Monkeys in India

Depictions of animals are found on seals and pottery of the Harappan culture, Indus Civilization, dating from c. 2300-1750 BCE.  Indian philosophical scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Garudapurana recognize animals as possessing souls and people are advised not to kill or eat animals.  Historically, depictions of animals are found in Indian  painting and sculpture, architecture, literature and dance/drama.  Many creatures have been held in high regard as deities and are the focus of worship and festivals.

Monkeys especially figure in texts such as the Panchatantra – a collection of animal fables with a moral message – and the Jataka tales – a record of the incarnations of the Buddha, also stressing an ethical theme.  The most famous monkey – and deity – is Hanuman, hero of the epic poem, the Ramayana.  In the myth, Hanuman is instrumental in locating Sita, the wife of Lord Rama, and he helps to save her from her kidnapper, Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka.  All of these texts and myths have been depicted on the walls of temples and represented in paintings and other art throughout India and across the world within the Indian diaspora (e. g. Fiji and Mauritius).  And Hanuman is still worshipped.  At numerous temple sites today, monkeys are revered and often fed.

Posted by Gabrielle Vernet

Selected bibliography:

Craven, Roy C. 1976. A Concise History of Indian Art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Eck, Diana L. 2012. India: A Sacred Geography. N.Y.: Three Rivers Press.

Mittal, Sushil and Gene Thursby. 2006. Religions of South Asia. London: Routledge.

Mookerjee, Priya. 1987. Pathway Icons: The Wayside Art of India. London: Thames & Hudson.

Wood, Michael. 2008. The Story of India. London: BBC Books/Ebury.