Hanuman (from the Sanskrit "having a large jaw") is an important character in Hindu mythology and religion, found in both of the major Hindu epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He is best known for his exploits in the Ramayana where he aided Rama (an avatar of Vishnu) in rescuing his wife, Sita from the demonic king Ravana. Hanuman is depicted as an anthropomorphic monkey (vanara) whose loyalty and faith towards Lord Rama have come to exemplify the ideal for bhakti (devotional) followers of Hinduism.
Hanuman is one of the more popular deities in the Hindu pantheon, and is widely worshiped as a magical deity who has the ability to conquer evil spirits. He is particularly popular with body-builders, since his life of celibacy parallels the Hindu notion that sexual desires must be controlled in order to strengthen the physical form. However, Hanuman remains most important in Hinduism as a prototype of the ideal worshipper rather than as an object of worship.
According to Hindu mythology, Hanuman was born from the womb of Anjana, an apsara or celestial being. Although Anjana was the wife of Kesari, a mighty vanara warrior, it was Vayu, the wind god, who sired Hanuman. Taken by her beauty, Vayu made love to Anjana, in some versions conceiving of Hanuman by entering Anjana through her ear. This earned Hanuman the moniker Anjaneya, which literally means "arising from Anjana." Hanuman's parentage, a combination of monkey and the divine, allowed him to develop both physical strength and quick wits, his defining characteristics.
Legend has it that Hanuman was so hungry at birth that his mother's milk alone did not sate his appetite. This prompted him to fly into the sky and attempt to take a bite of the sun, which he had mistaken for a giant fruit. Indra, the warrior monarch of the sky, stopped Hanuman in mid-flight by hurling his thunderbolt at him. The thunderbolt struck Hanuman, sending him hurtling back to earth and breaking his chin. Incensed with the way in which Indra had treated his son, Vayu transported Hanuman to a cave in order to give him shelter, taking the atmosphere with him. With Vayu gone, however, human beings became asphyxiated and struggled for breath. In order to draw the wind god out of hiding, the devas petitioned Brahma to heal Hanuman's wounds, which he did. In addition, the gods saw to it that Hanuman was blessed with multiple boons of eloquence and expression. However, his jaw remained swollen from that point on, earning him his name.
Hanuman is said to have been mischievous in his childhood, sometimes teasing the meditating sages in the forests by snatching their personal belongings and disturbing their well-arranged articles of worship. Finding his antics unbearable, but realizing that Hanuman was but a child, albeit an invincible one, the sages placed a mild curse on him. This curse dictated that Hanuman would live in forgetfulness of his own prowess, and recollect it only when others reminded him. This so-called curse actually proved to be particularly helpful for Hanuman and his followers in the Ramayana war.
Hanuman is introduced in the fifth book in the Ramayana, the Sundara Kanda ('Sundara is another of Hanuman's epithets, meaning "beautiful"), which focuses mainly upon the adventures of Hanuman. Hanuman meets Rama during the latter's 14-year exile in the forest. With his brother Lakshmana, Rama is searching for his wife Sita who had been abducted by the rakshasa (or demon) emperor Ravana. Their search brings them to the vicinity of the mountain Rishyamukha, where the monkey Sugriva along with his followers and friends are in hiding from his elder brother Vali, the vanara emperor who has falsely accused Sugriva of plotting regicide. Refusing to listen to Sugriva's explanation, Vali had banished him from the kingdom while holding Sugriva's wife captive in his palace.
Having seen Rama and Lakshmana, Sugriva sends Hanuman, his minister, to ascertain their identities. Hanuman approaches the two brothers in the guise of a brahmin, a member of the priestly caste. When Rama introduces himself, Hanuman reveals his identity and falls prostrate before Rama, who embraces him warmly. Thereafter, Hanuman's life becomes interwoven inextricably with that of Rama. Hanuman promptly negotiates a friendship between Rama and Sugriva. With this alliance sealed, Rama aids Sugriva in regaining his honor and makes him king of Kishkindha; in return Sugriva and his vanaras, most notably Hanuman, agree to help Rama defeat Ravana and reunite with Sita.
In their search for Sita, a group of Vanaras including Hanuman reaches the southern seashore. Upon encountering the vast ocean which stands between them and their destination on the island of Lanka, the vanaras begin to lament their inability to jump across the water. Hanuman too is saddened at the possible failure of his mission, until the other vanaras, and especially the wise bear Jambavantha begin to extol his virtues. Hanuman then recollects his own godly powers, and easily flies across the ocean. On his way, he encounters a number of obstacles, but overcomes each of them in order to reach Lanka.
Upon his arrival in Lanka, Hanuman finds Sita in captivity, sitting in a garden beneath an asoka tree. He reassures Sita that Rama has been looking for her, and uplifts her spirits by presenting her with her husband's signet ring. He then offers to carry her back to Rama, but she refuses his offer knowing that it is the destiny of Rama and only Rama to rescue her. After parting ways with Sita, Hanuman begins to wreak havoc on Lanka, destroying palaces and killing many rakshasas. Ravana's son Indrajit employs the Brahmastra, a weapon of mass destruction, in order to subdue Hanuman. Though immune to the weapon, Hanuman, allows himself be bound by the weapon out of respect to its creator Lord Brahma, using his captivity as an opportunity to meet the renowned ruler of Lanka and to assess the strength of his hordes. When he is produced at Ravana's court, the demon king seeks to insult Hanuman by denying him the seat that is due to him as a messenger. In response, Hanuman lengthens his tail and coils it into a seat that rises much higher than Ravana's throne. He then conveys Rama's message of warning to the powerful rakshasa, and demands the safe return of Sita. He also informs Ravana that Rama would be willing to forgive him if he returns Sita honorably. Insulted, Ravana orders that an oil-soaked cloth be wrapped around Hanuman's tail and ignited as punishment. Once the fire is lit, Hanuman escapes from his captors and flies about Lanka, burning down large sections of the Island. After extinguishing his flaming tail in the sea, Hanuman heads back to Rama.
Rama returns to Lanka with his army of vanaras in tow, and declares war on Ravana and his rakshasas. In an attempt to create divisions in Rama's ranks, Ravana tries to convince the vanaras that Rama considers them to be no more than lowly, expendable beasts. However, the faithful monkeys, lead by Hanuman, angrily dismiss Ravana's claims and continue to fight.
Hanuman is extremely helpful on the battlefield. When Rama's brother Lakshmana is severely wounded by Indrajit during combat, Hanuman is sent to fetch the Sanjivani, a powerful life-restoring herb from the Dronagiri mountain in the Himalayas, in order to revive him. Ravana realizes that Lakshmana death would probably prompt a distraught Rama to concede defeat, and so Ravana has his uncle Kalnaimi make an attempt to lure Hanuman away from his task with luxury. However, Hanuman is informed of Ravana's ruse by a crocodile, and kills Kalnaimi. When Hanuman is unable to find the Sanjivani before nightfall, he again displays his might by lifting the entire Dronagiri mountain and bringing it to the battlefield in Lanka, so that others can find the specific herb and thereby revive Lakshmana.
After Ravana is defeated and the war ends, Rama's 14-year exile has almost elapsed. At this point Rama remembers Bharata's vow to immolate himself if Rama does not return to rule Ayodhya immediately on completion of the stipulated period. Realizing that it would be slightly later than the last day of the 14 years when he would reach Ayodhya, Rama is anxious to prevent Bharata from giving up his life. Once again, Hanuman comes to the rescue, speeding ahead to Ayodhya to inform Bharata that Rama was indeed on his way back.
Shortly after he is crowned Emperor upon his return to Ayodhya, Rama decides to ceremoniously reward all his well-wishers. At a grand ceremony in his court, all his friends and allies take turns being honored at the throne. When Hanuman is called up, an emotionally overwhelmed Rama embraces, declaring that he could never adequately honor or repay Hanuman for his help. Sita, however, insists that Hanuman deserved honour more than just this, and asks the noble vanara what exactly he would like as a gift. Upon Hanuman's request, Sita gives him the necklace of precious stones which adorns her neck. When he receives it, Hanuman immediately takes it apart, and peers into each stone. Taken aback, many of those present at the ceremony demand to know why Hanuman has destroyed the precious gift. Hanuman answers that he was looking into the stones to make sure that Rama and Sita are present in them, since the necklace would be of no value to him without them. Hearing this, a few mock Hanuman, saying his reverence and love for Rama and Sita could not possibly be as deep as he was portraying. In response, Hanuman tears his chest open, and everyone is stunned to see the images of Rama and Sita literally imprinted within his heart.
Afterward, Hanuman retires to the Himalayas to continue his worship of the Lord. Here he scripts a version of the Ramayana on the Himalayan mountains using his nails, recording every detail of Rama's deeds. He is eventually visited by Maharishi Valmiki, who brought with him his own record of the Ramayana as it is know today. Lord Hanuman shows Valmiki his version, causing the sagely author great disappointment. When Hanuman asked Valmiki the cause of his sorrow, he said that his version, which he had created after great labor, was no match for the splendor of Hanuman's, and would therefore go forever unread. At this, Hanuman threw his own version of the story into the sea as an offering to Rama. Legend has it that this version, called the Hanumad Ramayana, has been unavailable ever since.
Hanuman also makes an appearance in the Mahabharata, a poetic account of the epic battle between the Pandava and Kaurava families. Since he Hanuman is the son of Vayu, he is also considered the half-brother of Bhima, second of the Pandava siblings who was also sired by the god of wind. During the Pandavas' exile, Hanuman appears disguised as a weak and aged monkey before Bhima in order to subdue his arrogance and teach him the value of humility. Bhima enters a field where Hanuman is lying with his tail blocking the way. Bhima, unaware of the monkey's identity, told him to remove it; in response, Hanuman tells him to remove it himself. Bhima tries with all his might but is unable to separate the tail from its owner. Being the mighty warrior that he was, Bhima quickly comes to the conclusion that this monkey must be much more powerful than him. Hanuman reveals his identity, and the two brothers embrace one another. Upon Bhima's request, Hanuman is also said to have enlarged himself and shown him the same size in which he had crossed the sea to go to Lanka, looking for Sita.
More significantly, during the great battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna entered the battlefield with the flag of Hanuman on his chariot. This incident was precipitated by an earlier encounter between Hanuman and Arjuna wherein Hanuman appeared as a small talking monkey before Arjuna at Rameshwaram, where Sri Rama had built the great bridge to cross over to Lanka and rescue Sita. When Arjuna wondered out aloud as to why Sri Rama's accepted the help of monkeys rather than building a bridge of arrows by himself, Hanuman (in the form of the little monkey) challenged him to build one capable of bearing him alone, and Arjuna, unaware of the monkey's true identity, accepted. Hanuman then proceeded to destroy the bridges Arjuna created one after another, and as a result Arjuna became depressed, deciding to take his own life. Vishnu then appeared before them both, chiding Arjuna for his vanity and Hanuman for making the accomplished warrior Arjuna feel incompetent. In another version, when Arjuna becomes suicidal, Lord Krishna places his Sudarshana Chakra (Discus) below Arjuna's final bridge of arrows, preventing Hanuman from breaking the bridge. As an act of penitence for his behavior, Hanuman decides to help Arjuna by fortifying his chariot before the imminent battle. Accordingly, legend suggests that Hanuman is one of only three people who heard the Gita from Lord Sri Krishna himself, the other two being Arjuna and the poet Sanjaya.
Hanuman is one of the more popular deities in the Hindu pantheon, and is widely worshipped as a magical deity who has the ability to conquer evil spirits. He is particularly popular with body-builders, since his exemplary life of celibacy parallels him with the Hindu notion that sexual desires must be controlled in order to strengthen the physical form. Hanuman is perhaps even more important in the Hindu consciousness as a prototype of the ideal worshipper than he is as an object of worship. In later Ramayanas, Hanuman is conceived to be the supreme devotee of Rama. Hence, his devotion became the prototype for people who subscribed to bhakti movement, a form of religious activity which espouses single-minded love and dedication toward god. Ideal bhaktins dedicate every aspect of their life to the service of god, attempting to recapitulate the devotion of Hanuman. Some Hindus believe that the easiest way to attain Lord Rama is by worshipping Hanuman. This is suggested in verse 33 of the Hanuman Chalisa, a composition by the poet Tulsidas written in praise of Hanuman, which begins, "Tumharae bhajan Ram ko paavae," which means "by singing hymns about You, we reach Rama."
Not surprisingly, there are numerous temples dedicated to Hanuman throughout all of India, and his images are usually installed at all temples devoted to avatars of Vishnu. Some of the most famous of his temples in India include the Hanuman temple at Nerul, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, where the Hanuman idol is 33 feet tall and is installed on a pedestal of height 12 feet, bringing the total height to 45 feet, and Sri Hanuman Vatika located at Rourkela, Orissa, which features the idol is almost 75 feet high. Hanuman temples can also be found in Sri Lanka. The grounds surrounding temples dedicated to Hanuman are considered to be pure of 'Rakhshasas' and other evils. Thus, his temples can be found in a wide variety of locations. Likewise, Hanuman idols are found on mountain roads due to the belief that the monkey god protects people from accidents.
The birth of Hanuman is commemorated during Hanuman Jayanthi in the month of Chaitra (March or April). During this festival, devotees flock to temples dedicated to Hanuman in the early hours of the morning, where officiating priests bathe idols of the deity and offer them special prayers. The idol is then smeared with a mixture of sinoora and oil, symbols of strength and vigor. Sweets and fruit, most fittingly bananas, are offered as oblations to the god. Monkeys in nearby zoos are venerated for the duration of the day, as well. Dramas are also performed, serving to demonstrate the acts of devotion and bravery that Hanuman undertook throughout his life. Hanuman Jayanthi is particularly important for wrestlers and bodybuilders, with various competitions of strength and might taking place over the course of the festival. This includes wrestling matches, in which wrestlers cry "Jai Hanuman" (or "Hail Hanuman") before initiating a grapple with their opponent. The celebration is most popular in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where large tents are set up in front of temples dedicated to Hanuman so that a large number of people can gather and listen to recitations of the Hanuman Chalisa (Tulsidas' poem praising Lord Hanuman).
Hanuman also plays a part in Rama Navami, a celebration marking the end of a larger nine-day festival called Vasanthothsavam (Festival of Spring) which acknowledges Rama's mythological exploits. In addition to readings and performances of the Ramayana, participants also direct prayers to Rama's close companions, including Hanuman.
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