Quite a few places in South India are known by the name Udayagiri. It is not difficult to guess the reason and the meaning says it all. When the sun rises from behind a hill, it is natural to associate the sun rise with the hill, by naming it as Udayagiri. One can notice some strategic importance attached to the places known by the name Udayagiri. Udayagiri in Orissa is on the eastern sector of India, greeting the rise of the Sun from the eastern sea. The other Udayagiri is in Madhya Pradesh, located on the Tropic of Cancer – the northern most limit of Sun’s sojourn in the sky. This Udayagiri is supposed to be an astronomical observatory in ancient times.
There is yet another Udayagiri, but its location is not in India! Before exploring its location, let me bring to the notice of readers two references in Tamil texts that convinced me of an Udayagiri or a mountain from which sunrise was observed in pre-historic times as that was earmarked as the FIRST POINT of sunrise for the entire globe.
There is cross-reference to it in Valmiki Ramayana as the place where Sun appears first, before moving across the globe. In other words, this place was marked as the first location of sunrise for the entire globe by mankind even as early as 7000 years ago when Ramayana occurred. All these are discussed in this post.
Tamil Sources on Udayagiri.
(1) The first 6 lines of the 5th chapter of Silappadhikaram make some strange statement. It describes the sunrise at Pūmpuhār, the coastal town of pre-historic Cholas in South east India.
“The Sun appeared at the peak of ‘Udaya-māl’ by spreading its glowing rays to remove the blanket of darkness that covered the vast body of the ‘mainden-earth’ having the ocean of waves as her cloth, the mountains as her breast, the rivers coming down the mountains as ornaments of pearls and the clouds as her hair”
The description is about the expanse of earth. By locating a place associated with sunrise, it seems to suggest a specific location that was considered as the rising point of the Sun for the entire earth. The exact Tamil words in the highlighted part (above) are “Udaya-māl varai ucchi-th-thonri”. ‘Ucchi” means ‘on top of’, peak, pinnacle, zenith etc. ‘Varai’means both mountain and mountain-peak. By this it is clearly told that the Sun appeared on top of Udaya mountain.
Udaya-māl has two words ‘udaya’ meaning ‘rise’ and ‘māl’ which refers to Thirumāl, the Tamil word for Vishnu! The commentator of yore (named Adiyarkku Nallar) has mentioned this name (Udaya-māl) as Udayagiri!
Two features emerge from this verse: (1) Name of Vishnu implicit with the idea of sunrise and (2) the Sun reaching the peak of the mountain known as Udaya-māl or Udayagiri when darkness starts disappearing in Pūmpuhār. In other words, when the sun was at the peak of Udayagiri, it was dawn at Pūmpuhār! This can happen only is Udayagiri is located 90 degrees east of Pūmpuhār!
(2) The first verse of the ‘wake-up hymn’ (Tiruppalli Ezhucchi) composed by Thondaradi-p-podi Alwar, sung at every Vishnu temple in Tamilnadu, contains a similarly strange idea (as in Silappadhikaram). It begins,
“As the Sun reaches the peak (sikaram) of the eastern direction, thick darkness dissipated, with dawn appearing”
A peak is that which is the crowing point or the apex of something. Here the Alwar refers to the peak in the eastern direction or eastern section. This is same as the idea given in Silappadhikaram.
This Alwar lived many centuries after Silappadhikaram, which appeared around the turn of the Common Era. This means that for a definite period of 2000 years, people in Tamil lands have held an opinion that when sun reaches the peak of Udaya-māl or Udayagiri in the east, it is time for sunrise in Tamil lands.
A reading of the 40th chapter of the 4th Khanda of Valmiki Ramayana (henceforth VR) shows that this opinion was held throughout India, or rather in Jambu Dwiipa even as early as Ramayana times.
Udayagiri in Ramayana.
The Vishnu connection (that Silapapdhikaram says) is found in the verses of VR. In his description of the eastern sector of the earth, Sugreeva tells about the “Udaya Parvata” as the last stop in the east beyond which it is all West!! (VR 4.40. 54,55)
There is a peak called “Saumanasa” on the Udaya Parvata (VR 4.40.57)
“Earlier while treading the three worlds in the incarnation of Trivikrama, the Supreme Person Vishnu made His first foothold on that pinnacle Saumanasa, and the second on the pinnacle of Mt. Meru to tread the heavens”. (VR 4.40.58)
“The Sun is by far discernable in Jambu Dwiipa when he rises on this zenithal pinnacle Saumanasa, after he had circled the Jambu Dwiipa in a northerly route. (VR 4.40.59)
The actual words are “दृश्यो भवति” – it means appearing. The Sun appears in Jambu Dwiipa (India) when it reaches the peak of Saumanasa!
It is known from these verses that people of ancient Bharat (Jambu Dwiipa) had identified a place in the Far East, as the first place of dawn for the world. After the Sun had finished circling the earth through the north, it comes back and reaches the peak of Saumanasa.
The three steps of Vishnu are connected with movement of the Sun across the globe. The first step is at Saumanasa in South east part of the earth, when it is dawn in India. The second step is at Meru, the heavens. This is the top axis of the earth, indicating North Pole. The third step is not mentioned in VR, but reference to Trivikrama shows that it is about pushing Bali into nether lands, or in other words disappearance or darkness setting in (sun set)
This occurs 90 degrees west of India, which is currently held as Prime Meridian at Greenwich. That which signifies disappearance or submergence (of Bali) and the start of darkness as per Hindu Thought is now known as prime point of meridian divining the globe! The Ramayana verses establish the existence of this division of the globe for many millennia in the past. Similar division existing now could not have come on its own but as a residue of a forgotten knowledge that has its roots in India.
The third step of Vishnu corresponding with Prime Meridian which runs through Atlantic Ocean makes me wonder whether the land of Bali was the submerged Atlantis! The naming of a land as Netherlands in close proximity to the Prime Meridian also looks like a surprising element in the scheme of the third step of Vishnu pushing Bali into nether regions.
Tracing the route to Udayagiri in the East of the Globe.
One may wonder how the far-off places were known to the ancient people of India. The route given by Sugreeva shows that people of those days had gone far and wide and had explored many places of the earth in all directions. A notable feature is that the extent of such explorations was limited within the region of three steps of Vishnu. In other words from Pacific to Atlantic Ocean, the ancient people of India had travelled and acquired good knowledge of the topography, of the people while even settling down in some of those places. We will see proof of one such settlement in our exploration of the eastern sector guided by Sugreeva’s version.
Let me locate the regions in the east as per the description given by Sugreeva (VR 4.40).
The starting point is Kishkindha, in today’s north interior Karnataka.
To go to Eastern part of the globe from that location, one has to go to North India, cross the rivers such as Ganges and Sarayu; then cross Kosala and Magadha (present day Uttar Pradesh and Bihar); then reach Pundra and Anga. This shows the exit point is sea shore in the east. With that Jambu Dwiipa ends. To go beyond this region in the east one can go by mountaineering or hopping or by boating, says Sugreeva (VR 4.40.29). By such means one can reach Yava Dwiipa. This is Java as it was known in those days.
The description shows that people in olden days had gone over there through land or by sea. On crossing Yava Dwiipa one reaches Mount Shishira “which touches heaven with its peak, and which Devas and Danavas adore”. (VR 4.40.31)
This seems to be a reference to Mt Semeru, a variation of Mt Sumeru! (In any Dwiipa there will be a Sumeru, the great Mountain).
Sugreeva continues, “Then, having gone to the other coast of the ocean you reach River Shona, waters of which will be reddish with deep and speedy drift, and which is adored by Siddha s and Carana s.” (VR 4.40. 33).
The major river in Java is River Solo (look at the phonetic similarity with Shona mentioned by Sugreeva) which reaches the other side of the coast.
One can see River Solo in the above picture draining into the sea in the opposite coast of Mt Semeru.
Vessels on Solo River during colonial period.
River Solo was a massive river system in Sundaland before most parts of it were submerged under water following a rise in sea level post Ice Age. This river valley system was home of early man - known from the many fossil remains in this region. The most popular one is the “Java Man”. This goes to show that human civilization was present in this region for long even before the time of Ice Age. Some correspondence had happened between this region and India of olden times. This region was on the way to Further East.
After reaching the other shore where River Shona drained, one has to cross Plaksha Island, Ikshu Island and Shalmali Island. Today there is a chain of islands formed by Volcanoes in this region.
Shalmali Island needs special mention here as Sugreeva says that this is home to Garuda, the eagle, the vehicle of Vishnu!
With the currently available evidences, I can point out the region of Lapita pottery as part of Shalmali Dwiipa.
The region encircled by the red line is found to have produced specific type of pottery and housed a culture known as Lapita culture.
One of the archaeological finds from this region is a bowl having a picture that resembles Eagle or Garuda shaped altar of the Vedic culture.
Lapita Bowl/Face – Tarawa Atoll / Kiribati Photo – John Terrell / Lapita Gallery
The Garuda shaped Vedic altar is shown below for comparison.
The similarity between the above two cannot be ignored. All are looking at Europe for Vedic origins, but they are completely ignorant about the Southern hemisphere. How eagle like images are found in Lapita culture might completely shatter our current notions. The identification of a region in this part of the world as an abode of Garuda also upsets the current theories on Vedic origins. If Vishnu is coming from East as the Sun, Garuda can only be located in the east – that is, in the east of India. An early origin of Vedic Thought in the east of India is very much possible if we look at these hints from none other than Valmiki Ramayana.
Interestingly, Garuda appears in the culture of Anishinaabe , the indigenous people of Canada and Northern regions of the USA. Their Garuda emblem is like this:
The name Anishi-in Anishinaabe sounds very much Sanskrit - meaning ‘opposite of night / midnight’. This is nothing but morning or even mid-day – which is what we are discussing in this article – the mid-day at Udayagiri! It is possible that Anishinaabe people had their origins in this part of the globe.
In Sugreeva’s narration, the next region is described as having horrifying demons of the shapes and size of mountains, dangling upside down from the mountain peaks 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 spiting volcanoes of this region. The ocean of this region was described as Red sea (VR 4.40. 39) precisely because the hot, molten lava running down the volcanoes into the seas, gave an appearance of Red sea.
From there one can reach a milk ocean where a white mountain of colossal size named as Rishabha was situated. Sugreeva also mentions a lake called “Sudharshana” in this region. (VR 4.40.40-46)
This fits with Mt Puncak Jaya in Papua province. A research article ("Retreat of the Irian Jaya Glaciers from 2000 to 2002" ) says that “...While Puncak Jaya's peak is free of ice, there are several glaciers on its slopes, including the Carstensz Glacier, West Northwall Firn, East Northwall Firn and the recently vanished Meren Glacier in the Meren Valley (meren is Dutch for "lakes")
( Pic courtesy: http://www.easternsnow.org/proceedings/2004/kincaid_and_klein.pdf#search='meren%20glacier)
In olden days, this peak must have been glaciated, giving it whitish colour. The milky white ocean described by Sugreeva could refer to the white foams of the ocean drained by the melting glaciers of this mountain. The Meren valley housed a lake until recently, as known from the research.
After crossing Rishabha mountain, comes a very interesting description of “refulgent Fire in the form of Horse's Face that originated from the anger of Sage Aurasa” A kind of prophecy is also made by Sugreeva that “The victuals to that Fire is said to be that highly speedy waves of the ocean, together with all of the mobile and sessile beings of the world at the close of each Era.” (VR 4.40. 48-49)
What we call Pacific ring of fire is called as Fire in the form of Horse’s face - haya mukham.
This is how the Pacific Ring of Fire is depicted by National Geographic:
Comparison of this shape with the face of a horse in the figure below:
The similarity is something remarkable. The shape of this ring of Fire was already known to people in India and was known in Ramayana times.
Let me give the exact verse of Valmiki Ramayana here:
"There exists a fantastically refulgent Fire in the form of Horse's Face that originated from the anger of Sage Aurasa. The victuals to that Fire is said to be that highly speedy waves of the ocean, together with all of the mobile and sessile beings of the world at the close of each Era. (VR 4-40-48b, 49a).
“There the high squealing sounds of oceanic beings dwelling undersea are audible, and although they are capable ones, they are incapacitated on feeling Fire from the Horse Mouth as such they yell. (4-40-49b, c)
On the northern part of this soft water ocean the next landmark is mentioned. It is a mountain, a rocky mountain known as ‘Jaataruupa-shila’. It is here I had to struggle to get the right one, as Mt Bandai in Japan in the northern section of the Ring of Fire is known as a ‘rock ladder to the sky’ by the locals. It is an extinct volcano and the description of ‘Ananta’ sitting on top of it concurs with volcanic nature. (Ananta or snake is a personification of magma or lava. My article on this can be read here).
Further description of a three branched Palm tree -like image found on top of this mountain on a golden podium can be made out in this mountain.
However the description as Rocky Mountain seems not to fit with this as this mountain is made of volcanic eruption.
Moreover the next description of Sugreeva discourages me to identify this with Jaataruupa Shila. Sugreeva recognises this mountain as the eastern most one beyond which only Udaya giri is there. Anything beyond this is West.
Mt Bandai at 140 degree East does not fall within the description of eastern most point.
This mount is quite far away from Mt Rishabha (Mt Puncak Jaya) making it impossible to reach from Papua region. All along in the narration, there is a flow or continuity in the route. Wherever the travel had to be done by some mode, it has been mentioned. But in the absence of such descriptions, it is not possible to identify Mt Bandai with Jaataruupa Shila.
The reference to ‘north’ in the description led me to Mt Bandai. I decided to continue eastward from Mt Puncak Jaya, and reached Mount Wilhelm in Papua New Guinea.
Surprisingly it fulfils the description of Sugreeva as a Rocky mountain.
Mt Wilhelm is the highest one in Oceania including Australia and New Zealand. Beyond this located Udayagiri!
I could not collect any information for this mountain from internet sources that would match with the description of Ananta or Palm tree like appearance on its peak (that we could identify in Mt Bandai). But Udayagiri lies beyond this mountain in the east. In the absence of knowledge of other features, I was looking for better clues in the picture of Mt Wilhelm and happened to see the Landsat Picture of Mt Wilhelm released by NASA. (Pic below)
It shows the white topped Mt Wilhelm with Ramu River running behind it (shown by arrow mark in red)
The name Ramu in Ramu River is quite amazing. We have been tracing the route given in Ramayana and here we find a river by name Ramu! The Wikipedia article says, ‘For many millennia, people have lived along the river, and the river has formed the basis for food, transport, and culture’.
Ramu river shown in red.
In this region surrounded by water and volcanic eruptions, people had lived for many millennia – this is something astonishing unless people had attached some importance to this region.
One importance comes from identification of this place as the Land of Sunrise for the world. Not only that Ramayana recognises that land as the first step of Vishnu, Siddhas and Caranas were already mentioned to be occupying Java island. By the name Caranas, they are supposed to be wandering people. In the interest of witnessing sunrise or Vishnu Pada, it is possible to assume that people from India of Ramayana times had gone to this place and settled down on the banks of a river calling it after Rama and it became Ramu in course of time.
Once we have crossed Jaataruupa Shila, it is not difficult to identify Udayagiri. The foremost requirement is that it must be the eastern most region.
Taveuni (pronounced [taweuni]) islands of the Fiji group of islands lies exactly on the 180th degree. It is a cigar shaped island, lying to the east of Vanua Levu in such a way that the north east part of it is located at -179 degrees longitude while the south west part of it lies at +179th degree longitude!
There is a mountain by name Mount Uluigalau, the highest mountain in Taveuni rising to 1241 meters. The two parts of the name udaya and giri seems to have undergone changes with time and is pronounced as Ului-galau! Or is it Udaya gallu – the stone of sunrise in Tamil?
Sugreeva also says that there is a lake called Sudharshana Lake in this region. This lake gave the name Sudharshana Dwiipa to this place!
There is lake called Lake Tagimaucia occupying a volcanic crater. This is the biggest tourist attraction of Taveuni and Fiji islands.
Sugreeva calls the peak as Saumanasa on the Udayagiri mountain.
From his description:
"On the apex of that Mt. Sunrise there is another pinnacle with one yojana width and ten yojana-s height named Saumanasa, which is completely golden and very firm. [4-40-57]
"Earlier while treading the three worlds in the incarnation of Trivikrama, the Supreme Person Vishnu made His first foothold on that pinnacle Saumanasa, and the second on the pinnacle of Mt. Meru to tread the heavens. [4-40-58]
"The Sun is by far discernable in Jambu Dwiipa when he rises on this zenithal pinnacle Saumanasa, after he had circled the Jambu Dwiipa in a northerly route. [4-40-59]
"There the great-sages with nomenclature of Vaikhanasa-s and Vaalakhilyaa-s will come into view with an ambience of luminosity, for those ascetics will be with the resplendence of the Sun. [4-40-60]
Valakhilyas and Garuda in the eastern section of the globe.
The mention of Valakhilyas in Sugreeva’s narration reveals interesting leads. Valakhilyas are a set of rishis who are diminutive in stature due to strict penances of subsisting on air and sunrays. In as many as 3 places Mahabharata describes them so (MB 3.125, 9.43 & 13.115). They observed the vow of sanyasa, abstained from meat and took severe penances in such a way that they looked shrunk in size. The specific mention of them subsisting on sun rays lends credence to the idea that they very much liked to dwell in the region of first sunrise.
The next interesting lead is their connection with Garuda. According to Mahabharata it is they who gave the name Garuda to that bird (eagle). In Mahabharata 1.29 &30, there comes the story of Garuda carrying an elephant and a tortoise in its claws and landing on a huge tree in which Valakhilya rishis were hanging upside down, doing penance. When Garuda rose up from the tree, the tree shook by that impact and the branch where the Valakhilyas were hanging got broken. Noticing them, Garuda immediately held the branch on its beak in order to save them and flew again. The Valkhilyas still hanging down from that branch were surprised to see the might of the bird in carrying such a heavy load and gave the name ‘Garuda’, the bearer of weight!
Earlier in this article, we found the abode of Garuda to be Shalmali island, to the east of Java soon after crossing River Solo, the home of Java man. Valakhilyas were present in regions close to this or east of this. It was after the lifting episode by Garuda, the eagle, Valakhilyas had moved to Himavat, according to Mahabharata.
There is scope to think that Valakhilyas originally belonged to this part of the globe and were fond of greeting sunrise at Udayagiri.
Valakhilyas and Rig Vedas.
Valakhilyas have authored 11 hymns of the 8th Mandala of Rig Vedas. The 4th hymn by the Valakhilyas (96th in 8th Mandala of Rig Vedas) makes a mention of Vishnu making 3 steps – the description associated with global trot of the Sun, something known from Sugreeva’s description (RV 8.96.3).
Thus the two features, Garuda and Sun’s global trot identified with Vishnu’s 3 steps are associated with Valakhilyas, the short and lean rishis described as thumb sized ones. Their location in the region farther east of Java islands must be read along with another description found in Vishnu Purana.
Vishnu Purana does make a mention of Udaya giri, as a mountain in Saka Dwiipa! Saka Dwiipa had 7 varshas – some of whom ring familiar to Tamils. They are Kumara and Sukumara while the other five are Jalada, Manichaka, Kusumoda, Maudaki and Mahadruma.
The same is described by Mahabharata (6.11) as follows:
“ The Varsha of Meru is called Mahakasa; that of the water-giving Malaya is called Kumudottara. The Varsha of Jaladhara is called Sukumara: while that of Raivatak is called Kaumara; and of Syama, Manikanchana. The Varsha of Kesara is called Mandaki, and that called after the next mountain is called Mahapuman.”
Mahabharata also mention Kumari and Kaveraka as the rivers flowing there. The name Kaveri is traced Kaveraka, according to Tiruvalangadu copper plate inscriptions. The description in Mahabharata shows that there was a Kaveri or Kaveraka in an earlier abode of Tamil lands.
The 7 Varshas given in Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana are similar to the 7 divisions of lands of submerged Tamil lands. Two of them were known as Palai lands, perhaps due to presence of Palai tree. Palai tree is known as Saka tree in Sanskrit. The Saka Dwiipa got its name from the presence of Saka tree according to Mahabharata description!
Coming to the crucial information for this article, Udayagiri was one of the 7 mountains of this Saka Dwiipa! According to Vishnu Purana (2.4), “ The seven mountains separating the (seven) countries (of Saka Dweepa) were Udayagiri, Jaladhara, Raivataka, syama, ambikeya, Ramya, and Kesari”.
The entire region of these mountains and varshas were spread across Indian Ocean up to Pacific Ocean in the east. Udayagiri formed the eastern most part of this expanse. The memory of this eastern Udayagiri as the region of sunrise was there with Tamils until a 1000 years ago. The presence of Valakhilyas in that region has an imprint of a previous era of Vedic life before Manu entered Indian subcontinent.
The abode of Garuda identified in that region is another pointer to a pre-Rig Vedic evolution of Veda Dharma in the eastern part of the globe. That was the time of Daitya Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu who refused to accept the pre-eminence of Vishnu (Narayana) – perhaps the Vishnu concept was evolving at that time. It was during the times of Bali, the great grandson of Hiranyakashipu, the concept of Vishnu making three steps had come up. The beginnings of Vaivasvatha Manu must have been later to this.
Reserving all these for future articles, let me just conclude this article with an observation that Udayagiri in Fiji Islands was marked as the first point of sunrise as that was like a boundary in the east beyond which early mankind, particularly the Vedic people did not venture out to cross the vast seas. Udayagiri also formed the eastern most part of the Saka Dwiipa that was same as the regions occupied by early ‘Tamil speakers’. Their western most boundary was to the east of Madagascar and is now submerged. That will be taken up in another article where I will be discussing the presence of an olden Tirumalirum Cholai – founded and worshiped by Kon Nedumaran!
Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Mr Anil Sekhar, a reader of my blogs, for bringing to my notice Mt Uluigalau of Fiji islands as a probable location of Udayagiri.
Related articles (in Tamil):
சாகத்தீவும், குமரிகண்டமும் - 2 (மலைகளும்,நதிகளும்):- http://thamizhan-thiravidana.blogspot.in/2011/07/58-2.html