Hanuman, the lord of monkeys, is one of the few gods in Hinduism to be worshipped across caste lines by followers of the Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakta orders. He is admired for his strength, scholarship, wisdom, humility and celibacy.
This book is an attempt to understand the imagery, ritual and philosophy associated with Hanuman worship in our time. At its heart is a single narrative on the life of the monkey- god woven out of plots and ideas found in the Valmiki Ramayana, Mahabharata, various Puranas and several vernacular Ramakathas. Also included are tales found in Jain Ramayanas and the Ramayanas of South East Asia.
Highlights include lucid explanations, a map showing the traditional journey of Rama to Lanka through Kishkinda, the text and translation of the Hanuman Chalisa, and over 100 illustrations, many of them in colour.
Let me meditate on Hanuman, Rama's eternal servant, the embodiment of devotion, whose body is as strong as thunder, whose mind is as sharp as lightning, who holds in his arms the mountain of herbs and a mace, who crushes malefic demons under his feet, who solves problems, takes away worry, inspires strength, gives hope and confidence, and who helps the devotee make his journey to Godhead.
The Ramayana is a much-revered Indian epic that contains
values most Hindus hold dear. The epic may be seen as
bringing to life the eternal struggle between ritu and
Ritu is the impersonal and inflexible law of Nature.
Dharma is the law of society created by man for man that
changes with time (kala), location (desha) and the
personality of people (guna). Ritu lets loose the instinct for
sex and violence. Dharma uses intellect to tame these
instincts. Ritu gives rise to matsya nyaya, the law of the
jungle by which might is right and only the fit survive.
Dharma forces man to live for others, gives rights to the
weak and imposes duties on the strong. Ritu rotates the
cycle of life, causing the sun to rise and set, the moon to
wax and wane, the tide to rise and fall, the seasons to
change, the plants to wither and bloom, the animals to
survive and propagate. Dharma domesticates the
wilderness to generate a civilized society where man can
look beyond survival at the meaning of existence.
Man has a choice: to uphold dharma and create a civilized
society or to reject dharma and live as a beast. The first
choice demands overpowering one's instincts and urges
and has the potential to transform man into god. The
second choice indulges the senses, inflates the ego and
makes man a demon.
Both the vanar-king Vali and the rakshasa-king Ravana are
presented as villains in the epic as they succumb to
ambition and lust. Both drive their brothers away in order
to become kings. Both mock the sanctity of marriage. Both
believe in coercion, not compromise. Both are rash,
arrogant and self-serving.
By contrast, Rama, the protagonist of the epic, sacrifices
everything as he goes about obeying his father, pleasing
his subjects and remaining faithful to his wife. His
selflessness makes him maryada purushottama, the supreme
upholder of social values.
Besides Rama stands Hanuman, a handsome, strong and
intelligent monkey, who chooses to be celibate and finds
fulfillment in selfless service. Though animal, not bound
by social law, he achieves what remains elusive to most
humans - triumph over the senses and the ego. As a
result, he becomes, like Rama, worthy of veneration.
Hanuman is widely worshipped in India for a number of
reasons. This book weaves into a single narrative
(occasionally taking some artistic liberty for the sake of
coherence and simplicity) stories of Hanuman from
various sources, such as the original Sanskrit Valmiki
Ramayana, Indian vernacular translations as well as Jain,
Thai, Balinese, Malay and Vietnamese versions of the epic.
In some of these works, especially the versions from South
East Asia, Hanuman is described as having many
amorous exploits. In keeping with the Indian tradition
that has institutionalized Hanuman's celibacy, I have
ignored these stories. But I have included in the narrative
some of the female characters who fell in love with
Hanuman, including the apsara Swayamprabha, the
mermaid Svarna-matsya, the sorceress Benjkaya and some
of Ravana's wives.
The aim of this book is to help the reader appreciate the
many facets of this much-adored monkey-god. It must,
however, be kept in mind that this book is only an
introduction, not an intensive or an exhaustive look at
the monkey-god. It is targeted at the general reader,
not the scholar. For those interested in learning more
about Hanuman, there is a select bibliography at the end
of the book.
I hope this book brings to life the games gods play to
amuse and uplift man. May it help readers fathom the
mysteries of santana dharma, the Eternal Universal Truth.
And may it please Hanuman who people believe still lives
somewhere in the Himalayas chanting the name of Rama.
About the Author
Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik (b. 1970), MBBS, graduated in medicine from Grant Medical College, Mumbai, and went on to specialize in the field of medical writing and health communication.
With a passion for mythology, he topped the Mumbai University course in comparative mythology (PGDCM) and has published three books as part of the introduction series: Shiva: An Introduction; Vishnu: An Introduction; and Devi: An Introduction. His articles have been published in Parabola, journal of myth, tradition and the search for meaning; the Times of India 'Speaking Tree'; and in guest columns of the New Indian Express. His unorthodox approach has been widely appreciated.
As part of Sabrang, a cultural organization that demystifies the arts, Dr. Pattanaik has lectured extensively on the relevance of mythology to modern man.
Dr. Pattanaik lives in India.
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