by Linda Heaphy May 02, 2017 3 min read

hanuman
Hanuman before Rama and Sita and attendant. Gouache drawing, date unknown. Photo credit:  Wellcome Library, London, Wellcome Images

Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, is one of the most celebrated and worshipped figures in Indian religion, but mention him outside of India and you are likely to be met with a blank stare.  So who is Hanuman and what does he represent to the Hindu faith?

As is the case for many of India's gods, several stories are told explaining Hanuman's origin. In one interpretation Shiva and Parvati decide to transform themselves into monkeys and indulge in amorous games in the forest.  As a result Parvati becomes pregnant.  Shiva, conscious of his godly responsibilities and desiring to conform to the laws of nature, directs the wind god Vayu to carry the offspring from Parvati's womb to that of Anjana - an Apsara with the form of a monkey who has prayed to be granted a boy child. In another version of the story Hanuman is simply the offspring of Anjana and Vayu.  In yet another version of the story, he is the son of the King and Queen of the Monkeys.

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
Hanuman jumps over the ocean. Folio from the small Guler-Ramayana series from 1720. Attributed to the workshop of Pandit Seu in Guler, Himachal Pradesh, India. Museum Rietberg Zürich; Photo: Rainer Wolfsberger

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.


hanuman antique temple paque
A carved relief image of Hanuman, marble, 18th century, from the Jain holy temple town of Palitano in Gujarat, northwest India. Photo credit: Kashgar

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.

References and Further Reading

The Life of Hanuman, Peter Marchand, http://www.sanatansociety.org/indian_epics_and_stories/the_life_of_hanuman.htm

The Mystery of Hanuman - Inspiring Tales from Art and Mythology Nitin Kumar, 2004. http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/hanuman/

Hanuman. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanuman

Linda Heaphy
Linda Heaphy


9 Responses

samir sardana
samir sardana

December 20, 2019

How can a Hindoo even consider Rama as a God or a Prophet or a Messenger or a Seer

Rama told Sita to whore herself- this is in the Valmiki Ramayana

https://dindooohindoo.page.tl/Rama-Tells-Sita-to-whore-herself.htm

Chapter [Sarga] 115

तद्गच्छ त्वानुजानेऽद्य यथेष्टं जनकात्मजे |
एता दश दिशो भद्रे कार्यमस्ति न मे त्वया || ६-११५-१८

“O Seetha! That is why, I am permitting you now. Go wherever you like. All these ten directions are open to you, my dear lady! There is no work to be done to me, by you.”

तदद्य व्याहृतं भद्रे मयैतत् कृतबुद्धिना |
लक्ष्मणे वाथ भरते कुरु बुद्धिं यथासुखम् || ६-११५-२२

“O gracious lady! Therefore, this has been spoken by me today, with a resolved mind. Set you mind on Lakshmana or Bharata, as per your ease.”

įatrughne vätha sugréve räkņase vä vibhéņaëe |
niveįaya manaų séte yathä vä sukhamätmanaų || 6-115-23

“O Seetha! Otherwise, set your mind either on Shatrughna or on Sugreeva or on Vibhishana the demon; or according to your own comfort.”

samir sardana
samir sardana

December 20, 2019

How can Rama the Coward be called a God ?

The Man himself said he was not God – although the Gods said to him that he was

https://dindooohindoo.page.tl/Rama-does-not-know-he-us-God-_-after-Gods-say-so–ar-.htm
Book VI : Yuddha Kanda – Book Of War

Chapter [Sarga] 117

All Gods tell Limpet Rama that he is a God – The Suporeme One – and this is what Rama the Wimpet says

आत्मानं मानुषं मन्ये रामं दशरथात्मजम् || ६-११७-११
सोऽहं यस्य यतश्चाहं भगवंस्तद्ब्रवीतु मे |

“I think of myself to be a human being, by name Rama, the son of Dasaratha. You, as a gracious Divinity, tell me that which I as such really am like this.”

Before the above idsaster of Rama – the Gods speak as under :

अन्ते चादौ च लोकानां दृश्यसे च परंतप || ६-११७-९
उपेक्षसे च वैदेहीं मानुषः प्राकृतो यथा |

“O the destroyer of the adversaries. You are seen (to exist) at the beginning and at the end of creation. Yet, you ignore Seetha, just like a common man.”
कर्ता सर्वस्य लोकस्य श्रेष्ठो ज्ञानवतां प्रभुः |
उपेक्षसे कथं सीतां पतन्तीं हव्यवाहने || ६-११७-६
कथं देवगणश्रेष्ठमात्मानं नावबुद्ध्यसे |

“How do you, the maker of the entire cosmos, the foremost among those endowed with knowledge and an all-capable person, ignore Seetha who is falling into the fire? How do you not recognize yourself to be the foremost of the troop of gods?”

इति ब्रुवाणं काकुत्थ्सं ब्रह्मा ब्रह्मविदां वरः || ६-११७-१२
अब्रवीच्छृणु मे वाक्यं सत्यं सत्यपराक्रम |

Hearing the words of Rama, Brahma (the creator), the foremost among the knowers of Brahma the Absolute, spoke as follows: “Listen to my true word, O the truly brave lord!”

भवान्नारायणो देवः श्रीमांश्चक्रायुधः प्रभुः || ६-११७-१३
एकशृङ्गो वराहस्त्वं भूतभव्यसपत्नजित् |

“You are the Lord Narayana himself the glorious god, who wields the discus. You are the Divine Boar with a single tusk, the conqueror of your past and future enemies.”

त्वं यज्ञ्स्त्वं वषट्कारस्त्वमोंकारः परात्परः || ६-११७-२०
प्रभवं निधनं वा ते नो विदुः को भवानिति |

“You are the sacrificial performance. You are the sacred syllable ‘Vashat’ (on hearing which the Adhvaryu priest casts the oblation to a deity into the sacrificial fire). You are the mystic syllable ‘OM’. You are higher than the highest. People neither know your end nor your origin nor who you are in reality.”

दृश्यसे सर्वभूतेषु गोषु च ब्राह्मणेषु च || ६-११७-२१
दिक्षु सर्वासु गगने पर्वतेषु नदीषु च |

“You appear in all created beings in the cattle and in brahmanas. You exist in all quarters, in the sky, in mountains and in rivers.”

सीता लक्ष्मीर्भवान् विष्णुर्देवः कृष्णः प्रजापतिः || ६-११७-२८
वधार्थं रावणस्येह प्रविष्टो मानुषीं तनुम् |

“Seetha is no other than Goddess Lakshmi (the divine consort of Lord Vishnu), while you are Lord Vishnu. You are having a shining dark-blue hue. You are the Lord of created beings. For the destruction of Ravana, you entered a human body here, on this earth.”

Luke
Luke

January 16, 2019

Hi there, from time to time I find these prayer flags on the beach near my home. The one I found recently has an ape on it with a head dress and holding a triangular stone. They are always tied to a bamboo pole. I am interested in the meaning. Please email me as I could then send you a pic.
Luke.

rajeev singhal
rajeev singhal

December 12, 2018

it very good post thank you so much for posting for this useful post.

Nikhil Nanda
Nikhil Nanda

November 03, 2018

very good blog .visit famous Jhaku Temple in Shimla to see world’s tallest statue of Hanuman Ji’s Blessings https://bit.ly/2xV9d3v

priya
priya

August 16, 2018

The movie is about the decisive fight that took place between Hanuman and Mahiravana, which changed the course of Ramayana. Most of us have been told that Lord Rama killed Ravana and that was the end of the story.

Juanita Cullen
Juanita Cullen

July 13, 2018

If you follow archaeologist L.A. Marzulli, you will find that there were beings on the earth that cannot be explained by evolution and modern science. The Anasazis were destroyed by creatures who were half human and half lizard. He was also able to prove the Hobbits once existed.

Kishan Kishan
Kishan Kishan

March 31, 2018

No one can explain in Scientific terms about monkey or elephant faced gods described in Hindu mythology, perhaps these are powerful symbols not meant to be taken literally

Jaap Sybenga
Jaap Sybenga

November 11, 2017

IT is interesting to note that in the terrasses of the Borubudur on Java, Indonesia, a distinctly budist sanctuari, Hanuman is depicted performing his wonderful actions.

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