Earlier today, an associate alerted me to some annoying remarks by one Rober Sepehr – a pseudo-anthropologist of dubious standing yet notable following, who appears to have made a small mint off conspiratorial ravings with a veneer of ‘serious’ sounding mythological referencing.
This time, he’s taken as his target some bizarre prognostications about a ‘hidden history’ for humanity involving a genetically altered ‘slave race’ … which he has identified as also being expressed via the Hindu concept of Vanaras.
Here’s the quote from Sepehr – “similar stories can be found in India, which describe a simian slave race used by the Gods which were depicted as a different archaic species”.
Why am I furious? That description of Vanaras (and his video at this point shows scenes from the Ramayana featuring Lord Ram’s allies engaged in the bridge-building to Lanka) as being a “simian slave race used by the Gods”.
It’s just .. simply not the case. Instead, it seems that Sepehr basically just heard we have ‘monkey’ featured mythic beings involved in one of our epics, that they perform physical labour at one point in the story, and decided it fitted nicely with his predetermined beliefs around an ‘untermenschen’ ‘slave race’ of pseudo-men.
In order to correct this, it is necessary to briefly explicate just what a Vanara actually is. And in particular, why some of the most prominent of that race really resoundingly disprove this ‘simian slave race’ silliness.
Now, the Vanaras – for those unaware – are an anthropomorphic race of animal-resembling, forest-dwelling humanoids variously stated to have features of Bears or Apes / Monkeys. With deference to the most archaic occurrence of a Vanara, RV X 86, it may be said that the VrsaKapi is a ‘Bull Ape’. Vrsa ( वृष ) does mean ‘Bull’, and can also mean ‘Strong’, ‘Virtuous’, ‘Potent’, ‘Masculine’, and perhaps somewhat figuratively, ‘Thrusting’. Kapi ( कपि ), refers perhaps unsurprisingly to an ‘Ape’ – although also has within its definitional ambit the notion of ‘proficiency’, ‘expertise’. Vrsa is also, again unsurprisingly, a way to refer to Lord Indra (and I say ‘unsurprisingly’, because the point of RV X 86 is to state that Vrsakapi is ritually equivalent to Indra – offerings to Vrsakapi going to the same place) – and so therefore, we may similarly render Vrsakapi as ‘Ape Indra’ … or, perhaps, as Marvel Comics once put it … “Thorangutang”.
In more recent times, we hail this Vrsakapi as Lord Hanuman – often known as ‘the monkey god’; and in Hindu theological terms regarded as a Son of the Wind God (other texts have a Son of Shiva – but then, of course, I repeat myself) and even an Avatar in a sense of His Progenitor. Hanuman is known via an array of titles, although the one most frequently encountered is Bajrangi / Bajrang Bali. This derives from ‘Vajra’ – and refers simultaneously to His ‘indestructible’ / ‘invincible’ nature as well as His striking with sheer irresistible force.
So, far from being some sort of genetically engineered subservient “slave race”, we find this foremost of the Vanaras to actually be … the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer deific and quite literally a God.
Some in the audience might point out that Lord Hanuman is also incredibly devoted to Lord Rama, and is also described in quite positive terms as the ‘Friend to Man’. It is definitely true that Hanuman has immense love for Lord Rama, as well as Lakshman and Sita – there is a touching portion of the Ramayana wherein Hanuman opens up His Chest, and it is seen that within His Heart, quite literally, there are these Three. Except I should say that it would be a truly churlish and alien psychology which could possibly regard such love, such friendship as being the insignia of “enslavement”. Probably one without too many friends of their own.
As applies the ‘Friend to Man’ sobriquet – this, again, is something found as emblematic for the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer deific. It is a quality of Thor, it is a quality of Herakles / Hercules. In other words, despite the fearful and formidable power of the Lord of Thunder and His Great Demon-Smiting Weapon, this God is an ‘approachable’ one by mortals – and also takes a keen interest in the protection of our realm ‘gainst threats to it and us. Some might view such a thing as ‘slavery’ … if they were some sort of Satanist who viewed ‘divinity’ in the most childish possible manner as being like an infantilie view of being a King as “oh, that just means I can do whatever I want with nobody [able] to tell me what to do!” Being a Divinity is, in no small measure, an existence of service to the Cosmos, the upholding and active (re-)immanentization of Cosmic Law – the DevaRajya, RtaRajya, the Divine Regime of which we, too, as humanity are a part. ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’, indeed – and this, too, funnily enough, was a core portion of Lord Hanuman’s mythic ‘narrative arc’ also seen through the Ramayana: He had been sent to Earth and stripped of His Powers (well, His recollection of having Them) due to using them in an irresponsible and irreverent manner – and could only ‘earn’ these back through acting in the required and expected-of manner for a God, looking after and protecting others. Perhaps there is some figurative comparison to the Redemption to be won by Herakles through His performance of the Twelve Tasks – but that is another matter for another time.
In terms of other great scions of the Vanara race(s), a further prominent exemplar is the King Jambavan. Whereas often Vanaras (especially Hanuman) are described as Monkeys or Apes with human features (or, perhaps, the other way around – and some have sought to euhemerize the whole concept to simply ‘forest-dwelling’ humans, from ‘Vana’ – ‘forest’), Jambavan is often pointedly described as a Bear. Indeed, the term utilized for Jambavan is Rksa – which is of interest not only because it is a direct cognate for Arktos, Ursa, etc. … but due to what this therefore indicates about the station of this King. Rksa is stated in the Shatapatha Brahmana to be an archaic manner to refer to a Rsi – a Seer, one of the original Priests of the Vedic Religion (to summarize and oversimplify greatly). We have recently managed to connect the celestial occurrency of this term – specifically the Rksa constellation (the “Great Bear” as we would call it in the West – exactly the same stars) – to a broader typology of Bear-shaped priestly sorts or metaphysically empowered humans across the Indo-European sphere. The Berserks referred to in the Ynglinga Saga are another example of this typology in mythic presentation – Odin’s Men, enabled to change shape via His empowerment. See my ‘Arktos, Ursa, Rksa SaptaRsi – The Seven Bear-Seers Amidst The Stars And The Foundational Act Of Piety Of The Maidens Of Milk And Fate’ for further details.
Now Jambavan is, of course, described as a sage – and I would suggest that there is some archaic Indo-European saliency to the notion of the Bear as teacher (this concept was raised with me some days ago by a mister AJ Matheson); however why this is relevant is twofold. First, because the notion of an ursine rather than ‘simian’ humanoid helps to show that the Vanara is not merely a ‘monkey-man’, but that both ‘bear’ and ‘ape’ are rather imprecise (yet symbolically resonant) descriptors for the beings in question … but second, because while I am sure some people presume that a ‘simian’ makes for a logical visual reference-point for a “slave”, I would also suspect rather strongly that when we think of a bear, we do not tend to envisage these creatures as engaged in servitude (unless enlisted in the Polish Army – although as applies Wojtek the Bear, it is perhaps interesting to note that he was more properly speaking Corporal Wojtek … and therefore actually outranked many human soldiers). Instead, you ask somebody about a Bear in mythic terms, and you shall hear that they are Mighty, Dangerous, and decidedly not ‘servile’.
Quite a difference this saliency makes, no?
As applies the Vanaras which Sepehr has chosen to illustrate his video with – these Vanaras are assembled in an army, immediately prior to the assault upon Lanka in order to recover Rama’s Wife Sita from the clutches of the demon emperor Ravana. They did indeed construct a causeway across to Lanka – in a manner perhaps not un-reminiscent of Alexander’s army engaged in similar such conduct during the course of the ‘Son of Zeus” siege of Tyre in 323 B.C..
Now, again, these Vanaras are not described as ‘slaves’, or anything of the sort. They are members of an army – indeed, a divine war-host with various of these being of direct divine descent or emanation and possessed of potent metaphysically charged abilities. The rest of the Vanara army is also described in impressive terms – being incredibly strong, valorous, and capable of fighting with weapons or even their bare hands against the Rakshasa (Demon) army of the foe. Their immense strength is not only useful for impressive feats of combat-engineering – they hurl massive trees like javelins and are even capable of felling a war-elephant in such a manner.
Some might suggest that military discipline and putting one’s life upon the line for a cause is somehow commensurate with slavery – in which case, there assumedly has never been such a thing as a free people with a free army at any time in the Ancient World.
It is absolutely, undeniably true that the Vanaras of the war-effort against Ravana fought for a cause which was more expansive than any one individual caught embroiled up within same. Does that somehow make them “slaves”? “Servile”? No!
It makes them pious, dutiful, principled, and loyal. All admirable – and decidedly human – traits which many of us could do with a damn sight more of in our own lives. A slave does something because he or she is compelled to do it – they have no say in the matter, nor any real feeling of connexion or of insight into what it is and why it is done. A free man, by contrast, does something because he chooses to – and at least some of the time, because he has at least some inkling of what it is which he is actually choosing to do … what is at stake, and what he risks via his conduct in doing it.
That is what we see with the constituent members of Lord Ram’s Army. Volunteers who have chosen to be there, and have chosen to make their contribution – even at the cost of their own lives if necessary … the proverbial “ultimate sacrifice” (and a sacrifice, it must be remembered, is something voluntarily offered (up)). A hugely heartwarming occurrence of exactly this is to be found in the tale of a certain squirrel who yearned to make just such a pious contribution to the war-effort even in spite of his diminutive stature. I looked at this in more depth and detail in ‘ON THE MYTHOLINGUISTICS OF WAR [Part 2] – In The Divine War, The Squirrel Is (Also) The Role Of Man’; however I think it’s time for a brief excerpted revisit (because I really do find it immensely touching as a tale – I literally tear up talking about it).
“Now it is not in everybody to be a literal (or, rather ‘mytho-literal’) Indo-European equivalent to what Chesterton had cited as the “knights of God” – the direct combatants amidst the fray [on that note, my mind recalls the Slavic term ‘Bogatyr’, which looks as if it combines both Indo-Iranian and Germanic/Nordic elements referring to a Lord, a Deity, a Warrior … although this is likely a ‘false friend’ in one or possibly both portions]. And it is generally only the Gods, the mightiest of the mighty, to be found at the वीराशंसन [‘Virasansana’ – a term which might, perhaps, translate figuratively into English as the ‘Forlorn Hope’, in the military sense; ‘where the fighting is thickest’ – where the greatest Veer would wish to be, a great position of honour, both pre and post-mortem] .
But that is not and should not be regarded as any sort of barrier to making your contribution. As the old proverb goes – “it takes all sorts to make an army”. Or, to illustrate this principle via recourse to mythology – during the course of the construction of the bridge that would allow Lord Rama’s army to make its way to Lanka [thus presaging Alexander the Great’s somewhat similar exercise carried out against Tyre], it was observed that in amidst the mighty Vanaras who were bearing great boulders to cast into the surf, a small squirrel was darting to and fro carrying pebbles. This was regarded somewhat disparagingly by some, who scoffed at the squirrel’s presumption that it had a meaningful contribution to make in amidst the far physically larger and stronger Vanaras, who were already (and occasionally literally single-handedly) ferrying tonnes of rock for the bridge at a time. This did not dissuade the squirrel, however, who is reported to have earnestly kept attempting to do its bit to help – as much as its comparatively meager strength would allow. Even being directly insulted by a Vanara on grounds of its alleged superfluity and the purported comical insignificance of its efforts could not dissuade the squirrel, who responded to such barbs with vocal protestations of its piety (towards Rama) as the cause of its need to assist and matched saliencies of physical exertion which turned words into tangible action. In fact, the only thing which did manage to stop the Squirrel, was its being physically assaulted and flung through the air by an irritated Vanara – whereupon the Squirrel is reported to have landed at Rama. Who pointed out to all assembled that quite apart from the noble virtue demonstrated by the little squirrel’s indefatigable determination to make whatever contribution it could, as being the essence of piety – that in fact, what the Squirrel had actually been doing, between its diligent gap-filling with the pebbles, and its shaking off of the water, salt, and sand it had picked up by running across the beach each time to the construction site … was providing the cementing which bound the structure and gave it much of its its resilience, cohesiveness, integrity and strength. In recognition of this, and in thanks, Lord Rama then placed a mark of His Divine Favour upon the Squirrel – the three pale lines which run longitudinally down the fur of the Indian Palm Squirrel’s back.
A more succinct summation of the above was pointed out by one of my devotees –
Squirrel: “Tiny, I am, Lord, and so I carried only pebbles.”
Rama: “Tiny, you are, and yet you did the giant’s work.”
A beautiful thing, it brings tears to my eyes.”
Some people out there take the rather demonic view that the properly Pious are ‘Slaves’ to God or Gods. This is frequently the perspective of the sort of ‘person’ who merely wishes to displace a divinity and become a self-perceived ‘slave-master’ (or ‘authority’, ‘law’) unto themselves. Often whilst talking in vague and pseudo-grandiloquent terms of general themes of “liberation”. Ignoring of course, that as Hannah Arendt sagely pointed out (drawing heavily from the ancient Greeks to do so – hence the charge levied against her of having perceived ‘Polis Envy’), ‘Freedom’ or ‘Liberty’ is not some asinine absolute absence of constraint and the ability to act as a total solipsist within this world of ours … but rather, a sphere of self-actualization only capable of meaningfully occurring in a public sphere. And hence, implicitly only something really possessable by a citizen. One who makes a contribution – and one who adheres to, belongs to, is only fully expressed in, this greater context than themselves.
Our acts of piety do not render us ‘slaves’ – they simply evince that we have chosen to live righteously, and perceive that there is more to this earth and this life within it than ‘us’. That there is Something above us, to Whom we are enduringly grateful – and to Whose solemn, sacred, joyous cause we also pledge our enacting, enduring, empowering allegiance.
To be a “slave”, would be to lack the wit and the wisdom to realize this – to recognize, and to be able to recognize, only one’s self (and one’s self-perceived ‘self-interest’), especially as the supreme arbiter (moral or otherwise) of the world within which we might thrive. Even being a slave to one’s self is still the condition of a slave.
It is true to state that Hanuman is regarded in contemporary Hinduism as emblematic of a certain attitude toward the Divine which is hailed as healthy (‘whole’) – that of a properly pious devotee prepared to undertake perilous endeavours in service of the Divine, and capable of embarking upon quite the journey of self-knowledge, self-discovery, and ‘self-cultivation’ to become more than one was (more than one even realized (or, perhaps, remembered) that one could be) at its outset.
And yet, such things were not – and in all likelihood, could not – be compelled from Him. They were instead engaged in of choice, of free will, and out of love.
The Vanara, in other words, undoubtedly the most famous of his kind – was the exact opposite of a “Slave”. “Simian” (or, perhaps more properly, ‘Bull-Ape’) though He might be.
A worthy lesson to us all!
Jai Sri Ram.
Bajrang Bali Ki Jaye !