The Legend of Hanuman, King of the Monkeys

Hanuman, also known as Hanumat and Pavan-Sut, is one of the most popular deities amongst Hindus and is seen in temples throughout India. His picture, often with Rama and Sita, can be found in almost every Hindu home. He is considered to be the god of power and strength and as such is the most favored deity of wrestlers and bodybuilders, and is especially venerated by princes and warriors; Tuesday is his sacred day of worship and his birth anniversary is celebrated as Hanuman Jayanti. In Nepal, his images are usually covered with a thick vermilion mixed with mustard oil and often dressed in a red cloth with a red or golden umbrella over his head. Devotees dressed as monkey-headed Hindu god Hanuman march in a religious procession celebrating the festival of Dussehra in India. Dussehra commemorates the triumph of good, Lord Rama, over evil, the demon king Ravana.

Hanuman is the son of Vayu, the lord of winds, and Anjana, his consort. He is described in the Ramayan, the Mahabharat and Agni Puran as having a short thick neck, a round monkey-face as red as a ruby, yellow skin glowing like moltan gold, sharp white fangs, a mane like flowers, a tail like a banner of interminable length, and the ability to expand until he is as large as a mountain or to contract until he is as small as a fly. He has a roar like thunder, leaps into the air and flies among the clouds with a rushing noise. Of him the Ramayan says,

“The Chief of monkeys is a perfect being. No one can equal him in learning of Shastras and in comprehending the meaning and sense of scriptures. In all sciences and in the rules of austerity, he rivals the preceptor of the gods. Hanuman is the ninth author of grammar.”

Hanuman remained celibate his entire life and is known as the greatest devotee of the god Rama, who loved him the best. His devotion to Rama and Sita was so great that once he tore open his with his sharp talons to show that images of Rama and his wife were engraved upon his beating heart. He is famous for helping Rama destroy Ravana, the ten-headed demon king, and for organizing the building of a bridge from India to Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

There are many interesting myths surrounding this god. When quite young, he saw the rising sun and thought it to be a ripe fruit. He therefore jumped up to it and put the sun in his mouth. The other gods and goddesses feared that the world would perish without the sun and prevailed upon him to spit it out. When Hanuman was only ten years old he could lift the hills twenty miles in circumference and throw these about as if they were stones.

On another occasion while riding along in the sun one day, Hanuman’s shadow fell on the sea. It was seized by a female sea monster named Surasa, a near relative of the demon-king Ravana, who, in a preemptive effort tosave her cousin from harm, used it to drag Hanuman down into the waves and swallowed his body whole. Trying to escape, Hanuman increased his monkey shape to enormous proportions; the demoness responded by immediately stretching her mouth until it was a hundred leagues wide. Suddenly Hanuman reduced himself to a small size. While the monster hesitated in surprise, Hanuman cunningly slipped out of her right ear and made his escape.

Much the same sort of thing happened again to Hanuman. This time it was the mother of Rahu (a sun-munching demon) who caught the monkey-king by his shadow. Hanuman made himself tiny and entered the demoness’s body. Then he swelled himself up violently, bursting the demoness apart.

Hanuman was the greatest, most faithful helper of Rama in his campaign against Ravana. When sent as Rama’s envoy Hanuman was given a ring to convince Sita that he truly was her husband’s messenger. As he was the offspring of the god of winds, he concentrated his powers and crossed the seas with a formidable leap, reaching Sri Lanka where Sita was being held prisoner by kidnapper Ravana. He suceeded in meeting the queen in a garden of roses called Ashoka-vatika, showed her Rama’s ring and assured her that Rama would be coming soon to rescue her from the demon-king’s clutches. However, in the process Hanuman was captured by Ravana’s guards and brought before his court, but not before he succeeded in killing a large number of guards, including Ravana’s son, Akshaya. The demon-king commanded his servants to dip the monkey’s tail in oil and set it on fire. This enraged Hanuman so that he lept from one house to another, setting many of them on fire with his flaming tail. He eventually escaped and returned to Rama’s camp to give him the news about Sita’s plight.

Now Rama and his younger brother Lakshman, together with a big army of monkeys, prepared to invade Sri Lanka. Upon reaching the sea shore, Rama first worshiped Lord Shiva and prayed for the success of his mission. However, he did not know how his vast army would be able to cross the ocean to invade. Lord Shiva told Rama to build a bridge with the help of one of his army personnel, an ape named Nal, the son of the god of construction. Rocks were brought and, under Hanuman’s supervision, Nal threw them into the sea, where they miraculously floated. A long bridge was thus built connecting Sri Lanka with the shores of India, and Rama’s army crossed the sea and reached the outskirts of Ravana’s domain.

Fierce fighting ensued and in the course of battle, Rama’s brother Lakshman was severely wounded and fell unconscious. The arrow that had wounded him was blessed in such a way that whoever was wounded in the night with it could not recover if the cure was not obtained before daylight. The physician prescribed a herb that could save Lakshman’s life but it grew far away in one of the mountain ranges of the Himalayas and someone had to fetch it before day break. Immediately agile Hanuman volunteered and moved toward that mountain with the speed of the wind. When he could not find the magical herb in his hurried state, he lifted the entire mountain and flew with it back to the battlefield. To thwart his efforts, powerful Ravana compelled the sun to arise on the mountain at midnight. Enraged by the conspiracy, Hanuman lept up, seized the sun under his arm and put the mountain on his head. Only after the application of the desired herb upon Lakshman’s wound did Hanuman permit the sun to depart.

After a ferocious battle of many days, Ravana was slain and victory ensued. Hanuman accompanied Rama upon his triumphant return to Ayodhya and there was given by Rama the blessings of perpetual youth and deathless existence.