Contributions to Indian Sociology

Evolving a monkey : Hanuman, poster art and postcolonial anxiety
Philip Lutgendorf Contributions to Indian Sociology 2002 36: 71 DOI: 10.1177/006996670203600104 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Evolving a monkey:
Hanuman, poster

postcolonial anxiety
Philip Lutgendorf

Hanuman, simian sidekick

to the principal human hero of the Ramayana tradition, has evolved within comparatively recent times into one of the most popular and ubiquitous of Hindu deities. He is revered by tens of millions as their ishta-deva or ’chosen, personal deity’,and his shrines have proliferated in both urban and rural areas. The visual representation of this deity has likewise evolved conventions that, through the mass reproduction and gradual homogenisation characteristic of 20th century popular art, have crystallised in a number of readily-recognisable icons. After briefly surveying the range of Hanuman’s historical representations, this essay focuses on a subset of 20th century images in which the divine monkey appears as afurless, humanised, and (of late) heavilymuscled hero with only vestigial simian characteristics, and situates these images within the context of a number of contemporary trends in popular visual culture. Finally, it attempts to link this new visual convention to a widespread body of discourse concerning the ’scientific’ rationalisation and historicisation of Hindu sacred legend.


Considering it historically, the first question that rises to one’s lips is were the monkeys. They were undoubtedly a human race which was called by that name from their monkeyish appearance. Here we have the same process of transformation of rhetoric into logic. C.V Vaidya, The riddle of the Ramayana (1906): 153.

Philip Lutgendorf is at the Department of Asian Languages of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.

Literature, University

I thank Sumathi Ramaswamy for the invitation to the conference that occasioned the first version of this article, and the many participants who offered suggestions for revising it. I am especially indebted to Kajri Jain and Christopher Pinney, who generously shared their recent writings and their great knowledge of 20th century poster art and its producers. Jyotindra Jain and Paula Richman kindly provided additional relevant materials. My larger project of research on Hanuman has been supported by grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies and the University of Iowa.

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72 /

With your red

body smeared with ochre, and with great, ruddy tail, Hail! Hail! Hail to the monkey champion!
Sankat mochan ashtak’




and then


a small hillock in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, near the town of Puttaparthi, stands a 70-foot concrete monkey-claimed (probably rightly) to be the largest in India, at least for the time being (Figure 1).2 He is not just any monkey, of course; he is Hanuman, simian superhero and helper of the human avatar Rama, protagonist of the Ramayana story. Despite the plethora of deities crowding every level of the multi-tiered pantheon of popular Hinduism, the Puttaparthi colossus may be instantly identified by any contemporary Hindu through a visual code reinforced by a century of mass-produced icons, especially by polychrome ’god posters’, which the huge sculpture, smoothly finished and brightly painted, evokes in (literally) concrete terms. More precisely, however, this towering figure belongs to a subset of the god-poster canon: the Hanuman it evokes, identified by a simian lower visage and erect, curving tail, displays a body that is otherwise fully human, furless, and heavily muscular. Although Hanuman has reputedly been on earth since the Treta Yuga, and has enjoyed demonstrably increasing popularity as a deity during the past millennium, this ’hairless, humanised Hanuman’ (as I dub him, or the regal ’H.H. Hanuman’ for short), was not always with us. Rather, he represents a significant departure from older iconographic and narrative practices that frankly celebrated Hanuman’s monkeyhood. These practices will be briefly surveyed below, as a prelude to a consideration of the continuities and innovations found in the mechanicallyreproduced images of the 20th century, which will be treated in the second section of this essay. In its concluding section, I will explore several related bodies of discourse that may have contributed to the success of the visual subspecies represented by the Puttaparthi icon and its innumerable (smaller) kinsmen.
1 The final doha or couplet of ’Eight Stanzas’ to Hanuman as sankat mochan, the ’liberator from distress’, a popular Hindi praise-poem attributed to the 16th century poet Tulsidas and often recited during Hanuman’s worship. 2 The image was created for the celebration, in November 1990, of the sixty-fifth birthday of popular guru Sathya Sai Baba. On the proliferation of colossal images of Hanuman and the one-upmanship of sponsoring patrons, see Lutgendorf 1994: 211-17.

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image of Hanuman erected



Sai Baba

Ashram, Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, in 1990. (Photo courtesy of Fee Alvi.)

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that the present forms of his worship are of comparatively recent origin.sagepub. and on that of other scholars. Hanuman is also Hardly Hegemonic. I stress from the outset that H. I accept Christopher Pinney’s caution that the fabrication of any simplistically ’sedimented’ or ’stratified’ history of popular art risks seriously misrepresenting the archiving and endless recycling and recombination practiced by its creators and distributors (Pinney 1997a: 867). published in Hindi (Govindchandra 1976: 310-55). the contexts of popular images. I approach these visual materials with some caution.3 Elsewhere I have discussed the historical rise of Hanuman’s cult and some of the causes of his present popularity (Lutgendorf 1994: 217-34. and the contextual information that I will offer here emerges from my own research on Hanuman’s worship and on his lore both within and beyond 3 the Ramayana tradition. 2010 . The popular visual media of modern India are both extraordinarily ubiquitous and dauntingly heterogeneous. it remains productive to explore.74 As a scholar whose research has largely centred on popular literature and oral performance. in which an ’evolving’ mass-marketed image of Hanuman supplants ’traditional’ variants. The history of his iconography has been the subject of extensive research by Ray Govindchandra. Images. as should become clear-is not meant to imply that I will offer a teleological argument. albeit 3 I use ’Ramayana’ (without italics) to refer to the broad tradition of storytelling concerning Rama and his the same physical environment and perhaps also in worshippers’ visualisations-with more feral representations that have a venerable pedigree. for he coexists--often . are tricky to ‘read’. and its italicised form for specific literary works so titled. Hanuman was generally not subject to elaborate sets of prescriptions.H. and that his worship has enjoyed . great proliferation during the 20th century. Yet as Pinney’s work reveals. As a deity who came into widespread worship relatively late-after about the 1 ooth century CE-and primarily in non-elite at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. no less than texts and performances. such as are found in manuals on temple architecture and iconography (shilpa shastras) that establish conventions for the representation of major deities such as Shiva. in my brief survey of the varieties of Hanuman’s pre-20th-century representations. 1997: 321-27). Vishnu and Krishna-conventions that often persist. I will draw on this research. insofar as possible. Here I will simply note that he is currently among the most venerated of Hindu deities. Downloaded from cis. and my titular invocation of ’evolution’ -intended playfully.

sagepub. The juxtaposition of feral and superhuman traits in this and subsequent Ramayana texts may help to explain the relative freedom assumed by later visual artists in depicting Hanuman. the rakshasas). This hybridity is reflected in their representation. They possess the powers of speech. 4th century BCE). a recent study has characterised this sarga as ’a kind of epiphany of Hanuman. This imaginative freedom may be traced back to his earliest known ‘icons’-the verbal portraits found in Valmiki’s Sanskrit epic (ca. It should be noted that the forms Valmiki’s Hanuman can assume include the human: he first appears to Rama and Lakshmana as a Brahman mendicant. They are also magical. The great range of Hanuman’s pre-modem representations hence suggests considerable exercise of artistic discretion. 1.. On the one hand they are simian and display all the requisite traits of kapitva or ‘monkeyness’ : the poet employs all the conventional Sanskrit epithets for ’monkey’ (vanara. a trait they share with the epic’s villains. However. describes their furry pelts and tails as ’ruddy’. particularly in the fifth book. plavangama.1. pingalaksa. and of extraordinary strength. Sita and at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. and baring of teeth and hindquarters.55). and later takes a similar form to deliver the news of Rama’s victory to Bharata. On the other hand they are human-like in speech and manners../ 75 with significant modifications. or prescribe a single. ’black’. It opens with a remarkable chapter-the longest in the epic-in which the monkey assumes ’a body of immeasurable size’ with eyes that ’blazed like the moon and the sun’ in order to leap across the ocean (5. 4. kapi. of shape-shifting (kamarupin. and are sometimes described with hyperbolic metaphor that strains the powers of visualisation. to the status of a divinity’ (Goldman and Sutherland Goldman 1996: 40). etc. 2010 .10. and makes much of their frisky hyperactivity. subservient pose. Sundarakanda.3) and are quickly dropped once Downloaded from cis. dwell in a cave-city. The creatures who become Rama’s allies in his quest to recover his kidnapped wife are. or ‘tawny’. for their birth results from the mating of celestial gods with female monkeys (Ramayana 1.16.3. which so largely belongs to him. the purpose of which appears to be the elevation of a relatively minor character. in 20th-century poster art. This is especially true of Hanuman. like him. Such works often omit Hanuman entirely. hari. Indeed. as a door-guardian or attendant for Rama. the poem is clear that these are disguises concealing his ’own form’ (svarupa.).2-17) to produce beings who combine monkey characteristics with human and superhuman traits. and perform rituals. supernatural hybrids. wear ornaments. shakha mriga. incessant chatter. of leaping to such distances as to constitute virtual flight.

Rama’s monkey allies assume ’noble human forms’ in order to attend Rama’s enthronement ceremony. lacquer-like finish. do not begin appearing as independent icons until more than a thousand years after the presumed composition of Valmiki’s epic. some scholars consider it a vegetarian substitute for the blood of animal victims that was once poured over sacred stones and tree trunks that marked shrines to yaksas-the quintessential folk deities of early Hinduism and Buddhism. deified heroes (vira) and widow suicides (satis). A similar ambiguity may be noted in Hanuman’s visual representations which. All these features suggest that Hanuman’s veneration began primarily among non-elite groups.1). Its vibrant red-orange colour has associations with auspiciousness. however. 2010 . tight dhoti or loincloth from the back of which his luxuriant tail emerges to rise straight up and curl over his head-an erect position often seen. seldom bear inscriptions.8. but also with fire and blood and hence with sacrificial violence. though they can be difficult to date since they are often situated outdoors. in Tulsidas’s Ramcaritmanas. without singling him out for special attention. or indeed of Rama. Freestanding images of Hanuman. This recourse to disguise is itself suggestive of the lower status of monkeys. Repeated applications cause images to slowly expand in volume and gradually lose surface detail. with whose cult the medieval and modem worship of Hanuman shares certain features (Narula 1991: 21).sagepub. are frequently roughly-carved. either brandishing a club. rather as humans might don formal attire for a solemn and upscale event (Ramcaritmanas 7. Such interludes emphasise the monkeys’ shapeshifting abilities. thus. Such panels do not suggest the independent worship of Hanuman. e. and are sometimes coated with sindur-a thick paste of vermilion and fragrant oil that is regularly applied to Hanuman images and that dries into a glossy.g. The use of sindur itself is associated particularly with ’second-generation’ Shaiva deities such as Ganesha and Bhairava. leaping upward or striding forward. talking monkey. He wears a short. as well as with local aniconic representations of Shiva and Devi.76/ have served their purpose-which is to avoid unduly startling a human being with the sight of an oversized. or with one arm upraised as if to deliver a blow. can be documented from the 8th or 9th at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. they Downloaded from cis. who seldom were in a position to build and endow temples. but these depict Ramayana scenes and usually place him in a group of his cohorts or attending on Rama and Lakshmana. Most early independent images of Hanuman depict him in a fiercely energetic pose. It is true that Hanuman appears in a number of sculpted panels from Gupta period temples. without compromising their simian nature. however.

like Hanuman. and other north and central Indian sites. though he never hefts it in the Sanskirt Ramayana (wherein the vanaras fight only with nails and teeth. a renowned club warrior and hero of the Mahabharata (who. of his dual nature as embodiment of sakti and bhakti) occur with great frequency in late Vijayanagara sites (15th-16th centuries). It is thought to have come from the Adi Varaha temple. and probably portrayed Hanuman as an attendant or doorkeeper. and llth-century images. such as Kalanemi. which permits Hanuman to straddle the divide between Vaishnava and Shaiva sectarian orientations. The latter is the weapon particularly associated with him in modem iconography. Perhaps the earliest image of what is sometimes called tamacha Hanuman (’slap-giving Hanuman’) is a stone carving from Mahabalipuram that may date to the late 6th or early 7th century (Govindchandra 1976: 323-24 and plate 11). carved in relief on boulders or in small shrines. the leg bent at the knee. Nearly all show Hanuman suppressing one or more demons with his foot. Such prostrate figures (which devotees may identify as any of a number of adversaries bested by Hanuman. are in Banaras. Freestanding images of Hanuman in the tamacha stance. A modest number of presumably 9th. dates back at least to the 12th century and has come to be widely acknowledged. strengthen their arms by working out with clubs. but also his status as a ’partial incarnation’ (amsha-avatara) of Rudra/Shiva. some quite large. or by wielding rocks and tree limbs). as well as with martial culture in general-thus wrestlers or pahalvans. The ruins of the imperial capital contain hundreds of them.sagepub. Typically one foot is also raised. at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. among the Common Langurs (Presbytis entellus) to whom Hanuman is sometimes likened. and suggest not only Hanuman’s role as protector and demon-dispeller. 2010 . perhaps. and probably reflecting the patronage of the city’s middle and lower classes (Verghese 1995: 90-92). who venerate Hanuman. mainly located outdoors. This association. Indore. Mathura. Shani. Khajuraho. specifically as the eleventh avatara of Rudra. and rests on a recumbent figure of a male or female demon. These images often include a small bell attached to the overarching tail.77 when the animal is in motion. a detail said to evoke Hanuman’s special veneration as an avatara of prana or the vital breath (medium of both life and Downloaded from cis. 10th. was engendered by the windgod Vayu). and Mahiravana) recall the apasmara purusha often placed under the foot of Shiva. sometimes brandishing a large club or mace (gada). striding vigorously and often holding a lotus in his non-threatening hand (an indication. It may suggest his fraternal association with Bhima. and with an arm upraised.

Although the story is absent from the influential Valmiki and Tulsidas texts. dwarfing his human masters who perch on his shoulders like diminutive dolls. Nagar 1995: plate 15). found throughout much of India in sandstone and marble images (the former generally coated with sindur).com at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. flared nostrils. Hanuman’s thighs are often exaggeratedly broad. such as the countless representations of Hanuman bearing the Drona mountain on his upraised palm as he lands on the battlefield to deliver healing herbs to the mortally-wounded Lakshmana. in which Hanuman rescues the two princes from a subterranean ’earth-Ravana/serpent Ravana’ more menacing than his aboveground double (Figure 3).k.78 sound) by members of the Madhva sect of Vaishnavas. such as popular praise-poems by Tulsidas (1543-1623). with club in one hand and mountain in the other. Nagar 1996). and also especially well represented in folk painting and in poster art (Figures 2. This tale is often inserted in vernacular retellings of the Ramayana as an epic-within-an-epic. Other images that are widespread today may have developed during the 16th or 17th century.. and prominent snout-like jaw-recalling the standard Sanskrit etymology of HanumantIHanuman as ’one having a (prominent) jaw’. Such images include an upward-surging Hanuman with Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders and a fanged demon below his left foot-an allusion to the tale of Mahiravana (a. is today one of his most ubiquitous icons. and late-tantric compendia that include instructions for his ritual propitiation with mantras. which also saw the composition of much popular literature devoted to his worship. which has the peculiarity that is that of ’five-faced’ (panchamost devotees cannot Downloaded from cis. It encapsulates a narrative in which the simian supporting actor assumes centre stage.g. 2010 . Another widely-distributed image mukhi) Hanuman. and crushing a fiend in whose clutches they were unaccountably helpless (see Lutgendorf 1997: 319-21. Such features are shared by other sculpted images that are less datable but probably somewhat later. Ahiravana). This image.sagepub. evoking the musculature of a warrior-athlete. and elaborate visualisations (dhyana). the image associated with it can be readily identified by devotees and today forms the central icon in numerous temples. yantras. 5 and 7). Also common to such images is a simian visage with flattened nose.a. yet also extended upward on one side to suggest the rump of a monkey (e. but is also celebrated in independent poems and plays that began appearing from about the 14th century onward in virtually all the regional languages of the subcontinent (Smith 1996: 379).

Varanasi.79 Figure 2: Wall painting of at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Uttar Pradesh. (Author’s photo) Downloaded from cis.sagepub. 2010 .

sagepub. Ahiravan badh’ (’Lord at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Delhi. Publisher: Kanahya Lal Lachoomal. Mid-20th century. 2010 . the Artist unknown.80 Figure 3: Poster captioned slaying of Ahiravan’ ). Downloaded from cis. ’Shri Hanuman.

ornaments and clothing. display a stylised naturalism . Downloaded from cis. it used to be rare as an icon. either seated in meditation. as in the 18th century miniatures of the Basholi and Alwar schools (Aryan 1975: plates 15-16. Tamil Nadu. Nagar 1995: plate 6). They are found. such images are said to evoke his dasya bhava or devotional mood of perfect servility. and wearing crowns. in contrast to the active images already discussed.. but are shown larger in size. a 20-foot image said to have been carved in about 1. Its earliest manifestations include a ca. illustrating the Ramayana. an 18-foot image in Namakkal. Several regional genres of painting reveal diverse ways in which artists chose to represent Hanuman. 46.500 by a Ramanandi sadhu on a cliff below Jodhpur Fort is now enclosed by a small temple. standing erect.sagepub. Drawings and paintings of this unusual ’Hanuman’ (for four of his five heads belong to other deities). 24. 2010 .81 it with any narrative. their monkey soldiers have sloping shoulders. Also comparatively less common are images of Hanuman at rest. and brushwork and colouring to suggest body fur. knowledge such a form is nowhere mentioned in any of the texts that recount this story. the various species of monkeys common to northern South Asia-rhesus. were produced in substantial numbers in Rajasthan in the 18th century as one variant of the genre of tantric pataka (’banner’ or ’emblem’) paintings (Aryan 1975: Plates 40. tapering waists. Mughal court painters of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.’ A visualisation of a tantric kavacha. sometimes in monumental form. though the most detailed Mughal ’naturalism’ was often replaced by a flatter and more cartoon-like treatment. as door guardians (dvarapala) in temples associated with the Shrivaishnava sect (e. connect 4 to my A few interviewees associated the image with the slaying of Mahiravana. with his body inscribed with mantras. However. 15th century image from Madhya Pradesh and a 16th century pillar relief in the Ekambareshvara Temple in Kanchipuram (Govindchandra 1976: 336. 50-59). 36). and are generally depicted as unclothed. these feature a drooping tail which hangs between Hanuman’s legs. Occasionally. Hanuman and other leaders receive similar treatment. or standing worshipfully with joined palms. langur and macaque-are identifiable in a at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. or protective verbal ’shield’ of mantras that invoke a powerful guardian deity. realistically-drawn feet. dated to roughly the 16th century) and more rarely in other contexts. Such conventions persisted in many of the Rajput ateliers of succeeding centuries.g.

The Calcuttaarea artists whose paintings were sold in the bazaar near the Kalighat temple perhaps came closest to achieving mass production. the Paithan. the latter executed by short strokes of a brush or reed pen (e. which would make such images universally accessible. and the absence of trans-regional standardisation. a theme they may have helped popularise. In concluding this brief survey of pre-20th century iconography. At the same time they indicate the vitality of regional iconographic traditions. Thus the artists of Paithan in Maharashtra developed a stocky but richly-ornamented figure with a reddish body and black snout (sporting a mustache. through images rendered with bold outlining brushstrokes and large areas filled with a watercolour wash. The pat painters of Orissa preferred a more lithe figure with bristling body hair. The first is the gradual development of conventions for representing a deity who was described in literature as a shape-shifting monkey and was largely absent from the canons of sacred iconography and indeed from most temples. and with minimal background details-thus creating an image that is more theophany than narrative scene (e. see Aryan 1975: plate 31). now presented as independent tableaux focusing on the monkey himself as heroic protector and demon-destroyer. Taken together. The evolving conventions generally focused on familiar moments in the Ramayana narrative. as a Common Langur. The Hanuman tears open his chest to reveal Rama and Sita in his at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. and Kalighat images represent a transitional stage between an earlier era when sacred images were largely confined to temples or the shrine rooms of the wealthy. tapering tail. and long. thin black hands and feet.82 / expansion of pilgrimage during the 19th century. may have contributed to the development of regional painting ’schools’ in temple towns. The Kalighat artists chose to represent Hanuman with a stylised naturalism. a feature that occasionally appears in Rajasthan as well). and the approaching era of mass-reproduction. shamanlike healer. Different images enjoyed popularity in different regions and contexts: tamacha Downloaded from cis.g. or fervently emotional devotee. Orissan.g. sharp teeth and nails.. Das 1977: plates 34-58. impassive yogin. in part due to improved transportation and communication. but who was gradually acquiring a following among non-elite communities possessed of sufficient means to commission or purchase images for his worship. with low forehead and a whiskered black snout emerging from a greyish fur muff. and a thick and exaggeratedly long tail.sagepub. several points deserve emphasis. Smith 1988: 145-53). 2010 . which developed a simplified visual vocabulary conducive to rapid execution of images for sale to pilgrims.

since the walls of most Hanuman shrines today are thickly hung-like so many walls in India-with colourful images that reflect the prolific output of the industry to which I now turn. II . In their blurred ruddiness. render their features indistinct to the point that some images assume an almost aniconic quality. sometimes over centuries. which must have permitted regional variants to be identified even by outsiders. and mass media The second half of the 19th century saw striking changes in the representation of Hindu deities (see Mitter. as with other Hindu embodiments in active worship.sagepub. appearing (to outsiders) more like bulbous organic forms than sculptural representations. with little consistency in its specific physiognomy). who can imagine Hanuman in their own fashion. As noted earlier. muscles. artists developed visual codes to instantly convey Hanuman’s identity. such murtis may facilitate projection or visualisation by worshippers. For. many of the most beloved images (such as Sankat Mochan in Banaras) are the most indistinct. Hanuman bringing the mountain of herbs. or slaying Mahiravana-they are treated by worshipers as svarupas or theophanies. Though his specific features varied widely. A final observation concerns temple at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. But it also included the influence of pervasive discourses concerning art and religion. which helped direct the aesthetic tastes of middle-class Hindus toward a new Downloaded from cis. a mountain and club-hefting hero in the central Gangetic plain. a subdued and reverential door guardian in the Tamil country. 2010 . As in their treatment of other animal deities.g. Though they often allude to particular moments in the Rama narrative-e. Jain.83 Hanuman in the areas of modem Karnataka and Andhra that belonged to the Vijayanagara empire. such transformations seem in no way to affect devotees’ perception that the deity is present and able to respond to them. a chest-rending langur in Bengal. each of these local Hanumans is experienced as having a persona of his own. On the contrary. the common denominators were an obligatory tail and distinctly non-human face (though again. Yet such visualisation too does not arise in a vacuum. The context of these changes included the advent of technologies of reproduction that permitted the mass printing of inexpensive images. Monkeys. this volume). linked to and yet distinct from his broader identity. it is surely inflected by the presence of other icons in other media. repeated applications of sindur. And one need not look far for these. However.. yet seem to elicit the most vivid experience of a distinctive personality.

Indian and foreign. As Mitter shows in Much maligned monsters (1977). both were long dismissed by academic scholars. A modest appreciation of Indian achievements in monumental architecture-sans its iconographic component-led to the oft-repeated judgement that Indians were capable only of ’design’ and ’decoration’. digital clocks. The founding of government-sponsored art schools in major metropolitan areas under British rule aimed at the ’improvement’ of Indian tastes. and generally beneath notice. and of the vogue for academic realist painting and sculpture in Victorian England. and were often echoed in the English and vernacular press of Bengal in essays decrying the wretched state of art in the country (Guha-Thakurta 1992: 53. its framing of scenes.sagepub. in time. this volume). now being remedied (for poster art) through the work of such scholars as Tapati Guha-Thakurta. The quintessential product of this revolution was the image of a deity or mythological tableau. set design. 64-68). Christopher Pinney and Patricia Uberoi. or ’god poster’. and even casting preferences drew on the already-established conventions of poster iconography. By the second half of the 19th century. that came to be called variously a ’calendar picture’.84 mode of illusionist ’realism’ that combined conventions of postRenaissance European painting and of 19th century theatrical design with indigenous visual codes and subjects (cf. these views. 2010 . James Fergusson and Vincent Smith. a reflection of the assessment of Greco-Roman art as the ultimate aesthetic standard. even as their administrators affirmed the impossibility of Indians attaining the level of achievement of their European teachers-a judgement Downloaded from cis. cassette labels. Poster art and popular cinema shared another significant feature: despite (or perhaps because of) their ubiquity and accessibility. lighting. itself had a long history. had come to be intemalised by many educated Indians. its conventions reappearing on the labels of countless goods. Kajri Jain. on the artifacts of newer technologies: trucks. hybrid. Such neglect. Partha Mitter. reflecting the dualism of Christian ideology. as vulgar. It would emerge as one of the most ubiquitous consumer products of the 20th century. ’framing picture’. And as the popular Indian cinema developed from about 1910. the early European judgement of Hindu images as ’monstrous’ or ’demonic’. reiterated by such influential critics as John Ruskin. shifted during the colonial period to labelling them ’grotesque’ or ’misshapen’. Pinney. and refrigerator magnets. so that these two media reinforced a pervasive visual at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. from matchboxes and patent medicines to saris and umbrellas and. and that ’fine art’ had never developed among them.

as the worship itself outrages all reason. and chromolithographs-that flooded popular markets during the second half of the century. of art and nationalism has been effectively charted by Mitter and Guha-Thakurta. To a middle-class audience that had learned to regard traditional painting styles as crude and degenerate. oleographs. both of whom have stressed the impact of the Keralan painter Ravi Varma (1848-1906)..: 127). and despite the fact that some of his much-copied designs remain hardy perennials of the poster bazaar. however.6 Varma’s prints offered an appealing alternativethe same beloved figures rendered in subdued colours and ’natural’ settings. later artists have generally favoured a flatter 5 Guha-Thakurta gives the date as 1892 (Guha-Thakurta 1992: 106). Downloaded from cis. Varma saw the possibilities of new visual mediathe sequential waves of line-engravings. In addition. Let our readers now consider what would be the effect of a body of artists with high conceptions and a refined taste modelling the idols we worship’ (ibid. Note.sagepub. under such circumstances. but also in their projection of ’national’ models and avoidance of regional details (Guha-Thakurta 1992: 110). 21 June 1855 (cited in Guha-Thakurta 1992: 68). The intertwined development. these prints bolstered the emerging spirit of nationalism. opened his own Lithographic Press near Bombay (Mitter 1994: 212). 2010 . 6 The Hindoo Patriot (Calcutta). not merely in their showcasing of an indigenous master who could compete with British painters. Varma recognised that the greatest demand was for ’portraits’ of deities rendered in a similar style. whose ’historical’ paintings of epic and Puranic scenes won praise from British officials and the acclaim of urban salon-goers and the native at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. ’devoid at once of imaginative richness and chastity of conception.. in the same paper (4 May 1854): ’The idols we worship outrage taste. daubed with the hideousness of savage imagery’.: 213-14). The effect was phenomenal: Varma’s print-runs quickly sold out and his images were rapidly plagiarised by other artists and presses-a phenomenon that would become endemic to the god-poster industry (ibid. and in 1894. and . Cf.85 increasingly buttressed by pseudo-scientific notions of ’racial’ aptitude and climatically-constrained sensitivity. with German collaboration.5 Although the press initially offered inexpensive renderings of some of his acclaimed history paintings. that Mitter’s and Guha-Thakurta’s assessment of Varma’s importance is disputed by Pinney in his contribution to this volume. Varma’s reputation as a fine artist would decline rapidly after his death (due in part to critics who championed a new Bengal-based ’Indian school’ of painting that evoked the Ajanta frescoes and Rajput miniatures).

g. for the most part. and placid. Mona Lisa smiles. large eyes.sagepub.. in hundreds of millions of reproductions (e. 866.86 / rendering of figures as well as a more surreal and less perspectival treatment of landscape. Downloaded from cis. clad in a pink sari that nicely complements her extended tongue.S. and Kali as a robust Bengali girl with pale bluish skin.g. Yet it has developed a sufficiently common set of visual conventions to permit certain generalisations regarding its treatment of its subjects. an ’airbrushing’ of some of the more visceral details of myths-e. The novice foreign observer is usually struck by the doll-like and androgynous appearance of deities-their softly-rounded. translate into a popular art that was ’realistic’ in Western terms. but it as likely reflects a ’domestication’ appropriate to the new environments in which such images have come to livehomes. at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. but rather into an indigenous surrealism that adapted the ’magical potentials of tactile illusionism’ to its own iconographic agenda (ibid. Such ’magical realism’ (as Pinney adapts this term) and more frontal exemplified by the work of painters of the Rajasthani Nathdvara traditiõi111istributed throughout India. Kondiah Raju (1898-1976) (Inglis 1995: 53. hence even the most aggressive tantric deities metamorphose into the sorts of persons one can welcome into one’s parlour and indeed one’s greater family. by S. the imperative of ’naturalism’ felt by the 19th century Indian bourgeoisie did not. businesses-where dangerous divine powers cannot be constantly propitiated through ritual. and later by that of influential South Indian painters like C. Pinney 1997a: 860. at any given moment.’ Poster art offers auspiciousness without risk. 2010 . 29/11/2000). by the use of an airbrush). For they often take their place in 7 I am grateful to Kajri Jain for this insight (personal communication. full red lips. The more informed observer may perceive a similar softening at the level of narrative. Inglis 1995: 66)-encompasses significant regional variations and regularly reflects the innovations of individual artists. Such treatments may reflect a kind of visual ’gentrification’ that originally arose out of bourgeois sensitivity to Western critiques of Hinduism as ’primitive’ (more on this below). Brijbasi and Sons. As Guha-Thakurta observes. The universe of the Hindu god-poster-now comprising thousands of images that circulate. the largest companies in the South Indian print centre of Sivakasi were each issuing more than 10 million posters per year in the early 1990s. was 1999: 208-12).: 93). beginning in 1928. Narasimha shown as a large and liquid-eyed pussycat playfully disemboweling a faintly-smiling asura. since the 1960s.. dimpled limbs (an effect often enhanced.

costumes. and calendar art. and moments of high emotion often duplicated familiar poster tableaux. cf. film stars. producing idiosyncratic and suggestive juxtapositions (Inglis 1995: 70-72. 44). the actors’ ornaments.g. this volume). Brosius’ ’inter-visuality’ and 8 I thus contribute to the of the folk theatre of rural areas. 2010 .. which carefully quoted poster art in such crucial scenes as the disrobing of Draupadi and in Krishna’s battlefield theophany before Arjuna. the long-running TV serialisations of the classical epics offer especially striking examples of this phenomenon.the kind found on cheap calendars.8 Some of the earliest 19th century mythological lithographs reflected the subject matter and visual conventions of the popular theatre in Calcutta. producer of the serialised TV Ramayan. Mythological films and. who does not hesitate to brand as ’strange’ a combination of visual and performance genres with which vast audiences evidently ’feel very comfortable’. who noted its resemblance to other genres of (similarly deprecated) popular art. Pinney 1997a: 838-40. which play an important role in educating proliferation of neologisms to describe this notable phenoPinney’s ’inter-ocularity’. is presented in the Ramlila style’ (Vaid-Fera 1987: 16). On the whole. art-cinema director Govind Nihalani. the entire visual representation is kitsch&mdash.sagepub. and his Rama had the requisite dimpled demeanor and faint smile of the god-poster prince. the company theatre of the urban areas./ 87 customised montages. and many later poster painters doubled as scene painters for the theatre and cinema. remarked that his unknown principal actors were chosen to correspond to images ’in the hearts and minds’ of viewers. Rajadhyaksha 1993. over which the camera lingered reverently while the soundtrack intoned a devotional bhajan. Downloaded from cis. interviewed in Imprint: ’I have seen very few episodes of Ramayana. more at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Smith 1995: 40-41.R. the serial strikes me as being a strange combination menon . and even the sets through which they moved recapitulated the florid world of the posters. 9 The overall ’look’ of the serial was indeed a factor in its dismissal by many critics. A second general observation concerns what I will term (on analogy with intertextuality) ‘intericonicity’-the relationship of poster images to other visual media. Together with his blandlybeaming Sita. he himself soon began to appear in both photographic and painted posters (Lutgendorf 1990: 144). both in this volume.9 This was no less true in B. yet. intermixed with posters and photos of national leaders. Similarly. see also Pinney. Chopra’s Mahabharat. To me. Note the unselfconsciously elitist stance of the speaker. Pinney 1997b: 161-171. and family members. Ramanand Sagar. Similar conventions reign in the prolific Amar Chitra Katha comic books. and indeed as photographers and cinematographers (Inglis 1995: 55-56. The serial has gained popularity because people feel very comfortable and familiar viewing it as it has the finish of a typical Hindi film. E.

and sometimes endowed with sharp teeth and gleaming yellow eyes-a feral being who resembled the descriptions found in most Sanskrit and vernacular Ramayana texts (Figure 4). yet I have found no reference to it in books on Varma’s work.sagepub. Pritchett 1995). it may be the product of one of Varma’s students or imitators. benevolent stereotypes of the This posters. and are never covered with sindur. the generally and rough merely suggestive modelling of his popular sculpted images. Aryan attributes it to Ravi Varma (Aryan 1975: plate 129). by endowing him not simply with a vague anthropomorphism but with a detailed and naturalistic human brings me anatomy (Figure 5). 2010 . None of these features was conducive to establishing a definitive prototype to be rendered in an illusionist style. poster artists adopted two different strategies for representing him. I have indicated the poster of Hanuman’s great range pre-modem at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. K. I must cite the most reified embodiments of these ideal prototypes: the Patna to ’Jaipur-style’ white marble statues of gods now inhabiting temples from Pittsburgh.’o back to Hanurrian. This tendency may also mark a shift away from the low-class and Shaiva associations of other sindur -covered deities. Through an irony of colonialism (and an early example of what Agehananda Bharati would dub ’the pizza effect’).88 / urban. 10 Downloaded from cis. The Hindu pantheon (Figure 6). Presumably middle-class patrons want the beauty (and costliness) of the marble to be visible. Notable too is the fact that the pose and ornaments resemble those of monkey warriors in an engraving in Edward Moor’s 1810 work. Moor’s book returned to Jaipur-style images of Hanuman are common. all the dimpled. and to the early era of the godwhen these conventions began to develop. sparkling white stone highlighted with brilliant colours.C. Instead. Finally. Though all these examples are uncommon images today. One was to depict Hanuman as covered in thick fur of various colours. Figure 5 is decidedly the most anomalous. comprising Moor’s writings on Hindu deities and their visual renderings by one ’Mr Haughton of the Royal Academy’ based on images Moor had collected in India. and their glaring and obscuring sindur coating. and translating into highly polished. middle-class children in Hindu lore (cf. The other approach was to humanise him to a degree that departed strikingly from most pre-modem representations. It is fair to say that it is suggestive of Varma’s innovative ’historical’ style-what Pinney has termed the ’naturalist blip between 1878 and 1927’ (Pinney 1997a: 866)-and in fact the figure’s wiry legs recall those of Rama in Varma’s famous rendering of Rama subduing the ocean. if not of the master himself.

Anjani’s son’)./ 89 Figure 4: Poster captioned ’Bhakta Anjanaya j uic devotee. Publisher: Anant Shivaji Desai Topiwalla. Downloaded from cis. Bombay.sagepub. Artist at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Early to mid-20th century. 2010 .

com at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. 2010 .sagepub.) Downloaded from cis. Daniel Smith. (Photo courtesy of H. Early 20th century.90 / Figure 5: Poster attributed to Ravi Varma.

on the silver-plated door of a temple at Mount Abu.sagepub. by edition of Edward Moor’s The Hindu pantheon. from 1864 following page 120. returned to India as a sort of cultural ambassador to eventually become this particular ’Ravi Varma’ poster-a Hanuman. indeed. Plate XXX. Haughton. as I have noted-his fair. Hence it is possible that an Indian original. The mountain-bearing pose itself is possibly Hanuman’s single most ubiquitous icon. hairless body is unmistakably human. Rajasthan). served as a principal source of Varma’s knowledge of ancient Indian art (Mitter 1994: 201). and according to Mitter. almost disembodied tail-his two crucial codings. 2010 . and though this ’Varma’ image occasionally resurfaces in unexpected contexts (e.. But leaving aside this speculation. Brijbasi and Sons (Figure 7). which favour-in the midst of a Downloaded from cis.g.S. Apart from a stylised snout with narrow muff of greyish fur (a subtle langur allusion?) and a floating. what is most striking to me about this Hanuman is his lack of simian at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15./ 91 Figure 6: Engraving of monkeys building bridge to Lanka. India to become an authoritative reference work for the English-literate during the 19th century. the most common later renditions are (as Pinney’s research predicts) those of S. who seems to have leapt off a Grecian um. transported to England and ’rationalised’ and anthropomorphised to neoclassical standards by an English engraver. at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Sharma. Mid-20th century.N. Signed by L. Downloaded from cis. Publisher: S. Delhi. 2010 .92 / ~~~ -Figure 7: Hanuman bearing mace and mountain. Brijbasi and Sons.S.

sagepub. he is cheaper to outfit and make up for the screen. offers a wideranging and insightful discussion of contemporary iconography that points beyond the obvious in considering the popularity of ’muscular’ god-posters. ’angry’ image of Rama that appeared in the 1980s (Basu et. like his own muscles. Durga. This fits one politicised interpretation of the Ramayana narrative (cf. 234-40).H. especially when it is used to justify the demolition of mosques-with the dirty work carried out by a Bajrang dal (’army of Hanuman’). The Jaipur marble sculptors and polishers too prefer broad. depicted as an anatomically-correct monkey studiously reading the Ramayana). a hairless Hanuman is quicker and easier to draw. This was Hanuman (with or without hair) after a ’bullworker’ workout with prominent pecs and washboard abs. expanding. Rama’s stronganh. That Hanuman is often invoked (along with Shiva. al. though they are capable of chiseling an uneven. and for TV and film producers (who lack the Hollywood budgets of Planet of the apes).com at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15./ 93 typically florid Nathdvara-style landscape-a chunky monkey. Kapur 1993). who speaks eloquently but carries a big stick. And since it was largely this Hanuman who leapt like a speeding bullet across the pages of god-comics and TV and cinema screens. Hanuman is. Hanuman. he appears to respond to chauvinist fears of enervation and of subjugation by demonised others. After noting the claims by some entrepreneurs that ’the gods are not supposed to have muscles’ (since these connote brute force. He would reappear periodically. Pollock 1993: 272-77. An essay by Kajri Jain. playfully titled ’Muscularity and its ramifications : mimetic male bodies in Indian mass culture’. his media empire seemed to be.g. more feral and more Yet the ’Varma’ image was not the last that would be seen of H. smooth surfaces. Bursting with celibate energy and righteous wrath. 1993: 60. and others) by Hindutva militants may seem to some a sufficient explanation for his increasingly well-toned physique and monumental public installations (cf. in posters sometimes notable for another development: an exaggerated and carefully-rendered musculature that owed nothing to Varma’s wiry somatotypes. Lutgendorf 1994: 211-17. a Hanuman on steroids (Figure 8 and Colour Plate 3). 281-84). as several scholars have done in the case of a ’muscular’. the charming ’Ramayani Hanuman’ at Tulsi Chaura in Ayodhya.. furry one when requested (e. Other simple explanations are also at hand: for comic-book artists. Downloaded from cis. among other things. and particularly toward the tail-end of the 20th century. 2010 . To explain this development one can of course invoke Hindu nationalism.

Publisher: Jothi. Late 20th century. 2010 .94/ Figure 8: Poster of Pancha-mukhi Hanuman (’five headed Hanuman’). Downloaded from at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Signed ’Sivas’.

: 3). which she characterises as a mood of ’devotional abjection’ (ibid.. much credit for the popularisation of his heavily-muscled icons belongs to one P.95 whereas the as gods’ transcendent power is conveyed through such features skin and large eyes). who died in 1994. she proposes that muscularity encodes Hanuman’s explosive power or shakti. Sardar of Kolhapur. and embodied (and released-at least for the duration of a film) in Bachchan. lithe. Beyond this fascinating vignette.d. She notes that. Drawing on Joseph Alter’s fieldwork on North Indian wrestlers. Although I am substantially convinced by Jain’s argument (which is more complex and subtle than my synopsis suggests). suggesting the popular icon of Hanuman displaying Rama’s name or image on his heart (ibid. which is contained and controlled by his excessive bhakti. She proposes that Bachchan’s embodiment of a-working class ’angry young man’ was linked to his dark.: 15). which subsequently acquired wide distribution and imitation (ibid.sagepub. ironically. Jain reads Hanuman’s periodicallyexaggerated muscularity as a marker of his ’subaltern’ status as a labouring devotee. Finally. incidentally. noisy’ (ibid. It is said that Sardar. fair. and fervent Hanuman devotee-and also. used to pose before a mirror for his own paintings. upon which images or words sometimes appeared superimposed.). 2010 . and sinewy physique that marked a departure from the soft. Jain invokes the Ramayana (and shows how Bachchan’s proletarian angst was still nuanced by the ’visual idioms of the bazaar’) by ingeniously detailing the camera’s fascination with Bachchan’s chest. I find her use of the term ’abjection’ unfortunately suggestive (despite a long footnote Downloaded from cis. Yet rather than read such ’abject’ subaltern power as simple precursory fuel for the hegemonic project of Hindutva. instrumentalised . Jain turns. into the reactionary nationalist project of Hindutva ( at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. in a remarkable move..: 6).: 8). embodied (but controlled) in Hanuman. a Muslim. to an analysis of the body image and persona created by Amitabh Bachchan in his hugelysuccessful films of the 1970s and ’80s. who dutifully serves his higher divine masters. bodybuilder.: 17). she proposes that the emergence of the ’muscular’ Rama in the 1980s may be seen as a ’defensive reappropriation’ of the power of such imagery. channelling the righteous aggression of the lower orders. a painter. This development (which she further contextualises by invoking the social movements of the early 1970s and their repression during and after the Emergency of 1975-77) opened up the possibility of an energised subaltern body that was ’goaldriven. romantic body type of earlier male stars. Jain appropriately turns to Hanumanglowing a god who sometimes contradicts this rule (Jain n.

is doubtless suggestive of subaltern status (Figures 2 and 3). in each of these popular icons. German bodybuilder Eugen Sandow visited India in 1905 and created a sensation. Indeed. while Hanuman speeds to the Himalayas to fetch the sanjivani herb. both for the high gods and by extension for his devotees. I am grateful to Carey Watt for this information. In Hindu lore. Here I again note that he is understood and experienced by most of his devotees not merely as a servant of Vishnu-Rama but as an avatara of the shakti-filled RudraShiva. male thighs are often 11 In the ’Lakshman shakti’ episode.13 In some earlier 20th century images of Hanuman. one may ask whether the rampant vanara in Figures 2 and 3 can be characterised as ’abject’. no less than their exposure below his abbreviated langota. not Rama ones. On the Mahiravana story. as did Professor Ramamurti Naidu. and note 4. 12 Thus I propose that what is celebrated in these posters is not Hanuman’s subordination but rather his triumphant efficacy as a saviour figure. 13 Carey Watt speculates that the popularity of the circus and its ’strongmen’ in India from the late 19th century onward may have influenced certain early poster images. and their own bodies in the other. detached monarch who leaves all responsibility to his tireless subordinate. Hanuman is bearing something for his masters-a mountain in one. Leaving aside the fact that even the most ’abject’ dasya stance connotes other values that are highly prized by many Hindus (such as emotional openness and active self-forgetting love). see at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. It is true that. you do all his work’ (Saba para Rama tapasvi raja. But significantly. Rama is reduced to wailing over his mortally-wounded brother.96 / explaining the non-conventional sense in which she intends it) of a standard Marxist reduction of bhakti to the compensatory opiate of the underprivileged in a feudal order. Rama in popular tradition has long shown signs of becoming otiose as deity: remote and inaccessible. 12 The vastly-popular Hanuman chalisa intones: ’Rama the ascetic reigns over all&mdash. these are ’Hanuman posters’. A culturally-nuanced reading of ’muscularity’ must also consider shifts in its bodily location. an Indian muscleman who performed at Arya Samaj and Congress gatherings in the first decade of the 20th century (Watt 2001. and the monkey is the principal figure offering darshan and accepting worship.sagepub. and contemplates abandoning both the war and Sita. both images encode narratives in which Hanuman intervenes at crucial moments when Rama and Lakshmana cannot help themselves. tinha ke kaja sakala tumha saja. and indeed in the history and significance of its display. 2010 . the girth of his thighs and calves. see also Chapman 1994: 156-63).&dquo. As any bazaar vendor knows. except through his earthy sidekick. The verse suggests a distant. Hanuman chalisa 27). as in many pre-modem paintings. Downloaded from cis.

and a resulting consumer boom in the sale of home weight sets. 15 E. like their Bollywood counterparts. as well as an exposed chest. 16 E. and Bhima’s resulting vow to shatter it with his mace). Such lower-body exposure and exaggeration is a different kind of ’muscularity’ than the abdominal and upper-torso toning evident in certain late-20th century Hanuman images.g. either of agriculture or of battle.hell in this case being the future we are making for ourselves. and body-displaying clothing. marginalised as a weird subculture by the prestigious mass media. any more than do high-caste men.’97 associated both with sexual and martial prowess (cf. Robert Redford.g. virility.. is commonly the sign of those who must perform hard labour in the fields.the fact that so much of him lay below the waist.. and 1954’s The wild one ).com at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. which was artfully accentuated by the short jackets and tight bell-bottoms popular in the era. This development has had transnational dimensions.15 But the impact of the sexual revolution (which made nudity more common in films) and the gay liberation movement (with its increasingly public celebration of homoeroticism) as well as a broadbased concern for ’health and fitness’ led. Hollywood stars of the 1950s and ’60s.sagepub. Yet high-level gods do not generally display their thighs. just as it is the wrestling uniform of (often lower class) pahalvans. who made his mark portraying blue-collar antiheroes (e.. exercise machines. at the standards of recent Hindi films. bodybuilding began as a largely working class pastime. In America too. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s much-discussed ’breakthrough’ from being a slightly-ludicrous ’Mr Universe’ to a star of mainstream films was considered emblematic of the emerging ’physical culture’ of the 1980s (O’Neill 1996: 517). to a proliferation of new models in all the visual media.g.l6 Even aspects of bodybuilding (and gay) culture that had been Bachchan’s subaltern hero was also (when shirtless). A notable exception was Marlon Brando. and disciplined leisure. 2010 . What was often remarked on about his appearance was his lanky height and long legs&mdash. 14 I suggest that muscularity has moved upward in recent decades. not as a sign of subaltern labour. fairly scrawny of build. Duryodhana’s notorious baring of his thigh to Draupadi in the Mahabharata. reflecting a new interest among the upwardly-mobile in the cultivation and display of the male physique. with bulging biceps revealed by his sweat-stained tank-top. his breakthrough initially came (in 1984’s Terminator) playing not a human being but a humanoid super-(anti)-hero: a sort of subaltern-from-hell&mdash. but as an emblem of vitality. a langota or short dhoti. by the 1980s. and massive thighs are valorised by wrestlers as indicative of strength bom of abundant but restrained semen (Alter 1992: 152-53). 14 least by Downloaded from cis. Rather. in 1951’s A streetcar named desire. were generally ’soft’ and ’romantic’ . Interestingly. Cary Grant.

Devotees are now invited to cultivate. it is significant to note that this cultivation and public display of the ’buff’ torso appears to be contemporaneous with the rise of both consumerism and of politically-energised middle at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. fragmented./ 98 considered especially bizarre-such as ’waxing’ the skin to remove hair and permit the oiled display of highlighted musculature-were gradually rendered commonplace and respectable by the 1990s. bared his muscular torso and engaged in frenetic workouts while wooing his girl. In the light of Jain’s insightful observations on mimesis in the circuit between poster imagery and human desire and practice. as in America. In India too. a 1989 megahit in which Salman Khan. who perceived it as grotesque. Reflecting on this Downloaded from cis. the breakthrough film for the new somatotype is said to have been Maine pyar kiya. Sardar’s weightlifting and posing before a mirror presciently suggests that the new physique of Hanuman-a deity who has always been especially available for mimesis-is not merely to be passively adored. and who had wide-ranging and cosmopolitan interests. had begun appearing even in provincial cities like Varanasi. Bare-chested images of Lee and Stallone began to be displayed in autorickshaws and other public spaces alongside Hindi film stars-and indeed. mainly via videotape. I am also thinking of Brahman pandits and academic scholars in cities and provincial towns who sought to address and influence this audience. though in the context of a wider timeframe extending back into the 19th century: of those who were college-educated in English-medium schools. especially those positioned at the interface of the clashing discourses of pious Sanatana Dharma devotion and modem secular education. with its Anglo-European ideological presuppositions and master narratives. But this mirroring and mimesis also poses a problem for some of Hanuman’s votaries. P. as a L1S-returned teenage hero. Here I am again thinking of the middle classes. and the fact that modem ’gyms’ and ’health clubs’. some with gleaming exercise machines. and unhealthy (Alter 1992: 50-57). who regularly consulted newspapers and other mass media. and during the same period American bodybuilding magazines began appearing in urban bazaars. In India. the (male) body beautiful has become yet another good for men to desire and potentially get. along with his bhakti (abject or otherwise). of the action films of Bruce Lee and Sylverster Stallone. In his study of North Indian wrestling. alongside Hanuman. Yet he also observed the growing popularity of the new look. In Bollywood. Alter noted the unfavourable reaction that the bodybuilder physique initially elicited from pahalvans.sagepub. 2010 . his build. the 1980s saw the popularisation.

but with its own history: in the problem of how and for whom it came to be perceived as a problem in the first place. 2010 . he dismissed this naive idea. Neanderthals. I am not concerned with its ostensible solutions. of its various ‘solutions’. was a Native American (’S.for he notes that it is ridiculous to Downloaded from cis.’ 1990). he had concluded that Rama’s forest allies were actually none other than ’your own red Indians!’ Hanuman. But although the critique of the Valmikian Ramayana by Jaina preceptors like Vimalasuri may appear to anticipate the ’rational’ doubts of 19th century audiences&mdash. My initial curiosity about this ’problem’ was soon replaced by resignation to politely listening to exposition. For with one notable ancient exception (the Ramayana narratives associated with the Jaina tradition) it is a problem that seems never to have occurred to Indian storytellers.sagepub. or visual artists prior to the late 19th century.99 problem-how it was posed and how it has been resolved-will enable introduce a final body of discourse that may potentially be seen to mirror and mould Hanuman’s sometimes non-feral and de-furred me to physique. 17 It arose then as one indigenous response to certain discourses of the colonisers. the Chinese. who were the vanaras?’ When I replied that I simply took them to be as Ramayana-tellers described them. a great devotee of Hanuman and patron of his worship. the ’monkey problem’ has come to interest me too. and reflected anxiety over the nature of a 17 The Jaina instance is pertinent. Through a number of such conversations. Thus a charming and learned Banaras gentleman. but from a different angle. eagerly broached the topic: ’Tell me now. etc. He rejected each in turn before proposing his own ingenious ’solution’: through a careful reading of the Sanskrit Ramayana and a reassessment of world geography in the Treta Yuga based on astronomy and the theory of tectonic plates and continental drift. the ’missing link’. interviewees occasionally pressed me for my views on ’the monkey problem’. First he cited a number of theories proposed by others regarding the possible racial or ethnic identity of a human or proto-human group that Valmiki had so labelled: Dravidians. III Ape-ologetics In 1990 when I was in India researching Hanuman worship. audiences. Bigfoot. various Adivasi tribes. since it may reflect the discomfort of a proto- bourgeoisie (Jainism was popular among merchants) and their religious teachers with a simian deity who enjoyed a largely lower-class at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. in short. often at tedious length.

2010 . They were diminutive primates whose names were often used as pejorative labels to belittle despised human ’others’ who unsuccessfully ’aped’ the ways of their betters. and in one Assamese poet’s account. speak.sagepub. the Ramayana-related folklore of Bengal and adjacent regions-the epicentre of the early colonial encounter-was particularly prone to play s up his grosser simian characteristics. urinates in Meghnad’s vedic fire. in Krittibasa’s epic. and displayed crude anger. who were clever at engineering and were rewarded with a ’white island’ in the far west. the descendants of Rama’s causeway-building allies Nala and Nila. binds another rakshasa general in his tail and then defecates in his mouth (Govindchandra 1976: 201. The culmination of the evolutionary ascent was of course suppose.his solution is to simply transform the vanaras into the hardly-less-fantastic category of demi-divine vidyadharas. from which. came from a bad family. bestial stupidity.&mdash. permitting Jaina authors to salvage and co-opt a popular narrative while assuring their audiences that their Brahman opponents have gotten it all wrong. which created a furore throughout the English-speaking world and beyond and was soon invoked to bestow an aura of scientific authority on the discourse that located various human ’races’ along a hierarchical trajectory. Smith 1988: 186). The British themselves regularly jeered at their colonised subjects. ’theriomorphic’. and aggressive and highly-visible sexuality.100 / popular deity whom Western scholars authoritatively classified in the ’primitive’ categories of ’zoomorphic’. On Jaina Ramayanas. their descendants would rule the world in the Kali Yuga. stole and destroyed property. in short. The beloved Hanuman belonged to a species whose public image was of notoriously impure pests-liminal creatures who caricatured human physiognomy and behaviour. see Kulkarni 1990. and North Indians. as Brahmans do. that monkeys can fly. sometimes substituting for Valmiki’s awesome vanara a crude trickster who. in one folktale. This is essentially an act of narratological sleight-of-hand. noting the ruddy complexions of East Indian Company soldiers. from Ireland to Bengal. Such monkey business took on even more troubling dimensions for the English-educated in India following the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species. as ’apes’ (Mitter 1994: 149). responded by dubbing them ’red monkeys’ (lal bandar)-alluding to the faces and rumps of the ubiquitous Rhesus Macaque-and even making them.&dquo. it was prophesied. 18 The intellectual controversy that followed the publication of what has been called ’the most important book of the century’ (Irvine 1955: 83-126) is itself the subject of a Downloaded from cis. Hanuman. and who was not (like Ganesha) associated with an auspicious animal or readily reducible to a ’symbolic’ at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. or ’totemic’ gods. To make matters worse. etc.

for Italy. Pancaldi 1991). for the US. according to a biographer) would write. as well as the bowdlerised but pervasive references to (what was quickly dubbed) ’the monkey theory’ that rapidly percolated through popular culture. and perhaps pre-Kolarian aborigines’-in short.101 the moral and manly civilisation of Victorian Britain.. Darwin himself (’a fervent believer in the White Man’s Burden’ at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Downloaded from cis. published in 1883. scholars and colonial officials... A smaller number of works examine the impact of Darwin’s work in non-English speaking countries (e. for Germany. Ellegard 1958. including Dravidians. and document the high-profile debate that raged throughout the 1860s and ’70s in lecture halls and in newspapers and journals. see Killingley 1995 and Watt 1999: ChapWatt observes that ’Leaders of social reform and "revivalist" movements in the late 19th century . a mishmash (reminiscent of the dreaded varna-sankara of Brahman legalists) that copious States literature. through the horror of uncontrolled lust. was ’Brahmanism modified by the creeds and superstitions of Buddhists and Non-Aryan races of all kinds. were all aware of evolutionary theory and they often tried to convey its consonance with Hindu traditions’ (Watt 1999: 48-49). (Chancellor 1973: 180).. On other Indian reactions. Here I wish to briefly review two influential and parallel narrativesone concerning religion and one concerning art-that bear directly on Hanuman and his representation. A single study examining the early reception of Darwin’s work in the Islamic world identifies the first Muslim theological response to Origin as a Persian-language treatise composed in India in 1881 (Ziadat 1986: 85). Worse still perhaps were those whose once-pure ’Aryan’ culture had fallen into degradation. 2010 . in my opinion. Kolarians. reflected a century of description and classification of Hindu beliefs and practices by missionaries. which was largely complete by the 1880s. ’M. inflected subsequent policy toward ’subject races’. ’No words can exaggerate the importance.g. The most detailed studies are confined to England and the United (e. Monier-Williams’ Religious thought and life in India. In tracing the historical development of contemporary Hinduism through a series of phases that had become standard categories-from ’Vedism’ to ’Philosophical Brahmanism’ to ‘Hinduism’-Monier-Williams crafted a narrative of moral corruption and cultural decline that stood in implied contrast to the progressive ascent of Western civilisation.g. for England.sagepub. Far below this were cultures locked in lower evolutionary niches-potential ’missing links’ between the animal and human. and on the formulation and solution of the ’monkey problem’ . shaped by a bracing climate and nurtured by a ’rational’ religion. which opened the floodgates to miscegenation with lessevolved races. Russett 1976). For ’Hinduism’ in his view. The intellectual triumph of Darwinism in England. Such quasi-scientific and Christian triumphalist discourses have been extensively examined of late as specimens of Orientalism. of our colonization for the future history of the world’ ter III. Kelly 1981.

racial theories and vague but condescending ethnographic terms were invoked to explain at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. which held post-Buddhist Indian art to show evidence of gradual but steady slippage into monstrosity and excess. 226). for he was among the ’tutelary and village deities’ who represented ’earlier and more primitive objects of worship’ (i. Again. 2010 . note 6). These constitute now the popular religion of the masses . Hanuman was classed among ’inferior deities and godlings’ who were ’crude and primitive indeed’.. smeared with oil and vermillion’ was said to be an example of ’monkey worship’. Fergusson detailed the impact of non-Aryans.. but through school curricula and newspapers and journals (see. Osborn Martin’s The gods of India gave a more detailed account of Hanuman as ’one of the greatest village godlings .’ 3-4).. all this had resulted in ’a gradual relapse into superstition and barbarism’ (Fergusson 1876: 33-34.e. such as ’Dravidians’.. Hanuman was a (ibid. and ’Dasyus’.. Mitter 1977: 264-65). but the condescending language and categories remained much the same. A more ’realistic’ religious art represented one tangible response to this discourse.: 222). ’Turanians’.g. The narrative of religious degeneration. and his ’rude image. and merely local belief. Four decades later. His presence in the pantheon was attributed to the fact that Hinduism ’has opened its doors to a vast amount of demonolatry. as in James Fergusson’s influential History of Indian and eastern architecture ( 1876). but I now want to consider certain intellectual responses for the Downloaded from cis.. the Reverend E. than the ’great gods’ Vishnu and Shiva). applied with special force to deities like Hanuman. Mitter’s 1977 book summarises both the range of colonial opinions and their fairly consistent presuppositions. Such harsh critiques were absorbed by the native intelligentsia not merely through volumes of prestigious foreign scholarship. though the author guessed that he was originally ’the chief of some such aboriginal tribe like those who to-day dwell almost like wild animals in the hill-tracts of Central India’ (Martin 1924: 202. fetish-worship.102 / precipitated the entire culture’s fall from the ’high mental capacities and strong moral feelings’ of the vedic Aryans (Monier-Williams 1974: manifestation of this fallen condition.: 202). widely worshipped over a large part of India’. was paired with a comparable one in the realm of art and architecture. whose religion was characterised by ’superstitious fetishism’ and whose ’racial’ influences he actually claimed to identify in specific features of medieval buildings. the author speculated that ’possibly they may even be developments of local fetishes once held in veneration by uncivilized aboriginal tribes’ (ibid. cited in Guha-Thakurta 1992: 179-81.sagepub. e. cf.

bolstered by the equally influential theory of an ancient ’Aryan conquest’ of the subcontinent. who had commanded Dionysus/ Rama’s ’army of Satyrs’ (Jones 1970: 196. if such a monarch ever existed. rites. and tenets from another’. he is also considered an avatar of Shiva). to have been ’no less a personage than Pan’. that one idolatrous people must have borrowed their deities.19 The monkey god clearly intrigued him. 228-30). Moor recounts the popular non-Valmikian story of Anjani’s impregnation with a portion of the divine rice-porridge consumed by Dasharatha’s queens (making Hanuman a distant half-brother of Rama. or misunderstood historical personages.. Jones combined the post-Renaissance reading of mythology as an allegory of natural forces and astronomical phenomena with euhemerist and historical-diffusionist theories. which contained a brief synopsis of the Rama story. identical to the Himalayan Meru?. 262-64). with his world-scanning vision. the rational Orientalist. if quaint.: 229). The remark is merely an aside in an account heavy with comparative mythographic musings (was Mount Meros. Although he began his essay by warning readers against ’arguments . as Moor further observes. Italy.. Downloaded from cis. During the 19th century. and India’. in ‘history’ . he soon plunged unblushingly into such claims himself. this approach to the epic would be elaborately developed. A locus classicus for the ’monkey problem’ and its solution may perhaps be found in Sir William Jones’ 1789 article in Asiatick researches. and Hanuman. by extension.e. etc. yet it would prove to be of great moment. and offers an elaborate reading of a ’five-faced’ image from his collection (Moor 1968: 252-54. Moor’s 1810 Hindu pantheon includes a substantial account of Hanuman reflecting the author’s remarkably sharp eye for detail2° and repeating Jones’ identification of the deity with Pan 19 Despite Jones’ generally benign view of Hinduism. had civilized?’ (ibid. ’On the Gods of at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15.. potentially.. on which Dionysus was bom. few Europeans had taken Greco-Roman deities seriously as embodiments of religious meaning. they had been reduced to decorative or allegorical motifs.sagepub. 20 E. whom Rama. 2010 .g. though. and though he noted the ongoing veneration of ’the large breed of Indian apes’ (i. lifting the Ramayana out of mythology and placing it. langurs). sees beyond the local religious figure to his ’true’ identity as a transposition of an obsolete demigod of ancient European paganism. Thus he expressed confidence that scholarship ’would prove Dionysus and Rama to have been the same person’. In Jones’ essay. stage of culture. Since the Renaissance. there is a tone of both whimsy and condescension in such ’satyrising’ of the monkey god.). he also speculated on a very different source for Hanuman’s legend: ’Might not this army of Satyrs have been only a race of mountaineers. Hanuman’s contemporary worshipper is thus shown to be locked in an archaic.103 formulation of which Indian thinkers again drew on Orientalist scholarship.

the hero himself would be deified. . text-critical. and who composed monographs with titles like India in the Ramayana age (Vyas 1967). The heroic exploits of the chief would naturally become the theme of songs and ballads. Those ballads . its editor introduced a long passage drawn from Monier-Williams that explains the genesis of Valmiki’s epic.sagepub. it was enthusiastically embraced by academically trained scholars who combined historical.. In approaching the vanaras.. ’which notwithstanding its wild exaggerations rests in all probability on a foundation of historical truth’: a body of invaders.. Several standard narratives of 19th century Indology are evident in this short passage: an authoritative ’history’ that postulates the gradual deification of a human hero. but to craft painstaking ’ethnographic’ analyses of the social organisation. would be politically converted into monkeys. would soon see the policy of collecting the rude ballads. Like Darwin’s theory of evolution. These songs would at first be the property of the Kshatriya or fighting caste . may have attempted to force their way into the peninsula of India as far as Ceylon. But when Moor’s work was reissued 50 years later. and charts the evolution-which in the Indian context necessarily means the decline-of the Ramayana itself from factual (if ’rude’) ’songs and ballads’ to a monstrously embellished epic fabricated by scheming priests. inserted by Simpson. were modified. and archeological approaches with a pandit-like literalism in the interpretation of Valmiki’s poem. this narrative gradually pervaded many levels of indigenous discourse about the Indic past.104 / and with langurs.. which they could not suppress and moulding them to their own purposes . headed by a bold leader. such authors tended to gloss over the poet’s constant references to monkey physiognomy and traits.. 2010 . or rendered improbable by monstrous mythological embellishments (Moor 1968: 120). the wild mountaineers and foresters of the Vindhyas and neighbouring hills who assisted at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. obscured by allegory. and aided by the barbarous hill tribes. but the ambitious Brahmans. who aimed at religious and intellectual supremacy.. and the powerful but savage aborigines of the south into many headed ogres and blood-lapping demons (called Rakshasas). equates epic monkeys and demons with tribals and ’savage’ Dravidians... is in fact Williams’ Indian epic poetry (1863).&dquo. quoted from page six of Monier- Downloaded from cis.. In the 20th century. dress 21 The passage. yet it makes no mention of the ’mountaineer’ theory.

coded in the epic as Aryas. Mehta glosses vanara as ’superman’ (presumably. Mehta traces his route across Southeast Asia and the western Pacific.dwellers in the forest&dquo. and ornament. Sharma 1971: 278-83. the Chinese wearing of pigtails.. 255-56. in 1941. 2010 .: 336-38. monkeys. every Indian Aryan will appreciate the true glory of Rama and worship him as a real Aryan Hero.. and. and black races.sagepub.105 religious customs of the supposed ’vanara tribes’ (Sankalia 1982: 71-72. all the way to a downunder Lanka ’some where near the present Australian Alps’ (ibid. Fire-arms and Electric weapons. the as ’armoured cars’ and ’aircraft . xiii). equipped with for eight gun-turrets firing missiles’.N. yellow. as in Swami Venkatesananda’s popular synopsis of the Valmiki epic (1988). 1996: 62-64. 15157 . and his elaborate racial theories (’proven’ by. It remains so common today that its assumptions often appear as commonplaces requiring no explanation. to which Race he has the honour to belong and in which he must scrupulously try to prevent admixture of blood resulting in the production of Varna-Sankaras .. full of arms and ammunition including incendiary bombs’ (ibid. Mehta was less equivocal.. a meticulous if idiosyncratic exegesis of the Ramayana intended to demonstrate that the events and places described therein were not ’mere figments of the poet’s imagination’ but rather ’based on facts’ (Mehta 1941: Preface).com at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15.: 339). and rakshasas).. see Goldman and Sutherland Goldman Downloaded from cis... Like many others. which glosses Rama’s weapons as ’revolvers’ and ’missiles’. of the Nietzschian rather than Marvel Comics variety). leaves vanara untranslated but glossed in its preface as ’probably &dquo. which suggest to him monkeys’ posterior appendages) were central to his eugenic agenda: [to insure that] ’.’ (ibid. Vyas 1967: 45-59). Mehta’s Sundara kandam or the flight of Hanuman (1941). e.: 330). and as a skilled pilot. but also identifies Hanuman as Chinese (since the Treta Yuga world consisted of white.: 292). Vaidya 1906: 93-97.g. tellingly. gases and smoke’ indicative of a technologically advanced civilisation (ibid. tribesmen’ (Venkatesananda 1988: 16. and demons’ chariots 22 For additional discussion of such approaches. Mehta was at pains to demonstrate that the ’divine weapons’ used by Rama and his contemporaries were actually ’Aeroplanes.. 313. 329).22 Such writings at the high-end of academic scholarship are mirrored by fervent (though still English-language) treatises like C. who ’flew’ to Lanka ’probably in a big fighter Monoplane. This effort to render the Sanskritic legacy ’scientific’ is part of a pervasive discourse traceable at least to Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s exgesis of the vedas in Satyarth prakash (1875).

flying vanaras (Sarasvati 1975: 55-57).g. anti-Brahmanism. where they had to face an epic hermeneutic and robust religious practice that took ’monkeyness’ (kapitva) more seriously. each associated with. Thus in the opening chapter of Sudarshan Singh’s 300 page ’Autobiography of Hanuman’ (Hanuman ki atmakatha). of which there are numerous jatis.. e. Sanatan Dharm traditionalist like Swami Nandanandanand Sarasvati. is (as transcendent God and perhaps also in his earthly behaviour) too ’wholly other’ to implicitly invite readers inside his at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. reminiscent of ancient Jaina authors. Rama. but also appeared. in the polemic literature of various socio-political movements. 2010 . interestingly.d. But such racial theories about the Ramayana made their way more slowly into the Gangetic Hindi belt. monkeys-as-tribals hypothesis in their denunciation of the ’corruption’ of the pristine vedic tradition by superstitious and self-serving pauranikas (e. especially in southern India. could still devote a long article to proudly listing every monkey attribute described by Valmiki.. Singh 1984). Hanuman’s coat (fur or otherwise) is a better fit. unless it were a radically secularised retelling.. several of these have taken the form of ’autobiographies’.23 these works grapple with the monkey problem in a distinctive way. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s identification of the novel. Lutgendorf 1997: 325-27). Hanuman responds to children who cite his human-like behaviour and then ask. devotees identify with him in a way that they cannot with his master. Downloaded from cis. but distinct from.106 / Speculation on the monkey problem was not confined to Englishlanguage discourse. biography. they have Hanuman identify himself as another category of being entirely. Recent decades have seen the publication of increasingly elaborate narrative works in Hindi devoted exclusively to Hanuman.sagepub. autobiography. Prem n. ’Why do you have a tail? Why are you covered in fur?’ He patiently explains that he is in fact an upadevata or ’demigod’. though human. Although Arya Samaj writers have adopted the rationalising. to share his inner feelings and motives. This is but a further illustration of his success in the role of intercessory ’middleman’ in the divine hierarchy (cf. a species of earthly a 23 Cf. and then assailing academics who failed to accept the literal truth of the poem’s talking. Kushvah 1986). writing in the pious Hindi monthly Kalyan in 1975.g. in which the immortal monkey muses over his long and eventful career (Mishra 1987. of tribal uplift. I find it difficult to imagine a Rama biography narrated in the first person. and history as ’the four basic genres that help express the modem self’ (Chakrabarty 2000: 34). and Tamil nationalism. Apart from the intriguing fact of their displaying Hanuman-who often seems to function as a kind of second self for his devotees-effortlessly lending his voice to an introspective and confessional literary genre that is relatively new to South Asia. Eschewing both the allegorical and literalist approaches.

g. 43-46. 375-84).. only the males of each jati appear in animal form. 53-54). Sen: ’I have also shown that the worship of Hanuman is not an isolated phase [the] Indian religious system. Despite his remarkable knowledge of the vast sweep of Hanuman’s lore (or perhaps because of it) Govindchandra seems unable to make up his mind on the relative merits of these theories. Ray Govindchandra. which resurfaces throughout his signal 450-page study. He is also prone to declarations like ’The vanaras were quite cultured and civilized. but that it is only a survival of a primitive custom of Ape-worship that universally obtained among the various nations of the ancient world’ (Sen 1987: x. when Valmiki’s Sita hands Hanuman a pearl necklace and set of clothes.sagepub. based on flimsy evidence (e. that it was common to all great ancient civilisations. they mature immediately upon birth. Govindchandra regularly invokes the alleged Aryan conquest of the Deccan and South and the notion that the vanaras were ’a half-civilized race of the Stone Age’ (Govindchandra 1976: 17-19. who constructed a bridge between India and Sri Lanka’ (ibid.. Nevertheless. Pargiter’s view that he was a Dravidian god reluctantly accommodated in the Brahmanical pantheon.. and yet simultaneously rationalises it in pseudo-scientific terms.g.24 In addition. Govindchandra blandly notes ’From this it is established that the vanara people wore clothing and jewelry’ (ibid. The author of the most comprehensive work of Hindi-language scholarship on Hanuman. and Dineshchandra Sen’s theory that his worship is a vestige of an archaic but pervasive cult of ’monkey worship’-the stigma of the latter being removed by the assertion. Thus he serially endorses Camille Bulcke’s argument that Hanuman was originally a popular yaksa folk deity. although they were backward in comparison to the Rakshasas and the Aryas. Cf. he is also disinclined to interpret any pre-modem Sanskrit or vernacular text as less than literally accurate.: 104). F. 24 in Downloaded from cis. Singh 1984: 6-8).com at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. they achieved the distinction of producing an architect like Nila.107 animal. offers no such tidy solution.: 180).g. He then launches into a quasi-Linnaean catalogue of the traits of these demi-divine species (e.. The frequency with which he returns to originary issues suggests the extent to which they trouble him. baboons carved on the columns of Egyptian temples). This approach rescues Hanuman from prehistory. Instead he presents every possible explanation for Hanuman’s physiognomy. 172-76. cf. deploying each as the occasion requires and with no evident concern for their mutual contradictions. though he is only too aware of the problem. 306-10. as does his occasional anxious aside (e. etc. preserves his monkey form. are immune to illness. 2010 . Thus.I. 22-24.

this notable researcher seems to want to have his monkey and humanise him too.25 Yet when Govindchandra focuses on the portrayal of Hanuman in literature and visual art these concerns vanish into an unselfconsciously celebratory evocation of simian traits. and stories that celebrate his monkeyness. ’rational’. a student of Bertrand Russell and the Bhagavad gita. In short. They seek to resist such discourses by rehabilitating Hanuman. I will now venture a hopefully not-too-broad leap back to modem visual media. this imperative of historicism is perhaps signalled by the use of the past tense in such questions as: ’Who were the monkeys?’ (and in others that are persistently raised. the brain has two lobes?’ (Ramanujan 1990: 43). frets ’But the biggest hurdle in so assuming is the tail .sagepub. prayers. the radical historicisation of the Ramayana’appears to comfortably coexistoften in the same persons-with its own contradiction. Worship. the old man replied. Where discussion of Hanuman and the Ramayana is concerned. and like other Hindu gods. but a present-tense being who can respond to their needs. at minimum. over colonial-era discourses that stigmatised their religion as primitive and degenerate. wherein he is unfailingly invoked in hymns. ’Where was Lanka?’). e. he exists ’with attributes’ (saguna). ’historicism’ and the Anglo-European ideological baggage it necessarily carries. in approvingly quoting Vaidya’s views that the vanaras were primitive non-Aryans. Ramanujan once reported that when he questioned how his father could be both a world-class mathematician and an astrologer. as ’historical’.: 179).K. This is really the biggest obstacle to considering him a man’ (ibid. don’t you know. to propose that the image of sometimes hairless. 2010 . 25 Downloaded from cis. a simian visage and tail. I have argued that diverse and persistent efforts to explain away Hanuman’s monkey nature reflect a lingering anxiety. As Dipesh Chakrabarty has recently argued. and the story in which he appears. has itself become ingrained in and indispensible to educated Indians (Chakrabarty 2000: 27-42). especially among middle-class Hindus.108 ’Hanuman is said to be a creature possessing a tail. Nagar. Hanuman is. however. for people don’t supplicate a ’has-been’ at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Besides. A. which in his case include.. ’The Gita is part of one’s hygiene.g. As with some other kinds of discourse in India. humanised Hanuman may be read as a Cf. and ’scientific’. For his devotees.’ (Nagar 1995: 207). is a different matter. Govindchandra’s erratic approach exemplifies what to me is one of the most interesting aspects of monkey problem discourse: the fact that it is irrelevant to the actual and constant worship of Hanuman..

some postcolonial Hindus appear to want their own ’iron-limbed’ hero (bajrangbali)-to undergo depilatory treatment. A tail-less monkey-man (as Govindchandra realised) is not merely an oxymoron . But whereas the postindustrial Western psyche may ask for a God who can let his hair down-or even let it grow to cover him entirely-and who can be in touch with his wilder and more earthy. in their collectively-unconscious closets. H. Hanuman evolves in popular visual culture as the embodiment of a compromise: not a simian but a semi-man. sent troops of middle-aged males to the woods to engage in vanara-like behaviour)-the author cited a lecture by Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz: She remarked that she has noticed in dreams of both men and women in recent decades a figure who is spiritual but also covered with hair. incidentally. a sort of hairy Christ. Rama’s plucky monkey manages a singular feat of bridging. She believes that what the psyche is asking for now is a new figure.109 visual response to the same set of concerns: an iconic intervention in the debate over the ’truth’ of the Ramayana. Tailpiece Near the end of poet Robert Bly’s best-selling 1990 book Iron John-a prose meditation on Western male stereotypes and archetypes that played a key role in the American ’men’s movement’ (which. at least they can be seen to share. Yet if. a god-posterwhich aspires to address a broad and diverse audience-cannot compromise on key elements of the established iconographic code. But whereas individual verbal texts can offer radical reinterpretations of a mythical story. the presence of an irrepressible and protean primate. In my reading.sagepub. Downloaded from cis. 2010 . ’in touch with’ God and chastity. buffed and body-waxed. East and West still do not exactly meet on such matters. he is a man. a religious figure but a hairy one. Paradoxically. in touch with God and at Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek on October 15. Hence Hinduism’s most famous subaltern emerges in some poster art as fair-skinned and hairless.H. ironically. sensual side. with spirit and earth (Bly 1990: 249). Once again. the iconic Hanuman can never devolve that far. whose kapitva is trimmed to its barest essentials and whose gleaming bodymodelling an evolving ideal of consumerist corporeality-is inscribed with the competing texts of ’myth’ and ’history’.

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