#Kratu Rishi, another of the Saptarishis, is mentioned in Mahabharata as being a Prajapati in the Swayambhuva Manvantara. He is the desired son of Lord Brahma, having been born from Brahma’s hand. Kratu Rishi was the progenitor of 60,000 sons, who were collectively known as Valakhilyas. These sons were born to Kratu and his wife Santhati (Sannati), the daughter of Prajapati Daksha. (Bhagavat Purana)
Kratu Rishi had two sisters, Punya and Satyavati. He also took birth in Vaivasvata Manvantara due to Lord Shiva’s boon, but in Vaivasvata era he had no family. Kratu was also a son of Sage Kardama. He adopted Rishi Agastya’s son, Idhvaaha. He is considered to be one of the Bhargavas. In Matsya Purana, the name of Kratu Rishi’s mother is mentioned as being Poulami.
Rishi Kratu is also known as one of the Viswadevas, comprised of: Kratu, Daksha, Vasu, Satya, Kaalakama, Muni, Kuraja, Manuja, Beeja and Rochaman. Further details on his ancestry will follow in a later segment.
The Sanskrit term ‘kratu’ refers to Vedic ritual. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna states, ‘I am the ritual, the sacrifice’. Although Rishi Kratu is not specifically named in the sloka or purport, Bhagavad-gita 9.16 is often mentioned with respect to krathu:
aham kratur aham yajnah
svadhaham aham ausadham
mantro ‘ham aham evajyam
aham agnir aham hutam
aham — I; kratuh — Vedic ritual; aham — I; yajnah — smrti sacrifice; svadha — oblation; aham — I; aham — I; ausadham — healing herb; mantrah — transcendental chant; aham — I; aham — I; eva — certainly; ajyam — melted butter; aham — I; agnih — fire; aham — I; hutam — offering.
“But it is I who am the ritual, I the sacrifice, the offering to the ancestors, the healing herb, the transcendental chant. I am the butter and the fire and the offering.
The Vedic sacrifice known as jyotistoma is also Krsna, and He is also the maha-yajna mentioned in the smrti. The oblations offered to the Pitrloka or the sacrifice performed to please the Pitrloka, considered as a kind of drug in the form of clarified butter, is also Krsna. The mantras chanted in this connection are also Krsna. And many other commodities made with milk products for offering in the sacrifices are also Krsna. The fire is also Krsna because fire is one of the five material elements and is therefore claimed as the separated energy of Krsna. In other words, the Vedic sacrifices recommended in the karma-kanda division of the Vedas are in total also Krsna. Or, in other words, those who are engaged in rendering devotional service unto Krsna are to be understood to have performed all the sacrifices recommended in the Vedas.”
(Bhagavad-gita As It Is 9.16)
The story of Kratu Rishi’s service to Lord Brahma as progenitor of the races involves a pastime with Rudra (Lord Shiva). Kratu received the title of Pashupati after punishing Prajapati Brahma for his sin activities.
Rudra inherited the role as the lord of beasts, wild and tame, including domestic cattle (pasus) and beasts of the forests (mrgas). In this context, pasu designates primarily the domestic animals or cattle used as sacrificial beasts in yagna, and those regarded as possessions.
The demigods had divided the beasts among themselves, but they excluded Rudra. Rudra therefore wished to kill them. When he was about to kill Prajapati, Prajapati promised to make him Pasupati (lord of the beasts), so Rudra refrained from killing him.
When the demigods then proceeded to perform a sacrifice without Rudra, he attacked them. During the attack, he knocked out the teeth of Pusana, took out the eyes of Bhaga, and severed the two testicles of Kratu. All the demigods who were reduced to the condition of beasts then went pleading to Rudra, but he said in anger, “You have not given me a share of the sacrifice, though I was created before these gods, and because of this I have deprived them of their knowledge and deformed them.” They continued praising and trying to appease him, so Rudra said, “Let all of you be beasts and I will be your Lord, and then you will obtain release”.
The gods agreed to this, thus Rudra became lord of the beasts, Pasupati. He then restored Pusana’s teeth, Bhaga’s eyes, and Kratu’s testicles. (Maitreya Samhita 4.2.12)
It was after Kratu’s testicles were restored that he married Daksha’s daughter Sannati, whose name means ‘humility’. They gave birth to 60,000 sons, known as the Valakhilyas (or Balakhhiyas). While great in number, their progeny were all pigmy sages, no bigger than the joint of the thumb.
According to Brahmanda Purana, when the world was created from the cosmic egg, the Saptarishis came into being. This purana also accounts for the 60,000 sons of Rishi Kratu. The Balakhhiyas are described as being chaste, pious, and as resplendent as the rays of the sun. All were brahmacharis and students of the Vedas. We will discuss them further in our next segment.
Kratu and Sannati are also said to have a daughter Punya (also the name of Kratu’s sister) and a daughter-in-law, Parvasa.
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 Mahabharatareference 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 Mahabharataand 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 yajna 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.
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