The Heroics of Hanuman

The Heroics of Hanuman

 

There are undoubtedly numerous icons and figures in Hinduism and in Indian culture. While the gods and goddesses always take precedence, another significant figure is that of the Hanuman.

Hanuman is a famed companion of the god Rama and takes the form of a divine monkey. As such, stories about Hanuman can be found in the Ramayana, which is one of the most important epics in Indian culture. Aside from being the companion of Rama, another one of his roles is that of the commander of the monkey army.

 The precise definition of the name Hanuman seems to be unclear. However, legend has it that one morning, Hanuman flew into the sky in order to grab the sun, which he mistook for a fruit. This act led Indra, who is the king of the gods, to strike Hanuman on the jaw with a thunderbolt, thus breaking and disfiguring his jaw. The name Hanuman emerged from this as it means “one having a disfigured jaw”. Hanuman is also referred to by many other names, including Hanumat, Anuman, Anjaneya, Kesarisuta, and Kapeeshwara, among others.

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 Hanuman is said to be the son of Anjana, who is another hero in the Ramayana, and Kesari, who was a male vanara, which is a monkey or a humanoid ape. There are also others that state that Vayu, the wind god, played a role in the birth of Hanuman, which is why he is also called the son of Vayu.

 There are a few different legends that narrate the birth or rebirth of Hanuman. One of which states that after Hanuman was struck dead by Indra, Vayu became enraged and because of this, decided to withdraw all air from the Earth. Without the support of Vayu and without the existence of air, all living things suffered greatly. Lord Shiva was then forced to get involved and he decided to resuscitate Hanuman and bring him back to life. With Hanuman reborn, Vayu decided to go back to the Earth and be among the living beings again.

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 To make amends for his actions against Hanuman, Indra agreed to grant Hanuman a wish. Hanuman’s wish was that his body would be just as strong and powerful as Indra’s vajra weapon and that his own vajra would never be able to inflict harm on himself. Aside from Indra, a number of other gods granted Hanuman special wishes. Some of these wishes included the inability for fire to harm him, which was bestowed by the god Agni. Vayu himself granted Hanuman the ability to become as fast as the wind and immune to any harm from the wind. Lord Brahma, on the other hand, granted Hanuman the power to move to any place, where he would be unstoppable, and Lord Vishnu bestowed him with a special weapon called gada. All the wishes that were granted and the powers that Hanuman was bestowed with made him an immortal with incomparable abilities and strength.

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 However, later on, Hanuman began to use his powers irresponsibly against innocents. On one such occasion, he made the mistake of using his powers on a sage as he meditated. Very much angered, the sage decided to curse Hanuman and made him forget the existence of most, if not all, of his powers. The curse would only be broken if someone were to remind Hanuman of his powers.

 There is much uncertainty regarding Hanuman’s life from the time of the curse until his role in the Ramayana. However, there is certainly no doubt regarding his significance.

 As the story of the Ramayana narrates, Rama and his brother Lakshmana arrive in Kishkindha searching for Rama’s wife Sita. Sugriva, the monkey king, agrees to assist the brothers in their search and sends his men in different directions. Hanuman, Jambayan, and a group of the king’s men headed south in search of Sita. However, when they arrive in the southernmost area of India, they are faced with the ocean and the island of Lanka on the far horizon. They needed to reach Lanka in order to search the island for Sita but they were unable to swim or jump far enough over the water in order to reach the island. It was only Jambayan, who, having previously witnessed Hanuman powers, reminded Hanuman of his ability to reach Lanka and thus lifted the sage’s curse. With the curse finally broken, Hanuman recalls all his extraordinary abilities and divine powers.

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 Utilizing a range of his unique and powerful abilities, Hanuman not only reaches Lanka but he discovers the evil Ravana and the city inhabited by his demon followers. Hanuman was not only able to find Sita, who was being held captive by Ravana, in a grove within the city but he was able to speak with her. Unfortunately, Hanuman could not free Sita himself as the task had to be performed personally by her husband, Rama. Hanuman was then captured by Ravana, who orders his servants to set Hanuman on fire. However, immune to the dangers of fire, Hanuman not only escapes but destroys Ravana’s city and sets most of it ablaze.

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 Hanuman not only has a crucial role in rescuing Sita but he subsequently acts as an army general in the legendary Battle of Lanka. During the battle, it is also Hanuman who saves a fatally injured Lakshmana. In order to survive the injury, Lakshmana needed the cure from a specific herb and only Hanuman would be able to gather the herb in time. In doing so, Hanuman himself grew to the size of a mountain and ripped off the side of a mountain, gathering all the herbs on it in order to ensure that he had what Lakshmana specifically needed. It is said that this heroic act of Hanuman is one of the most legendary among Hindus.

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 To thank Hanuman for all he had done, Rama blessed him with a gift. However, Hanuman threw the gift away, stating that Rama would always be in his heart and that he did not need any gift to remember him by. Skeptical of this, some officials of Rama’s court asked him to prove it. Undeterred, Hanuman tore his chest open and showed an image of Rama and Sita on his heart. Truly touched by this, Rama not only cured Hanuman but also bestowed him with immortality. However, Hanuman again refused the gift of immortality and simply asked for a place at Rama’s feet, from where he could worship him. Not only did Rama grant Hanuman a place but he blessed him with immortality anyway.

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 Icons of Hanuman can either show him alone or with Rama and Sita. When depicted with Rama and Sita, Hanuman usually appears at the right side of Rama while bowing or kneeling to them in the namaste position. When portrayed alone, Hanuman can either be holding his Gada weapon and a thunderbolt or opening his chest to show the carved image of Rama and Sita on his heart. Hanuman is usually venerated as one of the secondary figures in temples that are specifically dedicated to Rama. However, on some occasions, he is considered a brave and powerful god himself.

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