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.