At the Delhi Book fair organized last month, the guest of honor from China received a warm welcome. Among the attractions, attendees were not as intrigued by the famous authors who came there for book signing, as by the portrait of Indian and Chinese monkey gods- Eastern Tang’s Sun Wukong and India’s Hanuman. Due to visitors’ curiosity to know about the origin of the two monkey gods, a journalist replied “they are the most important monkeys of their respective countries”.
With respect to the monkey cultural origins, there are indeed a lot of similarities between the two. Sun Wukong is the protagonist from the Chinese classic “Journey to the West”. Hanuman is the hero figure from the Indian epic “Ramayana”; he was the hero Ram’s most faithful servant and a competent warrior. From the ancient Pali language and Sanskrit to all the present day Indian languages, there is mention of the monkey god Hanuman everywhere. This Global Times reporter once asked an Indian friend if it is possible to count the number of temples dedicated to Hanuman in India. His friend gave him a big laugh and replied “I live in Varanasi (India’s famous holy city), in that city alone there are countless hanuman temples, let alone all of India.”
Recently, Spring Festival mascot “Kan Kan” has received a lot of praise online. This Global Times reporter had his Indian friends take a look at “Kan Kan” and in return there was a lot of praise for the mascot. In their view, Kan Kan’s appearance is closer to the Indian monkey god than Sun Wukong. Not only does his face have three colors but also those three colours—Crimson, Green and Rhubarb, are most commonly seen on Indian clothes.
In India, books with monkey characters are very popular. In many children’s books, young Hanuman appears as an adorable little monkey character that, through words and actions, encourages children to help people. Famous author Vikram Chandra’ famous work “Red Earth and Pouring Rain” is a tale narrated by a young student and a typing monkey. The book won the Commonwealth writers Prize for Best Author and the David Higham Prize for Best Fiction. Due to the influence of Hanuman’s image, monkeys hold a high position in Indian literary works; they are shown to have qualities like loyalty, devotion and strength. In last year’s heartwarming movie “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” Bollywood super star Salman Khan’s character was a perfect interpretation of Hanuman’s image as a brother. According to the legend, once Hanuman completely painted himself in Vermillion color to please Lord Ram and express his feelings. In famous Indian comedy movie “Oh My God!”, the protagonist picks up a random stone and puts vermilion color on it which leads to people to consider it to be Hanuman and end up worshipping it.
In Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial in home state Gujarat, there are three monkey statues at the entrance. Each statue of the three statues separately has its hands covering its eyes, mouth and ears; they are called the “three no monkeys”. This message of “do not speak ill, do not hear ill, do not see ill” is similar to the message in Chinese Analects of Confucius. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi was fond of these statues. He would often say “do not say evil things, do not listen evil things, and do not see evil things”. When he was alive, he would often put a miniature version of these “three no monkeys” on his writing desk.
Upon close analysis of Indian traditional paintings, monkey images are very commonly seen. In famous contemporary British travel painter Raqib Shaw’s famous artwork “Monkey King Boudoir”, more than two monkeys can be seen in the painting. Monkey related religious stories and sculptures found in Sanchi Pagoda, Peru, Germany and other places, have become precious resources for religious studies and art history researchers. The Monkey god’s adventures and skills have even found their way into the world of computer and video games. At present they are very popular among Indian video games enthusiasts.