Finding Hanuman in Self

A procession   | Photo Credit: T VIJAYA KUMAR

Hanuman, an ideal hero gives life to something bigger than himself. His gaatha (labyrinth of stories) is steeped in layered symbolism. Vishwamber Nath Mishra, Mahant (chief priest) of Sankat Mochan Temple, Varanasi, says, “Hanuman is one of the seven mythological immortal beings. He is physical strength (bal) derived from Shakti (energy). The Shakti is defined by rational thinking and moral action. He symbolises humble devotion (bhakti).” Both Ram and Hanuman, he remarks, are non-aggressive symbols of justice and peace.

Vishwambhar Nath Mishra at Tulasi Ghat

Vishwambhar Nath Mishra at Tulasi Ghat   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

“Sankat Mochan (removal of all impediments) is a name given to Hanuman by the 16th-century saint — Goswami Tulsidas. It is said the poet had the darshan of Hanuman in Varanasi where he resided on Tulsi Ghat and wrote the Ramcharitmanas — the most popular version of the Ramayana. Hanuman, the 11th incarnation of Shiva (Raudra), also represents celibacy,” he explains.

Of the several writings, it is in the ‘Kavitavali’ that Tulsidas mentions the occurrence of a pandemic. He writes that pandemic is a result of changing times, and of people's greed and conflict. Apart from the popular ‘Hanuman Chalisa,’ the ‘Bajarang Baan’ (arrow of Hanuman) and ‘Hanuman Bahuk’ address the removal of diseases by way of reciting verses recounting the hero’s journey, tales and deeds.

A rare handmade sketch of Goswami Tulsi Das

A rare handmade sketch of Goswami Tulsi Das   | Photo Credit: Handout E_Mail

Hanuman, in South India is the popular son of the nymph Anjana, who protects women. Hanuman is accessible to the masses and is not esoteric or privileged. This is evident in the many street shrines, calendar art and self-help manuals linked to his worship. He unifies North-South India, male-female, diverse communities, adult-children and Shakti with bhakti.

Humour and innocence

Hanuman is innocent with extraordinary powers. Said to have swallowed the sun thinking it to be a fruit, Pavanputra (son of the Wind), with his magnificent leaps, mighty feats, ability to change his shape, fires a child’s imagination and makes him his Super-man. An episode from the Ramayana describes Surasa (the Mother of Serpents) stretching her mouth and Hanuman assuming a body twice as broad. When she further stretches her mouth Hanuman retaliates by taking on a minuscule form.

Many humorous anecdotes during the annual 40-day Ram Lila are linked to Hanuman.

Dr. Sanjay Mehta, a cultural commentator from Varanasi, recounts, “During one such performance in a mohalla, a rope is tied for Hanuman to reach Ram standing on a chabutra (platform for performance). Meanwhile, someone cuts the rope and Hanuman falls with a bang in front of Ram, who loudly exclaims, “why have you come so soon?” Hanuman then allows a repartee between the Gods on stage and the audience.

Hanuman as a symbol of knowledge is the cherished divinity (Ishta devta) for those engaged with staging Ram Lilas, traditional impersonator performers (Bahurupiyas) in the North and the South, dance, music and puppet traditions in and outside India.

The cultural geography of Hampi follows the ‘Valmiki Ramayana’ and is known as the Kishkinda Kshetra, the birthplace of Hanuman. The Hagalu Vesha (impersonators) continue to enact the feats of Hanuman and even conduct heritage walks on the Hanuman theme.

"In the mask-making tradition in Varanasi, the Hanuman mask for the Ram Lilas in Banaras is derived from the Suchindram Hanuman temple in Tamil Nadu,” notes Dr. Mehta.

The flying Hanuman is most popular among the craft industry of wooden toys in Varanasi. A study shows that the lacquer painted wooden toys of Hanuman and other figures are made predominantly in the mohallas of Kashmiri Ganj and Khojwa (Varanasi) by both Hindus and Muslim craftsmen.

Two akharas

In the non-Muslim wrestling tradition — Kushti, Hanuman is the cherished divinity. For example, “Goswami Tulsidas instituted two akharas (wrestling schools) one on Tulsi Ghat and the other here in our temple of Sankat Mochan. Saint Tulsidas believed that unless there is discipline, the health of mind and body, the good energies to perform moral actions cannot happen,” describes VishwamberNath.

In the syncretic culture of Varanasi, Hanuman is identified with Ali (the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad) and a popular slogan is “Ya Ali, Bajrang Bali!”

‘Hanuman Complex’ is a term that was mentioned by eminent psychiatrist late N.N. Wig. It speaks of psychiatrists and psychologists, reminding people of the strength of their inner potential. “The story of Hanuman is inspirational,” wrote Wig.

“How he lost the knowledge about his power to fly due to a childhood curse by Rishis and how he regained his powers when reminded by Jambavan during a crucial mission in search of Sita. This is the Hanuman complex.” The mental health expert becomes Jambavan in the process.

Hanuman’s gaatha is, as mythologist Joseph Campbell writes, “a song of the universe deeply embedded in collective consciousness...where we thought to be alone, we shall be with the world…” Finding Hanuman in our self.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 9:44:39 PM |

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