Hanuman is one of the most popular, loved and propitiated deities of Hindu mythology. Hanuman is the very epitome of all the qualities necessary for a spiritual life – physical and mental strength, power, courage, humility, shraddha (dedication to purpose), bhakti (devotion) and abject surrender to his Lord, Rama.
He is a central character in the Indian epic Ramayana. Hanuman participated in Rama’s war against the demon king Ravana.
Several texts also present him as an incarnation of Lord Shiva. This development might have been a result of the Shavite attempts to insert their cherished deity in the Vaishnavite texts, which were gaining popularity.
He is also considered the son of Vayu (the deity of air), who according to several stories, played a role in his birth.
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 the Hanuman Chalisa.
As a child, Hanuman believed the sun to be a ripe mango, and pursued it in order to eat it. Rahu, a Vedic planet corresponding to an eclipse, was at that time seeking out the sun as well, and he clashed with Hanuman. Hanuman thrashed Rahu and went to take sun in his abode. Rahu approached Indra, king of devas, and complained that a monkey child stopped him from taking on Sun, preventing the scheduled eclipse. This enraged Indra, who responded by throwing the Vajra (thunderbolt) at Hanuman, which struck his jaw. He fell back down to the earth and became unconscious. A permanent mark was left on his chin, due to impact of Vajra, explaining his name (from the Sanskrit words Hanu (“jaw”) and man (or -mant, “prominent” or “disfigured”). The name thus means “one with prominent or disfigured jaw”.
Upset over the attack, Hanuman’s father figure Vayu deva went into seclusion, withdrawing air along with. As living beings began to suffocate, Indra withdrew the effect of his thunderbolt. The devas then revived Hanuman and blessed him with multiple boons to appease Vayu:
- Brahma gave Hanuman a boon that would protect him from the irrevocable Brahma’s curse. Brahma also said: “Nobody will be able to kill you with any weapon in war.” From Brahma he obtained the power of inducing fear in enemies, of destroying fear in friends, to be able to change his form at will and to be able to easily travel wherever he wished.
- From Shiva he obtained the boons of longevity, scriptural wisdom and ability to cross the ocean. Shiva assured safety of Hanuman with a band that would protect him for life.
- Indra blessed him that the Vajra weapon will no longer be effective on him and his body would become stronger than Vajra.
- Varuna blessed baby Hanuman with a boon that he would always be protected from water.
- Agni blessed him with immunity to burning by fire.
- Surya gave him two siddhis of yoga namely “laghima” and “garima”, to be able to attain the smallest or to attain the biggest form.
- Yama, the God of Death blessed him healthy life and free from his weapon danda, thus death would not come to him.
- Kubera showered his blessings declaring that Hanuman would always remain happy and contented.
- Vishwakarma blessed him that Hanuman would be protected from all his creations in the form of objects or weapons.
- Vayu also blessed him with more speed than he himself had.
- Kamadeva also blessed him that the sex will not be effective on him.
On ascertaining Surya to be an all-knowing teacher, Hanuman raised his body into an orbit around the sun and requested to Surya to accept him as a student. Surya refused and explained claiming that he always had to be on the move in his chariot, it would be impossible for Hanuman to learn well. Undeterred, Hanuman enlarged his form, with one leg on the eastern ranges and the other on the western ranges, and facing Surya again pleaded. Pleased by his persistence, Surya agreed. Hanuman’s phenomenal concentration took him only 60 hours to master the scriptures. When Hanuman then requested Surya to quote his “guru-dakshina” (teacher’s fee), Surya refused, saying that the pleasure of teaching one as dedicated as him was the fee in itself.
Hanuman insisted, whereupon Surya asked him to help his (Surya’s) spiritual son Sugriva. Hanuman later became Sugriva’s minister.
Hanuman was mischievous in his childhood, and sometimes teased the meditating sages in the forests by snatching their personal belongings and by disturbing their well-arranged articles of worship. Finding his antics unbearable, but realizing that Hanuman was but a child, the sages placed a mild curse on him to prevent his mischief, by which he became unable to remember his own ability unless reminded by another person.
During mythological times, Rama, a king of ancient India, had a problem. The demon king Ravana, had abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. Rama and his troops set out to rescue her from the vile demon. In the ensuing battle Rama’s brother, Laksmana, was severely wounded, and the only way to save him was with an herb that grew exclusively in the Himalayas. It appeared that he would be lost, for who could possibly travel to the Himalayas and back in time to save him?
Hanuman, Rama’s greatest devotee, said he would accomplish this impossible task. He then took one mighty leap that stretched all the way from the south of India to the Himalayas. At that point, he wasn’t sure which herb to pick, and so he carried the entire mountain with him as he made another massive leap back to the battlefield. The healers found the herb in question, and Laksmana’s life was saved.
In that giant leap Hanuman embodied his love for Rama. His intense devotion allowed him to do the impossible, and this is the lesson of Hanuman: Power comes from devotion.
Though Rama himself was an incarnation of the god Vishnu, he wasn’t able to make the giant leap because he was earthbound in a human body. But Hanuman, with his intense devotion to Rama, could make the leap. This story shows that even a god cannot do what a human can when the human has true devotion in the heart. For a devoted soul, nothing is impossible.
Opening Heart Story
Once Sita gave Hanuman a necklace of pearls. After a while, the residents of the city observed him breaking the necklace and inspecting each pearl minutely. Intrigued they asked him the reason. “I am looking for Rama and Sita,” replied Hanuman. Laughing at his apparent naivety the spectators pointed out to him that the royal couple was at the moment seated on the imperial throne. “But Rama and Sita are everywhere, including my heart” wondered aloud the true bhakta. Not understanding the depth of his devotion, they further teased him: “So Rama and Sita live in your heart, can you show them to us?” Unhesitatingly, Hanuman stood up and with his sharp talons tore open his chest. There, within his throbbing heart, the astonished audience were taken aback to find enshrined an image of Rama and Sita. Never again did anyone make fun of Hanuman’s devotion.
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.