(Last Updated on : 07/04/2014)
The Indian Puranic age indicates the classic Indian epics such as the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas. During those days, there existed some exotic tribes, often described as superhuman or even subhuman. Narrations about these tribes are often mixed with mythology and fiction. These tribes include Gandharvas, Rakshasas, Yakshas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas, Pisachas, Nagas, Suparnas, Vidyadharas, Vanaras, Valikilyas, Devas (within them Vasus, Maruts, Rudras, Adityas) and Asuras (within them Daityas, Danavas, and Kalakeyas.)
The Indian Puranic tribes did not interact frequently interact outside their community. As a result little was known about them and this spurred the creation of fables about them. One point of view is that the Puranic tribes were mythological beings or still aliens from distant planets; this point of view usually assumes that the unique capabilities of such tribes, as described in classic literature, are accurate. The Puranic tribes could appear and disappear at will; they could also fly in air, with or without the use of an airborne vehicle. These tribes were powerful in various ways, they had the ability to change shape at will and could read the mind of people. They automatically came to know about the inhabited planets like the Earth and arrived here. These tribes could also influence natural forces. Such assumptions stemmed from the fact that the Puranic tribes were well known for their vigour and their history is steeped in the myths and legends.
The Indian Puranic tribes had profound influence on the Vedic culture, but somehow remained detached from the mainstream. One reason for this may be due to their geographic isolation from the rest of the world. The tribes' settlement areas ranged from high mountains (Yaksas and Rakshasas) to deep forests (such as the Vanaras). The civilizations did not reach beyond the mainstream Indian civilization (as with the Devas and Asuras) that prevailed in the plains of Saraswati, Sindhu and Ganga.
Some of the Indian Puranic tribes are as follows -
- They are described as severe warriors who could challenge even the great Kshatriya warriors. This group was also skilled in art, music and dance. Some Gandharva tribes were associated with the Devas and sometimes with Yakshas. They occupied the land to the north of Kailasa, close to the Deva territories. The name Gandharva could have been derivative from the name Gandhara, since they might originally dwelled in the unreachable mountains of the Gandhara Kingdom. Later it is said that they have spread to the Saraswati river and mythology say that Balarama saw this incident during his pilgrimage over Saraswati. The Ramayana mentions about a Gandharva kingdom named Sailusha near the mouth of the river Ganga.
- These were a tribe populating the area surrounding the Kailasa range of the Himalayas. Their king, Vaisravana or Kuvera, has been a worshipper of Siva whose abode is considered to be Kailasa. According to Ramayan, Kubera established or rebuilt the kingdom of Lanka (presently Srilanka) and thus the Yaksa people started to live there. Later on Kuber's stepbrother Ravan (they had same father Vishrava) took over Sri Lanka, upon their father's decision and Kuber moved to the region near Kailasa Mountain in Himalayas.
- This tribe is often associated with the Gandharvas and Yakshas. The epic Mahabharata and the Puranas narrates that north Himalayas is the abode of Kinnaras. The Puranas say about an Asura with a horse head, who was known as Hayagr?va, it means in Sanskrit the horse headed one; Haya (horse) and griva (head). This Asura was killed by an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who took up the similar disguise of a horse headed human figure. In Egyptian sculptures also we see horse headed figures or warriors utilizing a lengthened face mask, which look like the head of a horse.
This region was also the domicile of a tribe of people called Kambojas. These tribal people were fierce warriors accomplished in horse ride and horse combat. Some of them were burglar tribes who invaded village settlements, by looting them using their skilled cavalry forces. The legend of Kinnaras probably came from these brutal warrior tribes, who terrorized the Vedic settlements. There is now a district called the Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh or the domain of the Kinnara tribes. Inhabitants of this district call themselves as Kinnaurs.
- These tribal groups were described to be lion faced beings. They were often mentioned along with the Kinnaras and the other tribes of the Puranic age.
- They were described to have large bodies, usually because of their continuous lifestyle in cold climates over snow-covered mountains. Rakshasas reduced to small pockets and started to reside in the high Himalayas and cool mountains of Srilanka, with their social networks gradually decreasing. Rakshasas were normal humans who followed a certain religious way that is the Vyam Raksham that opposed to Yakshas. There were several other such religious groups among the Puranic tribes like Dasas whose religious beliefs were different. As Vedic Hinduism slowly moved over the other ways or paths, they got assimilated and became Brahmins who started naming underdeveloped or savage tribes with names like Rakshasas, Dasyu and many more.
Ravana was the most famous Rakshasa in ancient India and ruled from the Trikuta Mountains of Lanka where the climatic conditions were very similar to the Himalayas. Ravana had many sons among Gandharva wives. Ghatotkacha was a Rakshasa born to Bhima and the Rakshasa woman Hidimbi; Rakshasa Ghatotkacha's kingdom was in Himalaya between Gangotri and Kailasa. Some of the famous Rakshasa kingdoms in India were Lanka Kingdom, ruled by Rakshasa emperor Ravana; Danda Kingdom ruled by Khara, Ravana's general; Rakhasa Ghatotkacha's kingdom in the Himalayas and some more minor kingdoms in the Himalayas.
- They are a group of tribal people spread throughout India during the period of the epic Mahabharata. The demi-god tribe known as Suparnas, (in which bird God Garuda belonged) that were archrivals of the Nagas. Naga Ananta, also known as Sesha and Adi-Sesha was the first among all the Nagas. The Nagas had kingdoms in Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh. Arjuna's wife Ulupi belonged to one of such Naga kingdom in Gangetic Plain and Arjuna's second wife Chitrangada also belonged to Ulupi and was from Manipur. She hailed from a Dravidian tribe. Even presently, there are now many Naga worshiping places in South India, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Naga race was almost exterminated by Janamejaya, the Kuru king in Arjuna's line, who conducted the massacre of Nagas at Takshasila. Astika stopped this massacre who was a Brahmin and son of a Naga (Vasuki's sister Jaratkaru).
- The Suparnas, also known, as Garudas were probably the Falcon worshipping Iranians who conquered the Naga territories of northwest India. Suparnas were arch-rivals of the Nagas. Garuda was a famous Suparna and they possessed the ability to fly in air without using an aircraft. Some literature tells that they had wings like that of Angels, while some believe that they were birds like the hawk or eagle. Another view found in the Purana manuscripts is that Nagas and Garudas were the two rival factions of the same tribe and the Indian epic Mahabharata also support this view since it clearly differentiates the two races originating from two mothers who were sisters.
- They were a tribe who lived within dense forests. During the time of Ramayana, a dense forest covered the central part of Indian peninans by the name Dandaka Forest. Most of the Vanaras dwelled in this dense forest. Kishkindha was their stronghold that had influence among the whole of the Vanara tribes spread all across the Indian Subcontinent. This kingdom was situated in this forest, located now near the Tungabhadra River in Karnataka state of India. Some literature describes them as monkeys or apes.