The Ramayana/Book I/Canto XVI: The Vánars

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The Ramayana of Valmiki by Valmiki, translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith
Book I — Canto XVI: The Vánars


When Vishnu thus had gone on earth.
From the great king to take his birth.
The self-existent Lord of all
Addressed the Gods who heard his call:
'For Vishnu's sake, the strong and true.
Who seeks the good of all of you,
Make helps, in war to lend him aid,
In forms that change at will, arrayed,
Of wizard skill and hero might,
Outstrippers of the wind in flight,
Skilled in the arts of counsel, wise,
And Vishnu's peers in bold emprise;
With heavenly arts and prudence fraught,
By no devices to be caught;
Skilled in all weapon's lore and use
As they who drink the immortal juice. [1]

And let the nymphs supreme in grace,
And maidens of the minstrel race,
Monkeys and snakes,and those who rove
Free spirits of the hill and grove,
And wandering Daughters of the Air,
In monkey form brave children bear.
So erst the lord of bears I shaped,
Born from my mouth as wide I gaped.'

Thus by the mighty Sire addressed
They all obeyed his high behest,
And thus begot in countless swarms
Brave sons disguised in sylvan forms.
Each God, each sage became a sire,
Each minstrel of the heavenly quire, [2]
Each faun, [3]of children strong and good
Whose feet should roam the hill and wood.
Snakes, bards, [4]and spirits, [5]serpents bold
Had sons too numerous to be told.
Báli, the woodland hosts who led,
High as Mahendra's [6]lofty head,
Was Indra's child. That noblest fire,
The Sun, was great Sugríva's sire,
Tára, the mighty monkey, he
Was offspring of Vrihaspati: [7]
Tára the matchless chieftain, boast
For wisdom of the Vánar host.
Of Gandhamádan brave and bold
The father was the Lord of Gold.
Nala the mighty, dear to fame,
Of skilful Vis'vakarmá [8]came.
From Agni, [9]Nila bright as flame,
Who in his splendour, might, and worth,
Surpassed the sire who gave him birth.

The heavenly As'vlns, [10]swift and fair,
Were fathers of a noble pair,
Who, Dwivida and Mainda named,
For beauty like their sires were famed,
Varun [11]was father of Sushen,
Of Sarabh, he who sends the rain, [12]
Hanúmán, best of monkey kind,
Was son of him who breathes the wind:
Like thunderbolt in frame was he,
And swift as Garud's [13]self could flee.
These thousands did the Gods create
Endowed with might that none could mate,
In monkey forms that changed at will;
So strong their wish the fiend to kill.
In mountain size, like lions thewed,
Up sprang the wondrous multitude,
Auxiliar hosts in every shape,
Monkey and bear and highland ape.
In each the strength, the might, the mien
Of his own parent God were seen.
Some chiefs of Vánar mothers came,
Some of she-bear and minstrel dame,
Skilled in all arms in battle's shock;
The brandished tree, the loosened rock;
And prompt, should other weapons fail,
To fight and slay with tooth and nail.
Their strength could shake the hills amain,
And rend the rooted trees in twain,
Disturb with their impetuous sweep
The Rivers' Lord, the Ocean deep,
Rend with their feet the seated ground,
And pass wide floods with airy bound,
Or forcing through the sky their way
The very clouds by force could stay.
Mad elephants that wander through
The forest wilds, could they subdue,
And with their furious shout could scare
Dead upon earth the birds of air.
So were the sylvan chieftains formed;
Thousands on thousands still they swarmed.
These were the leaders honoured most,
The captains of the Vánar host,
And to each lord and chief and guide
Was monkey offspring born beside.
Then by the bears' great monarch stood
The other roamers of the wood,

And turned, their pathless homes to seek,
To forest and to mountain peak.
The leaders of the monkey band
By the two brothers took their stand,
Sugríva, offspring of the Sun.
And Báli, Indra's mighty one.
They both endowed with Garud's might,
And skilled in all the arts of fight,
Wandered in arms the forest through,
And lions, snakes, and tigers, slew.
But every monkey, ape, and bear
Ever was Báli's special care;
With his vast strength and mighty arm
He kept them from all scathe and harm.
And so the earth with hill, wood, seas,
Was filled with mighty ones like these,
Of various shape and race and kind,
With proper homes to each assigned,
With Ráma's champions fierce and strong
   The earth was overspread,
High as the hills and clouds, a throng
   With bodies vast and dread. [14]
        * * * * *


  1. The Amrit, the nectar of the Indian Gods.
  2. Gandharvas (Southey's Glendoveers) are celestial musicians inhabiting Indra's heaven and forming the orchestra at all the banquets of the principal deities.
  3. Yakshas, demigods attendant especially on Kuvera, and employed by him in the care of his garden and treasures.
  4. Kimpurushas, demigods attached also to the service of Kuvera, celestial musicians, represented like centaurs reversed with human figures and horses' heads.
  5. Siddhas, demigods or spirits of undefined attributes, occupying with the Vidyádharas the middle air or region between the earth and the sun.

    Schlegel translates: 'Divi, Sapientes, Fidicines, Praepetes, illustres Genii, Praeconesque procrearunt natos, masculos, silvicolas; angues porro, Hippocephali Beati, Aligeri, Serpentesque frequentes alacriter generavere prolem innumerabilem.'
  6. A mountain in the south of India.
  7. The preceptor of the Gods and regent of the planet Jupiter.
  8. The celestial architect, the Indian Hephaestus, Mulciber, or Vulcan.
  9. The God of Fire.
  10. Twin children of the Sun, the physicians of Swarga or Indra's heaven.
  11. The deity of the waters.
  12. Parjanya, sometimes confounded with Indra.
  13. The bird and vehicle of Visnu. He is generally represented as a being something between a man and a bird and considered as the sovereign of the feathered race. He may be compared with the Simurgh of the Persians, the 'Anká of the Arabs, the Griffin of chivalry, the Phoenix of Egypt, and the bird that sits upon the ash Yggdrasil of the Edda.
  14. This Canto will appear ridiculous to the European reader. But it should be remembered that the monkeys of an Indian forest, the 'bough-deer' as the poets call them, are very different animals from the 'turpissima bestia' that accompanies the itinerant organ-grinder or grins in the Zoological Gardens of London. Milton has made his hero, Satan, assume the forms of a cormorant, a toad, and a serpent, and I cannot see that this creation of semi-divine Vánars, or monkeys, is more ridiculous or undignified.