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Title: Vanara  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hanuman, Tara (Ramayana), Hanuman Chalisa, Ramayana, Vali (Ramayana)
Collection: Mythological Human Hybrids, Mythological Monkeys, Non-Human Races in Hindu Mythology, Vanara in the Ramayana
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Rama and monkey chiefs

Vānara (Sanskrit: वानर) refers to a group of people living in forests[1][2] in the Hindu epic Ramayana and its various versions. In Ramayana, the Vanaras help Rama defeat Ravana. The Vanaras also appear in other texts, including Mahabharata.


  • Identification 1
  • In the Ramayana 2
  • Other texts 3
  • Shapeshifting 4
  • Notable Vanaras 5
  • References 6


There are three main theories about the etymology of the word "Vanara":

  • It derives from the word vana ("forest"), and means "belonging to the forest" or "forest-dwelling".[3][1]
  • It derives from the words vana ("forest") and nara ("man"), thus meaning "forest man".[4]
  • It derives from the words vav and nara, meaning "is it a man?"[5] or "perhaps he is man".[6]

Although the word Vanara has come to mean "monkey" over the years and the Vanaras are depicted as monkeys in the popular art, their exact identity is not clear.[7][8] Unlike other exotic creatures such as the rakshasas, the Vanaras do not have a precursor in the Vedic literature.[9] The Ramayana presents them as humans with reference to their speech, clothing, habitations, funerals, consecrations etc. It also describes their monkey-like characteristics such as their leaping, hair, fur and a tail.[8]

According to one theory, the Vanaras are strictly mythological creatures. This is based on their supernatural abilities, as well as descriptions of Brahma commanding other deities to either bear Vanara offspring or incarnate as Vanaras to help Rama in his mission.[8] The Jain re-tellings of Ramayana describe them as a clan of the supernatural beings called the Vidyadharas; the flag of this clan bears monkeys as emblems.[10][11]

Another theory identifies the Vanaras with the [16][17]

In the Ramayana

Sampati meeting with Vanaras painted by Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi

Vanaras are created by Vali, Sugriva, and Hanuman, stayed near Mount Riskshavat.

According to the Ramayana, the Vanaras lived primarily in the region of Kishkindha (identified with parts of present-day Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh & Maharashtra). Rama first met them in Dandaka Forest, during his search for Sita.[19] An army of Vanaras helped Rama in his search for Sita, and also in battle against Ravana, Sita's abductor. Nala and Nila built a bridge over the ocean so that Rama and the army could cross to Lanka. As described in the epic, the characteristics of the Vanara include being amusing, childish, mildly irritating, badgering, hyperactive, adventurous, bluntly honest, loyal, courageous, and kind.[20]

Other texts

The epic Mahabharata describes them as forest-dwelling, and mentions their being encountered by Sahadeva, a Pandava general who led a military campaign to south India.


In the Ramayana, the Vanara Hanuman changes shape several times. For example, while he searches for the kidnapped Sita in Ravana's palaces on Lanka, he contracts himself to the size of a cat, so that he will not be detected by the enemy. Later on, he takes on the size of a mountain, blazing with radiance, to show his true power to Sita.[21]

Notable Vanaras

Sculpture of Hanuman, a king among the Vanara, carrying the Dronagiri mountain.


  1. ^ a b Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary p. 940
  2. ^ Apte Sanskrit Dictionary search vaanara
  3. ^ Aiyangar Narayan. Essays On Indo-Aryan Mythology-Vol. Asian Educational Services. pp. 422–.  
  4. ^ a b Devdutt Pattanaik (24 April 2003). Indian Mythology: Tales, Symbols, and Rituals from the Heart of the Subcontinent. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 121.  
  5. ^ Shyam Banerji (1 January 2003). Hindu gods and temples: symbolism, sanctity and sites. I.K. International.  
  6. ^ Harshananda (Swami.) (2000). Facets of Hinduism. Ramakrishna Math. 
  7. ^ Kirsti Evans (1997). Epic Narratives in the Hoysaḷa Temples: The Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata, and Bhāgavata Purāṇa in Haḷebīd, Belūr, and Amṛtapura. BRILL. pp. 62–.  
  8. ^ a b c d Catherine Ludvik (1 January 1994). Hanumān in the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki and the Rāmacaritamānasa of Tulasī Dāsa. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 2–3.  
  9. ^ Vanamali (25 March 2010). Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 13.  
  10. ^ Paula Richman (1991). Many Rāmāyaṇas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. University of California Press. p. 35.  
  11. ^ Kodaganallur Ramaswami Srinivasa Iyengar (2005). Asian Variations in Ramayana: Papers Presented at the International Seminar on 'Variations in Ramayana in Asia : Their Cultural, Social and Anthropological Significance", New Delhi, January 1981. Sahitya Akademi. pp. 68–.  
  12. ^ Valmiki (1996). The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India - Sundarakāṇḍa. Translated and annotated by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman. Princeton University Press. p. 31.  
  13. ^ a b Philip Lutgendorf (13 December 2006). Hanuman's Tale : The Messages of a Divine Monkey: The Messages of a Divine Monkey. Oxford University Press. p. 334.  
  14. ^ The Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa: Concise English Version. M.D. Publications. 1 January 1995. p. 10.  
  15. ^ Kirsti Evans (1997). Epic Narratives in the Hoysaḷa Temples: The Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata, and Bhāgavata Purāṇa in Haḷebīd, Belūr, and Amṛtapura. BRILL. pp. 62–.  
  16. ^ George M. Eberhart (1 January 2002). Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. ABC-CLIO. pp. 388–.  
  17. ^ C. G. Uragoda (2000). Traditions of Sri Lanka: A Selection with a Scientific Background. Vishva Lekha Publishers.  
  18. ^ Balakanda
  19. ^ [3]
  20. ^ [4]
  21. ^ Goldman, Robert P. (Introduction, translation and annotation) (1996). Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India, Volume V: Sundarakanda. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. 0691066620. pp. 45-47.
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