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In Hinduism, Hanuman is a god who aided Rama (an avatar of Vishnu) in rescuing his wife, Sita, from King Ravana of the Rakshasas. He symbolizes for the Hindu the pinnacle of bhakti, or selfless and loving devotion, and the bravery of a morally upright individual. He is seen by some to have also been an avatar of Shiva. He is most popular in the north of the Indian subcontinent.

Hanuman is the son of a cursed apsara, a celestial, named Punjisthala, who by curse becomes Anjana, a female monkey. Hence Hanuman is also called Änjanèya. She is the wife of Kèsari, a mighty monkey who once killed a mighty elephant that caused trouble to sages and hermits. He therefore got the name of Kèsari, namely the lion, and also called as kunjara südana, the elephant killer.

One day when Anjana is on a mountain peak, Vayu Deva, Wind-god came nearby, and generated a forceful blow of air, so that her cloths slipped off from her body. The Wind-god was incited by her charm and possessed her, with her consent.

She thus gave birth to Hanuman. Hanuman grew up and inherited his father's activities of quick flying, forceful travel, and mightystrength. Soon after his birth he saw the Sun, thought it to be a ripe fruit and took flight to catch hold of the Sun to eat.

Indra the administrator of universal laws, observing this, hurled his weapon the Thunderbolt, which struck Hanuman on his cheeks. Hanuman fell down on earth and swooned. Observing his son, who is hit by Indra and swooned, the Wind-god resented this and went into reclusion. This caused choking deaths and air hunger to all the living beings.

Indra knowing this, and to pacify Air-god, withdrew the effect of his Thunderbolt from Hanuman, which had cut his two cheeks. Thus he is called Hanuman for hanuhH in Sanskrit is the word for cheek.

Brahma blessed Hanuman with a diamond-like body, invincible even by a brahma-astra, a super missile, and made him a chiranjeevi, deathless being. That is why when Ravana’s son Indrajit uses brahma-astra, in Sundara Kanda Valmiki Ramayana says… “Though Hanuman knows the release from brahma-astra, he was silent due to his respect for Brahma…”

He is deathless, a chiranjeevi. He can leave his mortal body whenever he desires to do so, called icchaa maranam, dying at their wish. This is what with Bhishma pitamaha in Mahabharata, who wanted to live up to some time on the bed of sharp arrows in the war field itself.

Accordingly when Rama is crowned as emperor, after his exile and eliminating Ravana, Rama and Sita gave gifts to all of their friends. When it was the turn of Hanuman to choose a gift, he asks for living in this mortal world as long as the name Rama is audible, shunning the heavens or other higher planes.

Then Sita accorded Hanuman that gift saying “ Oh! Hanuman, wherever you are, there will be plenty of fruits and eatables, and further, in villages, public shelters, temples, houses, gardens, cowsheds, cities, and at riversides, crossroads, pilgrimages, water tanks, trunks of banyan trees, and on mountains, caves, peaks and wherever people stroll, your image will be installed, so that you can listen Rama’s name, uttered by the people from all corners of the earth…”

Thus Hanuman is also called an old monkey living from ages till now, which is also reflected in Mahabharata, when Bhima could not lift the tail of this old monkey, on his way in forests. This incident was a leela of Hanuman just to control Bhima's rising ego. He wanted to humble Bhima since Bhima had come to believe that he was strongest. Thus Bhima was taught a lesson since he couldn't even lift the tail of an old monkey. This was because Bhima by being egoistic was forgetting his basic duty as a warrior (kshatriya - The warrior caste) of being humble. Bhima and Hanuman are half-brothers, sons of the same father, The Wind God. Even today one can see huge images of Hanuman at all these places, either installed ages ago or recently.

A temple to Hanuman near Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka

He is the student of a guru no less than Sun. On ascertaining that Sun is an All-knowing teacher, Hanuman, raises his body to solar orbit and requests Sun to accept his studentship. Sun declines saying, “I am ever on my wheels, where can I be standstill to teach you leisurely, I have my unending duty to perform…” and he continued His celestial journey.

But Hanuman undeterred by Sun’s travel, still enhances his body, placing one leg on the eastern range and the other on the western range, face turned toward the travelling Sun, again requests Him, “My face will always be towards you, in whichever orbit you go, but teach me…oh! God…” said Hanuman. Pleased by his pertinence Sun teaches all of His knowledge to Hanuman. If it may be asked as to why Hanuman chose Sun alone as his teacher, for which it is said, Sun is karma saakshi, an eternal witness of all deeds/doings.

So also Hanuman is also a witness to all the happenings in Ramayana, and also performing whatever duty that is assigned to him. This well-read one is instantaneously recognised by Rama on the very first appearance of Hanuman before Rama, in Kishkindha kaanda. Even today any student is asked to adore Hanuman, to obtain such a stubborn health, enduring education, and above all a reverential scholarship.

But Hanuman’s monkey nature is not tolerable by some sages and hermits in his childhood. Hanuman used to tease and tickle the sages by snatching away their personal belongings, by spoiling well arranged worship articles etc. Knowing that Hanuman is invincible by the blessings of all the celestials, and also he happens to be simple monkey, the sages gave him a minor curse. It is that Hanuman does not remember his might on his own, but recollects it whenever others remind him about it.

If Hanuman were to be aware of his own might, the course of Ramayana would have been otherwise. He would have simply enlarged his body and brought whole of Lanka island before Rama, as he has lifted sanjivini mountain, to enliven Lakshmana in the war with Ravana’s son, Indrajit. So this was a necessary curse upon Hanuman.

While searching for Sita the monkey group that is sent southward have reached the southern seashore. There on seeing the vast ocean to crossover, every other monkey pleaded his own inability to jump over the sea. Hanuman was saddened at a possible failure of mission to search Sita. Then all the monkeys around him start eulogising Hanuman and remind him as to how he was after Sun during his studentship. Then Hanuman remembers his own prowess, enlarges his body and jumps over the sea.

Sundara Kanda is an exclusive treatise about Hanuman. Whole of Ramayana is one side and Sundara Kanda on the other. Hanuman after his entry into Lanka, finding Sita conveys the message as a teacher ordained by god. His character is said to be that of a divine Teacher, and Sita, the taught, where Rama is the Supreme God.

God communicates through eligible teachers only. The teacher not only enlightens the taught, but also destructs the pride. Next, this teacher wanted to teach a lesson to the proud Lanka, which is thriving on the grabbed wealth of others. That Lanka is built with golden towers, palatial buildings, and the richest of the rich. This preternatural existence of Lanka would make a precedent to other evil forces so, it is to be damaged.

Then Hanuman suddenly dons his monkeyhood, and starts the destruction of prideful items one after the other. When Ravana’s son Indrajit uses brahma-astra Hanuman obliges that missile to tie him down, and be dragged to the court of Ravana. Hanuman wilfully enters the court of Ravana to assess the strength of the enemy of Rama.

This is another duty of a faithful emissary, teacher and a minister, which Hanuman is. Ravana orders to lit the tail of Hanuman, with which fire alone Hanuman burns down whole of Lanka, bringing the pride to ashes. Readers of Sundara Kanda may not give a cursory or superficial reading, but an in-depth scrutiny may be conducted since it has many latent meanings and derivations.

A parable is told that Hanuman originally scripted the entire Ramayana on clay tablets, recording each and every detail of what Rama did, and brought them to Rama, to bless that narrative. Rama humbly said to Hanuman, “I have not done anything that great, to be recorded and narrated to people…I have done my righteous duty…that’s all” Then Hanuman was upset.

Dejected by the slighting away of his great deeds as simple acts of duty by Rama, Hanuman brought those clay tablets to seashore, recited each verse, broke each tablet on his knee and threw into the sea. This is called hanumad ramayana. This is unavailable from then on.

But one tablet came ashore floating on the sea, which is retrieved during the period of Mahakavi Kalidasa, and hung at a public place to be deciphered by scholars. There on that tablet only one foot of a stanza is available. That foot says “Oh! Ravana, those your ten heads, on which you lifted of Mt. Kailsha, the abode of God Shiva, are now bumped by the feet of crows and eagles, know what has happened to your high-headed pride, at the hands of virtue…”

Kalidasa deciphers it and informs that is from hanumad ramayana recorded by Hanuman, but an extinct script, and salutes that clay plate for he is fortunate enough to see at least one foot of the stanza.

It is said that none can conclusively narrate about Hanuman, for he is many faceted. He is symbolic for his unwavering dedication to righteousness, unstinting performance of entrusted duties, unfailing talents in serving his master, namely Rama.

One very important fact about Hanuman is: He is the fourth and the only other person in the Mahabharata to have heard The Gita from the mouth of Sri Krishna himself. The other four being Arjuna, Sanjaya and Dhritrashtra. He heard it by settling on the flag of the chariot of Arjuna which carried the Hanuman picture. It is also said that it was a boon that he asked Lord Vishnu of. He wanted to be of some assistance to the next avatar(incarnation) of Vishnu and he was granted the permission to be on Arjuna's chariot of whom Krishna was the charioteer in the war of Mahabharata.

See Also

Early Hinduism | Hinduism | Hindu Philosophy
Primary Scriptures: Vedas | Upanishads | Bhagavad Gita | Itihasa | Tantras | Sutras
Concepts: Brahman | Dharma | Karma | Moksha | Maya | Punarjanma | Samsara
Schools & Systems: Vedanta | Yoga | Tantra | Bhakti
Rituals: Aarti | Darshan | Puja | Satsang | Thaal | Yagnya
Hindu Teachers/Gurus and Saints: Sankara | Ramakrishna | Vivekananda | Aurobindo | Ramana Maharshi | Sivananda
Denominations: Vaishnavism | Shaivism | Shaktism | Neo- and quasi-Hindu movements

In China, he has also been the object of worship, as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.