The Human - Ape relationship is undeniable. We closely resemble one another as Darwin pointed out, we most likely have common ancestors is the overwhelming scientific consensus.
While some Judaeo-Christian fundamentalists may foam at the mouth and spew pea soup when evolutionary theory is mentioned, Eastern fundamentalists, in particular Hindus have records of cousins of man - missing links or ape-men built into their mythos.
Western Religion also alludes to extinct cousins of man, but in a more indirect fashion -[ See Neanderthal in The Bible].
Hindu lore speaks of a race of forest dwellers known as the Vanara. The old Sanskrit word Vanara literally translates to "forest-man" vana = forest and nara = man. An alternative translation has it being derived from the old Sanskrit words vav and nara - vav = Is it ? and Nara once again meaning man - so basically "is it man" ?
Etymology - Vanara in the Sanskrit Language
Apparently the Hindu scholars and contemporary writers were uncertain as to whether these "people" were apes or men as their descriptions of them will attest to. As the Sanskrit language evolved over eons to its present format, the word vanara evolved along with it.
In its current format, vanara is now used to refer to any monkeys. So basically when a Sanskrit speaker talks of a monkey, he is saying "Is it Man ?"
The exact definitive explanation of who these creatures were is shielded by the fogs of time and literary construct of the ancient scripts.
The Ramayana portrays them as human so far as their language, clothing, and cultural norms, but also speaks of them as being ape-like and having tails and fur. There is some speculation and circumstantial proof that the tails may have been a ceremonial and decorative appendage added to male vanara - a fashion statement basically. The female vanara are described as having no tails.
The mythology and legends of the Hindus vary very little from western mythology in that they are aggrandized and inflated beyond their actual scope. Elements of the supernatural and phantasmagorical are woven into the narratives, over time the exaggerations, misinterpretations and enlargements become canonical. This is evident in tales of the Ape men as they are sometimes depicted as having supernatural abilities.
"These thousands did the Gods createEndowed with might that none could mate,In monkey forms that changed at will;So strong their wish the fiend to kill."From the Ramayana
Parallels to western mythology and religion are also apparent in that Brahma, the creator God commanded lesser deities to mate with this ape species and produce vanara hybrids. In Judaeo-Christian narratives these hybrids can be compared to the Nephilim - who were the product of "Sons of Gods and daughters of Men" See - Who and What were the Biblical Nephilim
The Mahabharata epic describes the vanara as forest dwellers, and mentions 2 of their kings doing battle with and being defeated by a Pandava general who led a military campaign to south India. The Mahabharata refers to them as an Exotic Tribe of Ancient India.
It should be noted that Ramayana and Mahabharata are called ithihasas, which roughly translates to history "as it happened". They are epic poems that also employ literary devices and take much artistic license in portraying an era eons ago.
If the Vanara are not simply a mythological fabrication then there must be some proof of the existence in the fossil record.
Neanderthal, thought to be the closest to modern man on the human family tree has never been proven to have extended their range to South India. There is proof of them only as far as the Indus Valley of Pakistan and Northern India.
In Southern India and Sri Lanka where the Vanara legends are based - no trace of Neanderthal has ever been found. While it is true that the ecology of south India is not all that conducive to fossil preservation that alone is not significant enough to warrant pointing a finger to Neanderthal and stating that they were the Vanara.
Other fossil remains on the human evolutionary tree have been found in the region. Homo habillus and their descendants homo erectus existed in significant numbers in the area of the narrative to warrant consideration.
Homo Erectus is believed to have gone extinct 50 - 100,000 years ago.They are believed to be the first human species that expanded their range beyond Africa.
Home Erectus was a highly versatile race that spread over two continents and is theorized to have the longest reign of any early human species. They existed almost 10X longer than Modern man. From approximately 1.9 Million years ago till roughly 100,000 years ago.
The region listed as the habitat of the vanara by the ancient scriptures is south India and Sri Lanka. As per the Ramayana the vanara were employed by Prince Rama to build Rama's Bridge during the third age of man - the "treta yuga" a period in Hindu lore which is estimated to be 1.7 million years ago. Homo erectus existed 1.9 million years ago in the region, they were not as intelligent as Modern man but they were man-like and that is exactly what the Ramayana and Mahabharata depict.
Homo erectus used fire as far back as 1 million years ago. Some anthropologists have suggested that cooked food allowed early human ancestors to... divert energy from digestion to brain growth. .... to make fire from scratch, to keep fires going, Homo erectus needed long-range planning abilities far and above those needed for fashioning primitive stone tools or hunting prey. [*1]
Homo erectus may have had the intelligence of a Western seven-year-old. - According to research cited by scholar Richard Lynn, Homo erectus emerged 1.7 million years ago with an average brain size of 885 cc and by 200,000 years ago, their brains had increased to 1,186 cc. ... Based on the tools they made, Homo erectus had a historiometric IQ of 53, and based on a brain size validity generalization, they also had an IQ of 53.[*2] Which in my opinion is the equivalent of many Modern Day political icons.