Hanuman, the mighty ape that aided Lord Rama in his expedition against evil forces, is one of the most popular idols in the Hindu pantheon. Believed to be an avatar of Lord Shiva, Hanuman is worshiped as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance and devotion. Hanuman's tale in the epic Ramayana - where he is assigned the responsibility to locate Rama's wife Sita abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka — is known for its astounding ability to inspire and equip a reader with all the ingredients needed to face ordeals and conquer obstructions in the way of the world.
The Necessity of a Simian Symbol
Hindus believe in ten avatars of Lord Vishnu among a multitude of gods and goddesses. One of Vishnu's avatars is Rama, who was created to destroy Ravana, the evil ruler of Lanka. In order to aid Rama, Lord Brahma commanded some gods and goddesses to take the avatar of 'Vanaras' or monkeys. Indra, the god of war and weather, was reincarnated as Bali; Surya, the sun god as Sugriva; Vrihaspati, the preceptor of the gods, as Tara, and Pavana, the god of wind, was reborn as Hanuman, the wisest, swiftest and strongest of all apes.
The Birth of Hanuman
The story of the birth of Hanuman goes thus: Vrihaspati had an attendant called Punjikasthala, who was cursed to assume the form of a female monkey — a curse that could only be nullified if she would give birth to an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Reborn as Anjana, she performed intense austerities to please Shiva, who finally granted her the boon that would cure her of the curse.
When Agni, the god of fire, gave Dasharath, the king of Ayodhya, a bowl of sacred dessert to share among his wives so they may have divine children, an eagle snatched a part of the pudding and dropped it where Anjana was meditating, and Pavana, the god of wind delivered the drop to her outstretched hands. After she took the divine dessert, she gave birth to Hanuman. Thus Lord Shiva incarnated as a monkey, and was born as Hanuman to Anjana, by the blessings of Pavana, who thus became Hanuman's godfather.
The birth of Hanuman released Anjana from the curse. Before she returned to heaven, Hanuman asked his mother about his life ahead. She assured him that he would never die, and said that fruits as ripe as the rising sun would be his food. Mistaking the glowing sun as his food, the divine baby leapt for it. Indra struck him with his thunderbolt and hurled him down to earth. But Hanuman's godfather, Pavana carried him to the nether world or 'Patala'. As he departed from the earth, all life panted for air, and Brahma had to beg him to return. In order to appease him they conferred a lot of boons and blessings on his foster child that made Hanuman invincible, immortal and super powerful.
Hanuman selected Surya, the sun god as his preceptor, and approached him with the request to teach the scriptures. Surya agreed and Hanuman became his disciple, but had to face his constantly moving guru by traversing the sky backwards at equal pace, while taking his lessons. Hanuman's phenomenal concentration took him only 60 hours to master the scriptures. Surya considered the manner in which Hanuman accomplished his studies as his tuition fees, but when Hanuman requested him to accept something more than that, the sun god asked Hanuman to assist his son Sugriva, by being his minister and compatriot.
Worshiping the Monkey God
On Tuesdays and in some cases, Saturdays, many people keep fast in honour of Hanuman and give special offerings to him. In times of trouble, it is a common faith among Hindus to chant the name of Hanuman or sing his hymn ("Hanuman Chalisa
") and proclaim "Bajrangbali Ki Jai" — "victory to thy thunderbolt strength". Once every year — on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Chaitra (April) at sunrise — Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman. Hanuman temples are among the most common public shrines found in India.
The Power of Devotion
The character of Hanuman teaches us of the unlimited power that lies unused within each one of us. Hanuman directed all his energies towards the worship of Lord Rama, and his undying devotion made him such that he became free from all physical fatigue. And Hanuman's only desire was to go on serving Rama. Hanuman perfectly exemplifies 'Dasyabhava' devotion — one of the nine types of devotions — that bonds the master and the servant. His greatness lies in his complete merger with his Lord, which also formed the base of his genial qualities.
It is hard to find a mythical character who is at once so powerful, learned, philosophic, humble and amusing! Hanuman features prominently in the great epics of Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Hanuman Meets Rama
Hanuman met Rama and his brother Lakshmana while Rama was in exile in the jungle, and searching for his wife Sita who was abducted by Ravana. Their quest brought them near Pampa Lake at the foot of Mount Risyamukha, where the monkey king Sugriva and his ministers were hiding. Sugriva, who was being persecuted by his brother Bali, suspected that Rama and Lakshmana might have been sent by Bali to slay him. To find out the facts, Hanuman approached them in the guise of a Brahmin.
In Service of Rama
Hanuman's initial words highly impressed Rama, and made him comment: "None can talk this way without mastering the Vedas. He has such a flawless countenance, a wonderful accent, and a captivating way of speaking. He has the ability to move even an enemy..." After he revealed his identity as the prince of Ayodhya, Hanuman fell prostrate before him in respect of the Lord. Rama picked him up and embraced him. There began the story of Hanuman, which is inextricably interwoven with Rama, and dealt with in detail in Valmiki's Ramayana
and the Tulsidas' Ramacharitamanas
To cut the long story of Hanuman short, he then introduced Rama to Sugriva, and began his massive search for Sita. Finding out her whereabouts, he consoled Sita, and burnt down the city of Lanka. Hanuman then brought Rama to Lanka, fought the battle against Ravana with his simian army, and vanquished the demons. Hanuman's greatest feat was saving the life of Lakshmana by fetching the life-giving herb "Sanjivani" from the Himalayas. He flew fast towards the Himalayas, but unable to recognise the right herb, picked up the whole mountain on his hand and flew back to Lanka, just in time to save Lakshmana. Thereafter Hanuman served Rama forever.
Hanuman and the Pandavas
The venerable ape also features in the great epic Mahabharata. How Hanuman met the valiant Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers is itself a marvelous tale. He recognized Bhima as his spiritual brother, since both were born with the blessings of Pavana, the Wind God, and promised to aid the Pandavas in the big battle of Kurukshetra. Hanuman positioned himself in the flag of Arjuna's chariot to secure and stabilize the war-craft. The triangular saffron flag of Hanuman stands for stability and equilibrium, sense-control and mind-control, and a sure sign of victory over all that is base and evil.