We are all familiar with the Chinese Monkey God, Sun Wukong, but we are not quite familiar with the Indian monkey god Hanuman. In fact, academics have for a long time been interested in finding out if there any connection between the two.
The figures of the Indian and Chinese gods have a very different origin. Sun Wukong is the monkey king in the Chinese novel “Journey to the West”. He was born atop the Huaguo mountains from an impregnated stone, “because of the wind, he changed into a stone monkey”. He possessed numerous magical powers such as change into 72 different forms or travel 108,000 miles in a single somersault, which led him to be known as the ‘monkey king’. Once he wreaked havoc in heaven and was suppressed by the Buddha under the Wuxing Mountain (mountain of the five elements). Later, Tathagata Buddha allowed him to accompany Monk Xuanzang during his journey to India, protecting him from monsters along the way. He later obtained the Buddhist sutras. He was known for “prevailing over the Buddha”.
Hanuman is the monkey god from the Indian epic “Ramayana”. He is the offspring of the Wind god and a female monkey. He too possessed great magical powers— changed his form, become invisible, flying miles in one jump. He once helped Prince Ram of the Indian kingdom of Ayodhya rescue his wife Princess Sita. The ten headed devil king Ravana kidnapped Sita from the forest, where she was in exile with Ram, and took her to Lanka island (modern day Sri lanka). Ram requested Hanuman to go look for her. Hanuman took a leap from the Mohengdela Mountain and flew between the straits between India and island of Lanka. Instantly he changed form into a leopard and sneaked into the devil King Ravana’s harem chamber. Sita, under house arrest, was sitting in front of the tree garden. He proceeded to change to his original form and present Sita with Ram’s ring and took her gems and message for Ram. Then he wreaked havoc in the garden and killed the guard but he was captured by demon King Ravana’s son. Demons wrapped his tail in cotton cloth, soaked it in oil and light it on fire. He then dragged his burning tail in the city and jumped from one place to the other, turning Lanka into the city of flames. After escaping from the city he joined Ram to lead the monkey army across the ocean to capture Lanka, killing the demon king and rescuing Sita.
In terms of their supernatural ability to change form, there are many similarities in both the monkey gods. In Hanuman’s case, when he was flying to Lanka island, he was once stopped by a mythical snake, a female demon called Sursa wanted to swallow him. He immediately shrunk his size and went into her stomach. On entering her belly he increased his size, almost bursting the belly. The demon then opened her mouth to lure him to come out but he once again shrunk his size and comes out from her right ear, ultimately killing the monster. In the “Journey to the West” Sun Wukong also has a similar plot where he also changes shape remarkably like Hanuman.
Are such similarities in the magical powers and the story of the two monkey gods a mere coincidence? Is there any relation between the Indian and Chinese monkey gods? This topic has attracted the interest of modern Chinese scholars in comparative India-China literature studies.
The Indian epic Ramayana was published between 3rd and 2nd century BCE The translated scrolls “Big Solemn Analects”, belonging to the Buddhist monk Kumarajiva from the 5th century BC, mention “Ramayana” but ancient Chinese texts have no mention of Ramayana. The author of the 16th century Jiajing period novel “Journey to the West” is rumored to be Wu Cheng en. Even though during Huai Government he recorded it as a ‘rich book’, it is still not possible to read “Ramayana”. In Wu Cheng en’s “Journey to the West”, the source for Sun Wukong’s character, according to Lu Xun’s speculation, could be “xiqu” and “Wu zhiqi” a water god who in Dayu’s myth is “shaped like a monkey”. China’s literary history community believes that Sun Wukong’s character from the “Journey to the West” directly originates from the “Tang Triptika scriptures and poetry”.
Where did the predecessor of Sun Wukong came from? In 1923, Hu Shi in doing research on “Journey to the West” guessed: “I always believed that this monkey with magical powers is not of local origin but it is imported from India, perhaps even Wu shiqi’s legend is also came out of Indian influence.” “In India’s oldest record ‘Ram’s Biography’ or ‘Ramayana’, Hanuman is considered a great Sage”. Hu shi hypothesizes that “China has been culturally in close communication with India for more than 1,000 years, countless Indians came to China, in this way a lot of Hanuman stories passed into the China. So I assume Hanuman is the foundation of the monkey monk.” Chen Yinke in “Journey to the West- Xuanzang disciple stories evolution” supported Hu’s view. Hanuman is the Hindu idol who along with Hinduism spread overseas. China’s Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou, Fujian Province also has a Yuan Dynasty stone with an inscription of “Monkey King Hanuman”. It can be considered to be circumstantial evidence for Hu shi’s ‘bold hypothesis’.
In the 1980’s Ji Xianlin translated the entire seven volumes of Ramayana and published them. He reconciled Hu shi and Lu Xun’s views and repeatedly said that “The connection between Sun Wukong and Ramayana’s Hanuman cannot be ignored; it will be futile to negate it. However, at the same time, it cannot be said that the author who developed Sun Wukong was the most innovative. The author combined India’s Hanuman and China’s mythical water goblins and added fantasy elements to create Su Wukong, a character who is courageous, brave and lively and loved by everyone”.
In 1986, Zhao Guohua, a student of Ji Xianlin (a Chinese linguist and Indologist) at the Chinese Academy of Social Science researching the origins of the Monkey King suggested the following conclusion: In the Journey to the West, Sun Wukong’s shape directly came from Xuanzang’s journey to India, which preceded Sun Wukong — it did not originate from China’s ancient legends or the story of China’s ancient monkeys and apes. Sun Wukong came from ancient buddhist scripts…which came be viewed as the predecessor to the Journey to the West. However, even if Hanuman was indeed the source for Sun Wukong, it was not a simple imitation. Instead, the information from the study of Indian culture was digested and assimilated and after that Su Wukong became a monkey god for the people of China.
Today most scholars accept Ji Xianlin’s point of view. But there is still no (definitive) conclusion regarding the connection between Sun Wukong and Hanuman, the two monkey gods. This opens up space in India-China comparative literature research studies