A Black Monkey in Ayodhya

Faizabad District Judge KM Pandey made the decision to open the gates of the Babri, back in February of 1986, assuring everybody that heavens will not fall if the locks are removed. In his autobiography, he mentions that his decision was validated by a black monkey, who sat holding the flag post on the roof of the court all day long, and despite offerings of groundnuts and fruits from thousands of people of Faizabad and Ayodhya, refused to accept any. The judge spots the black monkey later in the verandah of his bungalow, and salutes him, taking him to be some divine power.

Hon’ble Judge Pandey and Philip Lutgendorf remain separated by a phantom degree of freedom. Lutgendorf, an American Indologist known for his studies on the monkey-god, reminds us that the theological significance of Hanuman emerged about 1,000 years after the composition of the Ramayana, in step with the arrival of Islamic rule in the Indian subcontinent. By this time, stories and folk traditions had begun to reformulate Hanuman not only as a divine being, but an inspiration for martial artists and warriors, crafted to inspire the lazy, ambivalent devotee to toughen up, to turn monks into soldiers, to organise against threats violently, alien and imagined. A militant monkey cannot exist without devotion, and devotion must know no other monkey.

And so the earth turned and grounds swell and monkeys trained, till Gandhi, the master of symbology, picks up on this undercurrent in the 20th century, and sets out to de-militarise the monkeys, to turn their overzealousness, needlessly brute, mindless observance inwards, to compel them to be contemplative, to open their hearts out like Hanuman, to ritualise for them the proverbial principle from Japanese folklore, to ’see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’, to turn them into the Sanzaru wise monkeys. They say that Gandhi had originally summoned four monkeys; to un-see, to un-hear, to un-speak, he needed one to un-think too. Three stayed, the fourth one fled. The one on the extreme right. The one in black. And since, the black monkey is said to have receded to the forrest of the dark. No one knows if he is still alive (how can he be!), but common people believe that his apparition appears unexpectedly when a mob gathers to hunt for its next kill, that his phantom is mysteriously spotted where someone is slayed.

Somehow, for reasons unexplained, this ghost of a monkey has never been captured by cameras at the scene of crime despite being visible, and is remarkably missing from re-enactments, especially from those killing scenes of Gandhi and others who were executed after him. To everybody’s surprise, reports are emerging that, not unlike the fateful day in 1986, the spectre of the black monkey was briefly seen again today, although nobody is certain. What is certain is that the spectre continues to have a disfigured jaw, following a Puranic legend that baby Hanuman mistook the sun for a fruit, attempted to heroically reach for it, but got wounded and disfigured his jaw.

Evidence or not, some say we might have all turned into the very phantom ourselves today, all our jaws look disfigured somehow. We too have mistaken everybody’s sun as our fruit, and consumed it as ours and ours only.


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Amitesh Grover Written by:

Amitesh Grover (b.1980) is a performer, director, writer, and curator based in New Delhi, India. His works move beyond theatre, into visual arts, films, photography, installations, publishing, and processes. His practice is firmly anchored in the politics of performance, and his works are shown internationally in theatres, galleries, public spaces, and on the internet. He is the recipient of MASH FICA Award, Ustad Bismillah Khan National Award, Charles Wallace Award, and has been nominated for Arte Laguna Prize (Italy), Prix Ars Electronica Award (Austria) & Forecast Award (Germany). He has been on numerous residencies including PACT Zollverein (Germany), Tokyo Culture Creation Project (Japan), Arts Centre Melbourne (Australia), and Rote Fabrik Studios (Switzerland). He has given prominent talks on his work at PSi’23 (Germany), University of Exeter (U.K.), Lasalle College of Art (Singapore), National Drama Theatre (Lithuania), Cornell University (U.S.), among others. He is Festival Director for ITFoK Theatre Festival, and Curator (Performance Art) for Serendipity Arts Festival till 2021. He studied at University of Arts London and is NSD alumnus. At present, he is Assistant Professor at National School of Drama (India), and teaches Interactive Art (M.F.A.) at Shiv Nadar University.

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