Monday, 18 June 2012

The Exotic Tribes of India- Gandharva & Apsara

Perhaps Gandharvas and Apsaras are the most heard names in our lives. Every time they are called as 'celestial beings' and are dumped into mythology.But our scriptures have been kind enough to properly elaborate on these 'human beings' from which we can certainly conclude that these were normal humans with proper kingdoms and tribes.


This is a bit tricky thing. We have to understand one thing. Gandharvas and Apsaras were NOT husband-wives. They were two separate tribes with certain rare cases of Apsaras and Gandharvas marrying each other like Urnayu-Menaka. Now on what basis I say this? There are two aspects to it-
First, IF Apsaras were female Gandharvas, why have both Ramayana and Mahabharata mentioned women called 'Gandharvi' meaning female Gandharva? See examples- In Mahabharata ( 4.9), after seeing her beauty, Kichaka asked Draupadi, "Are you a Yakshi,a Goddess, a Gandharvi or an Apsara?" meaning Gandharvi and Apsara were different..!! In many places Mahabharata mentions Gandharvis and makes proper distinction between Gandharvis and Apsaras. Even in Ramayana, Ravana's grandfather Rakshas Sumali had married the daughter of Narmada, a Gandharvi.

The Puranas and Mahabharata tell that the Gandharvas and Apsaras originated from Kashyapa from his wife Pradha/Muni. If one looks at the chronological tables prepared by me, Kashyapa was the grandfather of Vaivasvat Manu. So technically, there should not be a single mention of any Apsara before Vaivasvata or Kashyapa. But this is not the case. King Agnidhra had married an Apsara called Purvachitti and Prachetas Daksha had married an Apsara called Pramlocha. Looking at this inconsistency,we can say that the Gandharvas could have originated from Kashyapa but the Apsaras existed before him and their origin is not specified. The names of Apsara daughters of Kashyapa are given but we can assume that these daughters later on joined the Apsara community.

I have mentioned this earlier that for the need to prove that every living being originated from Kashyapa and his wives,even plants and trees are told to have been born from women..!!! Same happened with Apsara.
So it is fixed that Apsara as a community was existing even before Kashyapa while Gandharvas could possibly have originated from Kashyapa.
Mahabharata (2.11) mentions 27 different tribes of Gandharvas and Apsaras.

But one question remains, if the scriptures name both male and female Gandharvas, but why do they call Apsaras as females only? Meaning if Apsara community was only of females, how did that community propagate through the ages? The answer might be that Apsara was not a homogeneous community but was made up of girls from other exotic tribes since the work of Apsaras was to dance and entertain.Even the scriptures say that Apsaras had the freedom of choice and no confinement in choosing their mate.

There was no specific kingdom of Gandharvas. They are mentioned to be there in Lanka and also in different Yaksha and Rakshas kingdoms in Himalayas. They are under Kubera and guard the gold mines of Yakshas.They are also mentioned to be living in Uttar Kuru kingdom beyond the Himalayas. Also, in the Mahabharata, Gandharva kingdoms are said to be existing in the Saraswati basin when Balarama had visited various teethas on the Saraswati. A connection of Gandhara kingdom with Gandharvas needs to be examined.


Following are the famous Gandharvas in history-  
  • Vishvavasu - He is probably the oldest Gandharva mentioned. He existed during Ram's era. He is the composer of Rigveda ( 10.139) by the name Vishvavasu Devgandharva. Valmiki Ramayana says that Malyavan, Ravana's granduncle had married his daughter Anala to Vishvavasu. So Vishvavasu is 1 generation prior to Ram. He had a daughter called Pramadwara raised by Sthulakesha rishi and married to Ruru rishi. An incomplete genealogy of Ruru rishi is given. He is said to be the descendant of Gritsamada rishi who was amlsot 20-25 generations before him but only 12-13 names are given in the genealogy. It goes thus- Gritsamada->Sucheta->Varcha->Vihavya ->Vitatya ->Satya-> Santa ->Shrava ->Tama ->Prakash ->Vageendra ->Pramati ->Ruru

  • Chitraratha - He is said to be the ruler of Gandharvas. He is said to be the son of Pradha and Kashyapa.

  • Chitrangada - He was a king among the Gandharvas. He had a contention that only one person with name Chitrangada should exist so he had fought a war and killed the Kuru king Chitrangada, grandfather of Pandavas.

  • Tumvuru - He and Chitrasena had taught Arjuna the art of music and dance when he was at Indra's abode. Arjuna used this knowledge to become a Kinnara in court of Matsya during his Adnyat-Vasa of 1 year.

  • Shailusha - Valmiki Ramayana ( Uttar Kand 100) says that the Gandhara kings in north west were in fact the descendants of Shailush Gandharva.

  • Dhritarashtra - He was sent by Indra as a messenger to the yagya started by Vaishali king Marutta and Samvarta rishi, the brother of Brihaspati.

  • Urvashi - She was the wife of Pururavas Aila. His and her conversation is recorded in Rigved (10.95). She is said to have married him on the condition that she would never see him nude except during sex. Her Gandharva companions made Pururavas flout this condition and she left him.

  • Menaka - She was the mother of Shakuntala. She begot Shakuntala when she had come to disrupt Vishvamitra's penance. She abandoned Shakuntala who was taken care by Kanva, a rishi in the family of Kashyapa.

  • Purvachitti - She is considered to be the best of Apsaras. She was the wife of king Agnidhra and from her he begot 9 sons between whom the Jambudweepa was divided.

  • Alambusha - She was the wife of the Vaishali king Trinavindu.


The Gandharvas and Apsaras were related to each other because the Gandharvas used to sing and play beautifully on which the Apsaras used to dance. All scriptres at lenght descirbe the beautiful voice of Gandharvas and the beauty of Apsaras. A separate upa-veda called Gandharva Veda which deals with all forms of Music. Dhritarashtra and Manthara were told to be born from Gandharvas. There is a separate style of marriage called Gandharva-vidhi where the bride and the groom themselves choose their mate without the consent of their parents. These Gandharvas had attacked the Kauravas during the Mahabharata war. There is a specific type of gold called Jambunada from which Yakshas, Gandharvas,Apsaras, etc used to make their ornaments.Gandharvas are also said to be very powerful warriors who don't fear any king.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Exotic Tribes of India- Kimpurusha & Kinnara

Now these two names are heard, not frequently, but at least the reader might have a slight idea of these names. When the scriptures take names of exotic tribes, these two names are always there- Kinnaras and Kimpurushas.
The reason for clubbing these two is because these two show a lot of common geography and common references.

The origin of Kinnaras is not specified but that of Kimpurushas is told to be Pulaha rishi, a saptarshi in the Swayambhuva Manvantara. ( Mahabharata 1.66). Now whether truly the Kimpurushas originated from Pulaha rishi or it was just an effort to prove that everyone evolved from Swayambhuva Manu and Saptarshis, we don't know. But the Bhagvata Puran provies some input. It says that Agnidhra, the son of Priyavrata placed at 3 in the chronological tables prepared by me, had 9 sons namely Kimpurusha,Ketumal, Bhadrashva,Nabha, Ramyak,Harivarsh,Ilavritta, Kuru and Hiranmaya. Agnidhra divided his kingdom Jambudweepa into 8 parts and gave one kingdom to each out of which the part beyond Kailasa was given to Kimpurusha and was called Kimpurushvarsha. This info is quite true since even the wives of these 9 sons are given as also the family line of Agnidhra continued through Nabhi is also given. Quite possibly Kinnaras were the local people living there and then after Kimpurush was given that area, they intermixed not only with the Kimpurushas but also with Vidyadharas, Siddhas, Gandharvas and Apsaras.

The Kinnaras and Kimpurushas are the most left out people when it comes to references. The primary reference of them comes when the Puranas describe the geography of Jambudweep saying that there is a country called Kimpurushvarsha lying beyond the Kailasa where the Kinnaras and Kimpurushas live.
The Kimpurushas thus have a fixed territory of Kimpurushvarsha but the Kinnaras are also mentioned to be living along with Yakshas and Gandharvas in certain places like (Mahabharata 3.139).

Thus the exotic tribes were quite intermixed and lived in common areas and kingdoms. The major places of Kinnaras and Kimpurushas were Gandhamadan and Mandara mountains to the north of Kailash mountains and to the east of Meru. The Ramayana also mentions that along with the Yakshas and Rakshasas, Gandharvas, Kinnaras and Kimpurushas were also living in Lanka under Kubera.

The etymology of Kinnara and Kimpurusha is quite same owing to the fact that the Vedic people thought that they were half men and half lion. This happened because the Kinnaras and Kimpurushas were quite cut-off from the Vedic civilization in mainland India.In some places, the Kinnaras are mentioned to be one of the sub-tribe within the Gandharvas ( MBh 2.10).This shows the intermixing within them. All these tribes are clearly under the sway of Kubera since in many places in Mahabharata, it is mentioned that Kubera was their head.

Very less names are available of Kinnaras and Kimpurushas in different scriptures. In many places Ramayana and Mahabharata just mention them collectively but refrain to give nay name. A slight insight in the Kinnara and Kimpurusha world comes from Mahabharata ( 2.10) where the kings of these people are mentioned. It says that Bhagadatta leads the Kinnaras, Druma the Kimpurushas. Also, Mahabharata ( 2.27) says Arjuna had defeated Durmaputra, a Kimpurusha during the Rajasuya campaign. (2.43) mentions that Druma was present during the Rajasuya Yagya of Yudhisthira. Another information that I get from Wikipedia is that Rukmi, the king of Vidarbha was a disciple of Drona, a Kimpurusha.

The Kimpurushas and Kinnaras were under the sway of Kubera. Mahabharat (14.63) tells us that the gold mines of Yakshas in Himalayas were guarded properly by the Kinnaras.
The main reason why one remembers the Kinnaras is their phenomenal ability to sing beautifully. Mahabharata says that once you venture into Kinnara territory you will find beautiful Kinnara women (Kinnari) along with female Vidyadharas singing sweetly. Arjuna also had taken the form of a Kinnara to teach music to Matya king's daughter.Thus the Kinnaras are always remembered of having sweet voices.This also gives us the clue of why these people were closely related to Gandharvas and Apsaras since even the later two were involved in music and dance. Bhagvata Purana says that Ram was worshiped in the Kimpurushvarsha.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Exotic Tribes of India- Yaksha

The Yakshas have the same origin as that of the Rakshasas.They are said to have originated from Pulastya rishi back in Swayambhuva Manvantara. Although ti remain a matter of question whether Pulastya rishi was the ancestor of Yakshas and Rakshasas but it is quite evident that the descendants of Pulastya rishi could have intermixed with the Yakshas and Rakshasas. Female Yakshas were called Yakshi.
Yakshas are the first of the exotic tribes to be mentioned in the earliest times. ( Dhruva's encounter with Yakshas)

Where was the kingdom of Yakshas? If we see, when Dhruva had attacked the Yakshas , it is mentioned that they used to live in the city of Alaka in the Himalayas. But during the times of Ramayana, we have Kubera ascend to kingship of Yakshas and living in Sri Lanka. He was thrown out of Lanka by his step brother Ravana and then Kubera along with other Yakshas, Rakshasas,Kinnaras and Gandharvas migrated to mount Kailash and started living there. In the Mahabharata we find that the Yakshas were indeed living near mount Kailash and had their kingdoms spread beyond it. Bhima and Lomasa rishi ventured into their area and have described their kingdom in detail. Different rivers like Vahuda, Mandakini, Bramhavodhya and Brihadvati are mentioned to be flowing through the Yaksha kingdoms. Different mountain peaks like Mandar,Ushivraja,etc are also mentioned. Gangadwara, a famous place mentioned in various scriptures was in the kingdom of Yakshas.

Peculiarities of Yaksha kingdom include the existence of beautiful gardens of Kubera called Chitraratha. This is a unique thing in Yakshas. These gardens were guarded by Rakshasas.A rare reference of gold mines belonging to Yakshas occurs in Mahabharata ( Udyoga Parva 111). Different kinds of divine trees,ponds with beautiful lotuses are also mentioned.
In a general sense we come to know that Yakshas,Rakshasas,Gandharvas used to live together in the Himalayas.

Actually, very few Yakshas are mentioned by name in Ramayana,Mahabharata or even the Puranas. They are-

  • Kubera- As explained earlier, he was the step brother of Ravana. He was very very rich and was righteous. He ruled Lanka but was driven out. In the times to come, he was converted into a god of wealth worshiped side by side with Laxmi. His son is mentioned to be Nalakubera.
  • Manibhadra- he was the commander of Yakshas when they were fighting the war with Ravana. Sanyodhakantaka was one in the army of Yakshas as mentioned by Valmiki Ramayan (7.14). Maniman, Manistragvi were other Yakshas that find mention in Ramayana.
  • Shtunakarna was a Yaksha in Mahabharata era who converted Shikhandini, Draupadi's sister into a male by exchanging masculinity with her.
  • In the war of 10 kings as mentioned in Rigveda (7.18.19), we find that Sudas, the king of North Panchal had fought a war with Yakshas, Shigrus and Aja who were fighting under the leadership of Bheda. This war was fought on the banks of Yamuna.
  • Stray references of Yakshas include Amogha, Ashvakranda, Rainuk,Krathanaka,Tapana,Uluka, Shvasanaka, Nimesh, Paruja, Pulina,etc

A Yaksha called Mankanak is said to be the doorkeeper of Yaksha kingdom. MBh(Vana parva 83)

  • Some stories of Yakshas include-

Dhruva, the son of Uttanpada and grandson of Swayambhuva Manu had gone to kill the Yakshas in their Alaka city because a Yaksha had killed his step brother Uttama. There we find a detailed reference of how Dhruva killed a lot of Yakshas.
One of the sons of Vaivasvata Manu was Sharyati. His descendants started a kingdom called Anarta in present day Gujarat. In his family line was one king called Revata who built a city in the sea called Kushasthali. It was attacked by Yakshas and it is said that a huge congregation of Yakshas was held there. An interesting thing to note is that the present day Dwaraka built by Krishna stands on the same destroyed Kushasthali city..!!

It has been mentioned in Mahabharata as well as Ramayana that Yaksha kingdoms were guarded by Rakshasas which could indicate that Yakshas were surely superior than Rakshasas. Only in the case of Ravana, Rakshasas triumphed over the Yakshas. There have to be many tribes of Yakshas since Mahabharata ( Vana Parva 230) mentions Jambhaka Yakshas, as a type of Yakshas.


Yakshas are mentioned as people very cunning in nature.
These people were extremely rich as we find mentions in Ramayana about their prosperity. Kubera had one chariot called Pushpaka which could take him anywhere.
Also, we find Yakshas being mentioned as 'Guhya' people meaning strange and mysterious beings due to the fact that they lived beyond the Kailash in staunchly guarded cities.
And since even today the people living around mount Kailash are Hindus, we can conclude that over a period of time as divisions became blur, the Yakshas converted into Hinduism. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Exotic Tribes of India- Rakshas

What are Exotic Tribes ?

Exotic tribes in Hinduism are those tribes which have been mystified and talked of as being some supernatural creatures different than humans. But a simple analysis of Purans, Mahabharat and Valmiki Ramayan makes it clear that these tribes were indeed human beings but were outside the Vedic corpus and hence got mystified. The Exotics Tribes include Rakshasas, Yakshas, Kinnaras, Naga,Gandharvas, Apsaras, Kiratas, Kimpurushas,etc. I am posting about them one by one.

 Hearing this name, we imagine a person black in complexion,huge, fat lips,cannibalistic person who is out there to kill people. In fact, the Rakshas people were not that perilous but we find Rakshas like Ravana who were quite indulgent in philosophy. A thing to note is that Rakshas and Yakshas have common ancestry.

Now from where did Rakshas originate? A full fledged story of how Rakshas developed from Brahma is given at many places. But that is religious lore which we should respect as devout Hindus. But looking from a historical point of view, Rakshas are said to have originated along with Yakshas from Pulastya Rishi. If one checks the Chronological tables prepared by me, we come to know that Pulastya rishi was a Saptarshi during the first Swayambhuva Manvantara. He was 2 generations after Swayambhuva Manu.

He was the one who married Havirbhu, the daughter of Kardama Rishi. Although he was a rishi and the very part of Vedic system of Saptarshis, his descendants Rakshas and Yakshas passed on as non-Vedic people and his genealogy is quite unknown. The problem arises there.
Till date we assume that Pulastya rishi was grand-father of Ravana. But actually Pulastya was almost 86 generations before him. The in-between genealogies are missing. We don't find any Pulastya descendant to be a composer of Rigveda.

This also proves a major point. That exotic tribes and the Vedic people belonged to the same set of population but had a difference of cultures.

There are only a few members of Pulastya family who are known. This family has passed into so much oblation that only 5 Puranas talk of his family.The other members known of this family are Rishi Vishrava, father of Ravana and Kuber, the half brother of Ravana.

Valmiki Ramayan is a major source of what was happening during the era of Ravana. We are told by the Valmiki Ramayan that Ravana's father was Vishrava and from him and Kaikesi, Ravana was born. This Vishrava rishi was born from Pulastya himself ( Who was 85 generations before him). The mother of Vishrava was none but the daughter of king Trinavindu, the king of Vaishali. So we imply that Pulastya was 85 generations before his son Vishrava and Pulastya's wife, Trinavindu's daughter was 16 generations before him. Isn't it dubious?

Actually, it isn't..There has been a mistake of comprehension by Valmiki ( Although the rest of Valmiki Ramayan is still the most authentic version of Ramayan). And that mistake is partial. The Purans escalated the confusion more.

Now we must see what is the real case of this. From all of this, let's first place Vishrava rishi. With complete faith in Valmiki Ramayan, we can say that indeed Vishrava rishi was the father of Ravana and Kubera, the king of Yakshas. The reason is that in Valmiki Ramayan, we have proper dialogues between Kubera and Vishrava. So certainly Vishrava is one generation before Ravana. But his mother was 16 generations before him. But this is not the case.

Let me tell the story which Valmiki Ramayan tells of Vishrava's birth from Pulastya -
It says that once Pulastya rishi was meditating in his ashrama where Naga, Gandharva girls were playing. Trinavindu's daughter was also there. Pulastya rishi had given a curse that whichever girl looks at him will become pregnant. Trinavindu's daughter did not know this and became pregnant, as a result Trinavindu gave his daughter to Pulastya himself as a wife. Their son was Vishrava. ( Valmiki Ramayan 7-2)
NOTE- Valmiki Ramayan does not give the name of Trinavindu's daughter.

Now the thing to comprehend is that this Pulastya rishi contemporary to Trinavindu king was a remote descendant of the actual Pulastya rishi and was carrying a common patronymic name 'Pulastya'. This story holds some ground that Pulastya married Trinavindu's daughter, but if we see the Valmiki Ramayan confuses the son of this couple to be Vishrava rishi. The reasons are thus-
  • The genealogy of Pulastya is not known much but only the fact that Ravana and Vishrava belonged to Pulastya's family line was known.
  • As also, only one story regarding a Pualstya rishi was known i.e the Trinavindu story which we say earlier.
  • The father of Vishrava rishi was a rishi belonging to the Pulastya family line but confused to be this Pulastya rishi of Trinavindu's times.

This all resulted in placing Vishrava in Ramayanic times and his father and mother some 16 generation before him. So who was his mother actually if Trinavindu's daughter was not his mother?

Here comes another confusion of names done by Puranas-
Now Vishrava's wife was Ilavila from whom Kubera was born. The story of Trinavindu's daughter and Pulastya discussed earlier was for Pulastya rishi from whom Vishrava was born. But this story was confused to be of Vishrava himself and the Purans state that Vishrava married the daughter of Trinavindu and Kubera was born to them. This is not correct since this will place Kubera 15 generations earlier to his brother and contemporary Ravana.So we have two contradictions with Valmiki Ramayan saying Pulastya rishi married Trinavindu's daughter while the Purans say Vishrava married Trinavindu's daughter.
So this story was certainly not of Vishrava. But another implication was done by Puranas. If Vishrava married Trinavindu's daughter, and Ilavila was Vishrava's wife, by implication Ilavila becomes the daughter of Trinavindu !!!!

So after all of this confusion let me clearly tell who existed when with respect to Ramayanic era-
In the earliest times of Swayambhuva Manu, 86 generations before Ramayanic era, existed the original Pulastya Rishi whose wife was Havirbhu.Some 15 generations before Ramayanic era, we have King Trinavindu of Vaishali and a remote descendant of Pulastya, also known as Pulastya. Trinavindu married his unnamed daughter to this Pulastya and their some was also anonymous and not Vishrava.The family line of this anonymous rishi continued till 2 generations before Ramayanic era, we had Vishrava rishi in the line of Pulastya. This Vishrava married Ilavila and begot Kubera who became the king of Yakshas and also married Kaikasi from whom came Ravana, Kumbhakarna, Vibhishan and Shurpanaka. Other wives of Vishrava include Pushpotkata, Raka, Devavarnini,etc

Now something about the kingdom of Rakshasas. It is just mentioned that Rakshasas were born from the original Pulastya rishi along with Yakshas. The Rakshasas and Yakshas are mentioned to be quite inter-related along with Gandharvas. The Rakshasa kingdom is mentioned to be in Lanka from the time of Vishrava. He is said to have lived in prosperity in the kingdom of Lanka. There were other Rakshasas present in places like Kerala and other parts of South India. Among them were 3 Rakshasa brothers Malyavan, Mali and Sumali. For the sake of power, Sumali married his daughter Kaikesi to Vishrava from whom Ravana was born. [ Reference- Valmiki Ramayan Uttar Kanda]

As mentioned earlier, Vishrava had also married Ilavila from whom Kubera was born. Kubera who was a Yaksha. The Rakshasas are said to be guarding Lanka. But Ravana challenged Kubera's authority and fought a war with him and drove him out of Lanka. Kubera returned to the original place of Yaksha kingdom i.e Himalayas and Ravana started ruling in Lanka.
After Ram killed Ravana, he instituted Vibhishana as the king of Lanka.

Now someone might think that Rakshasas are some sort of Dravidian people who resided only in South India. But that is not the case since Mahabharat (Vana Parva,89) says that rishi Vishrava's ashram was on the banks of river Narmada in central India. Plus we must not forget the relations with Yakshas who majorly resided in the Himalayas. Also, the kingdom of Ghatotkacha was said to be between Gangotri and Kailasa (Mahabharat, Vana parva,144). Also, a group of Rakshasas known as Krodhavashas used to guard the kingdom of Yakshas in Himalaya as mentioned in Mahabharata ( Vana Parva 152)

The other Rakshas at Ravana's time include Durmukha, Mishrakeshi,Vajramushti, Virupaksha, Suptaghna.
Mali,Sumali and Malyavan Rakshas as mentioned earlier, were descendants of Heti and Praheti Rakshas who fought from Vritrasura's side in the Indra-Vritrasura war which happened some 65 generations before Ramayan. The genealogy goes hence- Heti + Praheti--> (Unknown generations)--> Vidyutkesh --> Sukesha--> Mali, Sumali, Malyavan--> Maricha, Subahu,Kaikesi--> Ravana

Other famous Rakshasas include

  • Maricha- Who had taken the form of golden deer which Sita had told Lord Ram to bring for her in vanvas.
  • Vatapi- whom Rishi Agastya had killed as mentioned in Valmiki Ramayan
  • Hidimb and Hidimba- These were encountered by Bhima when they escaped the Lakshagriha
  • Ghatotkacha was the son of Bhima and was killed in Mahabharata war.

Another sub group of Rakshasas is mentioned.
Matsya Purana (202) says that one Pulastya rishi had adopted a Agastya and hence Paulastyas were also Agastyas. Also, some Vishwamitras or Kaushikas also became Rakshasas. These people hence got a name 'Brahma Rakshasas' i.e Brahmins allied to the Rakshasas.
Another interesting information is given known that among the Rakshasas, Agastyas, Kushikas and Nirrutas were active at night i.e they performed their rites in the night.

The culture of Rakshas was more or less similar to Vedic people but just that they were opposed to Vedic people and used to trouble them. But we see that Ravana worshipped lord Shiva and had went to Kailasa. It is always thought that Rakshasas were some forest-living nomads. But from the explanation found in Valmiki Ramayan we see that Lanka was full of gold, sky-touching towers and prosperity thus telling that Rakshas people were no demons but were non-Vedic people.