According to the dictionary, the word वानर has multiple meanings. One among them is Monkey.

But others include ape, Monkey-like etc.,

Hanuman, Sugreeva etc., are said to be of Vanara race.

In this context, are there any scriptural statements supporting that Vanara is different from Monkey?

  • 2
    it could also be said that early tribal people living primitively were viewed as such. Jul 14, 2020 at 6:45
  • 1
    The apes are our distant evolutionary brothers....chimps and gorillas included. In the name vanar itself there is the nar. Btw, so can we still train groups of them to build bridges and houses :} ?
    – Narasimham
    Jul 14, 2020 at 21:25
  • 1
    Valmiki Ramayan is full of references where vanaras are consistently shown to behave like monkeys : jumping, merry making, tree jumping, extremely powerful. They were not humans for sure as like i said their powers and behavior is consistently shown to be different than humans. Like Rakshashas, i guess they were a kind of species of their own
    – sbharti
    Oct 23, 2021 at 10:38

3 Answers 3


Vanara although popularly translated as monkey can not possibly be monkey.

When the vimana touched down, Bharata, for whom truth was his valour, happily approached Rama and greeted him again. Kakustha had seen him after a long time. Full of joy, he made Bharata rise, embraced him and placed him on his lap. The scorcher of enemies, Bharata, then happily approached Lakshmana and Vaidehi, greeted them and announced his name. Kaikeyee's son also embraced Sugriva, Jambavat, Angada, Mainda, Dvivida, Nila and Rishava. The apes, who could assume any form at will, assumed human forms.

Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda, Chapter 6(115) translated by Bibek Debroy

No monkey that is currently known to man is capable of changing his form.

  • The questioner has commented that 'I want to know whether vanara race can be different from monkeys. – hanugm yesterday ' What I have quoted supports the idea that the vanara race is different from monkeys. Jul 16, 2020 at 4:00

Indologist Nrisinghaprasad Bhaduri opined that "Vanaras" mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana were not monkeys. They were non-Aryan races. In support of his view, he mentioned the following points.

  1. In Sanskrit, "Vanara" means "human-like".
  2. A few members of Vanaras knew Vedas, Arthashastras, Ayurvedas and even a bit of politics. This is not quite a trait that can be ascribed to monkeys!
  3. In the entire Valmiki Ramayana, Valmiki never mentioned about tails of Vanara females (for example, Ruma - wife of Sugreeva, Tara - wife of Vali and so on). Now, it is pretty unnatural to find any monkey species where only males have tails.
  4. Vanara females were well known for their beauty. For example, Riksharaja was born from the teardrop of Brahma. She was so beautiful that even Gods desired her. King Vali was the son of Riksharaja and Indra. Sugreeva was his other son, sired by Sun. Even Hanuman's mother was Anjana, and his father was Vayu. Now, this is quite unthinkable that Gods were mesmerized by the beauty of monkeys!
  5. Now, what about the tails in males? These tails were artificial. Vanaras used to attach these tails after wearing their dresses. Two verses in Valmiki Ramayana supports this interpretation.

Attached at his back, the tail of Hanuman (तस्य लाङ्गूलम् आबिद्धम् अतिबेगस्य पृष्ठत:) resembled some great serpent being carried off by Garuda. - Valmiki Ramayana V.1.34

The Sanskrit word used in this verse is "Abiddha". It means "attached" or "affixed" or "tied". (Though other commentators used the word "coiled". He did not support that).

"It is said that the tail is the Vanara's most cherished embellishment (कपिनां किल लाङ्गूलमिष्टं भवति भूषणम्). Therefore let it be set on fire; having been burnt, let him go." - Valmiki Ramayana V.53.3

Here the word we should pay attention to is "Bhushanam". The tail was a sort of adornment for Vanaras. This was not a body part. This is possible because, in ancient times, people used to adorn their bodies with the symbol of their respected animal (totemism). Even these days, one can see tribal people used bird's feathers or beaks as ornaments. These are a symbol of pride for them. This could be a similar thing.


  1. Valmikir Ram o Ramayana (p.48-49) by Nrisinghaprasad Bhaduri
  • 2
    This brings up new questions : were vanaras a unique species like Rakshashas? Certainly they weren't humans. How did they originate? And ended? After all they won the war. And 2) what monkey they used to worship? Who was their god?
    – sbharti
    Oct 23, 2021 at 10:41

Yes, the Vānaras are totally unique beings.

We shall clarify this in detail, with references from the Śrīmada Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa:

1. The Order from the Chaturmukh Brahmā

The gods, demi-gods, semi-gods, etc. - become progenitors Vānara heroes at the dictate of Brahmā to come to the aid of Śrī Rāma in annihilating Ravaṇa.

Chapter [Sarga] 17, Book 1 - Bāla Kāṇḍa

पुत्रत्वं तु गते विष्णौ राज्ञस्तस्य महात्मनः । उवाच देवताः सर्वाः स्वयंभूर्भगवानिदम् ॥ १ ॥

  1. When Viṣṇu attained the sonship of the great-souled king Daśaratha, then Brahmā the self-created addressed all of the gods this way.

सत्यसंधस्य वीरस्य सर्वेषां नो हितैषिणः । विष्णोः सहायान् बलिनः सृजध्वं कामरूपिणः ॥ २ ॥

  1. "Let mighty and guise changing helpmates be procreated to that truth abiding and valorous Viṣṇu who is the well-wisher of all of us.
  • So this species was specifically born from divine beings.

2. Vānaras Powess/ablities:

मायाविदश्च शूरांश्च वायुवेगसमान् जवे।| नयज्ञान् बुद्धिसंपन्नान् विष्णुतुल्यपराक्रमान् ॥३॥ असंहार्यानुपायज्ञान् दिव्यसंहननान्वितान् । सर्वास्त्रगुणसंपन्नानमृतप्राशनानिव ॥४॥ अप्सरस्सु च मुख्यासु गन्धर्वीणां तनूषु च । यक्षपन्नगकन्यासु ऋक्षविद्याधरीषु च ॥५॥ किंनरीणां च गात्रेषु वानरीणां तनूषु च । सृजध्वं हरिरूपेण पुत्रांस्तुल्यपराक्रमान् ॥६॥

  1. to 6. "Let monkey-shaped progeny equalling Viṣṇu's valor be procreated from the physiques of prominent Apsarās and Gandharvas, from the girls of Yakṣas and Pannagas, and also thus from the bodies of Kīnnaras, she-Vidyādharas, she-Ṛkṣas and she-monkeys, and they (the Vānaras) shall be wizards of miracles and audacious ones, in travel they shall have air's speed, bestowed with intellect they shall be the knowers of ideation, and with their divine physique they shall be ineliminable, they shall be endowed with all the assaultive aspects of all missiles, and they shall be untiring in their efforts, like you who thrive on amrita, the ambrosia, unmindful of thirst and hunger".


कामरूपबलोपेता यथाकामं विचारिणः ॥२४॥ सिंहशार्दूलसदृशा दर्पेण च बलेन च । शिलाप्रहरणाः सर्वे सर्वे पादपयोधिनः || १-१७-२५ नखदंष्ट्रायुधाः सर्वे सर्वे सर्वास्त्रकोविदाः । विचालयेयुः शैलेन्द्रान् भेदयेयुः स्थिरान् द्रुमान् ॥२६॥ क्षोभयेयुश्च वेगेन समुद्रं सरितां पतिम् । दारयेयुः क्षितिं पद्भ्यामाप्लवेयुर्महार्णवम् || १-१७-२७ नभस्थलं विशेयुश्च गृह्णीयुरपि तोयदान् | गृह्णीयुरपि मातंगान् मत्तान् प्रव्रजतो वने ॥२८॥ नर्दमानाश्च नादेन पातयेयुर्विहंगमान् ।

  1. to 28. They are endowed with guise-changing faculties, with bodily might, and by their pride and might are identical to lions and tigers, and they are born-free in their movement in forests. All of they are the assaulters with stones, and all are the attackers with trees, and all have their nails and claws as their weapons, yet all are experts in missiles. They can rock the greatest mountains, rip firm rooted trees, and with their speed, they can agitate the of lord of rivers, namely the ocean. They can shatter the ground with their two feet, leap and cross over great oceans, and they can seize the clouds entering arch of heaven. They can catch ruttish elephants that tumultuously move in forests, and just with the sound of their blare they make sky flying birds fall.


Chapter 31, Book 4

ते ताम्र वक्त्रा हेम आभा राम अर्थे त्यक्त जीविताः । लन्काम् एव अह्यवर्तन्त साल ताल ज़िला आयुधाः ॥ ६-४२-१४ ॥ ते द्रुमैः पर्वत अग्रैज़् च मुष्टिभिज़् च प्लवम् गमाः । प्रासाद अग्राणि च उच्चानि ममन्तुस् तोरणानि च ॥६-४२-१५॥

Those monkeys, of golden hue with coppery countenance, fighting with Sala trees and mountain-peaks, marched ahead towards the city of Lanka, ready as they were to lay down their lives in Rama's service. Those monkeys demolished innumerable defensive walls and arches with blows from trees, mountain-tops, and fists.

  • All these above-highlighted qualities are impossible for a Monkey to possess. No monkey have shape-shifting capabilities. No monkey can capture an elephant or uproot a tree, or demolish a fortress's walls with its fists, etc.

4. Vānaras Physical Description:

Chapter [Sarga] 31, Book 4 - Kiṣkindha Kāṇḍa

गिरि कुंजर मेघ आभा नगर्या निर्ययुः तदा ॥ ४-३१-२३ ॥ नख दंष्ट्र आयुधा सर्वे वीराः विकृत दर्शनाः । सर्वे शार्दूल दर्पाः च सर्वे च विकृत आननाः ॥ ४-३१-२४ ॥

S23. & 24. Some of the elephantine Vānaras who are frightening just by their appearance, who in sheen are similar to mountains and dark-clouds have gone out of the city. All of those brave vānaras are armed with their own teeth and nails, all are with tigerish pride, all are hideous in look and horrendous by their faces.

  • Such a physical description is not compatible with what we know about the monkeys in the present times.

5. Vānaras wearing clothes.

Chapter [Sarga] 10, Book 4 - Kiṣkindha Kāṇḍa

एवम् उक्त्वा तु माम् तत्र वस्त्रेण एकेन वानरः । तदा निर्वासयामास वाली विगत साध्वसः ॥४-१०-२६॥

  1. "On saying thus that monkey ruthlessly banished me, then and there in the court itself, who am with single clothing on my body.
  • So, this basically suggests that they used to cover themselves with clothes, jewellery, et al. Surely, a wild monkey, doesn't do such activities.

6. Invited by the devas for help, Are equal to gods & demons:

Chapter [Sarga] 58, Book 5 - Sundara Kāṇḍa

वानराणाम् प्रभवो हि न केन विदितः पुरा | देवतानाम् सकाशम् च ये गच्छन्ति निमन्त्रिताः || ५-५८-१४२

  1. "To whom is this strength of the monkeys not already known, who go even to the presence of gods, when invited by them for help?"
  • Obviously, of what help will a normal wild monkey be to a celestial god?

Chapter [Sarga] 28, Book 6 - Yuddha Kāṇḍa

स्थितान् पश्यसि यान् एतान् मत्तान् इव महाद्विपान् | न्यग्रोधान् इव गान्गेयान् सालान् हैमवतीन् इव || ६-२८-२ एते दुष्प्रसहा राजन् बलिनः काम रूपिणः | दैत्य दानव सम्काशा युद्धे देव पराक्रमाः || ६-२८-३

  1. & 3. "O, king! Do you observe those monkeys resembling huge elephants in rut, rising like banyan trees on the banks of River Ganga or Sala trees on Himalayas? Those warriors, able to change their form at will, are irresistible, equal to celestials and demons, and in a battle, are endowed with the valour of the gods."

So basis the above-discussed Six reasons, we conclude that:
Vānaras ≠ Monkey.

  • A doubt from the 1st line of your answer..Are the heads of Lord Brahma literal or symbolic,is their any reference of 4 heads in Shruti , do u have any idea about this?
    – LSSJ Broly
    Feb 28, 2022 at 15:49
  • Brahma is described in the Puranas as Chaturmukh only @ShriRambhakt
    – Vivikta
    Feb 28, 2022 at 15:52
  • No..umm..actually..I was asking about the vedas : |
    – LSSJ Broly
    Feb 28, 2022 at 16:17
  • Oh sorry @ShriRambhakt I misread. No, I'm not aware (not able to recall) of a four faced Brahma description in the Shrutis. Maybe you should post a question about it, sounds like a good question to me. :)
    – Vivikta
    Mar 1, 2022 at 3:57
  • Seems like someone is already curious to know about it :) , becoz when I asked the question , this question was coming in the suggestions hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/45777/26679
    – LSSJ Broly
    Mar 1, 2022 at 4:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .