TODAY -

Gandhiji’s Three Monkeys
30th January – Gandhiji’s death anniversary

S Balakrishnan *

 Gandhiji’s Three Monkeys
Gandhiji’s Three Monkeys



Gandhiji possessed only a very few materialistic things which were the bare necessities for his everyday life. But an exception was a set of Three Monkeys gifted by visitors from China.

Contradicting this claim of Sevagram, other sources say it was a gift from a Japanese monk named Nishidatsu Fuji. Though the three monkeys are called in Japanese as Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru, Gandhiji named them as Bapu, Ketan and Bandar respectively.

A gift from a Japanese monk seems appropriate because The Three Wise Monkeys are found in a wooden panel in the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko Town of Japan. Of course, it is also true that The Three Monkeys came from China to Japan along with a Tendai-Buddhist legend in the 8th century.

It is believed that the concept existed in China as far back as in the era of Confucius’s (c. 551 – c. 479 BCE), having been incorporated in the Code of Conduct. Well, there are even claims that this concept was truly originally from Bharath, that is India. All said and done, the Toshogu Shrine stands as a solid proof for the past 400 years carrying a panel of Three Wise Monkeys.

The lavishly carved wooden Toshogu Shrine is in the Nikko National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its great architecture and interesting culture, set in a peaceful ambience. The 400-year-old shrine has intricate carvings and statues.

The space was dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate Empire. The Nikko Shrine belongs to the Shinto Sect in which monkey is an important element. The mastermind behind the wooden carvings was Hidari Jingoro.

Well, we all know that these Three Wise Monkeys symbolize the virtuous way of living of not seeing any evil, not hearing any evil and not speaking any evil by covering the eyes, nose and mouth, thus encouraging us to avoid negative actions. The three mystic apes represented in the pictorial maxim are Japanese macaques, a common species found in Japan.

It is Mizaru the macaque who sees no evil, covering his eyes, Kikazaru is the one who hears no evil, covering his ears, and finally it is Iwazaru who speaks no evil, covering his mouth. To the original Three Monkeys, sometimes a fourth monkey is added; Sezaru, the fourth monkey, symbolizes the principle of "do no evil" by crossing its arms or covering its genitals.

All acts emanate from one’s thoughts, right? So why not stop thinking of any evil at all in the first instance? So this is represented by the fourth monkey holding its head (brain), preventing the evil thought process. Evolution of human thoughts leads to evolution of new and newer monkeys!

To suit the changing times a new version of these three monkeys is also found, because these "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys, it is felt, indicate lack of moral responsibility as they refuse to acknowledge impropriety by looking the other way or feigning ignorance.

In the modern version the first monkey tries to focus its vision, while the second monkey tries to improve its hearing, and the third takes efforts to be heard loud & clear.

The interpretation is "see, hear and speak out loud for what you think is right" because ignoring an (evil) issue does not solve it, rather such avoidance makes you a tacit supporter of the (evil) issue. This is just the opposite of the ancient Three Wise Monkeys’ principle.

The iconic monkey trio is available in Amazon from 300 rupees to 3000 rupees, depending on the size and material. I do have one set of Mizaru-Kikazaru-Iwazaru. This piece is a beautiful work from Orissa, made of horn, which I bought in 1983 for Rs.62.40.

Talking about monkeys I remember a story where a devotee asks a sage to help him focus on prayer. Just don’t think of the monkeys as you enter the temple, the sage advised him. Well, you might have as well guessed the devotee’s hapless position – his thought was full of monkeys and only monkeys and more monkeys!

So much for Gandhiji’s ‘’Three Monkeys” which are, in fact, imported from Nippon!

Did he not say, ‘I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.’ …


* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is from Chennai and can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on February 01 2024.



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