The Sanskritic culture of India drew an Australian into seeking a practical spirituality. Bhumika K. meets the fascinating Hanuman Brotherpeter, who believes spirituality can be fun

Hanuman Brotherpeter. The name alone is enough to get anyone curious about the man who bears it. Especially since he’s Australian, plays many instruments, including the tabla. And is set to give a musical performance in Bangalore as part of an initiative to conserve elephants.

If all that sounds so like so much packed into one human being, a meeting with the 70-year-old Hanuman Brotherpeter humbles you. During the course of conversation, you realise he’s well-versed with the “Sanskritic culture” of India and Hindu scriptures, much more than we could ever be.

His bright green business card says he lives in Coolbellup, Western Australia (near Perth). And like the two sides of his card printed with several contrasting credentials, his life too has two sides that he seems to have integrated rather effortlessly.

“I have two streams to my life — one is this professional and industrial life (which includes building, mining exploration, city planning, marine and air transport etc) and on the other hand I’m a cultural anthropologist and a social scientist (he lists spiritual ideas and lore, natural medicines, music and rhythm therapy among others),” he says, his blue eyes peering over his glasses.

It’s easy to dismiss him as a westerner looking for nirvana in India. But Hanuman Brotherpeter’s quest doesn’t seem to be headed toward that nebulous something. “As I worked through the various stages or ashramas of my life — and I have lived quite an adventurous life,” he pauses with a twinkle in his eyes, “I wanted more discipline. The Christian system didn’t have a structure for me; so I decided to embrace the four ashramas as I saw the wisdom in them. Most societies were only interested in freedom and individual rights.”

As always in any dramatic change, there is a catalyst in life. “About 30 years ago I was suffering the challenges of a material society. I had the confusion of being brought up by a Marxist-socialist papa and a Catholic mamma. Western religion was degenerating rapidly and the institution of the church was being dishonoured. Therefore we didn’t want to be a part of that deception. I was looking for a fulfilling and achievable spiritual life.” When the Hindu community started developing in Western Australia, he says he was welcomed by them as a curious cultural anthropologist. He had been looking at many social systems already; he believed in a broader Biblical culture that embraced more than just Christianity. He had had long conversations with priests and Church heads and not found convincing answers.

Soon he started working closely with the Brahmins in the community because as an anthropologist he “wanted to see the highest form of ideals and compare them with their achievements. Being a practical fellow, I embraced what looked practical, achievable and edifying. I read the Bhagavatam, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and started getting involved in concerts and plays. They asked me to blow the shankh and the nadaswaram during the aarti. I was doing seva, and I found that Sanskrit traditions were rewarding, especially the devotional folk systems. I was a master craftsman by qualification, and I would often mend their instruments and learnt how they work.” Many of his friends had become disciples of Osho and Swami Prabhupada. “But many of their gurus had fallen. So I decided to take the Shastras as my guru.”

Today he runs the Sevanam Foundation in Australia, “set up to support and encourage the conservation and implementation of sustainable spiritually-based systems like the Sanatana Dharma, which is in contrast to trendy materialistic systems,” he says.

His other life, though, continues to support a system of compassion for animals, especially elephants. Having completed a post-graduate diploma in ecologically sustainable development, he says he became aware of early 20century work in animal behaviour and psychology, particularly that of Skinner, and the late 20century training methods of his ‘guru’, the famous Australian horseman Dr. Andrew Mclean. “Dr. Andrew has been recently demonstrating his new system of training elephants to the Indian and Nepali governments. I am a supporter and devotee of his system and a volunteer to elephant welfare and conservation programmes.”

He’s worked in Africa, India, Thailand, apart from his home country. In his earlier life in Australia, he had managed and trained animals ranging from sheep, goats, cattle, dogs, and horses — initially on horseback, then using vehicles, and later aircraft.

But Hanuman. Why Hanuman? (It’s his official name on his passport.) “As you go along your spiritual life, it’s not all about the hard life. You’re also supposed to have fun. Hanuman, at a surface level, is one of the fun personalities and his name suited me. I prefer practical things to lofty intellectual pursuits. Self-realisation will come as a matter of course.”

Hanuman Brotherpeter will perform in Bangalore as part of “Calling Ganesha” organised by ‘Friends of Elephants’ on April 7. P. Balan’s documentary 18th Elephant will be screened, followed by interactions with the filmmaker, Brotherpeter, and elephant research scientist Surendra Varma. The event starts at 5.30 p.m. at Rangasthala, Rangoli Metro Art Centre, M.G. Road Boulevard. Entry is free.