‘Jaya Hanuman jnana guna sagara, jaya Kapisha tinhu loka ujagara,
Victory to thee, O Hanuman, thou art the ocean of knowledge and virtue. Victory to thee O Lord of Monkeys, thou art known in all three worlds. O Emissary of Rama, thou art the home of unparalleled might; Anjaniputra – Anjani’s son, and Pawanasuta – son of the wind god, art thy names.
This Hanuman, who possesses ocean-like unfathomable knowledge and virtue, incomparable might and earth-like steadfastness, is known and worshipped primarily as the redeemer in crisis : ‘Ko nahi janat hai jaga mein Kapi Sankata-mochana nama tinharo’ – who knows not in the world, O Monkey-god, redeemer in crisis is thy name. And, the laudation is least exaggerated. In theology or tradition of devotion, no god of any pantheon in India is venerated so much for redeeming in crisis as Hanuman. As occasions of misfortune outnumber those of happiness in life, mankind looks more to him who redeems from misfortune rather than him who bestows happiness. Hanuman, the redeemer, is hence more widely worshipped and has a larger number of shrines dedicated to him than even Rama, his master. Hanuman’s power to redeem is not a mere theological conceptualisation or a believer’s hypothesis, his life, as it reveals in different sources, is its example. In Rama-katha – story of Rama’s life, which is broadly also the story of Hanuman’s life, this emissary and servant of Rama often rises above his master at least in the face of a crisis.
Whatever Rama’s attributes as the supreme God or Vishnu’s incarnation, when broken hearted he wandered in search of Sita, Hanuman came to his aid. He not only pledged to his cause himself, Kishkindha’s monkey king Sugriva, his entire army and ministers, and discovered Sita but also initiated efforts for her recovery by waging a psychological war against Ravana. He put Lanka into flames leaving Lankans panicky, and brought to Rama’s fold Ravana’s brother Vibhishana without whose aid Rama’s victory over Ravana would not be so easy.
When struck by the ‘shakti’ – divine weapon of Meghanatha, Ravana’s eldest son, Lakshmana swooned and helpless Rama only wailed, Hanuman not only brought Ravana’s personal physician Susena competent to cure Lakshmana along with his house but also the mountain Dron from the Himalayas with Sanjivini on it, and Lakshmana’s life was saved. He rescued Rama and Lakshmana from Ahiravana’s custody almost when Ahiravana was going to behead them for sacrifice. Bharata had pledged to end his life by immolating himself if Rama did not return to Ayodhya before sun-set on the day his fourteen years of exile ended. Rama was delayed, but before Bharata entered the pyre in full flames and immolated himself Hanuman rushed to Ayodhya, assured him that Rama would reach there in minutes and saved Bharata’s life. ‘Rama jasu jasa ap bakhana’ – true that Rama himself narrated Hanuman’s glorious deeds, but more notably, he recalled him specifically for redeeming him and his brother from crisis. When Ahiravana asked Rama and Lakshmana, before beheading them, to commemorate anyone they held in reverence, Rama asked Lakshmana to invoke Hanuman who alone could rescue them.
HANUMAN, THE PROTECTOR
This redeemer of scripts is the protector of common folks. He is invoked by common masses also for redeeming them but more often to protect them from everything untoward. His images are installed and worshipped invariably as the protector and patron deity having power to ward off misfortune. He is Kherapati, the patron deity of ‘khera’ – village, and Ghatoria, the protector of ‘ghats’ – valleys, to include river-crossings, descents, ascents, forts and village boundaries. As Balaji, he keeps evil spirits and maladies away and exorcises ghosts and ills from within. His name by itself has the status of the ‘mantra’ – hymn, which, being commemorated, dispels evil, evil spirits, ghosts : ‘Bhuta pishacha nikata nahin abein’ – ghosts and evil spirits dare not come around. As Bajaranga – with body made of ‘vajra’, or Bajrangabali – having ‘vajra’-like strength, he presides over gymnasiums and wrestlers’ rings infusing into wrestlers’ bodies his own might, and in the bodies of gymnasts and acrobats, his own agility and swiftness.
It is only Hanuman who wards off adverse influence of planets like Saturn and Rahu, protects from business failures, failure in examinations, politics, sports and other fields. In a strange fusion of the machine and the faith, which reveals when a road-roller, truck, locomotive engine, or a ship, painted with an icon of Hanuman or simply his name, passes across, Hanuman is believed to avert mishap at sea, rail-track and roads, and protect machine and treasures it contains.
HANUMAN’S BIRTH AND PARENTS
Except that Hanuman was born to Anjana and that Anjana was married to Kesari, the monkey king of Sumeru, there is hardly any unanimity in regard to the circumstances, date and day of his birth, pre-birth and childhood days. Despite that Kesari was Hanuman’s father, the legends of his birth evolves in such a way that Shiva and the wind-god Maruta, too, seem to be vitally, sometimes even directly, responsible for his birth. In hymns devoted to him Hanuman is often lauded with epithets alike Kesari-Nandana – Kesari’s son, Maruti-Nandana – son of Maruta, or Pawana-Suta – son of Pawana, another name for wind-god, and also as Rudra-rupa – Shiva manifest.
ANJANA, HANUMAN’S MOTHER
Kesari is alluded to unanimously as a mighty monkey possessed of exceptional wisdom. However, such unanimity is not seen in regard to Anjana. In one of her accounts she is said to be the daughter of Kesari, a demon. The childless Kesari underwent great austerities to appease Shiva for getting a son. Shiva, however, granted him a daughter who would give birth to a mighty and wise son. She is sometimes identified as Indra’s celestial nymph Punjikasthala. Exceptionally beautiful but as much playful and naughty Punjikasthala one day provoked a sage to curse that she would be born on the earth as a female monkey whose nature she shared. Shaken with fear Punjikasthala entreated the sage to forgive her but the words announced could not come back. Punjikasthala was later born as the daughter of the saintly monkey king Kunjara who named her Anjana. When she was in her youth, she was married to Kesari. As per yet another account, Anjana was born to Ahilya by sage Gautam. Drawn by her bewitching beauty one day Indra in disguise came to Anjana to seduce her. Sage Gautam saw them together and cursed that she would remain unmarried her whole life. However, realising his error he later blessed her to have a son with extraordinary might and wisdom. The curse was thus averted. Jain texts identify Anjana as an erstwhile celestial nymph born as the princess of Mahendrapur. Here both, Anjana and her husband Pavanajaya are alluded to as absolute human beings.
ACCOUNTS OF HANUMAN’S BIRTH IN VARIOUS TEXTS
Accounts of Hanuman’s birth and parentage in the Ramayana, Skanda Purana, Bhavishyottara Purana, Brahmananda Purana and some other texts are almost identical. The myth in the Brahmananda Purana begins with Anjana’s father Kesari, a demon. The childless Kesari underwent rigorous penance for a son. Pleased by it Shiva appeared and asked him to name anything he wanted. Kesari asked him to grant him a son who was unparalleled on warfront and in might, wisdom and steadfastness. Shiva showed his inability for Providence had not allowed him a son. He, however, granted him a daughter who would bear a mighty son. In due course his wife bore a girl with exceptional beauty. Kesari named her Anjana. When fully grown, she was married to a mighty monkey, also named Kesari. For quite long they had no child. One day, Dharma, god of Righteousness, disguised as a low-born woman adept in astrology, came to their place. She told Anjana that if she performed penance for seven thousand years on mount Venkatachala, she would have a mighty son. She underwent seven thousand years long penance. Afterwards she bore a son with no one like him in valor, wisdom and might.
Some other texts also allude to Anjana’s journey to Venkatachala for a son but on the advice of sage Matanga, not Dharma. Sage Matanga saw Anjana engaged in rigorous austerities at mount Kishkindha. He asked her the object of her penance. A sad Anjana revealed her heart and entreated the holy saint to tell how she would get a son. Sage Matanga advised her to go to Venkatachala. There she should first worship Venkateshvara and then take a holy dip at the sacred Akashaganga and drink a handful of its water. So purified she should stand and pray the wind-god who would bless her with a son invincible against men, gods and demons. Anjana did as advised. When she was engaged in rigorous penance, the wind-god appeared. She asked him for a son as mighty as him. The wind-god thereupon assured her that he himself would be born to her as her son. Thus, Anjana’s son was born by wind-god and was himself the wind-god. Hanuman is hence lauded as both Maruti and Maruti-nandana.
BHARATA AND HANUMAN BORN OF A COMMON SOURCE
Here the legend has two variations; one presenting a rationale as to why Hanuman’s love and devotion for Rama was such as between two brothers born of the same womb, inspiring the all-knowing Rama to say : ‘Tuma mama priya Bharatahi sama bhai’ – you are as dear to me as Bharata; and other, indicating his birth direct from Shiva’s part. Ayodhya’s illustrious ruler Dasharatha, being childless, performed ‘yajna’ for a son. On its completion the fire-god appeared with ‘havya’ – sanctified offering, and gave it to Dasharatha to distribute it among his wives. Dasharatha gave a part of it to each of his wives Kausalya, Sumitra and Kekeyi. But, when they yet held their parts of the ‘havya’ on their palms, a kite dived and snatched away from Kekeyi’s palm her part and shot back. It occurred exactly when at Venkatachala Anjana with her full stretched hands was praying the wind-god. While flying southward over Venkatachala exactly where stood Anjana, the grip of kite’s beak loosened and the ‘havya’ it carried slipped and dropped on Anjana’s palms. Taking it as the wind-god’s grant of her prayer Anjana ate it. She soon conceived and bore a son almost when at Ayodhya Dasharatha’s queens bore theirs. Significantly, Rama equated Hanuman with Bharata, not Lakshmana, perhaps because Hanuman was born of Kekeyi’s share of ‘havya’, and thus Bharata and Hanuman were born of the same source, if not same womb.
Shaivite texts differently account the event. After Anjana’s penance was over Shiva appeared before her. She prayed him to grant her a son. Shiva assured her that his eleventh part – ‘ansha’, would be born to her as her son. This would be his Anshavataras – partial incarnations, last of the eleven Rudras.
He gave her a ‘mantra’ and instructed her to commemorate it with her wide-stretched palms. He said that the wind-god would give her ‘havya’, by which she would bear a son. Accordingly, when from kite’s beak slipped Kekeyi’s part of ‘havya’, the wind-god collected it and dropped it onto Anjana’s palms. The myth of Hanuman’s birth from Shiva’s ‘ansha’ varies in other texts. When Ravana’s atrocities grew unbearable Brahma, Vishnu, other gods and sages approached Shiva for redeeming the earth from him. Vishnu proposed to himself incarnate as Rama but he felt that Ravana, by worshipping Shiva in all his ten forms and winning from him several boons imparting to him invincibility and immunity against death, might not be eliminated without his help. Thereupon Shiva announced that he would be born as a monkey in his eleventh Anshavatara. Shiva then entered Kesari’s body. Vayu – wind-god also entered his body. As part of Kesari they had copulation with Anjana. In the process Shiva passed into Anjana’s womb and was born as Hanuman exactly after twelve years when Kausalya, Dasharatha’s principal queen, gave birth to Rama.
As much interesting is the other myth. Once Vishnu transformed himself into Mohini, a maiden with bewitching beauty and youth, to delude demons. Shiva heard of it and insisted on Vishnu to show him his Mohini transform. Vishnu tried to dissuade him but without result. He finally disappeared unnoticed. When looking for him Shiva saw a young exceptionally beautiful maiden behind a grove of trees. When he yet looked at her, a gust of wind removed her clothes. Shiva forgot Vishnu and rushed after the young lady. When she saw him coming towards her she hid behind a shrub. Shiva discovered her and caught her but she slipped away leaving her clothes in his hands. She ran ahead and Shiva behind taking several rounds of the world. In excitement Shiva’s virya was discharged. Not to let it waste and to use it for Rama’s errand in coming days, Saptarishis – seven sages, witnessing the scene, collected it on a leaf and planted it into Anjana’s womb through her ear when she stood at Venkatachala praying the wind-god for a son.
In yet another legend the wind-god has a more assertive role. One day, long after her marriage, Anjana, brilliantly clad, bejeweled and adorned, was strolling around a mountain top. Suddenly, a gust of wind removed her sari uncovering some part of her body. She felt as if somebody touched her. She shouted at the teaser and inclined to curse but before it the wind-god appeared in person. He assured Anjana that without injuring her chastity simply by embracing her he only planted into her womb a son who would be as swift as him and unique in valor, wisdom and might.
In one legend echoes a Vedic context. Kesari had two wives, the monkey-like looking Anjana and cat-like looking Adrika, both erstwhile celestial nymphs born on the earth due to Indra’s curse. Neither had a child. One day when Kesari was out sage Agastya happened to come to his house. Anjana and Adrika accorded him great honour. Pleased with their hospitalities the sage blessed them with mighty and noble sons. One day when strolling around a mountain slope, they met Vayu and Nrati. As a result they conceived. Later, Anjana gave birth to Hanuman, and Adrika, to Adri. When grown up, Hanuman took Adrika, and Adri, Anjana to pilgrimage to two sacred spots on Gomati’s banks. Anjana and Adrika were redeemed of their curse and returned to Indraloka. The spot known as Vrakshakapi is believed to be the same whereto Hanuman had taken Adrika. The term Vrakshakapi occurs in Vedic literature many times.
HANUMAN’S ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF NAME IN JAIN LITERATURE
Jain texts have quite a different legend of Hanuman’s birth. In Jain myths, Hanuman, Bali, Sugriva and other Vanaras are identified as Vidyadharas, a clan of supernatural beings. As has Paumachariyam, a text by Vimalasuri, a Jain monk, dated in between 2nd to 4th century, Anjana, Hanuman’s mother, was the princess of Mahendrapur married to Pavanajaya, the prince of Adityapura. To avenge a pre-marriage remark of hers Pavanajaya had married Anjana but had not consummated his marriage. One night when on warfront he had an intense feeling to meet her. He instantly rushed to his palace, went to Anjana’s chamber, remained with her the whole night indulging in love and all, and returned unnoticed to his camp before sunrise. Anjana conceived. Her in-laws, considering her corrupt, drove her out. Her own parents, believing the allegation, also turned her away. A cave gave her shelter where she bore her child. The other day, her maternal uncle Pratisurya of Hanuruhapura, hearing of the incidence, came to her and took her with the newborn to Hanuruhapura. When yet on their way, the child slipped from Anjana’s lap and Pratisurya’s ‘vimana’ – aircraft, and fell on the earth. When landed, Anjana and her maternal uncle could not believe their eyes. The child with the thumb of his right leg in his mouth was in smiles and the rock he fell on was completely smashed. This tradition discovers in Hanuruhapura, where the child spent his early days, the source of his name as Hanuman.
EVOLUTION OF HANUMAN’S NAME IN OTHER TEXTS
The evolution of Hanuman’s name is differently traced in Brahmanical texts. It is said that a day after his birth the child, with hunger in eyes, looked upward and saw the sun. He took it for a ripe fruit, leapt towards it, grabbed it and put it into his mouth. It was the day of sun’s eclipse by Rahu, the notorious planet. Rahu reached the sky but not finding the sun in its place went to Indra and charge-sheeted Anjana’s son for hiding the sun and aborting nature’s course. Finding the complaint genuine Indra hurled his vajra – thunderbolt, to punish the child and get the sun released. Though Hanuman bore Indra’s ‘vajra’ on his ‘hanu’ – chin, he fell from the sky. His chin was slightly hurt. Thus for spanning Indra’s utmost power with his ‘hanu’ he got his Hanuman name. The incident, however, infuriated Vayu, his father. In protest, he stopped blowing endangering life of all, man, animal and vegetation. All gods entreated Vayu to resume functioning. To compensate damage each god blessed the child with one of his attributes. Indra declared that hence onwards his ‘vajra’ would remain ineffective against Hanuman.
The incident is narrated in some texts with some variations. Despite that Indra hurled his ‘vajra’ on Hanuman, he did not release the sun. Hearing sun’s cry for help Ravana rushed to its rescue. He began pulling Hanuman’s tail which greatly annoyed him. The furious Hanuman released the sun but attacked Ravana. In a year long fight Ravana got defeated but Hanuman continued to strike on him. It was only after sage Visrava persuaded him that Hanuman let Ravana go. In Valmiki Ramayana, it is the sun, not Rahu, that runs to Indra praying for protection but Hanuman chases him there too, which annoys Indra and he hurls his ‘vajra’ on him.
CHILD HANUMAN IN THE SERVICE OF RAMA
Not so widely, texts allude to one more legend from Hanuman’s early life. Once Shiva, disguised as a monkey trainer, visited Ayodhya with Hanuman as an ordinary monkey dancing for its master. Just in front of the royal palace Shiva began beating his drum, and Hanuman, dancing on its notes. Rama along with his brothers watched the play and enjoyed it. When it ended, Rama insisted to have the monkey. This was what Shiva wanted. Thus, Hanuman was with Rama for whose service he was born. Hanuman danced and did whatever his master wanted him to do. Days passed happily. One day sage Vishvamitra came to Ayodhya to take Rama and Lakshmana with him. Before he left Rama called Hanuman and instructed him to go to Kishkindha and befriend Sugriva as he would require Sugriva’s services in eliminating Ravana for which he had incarnated on the earth.
HANUMAN’S LATER DAYS
Such isolated incidents apart, hardly anything is known of Hanuman’s life after his early childhood to his emergence at Kishkindha. As Sugriva’s emissary he meets Rama and impresses him with his humility, elegant manners and refined and eloquent language. Now begins Hanuman’s multifarious role in the Rama katha almost as significant as Rama’s. He engineers an understanding between Rama and Sugriva to mutually help and Sugriva gets back his kingdom and queen. Hanuman jumps over the sea to Lanka frustrating Surasa, Nagamata, Sinhika and other mighty demons - Ravana’s sea-guards that sought to devour him. More than his might he displays unparalleled intelligence in tackling them. At Lanka he not only discovers Sita but also Vibhishana, Ravana’s younger brother, and Rama’s sole devotee in the island. Always just and true to a relationship, as in case of Sugriva, Hanuman does not use Vibhishana for Rama’s cause but also has in mind from the first day Vibhishana’s equal benefaction – Lanka’s crown and in him a right ruler to the land. He foresees the future and initiates Rama’s war against Ravana by killing many of his warriors along with his youngest son Aksha Kumar and strikes all with panic by putting Lanka into flames. His role during a crisis in war or Rama’s personal life apart, on warfront, too, his exploits are countless. In most texts, it is Hanuman who kills Kumbhakarana, his son, and the great warriors Nikumbha, Devantaka, Trisira, Dhurdhara, Prahasta and Mahaparva. In Rama-katha his role has same magnitude as Rama’s.
A monkey-like face and tail apart, the images of Hanuman, wearing a helmet-type crown and loincloth, pursue norms of human anatomy. Most of his images have normal two arms and single face, however his images with four arms, and sometimes more, and five faces – Narsimha, Varaha, Hayagriva and Garuda, three, Vishnu’s incarnated forms, and fourth, his vehicle, besides Hanuman’s own, also exist.
In this form Hanuman symbolises unity of man and animal, born and unborn, and thereby of the cosmos. Whatever his form, Hanuman’s is a simple iconography, neither mystic nor symbolic. It reveals his pure form – physical and spiritual. Whatever little experimentation, it is in folk arts, or paintings, and sometimes in stone-reliefs, narrating or illustrating an episode. His votive images in stone, metal or clay, or on paper, enshrining thousands of shrines or walls in India and beyond, are almost rigidified representing him as carrying in his left hand a mountain, and in the right, his usual mace, one symbolising his power to redeem, and other, his power to protect.
Apart, sometimes Rama and Lakshmana are represented as seated on his shoulders, and sometimes, as bursting from his chest. His tail plays a significant role in his iconography. Lying on the ground it symbolises humility, and upheld, his vigour, victory and authority. In his ‘tantrika’ forms he usually holds a demon, or two, in the coils of his tail. Multi-armed and multi-faced icons apart, in ‘tantrika’ forms his body parts are usually inscribed with various ‘mantras’, especially the Hanuman-mantra.
The common man’s deity, as if one born like him, worshipped by crores of people across the world, Hanuman does not represent any school of philosophy or a metaphysical system. Even mysticism is not his character. If classified, he would fall in Vaishnava ‘bhakti’ – devotion, cult, a path which through ecstasy and delight leads the devotee from sensuous to spiritual, temporal to transcendental and finally to salvation.
Hanuman’s devotional cult does not lead to such ecstatic expression of delight nor incites to dance and frisk and to sensualism never. He breeds contemplative seriousness. Though an incarnation of Shiva, he is more like a folk deity, a hero-god endowed with unique vigor, valour, and ability to destroy evil. At mundane level Hanuman is an ideal human, upright man, friend and emissary worthy of trust, statesman of great caliber and a wise and brave warrior, and at spiritual, the god that inspires faith.
Wishing all our readers on the occasion of Ram Navami (14th April 2008), the birthday of Shri Rama.
FOR FURTHER STUDY:
1. Valmiki Ramayana