Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Toque Macaque …has its way in the temple

India and Sri Lanka are two prominent South Asian countries with similar religious beliefs; be it Hinduism or Buddhism both having links in the mainland India and Buddha himself being an Indian. Both religions are close to nature and much of the religious abbeys or temples are located in remote and wildly settings in close proximity to natural habitats away from urbanization. This helped them practice religion through yoga, meditation or even conduct themselves in devotion, living in recluse.

Offering on the altars in these temples were mainly of floral form and food; generally a major portion going waste by the day which was dumped close by. The waste disposed thus attracted both bird and beast in the wild. Of them the primates [monkey] took a dominant role. Hindu mythology offers a greater reverence to Hanuman [the monkey king - a god in the Saga-Ramayana] and thereby the monkey is considered sacred and is free to their wishes in many of these locations. The damage and annoyance caused by them is overlooked…. while the only reason for them to be attracted to these locations is the floral-waste and the food waste. Most species found in our countries are omnivorous and are attracted to human food types as well.

Sri Lanka is home for three monkey species; the Toque Macaque or Toque Monkey [Macaca sinica], the Grey Langur or Hanuman Monkey [Semnopithecus priam] and the Purple-face Leaf Monkey [Trachypithecus vetulus]. Of them the Toque Macaque and the Purple- face are endemic to Sri Lanka and the species sub-divided geographically for them being found island wide. The Grey Langur, predominantly a dry zone species is now making in-roads to the central massif. However of all the three species it is the Toque Macaque that has made its presence felt in most religious locations in Sri Lanka. Toque macaques are so named because of a whirl of hair on their head that resembles a type of hat. Its behaviour is best described in the documentary film shot on location of a scientific study on them by Dr Wolfgang Dittus in Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka. The documentary named “Temple Troop” became world famous and the story goes thus: 


The struggle between two macaque tribes: the Black Claws, and the Temple Troop. 
“The program begins with "Temple Troop", a troop of Toque macaques who live in a temple area known as Fig Tree Vale. The vale is abundant in figs and water. The troop was led by Lear, the king of the troop who had been its dominant male for 4 years. One of Lear's biggest concerns was the threat of deposal, and that threat came with the arrival of Hector. Hector had recently joined the troop and seemed discontent with his position within it. Hector challenged the old king and during a large scuffle, Lear fell to the ground from a tree, which cost him his throne. Hector was the new king of Temple Troop and took full advantage of his new authority. Hector bullied his subordinates, but to secure his regime, he needed the support of Gemini, the matriarch of the Troop. 
The Temple Troop's arch rivals, the Black Claws, invaded their territory, and drove the Temple Troop from it. Exiled to the bad lands, the troop were joined by a wandering male called Che, who proved to be an asset, especially to Gemini and Portia. They tried to invade a marketplace but were driven back to the bad lands by a city troop. As Che was settling into the troop, his wandering band of bachelor males returned, giving Hector an excuse to banish him. Che attacked his former band to remain in the troop, and later he convinced both groups to merge. 
With more warriors to fight the Black Claws the exile Temple Troop marched towards Fig Tree Vale to confront their ancient foes. 

Black Claws

The Black Claws are a street bred troop of Toque macaques who live in the periphery of Monkey City, relying on tourists for food. The troop's queen, Pandora, tried to use the opportunity of the Temple Troop males' supremacy battle to capture their abundant territory. She and the Black Claws are the drama's antagonists. 
The Black Claws' king Goliath led a small attack on the Vale; this was repulsed, but it was followed by a mass invasion from the entire Black Claw troop. Stronger and more numerous, the Black Claws prevailed in the ensuing battle, killing Lear, and expelling the Temple Troop from Monkey City. (The Black Claws had prospered under queen Pandora with the growth in city trash.) 

As Pandora settled into her new territory, a troop of Langur monkeys tried to capture Fig Tree Vale. The Black Claws drove them off, but Pandora disappeared and was found to have died of an unknown cause (ascribed by the program makers to having attacked the sacred Hanuman Langurs). Pandora's youngest daughter, Scarlett became the new queen of the Black Claws. The king of the Black Claws, Goliath, was concerned about the new matriarch, needing to win her favour to remain king. Scarlett was ruthless and greedy with food, not allowing the lower class near any figs. (The Black Claws, comprised two bickering clans: workers & aristocrats, both of which Pandora had dominated.) The leader of this lower clan was Jezebel, who was tired of Scarlett monopolizing the food. Unable to directly defeat Scarlett and her aristocratic sisters, Jezebel led her half of the troop back to their ancestral lands, the car park. To start a troop she needed a king, so she subverted a subordinate Black Claw aristocrat into defection. Scarlett responded with an attack on Jezebel's troop, making her back down. This civil war concludes as Temple Troop begin their march back to Fig Tree Vale.” 

Another location where the Toque Macaque is found in abundance is the Dambulla Rock Cave Temple in Sri Lanka located within the cultural triangle, a famous tourist and pilgrim location. Pilgrims have to climb the rock about a kilometer to reach the cave temple and one needs to carry your flowers for offering from the foot of the rock. Generally them being lotus pods, and the petals need to be opened to bloom for offering. The corolla of the lotus is a delicacy of the Toque Macaque. They would follow you behind stealthily up the rock and snatch your flowers if carried at leisure at lower arm level. This in a way is a reminder that you carry them at chest level with higher reverence and mindfulness. 

 Full-moon days [Poya-day] and weekends are very populous with visitors in Dambulla and the Toque Monkeys could be seen in abundance in all forms; be it new born young to pregnant females all making use of the fast-food available in the temple premises. On other days of the week they disperse into the forest to feed on the foliage. 

They have a prolific breeding pattern and the dominant male being of a higher order maintains a harem of females. When two troupes meet up its mayhem; the dominant males attacking each other, which at times end up with fatality. The winner would end up with a larger harem or a new male will take possession of the troop as leader.
Their habit of raiding agricultural plots and farmer homes has had an impact on the farming community and the Macaque being a victim to poisoning. Entire troops have been wiped out as a result. However those that habituate these religious abodes seem to thrive in their numbers with the freely available fast food source..........

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