Hanuman hug
Hanuman, the monkey god and general, is a helper of Rama and popular in villages and rural India. Regarded as brave and loyal, he is worshiped as a symbol of strength and intelligence. He was once associated mostly with Sri Lanka but now is revered all over India as well as in Southeast Asia. Images of Hanuman are often placed at the entrances of temples because of his reputation for fiercely defending his territory against invaders. Hanuman is said to be the son of the wind god Vayi and is well known for his ability to change his appearance. He is often depicted as a warrior hero dressed in armor and carrying a mace and/or a dagger, weapons he used to defeat the demon Ravana, and is frequently connected with Vishnu because of his connection with Rama, one of Vishnu’s incarnations. Hanuman is particularly popular in northern India. In January 1997, when a balloon carrying the adventurer Steve Fosset landed near the northern Indian village of Ninkhar, local people thought the balloon was Hanuman’s floating temple cart. Monkeys are given special respect by Hindus and allow to roam around temples because of their connection with Hanuman. One famous temple in Thailand hosts a huge banquet for monkeys in part to win the approval of Hanuman.

According to the BBC: Hanuman is worshipped for his unyielding devotion to Rama and is remembered for his selfless dedication to him. He also considered the living embodiment of the Karma Yogi (one whose meditation and devotion are demonstrated through hard work or service). Hanuman said "I am a humble messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Rama, to do His work. By the command of Lord Rama, I have come here. I am fearless by the Grace of Lord Rama. I am not afraid of death. I welcome it if it comes while serving Lord Rama." In return for his unconditional love, Lord Rama granted him everlasting life. Hanuman promised that he would be worshipped alongside Rama and that his idol would be placed next to his. [Source: BBC]

Hanuman Jayanti is a festival that commemorates the birth of Hanuman, the popular monkey God and symbol of strength and energy. A popular festival, it can be celebrated individually or in the temple where the sacred text, the Hanuman Chalisa, is recited. This text is - a set of prayers glorifying Hanuman, describing his past times and adventures. Depending on the temple where it is performed, the text is either recited non-stop for 24 hours or performed a set number of times. Special Pujas and offerings are made to Hanuman. Sometimes sacred fire ceremonies are carried out. In some places, colorful processions fill the streets. People dance, carry idols of Lord Hanuman and some people wear masks and tails to imitate the monkey God. The celebration is usually accompanied by a period of fasting and then a big vegetarian feast. [Source: BBC]

Hanuman and the Ramayana

Hanuman before Rama

In the Ramayana, “Hanuman is the chief minister to the monkey king. Together with the king and his army of monkeys, Hanuman helped Rama battle against Ravana, the evil demon king who had abducted Rama’s wife Sita. Hanuman was so agile, clever, strong, and loyal to Rama that he symbolizes the ideal of loyalty and service. Sita is kept captive in Ravana’s castle. The demon threatens Sita with torture unless she marries him. In the meantime Rama and Laksmana go through a series of adventures and battles trying to rescue Sita. They are helped by Hanuman, who discovers where Sita is kept.

When Rama can not get to the island of Lanka where Sita is held prisoner he seeks the help of Hanuman, who summons his army of monkeys to form a bridge from India to Lanka. On Lanka, Rama is able enlist the help of Hanuman’s army and the army of the great monkey king Surgriva who Rama helps by slaying his rival with an arrow.

The battle— pitting Rama, and the armies of Hanuman and Surgriva against Ravana and the demons— is the central event of the Ramayana. It begins after Hanuman sets fire to Ravana’s city and continues through a long series of offensives, counterattacks and battles. Ravana’s forces fire arrows that turn into serpents and wind around their victims necks like nooses.

All looks doomed when Indrajit kills Rama and Laksmana and the armies of Sugriva are on the verge of defeat. At this point Hanuman travels off to the Himalayas and brings back some magic herbs that bring Rama and Laksama back to life and revive the armies of Sugriva. In a pair of duels Laksmana manages to kill Indrajit and Rama kills Ravana king with an arrow.

Hanuman Flies to Lanka to Rescue Sita

In the great Hindu epic the Ramayana Rama is helped by Hanuman, the monkey god and general of a monkey army, in his efforts to find his great love Sita, whose whereabouts was not known. In Indian literature and mythology, there is no greater example of devotion than Hanuman. Hanuman can fly since his father is the wind god Vyu. Hanuman had his father's energy and swiftness, power and strength. When Hanuman was a child he thought the sun was a ripe fruit and tried to jump up and catch it. He jumped so high that he nearly got burnt, but the Sun was impressed and gave Hanuman the gift of immortality as a reward for his courage and cleverness. [Sources: British Library, Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA, Asia Society, Jean Johnson, New York University, U.C. Davis website]

Hanuman Crosses the Sea

Rama gave Hanuman his ring, to give to Sita. Monkeys and bears decided that since Hanuman was the son of the wind god and he was good at jumping and flying he must leap to Lanka to look for Sita. Hanuman prayed to his father and flew to Lanka, leaping over the ocean and escaping from several devouring demons that he met on the way. Hanuman's leap has been the subject of many paintings. One famous one shows him jumping through the jaws of Surasa, a sea monster, on his way to Lanka.

Having shrunk to the size of a mouse, Hanuman ran through Lanka, looking for Sita. He found her held captive in an ashok grove near Ravana's palace. She was guarded by hideous demonesses and harassed by Ravana, who wanted her to forget Rama, and marry him instead. She was sitting under a tree crying. Meanwhile Hanuman climbed the tree, dropped Rama's ring into her lap, and told her Rama will come and save her. [Source: British Library]

But demons caught Hanuman, squeezing him tight, and carrying him to Ravana. Ravana and the Demons decided to set fire to Hanuman's tail. They wrapped his tail in strips of cotton and soaked the cotton in oil. As the Demons began to to prepare Hanuman's tail, Hanuman cast a magic spell, making his tail grow longer and longer and longer (the subject of many paintings). The demons soon ran out of cotton and oil. They set light to his tail anyway. But Hanuman shrank back to the size of a mouse, and so his tail shrinks too. In this way he managed to escape, setting Ravana's throne alight in the process, and leaving a trail of flames throughout Lanka. Once free Hanuman dipped his tail into the sea, and leapt back to Rama, Lakshman, and the bears and tells Rama where Sita is. [Ibid]

Battle Between Ravana and Rama and Hanuman’s Army

When Rama could not get to the island of Lanka he sought the help of Hanuman, rallied his monkey army to cast stones into the sea and form a bridge to Lanka. Tiny palm squirrels helped by carrying pebbles to the waters edge and Rama, touched by their efforts, stroked one, marking it with the stripes – hence giving the five-striped palm squirrels their name. Rama crossed the bridge with the monkey army following him to do battle with Ravana’s demon army. A mighty battle ensues. Rama kills several of Ravana's brothers and then Rama confronts ten-headed Ravana, who is know for his cleverness.

The battle — pitting Rama, and the armies of Hanuman and Surgriva against Ravana and the demons — is the central event of the Ramayana. It begins after Hanuman sets fire to Ravana's city and continues through a long series of offensives, counterattacks and battles. Ravana's forces fire arrows that turn into serpents and wind around their victims necks like nooses.

All looks doomed when Indrajit — a prince of Lanka and a conqueror of Indra Loka (heaven) — almost kills Laksmana and the armies of Sugriva are on the verge of defeat. At this point Hanuman travels off to the Himalayas and brings back some magic herbs. In some version on the story Indrajit kills Rama and Laksmana and the magic herb is sought to bring them back to life.

Hanuman Flies to the Himalayas to Get Magic Medicine

Rama and Hanuman fighting Ravana

During the battle between Ravana's demon army and Rama's animal army, Lakshman was so badly wounded it seemed that he would die before sun-rise. (In some versions of the story, many monkeys and bears are wounded too.) The monkeys and bears decided that Hanuman must leap to the Himalayas and bring back the healing herb from the Medicine Mountain to save Lakshman's life. So Hanuman leapt over the ocean, and across the whole of India to the Himalayas. [Source: British Library]

Arriving in the Himalayas, it took a long time to find the fabled Medicine Mountain. Hanuman found it at last -covered with herbs, but he didn't know which was the magic healing herb. So he wrapped his arms around the whole mountain, pulled it out of the ground and lifted it onto the palms of his hand. He then flew with the mountain back to Lanka. On the way the sun began to rise. So Hanuman decided to capture the sun under his arm so that he could arrive back before sunrise in time to save Lakshman. The healing herb was picked and given to Lakshman. Lakshman was healed and filled with energy.

With Laksama back from near death, he and Rama revive the armies of Sugriva. In a pair of duels Laksmana manages to kill Indrajit and Rama kills Ravana king with an arrow. Eventually, all of Ravana’s his kin, and his entire force is defeated by Rama and his military allies. In triumph Rama returns to Ayodhya with Lakshmana and Sita and is crowned king.

Temple Monkeys

Some temples in Asia are occupied by troops of monkeys. Monkeys are often found in the tens of thousands of temples across India. They are seen as a symbol of Hanuman, the mythical monkey god, and devotees visiting temples often feed them. The number of pilgrims visiting monkey temples near national parks have been reduced to twice a week to help protect animals.

The Monkey Temple, or Swayamblunath, in Kathmandu is home to brown and pink faced monkeys who some say have occupied the site for 2000 years. The first monkeys that showed up after the temple was built are believed to have arrived from the forest to eat offering left for the gods. With the forest all gone the monkeys rarely venture more than a half mile from the temple and eat offerings of rice, pumpkin and peanuts left for them became they are now considered sacred animals.

The monkey population is divided into several troupes. The troops are led by dominant males. They definitely have the run of the temple and the area. They have been known to take candy from children and climb through the windows of nearby guesthouses and steal valuables. Usually the dominate male does the dirty work while the rest of his clan sit and watch. There aren't dangerous or anything, just sneaky.

Animated Hanuman on Indian Television and Film

In the 2000s, "The Return of Hanuman" produced by Toonz Animation India was popular with Indian kids. Rama Lakshmi wrote in the Washington Post: Eight-year-old Tejas Vohra is used to spending most of his after-school hours watching "Power Rangers," "Transformers" and "Looney Tunes." But these days, one of his favorite superheroes is a cool cartoon version of Hanuman, the monkey-headed Hindu god.

For thousands of years, Hindus have prayed to Hanuman in times of trouble, beseeching him to perform miraculous feats in their lives. In 2008, the god was revealed to Tejas in a movie theater. In "The Return of Hanuman," the adored deity is reborn as a boy who goes to school in khaki shorts, uses a computer, combats pollution and, most important, smashes the bad guys to pulp. "I loved the film because Hanuman is a boy like me and saves planet Earth," said Tejas, a tall, wide-eyed second-grader. "It was awesome to see the gods laughing, singing and flying planes. The fights were really good, and in the end Hanuman sets everything right." [Source: Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post, January 9, 2008]

"Hanuman" is the second film to take a revered Hindu story line, tweak it, put it in a 21st-century context and bring the gods down to Earth. It shows the gods talking in colloquial "Hinglish," a fashionable hybrid of Hindi and English. The deities play the guitar instead of the traditional sitar, use the Internet and dodge bullets as if they were Neo, the hero of the U.S. movie "The Matrix." Hanuman flies into space, watches over New York with a torch like the Statue of Liberty's, captures Osama bin Laden and straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Other characters speak to Hanuman using irreverent phrases such as "Chill, dude" or "Have you lost it, dude?"

The next challenge for the Hindu "toon" gods is especially up-to-date. A forthcoming film features Hanuman going to Manhattan, where he helps the FBI battle terrorists. "Hanuman is the original superhero. He is thousands of years older than Superman, Spider-Man and Batman. He is a brand to reckon with among Indian children today," said Nadish Bhatia, general manager of marketing at Percept Picture Co., which co-produced "The Return of Hanuman." "Every society is looking for heroes, and we want to make Hanuman global," Bhatia said. "If the Coca-Cola brand can come to India and connect with our sensibilities, why can't Hanuman go to New York?"

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia “ edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Wikipedia, National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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