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April 28, 2013

Grey langur

India of course has well over 1 billion human inhabitants.  Tenancy of the subcontinent, however, is shared with another primate: the gray langur.  In our recent trips we saw many langurs – one dashed across the road while we were driving to Ajanta so fast we could barely see.  The fellow above we saw resting in shade at Daulatabad Fort.  At Ajanta families of langurs rested in trees:

Langur in treeLangur in tree

At Ellora the langurs were well habituated to people.  In the parking lot a troop of them begged food … the langurs were like curious children, picking kernels of popcorn one at a time from outstretched hands.  However getting close to these animals is not a good idea.  Some carry rabies, but more generally these langurs are smart and have ways other than begging to get food from people.  There are many stories posted online, like this, about langurs attacking in groups to divest people of grocery bags – pretty much anything carrying eatables.  A colleague in my office related a story about langurs collaborating to steal a lady’s purse: one langur begged food, and when the lady offered, its confederate snatched the purse and immediately the first one began attacking the lady to cover the other’s escape.

These monkeys have an important place in Hindu mythology.  The statue below is in Gujarat:


This is Hanuman, King of Monkeys and ally of Lord Rama in his fight against Ravana.  He is holding his weapon, the gada.  While the gada looks unwieldy, it was no problem for Hanuman; the monkey king was so strong that one time, when asked to retrieve a certain herb growing on a mountain but unsure of exactly which plant to pick, he picked up the whole mountain and brought that back.  The ancient stories of Hanuman were the inspiration for Sun Wukong, the monkey king hero of Journey to the West.

Part of Hanuman’s story involves the gray langurs.  The story is told in different ways, but the short form is this: Being monkeys the langurs were his subjects, and Hanuman commanded they follow him into battle against Ravana.  Ravana used fire against them and their hands and faces were burnt black, and their langur descendants today still show the marks of the battle with the evil Ravana.

Hanuman is revered by Hindus for his many excellent qualities: Courage, Strength, Intelligence, but above all his complete devotion to Lord Rama.  Alas, today Hanuman’s langur subjects have a hard life.  The golden langur in particular is endangered, with only about 1,000 individuals in all of India.

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