The classic Indian epics, such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and the Puranas, refer to diverse kinds of beings, describing them as superhuman or subhuman and other worldly extraterrestrials came to inhabit the living world. Many of these tribes have a strong historical basis, while the supernatural and fantastic aspects are considered literary speculation. These groups include Gandharvas, Yakshas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas, Rakshasas, Nagas, Suparnas, Vanaras, Vidyadharas, Valakilyas, Pisachas, Rudras, Adityas, Danavas, Maruts, Nivatakavachas, Daityas, Kalakeyas and Vasus.

Mythological beings or humans?

From an historical point of view, these exotic tribes simply may have been tribes that did not interact frequently with mainstream culture so that knowledge of them was very limited, which spurred the invention of fables about them.

In any case, Hindu religious texts describe these tribes as having a profound influence on Hindu culture, but remaining separate from said culture, perhaps due to their geographic isolation from the rest of the world. The texts describe the tribes' bases as ranging from high mountains (such as the Yaksas and Rakshasas) to deep forests (such as the Vanaras), or they were civilizations beyond the mainstream Indian civilization (as with the Devas and Asuras) which prevailed in the plains of Saraswati, Sindhu and Ganges.


Main article: Gandharva

Gandharvas are described as fierce warriors who could challenge even the great Kshatriya warriors. They were also skilled in art, music and dance. Some Gandharva tribes were allied with the Devas and sometimes with Yakshas. They inhabited the land to the north of Kailasa, close to the Deva territories. Later they might have spread to the Saraswati river (seen by Balarama during his pilgrimage over Saraswati). The Ramayana mentions a Gandharva kingdom named Sailusa near the mouth of the river Ganges.


Main article: Yaksha Kingdom or Yaksha

Nairruti on man

Kubera on man - king of Yakshas

The Yaksas were a tribe living in the area surrounding the Kailasa range of the Himalayas. Their king, Vaisravana or Kuvera, was a worshipper of Siva whose abode is thought to be Kailasa.

According to Ramayan Kubera established or rebuilt the kingdom of Lanka (now known as Sri Lanka) and inhabited with Yaksa people. Later on Kuber's step brother Ravana (they had same father Vaishravas) took over Sri Lanka, upon their father's request Kuber moved to the region near Kailasa mountain in Himalayas.

In another passage in Mahabharata, there is a mention of Pandava brothers Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva drinking from a pond, governed by a Yaksha. They become unconscious after drinking the pond water. Then the eldest brother Yudhishtira answers the Dharma related questions asked by Yaksha and gets back his brothers' life back.


The Kinnaras are a tribe often spoken of along with the Gandharvas and Yaksas. The epic Mahabharata and the Puranas describe, regions north to Himalayas as the abode of Kinnaras. Kinnaras litrally means "What strange men!" in Sanskrit. Sometimes, it also used as a respectable term for the third gender humans. They were exceptional in arts and music, though they are also considered to be physically very powerful and beautiful. Arjuna in Mahabharata was cursed to become a Kinnara for last year of the Pandavas exile.

There is now a district named Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh which is thought to be the domain of the Kinnara tribes. People of this district call themselves as Kinnaurs.

Puranas mention about an Asura with a horse head, who was known as Hayagrīva (which in Sanskrit means the horse headed one; Haya = horse and grīva = Neck) This Asura was killed by an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who took the similar form of a horse headed human figure. In Egyptian sculptures also we see horse headed figures or warriors employing an elongated face mask, which resemble the head of a horse.

This region was also the abode of a tribe of people called Kambojas. They were fierce warriors skilled in horse ride and horse warfare. Some of them were robber tribes who invaded village settlements, by raiding them using their skilled cavalry forces.


Kimpurushas were described to be lion faced beings. They were often mentioned along with the Kinnaras and the other exotic tribes. Some Puranas consider Kinnaras and Kimpurushas as same while Mahabharata contains passages where Kinnaras and Kimpurushas were considered as two separate groups.


This painting depicts Kumbhakarna, brother of Ravana

This painting depicts Kumbhakarna, brother of Ravana

Rakshasas were described to have large bodies, probably due to their continuous life in cold climates over snow-covered mountains.

There is a highly speculative hypothesis based on the genographic project that many species of humans coexisted, all of them in a culturally evolved state.[1] Rakshasas could be one of these species of humans (like the Neanderthals of Europe and other places in Asia where temperature was very low, like the Himalayan region) reduced to small pockets like the high Himalayas and cool mountains of Srilanka, with their social networks steadily shrinking.

Another view is that Rakshasas were normal humans who followed a certain religious way (Vyam Raksham, Aggression and Protection of spiritual life) as opposed to Yakshas (Vyam Yaksham, enjoyment and pleasure ignore spiritual pursuits) and normal or middle path vedic people or even nagas (snake worshippers). There were several other such religious groups aka Dasas ("service and submission", Divodasa and Sudas are called Aryan emperors and even heroes of Rigveda) whose religious beliefs were different. Many times entire tribes or localities were painted with names.

Famous Rakshasas

Ravi Varma-Ravana Sita Jathayu

Ravi Varma-Ravana Sita Jathayu

Ravana was the most famous Rakshasa in Ancient India, who ruled from the Trikuta mountains Sri Pada of Lanka where the climatic conditions were similar to Himalayas. He rose to the status of an emperor who exerted his direct control from Srilanka up to the south of Vindhya ranges in India, and indirectly the kingdoms beyond. Ghatotkacha was a Rakshasa born of the Pandava Bhima and the Rakshasa woman Hidimba. Rakshasa Ghatotkacha's kingdom was in Himalaya between Gangotri and Kailasa. The forefathers of Ravana also lived here along with the Yakshas. The Yaksha king Vaisravana was the elder brother of Rakshasa king Ravana. Ravana had many sons among Gandharva wives. The two epics Mahabharata and Ramayana and many Puranas attest that Rakshasas, Yakshas and Gandharvas were related and had inter-marriages.

The famous Rakshasa kingdoms in India were

  1. Lanka Kingdom, ruled by Rakshasa emperor Ravana
  2. Danda Kingdom ruled by Khara, Ravana's general
  3. Rakhasa Ghatotkacha's kingdom in the Himalayas
  4. Other kingdoms in the Himalayas


Main article: Naga Kingdom or Nāga

Battle between Arjuna's son Babhruvahana and the Nagas

Battle between Arjuna's son Babhruvahana and the Nagas Razmnama, c. 1598

Nagas were a group of people spread throughout India during the period of the epic Mahabharata.The demi-god tribe called Suparnas (in which Garuda belonged) were arch-rivals of the Nagas. The Naga clans in Kerala and Kashmir seems to be the original and indigenous abode of all of them. Places like Thiru-Ananatha-Puram in Kerala and Anantnag in Kashmir attests these to be true.

  1. The Great Serpent Ananta was the first among all the Naga kings. Thiru-Anantha-Puram is known as the adobe of Great Serpent Ananta. References are found as Kerala was mentioned as Patala the Nether world in far ancient history.[2] The Nair clan is known as the descendants of Great Serpent Ananta.
  2. The second Naga chief Vasuki had the kingdom near Kailasa (hence the connection of Vasuki with lord Siva).
  3. The third chief Takshaka, in Takshasila both not far from Anantnag. Takshashila is named after Taksh, son of Bharat and nephew to Ram. His brother Pushkar founded Pushkalvati modern Peshawar, they were not nagas. Bharat defeated Gandharvas who had killed his uncle and his sons established their rule over Gandharva kingdoms, Gandhara. Takshaka lost his kingdom of Khandava and may have taken Gandhara for Nagas post Mahabharata but finally lost it to Janamjeya.
  4. The kingdoms of other Nagas like Karkotaka and Airavata (near Iravati River (Ravi, one among the five rivers of Punjab) were also not far away.
  5. The Kingdom of Aryaka was on Ganges. His greatgrandchildren included Krishna and Pandavas.

Nagas had kingdoms in Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh. Arjuna's wife Ulupi was from one of such Naga kingdom (in Gangetic Plain) Arjuna's another wife Chitrangada who also was known to Ulupi was from Manipur located in Northeastern India. There are now many Naga worshiping places in South India, especially in Andhra Pradesh, coastal Karnataka and Kerala.

Naga race was almost exterminated by Janamejaya, the Kuru king in Arjuna's line, who conducted the massacre of Nagas at Takshasila. This massacre was stopped by Astika, a Brahmin whose mother was a Naga (Vasuki's sister Jaratkaru).


Brooklyn Museum - Vishnu on Garuda

Vishnu swoops down from heaven on an eagle named Garuda, who has four arms in this image, two of which hold vessels that probably contain the nectar of immortality.

The Suparnas (also known as Garudas) were probably the falcon worshippingor falcon rearing tribes who conquered the Naga territories of north west India. They were arch-rivals of the Nagas. Garudawas a famous Suparna. They had the ability to fly in air without using an aircraft. Some literature tells that they had wings like those of angels Some believe that they were birds like the hawk or eagle. Some think that they were a race of intelligent dagons in the family of dinosaurs, that became extinct during the dawn of human civilizations. Yet another view is that Nagas and Garudas were the two rival factions of the same tribe. Mahabharata also support this view since it describes the two races originating from two mothers who were sisters.


Sampati's Find

Sampati meeting with Vanaras painted by Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi

Vanaras were a tribe who dwelled within dense forests. During the time of Ramayana, the central part of Indian peninsula was covered by a dense forest by the name Dandaka Forest. Most of the Vanaras lived in this dense forest. Kishkindha was their stronghold, that had sway among the whole of the Vanara tribes spread all over the Indian Subcontinent. It was situated in this forest, located now near the Tungabhadra river in Karnataka state of India. Some literature describes them as monkeys, some as apes.


  2. Swami Parmeshwaranand. Encyclopaedic dictionary of Purāṇas, Volume 3. p. 762. 
  • Mahabharata of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa
  • Mahabhagavata Purana of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa
  • Ramayana of Valmiki
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Exotic tribes of ancient India. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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