Mythstories Mythstories

about Surgriva and Hanuman

Monkeys and Apes (especially gibbons and langurs)
Here are two monkeys, or are they apes? There is a difference. Apes do not have tails or bare patches on their bottoms. Apes are also more intelligent than monkeys, but like man they are both primates.

To complicate the matter further, Surgriva, the animal you see hanging from the tree, is neither ape nor monkey but somewhere in between. Surgriva is a gibbon. Gibbons have no tails but do have bare patches on their bottoms. They, like the apes, are intelligent. I chose a gibbon for Surgriva the King of the monkeys and apes because he was neither monkey nor ape but a common link. Of course the king should be a wise ruler, choosing a monkey might be beyond credibility.

Gibbons are found in the jungles of South East Asia where they dwell in trees. Their whooping cry is very loud and can be heard form a long way off. As you can see from the picture gibbons have extremely long arms, twice the length of their bodies. They make good use of these long limbs to perform incredible acrobatic feats. Their fingers act like hooks as they swing from tree to tree.

The other animal in the picture is a monkey called a langur or leaf-eating monkey. This was an apt choice for Hanuman because the type of langur portrayed is a Hanuman Langur, characterised by its pale grey and fawn coloration. In India today the Hanuman Langur is often seen around villages. It is said to be checking that people are still using Rama's name.

Monkeys are divided into two sub-groups, New World monkeys (from South America) and Old World monkeys (from Asia and Africa), New World monkeys are adapted to life in trees, most of them have prehensile (gripping) tails which they can use as a fifth limb when hanging from trees. They have widely separated oval, outward-facing nostrils unlike Old World monkeys whose nostrils face downwards. Old World monkeys often have cheek pouches for storing food that they can consume later when they are in a safer place. They also have pads on their buttocks, which become brightly coloured and swell up on females during the mating season. Many Old World monkeys have adapted to life away from forests, spending much of their time on the ground.

The Langur is one of the largest and most numerous of Old World monkeys. Langurs are found in an area of Asia that stretches from the Himalayas to Borneo.

A Few Words About Hanuman

Hanuman means 'the one with the broken jaw'. Hanuman was the son of the wind god Vayu, the bringer of fragrance and the life giver. When young he saw the sun rise red into the sky and jumped high to catch it. Lord Indra saw him enter his domain and angrily struck him with a thunderbolt. He fell to the ground and broke his jaw. Vayu was so angry that he deprived the universe of his power; all life and movement ceased. The gods, greatly alarmed, offered many favours to Hanuman so his father would re-instate his gifts. Hanuman would never be wounded in battle; no god would use a weapon against him, and he would only die when he chose to.

In another version of the story Rama granted Hanuman a wish in return for his noble services. Hanuman wished to live as long as people used Rama's name. In India today the Hanuman Langur (a type of monkey) is often seen around villages. It is said to be checking that people are still using Rama's name.

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