So in this mythical time, part of the same expanding moment as our own, there were essentially three worlds. The worlds of demons, of gods, and of men (and monkeys!). There's a few different kinds of demons, and I don't really know the difference between them. I could be wrong about what the Three Worlds means as well. There's various levels of gods and demi-gods as well as the Trimurti, essentially the Hindu Trinity.
On to the scene steps Ravana, the ten-headed demon priest-king. He has two brothers of note, one in the Thai Tradition called Yahk, which in Thai means want. You will find Yahk at most Buddhist temples, often asleep at the gates. His other brother is Vibishana, whom the Thai don't seem to care nearly as much about. These three brothers set out to become immortal.
The way to do this? Pray, fast, and make good tapas, not Spanish appetizers, but a word meaning something like "fire" in Sanskrit and referring to ascetic practices. Kumbhakarna threw himself headlong into the elements, standing in the sun of summer, the ice of winter, the wind of autumn, and rain of spring. Vibhishana spent his time meditating on "the name of the lord." What did Ravana, the first brother, do?
Ravana climbed up a very tall mountain and stood there. Every thousand years he cut off one of his heads. He had ten heads. This took him ten thousand years. It probably hurt quite a bit too. Finally, he gets to the last head after more time than any of us has spent alive. Without flinching he cuts it off, killing himself. Of course this suicide had a purpose. It was a prayer to the Creator. And so Brahma, the creator god came.
The creator appears to him on the mountainside and says, "Okay, I'm impressed. What do you want?"
"I want to live forever." Replies Ravana.
And Brahma tugs on his beard. Brahma lets out a breath, "Can't do that."
"What do you mean you can't do that? I cut off ten of my heads--the only ten I have--and stood on this mountain for ten thousand years without eating or drinking! And you can't even make me immortal?"
"I can't make you live forever. Even I won't live forever. Sorry, it just won't work. Why not ask for something else?" And Brahma pulls out a chalice of the Nectar of Immortality, which will make anyone who drinks it live for a very long time and be very hard to kill. He offers it to the very ragged demon in front of him.
"Okay, then." Says Ravana, drinking in frustration. "I want immunity to gods and demons, angels, snakes, wild beasts, diseases, vermin, spiders" and he lists various things that might kill the unsuspecting or the impertinent.
As he rounds off the well-thought-out list. Brahma asks him, "What about humans and monkeys? Don't you want to be invulnerable to them?"
Ravana laughs, "Humans and monkeys? What will they do, throw sticks and feces at me? Bah! I have no fear of humans or monkeys."
Brahma gives a sad grin. "Well, let it be then. Your wish is granted. Go in peace."
And Ravana goes on to make war on the whole universe. He even makes his way down to the kingdom of Yama, the God of Death. Yama has a sword that can kill anything, and when it was about to kill Ravana, Brahma showed up, quite upset.
"Yama, you can't kill him," Said the Creator. "It would unmake the universe. The universe is built upon my divine will. If that will is proven fallible, then pretty soon every atom and molecule in the whole show will want the lead part. Nothing will follow anything and existence itself will unravel. You're just going to have to let Ravana tie you up and take the most beautiful women of your kingdom back to his harem to seduce with his intelligence, good graces, wealth and power." And so it was. Ravana chained up the God of Death himself and pranced him around the underworld in a parade.
This pissed off all of the gods and even some of the demons. Around the time he took over the celestial city and dethroned the Indian Zeus, Indra, they decided that enough was enough and took their complaints to Brahma where he sat on the lotus growing out of Vishnu's belly button.
"Brahma! You've made this demon too powerful." They complained. And Brahma, not one to admit his mistakes easily, simply nodded sagely as the more demanding pressed, "Seriously. Do something about it."
"Well," Brahma chimed. "He can be killed by monkeys and humans. Why don't you all take births as monkeys and humans and then sort it out?" And he did one of those non-committal Indian head-bobs to show he understood what was bothering them.
"A monkey?" Some god asked, "You want me to become a parasite ridden monkey? That sounds awful."
"There's a tribe called the Vanaras that seem to have a pretty good society going. Their king, Vali, actually fought and beat Ravana once." Said one of the sagely demi-gods.
A younger god asked, "Ravana defeated, how?"
"A pelican saw the whole thing. Vali was sitting and watching the sunset. Ravana was looking for a good fight, and came on his flying chariot. He landed as quietly as he could then snuck up on Vali. The next thing the bird saw, Vali had Ravana's ten necks wrapped between his legs and was slapping his heads. Ravana tried to run away, but Vali was just riding him around and laughing like he was playing drums. Then the proud demon king begged to be let go and Vali jumped off with a laugh and went back to watching the sunset."
"Why don't we just hire Vali to kill him?"
"Have you ever tried making a deal with a monkey?"
And so the gods, who could not beat Ravana in the form of gods, decided to take birth as Vanaras and for a good forty years the jungle of the monkeys was full of some wicked acrobatics and magic. Of course when you take birth, you don't remember your previous incarnation, so these monkeys had no idea that they were really gods in monkey suits. They all thought they were just really awesome.
In Part Two: Trials and Succession, the story will talk a bit about the muddle that feudal lineages get themselves into in the kingdoms of both men and monkeys. Stay tuned.