Sep 10, 2014 CANADA (SUN) A study of the famous Rishis and Munis of Vedic literature.
Some of the details of Kratu Rishi's lineage and role as Saptarishi during various Manvantaras was mentioned in our first segment. In particular, the fact that he was the progenitor of 60,000 thumb-sized sons. This is but one of many pastimes associated with Rishi Kratu that are mentioned throughout sastra.
To this day, Brahmana families claim their descent from one or another of the Saptarishis. As mentioned in an earlier segment, there are various lists of the Saptarishis, covering different ages, but those considered to be among the eight primary Saptarishis are also those identified with lines of Brahmana families: Bhrigu, Angiras, Marici, Atri, Vasistha, Pulastya, Pulaha and Kratu.
Among these eight Rishi lineages, there are a few divisions corresponding to their progeny. The last three Rishis on this list are said to have not produced true Brahmin stock:
Pulastya was the progenitor of the Raksasas, Vanaras, Kinnaras and Yaksas
Pulaha was the progenitor of the Kimpurusas, Pisacas, goblins, lions, tigers and other animals
Kratu, according to some accounts, had no wife and remained celibate. There are other accounts (no doubt referring to his different births) in which his fatherhood of the pygmy Valakhilyas with wife, Sannati are mentioned.
The Maysya Purana provides detailed information on gotra parva nirnaya, which determines the gothras, vamshas and ancestry of the human races. By tracing the lineage downwards from Agni, we find that Kratu is mentioned under Agastya:
"The illustrious Agasthya -- who dried up the Ocean to kill Danavas, who got Vindhya bent down till date enabling Surya Deva to follow his course of movement around the Universe, and over-smarted Demon Vaataapi by digesting him for ever -- had an equally famed progeny including Karambha, Kousalya, Shakat, Sumedha, Mayobhuva, Gandharakayana, Poulastya, Poulaha and Kratuvamshotpanna. Their Pravara was Agastya, Mahendra and Mayobhava."
As Maharshi Kratu was childless, he adopted Agastya's son, Idhvaaha (Idhmavaaha). Thereafter, the lines of Kratu and Agasthya vamshas became unified.
Given Kratu Rishi's fame for being progenitor of 60,000 pygmy sons, we return now to complete that story, offering a few narrations of this pastime. The first is from the Astika Parva 30, Adi Parva of the Mahabharata, which tells the story of how Garuda saved Kratu's 60,000 rishi sons:
"Sauti said, 'At the very touch by Garuda of great might with his feet, the branch of the tree broke as it was caught by Garuda. Casting his eyes around in wonder he saw Valakhilya Rishis hanging therefrom with heads downwards and engaged in ascetic penances. Reflecting that if that bough fell down, the Rishis would be slain, the mighty one held the elephant and the tortoise still more firmly with his claws. And from fear of slaying the Rishis and desire of saving them, held that bough in his beaks, and rose on his wings. The great Rishis were struck with wonder at the sight of that act of his which was beyond even the power of the gods, and gave that mighty bird a name. And they said, 'As this ranger of the skies rises on its wings bearing a heavy burden, let this foremost of birds having snakes for his food be called Garuda (bearer of heavy weight).'"
Garuda, being instructed by his father, Kasyapa Rishi, took great care in delivering Kratu Rishi's sons to safety. His father warned him to take care with this task, because "The Valakhilyas, supporting themselves by drinking the rays of the Sun, might, if angry, blast thee.'
Accomplishing the task, Garuda was blessed with great strength by virtue of the great penances performed by the Valakhilyas. The 60,000 tiny rishis then took themselves to the sacred Himavat mountain, to continue their tapas.
There is another interesting account of Kratu Rishi's sons, the Valakhilya Rishis, as given in Tamil literature. These accounts expand upon the Mahabharata reference to the tiny rishis 'supporting themselves by drinking the rays of the Sun'. The Valakhilyas are described as accompanying the sun in its daily travel in the sky. They serve to protect humanity by taking all the extra heat -- in effect, serving as the embodiment of what modern science describes as the 'ozone layer'. The tiny rishis are described as 'shining like brilliant lights because of their severe penance'.
There is an appendix to the eighth Mandala of Rig Veda that is known as the Valakhilya hymns. Some commentators have rejected them as interpolations, although many of the references mirror those found in Mahabharata and Ramayana.
In the ancient Tamil literature, it states that the Valakhilyas were born to Kratu and Kriya. Again, this is likely a reference to a different appearance of Kratu Rishi than that in which he was married to Daksha's daughter, Sannati.
The Tamil version, as summarized by author S. Swaminathan, states: "Once Kasyapa did a Yagna (fire sacrifice) to beget children. He invited all the Devas and Rishis to help him in the task. Everybody readily agreed. Mighty Indra, the King of Heaven, brought wood for the ceremony. Valakhilyas were emaciated due to severe penance. They were hardly able to lift anything but leaves. Even when they were moving leaves like ants, they fell into rain water puddles, because they were so tiny. It amused Indra and he laughed loudly. Valakhilyas were very much offended. They made a vow to do a separate yagna to create another Indra. When Indra listened to their vows he was afraid and ran to Kasyapa to explain what had happened.
Kasyapa lent a patient ear, but warned that he could not stop the powerful Valakhilyas. But he gave an assurance to Indra that he would find a compromise. When he met Valakhilyas he requested them to drop the yagna to create a new Indra. He also assured them that whoever they create will be the Indra of the birds and Valakhilyas agreed to this new plan.
After the yagna Valakhilya's prasad (food offering) was given to Vinata, one of the two wives of Kasyapa. She gave birth to two children Aruna and the most powerful golden-hued eagle, Garuda. Long after this Garuda flew to Indraloka to get Amrita and defeated Indra. The Second wife of Kasyapa Kadru gave birth to the Nagas or the Snake race. Garuda on his way back sat on the tree where Valakhilyas were doing penance. The tree broke into many branches, but Garuda lifted all the ascetics with the branch and put them in a safe place."
As Kratu Rishi himself is the mind-born son of Lord Brahma (manasa-putra), Rig Veda states that the Valakhilyas sprang from the hairs of Prajapati Brahma. Also known as Kharwas, they are the guardians of the Chariot of the Sun. Vishnu Purana thus describes them as pious, chaste and resplendent as the rays of the sun. Likewise, Tamil literature clearly states that the service of Kratu Rishi's small sons is that they absorb the excess heat from the Sun by travelling in front of him as he moves through the sky.