In Valmiki Ramayana, the Vanaras are described as a tribe that assisted Rama in conquering the King of Lanka, Ravana. Due to TV shows where the Vanaras are depicted as a tribe of Chimps, many people take it for granted that the Vanaras were a tribe of Chimps. For this reason, it is nearly impossible for a modern Hindu to imagine a Ramayana without a loyal army of Chimps (i.e. Vanaras) aiding Rama. For this reason, some Hindus date the Ramayana to dates as early as 2 million BCE, when there was no human civilization. I guess blind faith allows people to reject logic and reason and enter the world of fantasies where the only authentic source of information is that from their religious texts. No?
However, is this really the case? Were the Vanaras really Chimps, as commonly believed? This post will attempt to refute the claims that the Vanaras were a tribe of Chimps, and show that they were instead a tribe of Humans. To do so, thewill be analyzed.
I have come across many Hindus that have claimed that the Vanaras were Chimps, whereas others have said that due to longer tails, the Vanaras must have been the common ancestors of Humans and Chimps. I refuse to believe such claims, because it is not scientifically possible for the common ancestor of Humans and Chimps to have the kind of intelligence that was showed by the tribe of Vanaras in the Ramayana. Have we come across any tribe of pre-Human/Chimp Apes that were able to converse in Human language or had intelligence of the level that a Human would? The answer is NO. Research has found that Mature Apes have less intelligence than even 2.5 year old Human Toddlers. The researchers found the 2.5 year old Human Toddlers to perform better than the Apes in Social Cognition, which was defined by Cognitive Scientist Joesph Call as thinking based on interaction with others.
In Ramayana, the Vanaras did not possess Social Cognition inferior to 2.5 year old Human Toddlers. For example, how can we forget the way Hanumana decided to enter Lanka at night so he does not get caught by the Rakshasas? How can we forget how Hanumana was overly conscious of Ravana and hid from him to prevent being caught prior to finding Seetha in Lanka? How can we forget the way Hanumana introduced himself to Seetha, by praising Rama and narrating Rama’s life story, so that Seetha does not react in a negative way upon first seeing him? Had Seetha reacted in a negative way by screaming, the Rakshasii protectors of Seetha would have captured Hanumana prior to Hanumana interacting properly with Seetha and taking her message to convey to Rama! Furthermore, how can we forget the decision of Hanumana to assess Ravana’s army strength by destroying the Ashoka Grove and provoking Ravana’s army to attack him? How can we forget the decision of the Vanaras to burn the palace of Ravana in the war, and thereby force the Rakshasa warriors to leave their defenses (in an attempt to save their lives from the fire) and fight the Vanaras in open, without the protection of their great palace? These decisions reflect intelligence greater than that of a 2.5 year old infant. For these reasons, calling the Vanara tribe a common ancestor of Humans and Chimps is incorrect. It is also very insulting to any Human tribe to call them animals!
The intelligence of the aformentioned decisions of the Vanaras suggest that they were indeed human. Furthermore, the Vanaras could speak Human Language, which is not possible for Apes to speak as their vocal cords cannot close fully, thereby resulting in less control over the tongue and lower jaw. This again suggests that the Vanaras were Humans and not Apes. So the Vanaras were a human tribe. The tribe name Vanara means forest dwellers, is derived from the two Sanskrit words Vana and Nara:
Vana = Forest
Nara = Men
Vana + Nara = Forest Men/Forest Dweller
That being said, many Hindus might find an obvious problem with this conclusion, as the Vanaras in Ramayana were described as having a tail. How can Humans have tails? Well one thing to keep in mind is that only male Vanaras had tails, not the female Vanaras. This should get us thinking on what the “Vanara tail” could in fact mean or represent.
Most of the time in the epic, whenever tail is mentioned, the Sanskrit word used is लाङ्गूलम् (laaGguulam), which means both “penis” and “tail”. The translators often translate it as tail, and are unable to explain why the female Vanaras lack this “tail” (लाङ्गूलम्). However, if we translate it as penis, it makes thing alot less complicated. It is not possible for females to have this “male sex organ”, hence the females were not described in the epic as having this लाङ्गूलम्. At other times in the epic, the word पुच्छम् was used. Although it can be translated as “tail”, it also means “last or extreme end”. This second translation fits in with the translation of “penis” as the penis is an extremity of the human body.
This suggests that the so-called “tail” of the Vanaras was actually their penis. That is why female Vanaras don’t have this body part. Furthermore, in my reading of Valmiki Ramayana, I have never came across of Vanaras wearing a lower body garment. For example, when Hanumana is crossing the sea to reach Lanka, Valmiki says:
स्फिग्देशेनाभिताम्रेण रराज स महाकपिः।।5.1.63।।
महता दारितेनेव गिरिर्गैरिकधातुना।The great monkey with copperred buttocks (other parts being dark) looked splendid like a cleft mountain with a huge deposit of minerals shining red.Sundara Kanda Section 1
We can see in the verse above how the color of Hanumana’s buttocks are described. The poet would only be able to describe this if Hanumana’s bare buttocks were uncovered and visible to see. This suggests that Hanumana was not wearing a lower garment. That also explains why Valmiki was able to describe Hanumana’s penis (लाङ्गूलम्) in that section:
आनुपूर्व्येण वृत्तं च लाङ्गूलं लोमभिश्चितम्।
उत्पतिष्यन् विचिक्षेप पक्षिराज इवोरगम्।।5.1.33।।Like the king of birds Garuda would shake a serpent, he shook his tail covered with hair in order to take off.Sundara Kanda Section 1
The only time I remember when the Vanaras wore a lower garment was the fight between Vali and Sugriva, where the former lost his life.In that fight, there is no mention of any penis (लाङ्गूलम्), most likely because the loincloth the two Vanaras tied, covered that body part. Furthermore, how is it possible to tie a loincloth, tight enough for a hand to hand encounter, that holds a long body part such as a tail? This is another hint that the लाङ्गूलम् of the Vanaras was their penis, not their tail.
In Valmiki Ramayana, it is also mentioned that the लाङ्गूलम् (penis) of the Vanaras was very long. So then the question arises of how we can explain their long length. My explanation for this is that the “long length” that is emphasized is a figure of speech, a hyperbole, employed by the poet to show the manly vigor, and virility (वीर्य) of the male Vanaras. In this case, the penis, the male sex organ is a representation of manliness, and a longer one can be taken to represent intensified manly vigor and virility. Ravana’s attempt to deform this लाङ्गूलम् (penis), via burning, was an attempt to suppress Hanumana’s manly vigor and virility he had earlier shown in terrorizing the Ashoka Grove and raping Rakshasa tribe females in Lanka.
This is not the first time exaggerations have been used in epics. For example, the physical strength of warriors such as Bhima has been exaggerated to that of 10 000 elephants in an attempt to show Bhima’s manly prowess.
One final point I would like to address is that sometimes the word “कपि” is used to describe Hanumana. कपि is a sanskrit word meaning monkey/ape. So this is an obvious discrepancy, right?
We have to keep in mind that the poet of Valmiki Ramayana was a person that lived his life in North India, and had most likely never seen the Southern region of India, including the Vanara tribes in Kishkindha. His description is therefore based on accounts by people that have visited those tribes. The description of the Vanara tribe would be of a tribe that roams naked and whose mannerisms differ greatly from the Aryan norm. For that reason, such a tribe would have been depicted as animal-like, hence the use of the word कपि (monkey/ape) to describe its members. That is also why these Aryan poets have depicted Naga (meaning “naked”) tribes as snakes, and Rakshasa tribes as cannibalistic demons. This is simply propaganda by the Aryans, or to put it bluntly, “pure racism”. Rama grew up in this Aryan-centric society and hence inherited this racism. This can explain his extreme aggression towards the Rakshasas and his sub-human treatment of them. It also explains why he justified the killing of Vali by likening him to an animal that a kshatriya has the right to hunt, both with and without deceit.
That being said, if we separate the racism of the poet, and the pre-concieved notions of the translators of the epic (of Vanaras being monkeys), we would notice that the Vanaras were infact a tribe of forest dwellers, with different culture than the Aryan Culture. That explains how they “shamelessly” went around naked in public, something that the Aryans abhorred. They also had a matriarchal system of inheritance, which was quite different than what was common up in the North.