Within Hindu mythology there are some gods that arouse special sympathy and admiration. One of these deities is Hanuman, the monkey god, a symbol of courage, strength and devotion. In this article we will discuss the teachings that we can extract from the symbolism and history of the god Hanuman.
Origin and History of Hanuman
The most widespread story about the origin of Hanuman is that of the union of the wind god, Vayu, and a celestial nymph named Anjana, who had been cursed to be born on earth with the appearance of a monkey, longed to be free from her earthly existence. When she begged for a son, the Wind God answered her call and conceived Hanuman. In this account, Hanuman’s boundless energy and ability to leap great distances are attributed to his divine lineage as the son of the Wind God.
Another story says that the curse could only be lifted once she gave birth to an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Vayu, attracted by Anjana’s devotion, blessed her with a child, and that child was Hanuman. It is said that when the universe was in danger from powerful demons, Lord Vishnu decided to be born as Rama to defeat them. Knowing the challenges that Rama would face, other gods also decided to incarnate to help him. Lord Shiva, the great ascetic and destroyer, chose to reincarnate as Hanuman, thus explaining his immeasurable strength and deep devotion to Rama.
Hanuman and the Sun
One fine day, the boy Hanuman, full of energy and boundless curiosity, saw the rising sun. Its radiant glow and golden hue made him believe that it was a delicious fruit hanging in the sky. With the innocence of a child and without a second thought, Hanuman leaped towards the sun, thinking to take a big bite of the tempting fruit.
As he rose higher and higher with incredible speed, his approach alarmed Surya, the Sun God. However, it was not only Surya who became uneasy. Hanuman’s rapid ascent disturbed the celestial balance. Such was the rapidity of his flight that even the gods watched in awe and fear.
Recognizing the potential threat of Hanuman swallowing the sun and thus plunging the world into darkness, Indra, the king of the gods, intervened. He hurled his thunderbolt (Vajra) at Hanuman, knocking him down and rendering him unconscious (or dead, depending on the legend). Hanuman fell to the ground and broke his jaw (this is believed to be the origin of his name: “Hanu,” meaning jaw, and “man,” meaning disfigured: Hanuman).
Seeing his son’s plight, Vayu, the God of Wind, was consumed with grief. In the midst of his grief and anger, he withdrew, taking with him the air, which immediately threatened life on Earth. Without the essential life force of air, the cosmos descended into chaos. Beings began to suffocate and there was a universal cry for the restoration of life.
Shiva, seeing what was happening, approached the afflicted Vayu and revived Hanuman to appease the Wind God and bring back the air. Hanuman was not only healed and blessed with immortality, but the gods also granted him more strength, wisdom and magical abilities. They also reminded Hanuman of his inherent divine powers, which he had forgotten.
As a gesture of goodwill and recognizing Hanuman’s limitless potential, Surya, the Sun God, offered to be his teacher. Although hesitant at first, given Hanuman’s mischievous attempt to eat him, Surya saw the genuine devotion and enthusiasm in Hanuman’s eyes. In the time that followed, Hanuman became Surya’s disciple, learning the sacred scriptures, mastering various forms of knowledge and understanding the nature of the cosmos.
What is fascinating is that Hanuman’s method of learning was as unique as his character. To ensure that he did not disturb Surya’s duty of providing daylight to the world, Hanuman continually stepped back, facing Surya, to imbibe knowledge, even as the Sun God continued his journey across the sky.
Hanuman and the Ramayana
Hanuman first appears in the epic poem Ramayana. Hanuman’s introduction to the Ramayana story occurs when Rama and his brother Lakshmana search for Sita, who has been abducted by Ravana. During their search, they encounter Sugriva and his group of monkeys, among whom Hanuman is the most prominent. After recognizing the divinity in Rama, Hanuman becomes his devotee and promises to help him find Sita.
It is during this search that Hanuman’s true nature and abilities are revealed. To locate Sita, he crosses the vast ocean with a single leap, demonstrating his power and determination. He arrives in Lanka, where he finds Sita captive in Ashoka’s garden. To comfort her, he sings her the praises of Rama and assures her that the prince will come to rescue her soon. Before leaving, he decides to confront Ravana’s guards and cause some chaos to send a message. Despite being captured and having his tail set on fire, he uses this incident to set fire to a large part of Lanka and then escapes unharmed.
Hanuman’s role in the Ramayana is not limited to simply being a servant or a warrior. He is the epitome of devotion (bhakti). His love and devotion for Rama are absolute. There is a famous part in the epic where, to prove the sincerity of his devotion, Hanuman tears his chest to reveal an image of Rama and Sita in his heart.
During the epic battle between Rama and Ravana, Hanuman plays a crucial role. He is not only instrumental in forming the bridge to Lanka with the help of other monkeys, but also acts as the main messenger, spy and warrior on the battlefield. He rescues Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, by bringing an entire mount containing healing herbs when Lakshmana is severely wounded in battle.
Meaning and Symbology of God Hanuman
Like all the gods of Hinduism, the figure of Hanuman hides deep spiritual teachings that can help us in our day to day life. We will now describe some of the meanings associated with the monkey god.
Symbol of devotion and loyalty
Arguably the most important aspect of Hanuman’s character is his unwavering devotion to Lord Rama. His dedication is not passive; it is intense, proactive and selfless. Hanuman not only worships Rama, but serves Him with his entire being. This epitome of bhakti (devotion) shows the kind of selfless love and surrender that is possible between the devotee and the divine. For many, Hanuman’s devotion is a spiritual ideal, the pinnacle of what it means to give oneself completely to a higher purpose or being.
Personification of strength and courage
Hanuman is often referred to as“Bajrangbali,” where“bali” means strong. His stories of strength are legendary, such as when he jumped an ocean or lifted an entire mountain. However, this physical strength is not just a superhero feat. It is a symbol of the inner strength and courage that every individual can muster, especially in the service of a just cause. Hanuman’s strength does not seek personal glory, but always uses it for the benefit of others, making him a symbol of selfless power.
The pinnacle of humility
Despite his immense strength and capabilities, Hanuman is often depicted as humble, even forgetful of his powers until he is reminded of them. This paradox is telling. No matter how gifted or powerful one becomes, humility keeps one grounded. Hanuman’s humility reminds us that power without ego or arrogance is the purest and most divine.
Control over mind and body
Being a monkey, Hanuman is also a metaphor for the human mind, which is often compared to a restless monkey, jumping from thought to thought. Hanuman’s disciplined nature, despite being a monkey, serves as a reminder of the potential for humans to control and master their minds. His unwavering concentration on Rama can be seen as a representation of single-minded meditation or dhyana.
Protector and healer
Hanuman is also revered as a protector against evil and evil forces. In the Ramayana, he rescues Lord Rama’s wife Sita from the demon king Ravana, and heals Lakshman by bringing him the mountain Sanjeevani. Symbolically, this positions Hanuman as the divine force that safeguards our soul (represented by Sita) and rejuvenates our spirit (as he did with Lakshman).
Messenger and mediator
Hanuman often played the role of messenger, bridging the gap between Rama and Sita during their captivity. This role has metaphysical implications. Hanuman can be seen as a bridge between the human and the divine, a mediator connecting mortals with celestial energies. This makes him a particularly significant character for devotees: invoking him can mean seeking a path to the divine.
The Incarnation of Purity
Despite being extremely powerful, Hanuman is a brahmachari, which means that he is celibate and devotes all his energies to the spiritual quest. This symbolizes purity, the channeling of one’s energies not only in the realm of the physical, but towards higher spiritual goals.
Symbol of Hope and Optimism
In the most difficult moments of the Ramayana, it is Hanuman’s eternal optimism that shines through. When the army reaches the vast ocean with no apparent way to cross it, it is Hanuman who takes the great leap of faith. He represents the spirit of hope and perseverance, and teaches us that, with faith and dedication, no obstacle is insurmountable.
The “Hanuman Chalisa” is a Hindu devotional hymn dedicated to Hanuman. It was written by Tulsidas in the 16th century in Awadhi, a dialect of Hindi.“Chalisa” translates as“forty” in Hindi, and this refers to the 40 lines of the poem, excluding the opening and closing lines.
This poem is a testament to Hanuman’s power, courage, devotion and humility. Each verse praises his qualities and achievements. Reciting the “Hanuman Chalisa” is said to bring strength and courage to the devotee, and to protect against fears and afflictions.
In India and among Hindu communities around the world, it is common to find people reciting the“Hanuman Chalisa“, especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays, days traditionally associated with Hanuman. It is one of the most popular and recited texts in Hinduism.