Everyone knows that Rama led an army of Vanars to the battle against Ravana. It is estimated that over half of the Vanar Sena lost their life in this battle. But no one knows why the Vanars joined him. Vanars had no personal gain from this war. They did it because it was the right thing to do. They saw a man whose wife had been taken away and they just wanted to help. They were known for their innocent, humble, and hyperactive nature.
The word Vanar comes from ‘Van’ meaning jungle and ‘Nar’ meaning man. They were a plethora of humanoids that lived in the jungles of Southern India. Against popular belief, they consisted of many different species of monkeys and bears. These different species lived under different tribes but they came together to help Rama.
One of these tribes was led by Sugriv. Sugriv and Bali were twins and two of the most powerful Vanars. Bali had the boon to absorb the power of his opponent. When Rama met Sugriv, Bali was ruling the kingdom of Kiskindha. Bali had outcasted Sugriv and held his wife captive. When Rama came to know about this he decided to help him out. He asked Sugriv to challenge Bali to a fight. During the fight, Rama shot an arrow from a hidden location and killed Bali.
Sugriv rightfully became the king and promised Rama to help him find Sita.
Another tribe leader was Kesari, Hanuman’s father. He led the scout unit searching the western coast. Hanuman’s unit was led by the old and wise Jamvant. He was the king of bears and has lived on this earth for ages. He was also one of the strongest beings on the planet. If not for his age, he would have swum across the ocean to reach Lanka. Under his leadership bears were also a part of Vanar Sena.
After knowing the location of Sita, Rama along with his Vanar Sena marched towards Lanka. The land of Lanka was on the other side of the ocean. They halted at the end of India and thought of ways to cross the ocean. Rama meditated and prayed to the God of the sea, Varuna to create a path for them. Even after three days of prayer, there was no response from Varuna. Enraged Rama took out his Brahmastra, an arrow blessed by god Brahma, and pointed it towards the ocean.
Fearing the loss of oceanic lives, Varuna appeared before Rama. He explained how he cannot give them a path through the ocean as it would hamper a lot of marine lives. He pointed Rama to two of his Vanars Nal and Neel.
Nal and Neel used to be very naughty in their childhood. They had a bad habit of throwing objects in the water. One day they threw a sage in the water and the sage cursed them. According to his curse whatever Nal and Neel will throw in the water will never drown.
Varuna suggested to Rama that this curse can be used here as a boon.
Brahmastra once activated into a bow can never be withdrawn. So Varuna suggested an alternate target, a nearby mountain. When Rama destroyed the mountain it broke into thousands of smaller rocks. Varuna also promised that he would keep the ocean calm during the whole process of bridge-building.
Vanars started transporting rocks from the mountain to the coast and Nal and Neel dropped them into the ocean. Another problem arose as the rocks floated away with the currents. Hanuman suggested writing the name of Rama on these rocks. Anything with Rama’s name on it will never go astray. Little by little the bridge started taking shape.
Rama observed a small squirrel was also helping in making the bridge. It would carry a small amount of sand and drop it in the cracks between stones. Some monkeys made fun of the squirrel and threw it away for being in their path. Rama picked him up and ran his fingers on his back. Three distinctive marks appeared on the back of the squirrel. These markings remain in their species. Then Rama educated the monkeys to not make fun of the weaker ones. It is not the impact but the intention that matters.
After defeating Ravana many Vanars went to Ayodhya with Rama. Rama blessed the species to be always considered holy. He also blessed them to live wherever he lives. Hence monkeys can still be found in most temples.