Ramayana: The India, Sri Lanka, China link | Sunday Observer

Ramayana: The India, Sri Lanka, China link

7 May, 2023

It was on the wings of Buddhism that the cult of Hanuman, a key figure in the Hindu epic Ramayana, went to China to become the popular Chinese Monkey God “Sun Wukong”, Sinologists say.

Bhikkhus from India and the Chinese Bhikkhus Xuan Zang (who came to India in the seventh century to collect Buddhist sutras) carried not only the message of the Buddha but Indian fables including the story of Rama and Hanuman, to China.

Among the Indian Bhikkhus who journeyed to China were Ven. Kasyapa Matanga, Matiyukti, Dharmaratna and Bodhidharma Theras. These missions were undertaken between the reign of Emperor Asoka two hundred years before Christ and the seventh century AD.

Not only Bhikkhus, but Indian traders too, took an admixture of Hinduism and Buddhism to China, says Indian Sinologist Prof. B.R. Deepak of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Deepak points out that during the Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties in China, Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Mingzhou, Yangzhou were among the world’s busiest business hubs. These hubs were frequented by merchants, sailors, and Bhikkhus from India. As a result, a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism got disseminated in China. The existence of Buddhist and Indian temples in Quanzhou bear testimony to this Hindu-Buddhist influence.

“The story of Rama (the Ramayana) must have been the subject of discussion among traders visiting these ports. Therefore, it was natural for the Ramayana story, including that of Hanuman, to spread in the southeast coast of China,” Prof. Deepak wrote in the Indian weekly Sunday Guardian.

According to Vinod Moonesinghe, author of “Sri Lanka, Hanuman, And The Legend Of The Monkey King” (Roar Media 2018), Hinduism and Buddhism shared legends about monkeys. Stories featuring monkeys abound in the Buddhist Jatakas, he points out. Two of the Jatakas, the Tayodhamma Jataka and Mahakapi Jataka, feature “Monkey Kings”. In the latter, the Monkey King has 80,000 followers. Sun Wukong, the Chinese Monkey God, has 84,000.

Moonesinghe says that in the Mahayana Lankavatara Sutra (a text mentioned by Xuan Zang) there is a link between the Ramayana and the Buddha. The Buddha had gone to the top of a mountain in Lanka (probably Adam’s Peak/Sri Pada) to discourse for the benefit of the Lankan King Ravana, “who had plenty of good deeds under his belt.”

Xuan Zang-Sun Wukong Link

As stated earlier, the Monkey God Sun Wukong is the Chinese version of the Indian Monkey God Hanuman. The Chinese began venerating Sun Wukong because he provided fool-proof security to Xuan Zang during his perilous travels in India to gather the Sutras. Since Xuan Zang had rendered a yeoman’s service to the spread of Buddhism in China, Sun Wukong’s contribution cannot be underestimated.

Sun Wukong is a central character in the novel “Journey to the West” on Xuan Zang’s travels, written by Wu Cheng’en during the reign of the Mings (1368–1644). The novel, written in common man’s Chinese, made Sun Wukong very popular.

Sun Wukong is an admixture of Indian and Chinese characteristics, Prof. Deepak says. The Chinese author Liu Anwu (1930-2018) had dedicated two chapters in his book on the “Journey to the West” entitled: “Rescuing the kidnapped wife: Rama’s story in the Journey to the West”, and “A Comparison of the Curse Mantra and other Mantras: Hindu Mythology and Journey to the West” to prove that Sun Wukong was a “hybrid” Sino-Indian Hanuman.

The various descriptions of Sun Wukong in “Journey to the West” are very consistent with Hanuman in the Ramayana and in the Buddhist sutras, Liu points out.


Sun Wukong, like Hanuman, is known for his boldness, loyalty, quick wit, and above all, enormous strength. Both could lift mountains. Sun Wukong is the patron of the martial arts and Hanuman is the patron God of Indian wrestlers. Hanuman is immortal; so is Sun Wukong.

Both can overcome adversaries or adverse circumstances through innovative methods. According to the novel “Journey to the West” Sun Wukong was born of a union between the Earth and the Wind. In the Indian tradition, Hanuman was born to the Wind (Vayu).

As in the Ramayana, several soldier monkeys are depicted in Chinese mythologies relating to Sun Wukong. These monkeys serve in his spiritual army, like Hanuman’s army of monkeys in the Ramayana.

According to Moonesinghe, in the Chinese tradition, Sun Wukong became the monarch of the monkeys inhabiting the ‘Mountain of Many Flowers’. Enjoying immortality, he wreaks havoc in Heaven. But the Buddha subdues him and imprisons him under a mountain of five elements. However, the compassionate Goddess Guanyin (the Indian and Sri Lankan Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) promises freedom if he escorts Xuan Zang to the ‘Western Paradise’ to obtain the Tripitaka Canon from the Buddha. This is how Sun Wukong journeyed to India with Xuan Zang. Thanks to Sun Wukong’s protection, the mission of bringing Buddhist Sutras to China was accomplished.

Moonesinghe quotes Meir Shahar of Harvard University to explain the deification of the monkey in Chinese lore. The Lingyin Si monastery in Hangzhou founded by an Indian monk, Ven. Matiyukti Thera, and located on the Feilai Feng mountain, came to be associated with gibbons that co-existed with the monks in the caves and grottoes of the mountain. Legends began to spring up about these “magic” monkeys, which bore parallels with the Sun Wukong legend.

Full-fledged god

While Sun Wukong is considered a full-fledged god or even the Buddha, he is not a “supreme deity” says American Sinologist Jim McClanahan in his paper: “The Worship of Sun Wukong the Monkey King: An Overview.”

The Buddhist-Daoist folk religion considers Sun Wukong an “intermediary” for higher-ranking figures. In most traditions, he is a subordinate of the Bodhisattva “Guanyin”, the Chinese female Bodhisattva.

In south China, Sun Wukong is worshiped as the “Great Sage Equaling Heaven”. He is also known as the “Lord” or “Buddha Patriarch”.

In the worship of Sun Wukong/Great Sage, “spirit mediums” play an important part, points out MacClanahan. These mediums make Sun Wukong’s spirit to interact with believers. They generally answer questions, bless them or their belongings with paper talismans, or prescribe medicines. On special occasions, the mediums perform a complex self-mortification ceremony. This practice is seen in South India, particularly among the Tamil community, where the spirit mediums pierce their cheeks and bodies with hooks.

The flying mountain is part of both the Hindu Ramayana and the Chinese Buddhist traditions. In the Chinese tradition, the “Vulture Mountain” flew from Rajgaha in India to China along with the Bhikkhu Ven. Matiyukti Thera and a monkey companion. In the Ramayana, Hanuman flies to India to fetch Sanjivani herbs from a mountain to cure the wounded Lakshmana (Rama’s brother) in the battle against Ravana in Lanka. Unable to identify the herb he brings the whole Dunagiri mountain to Sri Lamla.


According to tradition, five pieces of the mountain fell on the Earth, at Kachchativu, Thalladi, Ritigala, Dolukanda and Rumassala in Lanka, Moonesinghe adds. Legend has it that these areas contain plants and herbs that are not found anywhere else in Sri Lanka, though these plants are said to be common in the Himalayan region. There is a shrine in Rumassala as a tribute to Hunuman to commemorate that episode.