Vedic view of Uttarayana (winter solstice), equinox (Vishu) and ‘fall’ of star Abhijit (Vega)- a critique of Dr Raj Vedam’s article.


The most vexatious and the least understood idea of ‘precession’ of equinoxes had a re-run of the same kind in an article (reproduced below)## that I recently read. Behind the attractive title of when Makar Sankaranti was first celebrated, the reader is offered  three synchronies, (1) coincidence of Uttarayana (winter solstice) with Makar Sankaranti, (2) Makar Sankaranti coinciding with Til harvest and (3) the current date of Makar Sankaranti coinciding with the date of Uttarayana during the period of Nilaknatha Somayaji in 1500s.

With due respects to the author of these synchronies, let me state that none of these do matter in understanding Uttarayana or Makar Sankaranti and the article offers no justification to the question in the title, “When did we first celebrate Makar Sankaranti?”Without attempting to answer this question which is historical in nature, attempts of the author to find its synchronies using modern software could only confound mis-information. The answers do not lie in the astronomy software but in understanding the domain knowledge of what our ancient rishis watched in the sky and for what they used that knowledge.

To give a sample idea of what this domain knowledge was like, a verse in Brihad Samhita says (Ch 3- 4) that if the sun commences its northward movement (Uttarayana) before reaching Makara (Capricorn) it would bring evil on the west and south. Similarly if it turns towards south (Dakshinayana) before it reaches Kataka (Cancer), it would cause harm to east and north. What this conveys is that it was well within the knowledge of the rishis that the movement (ayana) is not constant and cannot synchronise with Makara or Kataka at all times. It must have taken not just a few hundred but thousands of years of observation of the movement of the Ayanas (of the sun) and the terrestrial events related to the movement.

Today Uttarayana starts before the sun reaches Makara – the same condition mentioned in Brihad samhita. Interestingly no text speaks about Uttarayana after it slipped south of Makara that is in Dhanus (Sagittarius) which had happened more than 1500 years ago. The last time we hear about the conjunction of Makar Sankaranti and Uttarayana is from Varahamihira. After that the next reference – plenty of them are there – comes in the inscriptions of1000 years before present. Interestingly they refer to “Uttarayana Sankaranti” and the dates concur with Makara Sankaranti only and not the actual date of Uttarayana (sun turning towards north after it reaches the southernmost point). Thatmeans Uttarayana to the south of Makara was never recognised for rituals and instead it was combined with Makara Sankaranti – on the date the sun enters Makara.

It is here the problem of non-synchronous synchrony between the two has been taken up by modern researchers who think that we are wrong in having “Uttarayana Sankaranti”. They insist that Uttarayana must be recognised at the current location of northward movement and adjust the dates of the festivals accordingly.

But the fact is that Uttarayana or Vishu (Equinox) does not determine the festivals or rituals of the Vedic society. Only the sun and moon as Panchānga factors are reckoned for fixing the dates of festivals. Today vernal equinox starts at 6 degrees of Pisces and modern reformers want us to start Aries at that point. This is nothing but lack of domain knowledge of Vedic astronomy – for, the month of Chaitra (Aries)  is determined by the full moon happening in Chitra star, but it does not happen so when the sign of Aries starts with the Sun in 6th degree of Pisces. Vedic astronomy synchronises stars, sun and the moon for identifying “time” for any ritual. In the very beginning of Rig Jyothisha, it is said that knowledge of all these is to know the effect of Time. This part –that is, effect-related- to- celestial entities – is what makes Vedic astronomy different from modern astronomy.

Another pet theory of modernists is that seasons will change with precession, whereas ground reality is that the rainy season of Ramayana had not changed even now. The reason is that sidereal position of the sun is always kept intact whatever the precession may be. The purpose of Vedic astronomy being identification of Time for rituals, constant course correction is being done with stars as reference points. Due to this reason, rainy season always starts in Ashada month and summer always peaks when the sun passes through Krittika.

Fall of Abhijit (Vega in the constellation of Lyra).

While on the topic of Krittika, a major mis-conception must be exposed on the so-called‘fall’ of the star Abhijit. The article under discussion refers to Abhijit as a pole star and a fallen star quoting secondary sources. If only the primary source was analysed, the author would have known that the ‘fall’ of Abhijit is not actually a fall in the literary sense of the term but removal from the zodiac – in which case, the vacancy was filled by Krittika!

This means that the star Krittika (Pleiades) was not at all considered as part of the 27 stars of the zodiac at one time. From the events described in Vana Parva of Mahabharata (ch 227 to 229), it is known that Rohini was in the lead (equinox) once when Vishaka was a full star and not divided between two signs as it is now between Libra and Scorpio. At that time a huge fire (called Adbhuda) had ravaged the lands and some re-design or re-organisation of the zodiac was done as a result. Since events were connected with the transit of sun, the fire at Rohini was a mismatch. So Krittika, a star group very much close-by (for naked eye observation) was included with its deity identified as Agni.

Around the same time, it was noticed that Abhijit which was reckoned at a place where Makara begins today (90 degrees to the left of Rohini – with Rohini as the point of Vishu or equinox) had slipped southward. That being the point of Uttarayana, and with Uttarayana no longer happening in Abhijit, it was thought fit to revamp the zodiac with Abhijit expunged from the star-group and substituted by Krittika in between Bharani and Rohini. In naked eye observation they are seen to be cramped within a short span of space – giving credence to the story that Krittika was added afterwards. That was the time Skanda alias Muruga was around according to the version in Mahabharata.  He was very valorous and so was deified with a mythological spin of six women, who happened to be the wives of six of the seven rishis of the Sapta rishi Mandala (Ursa Major).

Here also an interesting astronomical truth is encapsulated in Mahabharata. They ancient rishis had identified a companion for each of the seven stars of the Sapta rishi mandala but had found that six of them had changed position with only Arundhati retaining the same location with reference to the star identified as her husband, Vashishta. To give a mythological tinge to the deification of Skanda, the rishis had framed a story that the six wives have turned into the six Krittika women who nursed Skanda. All these events – the Adbhuda fire, regress of sun to the south of Abhijit, replacement of Abhijit with Krittika and change in the position of six companion stars – had been noticed during the same period leading to a re-vamp of the zodiac.

Skanda was repeatedly referred to as having taken up the face of the goat in the narration in Mahabharata – a reference to Mesha becoming the first sign of the zodiac. In this set- up the maximum precession or progression had happened within 27 degrees on either side of the zero degree Aries which we celebrate as New Year or Vishu. This Vishu regressed upto 24 degrees as of today, but it doesn’t matter, it is going to swing back in forward motion soon – that is the Vedic wisdom we gather from the ancient texts.

To quote a source, Vayu Purana speaks about a ‘veethi’ (street) concept (Ch 50- 130). It tells about a northern street called Naga veethi and a southern street called Ajaveethi. It says

when the sun rises in the constellations Mula, Purvashada and Uttrashada it is called Ajaveethi. When the sun rises during the rise of the three stars after Abhijit, it is called Nagaveethi.”

After Abhijit, comes Shravana, Dhanishta and Satabhishak. The verse is a clear indication of northern movement (Uttarayana ) of sun limited to the extent of Mula only. The three stars from Mula occurring south of Makara, it was given the name, Southern street (where Uttarayana happens as it is happening today). After crossing Makara – where Abhijit was once located, the northern movement of the ayana could go only upto Satabhishak after which the movement would be reversed. This part of the movement was known as Northern street.

This is something unthinkable for the modern researchers who are pushing the ayana and equinox relentlessly around the zodiac. In reality the axial precession to the extent of less than 3 degrees (between 22.1 to 24.5 degrees as per current research) can have the effect of a rocking chair or a Tanjore doll, yes, the famous swaying doll of Tanjore!

pic 1

The Tanjore doll (above) can sway back and forth but would never topple. A society that sees everything from a cosmic and spiritual perspective can be expected to have devised a play thing in a concept which is very easy to understand. If we go with the modern researchers in accepting a complete revolution of the equinoxes around the zodiac, then it means the earth would have to roll or topple down.

The simple proof of how precession works is in the latitudinal angle of tropic of cancer and Capricorn. It will always be the same as the degree of tilt of the axis. Presently the axial tilt is 23.44 degrees. That is the maximum limit of both the tropics. The sun reaches only upto the extent of 23.44 degrees in the north and in the south of equator. With the tilt changing from 22.1 to 24.5 degrees, that is the range within which the two ayanas can travel. This view is expressed in terms Veethi concept with sidereal reference in Vayu Purana.

The maximum extent that the sun can travel on both sides of the equator can be upto Mula 3 degrees in the south and Satabhishak in the north. Accordingly tropic of Sagittarius will mark the northern turn of the sun from southern hemisphere (Uttarayana).  It will be tropic of Gemini in the northern hemisphere marking the southward turn in Dakshinayana. Beyond these two limits the sun can never be seen in the backdrop of the stars of other signs. This oscillation is comparable to the swaying motion of the Tanjore doll.

pic 2

But why the researchers had thought that equinox and ayanas would do a full round? Perhaps they are inspired by the lunar orbit with reference to earth’s orbit in which case, the point of intersection of the two keeps moving around the zodiac (known as nodes or Rahu and Ketu). That is for an observer on the earth. But earth’s relationship with the sun is not the same. The earth is orbiting the sun – and is not at the centre of the orbit. To put it in simpler terms, in the case of moon orbiting the earth, the moon’s orbit intersects the earth’s orbit. The gradual movement of the point of intersection is noticeable from the earth which makes a full round in 18.5 years.

This is not the same with reference to the sun that is being orbited by the earth. Suppose we are in the location of the sun, and watch the earth move around us, in the same way we watch the moon move around the earth, we can observe the orbit of the earth (ecliptic) cutting the path of the sun at gradually moving different points. But we are circling the sun like how moon is circling the earth. Our observation is not like how we see the moon from the earth. But it is like how a being on moon will be seeing the earth while moon is making circles around the earth. With less than 3 degree variation in the wobble of the tilted earth, the sun will be seen moving across the sky, with the far away stars in the back drop, within a limited span of space. The following diagram shows how it would look.

pic 3

(For illustrative purpose only, not true to angles)

The above picture shows the maximum shift of the spring equinox caused by the maximum oscillation of the axial tilt of the earth. The shift is between Pisces and Aries only. Beyond this the equinox cannot move. In the past it went upto Rohini, a star in Taurus in the current design of the zodiac. The ‘fall of Abhijit’ and the substitution of Krittika to complete the zodiac had caused the equinoctial shift to move upto Krittika, that has taken the original span of the star Rohini (each star span is 13 degrees and 20 minutes where 60 minutes make one degree)

In the opposite of the ecliptic, the way the autumnal equinox shifts between Libra and Virgo with the median at zero degree Libra is shown in the diagram below. For those in the southern hemisphere, the equinox will be seen to move within 27 degrees on either side of zero degree of Libra.

pic 4

In these two diagrams, two extreme positions of the wobble are shown as two earths. The location of the sun in the back drop of stars perceived as Equinox, cannot go beyond a certain limit – here shown as 27 degrees on either side of beginning point of Aries and of Libra – which is as per Vedic Thought. While the poles make a full circle, the equinoctial movement is much restricted. The pole- inscribed circle might solve the mystery of Sapta rishi’s stay for 100 years in each star of the zodiac, but for the present topic the revelation is such that Uttarayana (Dakshinayana too) is an oscillating phenomenon and cannot be synchronised with Makar Sankaranti. Nor can it be stretched across the zodiac with claims that months and seasons will change with that movement.

Before ending, let me respond to the three synchronies mentioned in the article under critique.

(1) Coincidence of Uttarayana with Makar Sankaranti:

This can happen only when Uttarayana is crossing zero degree Capricorn or the 270thdegree of the zodiac that starts with Aries at zero degrees. Whenever Uttarayana started before the sun reached Makara, Vedic society had not recognised it as the starting point. It had always maintained Makara Sankramana (entry) as Uttarayana. When Uttarayana had occurred after the sun reached Makara, then only Uttarayana was recognised, whatever be its position. That is what we are seeing in Rig Jyothisha. One should remember that Makara Sankaranti was conspicuously absent in those times. That is because Makara Sankaranti was happening in Dakshinayana at those times. With importance given to the 270th degree (which is 90 degree to the left of Equinox in fixed zodiac) when Abhijit was seen not to be the star of Uttarayana, a re-design of the zodiac was done, after expunging Abhijit from the zodiac. Detailed explanation will be given in another article.

(2) Makar Sankaranti coinciding with Til harvest:

There is no proof for this whereas the available inscriptional evidence shows that harvest was over in Aippasi- Karthigai and in Panguni- Chitthirai. There is evidence of payment of “Karthigau Kaasu” at the end of rainy season and “Chitthirai Kaasu” after the end of winter crops. Read my earlier article on how Pongal was a recent development and not a replacement for Makar Sankaranti in Tamil lands.

(3) The current date of Makar Sankaranti coinciding with the date of Uttarayana during the period of Nilaknatha Somayaji in 1500s:

The author had written,

“The final synchrony we examine is to ask the question, when did Makar Sankranti last coincide with Jan 13th/14th? By direct simulation on planetarium software, we find this date to be around 1500s CE. This period is startlingly, the exact period of the famous Kerala astronomer, Nilakantha Somayaji (1444-1544), author of Tantrasangrama, who would have been aware of the length of the tropical year and the effect of Precession from works of Aryabhata, Bhaskara II as well as Surya Siddhanta, and might have computed the date accordingly. This date was probably left untouched since.”

The author first tries to match the Gregorian date of present day Makar Sankaranti with the date of Uttarayana when it last coincided with the same Gregorian date. This is nothing but absurd as Gregorian calendar does not track the star path as Vedic astronomy (it is astrology only but modernists refuse to use that term). As explained earlier, Uttarayana and Makar Sankaranti are not the same and our sages did not bother to synchronise them. The synchronisation is done like a play by modernists with the help of astronomy software.

Next the author says that Uttarayana was kept track of until then (Nilakantha’s time) but not corrected thereafter. I wish he along with all those modern chronologists of his ilk understand the fact that Uttaryana and every other time keeping was done with reference to the stars in the backdrop of the sun and not in a fixed position in the zodiac when the earth comes to the same point in its orbit around the sun. Therefore it is irrational to synchronise the current date of Makar Sankaranti with Uttarayana in the past.

In fact the Gregorian calendar came into use after the time of Nilakantha. It is on record of Madras Journal of Literature and Science (1833-34) that Makar Sankaranti occurredon 11th January in sync with the equinoctial position in fixed zodiac on 11th April in the year 1834. (This is the Tamil New Year or Vishu). Around the time the Gregorian calendar was introduced, the sidereal New Year (zero degree Aries) started on 11th April and Makar Sankaranti on 11th January. The years before that would see the backward movement of the calendar date with reference to Vishu and Makar Sankaranti. 100 years from now Vishu will occur on 15th / 16th April and Makar Sankaranti on 15th / 16thJanuary. It makes no sense to synchronise Gregorian date with sidereal date.

Finally let me attempt to answer the question raised by the author in the title “When did we first celebrate Makar sankaranti?” That goes to the time before the ‘fall’ of Abhijit – a time when Skanda, a hero of Tamil texts lived. Until then Uttarayana and Makar Sankaranti had coincided. Once they started noticing the ‘fall’ of Abhijit and Uttarayana happening after 270th degree of the zodiac, they had thought of making corrections. It was then a massive fire had occurred when the equinox was in Rohini. This was unacceptable as Rohini was thought to be ruled by creator Brahma. Therefore Krittika was introduced in the place of Rohini and Rohini’s span was pushed forward. By how many degrees this could have happened would be discussed in another article.

By excluding Abhijit from the zodiac (but retained in polar circle), the rishis had revealed their mind – that the sun going south of Makara is inauspicious but they can wait for its return to Naga Veethi. The same could not be told for Abhijit which they wanted to keep high in reverence and hence kept it in the celestial sphere of Devas (polar sphere is thought to be so). In fact Abhijit is closer to northern latitudes than the zodiacal path. It is not lying in the path of the zodiac.

Abhijit in its avatar as a pole star is also an amazing proof of observational astronomy of our ancient rishis – originally known as “Nakshatra Darshana” – based on stars. It would do well to the retention of ancient wisdom of Vedic rishis, if modern astronomy software based researchers stop spreading their mis-construed ideas as truth to gullible yet eager readers.

Related article: Zodiac is like a Balance with Chithira Vishu on top of the central beam

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## From

https://swarajyamag.com/science/when-did-we-first-celebrate-makar-sankranti

When Did We First Celebrate Makar Sankranti?

by Raj Vedam

 – Jan 13, 2017, 3:20 pm

The widespread celebration of the Makar Sankranti festival and its many regional variations hint at great antiquity. In this article, we will take a journey through time, weaving together history, astronomy, calendars, seasons, agriculture and common customs, to find connections and understand the antiquity of the festival, and as an outcome, we will examine three different synchronisms for Makar Sankranti.

We first discuss points of astronomical significance, to appreciate the antiquity of the festival.

1. As the Earth rotates on its 23.5 degree tilted axis from west to east, it would appear that celestial bodies that rise in the eastern horizon set in the western horizon, except for the stars closer to the celestial North (South) Pole that would appear to circle it.

  1. Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun while tilted at 23.5 degrees gives the phenomenon of seasons, due to the changing amounts of sunlight in each hemisphere, in each quarter segment of the revolution.
  1. The visible stars are so distant from our solar system that they appear to be fixed with respect to the Earth’s revolution. As the Earth makes progress in its revolution each day, it would appear that the familiar constellations also change in the sky. Thus the constellations that appear in the night sky in a given month will repeat in a year’s time (ignoring the slow effect of precession, discussed in point 7). The situation is analogous to looking outside a train window on a circular track – the same scenery will appear at the same point on the circular track.
  1. Due to the Earth’s tilt at 23.5 degrees, from an Earth-bound observation point, it would appear that the sunrise is offset by a small amount daily, and reaches a southernmost point – the Winter Solstice, and reverses course, and reaches a northernmost point, the Summer Solstice. Ancient Indians recognized the six-month southern journey of the Sun as Dakshinayana, and the 6-month northern journey as the auspicious Uttarayana. The epic Mahabharata, recounts Bhishma who could control the time of his death, and lay on a bed of arrows, waiting for the start of Uttarayana, for more than 92 days (Nilesh Nilakanth Oak, When Did the Mahabharata War Happen?), hinting ancient observance of the Winter solstice occurrence.
  1. Indian astronomical work divided the sky into twenty-seven Nakshatras that each occupies 13 and 1/3 degree segments, approximately the distance traveled by the Moon in a 24 hour period against the fixed stars. Each Nakshatra was identified by the principal stars in that segment of the sky. The Nakshatra model forms part of the earliest corpus of Indian works on astronomy, dating to the Vedic era.
  1. In addition to the twenty-seven Nakshatras, ancient Indians also divided the sky into 12 equal parts of thirty degrees each, called the Rashis. While there have been some Western assertions that ancient Indians borrowed the Rashi model from Babylon, Subhash Kak shows otherwise in his book, Astronomical Code of the Rgveda, about the Vedic origin of the Rashis, evolving from the twelve Adityas. See fig.1.

pic 5

The twelve Rashis shown on the ceiling of the 12th century Airavatesvara temple in Darasuram, Tamil Nadu.

  1. Due to the gravitational effects of Sun and Moon (and to a lesser extent, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn), the Earth wobbles on its axis, and completes a non-uniform cycle in about 25,771 years, referred to as Precession of Equinox. Due to this wobble, the celestial North Pole (and South Pole) appears to change over time, and the Rashis appear to drift slowly over the years. More than 2500 years ago, ancient Indians had observed and measured the wobble at a degree for every 100 years.

This translates to a measure of 36,000 years, a figure repeated by Hipparchus around 150 BCE. One of the best estimates of Precession was made by Bhaskara II of Ujjain in the 12th century, to 25,461 years, and not improved upon till modern times. It is very interesting that ancient Indians had noted a time when Abhijit (the star Vega) was once the pole-star, and also a time when it was no longer the pole-star. Abhijit was at the Celestial North Pole approximately 14,000 years ago. Around 7000 years ago, it would have appeared to have “fallen” in the sky, as noted by Dr. P.V.Vartak (in Scientific Dating of Ramayana and the Vedas), calling out a reference to a passage in the Mahabharata.

We now define Makar Sankranti as the date when from an Earth-bound observation point, the Sun enters the Makar Rashi, also called Capricorn.

Ancient Indians noted the Winter Solstice as the start of the auspicious Uttarayana. At some point in the past, Uttarayana coincided with Makar Sankranti, and constitutes our first point of synchrony. We can determine the time period when the two coincided by considering the effects of Precession. Prior to that, it is instructive to note how ancient Indians and Europeans recorded the passage of time.

Subhash Kak notes that even before Vedanga Jyotish, ancient Indians’ 27-Nakshatra and 12 Rashi system used a luni-solar calendar where every 5 years, an additional month called Adhika Masa was added, synchronizing the lunar and solar years. Ancient Indians also estimated the tropical year, defined as the period when the Sun enters the same seasonal point – say, a solstice point.

Aryabhata and Bhaskara II had estimated the tropical year at 365 days, 6 hours, 12 minutes, and 30 seconds, the same figure as estimated in the ancient Indian text, Surya Siddhanta. The modern figure for the tropical year is approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds.

In the Western system, Julius Caesar instituted the Julian calendar in 46 BCE, dividing the year of 365 days to 12 months, and adding a day every 4th year, thus averaging to 365 days, 6 hours – a figure less accurate than the Surya Siddhanta. Due to this approximation, this calendar accumulated errors over the years, causing a “slip” in the dates of the equinoxes and solstices. The modern Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582, introduced a correction, where if a year is integer-divisible by 4, it is considered a leap year, except for those centurial years that are integer-divisible by 100, and with further overruling exception to those centurial years that are integer-divisible by 400, which were considered as leap years. With the modern Gregorian calendar, the equinoxes and solstices occur on approximately the same date each year, and considering Precession, has an error of about 1 day every 7700 years.

Considering the first synchrony, the Winter solstice today coincides with the Dhanus Sankranti – one Rashi away from Makar. This slip has happened due to the Precession noted earlier.

pic 6

Position of the Sun in relation to the Rashis on Winter solstice, Dec 21st, 2016. Because of Precession, it is a Dhanus Sankranti, rather than a Makar Sankranti.

Assuming a uniform Precession rate of 25,771 years for a full circle of 360 degrees, each degree is about 71.5861 years. Rounding the figures and noting that each Rashi occupies 30 degrees, we multiply 72 by 30 to get 2160 – the approximate number of years in the past, when due to Precession, Makar Sankranti would have coincided with the Winter Solstice, approximately in 143 BCE. By simulation in planetarium software, we find that anywhere from 400 BCE to the opening centuries of the Common Era, the Winter solstice date would have coincided with the Sun rising approximately in Makar Rashi. Based on synchrony of the solstice with Makar Sankranti, we propose the festival to have been celebrated since 400 BCE. See figs. 3 and 4.

pic 7

Position of the Sun in relation to the Rashis on Winter solstice, Dec 25th, 400 BCE. Notice that the Sun rise is in Makar Rashi, making it a Makar Sankranti.

pic 8

Notice the position of the Sun at 7AM on Jan 14th, 2017, and how 7 days later, it is at the Makar Rashi. Considering Precession, 505 years ago, Makar Sankranti would have been on Jan 14th – exactly the time of Kerala Astronomer, Nilakantha Somayaji, 1512 CE.

Our second dating of the antiquity of the Makar Sankranti festival is by considering the synchrony of Makar Sankranti with the Til/Sesame/Gingelly crop harvest. We notice an India-wide common aspect of celebrating Makar Sankranti – the widespread use of til in traditional sweet preparation. Til is a drought-resistant rabi crop in India, planted currently around mid-November and harvested in April, before the monsoons, taking about 90 to 120 days to grow. Paleo-botanical records suggest an antiquity of at least 3000 BCE for the multi-crop cultivation of til in Rakhigarhi sites and a few centuries later for domestic rice, and trade with Mesopotamia and Egypt in til in 2000 BCE. Up to the medieval period, Indian farmers encoded agricultural wisdom with references to nakshatras to help time their planting and reaping activities. It is fascinating to investigate a period of time when Makar Sankranti coincided with the harvest of the til crop, say in southern India, and was therefore used in celebratory sweet preparation.

Contrary to popular thought, the seasons do not change with Precession. The Milankovitch cycles predict long-term climate changes due to Precession, Obliquity and Tilt cycles of the Earth, but these do not impact the periodical seasons (might make seasons more or less severe, though!). However, if we peg our measurement of time to a Nakshatra/Rashi, that observation can change over time due to Precession. Thus an observation that “rainy season starts in Ashada Masa” can change over time due to Precession.

Our clue is that traditionally, Makar Sankranti is considered as a harvest festival. In Tamil Nadu, there are two planting seasons for Til – Thai Pattam (Jan/Feb) and Adi Pattam (July/August). Considering a 4-month growing period, the Adi Pattam crop harvest would coincide with December. Thus again, the date of about 400 BCE synchronizing the Winter solstice, Til harvest, and Makar Sankranti makes sense.

The final synchrony we examine is to ask the question, when did Makar Sankranti last coincide with Jan 13th/14th? By direct simulation on planetarium software, we find this date to be around 1500s CE. This period is startlingly, the exact period of the famous Kerala astronomer, Nilakantha Somayaji (1444-1544), author of Tantrasangrama, who would have been aware of the length of the tropical year and the effect of Precession from works of Aryabhata, Bhaskara II as well as Surya Siddhanta, and might have computed the date accordingly. This date was probably left untouched since. See figure 4.

We have examined three synchronies regarding Makar Sankranti. The first, based on synchrony with the Winter Solstice gives a date of about 400 BCE. The second, based on a synchrony of til harvest in Tamil Nadu with Makar Sankranti also suggests 400 BCE. The third, based on a synchrony with the tropical calendar, gives a date of 1500s CE.

As we celebrate Makar Sankranti, we should also celebrate the strong traditions of astronomy and mathematics, indelibly tied with the shared experience of the nation, over thousands of years.

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Unknown Rig Vedic hymn on Aśvins in Mahabharata & the purpose of Rig Veda


Vedas are many and only some of them have been compiled by Vyasa (Krishna Dwaipayana), so goes the tradition. Even this compilation was very huge but what we have today is just 99.1% of what Vyasa had compiled. Of them Rig Vedic hymns in the form of 1028 sūktas are available now. At times we do hear about discovery of some Rig Vedic sūktas with someone, but the authenticity of those hymns cannot be known. In this backdrop, it makes exciting reading to come across an unknown Rig Vedic sūkta onAśvins in Mahabharata.

Exciting because,

(1) It was recited in a time frame that can be deciphered. This brings in newer insight in ‘dating’ efforts of Rig Veda.

(2) It gives references to the zodiac, much the same as what is found in RV 1-164 authored by Rishi Dirghatamas.

(3) The references reveal the purpose of Rig Veda with Sūktas which are nothing but mantras that bring out designated results.

Background of the Sūkta found in Mahabharata.

This Rig Vedic hymn (Sūkta) was recited by Upamanyu, the son of Vyāghrapāda. Upamanyu also happened to be a preceptor for Krishna (MB: 13-17). In his youth while he was serving as a student in the Gurukul of Ayoda-Dhaumya an incident happened by which he lost his vision and fell into a pit. On the advice of his preceptor to glorify Aśvins to regain eye sight, Upamanyu began reciting the Rig Vedic hymn of Aśvins! It is not known whether this sūkta was created by Upamanyu then and there or it existed earlier.

The sūkta begins as follows:

“sa evam ukta upādhyāyena stotuṃ pracakrame devāv aśvinau vāgbhir ṛgbhiḥ”

(स एवम उक्त उपाध्यायेन सतॊतुं परचक्रमे देवाव अश्विनौ वाग्भिर ऋग्भिः) Mahabharata (1:3-59)

(Meaning: “Upamanyu thus directed by his preceptor began to glorify the twin Aśvins, in the following words of the Rig Veda”)

This is followed by 11 riks that praise Aśvins as the Supreme Being that set the Wheel of Time to roll eternally causing the fruits of action manifested for all beings. (Text and meaning at the end of this article)

Pic

Aśvins given supreme position.

A chronology of ideas exist in Rig Vedic sūktas, of which the foremost one is in offering soma to Indra and other deities and not offering the same to Aśvins. But then came a time when Aśvins were also offered Soma. It was Rishi Chyavana, son of Bhrigu who started offering Soma to Aśvins (MB- 3:124-125). Generally Kaṇvas were associated with offering oblations to Aśvins. An Atharvan verse (2:141-04) says that the soma offered by Kaṇvas to Aśvins helped Yadu and Turvasu of whom Yadu was the progenitor of Krishna’s race. And Krishna himself had opted for Aśvins in the place of Indra after he stopped the Indra festival. A couple of verses in Rig Veda refer to Krishna invoking Aśvins to accept Soma (RV 8:74.3 &4).

All this goes to show that by Krishna’s times Aśvins had replaced Indra in receiving soma. Upamanya of the same period of Krishna had praised Aśvins as the Supreme Being who facilitated creation and manifestation of karmic results through the wheel of Time.

The Sūkta recited by Upamanyu containing 11 verses (mantras / riks) extols Aśvins as the first –born and who set in motion the wheel of time that had 360 days and 720 days and nights. There is a reference to 12 spokes of the wheel referring to 12 months and the zodiac. Though by themselves are free from fruits of action, the Aśvins cause the fruits of action to all beings.

This sūkta is comparable to another Rig Vedic sūkta (RV 1:164) having the same notions on Wheel of Time but it has in addition two popular ideas of Vedic Thought. One is about the 2-bird analogy found in the Upanishads of the Atman and Paramatman sitting on a tree as birds, with Atman eating the fruit of karma while the other not eating any but shining well. The other view is the now famous but also mis-interpreted verse “ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadanti” – which has the meaning as follows:

They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is heavenly noblywinged- Garutman. 


To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan
.” (RV 1:164.46)

This conveys that the Supreme Being is known by different names such as Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, Garutman (Garuda), Yama and Mātariśvan. In other words the deities we know as Indra, Varuna etc are none other than the Supreme Being Itself. This verse by Rishi Dirghatamas does not attest the same status to Aśvins though it does say that Aśvins are endowed with helping mankind. But Aśvins are given the Supreme status in Upmanayu’s sūkta.

Part of the compilation by Vyasa.

Now the question comes whether this hymn was part of the Rig Vedic corpus that is now lost or it was newly composed by Upamanyu. Looking at the contemporariness of Upamanyu and Vyasa, and the age of Upamanyu at the time of reciting it – as a young student serving his master – it appears that this verse could have been part of the pre-existing compilation. Upamanyu had recited it for regaining eye-sight

Contextually similar event appears in RV 1:112.6 in a verse in praise of Aśvins that says,

Wherewith ye rescued Antaka when languishing deep in the pit, and Bhujyu with unfailing help.”

Yet another one (1:116.11) says  that Aśvins “delivered Vandana from the pit like hidden treasure”.

Restoration of eye sight is also attributed to Aśvins in a couple of Rig Vedic verses (1:112.8 & 1:116.16). Though Upamanyu’s sūkta does not refer to his sufferings (falling into the pit and losing eye sight), the purpose of the sūkta was to get relief from his suffering. As such this sūkta must have been a popular one in those days when there was a high probability of losing way in the forests and falling into pits and losing eyesight. Upamanyu suffered blindness upon eating a poisonous herb and falling into a pit thereafter. After reciting this sūkta, the Aśvins appeared and got him cured.

Coming to the issues raised earlier,

(1) As Upamanyu was a contemporary of Krishna, this sūkta can be dated to anytime before 5000 years from now. This hymn, found missing from the presently available śāka of Rig Veda but well entrenched in Mahabharata is proof that many Vedic hymns had existed in the past.

(2) The reference to the 12-part zodiac in this sūkta makes it known that the knowledge of the zodiac had existed in India 5000 years ago. The hymn of Dirghatamas being more ancient, it can be said that the original concept had evolved much earlier.  (The reference to 5000 years as the date of Krishna is based on the Mahabharata war-date evidenced inAihole inscription).

Purpose of Rig Veda

(3) Coming to the purpose of the Rig Veda, all riks are mantras and the compilation of the riks is a sūkta . Every sūkta or a mantra (rik) is capable of invoking the concerned deity, which is the very purpose of the Rig Veda. The basis is śabda that is understood as word or sound. When Śabda is arranged in specific order known as ‘Ānupūrvi’, the deity is invoked.

This is comparable to the sub-atomic particles of the Universe which combine in various ways – but in specific order- to create composite particles and atoms. That order is the Ānupūrvi of the sub-atomic particles.  Every time creation starts after a deluge, the Ānupūrvi of those particles are manifest in the same way – this is expressed as the Supreme Being remembering the Ānupūrvi of śabda that form the Vedas. Science is yet to recognise and be receptive to śabda – the sounds and vibrations of the sub atomic syllables.

The amazing part of the Ānupūrvi is that no mortal except the rishis have understood which śabda goes to make a specific order of Ānupūrvi so that a specific deity can be invoked and through Him, a specific result.  For example, in the sūkta of Upamanyu the meaning of the verses look like some description of the zodiac, but that is the Ānupūrvi that makes the śabda eternal by which the Supreme Being in the name Aśvins can be invoked to balance the elements present in Its co-bird on the tree (RV 1:164) – here, Upamanyu.

Thinking in these lines, one cannot miss out the co-existence of three concepts in the hymn of Dirghatamas (RV 1:164) –

(1) Wheel of Time causing things to happen and fruits of action,

(2) Atman co-existing with Paramatman but getting impacted by the Wheel of Time and

(3) Realisation of the Paramatman as the one and only Supreme Being but recognised by different names.

When all these are understood and felt by the Atman, the Atman gets relieved from the influence of Wheel of Time. That is the ultimate result of the hymn by Dirghatamas. But Upamanyu’s hymn invokes Asvins as Paramatman without reference to the last two but with only the first idea of Wheel of Time. His hymn gave him back eye-sight but not ultimate Release. But Dirghatamas was not known to have regained his eye-sight though he invoked Aśvins in that hymn and referred to the Wheel of Time in similar description. The difference in result was obviously related to the Ānupūrvi of the śabda of the riks he conceived. But lesser mortals that we are, we can only see the ‘meanings’ and the differences in them and not the śabda!

The same hymn by Dirghatamas speaks about the purpose of Vedas.

The 39th rik says,

ṛco akṣare parame vyoman yasmin devā adhi viśve niṣeduḥ |
yastan na veda kiṃ ṛcā kariṣyati ya it tad vidusta ime samāsate
 ||

रचो अक्षरे परमे वयोमन यस्मिन देवा अधि विश्वे निषेदुः |
यस्तन न वेद किं रचा करिष्यति य इत तद विदुस्त इमे समासते ||

Meaning by David Frawley:

“The supreme syllable of the chant in the supreme ether, in which all the Gods reside, those who do not know this, what can they do with the Veda? Those who know it alone are gathered here.”

Meaning by Griffith:

“Upon what syllable of holy praisesong-, as twere their highest heaven, the Gods repose them,
Who knows not this, what will he do with praisesong-? But they who know it well sit here assembled.”

Gods reside in śabda, the basic syllable. Those who know this, sing the riks to get what the Gods give them.  But those who don’t know, treat the Vedas as a literary work – the world knows the worst outcome of that – it was the invention of Aryan Invasion!

Here is a small solace for those yearning to see historic inputs in the Rig Veda: one can see a historic development in the concept of Aśvins from Dirghatamas to Upamanyu. Dirghatamas was born blind and remained so throughout his life. Though he praised Aśvins in his hymns, he didn’t see Aśvins as the Supreme Being. In contrast Upamanyu lost his eyesight accidentally and regained it by praying to Aśvins as the Supreme Being. The change of status to Aśvins had happened from Dirghatamas to Upamanyu.

What happened in between cannot be traced in Rig Veda as it is not a historic document. We have to turn to the Itihāsa which are the historical documents. One is expected to refer to the Itihāsa to understand what the Vedas say. This can be authenticated from a verse in Vālmiki Ramayana that Vālmiki composed Ramayana to reinforce the import of the Vedas. (“vedopabrimhaṇārthāya” VR: 1:4-6). The scope of the Itihāsas is such that they help us to weave the chronology of men and events in addition to understanding the Vedic Thought.  

The gap between Dirghatamas and Upamanyu can be filled by inputs from Mahabharata with a combined understanding of the Vedic seers mentioned in Rig Veda. Dirghatamas recognised Aśvins only as a benefactor of the Supreme Being and not as the Supreme Being Itself. Aśvins were elevated to the status of the Supreme Being as those who take soma-oblations by Rishi Chyavana (Mahabharata: 3-123). Since invoking Aśvins to partake the soma is found to be associated with the Kaṇvas, Kaṇvas can be positioned after Chyavana and not before him. In a surprising connection to Tamil language, Kaṇ, a Tamil word means eye! This takes us to a different discourse on whether Tamil was theManuśya bhaṣa of those times, which we are not probing here. Finally we find Upamanyu invoking Aśvins as the Supreme Being but he gained eye-sight and not Release from the Wheel of Time.

With just one hymn of riks found in Mahabharata, we are able to construct a fairly reasonable history of the development of Aśvins from a subordinate deity to the main Supreme Deity. And we could identify the persons involved in this development using the Itihāsas.

This runs counter to what persons like Witzel had said that Vedas “represent the only contemporary literary sources for most of early Indian history” and his claim that “everything from known history up to the Mahabharata war is filled in from Vedic sources. ….. One can easily show that groups of 2-3 kings were lifted intact from the Rigveda, the Brahmanas, and so on, and inserted wherever they were thought to fit.” (1995, “Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parameters”)

For him Rig Veda is “a notoriously difficult text” and “the immigration of Indo-Aryans is a fact that can frequently be noticed in the Rig Veda”. He and those of his ilk certainly do not belong to the gathering that Dirghatamas referred to in his verse as those who knew what Vedic śabda are meant for!

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Text of the Rig Vedic Hymn recited by Upamanyu:

And Upamanyu thus directed by his preceptor began to glorify the twin Aswins, in the following words of the Rig Veda:

“Ye have existed before the creation! Ye first-born beings, ye are displayed in this wondrous universe of five elements! I desire to obtain you by the help of the knowledge derived from hearing, and of meditation, for ye are Infinite! Ye are the course itself of Nature and intelligent Soul that pervades that course! Ye are birds of beauteous feathers perched on the body that is like to a tree! Ye are without the three common attributes of every soul! Ye are incomparable! Ye, through your spirit in every created thing, pervade the Universe! Ye are golden Eagles! Ye are the essence into which all things disappear! Ye are free from error and know no deterioration!

Ye are of beauteous beaks that would not unjustly strike and are victorious in every encounter! Ye certainly prevail over time! Having created the sun, ye weave the wondrous cloth of the year by means of the white thread of the day and the black thread of the night! And with the cloth so woven, ye have established two courses of action appertaining respectively to the Devas and the Pitris. The bird of Life seized by Time which represents the strength of the Infinite soul, ye set free for delivering her unto great happiness! They that are in deep ignorance, as long as they are under delusions of their senses, suppose you, who are independent of the attributes of matter, to be gifted with form! Three hundred and sixty cows represented by three hundred and sixty days produce one calf between them which is the year. That calf is the creator and destroyer of all. Seekers of truth following different routes, draw the milk of true knowledge with its help. Ye Aswins, ye are the creators of that calf!

The year is but the nave of a wheel to which is attached seven hundred and twenty spokes representing as many days and nights. The circumference of this wheel represented by twelve months is without end. This wheel is full of delusions and knows no deterioration. It affects all creatures whether to this or of the other worlds. Ye Aswins, this wheel of time is set in motion by you! The wheel of Time as represented by the year has a nave represented by the six seasons. The number of spokes attached to that nave is twelve as represented by the twelve signs of the Zodiac. This wheel of Time manifests the fruits of the acts of all things. The presiding deities of Time abide in that wheel. Subject as I am to its distressful influence, ye Aswins, liberate me from that wheel of Time.

Ye Aswins, ye are this universe of five elements! Ye are the objects that are enjoyed in this and in the other world! Make me independent of the five elements! And though ye are the Supreme Brahma, yet ye move over the Earth in forms enjoying the delights that the senses afford. In the beginning, ye created the ten points of the universe! Then have ye placed the Sun and the Sky above! The Rishis, according to the course of the same Sun, perform their sacrifices, and the gods and men, according to what hath been appointed for them, perform their sacrifices also enjoying the fruits of those acts! Mixing the three colours, ye have produced all the objects of sight! It is from these objects that the Universe hath sprung whereon the gods and men are engaged in their respective occupations, and, indeed, all creatures endued with life! Ye Aswins, I adore you!

I also adore the Sky which is your handiwork! Ye are the ordainers of the fruits of all acts from which even the gods are not free! Ye are yourselves free from the fruits of your acts! Ye are the parents of all! As males and females it is ye that swallow the food which subsequently develops into the life creating fluid and blood! The new-born infant sucks the teat of its mother. Indeed it is ye that take the shape of the infant! Ye Aswins, grant me my sight to protect my life.”

Mahabharata 1-3

59 sa evam ukta upādhyāyena stotuṃ pracakrame devāv aśvinau vāgbhir ṛgbhiḥ

 60 prapūrvagau pūrvajau citrabhānū; girā vā śaṃsāmi tapanāv anantau
divyau suparṇau virajau vimānāv; adhikṣiyantau bhuvanāni viśvā
61 hiraṇmayau śakunī sāmparāyau; nāsatya dasrau sunasau vaijayantau
śukraṃ vayantau tarasā suvemāv; abhi vyayantāv asitaṃ vivasvat
62 grastāṃ suparṇasya balena vartikām; amuñcatām aśvinau saubhagāya
tāvat suvṛttāv anamanta māyayā; sattamā gā aruṇā udāvahan
63 ṣaṣṭiś ca gāvas triśatāś ca dhenava; ekaṃ vatsaṃ suvate taṃ duhanti
nānā goṣṭhā vihitā ekadohanās; tāv aśvinau duhato gharmam ukthyam
64 ekāṃ nābhiṃ saptaśatā arāḥ śritāḥ; pradhiṣv anyā viṃśatir arpitā arāḥ
anemi cakraṃ parivartate ‘jaraṃ; māyāśvinau samanakti carṣaṇī
65 ekaṃ cakraṃ vartate dvādaśāraṃ; pradhi ṣaṇ ṇābhim ekākṣam amṛtasya dhāraṇam
yasmin devā adhi viśve viṣaktās; tāv aśvinau muñcato mā viṣīdatam
66 aśvināv indram amṛtaṃ vṛttabhūyau; tirodhattām aśvinau dāsapatnī
bhittvā girim aśvinau gām udācarantau; tad vṛṣṭam ahnā prathitā valasya
67 yuvāṃ diśo janayatho daśāgre; samānaṃ mūrdhni rathayā viyanti
tāsāṃ yātam ṛṣayo ‘nuprayānti; devā manuṣyāḥ kṣitim ācaranti
68 yuvāṃ varṇān vikurutho viśvarūpāṃs; te ‘dhikṣiyanti bhuvanāni viśvā
te bhānavo ‘py anusṛtāś caranti; devā manuṣyāḥ kṣitim ācaranti
69 tau nāsatyāv aśvināv āmahe vāṃ; srajaṃ ca yāṃ bibhṛthaḥ puṣkarasya
tau nāsatyāv amṛtāvṛtāvṛdhāv; ṛte devās tat prapadena sūte
70 mukhena garbhaṃ labhatāṃ yuvānau; gatāsur etat prapadena sūte
sadyo jāto mātaram atti garbhas tāv; aśvinau muñcatho jīvase gāḥ

59 स एवम उक्त उपाध्यायेन सतॊतुं परचक्रमे देवाव अश्विनौ वाग्भिर ऋग्भिः

60 परपूर्वगौ पूर्वजौ चित्रभानू; गिरा वा शंसामि तपनाव अनन्तौ
दिव्यौ सुपर्णौ विरजौ विमानाव; अधिक्षियन्तौ भुवनानि विश्वा
61 हिरण्मयौ शकुनी साम्परायौ; नासत्य दस्रौ सुनसौ वैजयन्तौ
शुक्रं वयन्तौ तरसा सुवेमाव; अभि वययन्ताव असितं विवस्वत
62 गरस्तां सुपर्णस्य बलेन वर्तिकाम; अमुञ्चताम अश्विनौ सौभगाय
तावत सुवृत्ताव अनमन्त मायया; सत्तमा गा अरुणा उदावहन
63 षष्टिश च गावस तरिशताश च धेनव; एकं वत्सं सुवते तं दुहन्ति
नाना गॊष्ठा विहिता एकदॊहनास; ताव अश्विनौ दुहतॊ घर्मम उक्थ्यम
64 एकां नाभिं सप्तशता अराः शरिताः; परधिष्व अन्या विंशतिर अर्पिता अराः
अनेमि चक्रं परिवर्तते ऽजरं; मायाश्विनौ समनक्ति चर्षणी
65 एकं चक्रं वर्तते दवादशारं; परधि षण णाभिम एकाक्षम अमृतस्य धारणम
यस्मिन देवा अधि विश्वे विषक्तास; ताव अश्विनौ मुञ्चतॊ मा विषीदतम
66 अश्विनाव इन्द्रम अमृतं वृत्तभूयौ; तिरॊधत्ताम अश्विनौ दासपत्नी
भित्त्वा गिरिम अश्विनौ गाम उदाचरन्तौ; तद वृष्टम अह्ना परथिता वलस्य
67 युवां दिशॊ जनयथॊ दशाग्रे; समानं मूर्ध्नि रथया वियन्ति
तासां यातम ऋषयॊ ऽनुप्रयान्ति; देवा मनुष्याः कषितिम आचरन्ति
68 युवां वर्णान विकुरुथॊ विश्वरूपांस; ते ऽधिक्षियन्ति भुवनानि विश्वा
ते भानवॊ ऽपय अनुसृताश चरन्ति; देवा मनुष्याः कषितिम आचरन्ति
69 तौ नासत्याव अश्विनाव आमहे वां; सरजं च यां बिभृथः पुष्करस्य
तौ नासत्याव अमृतावृतावृधाव; ऋते देवास तत परपदेन सूते
70 मुखेन गर्भं लभतां युवानौ; गतासुर एतत परपदेन सूते
सद्यॊ जातॊ मातरम अत्ति गर्भस ताव; अश्विनौ मुञ्चथॊ जीवसे गाः

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 / Kṛṣṇamust 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 forHimavat 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’!

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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 fromEurope 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 atŚālmali 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:

Pic 8

 

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)

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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 caveLiang 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.

Pic 10

Source: Here

research article presumes that Stegodon elephants were eaten by the still extantKomodo 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.

Pic 11

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.

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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.”

Pic 13

Source: Sciencedaily.com

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 nearAlakananda.  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.

Pic

Vālakhilyāsana

Picture credit: Here

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

Pic 1

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 Viṣṇufrom 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.

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[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:

Pic 14

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

Two issues that Dr Iravatham Mahadevan could have announced the world before his departure.


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As one who has read most of his papers for a research work, the only thought lingering on this writer’s mind is that Mahadevan was truly humble and open for change.

With numerous tributes flowing around us on Iravatham Mahadevan at this moment of his departure, just one thought crosses this writer’s mind – that he was humble to the core. In spite of a long innings in epigraphy, he was very humble and honest to correct his views when faced with a convincing proof. He did make a correction as recently as in 2015 to one of the major assumptions on the Dravidian presence in the Indus upon which he built up his entire work of linguistic decipherment of the Indus Script. This makes us wonder whether he would have done the same to the other assumption on Aryan migration had he lived for some more time, for, there is a glaring absurdity in his original assumption of a small group of Aryans entering the country and the entire country getting linguistically fused with Aryan language though he proposed that the Aryans borrowed the culture of the Dravidian Indus!

The Aryan vs Dravidian debate on the Indus civilization was at the threshold of ‘Mature Phase’ when Mahadevan entered the fray in 1968. Only a couple decades prior to that, Wheeler presented his theory that Rig-Veda could be read as a historical document and wrote in his report on 1946 excavations of Harappa that ‘Indra stands accused’– by proposing a conflict between “the newly arrived Aryan warriors and the indigenous Indus peoples” (Possehl 2002). This was followed by attempts to decipher the signs on the Indus seals. When Mahadevan, after completing his work on Tamil-Brāhmī scripts, turned his attention to the Indus script, two studies were already published. Both these studies claimed that Dravidian language formed the substratum of the Indus script. Impressed with their findings, Mahadevan began his decipherment of the Indus seals on the same lines. The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and the Dravidian substratum of the Indus were embraced as foregone conclusions by Mahadevan and taken up as the basic assumptions upon which he weaved all his decipherments.

Change of stance on Brahui as evidence.

He embraced the view of his predecessors that Dravidians were present in North West India (Indus Valley) when the Aryans came and Brahui is the proof of their presence. Though he made a fleeting reference to it in his paper published in 1970, he made a decisive statement in 1972 in his paper, “Study of the Indus script through bi-lingual parallels” where he wrote,

It is now well established that the Dravidians were present in North-west India when the Aryans entered the country, most probably sometime around the middle of the Second Millennium B.C. The survival of the Brahui, a Dravidian language, and the presence of words of Dravidian origin in the Rigveda, provide irrefutable evidence for this fact.”

He repeated this in later works too though he never came up with any words of Dravidian origin in the Rig Veda. For him, the other proof, namely the continuing presence of Brahui even today constituted the basis for the assumption that Dravidians were living in North West India at the time of Aryan Invasion.

This stance on Brahui which he held on for more than 30 years came for a changewhen he was found to make a significant departure from his view on Brahui in his Convocation Address to the Dravidian University at Kuppam in 2015.

I had earlier considered Brahui, a Dravidian language still spoken in Baluchistan as evidence for the Dravidian character of the Indus civilisation. I have revised my opinion as experts in Dravidian linguistics now hold that Brahui was originally a North-eastern Dravidian language with many shared features with Kurux and Malto and that it moved to its present location in later times.”

His academic sincerity in accepting facts notwithstanding, it is no exaggeration that this ‘revision’ of his view comes with a far-reaching implication on whether the Dravidian substratum can be taken for granted in Indus decipherment. This further raises questions like when did Brahui come to North West India and whether its arrival pre-dated Aryan arrival. Without finding answers for these, Mahadevan could have found himself forced to do a re-think on the assumption of Dravidian substratum given the fact that no convincing decipherment of the Indus script had come up till date. That he had the humility and honesty to revise his opinion and admit it in the open certainly puts him on a high pedestal.

Aryan as language and not race.

His adherence to Aryan Invasion Theory as a foregone conclusion was reflected in his 1972 paper as the only possible answer to the question of what happened to the Harappans. He wrote,

Ethnic continuity overlaid by a linguistic change wrought by the incoming Aryans seems to be the only possible answer to the question, ‘What happened to the Harappans?’ ”

With many researches having come with indisputable evidence on climatic causes for the demise of the Harappan / Indus civilization, the relevance of Aryan entry as a cause for the death of Indus civilization stands very much diluted and even non-existent. It is perplexing that Mahadevan did not ‘revise’ his view on Aryan invasion in the wake of new discoveries on the end of Indus civilisation.

A perception is gaining that Mahadevan treated Aryan and Dravidian as names of languages and not races. But the fact is that he did harp on these two as races and their merger as racial fusion in his early papers such as the one published in 1972.

His version was that a small group of Aryans entered the Indus and achieved dominance over the local population due to better mobility and advanced weaponry. By mentioning weaponry as a cause for domination he seemed to concur with the olden notion of invasion. Thus initially there were two races in his scheme which were fused in due course giving rise to two sets of language systems, Aryan and Dravidian.

According to him, the Dravidian language was present in the Indus. It was borrowed by Aryans from whom it travelled back to the Dravidian at a much later date. The later Dravidian was secondary Dravidian – the language that we have today. Using the Dravidian languages and the Aryan (Sanskrit) language, he attempted to decipher the Indus script (Primary Dravidian). In this methodology, there is absolutely no need to assume that Aryans came from outside and fused with the Indus people. In his scheme, there were pre-Aryan practices such as Soma cult that was borrowed by the Aryans! He even proposed pre-Aryan indigenous stock to which he attributed the Epics and Puranas of Hindus (1975 paper). All these do not require an outside stock (Aryans) to enter the Indus and re-create the same stuff.  It is intriguing that he failed to think of an indigenously evolving ‘Aryan’ stock. This was because he was more conditioned to think on the dominant narrative of his day.

The newer revelations and discoveries coming on the Indus sites in his later years could have caused a change of mind on his Aryan assumption too. He did change his view on Brahui and it was only a matter of time before he changed his view in Aryan Invasion too. His sincerity in his research could have led him to that view if death had not snatched him now. If only he had lived for a few more years and retained the vigour, he might have come up with a ‘revision’ on his view on Aryan entry too. As one who has read most of his papers for a research work, the only thought lingering on this writer’s mind is that Mahadevan was truly humble and open for change.

References:

  • Possehl, Greory L (2002). The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Rowman Altamira. Maryland. pp 237-238
  • Mahadevan, Iravatham** (1970). “Dravidian Parallels in Proto-Indian script”. Journal of Tamil studies. II(1). pp 1-120.
  • Mahadevan, Iravatham (1972). “Study of the Indus script through bi-lingual parallels”. The Second All India Conference of Dravidian Linguists. Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati.
  • Mahadevan, Iravatham (2015). “Interpreting the Indus Script: The Dravidian Solution”, Convocation Address delivered at the Dravidian University, Kuppam, 26 February 2015.

 

 

Did ‘Mohan Dera’ become Mohenjo-Daro where Kartik Purnima was celebrated?


Published in Ind Samachar

Kartik Purnima, the day of full moon in the month of Kartik is an important occasion in Somnath temple in Saurashtra. The very name Somnath evokes strong emotions in the Hindus for the numerous assaults struck on Somnath temple in the past. But what many had forgotten in the din is the silent sojourn of Soma, the Moon across the temple of Somnath on every Kartik Purnima, in a gesture of paying his obeisance to his lord Somnathji. The Full Moon crosses the temple exactly overhead only in the month of Kartik!

The etymology of Somnath being ‘lord of the Moon’ and the legend of Moon being cursed by Daksha Prajapati  to lose lustre and regain it by the grace of Lord Shiva, it is perfectly fine that the Full Moon crosses the temple once a year. But how this happened has only one answer that the original and the olden builders of this temple had planned it to be so and carefully selected the site for the temple. One can only deduce that the legend had already existed and people had celebrated it by aptly choosing a site for Lord Somnath so that Soma in full glow can cross the temple in the month of Kartik.

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A surprising parallel to this temple exists in Mohenjo-Daro, of all the places in India or anywhere in the world! One may be aware of a temple like structure along with a tank – what researchers call as the Great Bath, in Mohenjo-Daro. But the unnoticed fact is that both Somnath and Mohenjo-Daro are situated more or less along the same longitude. Somnath is situated at 70.4090° E while Mohenjo-Daro is at 68.1375° E, within 2 degrees apart. This means when the Full Moon crosses Somnath in the month of Kartik, it will also be seen crossing the temple like structure of Mohenjo-Daro!

To be more precise, exactly 8 minutes after the Kartik Full Moon touches the top of Somnath, it pays its obeisance at the temple of Mohenjo-Daro. Mohenjo-Daro being a planned city, this locational feature also seems to be a planned one, much like Somnath. The legend of Soma with his 27 wives also seems to have been recreated in this temple of Mohenjo-Daro as one can see an arrangement of 27 formations in Mohenjo-Daro close to the Great Bath.

Temple-like structure in Mohenjo-Daro

In the picture below, the water tank excavated in Mohenjo-Daro is seen in the forefront with a massive brick structure having 27 parts at the background.

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On closer examination one can see 27 distinct parts arranged in 3 rows of 9 each. Each one of these 27 structures has separate foundations and arranged in East – West direction in 3 rows. It is also found that there were sockets for wooden super structure and doorways. This shows that this was originally a building having 27 distinct enclosures or partitions.  Initially it was thought (by western researchers) that this structure could have been a granary! But this structure was too close to the water-outlet of the Great Bath tank! How could a granary exist so close to a water outlet?

Further examination shows that water had flowed around the 27- part structure. This shows that the 27-part structure was surrounded by a kind of moat filled with water. The water was drawn from the Great Bath tank nearby.

First of all, the number 27 sounds interesting. Why is it not 28 or 26 or 25? Why they made only 27 structures and arranged them in groups of 9? This sounds familiar with the number associated with 27 stars of the zodiac. The stars also are arranged in groups of 9! Huge column of water (huge because the size of the outlet is quite unusual and would allow heavy rush of water from the tank) surrounding this structure reminds one of the concept of “Akash Ganga” – the Milky way in which the 27 stars of the zodiac are swimming!

In a striking resemblance, wells numbering 27 were dug in Chennai in the year 1818. An inscription found in a well in the temple of Goddess Periya Pāḷayatthamman in Royapettah in Chennai says that this well was one among 27 wells constructed by the then Madras Collector, Mr Ellis in 1818. He did not just do this donation as a charity. He had followed the rituals and inaugurated them at an auspicious time.

Here also why the specific number 27 was followed is a question. Was there a practice to offer water to the 27 stars or star lords? Or was it a symbolism for keeping the stars floating in the celestial waters? Was that the reason the tank was constructed in Mohenjo-Daro too close to the 27 part structure so that water could be let out on auspicious occasions?

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27-part structure in Mohenjo-Daro

In Mohenjo-Daro the length of the 27-part structure shows a unique connection to the zodiac. Lengthwise there are 3 rows in east – west direction with a uniform length of 4.5 metres. The breadth varies for each row as 8 m, 4.5 m and 6 metres. The uniform length of all the formations gives an impression of equal length of the star- span in the zodiac. The span of a star is 13 degrees and 20 minutes. Converted into minutes it is 13 x60 = 780 minutes + 20 minutes = 800 minutes. If we divide the zodiac of 360 degrees by the length of a part of the 27 part structure (360 / 4.5) it gives 80 parts. This is one tenth of the actual span of the star in the sky! Is this a just a coincidence or a calculated one?

To show that the entire complex housing the tank and the 27-part structure are part of a temple, let me make a comparison with a famous temple –a functioning temple – the temple of Meenakshi at Madurai!

 

Similarities between Mohenjo-Daro and Meenakshi temple.

Let us first take a look at the Mohenjo-Daro plan.

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In the aerial view shown above, the front structure named Buddha Vihar was formed 2000 years ago. That was not originally the Indus structure. The almost square shaped structure in our right side was the original structure built at about 2600 BCE.

The directions, the tank and the 27 part structure are highlighted in the picture below.

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The area shown as Main structure must have housed a main building which is now lost. What looks strange is that the tank is not in the expected Vāstu direction of North East but in South East. Almost all olden temples of South India have the temple tank in the North East. The only exception is the Meenakshi temple of Madurai! This temple was supposed to have been built soon after the Pandyas settled down after the 3rd and last deluge which coincided with the deluge at Byt Dwaraka at the end of Indus civilisation. The famous tank of this temple is in the south east direction!

A comparison of the temple plan of Meenakshi Amman and the temple like structure in Mohenjo-daro is shown below.

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One can notice the similarities in the 3 main structures – the tank is placed in the same region of South East in Meenakshi temple and in Mohenjo-Daro as well. The shrine of Meenaskhi corresponds to the 27 part structure of Mohenjo-Daro.  The main shrine of Shiva corresponds to that part which is now vacant but looks suggestive of a lost structure in Mohenjo-Daro.  This comparison is shown here to drive home the point that the 27 –part structure could have been a place of worship! The similarities also offer proof for similar school of architecture present in wider Bharat in the 2nd millennium BCE.

Mohenjo-Daro, a temple for Krishna?

The worship of 27 Nakshatras as Nakshatra Purusha vrata was vogue in olden times. The last chapter of Brihad samhita explains how the 27 nakshatras were worshiped as the body of the Nakshatra purusha starting from Moola as the feet of Nakshatra Purusha in Sagittarius. Even today, Sagittarius is called as “Nakshatra māsa in Dwaraka.

The Nakshtra Purusha is identified as Lakshmi Narayana in a narration that involves Rudra and Narada. The worship of Narayana in Mohenjo-Daro is not odd given the fact that the very name Mohenjo-Daro is identified as “Mound of Mohan” Only Krishna was known as Mohan among all deities.

Incidentally Dera and Deri are the names for temples in Gujarati language and continue to be in use in rural Gujarat. The word Dera has wider presence beyond Gujarat as known from the name Dehradun. Dehra in Dehradun refers to ‘camp’.

The reference to Dera or Deri as a temple and also a tent seems to have its origins to the times of Krishna as Krishna kept changing places before finally settling down in the newly built Dvārakā.

The same name Dera or Deri appearing in the names many Harappan sites raises the possibility of those sites being camps for workshops, though some of them may have acquired the name from later day personalities. Among them Mohenjo-Daro has a unique position by virtue of the name Mohan. It was Dera or Deru of Mohan which later became ‘daro of Mohan’. In Pāli language ‘of Mohan’ is spoken as ‘Mohanasa’. This seems to have become Mohanja, in course of time. The wider presence of Pāli for millennia before the Common Era could have brought out this change to the name of this site.

Associating Kartik Purnima with Krishna is still in vogue today. Krishna and Radha were supposed to have danced Rasa on this day. Perhaps in times soon after Krishna, people had retained that memory and Mohan Dera (Mohenjo-Daro) was built to glory him as Nakshatra Purusha. The locational preference around the same longitude of Somnath, popularly known as Prabhas where Krishna laid down his life could have been a cause for building Mohan Dera in more or less the same longitude.

One cannot ignore the fact that Mohenjo-Daro is dated around 2500 BCE, a few centuries after the death of Krishna which marked the start of Kali Yuga. The memory of Krishna worshiping Somnathji on Kartik Purnima seems to have been taken over to Mohan Dera where Krishna himself was worshiped as Nakshatra Purusha on Kartik Purnima. The 27 part structure has no other plausible justification than this.

 

 

 

 

 

Tracing Diwali legends to Mahabali and Mt Popa in Myanmar as the location of Narakasura.


Published in Ind Samachar

In the wake of cracker ban by the Supreme Court on the entire country, Diwali this year (2018) has evoked great interest among people comparing the variants of this festival in different parts of the country spanning over a period of not just one day, but five days, making people wonder which day was referred to by the Supreme Court in its stricture on fire-crackers. With most of South India celebrating Diwali as Naraka Chaturdasi, there is another dissenting voice heard from the fringe political elements in Tamilnadu condemning the festival as glorification of murder, as the story goes that Diwali was the celebration of elimination of Narakasura by Krishna. Those fringe elements had gone to the extent of glorifying Narakasura – without even knowing who he is – in their urge to sully Krishna, the Hindu deity. Analysis of these two issues, the variants in Diwali and the truth about the death of Narakasura brings us to a pleasant conclusion on the very long history and spread of Hinduism across Asia.

Basis of Diwali legends.

Starting of a new life after destruction is the basic theme in the different legends of Diwali celebrated throughout India. A popular version in North India is that Diwali marks the return of Rama to Ayodhya after the destruction of Ravana, while the fact remains that Rama returned on a Pushyami day and not on the day of Chitra or Swati when Diwali occurs. The only justification for this deviation from the original fact could have been the tradition that Diwali marks the ushering in of Light after a period of gloom! So there is something special about the day that even if Krishna’s legend is forgotten, people had felt it necessary to replace it with an olden legend of Rama without checking the veracity of it, only to be in consonance with the importance of the day. This goes to show that there is something cosmologically important for the day of Diwali. The following illustration shows the cosmic position of the day.

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The illustration shows two signs in opposite ends, namely Aries and Libra. Aries marks the coming of the New Year in the northern hemisphere of the globe. The opposite holds good for the southern hemisphere, that is, Libra heralds the arrival of the New Year in the southern hemisphere. It is in the month of Libra around the time of the new Moon, Diwali is celebrated throughout India. It is a 5-day festival in its entirety starting from the 13th tithi before the New Moon and ending on the 2nd tithi after the new Moon. Within this period comes the New Year of the southern hemisphere– on the day after New Moon. Wonder of wonders, this is the New Year for only one people of India (northern hemisphere) – that is the people of Gujarat, the land ruled by Krishna!

Doesn’t it sound puzzling that what is rationally the New Year in the southern hemisphere happens to be the New Year for the land of Krishna?

If we probe deeper, we would see that the now discarded Vikrama Era started on the same day as in the southern hemisphere. Its original name was ‘Krita’ or ‘Purva’ Era indicating its origin in antiquity. It was followed by the Mālava gaṇa, whose origins can be traced to the paternal home of Savitri, famous for getting back to life her husband Satyavan from the noose of Yama. Malavi was the name of Savitri’s mother and by the boon extracted by Savitri from Yama, the sons of Malavi came to be known as Mālavas whose location came to be named after them as Malwa. That Mālavas had followed the tradition of the southern hemisphere could only mean their ancestors had their origin somewhere in the southern hemisphere.

The Vikrama Era followed by them can be related to Trivikrama in the legend of Bali, an Asura whose location can be traced to the southern hemisphere. (Usually the inhabitants of the southern parts were known as Asuras while those of the north were known as Devas. Another definition of an Asura is that he is a tormenter). The dominance of Mahabali, the Asura tells of a time when the Southern hemisphere was brimming with life. With movement of Time, the location of life shifts places. This happened when the Northern hemisphere started becoming habitable and the southern hemisphere went under water. This is made out in the story of Mahabali.

Mahabali initiated Diwali.

The narration of Vamana Purana on Mahabali sounds metaphorical of geological events of land forms experiencing tremors and going under water. Wherever Vamana went –even when he was in his mother’s womb – the land lowered. The lowered land got easily inundated with sea water. After Vamana was born and went on to meet Bali, the same thing happened. When Vamana placed his foot on Bali’s head, Bali sank into Pātāla which is the lowermost layer of the earth’s crust and the covering over the mantle. This is an allegorical description of loss of land into deep sea. The lands were lost to the seas in sudden and violent tremors causing many to lose their lives. The survivors had started a new life with new hope of a bright future.

In the legend of Bali comes the reference to Diwali!  Mahabali asked for a boon from Trivikrama that people make Deepa-dāna for three days in his memory for getting vanquished by three feet measures of Trivikrama. The three feet measures in fact refer to the tremors in the land and in the sky and then again on the land making it sink forever – the last one referring to the loss of habitat for people represented by Mahabali. Trivikrama’s boon that Mahabali would once again come back in a future Manvantra is allegorical of a future probability of the sunken lands rising up again which would then be recognised as Varaha lifting up the lands.  Vamana and Varaha avataras are thus alternating recurrences of two geological phenomena.

The three days starting from the day before the New Moon in Libra till the day after that are supposed to be the time of a massive destruction of a former civilization in the southern hemisphere. That also happens to be the New Year time in the southern hemisphere. The survivors have remembered it in two ways, as destruction of Asuras (of the southern hemisphere) and a beginning of new life and marked it with lighting lamps.

The continuity of New Year Era of the south in India by Mālavas and the people of Krishna’s country is in effect proof of migration of an olden civilization from South and South East Asia and not from Europe or West Asia, as western Indologists want us to believe. Migrations could have happened from Europe at later dates but the original customs and culture had come from the south along with the people who survived destruction. Or else kings from Manu’s times could not be expected to have celebrated the day with Lamps.

In support of this claim, there is an inscription (E.I. Vol 4, No 18) found in the northern wall of the 2nd prakara of the temple of Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam attributed to king Ravivarman of Kerala saying that the auspicious festival of ‘Deepotsava’ aimed at dispersing darkness was celebrated in olden days by kings Ila, Kartavirya and Sagara. Of them Ila was the son of Vaivasvata Manu, the progenitor of the current population of India as per Hindu texts whose name is associated with Matsya avatara. But celebration of Deepotsava by his son is proof of a further past with a connection to southern hemisphere (Mahabali) and subsequent migration to Indian mainland. He had carried the memory of Trivikrama.  One must remember that until 12,000 years ago, India, particularly north India was not habitable due to Ice Age and glaciations of the Himalayas while southern hemisphere was more hospitable for human life.

Newer legends of Diwali from Krishna’s times

As time passed by, newer episodes added fresh impetus to the old concept of Deepa-dāna. All the concepts around the 5-day Diwali except Bali Pratipada (in memory of Mahabali) can be related to a single event in Krishna’s life that happened in a place called Prāgjyothisha, which was originally located in today’s Myanmar and Thailand – known as Indra Dweepa in olden days! That event was the slaying of Narakasura!

This event recounted in Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana sounds more like a geological happening, similar to the destruction of Mahabali by Trivikrama. The etymological understanding of the names further reinforces the geological secret embedded in the event. The story is this:

The city of Prāgjyothisha was held by Naraka, the son of earth (hence he was known as Bhauma). He was fierce and tormented the people killing them often. He kept the two ear rings of Aditi under him, and made it inaccessible to the Devas. Many were imprisoned by him. His deputy, another asura by name Muru defended his city be a series of nooses around that were difficult to cross.

Then came Krishna from Dwaraka along with his wife Satyabhama, mounted on his carrier, Garuda. He entered Prāgjyothisha by clearing the way and making a road. He cut the nooses laid by Muru by his Chakrayudha (discus) and killed many asuras in a place called Nirmochana (meaning Liberation). Finally he killed Naraka and freed the people trapped by him. Then Aditi, the mother of Devas and also of Naraka appeared before Krishna. What she told to Krishna unravels the true purport of the slaying of Narakasura.

Aditi told that when she was held high by Krishna in his Varaha avatar, Naraka was born to her by rising from her. Naraka was given by Krishna and was also killed by him. Her two jewelled ear studs had been restored from Naraka and she was happy to offer them to Krishna to keep for progeny.  What does this all convey? Basically it conveys that Naraka was not a human being! There was some geological trouble happening for a long time which Krishna had stopped.

Deciphering Narakasura story

Aditi was mother earth that had risen from waters (attributed to Varaha avatara). The one who rises from her and torments people must have been a volcano. That was Narakasura. Naraka means tormenter. Because he was a tormenter he was identified as Naraka! The location name Prāgjyothisha also has a relevance to volcano. Prāg means summit and the Prāgjyothisha refers to a light at summit, which is but a reference to volcano. (The same name appears in Valmiki Ramayana as a product of Varaha, but in the western side of India. It could refer to Mount Vesuvius)

The continuous flowing down of the lava had caused series of rings (nooses) in the surroundings that looked like the handiwork of Muru (Muru means kind of dance). The spreading lava started blocking access to the surrounding regions. Krishna broke off the lava sediments and paved a way. He had even caused the volcano to crumble or implode and become extinguished. This resulted in access to two jewelled items held by the earth. Further decipherment of these ideas and the location of Narakasura can be made from two clues given in the narration itself.

  1. Krishna brought the tree of Parijata after this episode from the land of Indra.
  2. Indra’s elephant Iravata was saved from Narakasura who was threatening to take it away.

First clue shows that the land of Indra was Indra Dweepa, a name for the combined lands of Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The flower Parijata (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis ) is native to these regions (South East Asia) and the Indian sub continent also. But it was not growing in India until this episode means that it was originally found in South East Asia (Indra Dweepa) from where it was brought to India. Krishna had brought it to India (Dwaraka) at the insistence of Satyabhama. From this we can locate Prāgjyothisha of Narakasura in Indra Dweepa.

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Parijata flower

The second clue shows that the volcanic flow of Naraka had gone closer to river Iravati of Indra Dweepa.

We can locate a volcano named Mt Popa (Pali equivalent of Pushpa) in the region of Mynamar 60 km away from river Iravati! Interestingly this volcano had collapsed in its north and North West side – in the direction of anyone coming from India. One can see a deep caldera in that part signalling the death of the volcano. By not growing further, the lava had not reached the river Iravati.

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Mount Popa in Mynamar with fissures in the North-western slope

Once this volcano had stopped tormenting the people, the road to further south became clear where two gem mines are located. In places like Chanthaburi and Kanchanaburi in today’s Thailand are located the famous mines of two gems namely sapphire and ruby. The path taken by Krishna to these mines after crossing (slaying) Naraka (Mt Popa) looks as follows:

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The recovery of the two jewelled ear studs of Aditi could mean access to these mines and starting the work of mining those gems. This could also mean that Krishna and his clan had access to the wealth of Kubera or Lakshmi! Krishna’s visit to this place could have had the motive of gaining control over the mines. Or why else should he take his wife on this journey if it was meant only for destroying Narakasura?

The ultimate success of the trip by gaining wealth for his clan was celebrated as Dhanteras (Dhana- Trayodasi). Further variation as Dhanvantari Trayodasi must have been added later for the fact that health is the greatest wealth.

The collapse of the volcano must have happened on Chaturdasi day. For the faithfuls, Krishna had caused the collapse by his discus, for others it was a natural phenomenon that could have coincided with Krishna’s arrival. The event happening in the traditional Trivikrama New Year day coinciding with the end of Mahabali must have made it a new repetition of the olden belief. But the event occurring in Krishna’s presence or by the grace of Krishna, the people would have started glorifying it as Deepa Dāna day that removes darkness from the lives of people – of that region and also of Dvārakā as new wealth had started pouring into Dvārakā.

The next day, that is., the Amavasya day was therefore a thanksgiving day to Lakshmi. As an extension, the wealth of cow is recognised after that – on the day that was originally the beginning of the New Year in Mahabali’s location. And the day after that was celebration time among the siblings. Thus we find the 5-day celebration of Diwali of current times having evolved from Krishna’s times with different regions focusing on one or more of them as time went by. Any different version in a region, say of Kali worship in Bengal is aligned with the basic concept of destruction followed by Light.

Further support to the supposition from Krishna’s life comes from the archaeological findings in Myanmar and Thailand. A vast region covering places like Kanchanaburi where the gem-mines are located was known as DVARAVATI since ancient times.

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Dvaravati was originally the name of Dvārakā of Krishna. This name appearing in regions as far as Laos could only reiterate the Krishna-legend of visit to Prāgjyothisha. It also raises the possibility of movement of people between Indra Dweepa and India (Dvaraka in particular). One cannot dismiss the fact that both Gujarat and Bangkok (along with Kanchanaburi) are well known for gem cutting and polishing even today – an occupation that could have evolved at the time of Krishna whose primary objective of the trip to Prāgjyothisha could have been to gain control over the gem producing mines. Or why else he should lay the road to Prāgjyothisha?

Though Dvaravati culture started appearing from 4th to 5th century onwards, researchers are of the opinion that a proto-Dvaravati culture must have existed much before that as it would have taken a long time for the sophisticated culture to have come into place in the 4th century. There are Chinese and Buddhist sources to attest to the presence of this culture, but this culture was not Buddhist, but pre-Buddhist according to researchers.

Another interesting confirmation of Krishna’s connection to this place comes from a Khmer inscription dated at 937 CE that gives a list of princes of Chanasapura starting from one Bhagadatta. Bhagadatta is the name of the king of Prāgjyothisha in Krishna’s times. Even before Krishna went to Prāgjyothisha to ‘slay’ Naraka, Bhagadatta had left for the western frontiers of India for fear of Jarāsandha. But his name had remained, perhaps along with his descendants in Mynamar and someone with that name had started a new dynasty.

All this goes to show that the stories on Krishna’s life are not myths; that evidence of Hindu culture, names and temples in Myanmar and Thailad are not of recent origin but as old as Krishna’s times; that Diwali contains in itself more secrets than what we can imagine. All talk of diversity and variation in Diwali are of recent origin perhaps due to disconnect with our past caused by continuous onslaught of invaders. The celebration of Diwali in any part of India bears some connection with Krishna’s journey to Prāgjyothisha while the core concept remains the same ever since Mahabali was lost to the seas!

 

 

 

Rakhigarhi was “Aryan”, Mr Witzel.


Earlier published in www.pgurus.com in three parts:
Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

The preliminary findings of a DNA study of the skeletal remains of Rakhigarhi dated at 6000 years BP and reported in Economic Times on 13th June 2018 reveal that there was no trace of Central Asian ancestry. Mr Vasant Shinde, one of the authors of the study says, “This indicates quite clearly, through archeological data, that the Vedic era that followed was a fully indigenous period with some external contact.”

Another author, Mr Neeraj Rai who did the DNA study says that the findings point to “greater continuity rather than to a new Aryan race descending and bringing superior knowledge systems to the region.”

While these are on expected lines concurring with the indigenous history of ancient India as known from the Itihasas, it is necessary to know the reaction from the other side of the fence. One of the prominent proponents of Aryan Invasion Theory, Mr Witzel had reacted to this news in one of the group-forums as follows:

“.. “proving” the same: ancient DNA (just 2 persons) from the Indus site of Rakhigarhi, long bandied about, now is said to show that their DNA was *not* that of “invading Aryans.”

Of course, in a Harappan site we would not expect W. Central Asian (Indo-Aryan) DNA, as the recent paper by Vagheesh et al. indicated: the *speakers* of Indo-Aryan entered the subcontinent only in the LATE Bronze Age: as evidence from Swat indicates.

For a nationalist/Hindutva person that does not matter, of course, as they wrongly maintain that the Harappan population was “Aryan” anyhow.
Problem solved, LOL.”

It is amusing to read this reaction with many pitfalls contained. Let me discuss them one by one.

Sample size

At the outset he seems to take a dig at the number of samples taken for the study. The samples were taken from just two persons. Can any conclusive word be given on a well-oiled theory like the AIT, from just 2 specimens?

Why not? If 92 scientists (Vagheesh M.Narasimhan and others /Narasimhan et al) can justify Aryan Invasion or rather, the movement of Indo-Aryan speakers to India on the basis of *zero* samples from the Indus region, the Shinde-Rai pair sounds more reliable when they made their claim on *just* 2 samples.

Thankfully, Narasimhan et al adhered to academic integrity by conceding that they have no “access to any DNA directly sampled from the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC)” , but built up an hypothesis of an ancestry to IVC from outside Indus (Indus Periphery). In their own words,

Without ancient DNA from individuals buried in IVC cultural contexts, we cannot rule out the possibility that the group represented by these outlier individuals, which we call Indus_Periphery, was limited to the northern fringe and not representative of the ancestry of the entire Indus Valley Civilization population.” (lines 293-295)

 “Indus Periphery-related people are the single most important source of ancestry in South Asia.” (Abstract)

Contrast this with the findings of Shinde-Rai which is based on the genetic material extracted from 2 specimens, found in a core IVC location from a layer of 6000 years BP and arriving at a conclusion that it is predominantly a local element and did not contain any central Asian genetic element. This is not a hypothesis but a finding. Can we say the same for the conclusion of Narasimhan et al? Theirs is a hypothesis – a ‘possibility’.

The Swat evidence

Perhaps in realisation of this fact, Mr Witzel switches over to finding an excuse for the absence of Central Asian element in the genetic material of Rakhigarhi specimen.  He expresses in the next line of his comment that he doesn’t expect Central Asian gene in any Harappan site, meaning to say that they would appear in the genetic make-up only after the Aryan Invasion had started – i.e., from the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE.

To support this he quotes the paper by Narasimhan et al on Swat-evidences. But then the Swat evidence speaks about an admixture of Iranian-agriculturists and South Asian hunter-gatherers (AASI) in 4700- 3000 BCE in outliers of BMAC and eastern Iran that was genetically similar to post-IVC groups of Swat region thousand years later (1200-800 BCE). This group is favoured by Narasimhan et al as forming “the single most important source of ancestry in South Asia.”

The fact of the matter is that there is NO central Asian ancestry in this group claimed by Mr Witzel as evidence from Swat (on subsequent Aryan Invasion). The admixture in Indus periphery / Swat is made of 58% – 86% of Iranian agriculturists related ancestry with “little Anatolian agriculturist related admixture” and 14%-42% AASI ancestry. On the other hand Shinde-Rai study shows minor traces of Iranian strains in Rakhigarhi which, going by the time period of the specimens, would be ancestral to Iranian genetic presence in Indus Periphery. In lay terms this means out of India movement of Iranian strains which however have to be corroborated by the exact strains found out in the study and made known once the paper is published.

Can language be identified by genetics?

Another issue in Mr Witzel’s comment is about how he pinpoints the identity of the people that he calls Aryans. He identifies them by the language – “the *speakers* of Indo-Aryan”.

I never knew that linguistic research can be so easy that just by studying the genetic origins of a person one can tell the language he spoke! If DNA can tell the language a person spoke, it is certainly not a big deal to identify the languages spoken by say, the pre-historic people of Adichanallur in South East Tamilnadu.

Dated at 2500-2200 BCE, the skeletal remains of Adichanallur were found to have belonged to four races, namely, Caucasoids, Mongoloids, Negroids and Australoids, with none of them resembling contemporary Tamil people (here).
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Pic credit: The Hindu

The presence of these four races is absolutely not in sync with present day dwellers. How they reached this part of Tamilnadu from the presently known regions of these races might give a new migratory route. Instead if we link them with the language we speak, is it scientifically tenable to make a conclusion something like – that they brought Tamil to present-day Tamilnadu?

The Adichanallur specimens challenge one of the findings of the genetic study of Narasimhan et al. If Caucasoid had their origins in Central Europe or in central Steppe how did some of them reach this part of India at 2500-2200 BCE when their genetic markers were still hovering around BMAC between 2100 – 1700 BCE?

This means that there is many a slip in-between and Indian population history is not as easy as can be explained by an Aryan Invasion that is supposed to have brought a sophisticated language along with it. India’s location in a prime population blooming tropics, surrounded by oceans and drained by numerous rivers since Holocene offers a logical and plausible location for autochthonous growth of population with simultaneous growth of accessories like its own language and culture.

For saying this, if people like me are branded as “nationalist/ Hindutva person”, then the counter part of it makes the likes of Mr Witzel as anti-Indian and anti-Hindu, as Hindutva has its base in being a Hindu. Will he accept this identity for him?

Was Harappan Aryan?

Coming to the next and the last part of his comment, by rejecting the ‘Swat evidence’ of Narasimhan et al and subscribing to Shinde-Rai finding of indigenous strain in Rakhigarhi specimen, we are wrongly maintaining that Harappan was Aryan and be happy that ‘problem (is) solved’!

But the fact is that not just Harappan but the entire land of Bharat had been Aryan from an undated past. It was not caused by an Aryan Invasion. Central Asians or anybody could have come to India at any time or many times in the past, but how does it justify that they were the Vedic people?

In this entire issue of Aryan Invasion, one must be clear of what actually makes the culture Vedic?

Is it the spoke-wheeled chariot?

Yes, according to Mr Witzel. In the same comment on Rakhigarhi DNA study, he refers to the buried chariot excavated at Sinauli and observes,

“.. this is not a spoke-wheeled chariot but a cart with two *full* wheels, as is known from Harappa and Daimabad (see attached pictures). The usual confusion between chariots and wagons/carts, but exploited here for obvious political reasons : “No Aryan invasion” ”

Does the animal pulling the chariot determine Aryan-ness?

Yes, according to Mr Witzel. His further comment on Sinauli-finding goes like this:

The draft animals will have been oxen, as in the Harappan and Daimabad cases. These were not “horse ridden chariots” as one newspaper had it : LOL.”

Spoke-wheeled chariot and horses determine the Aryan-ness and characterise the people as Vedic! Witzel and others quote the Vedas as authority for this!

Nothing can be more ridiculous and unscientific than this, as the very identity of the Vedic people is the fire ritual, the Yajna and not chariots and horses. Anybody from anywhere in the world could have had chariots and horses but the fire-ritual of the kind done in Vedic society is unique for the Vedic culture only.

The basic fire ritual of the Vedic culture is called ‘aupāsana’.  Aupāsana is done every day at twilights throughout one’s life and at no time this fire is extinguished.  From father to son, this fire travels down the generations endlessly. The fire for every other Vedic Yajna is taken from this Aupāsana fire. The one and only offering done in this fire is RICE.

Without rice no aupāsana can be done. Without aupāsana, no other yajna can be done and no Samskaras can be done. Rice is so basic to the Vedic society.

Now the question is, did the Central Asians know about rice?

They could have brought chariots and horses but did they bring rice – a grain very essential for doing the Vedic yajna?

Did they grow rice in the steppes or learnt about it anywhere en route to India identified by Witzel?

The simple fact is rice is not grown in those regions due to absence of supportive climatic conditions.

As per the AIT, they started Vedic life after reaching the IVC. But rice was already known to the IVC people and importantly in the present context of Rakhigarhi (IVC), a parallel archaeo-botanical study established that rice was grown in Rakhigarhi 6000 years ago!

This is proof enough that the central Asians who were supposed to have entered the IVC in the 2nd millennium BCE, had learnt the use of rice in the Yajna – assuming they developed the concept of Yajna by themselves – from the native, indigenous people of the IVC. A rational interpretation would however treat the central Asians as learning the very technique of Yajna from the natives and not as developing a Yajna all in a sudden by themselves and making the native rice as integral to the Yajna.

Rice, the staple food for natives of India from time immemorial also happens to be the staple food for Gods worshiped through Yajna. More importantly, in the Yajna for departed ancestors (sharadha) only cooked rice is offered. Having their ancestral homes in Central Asia, isn’t it illogical to expect them to have devised a Yajna for their ancestors in which the offering is a food that doesn’t grow in their ancestral land? So the role of rice in Vedic Yajna is something that defines the identity of the original Vedic Aryans.

Cultivation of rice in India predates the IVC.

 The currently available proof on domestication of rice goes up to 9000 years ago in the Gangetic plain. Excavations done at Lahuradewa in the trans- Sarayū region showed that rice was the staple food for the people. Cultivation of wild rice in Lahuradewa dates back to an early period of Holocene. One can see the limits of rice cultivation in the figure given below, with the Indus region falling outside.

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Map of wild rice zones since 20,000 BP (marked as P) in comparion to expansion since 9,000 BP (marked as H). Recent populations are marked in crosses and circles. (Fuller 2011)

The tropical climate and wetness have favoured domestication of rice in south east and eastern parts of India in the riverside regions from times before Indus civilization. This is proof of settled habitation in the Gangetic region much before Indus Valley Civilization started.  Indus region is out of place in the rice map of early Holocene days.

The author (Fuller 2011) of the study (above figure) says in the abstract that ‘much dispersal of rice took place after Indo-Aryans and Dravidian speakers adopted rice from speakers of lost languages of Northern India’. This observation is influenced by the faulty and hypothetical division of people of India as Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. Like human genetics, rice-genetics is also assumed to reveal the speech of the people of the region! How unscientific!

Research  by Upinder Singh (Singh 2008:110) has revealed the presence of cultivated rice of the variety Oryza sativa from the northern fringes of Vindhyas on the banks of Belan river up to Allahabad in the trans- Sarayū region. While Koldihwa and Mahagara in Allahabad show independent domestication of rice from 8th to 6th millennium BCE, the Neolithic sites in Son Valley in Madhya Pradesh has shown rice cultivation from 6th to 5th millennium BCE.  Thus the Vindhya- Ganga- Ghaghara region is found to be the nuclear zone of rice domestication and cultivation from10,000 years BP. Delving on the same subject, Varma (2008:40-41) opines  that this was not due to cultural diffusion from West Asia and South East Asia as one can find layers of evolution in the sites from Mesolithic to Neolithic culture.

The continuity or rather the spread of rice cultivation from east India to the Indus regions in the west was established by Petrie et al. The proof comes from Rakhigarhi!

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In their paper Petrie et al established that rice was cultivated in Rakhigarhi even before the Indus Urban phase and observed that proximity of this region to the Ganges where the earliest domestication of rice was found in 7th millennium BCE “prompts the re-evaluation of the role of rice for Indus populations, and the way that it was transmitted from farther east”. This is a direct challenge to the view in support of AIT (Gangal et al. 2014) that farming entered India through Iran and Central Asia.

All the rice growing regions mentioned above were home to the Ikśvāku-s of Sarayū, Kuśikās of Viśvāmitra and Jamadagnis of Vindhyas – the last two being Rig Vedic sages having close blood relationship. Jamadagni was Viśvāmitra’s sister’s son and they both were of same age. (MB 13.4, VP 4.7)

The trans- Sarayū region had shown human settlements as early as 6th to 5th millennium BCE along with evidence of rice cultivation. It is significant that the birth date of Rama established by Puṣkar Bhaṭnāgar in his book “Dating the Era of Lord Ram” using astronomy software on the planetary position given in Valmiki Ramayana falls on 5114 BCE, within this period.

Ramayana period falling within 6th -5th Millennium BCE perfectly matches with archaeo-genetic of rice domestication in trans-Sarayu region. The same period witnessed rice domestication in Vindhya-Ganga-Ghaghara region lending cross-referential support for the contemporariness of Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni with Rama – a feature well attested through another cross-referential source, namely Ramayana.

Rice domestication in Vindhya-Ganga-Ghaghara-trans Sarayū region strengthens the case for a Vedic society at that time. There is literary evidence for rice in Valmiki Ramayana (Iyengar 1997:31). A sage by name Trijaṭa used to collect a rice variety called ‘lāṅgalī scattered in the forest. Twice it is mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana about this sage subsisting on rice grains collected this way (VR 2.32.29 & 34). This rice could be either a wild variety growing in the forest or the left-over’s of cultivated variety after harvest.

The date of rice cultivation in Rakhigarhi a millennia later to trans-Sarayū –Vindhya region establishes the route of movement of cultivation of rice that forms the heart of the Vedic yajna.

What is the more rational of the two – the chariot driving Central Asians of the mid-2ndMillennium BCE, after halting at the IVC grabbing the rice from the indigenous people and inventing Vedic fire ritual or a continuing indigenous population, growing rice since 7th Millennium BCE and gradually developing Vedic culture where rice is central to fire rituals?   Those in the know of Vedas would attest that Vedas and Vedic rituals could not have been developed in a few centuries but over a larger span of time (which would take another article to explain). So Mr Witzel, it is not nationalistic, but rationalistic to claim that Rakhigarhi was indigenously Vedic, and therefore Aryan!

 

References:

Fuller, D.Q. (2011). “Pathways to Asian Civilizations: Tracing the Origins and Spread of Rice and Rice Cultures”. RICE. 4(3-4). pp78-92. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12284-011-9078-7

Gangal K, Sarson GR, Shukurov A (2014) “The Near-Eastern Roots of the Neolithic in South Asia”. PLoS ONE 9(5): e95714https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0095714

Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (Trans) (1883-1896). Mahabharatahttp://ancientvoice.wikidot.com/source:mahabharata

Griffith, Ralph T. H. (Trans) (1870-1874). Ramayan of Valmiki. http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rama/index.htm

Iyengar, Srinivasa C.R. (1997) (Trans).  “Sakala Kāriya Siddhiyum, Srimad Rāmāayaṇamum”  LIFCO Publication, Chennai. pp 29-32

Petrie, C., Bates, J., Higham, T., & Singh, R. (2016). “Feeding Ancient Cities in South Asia: Dating the Adoption of Rice, Millet and Tropical Pulses in the Indus Civilisation.”Antiquity.  90 (394).  pp1489-1504. https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2016.210

Singh, Upinder (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. Delhi.  pp 110-111.

Varma, Radha Kant  (2008). Beginnings of Agriculture in the Vindhya-Ganga Region”History of Agriculture in India (up to c.1200 A.D). Concept Publishing Company. New Delhi. pp 31-46

 

Recommended Reading for clarification of the yuga-time of Ramayana: 

Yuga classification and how Yuga must be understood.

 

(Mailed to Mr Witzel)