Vānara (Sanskrit: वानर) popularly refers to a group of monkey-like humanoids in the Hindu epic Ramayana who were brave and inquisitive by nature. They possessed supernatural powers and could change their shapes. The term Vanara can be described as forest-dweller (vane carati iti vanara).
The epic Mahabharata describes them as forest-dwelling, and mentions their being encountered by Sahadeva, a Pandava general who led a military campaign to south India.
In the Ramayana
Sampati meeting with Vanaras painted by Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi
Vanaras are created by Brahma and other gods to help Rama in battle against Ravana. They are powerful and have many godly traits. Taking Brahma's orders, the gods began to parent sons in the semblance of monkeys (Ramayana 1.17.8). The Vanaras took birth in bears and monkeys attaining the shape and valor of the gods and goddesses who created them (Ramayana 1.17.17-18). After Vanaras were created they began to organize into armies and spread across the forests, although some, including Vali, Sugriva, and Hanuman, stayed near mount Riskshavat.
According to the Ramayana, the Vanaras lived primarily in the region of Kishkindha in present-day Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh & Maharashtra, in the midst of Dandaka Forest, where Lord Rama met them during his search for Sita. An army of millions of Vanaras helped Rama in his search for Sita, and also in battle against Ravana, Sita's abductor. It is Nala and Neela a descendant of Lord Vishwakarma Brahma with the blessings of Lord Viswakarma built a bridge over the ocean so that Rama and the army could cross to Lanka so it is also referred to as Nala Neela Sethu. As described in the epic, the characteristics of the Vanara include being amusing, childish, mildly irritating, badgering, hyperactive, adventurous, bluntly honest, loyal, courageous, and kind.
In the Ramayana Hanuman changes shape several times. For example, while he searches for the kidnapped Sita in Ravana's palaces on Lanka, he contracts himself to the size of a cat, so that he will not be detected by the enemy. Later on, he takes on the size of a mountain, blazing with radiance, to show his true power to Sita.
- Lord Hanuman, devotee of Lord Rama
- Anjana, Hanuman's mother
- Kesari, Hanuman's foster father
- Sugriva, king of Kishkindha, son of Surya
- Vali, Sugriva's brother, and a son of Indra
- Angada, son of Vali, helped Rama find his wife Sita
- Tara, wife of Vali Created by Brihaspathi
- Gandhamadana, incarnation of Kubera
- Nala, incarnation of Vishwakarma
- Makardhwaja - son of Hanuman