Valakhilyas: Were they descendants of ‘Hobbits’ of Indonesia? - II
by Jayasree Saranathan on 15 Jan 2019 3 Comments

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 the 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.


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 sub-species of that bird ruling the skies and the land long ago, anywhere from Indonesia to New Zealand.


Fortunately our search is further fine-tuned by an account on Garuda’s territory at Salmali Dwipa described in Valmiki Ramayana.


Garuda, the native of Salmali Dwipa


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


In Sugriva’s narration, the next region to the east of Salmali Dwipa 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 spitting 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 a red hue to the sea. This description fits Mt. Puncak Jaya in Papua province.


This limits the region of Salmali Dwipa (Garuda’s home) to parts to the east of Yava Dwipa and west of Papua New Guinea. The currently available archaeological findings in the region that we identified as Salmali Dwipa are known for ‘Lapita pottery’ (which often depict Garuda). Garuda images have been found in different parts of the world. But no other region in the world has all three, namely, banyan trees, giant tortoises and giant eagles at one place as in Salmali Dwipa, which is part of Indonesia today.


There are other two entities, the elephant and the Valakhilyas 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 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 dependent on food available in water had grown big in Indonesian islands, while a species like elephant 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 to dwarf people who lived along with dwarf elephants. Dwarf people (Homo floresiensis) after Flores, an island where their fossils were found in cave Liang Bua, 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, nicknamed Hobbits. A research article presumes that Stegodon elephants were eaten by the still extant Komodo Dragon, a species of lizards. It is no wonder that they were also falling prey to the giant raptor, Garuda. The extinction of Stegodon can also be attributed to the giant eagle, Garuda, whose liking for the elephant can be made out from the incident narrated in both the Itihasas.


Flores where the fossil remains of Hobbits have been found is well within Salmali Dwipa where Garuda had lived, and where elephants (dwarf variety) and giant tortoises also had co-existed. This region is also known for banyan growth. Researchers have established Hobbits as hominins, a short race of humans whose ancestral species lived 700,000 years ago. They 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 Valakhilyas.


Valakhilyas: early and distinct human species


A narration in Mahabharata describes “Brahma darsana” on creation of life forms (MB: 13-85), including human beings. Decoding 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 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 Kusa grass spread out for the yajna. It is further said (in the words of sage Vasishtha) that Valakhilyas sprang from the blades of Kusa grass. It further adds that from the same blades of Kusa, sprang Atri, a famous Rig Vedic sage.


The narration puts Valakhilyas and Atri on the same state of origin. It must be noted that they were not put at par with numerous offspring that emerged from the yajna or the fire of the yajna. Instead they were traced to the Kusa 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?


Valakhilyas and Atri-s


The most common feature between Valakhilyas and Atri was their affinity to the Sun. In as many as three places, the Mahabharata describes Valakhilyas as subsisting on sunrays (MB 3.125, 9.43, 13.115). Sugriva in his description of ‘Udaya Parvata’ in far-east refers to Valakhilyas coming into sight at the region of sunrise shining with the resplendence of the Sun (VR: 4-40-60).[i]


Sugriva also refers to that location as the place of sunrise where Vi??u makes his first foothold. The reference to difference in time between that place and Jambhu Dwipa 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 sunrise for the globe and Valakhilyas, 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 the 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 Valakhilyas, were they similar in traits with Valakhilyas – one of which was observing the sun relentlessly as though they were subsisting on the sun? 


Though born of the same Kusa grass, Atri was classified along with the Sapta rishis while Valakhilyas were not. From the insights gained from the names of the rishis mentioned in the narration of Brahma darsana, 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 Valakhilyas in the group shows that they were not everlasting.


Atri-s, sharing the same origin with Valakhilyas could mean that they were also short in stature, but not as short as Valakhilyas. The absence of any specific mention about their height is taken to mean this. But they had some affinity with sun like Valakhilyas. Thinking about height, sage Agastya also is said to have been 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 common to Valakhilyas and Atri-s?


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


[i] Devi Bhagvata Purana refers to Valakhilyas as numbering 60,000 going in front of the Sun from its rise till it set. This doesn’t concur with any of the description of Valakhilyas in the Itihasas except a symbolism that Valakhilyas had subsisted on sunrays. Some writers had attempted to link the 60,000 number going in front of the Sun with certain verses of Tamil Sangam texts (Purananuru 43, Tirumurugarrup padai- 107 and Silappadhikaram 12). What is referred to in those texts is the company of Mitra, Varuna and Aryaman along with the sun who take 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 Silappadhikaram verse as “avippali” – ‘havis’. The accompanying sages accept Havis, is what is conveyed in the Tamil sources. Nowhere Valakhilyas were mentioned as travelling along with the Sun or accepting havis.


(To be concluded…)

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