Lord Hanuman – A Prototype of the Ideal Worshipper

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Lord Hanuman – A Prototype of the Ideal Worshipper

Hanuman, the ancient monkey-divinity of India: for many, he represents the force of life in man's struggle to exist. He is most known for his devotion to the god-king Rama, and for his exploits as leader of the monkey army that helped save Rama's princess from the demon-king of Lanka. Yet in northern parts of the country, Hanuman is a god of great importance in his own right. There he is worshiped as the epitome of strength and vitality; popular legends associate him not so much with the self-restrained Rama as with Siva, possessor of creative and destructive energy. Hanuman is well known throughout India-rural and urban, north and south. He appears in much Sanskrit and vernacular dramatic literature, and in epic poems; he is the central hero of many folk stories, and a popular subject of village plays and dances. His likeness in stone and wood adorns many shrines. Brightly coloured pictures of him are hawked in city streets and pasted to the walls of homes and shops. In his honour, monkeys are fed in the precincts of many temples. Whether as Hanuman or as Mahavira ("Great Hero") he is known to almost every Hindu-children and adults, literate and illiterate alike.

The word Hanuman is derived from two Sanskrit words ‘Hanu’ and ‘Man’. While the word ‘Hanu’ means jaw, ‘Man’ means disfigured. Hanuman was called so because he had a disfigured jaw right from his childhood. Another version, found in Jain texts, indicates that the name was derived from the island "Hanuruha", where Hanuman spent his childhood.

Blessing Hanuman

The importance of Hanuman, and the sacredness of monkeys in India, is generally attributed to the role he plays, together with his monkey army, in the epic Ramayana. Best known in northern and middle India through the vernacular version written in the late sixteenth century by the poet-saint Tulsi Das, the story is loved and treasured, read, listened to, memorized, and quoted by millions of people who speak some dialect or another within the Hindi language area. Most Hindu men, regardless of caste, education, religious practices, or political views, can recite considerable portions of it. In the Bhojpuri-language area, mention of the Ramayana is enough to start a man singing some of its verses; and the most frequently recited passages are those referring to Hanuman. Although there are many versions of the Ramayana current throughout India, they are all based on the original Sanskrit epic composed by Valmiki, who probably lived in the first or second century B.C. In that version, the monkey-hero was given an unquestioned position of importance as the ally of Prince Rama in the battle against Ravan, the kidnapper of Rama's chaste and beautiful wife Sita. In the ensuing centuries, as a result of interpolations in the Valmiki epic and of later versions in many vernaculars, Prince Rama came to be interpreted as an incarnation of the god Vishnu, receiving obedient service from the lesser hero Hanuman.

Panchamukhi Hanuman

Tulsi Das, in his Hindi version, followed the interpretation that had been developed in two popular pieces of literature, the Hanumacna Nataka, an eleventh-century Sanskrit drama, and the Adhyatma Ramayana, composed in Sanskrit about 1300 A.D. The Tulsi Das version has, in turn, affected nearly four centuries of subsequent writers and artists. It’s ideal of society and its deeply earnest devotional religion have permeated the structure of north Indian civilization. Hanuman, in the Tulsi Das Ramayana, became an illustration of perfect Ramabhakti. He is introduced in the fourth book as the ambassador of Sugriva, the king of the monkey realm. In this scene, Hanuman meets Prince Rama and his half-brother Lakshman. Trembling with joy, he falls at Rama's feet; and he is ever after a Rima-bhakta, a suppliant of Rama. Thus, he comes under Rama's protection. At his very introduction into the Tulsi Das version, then, Hanuman becomes an example of bhakti; the occasion is used to teach the meaning of bhakti-to stress constant and affectionate attachment to the adored Lord: "He who with undivided and unhesitating intent, Hanuman, knows that he is servant of the Lord, the master whose form is all animate and inanimate things.

Hanuman is important as a protector. Verses about him are repeated at the beginning of each day and at the beginning of each enterprise. Small pamphlets called Hanuman Chalisa (Forty Verses about Hanuman) drawn from the Ramayana, are used as prayer books and as talismans. Powerful verses (mantra) invoking the name of Hanuman, the red-bodied hero, are used to exorcise demons or to gain power over enemies. Many songs of praise that refer to Rama and Sita in fact have Hanuman as the center of attention. A typical hymn (sung antiphonally by celebrants) praises Hanuman and mentions Rama only obliquely, in calling Hanuman the son of Afijani, devotee of Rama. The song recounts adventures in which Hanuman overcomes great dangers by his might and cleverness. He is considered to be the guardian against diabolic influences, and he can frighten malignant spirits away from his votaries. His power to secure a person against the unknown is often invoked. As it is popularly held in folk, one might take a road on which they would be killed; but thinking on Hanuman, they will take another road and be saved from harm.

Hanuman Ji Tearing His Chest to Reveal Rama and Sita In Brass

Hanuman also makes an appearance in the Mahabharata, a poetic account of the epic battle between the Pandava and Kaurava families. Since Hanuman is the son of Vayu, he is also considered the half-brother of Bhima, second of the Pandava siblings who was also sired by the god of wind. During the Pandavas' exile, Hanuman appears disguised as a weak and aged monkey before Bhima in order to subdue his arrogance and teach him the value of humility. Bhima enters a field where Hanuman is lying with his tail blocking the way. Bhima, unaware of the monkey's identity, told him to remove it; in response, Hanuman tells him to remove it himself. Bhima tries with all his might but is unable to separate the tail from its owner. Being the mighty warrior that he was, Bhima quickly comes to the conclusion that this monkey must be much more powerful than him. Hanuman reveals his identity, and the two brothers embrace one another. Upon Bhima's request, Hanuman is also said to have enlarged himself and shown him the same size in which he had crossed the sea to go to Lanka, looking for Sita.

Large Ashirwad Anjaneya (Hanuman Ji) with Kirtimukha Prabhavali Handmade | Madhuchista Vidhana (Lost-Wax) | Panchaloha Bronze from Swamimalai

Many stories are also told of Hanuman's childhood. As the son of Shiva and a monkey, Hanuman is variously described as spirited, restless, energetic and inquisitive.  One point all the major texts agree on is his mischievous nature.  As a youth Hanuman often abused his powers to pester the saints and holy men living in a nearby forest, with tricks such as beard pulling and the dousing of sacred fires.  However, it is as an adult that the monkey god Hanuman comes into his own. Hanuman's tale as told in the epic Ramayana is renowned for its ability to inspire its readers to face ordeals and conquer obstructions in their own lives. At the time of the Ramayana, Hanuman is sent as an advance spy to Lanka, the capital of the mighty demon Ravana's empire.  Ravana has provoked Lord Rama by carrying away his beloved wife Sita in order to start a war.  During the epic times that follow, Hanuman brings hope and secret messages to the captive Sita, leads Rama's monkey army in the Battle of Lanka and single-handedly kills many demons including Lankini, champion of the demons.  During this time Hanuman is captured by the enemy, only to outwit them with cunning and the use of his powers.  He returns to find Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana themselves captured by the enemy and about to be sacrificed to the goddess Kali by the sorcerer Mahiravana.  In a tale of great daring, Hanuman outsmarts the evil lord into becoming the sacrifice himself, thereby earning the eternal respect of Kali.  She appoints Hanuman as her doorkeeper and today many of her temples are seen to have a monkey guarding their doorways.

After the defeat of Ravana, Rama and Sita are crowned King and Queen of Ayodhya. Hanuman is offered a reward for his bravery and asks only to continue in service to him and to live for as long as men speak of Rama's deeds. He remains as Rama's favourite general to this day. Because of his bravery, perseverance, strength and devoted service, Hanuman is regarded as a perfect symbol of selflessness and loyalty.  Worship of Hanuman helps the individual to counter the bad karma borne out of selfish action, and grants the believer fortitude and strength in his or her own trials during the journey of life.  Hanuman is also invoked in fights against sorcery and protective amulets depicting him are extremely popular among his devotees.

Key Takeaways

  • Lord Hanuman is a Hindu deity who is widely revered for his strength, courage, and devotion to Lord Rama.

  • Hanuman is often depicted as a monkey, and is known for his agility, strength, and loyalty.

  • Hanuman is considered to be a prototype of the ideal worshipper, and is revered for his unwavering devotion to Lord Rama.

  • Hanuman is worshipped during the festival of Hanuman Jayanti, which marks his birthday, and is celebrated with offerings of fruits, sweets, and prayers.

  • Hanuman is also associated with the Hindu text the Ramayana, which recounts the story of Lord Rama's journey to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana.

  • Hanuman is revered by Hindus around the world, and his story has inspired countless works of art, literature, and music.

  • Hanuman is also believed to possess healing powers, and is often worshipped by those seeking relief from physical or emotional ailments.

References and Further Readings

‘Ramayana of Tulsi Das’ (Tulsikrit Ramacaritamanasa)

P. Thomas, ‘Hindu Religion and Customs and Manners’ (2nd ed., rev.; Bombay: Taraporevala, n.d.).

An Introduction to the Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India’ (Allahabad: Government Press, Northwestern Provinces and Oudh, 1894)

J. N. Farquhar, ‘An Outline of the Religious Literature of India’ (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1920; reprinted Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967)

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