Mahatma Gandhi had a porcelain doll of three monkeys by his bedside. It was presented to him by some Japanese Monk… Since Gandhiji’s days, this doll became a popular figure in India. Moreover, the theme the monkeys explained is a typical Indian theme: See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil …

Encyclopaedias and several websites say that it originated in China and at present Japan have a temple with the three wise monkeys figure in Nikko. The Tosho-gu shrine where the three wise monkeys are located exists from 1636. Scholars think that the Buddhist monks took it from China to Japan. The Japanese call these three monkeys “Mi Zaru (see no evil), Kika Zaru (hear no evil) and Iwa Zaru (speak no evil)”.

The Monkey in the Rig Veda

A monkey was mentioned as a favorite animal of Indra in Rig Veda (10-86).
Lord Krishna says in the Gita (Chapter 2-29),” one SEES him with wonder, another likewise SPEAKS of him as a wonder, and as a wonder, another HEARS of him, yet even on (seeing, speaking and hearing) some do not understand him”.

Panchatantra stories were popular abroad from 5th century AD onwards. It was translated by Borzuya into Persian language in the year 570 AD. Vishnu Sharma wrote it in Sanskrit around 3rd century BC. We have at least three stories involving monkeys in it. It shows that Indians used monkey stories to teach morals.

But the oldest and the clearest evidence comes from a Tamil book called Naladiyar. It is a Tamil book of ethics with 400 poems on different topics. They were composed by Jain saints 1500 years ago.

Adi Shankara also uses this deaf, blind and dumb sequence in another context in Viveka Cudamani (sloka101). A later book known as Vakkundam says,” it is bad to see evil people and it is worse to hear their words and it is the worst to speak about their bad things”

Suffice is to prove that the idea of using monkey as a moral tool and SEE, HEAR, SPEAK no evil sequence are typical Indian.

Another story about THREE WISE DOLLS

A king in India was presented with three dolls by a wise man. The king was wondering why someone would present such dolls. He called all the wise people to find out their meaning.

Several people came forward, examined the dolls and came with no answer. One or two people found some holes and yet could not say what they were for. At last a very wise man came and asked for a string from the king. He passed the string through the holes in each doll. The string went through one ear and came through the other ear in the first doll. The wise man explained that represents a person who can’t retain anything and whatever he hears leaks through the other ear. The second doll had one hole in the ear and another in the mouth. This person will tell everything you tell him to everyone in the world and so he is dangerous, explained the wise man. And in the third doll, the string went through one ear but never came out. He is the most trustworthy person fit for a job in the royal palace, said the wise man. The king was very happy and amply rewarded the wise man.

In conclusion, we may boldly say that the concept of three dolls, the concept of seeing, hearing, speaking no evil and the concept of using monkey to teach morals have spread to other parts of the world from India alone.

Vinod Razdan

Vinod Razdan is a Retd. Chief Manager of PNB and has also worked as Senior Faculty at International Academy of CBI, Ghaziabad. Presently, he lives in Panchkula, Chandigarh. He is a nature-lover. He is an extraordinary bibliophile of history. He loves to write about history & cinema.