda came into being for the first time only after that incident, coined by the none other than Vālakhilyas. This means that the concept of Garuda as the carrier of Vishnu and later as the insignia of Viṣṇu / Kṛṣṇa must have come up after this incident. This places Vālakhilyas much before the origin of the concept of Garuda and its status as the carrier bird for Viṣṇu!

This incident is recalled by Rāvana (VR: 3-35) on his way to meet Mārīca to seek his help to abduct Sīta. While passing through the sea coast he saw a huge banyan tree that reminded him of an incident of the old in which the mighty Garuda plunged from the sky to perch on a huge banyan tree with an elephant and a mammoth tortoise clutched in his paws. By the weight his plunge, the branch where he landed started breaking off. It was then he noticed that sages such as Vālakhilyas were doing penance by hanging upside down on that branch. Anxious that they should not fall down, Garuda immediately picked up the broken branch with his beak and soared high with the sages still hanging in the tree-branch.

It was an awe-inspiring to see the huge bird flying in the sky with an elephant and a huge tortoise in firm grip of its two claws and a huge branch of a tree in its beak with many Vālakhilyas hanging down from that. Rāvana recounts that the bird safely landed the Vālakhilyas in a site after which it unleashed the branch on a habitat of Nishādas (fishermen or boatmen implying coastal or riverside people) destroying them. The sight of the huge banyan tree brought out the memory of this old tale of Garuda and Vālakhilyas to Rāvana. This incident appearing in Vālmiki Ramayana goes without saying that Vālakhilyas existed even before Rama’s times!

Now coming to the chronologically later history of Mahabharata, the same incident is narrated by Ugrasrava Sauti in the story of Garuda. (MB: 1-29 & 30). Here he gives some more information. Garuda, the son of Vinata was keen on increasing his strength to fetch amrita in order to free his mother from the bondage of Kadru, the mother of snakes. He did this by eating the Nishādas and the creatures of the forest. Once he spotted an elephant and a huge tortoise fighting with each other in a lake. He swooped on them and caught them with his claws. He soared high with the two huge animals in the grip of his claws looking for a place to perch and saw a group of banyan trees near ‘Ālamba tīrtha(MB: 1-25-27). There the Vālakhilya rishis were engaged in penance while clinging on to the tree-branches with their body and the head downwards.

Unaware of their presence, Garuda landed on a branch but the branch started breaking. Only then Garuda noticed the presence of Vālakhilyas in that branch and wishing to save them from getting crushed, he picked up the branch with his beak and started flying again. The rishis, still hanging from the branch were amazed to see the huge bird carrying two huge animals in its claws and a huge branch in its beak as surpassing the might of the Gods and hence called the bird, ‘Garuda’ meaning ‘the bearer of heavy weight’. The very formation of the name “Garuda” has thus been attributed to Vālakhilyas!

After they were left to safety, the Vālakhilyas were guided by sage Kaśyapa to leave for Himavat to continue with their penance without any disturbance.  Sauti continues the narration on how Garuda managed to get amrita and met Viṣṇu on his way who on seeing him not drinking amrita, granted him two boons by which Garuda became immortal and came to be the carrier of Viṣṇu and found a place in his flag. This narrative from Mahabharata places the identification of Garuda as the carrier of Viṣṇu at a time when Vālakhilyas were already advanced beings proficient in ascetic practices.
This incident involving Garuda and Vālakhilyas cannot be brushed aside as a figment of imagination for the reason it is repeated in both the Itihāsas. The incident is filled with ample clues to the location where this had happened. It also tells about a time when raptors (Garuda) were ruling the skies and almost threatened all forms of terrestrial life including human beings. The Nishādas living on sea shores and river-side were forced to move out for fear for life from the bird. The Vālakhilyas also were forced to take refuge in the Himavat. Piecing the clues together it is possible to identify the place where this incident had taken place.

Location of Garuda, Giant tortoise, Banyan and Vālakhilyas.

The incident has three creatures, a mighty Garuda (let’s call it eagle), an elephant and a giant tortoise. The location was teeming with water bodies or it could have been near the coast if we go by Ramayana narration - where elephants and giant tortoises were co-habiting. This location must also have plenty of banyan trees.

Banyan trees

The mention of Ālamba tīrtha’ where the Vālakhilyas were engaged in penance by hanging upside down on the tree branches unfolds the mystery, as one of the meanings of Ālamba is ‘hanging down’ and another is ‘support’. Banyan trees have their branches (roots) hanging down which form their own support. ‘Ālam’ in Ālamba has a curious connection with the Tamil word ‘Ālam’ (ஆலம்) which is how banyan tree is called in Tamil! True to its meaning, the Vālakhilyas also had practiced the upside down posture from the tree-branch during meditation.

Banyan trees are endemic to South Asia and South East Asia. Giant banyan trees are found in Angkor Wat temple complex. Banyan tree has a place in the Coat of Arms of Indonesia inscribed within the giant image of ‘Garuda’!

Coat of Arms of Indonesia

Though this was recently adopted by Indonesia, the design reflects native elements specific to the country and its traditions. Banyan found a place in this design not just for the symbolism but also because it is native to Indonesia.

The spread of banyans can be seen as far as the Pacific island of Vanuatu where the tree has the same utility as in India – i.e., a meeting place or for public congregations. 

Certain species of banyan do appear in Central and South America. But those places do not qualify to be the venue of the above mentioned incident of Garuda and Vālakhilyas. The fact that Vālakhilyas had moved from Ālamba to Himavat points to the region of South or South East Asia. The movement to Himavat could not have happened from Europe or Siberia for the very reason that banyans are not native to those regions. So our search gets narrowed down to South East Asia as a probable region. India is excluded from this reckoning for other reasons, one of it being the absence of giant tortoises.  

Giant Tortoise.

Giant tortoise found in coastal regions or inland lakes is an important test feature for this incident. The following map published by a Checklist and Review of extinct species of turtles and tortoises shows that South East Asia had harboured many such species until 12,000 years ago.

Srilanka is the only region in South Asia to have been home for these species until 12,000 years ago. But some species have lived until 450 years ago in the east of Australia and in the regions where Vanuatu is located. Indonesia (Java) was home for some extinct species.

When we look for the probable species of giant tortoises in South East Asia, we do come across Asian Giant Tortoises  (Manouria emys) as the most primitive but still living in wet lands and waterways in South East Asia and South Asia.

Manouria emys phayrei in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand
Source: HERE

This species is found from ‘Assam in India and eastern Bangladesh in the west, through Myanmar and western Thailand, and south through peninsular Malaysia to Sumatra and Borneo in the east(Here). To narrow down the search further, we must look for giant eagle population in these regions.

Giant eagles

The narration tells about the size of Garuda and not his colour. He was a man-eater initially and had devoured huge animals including elephants. He was not snake-eater, as Garuda had not troubled the snakes born to Kadru. Not all eagles eat snakes. After he got the boon of immortality from Viṣṇu, Garuda came to be known as ‘Suparṇa’, a bird with ‘beautiful wing’. With these clues we have to locate the eagle in a region which was a habitat for giant tortoises and elephants too.

The most widespread eagle family in the northern hemisphere is the Golden Eagle  (Aquila chrysaetos). But they are found in regions to the north of India and in Europe and not in South East Asia. Since our search is narrowing down to South and South East Asia, we have to look for the species found here. The most common one is white-bellied sea eagle (H. leucogaster) seen from India to Indonesia to Australia.

White-bellied Sea eagle.

The characteristic white coloured belly of this eagle can be expected to be found in the narration if this is the bird that came to be called as Garuda. But the absence of this reference rules out this to be Garuda.

But far from Indonesia, an extinct eagle of huge size has been found in New Zealand (closer to Vanuatu where extinct tortoises have been found and where banyans abound). A study published in PLOS Biology had identified an extinct giant eagle called  Haast's eagle. “With  a 2.5-3m wingspan weighing in at between 10 and 14 kg, Haast's eagle was about 30-40% heavier than the largest living bird of prey (the harpy eagle of Central and South America) and was approaching the upper weight limit of powered flight”. The absence of terrestrial mammals except a few species of bats in New Zealand about 700 years ago when human settlement began was attributed to the presence of this giant eagle in the past.

It had no predators, but plenty of food in the form of terrestrial animals that resulted in gaining weight to the maximum possible limit to enable it to fly. This is the same description we find in Mahabharata on Garuda, as having no enemy but only food everywhere, and thereby becoming ‘immortal’ though it had not drunk amrita it carried!

Drinking Amrita is figurative expression for immortality of a race. The Garuda had its genesis after the birth of snakes, as per the story of Garuda. It did not live on snakes which is normally believed to be the food for eagles, but on other animals. It had preyed on human beings too. With these insights if we probe into the origins of Haast’s eagle, we find a genetic study on a 2000 year old bone of this eagle mentioned in the same article as saying that it is closely related to the world’s smallest eagle –“the "Little Eagle" from Australia and New Guinea, which typically weighs under 1 kg”. They had a common ancestor who lived a million years ago, but the giant eagle had grown in size 10-15 times over a period just by eating unabatedly with none to threaten its survival.

The giant Haast's eagle attacking the extinct New Zealand moa. 
Source: HERE

An interesting correlation is that the region where the fossil of this eagle is discovered is close to Vanuatu, the region of banyan trees and tortoises. Generally eagles are territorial. The Haast’s eagle had held its hold on New Zealand. It is not known whether Garuda belongs to this genus or is different from it but there can be no doubt that it had a similar life style as that of Haast’s eagle.

Its immortality was threatened by Indra in the same story on Garuda wherein it is stated that Indra discharged his weapon on Garuda. But Garuda managed to survive after losing a few feathers. This sounds symbolic of a reduced form of Garuda in due course while continuing to exist as a species as a mark of immortality. We may not get to identify the exact species of Garuda unless and until we find fossil remains of the bird. However the very fact about the way of life of Haast’s eagle raises the probability of an ancestral or a sub-species of that bird ruling the skies and the land long ago anywhere from Indonesia to New Zealand.

Fortunately our search is further fine-tuned by an account on Garuda’s territory at Śālmali Dwīpa described in Vālmiki Ramayana.

Garuda, the native of Śālmali Dwīpa.

Garuda and Vālakhilyas appear in regions far-east of India (Bharat) in the narration of Sugrīva of a route until a point in the globe where sun rise is witnessed (VR: 4-40). The route passes through Yava Dwīpa, the olden name for Java. From there after crossing Mt Shishira (Mt Semeru) and River Shona (R.Solo) the route passes through a series of islands leading to Śālmali Dwīpa. Even today many islands are seen to the east of Java. Sugrīva specifically mentions that Śālmali Dwīpa was the home of Garuda, Vinata’s son (VR:4-40-4)

In Sugrīva’s narration, the next region to the east of Śālmali Dwīpa is described as having horrifying demons of the shapes and size of mountains, dangling upside down from the mountain peaks and surrounded by oceans. Day after day they fall into water and also freshly arise from mountaintops (VR 4-40.41-43). This is a reference to lava spiting volcanoes of this region. The ocean of this region was described as Red sea (VR 4.40. 39) precisely because the hot and molten lava running down the volcanoes into the seas had given red hue to the sea. This description fits with Mt Puncak Jaya in Papua province. 

This limits the region of Śālmali Dwīpa (Garuda’s home) to the parts to the east of Yava Dwīpa and west of Papua New Guinea. The probable location of Śālmali Dwīpa deduced from this description is shown in the picture below.

The currently available archaeological findings in the region that we identified as Śālmali Dwīpa are known for ‘Lapita pottery’. Interestingly a bowl of this culture exhibits the image of Garuda! (Illustration below)

Lapita Bowl/Face – Tarawa Atoll / Kiribati Photo – John Terrell / Lapita Gallery

Garuda images have been found in different parts of the world. But no other region in the world has all the three, namely, banyan trees, giant tortoises and giant eagles at one place as in Śālmali Dwīpa, which is part of Indonesia today. 

There are other two entities, the elephant and the Vālakhilyas of short stature that we have to find in this region. The elephant also must be of the size that a giant eagle (Garuda) is capable of holding with one of its claws. That means they must be of smaller than normal size of elephants. Incidentally Insular Dwarfism is common in islands and Indonesia, an archipelago fits the bill very well.

Dwarf elephants of Indonesia.

An extinct species of dwarf elephant known as Stegodon florensis insularis is found to have lived in Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. The ancestral species of these elephants were found to be huge in size, but dwarfism occurred as an evolutionary development for those species that were confined within islands where the food supply was limited. Interestingly the birds of Indonesia have shown gigantism while the elephants have shown dwarfism. 

For example Giant storks of size 6 feet high and weight 16 Kg had lived in Indonesia until 11,000 years ago. Similarly giant rats and giant tortoises had lived in the same region while the elephants were of dwarf kind. This disparity is attributed to the availability of food. The species dependant on food available in water had grown big in Indonesian islands while a species like an elephant had struggled to get its food. The story of Garuda lifting the elephant and the tortoise actually narrates the scenario of the two fighting with each other in a water body when Garuda picked them up. That fight must have been for food and territory that each of them wanted for itself. The amazing correlation of the story with the discovery of the presence of these two species in Indonesian islands further reiterates the fact that the elephant could have been of a dwarf kind that the huge Garuda (a case of island gigantism of birds of prey) was able to lift with ease.

Adding credence to this supposition, Indonesia was home for dwarf people who lived along with dwarf elephants. Dwarf people named as Homo floresiensis after the name of the place Flores  - an island in Indonesia where their fossils have been found in the cave Liang Bua had lived at a time the dwarf elephants were roaming in Indonesia. Fossil remains of the dwarf elephant Stegodon are found in the same stratigraphic layer associated with the fossils of Homo floresiensis who have been nick-named as Hobbits!  A comparative size of a Hobbit and the dwarf elephant are shown below with the model of a giant stork and a giant rat of the same place that lived until 11,000 years ago.

Source: Here

A research article presumes that Stegodon elephants were eaten by the still extant Komodo Dragon, a species of lizards. It is no wonder that they were also falling prey to the giant raptor, Garuda. The extinction of Stegodon can also be attributed to the giant eagle, Garuda – whose liking for the elephant can be made out from the incident narrated in both the Itihāsas.

Flores where the fossil remains of Hobbits have been found is well within Śālmali Dwīpa where Garuda had lived, and where elephants (dwarf variety) and giant tortoises also had co-existed. This region is also known for banyan growth.     

Researchers have established Hobbits as hominins, a short race of humans whose ancestral species had lived 700,000 years ago. They had evolved from homo erectus and lived along with us (homo sapiens) in Indonesia. Starting from this piece of information let us see what Indic scriptures have to say about the short species, the Vālakhilyas.

Vālakhilyas: early and distinct human species.  

A narration in Mahabharata describes “Brahma darśana” on creation of life forms (MB:13-85) including human beings. Decoding of the metaphorical verses of this description shows that the earliest life was formed from heat in water, then from heat on land and then from the latent heat of the previous one. They have been named as Bhrigu, Angiras and Kavi. All the life forms including human beings have sprung from one of these elementary three forms only. Creation of this kind is described as a yajna. Then comes the reference to the blades of Kuśa grass spread out for the yajna. It is further said (in the words of sage Vasishtha) that Vālakhilyas sprang from the blades of Kuśa grass. It further adds that from the same blades of Kuśa, sprang Atri – a famous Rig Vedic sage!

The narration puts Vālakhilyas and Atri on the same state of origin! It must be noted that they were not put on par with numerous offsprings that emerged from the yajna or the fire of the yajna. Instead they were traced to the Kuśa blades that would be discarded once the yajna is over!  Does this convey that these two species of human race originating from the same source would cease to exist at some point of Time?

Vālakhilyas and Atri-s

The most common feature between Vālakhilyas and Atri was their affinity to the Sun! In as many as 3 places Mahabharata describes Vālakhilyas as subsisting on sun rays (MB 3.125, 9.43 & 13.115). Sugrīva in his description of ‘Udaya Paravata’ in far-east refers to Vālakhilyas coming into sight at the region of sunrise shining with the resplendence of the Sun. (प्रकाशमाना दृश्यन्ते सूर्य वर्णाः VR: 4-40-60).[i] Sugrīva also refers to that location as the place of sunrise where Viṣṇu makes his first foothold. The reference to difference in time between that place and Jambhu Dwīpa shows that it is near Fiji islands and there is a 6-hour gap between the two places. (VR:4-40-59). Obviously that was considered to be the region of sun rise for the globe and Vālakhilyas, who subsist on sun rays had preferred to live at that location sometime in the past.

Sage Atri is also associated with observing the Sun. The Rig Vedic hymn attributed to him refers to eclipse of the sun (RV: 5-40). It is believed that Atri or the family of Atri were the first ones to have understood the occurrence of solar eclipse. With Atri-s sharing a common origin with Vālakhilyas, were they similar in traits with Vālakhilyas – one of which being observing the sun relentlessly as though they were subsisting on the sun?  

Though born of the same Kuśa grass, Atri was classified along with Sapta rishis while Vālakhilyas were not. From the insights gained from the names of the rishis mentioned in the narration of Brahma darśana, it looks as though each rishi signified a separate human race with Atri also signifying a separate race of human beings. The sapta rishis being present always, it implies that Atri race still continues in existence.  The exclusion of Vālakhilyas in the group shows that they were not ever lasting.

Atri-s, sharing the same origin with Vālakhilyas could mean that they were also short in stature but not as short as Vālakhilyas. The absence of any specific mention about their height is taken to mean this. But they had some affinity with sun like Vālakhilyas.

Thinking about height, sage Agastya also is said to be short. He was also associated with Sun, in the metaphorical narration of subduing Vindhya Mountain to make way for the Sun to move beyond that. Did he also belong to an olden human race that was short and spend more time under the sun, watching the movement sun – a habit that was common between Vālakhilyas and Atri-s?

Of all the three, the incident involving Garuda offers better clues to link Vālakhilyas with Hobbits of Indonesia.

Hobbits and Valakhilyas.

The olden location of Vālakhilyas occurring in Śālmali Dwīpa, they make better candidate to have had genetic connection with the short Hobbits. Science says that Hobbits, though shorter in stature were in no way inferior to homo sapiens in intellect. Falk et al observed that the area of the brain associated with higher cognition (Brodmann area 10) in Hobbits is of the same size as in humans even though the overall brain size is small. This means the Hobbits were as intelligent as human beings and were capable of all the executive functions like humans.

Comparative skull size of Hobbit (left) and modern human (right)
Source: HERE

Hobbits were living in the cave of Flores of Indonesia until the 16th century as per the report of the Portuguese in 1511 CE (Details here). This is confirmed by an article in Science Daily saying, “There are lots of local folk tales in Flores about these people, which are consistent and incredibly detailed. The stories suggest there may be more than a grain of truth to the idea that they were still living on Flores up until the Dutch arrived in the 1500s.”

For generations, the Nagekeo tribes living near the Flores cave have told about Hobbits as small people, but very much like humans, walking erect and the body covered with hair. They were not known to have used fire but gobbled up any food whole and raw. On rare occasions they were invited by the villagers and given food. But they were found to eat indiscriminately anything they found around, that they had to be stopped from gulping sharp instruments.

This feature has a striking resemblance to Atri as Atri means ‘devourer’! That is the best word to describe the eating habit of Hobbits! This eating habit earned them a name Ebu Gogo by the surrounding villagers, which means “Grandmother who eats everything”.

Whatever they ate was not cooked with fire but they seemed to have survived well with whatever they ate raw. Was this taken to mean that the sunrays entering their body provided the heat to soften the food within their body? One cannot help thinking like this, for the very fact that Vālakhilyas were repeatedly described in Indic texts as those subsisting on sun rays.  

The 20th century text titled ‘Gaudiya-Kanthahara’ gives the meaning of the name Vālakhilya somewhat closer to the habit of devouring food. It says that ‘Vālakhilya is one who discards the stock of food he has with him (purva ancita anna tyagah) the moment he gets a fresh stock of food (nave pane labdhya)’ (refer here). This meaning could not have been written without a source text describing so.

This meaning looks suitable to Hobbits who never used fire and therefore never devised cooking methods and therefore never indulged in saving anything for the next meal. By not having used fire and cooking methods, the Hobbits must have lived on whatever they got new while discarding what they already they had.

The comparison of Vālakhilyas with Hobbits does not end here. An interpretation of Vālakhilyas appears in Taittrīya Āranyaka (I-23) in the context of creation of world by Prajāpati. It says that Vālakhilyas were the ‘hair’ of Prajapati. ‘Vāla’ means hair and Khila refers to appendage. Vālakhilya could just be a reference to their hairy appearance. It must be noted that Hobbits too were hairy-bodied.

Another interpretation could be that hair can be completely discarded. By referring to them as the hair of Prajapati, did the rishis mean that Vālakhilyas would cease to exist sometime?  Were they already extinct during the time of Vyāsa whose references to them were only quotational and not contemporaneous?

Whatever be the original import, one cannot deny the fact that some beings by name Vālakhilyas had existed in the past and moved to Himavat.

Vālakhilyas in Himavat.

After the incident involving Garuda, the Vālakhilyas had moved to Himavat (MB:13-10). If they were part of Hobbits, it can be presumed that a section of them living within the territory of Garuda had moved to Himavat for doing peaceful penance. Others outside the territory of predating Garuda had continued their life in Indonesia.

Yet another reference from Mahabharata (3-141) says that Vālakhilyas lived near Alakananda.  The book ‘Wandering Himalayas’ published by Chinmaya Trust refers to ‘Vālakhilya’ mountain to the south of Uttarkashi. Nachiketa Tal is located near this mountain. Why should a mountain get this name unless this was connected with (occupied by) Vālakhilyas in the past?

Reiterating the view that Vālakhilyas did reside in that part of the Himalayas, there is a description of ‘Khilyāyana tīrtha’ in the 3rd chapter of Bhrṅgīśa Samhita.  It says that rishis by name Vālakhilyas were doing penance by standing on their toe with a posture of ‘Urdhva retas’. When Viṣṇu appeared, they ‘jumped down’ and offered their obeisance.

Though not explicit, the minimal description of the posture of penance shows that they were hanging down from the branch of a tree with the toe of one leg supporting their posture. A yogic posture known as Vālakhilyāsana can be re-positioned to a hanging position from a tree with a toe pressing the ground.  

Picture credit: Here

The re-positioned posture of Vālakhilyāsana as hanging from a tree would look as follows:

It is amazing that this posture by name Vālakhilyāsana replicates a possibility of hanging upside-down from a tree – that Vālakhilyas were known for.

Valakhilyas’ devotion for Visnu.

Vālakhilyas were associated with the worship of Viṣṇu in Rig Vedic hymn, Bhrṅgīśa samhita and Vālmiki Ramayana. Bhrṅgīśa samhita says Viṣṇu appeared before Vālakhilyas and granted boons. That location is known as Narayana tīrtha  and the place where the Vālakhilyas did the penance is called as Vālakhilya Grāma.

In Sugrīva’s narration of route to Udaya parvata (Mountain of sunrise) Sun is personified as Trivikrama (Viṣṇu) making the first step at Udaya parvata and the second step on top of Meru in Jambhu Dwīpa. (VR: 4-40-58). And Vālakhilyas were to be seen at the region of sunrise shining with the luminosity of the Sun. They have worshiped Viṣṇu in the form of the sun.

In the narration of Garuda’s story in Mahabharata (written in the beginning) Viṣṇu was supposed to have met Garuda in the sky during his global trot. This could once again refer to the trot of the Sun. From this it is deduced that personification of Sun as Viṣṇu had existed before the identification of Garuda.

For all their obsession to be present at the region of first sunrise and drink the sunrays as much as possible, can the Vālakhilyas be credited with having ‘discovered’ the Vedic truth of Viṣṇu as Sun making three steps? Looks plausible as we come across a reference to Viṣṇu’s three steps in the 4th Vālakhilya hymn of Rig Veda.  It says

यस्मै विष्णुस्त्रीणि पदा विचक्रम” (yasmai viṣṇustrīṇi padā vicakrama)

He to whom Viṣṇu came striding his three wide steps”.

Isn’t this proof enough that a people by name Vālakhilyas who were fond of watching the Sun rise from the eastern most part of the globe beyond which the world is impassable (to quote Sugrīva) were the same ones who had written the quoted Rig Vedic verse.

Their origins go very much back in time, even before Rama’s birth and in a location which was outside India. Every reference to ‘Garutman’ in Rig Veda must have been uttered after the incident involving Garuda and Vālakhilyas.  The verse of Dirghatamas (RV:1-164) equating Garutman (Garuda) with the Supreme Being has its origins in the glorification of Garuda by Vālakhilyas at a location in Indonesia!!

The antiquity of the existence of Vālakhilyas even before many hymns of Rig Veda were composed goes to show that the Vālakhilya hymns were not later additions but olden hymns which were added as an after-thought. Some of the verses of Vālakhilyas appearing in other Vedas disprove them to be of later origin. Vālakhilya hymns must have existed before Vyasa’s times when Vedas were classified into four. 

The Garuda angle reveals some un-thought-of events. It was much after the experience of the Vālakhilyas with Garuda, the bird had been caught and trained as a carrier. Krishna travelling on this bird does not seem to be fictional when we think about this massive bird capable of carrying any heavy weight.

Finally Garuda and Vālakhilyas appearing in the same episode is a strong proof of from where the early Vedic sages emerged. Certainly Vālakhilyas and Atri-s did not come from West Asia or central Europe. The glorification of Viṣṇu, Trivikrama, the sun and Garuda / Garutman had emerged from regions far-east of India and not in North West India or further North West.

A long route found in the narration of Sugrīva shows it was possible to walk, hop and swim across the long stretch starting from Ganga or Sarayu or Vanga or Himavat to Yava Dwipa and winding through Śālmali Dwipa up until Fiji Islands (Udaya Parvata) and even New Zealand!  This entire stretch has been highly supportive of life-thriving conditions and therefore lasting growth of human population and civilization and movement of people within this route. This was also the path of global trot of Viṣṇu from his first to the second step. The highest point of this step did not go beyond or north of Jambhu Dwīpa. This is the single most proof of the unlikelihood of the beginnings of Vedic culture as having sprung from anywhere other than the route that passes through South East Asia and South Asia just south of the Himalayas.

[i] Devi Bhagavata Purana refers to Vālakhilyas as numbering 60,000 going in front of the Sun from its rise till it sets. This doesn’t concur with any of the description of Vālakhilyas in the Itihāsas except a symbolism that Vālakhilyas had subsisted on sun rays. Some writers had attempted to link the 60,000 number going in front of the Sun with certain verses of Tamil Sangam texts (Puranānuru 43, Tirumurugārrup padai- 107 and Silappadhikāram 12). What is referred to in those texts is the company of Mitra, Varuna and Aryaman along with the sun who take the oblations of water – of whom Aryaman accepts for Pitrus while the other two accept from any water source (evaporation). This is spelt out clearly in Silappadhikāram verse as “avippali” – ‘havis’. The accompanying sages accept Havis, is what is conveyed in the Tamil sources. This can be illustrated in the Vāstu mandala distribution of the deities as below:

Nowhere Vālakhilyas were mentioned as travelling along with the Sun or accepting havis.