Hanuman is a character of the Ramayana, the heroic and divine white monkey. He is the son of the wind-god Vayu, and the servant of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu and the hero of the Ramayana. He is also the half-brother of Bhima, a character in the Mahabharata. His name means "injured jaw" in Sanskrit, and refers to his gaining immortality after his jaw was broken by Indra.
Hanuman is also a god of the modern Hindu pantheon, revered as an example of a perfect servant of God. He is famed for his bravery and devotion to the name of God-as-Rama, and is a figure of strength and courage in times of crisis. He is beloved and throughout Hindu society, and is also a popular figure throughout South and Southeast Asia, where the Ramayana has spread his fame.
The Ramayana teaches that the first monkey was born from the tear of Brahma falling on Mount Meru. Brahma named him Riksharaja, and stayed on the mountain to keep him company as he played on the great mountain. One day, as Riksharaja drank from a lake, he saw his reflection, and thought that it was another monkey trying to steal his water. He flew at the interloper, and sank into the lake.
When Riksharaja emerged from the water, he had magically been transformed into a female. So beautiful was this she-monkey born of Brahma's tears that the sun god, Surya, and Indra, the thunder god, at once fell in love.
That same afternoon, two children were born to Riksharaja, gold-furred divine monkeys called Vali, the son of Indra, and Sugriva, the son of Surya.
As the eldest, Vali became the king of the monkeys, whose numbers Brahma increased. He was given the cave-city of Kishkindhya, and his fortunes increased. As time went on, he became stubborn and prideful, picking fights and stacking the bones by the entrance to his city.
Riksharaja, who had retired to the heavens to keep company with Brahma, watched the fortunes of his (for he had been returned to male form by the actions of the waters of the lake of Mount Meru) eldest son increase, while his younger son had nothing. Displeased, he asked Vayu the Wind to father a companion for Sugriva, a heroic monkey who would be his friend and protector.
So Vayu sought out the most beautiful female monkey in the world, called Anjana, and fathered upon her a child.
That same day, Hanuman was born.
His Early Adventures and Education
Hanuman was a beautiful child, a white-furred monkey with a red face and brown-yellow eyes. But his mother was wed to another monkey, and dared not reveal her dalliance with Vayu. So she abandoned Hanuman, leaving him in a cave. Little Hanuman lay in the cave playing with his feet, and watched the sun rise.
Seeing the sun, Hanuman immediately realized that he was in the presence of the largest mango any monkey had ever seen.
Hungry, he leapt at the sun, and would have fallen in, had his father Vayu not intervened and prevented his son from being cooked! Cooled by his father's winds, Hanuman tumbled around the sun's flames, smiling and waving at the sun-god Surya.
At that time, a solar eclipse was approaching, and so the immortal disembodied head of the asura Rahu was approaching to consume the sun. Tumbling in the hot currents of the sun's flame, Hanuman flew out of control, and kicked Rahu squarely in the eye.
Convinced that his place was being usurped, Rahu fled and complained to Indra that another being was attempting to eat the sun. Indra and Rahu returned to the sun to attempt to settle the matter, Rahu leading the way.
Before, Hanuman had not gotten a good look at Rahu. This time, seeing his fleshy head, Hanuman was sure he had found a mango even bigger than the sun! He flew at Rahu and bit a chunk from his ear.
Now Indra intervened, knocking Hanuman from the heavens back down to earth. He struck his head on a rock, and broke his jaw.
Vayu was incensed at this mistreatment of his son, and withdrew into a cave with him. He withdrew his presence from the world.
Now Vayu was more than the wind that blows from the sea; he was the elemental Wind, the animating force that allowed living beings to move- the breath of life.
Concerned, Brahma intervened to restore the world to order. He healed his broken jaw, and granted him eternal life. Surya, the sun, came and gave Hanuman fruit for his breakfast. Vayu brought Hanuman before Shiva, who taught him to change his shape, and Nandin the bull taught him language and poetry.
Hanuman then went to live with Sugriva in the city of Kishkindhya. There he waited, until he met his friend and master, Lord Rama.
Hanuman and Rama
When Rama and his brother Lakshmana came to the city of Kishkindhya, Sugriva was living in exile with Hanuman, his wife held captive by Vali. Vali believed that Sugriva had betrayed him by making himself king when he thought Vali had been killed by the Asuras.
Rama slew Vali, allowing Sugriva to take the throne. In return, Sugriva and Hanuman led an army of bears, monkeys, and other creatures, to the isle of Lanka, where Rama's wife Sita was held captive by Ravana.
Hanuman became Rama's most eager and willing servant. He jumped the ocean separating Rama's army from Lanka, and found where Ravana was holding Sita captive. He allowed himself to be captured in order to find out more, and then broke loose. When Ravana's guards tried to set his tail on fire, Vayu and Agni intervened to prevent him from being burned- instead, he set Ravana's fortress alight by jumping around the palace fleeing from the guards.
Later, Hanuman attacked Kumbhakarna, the giant brother of Ravana, breaking his giant spear and forcing him to face Rama unarmed.
Finally, during the last battle with Ravana's forces, Hanuman killed the two sorcerers Lightning-Tongue and Thunder-Tooth before they could attack Jambavan with their magic.
The Medicine Hill
Hanuman's most famous act in the war between the Rakshasas and the armies of Rama was his resurrection of Rama's entire army. Indrajit, the son of Ravana, had cut down Rama's entire army by attacking them while invisible.
But Hanuman could not be killed, and so the wise king of the bears, Jambavan, who had survived, sent Hanuman to fly off to the Himalayas to seek the Medicine Hill of Life, a hill where enchanted herbs grew that could return the dead to life. But when he got there, he could not figure out which herbs he needed, nor had he time to dig them out. In a panic, he tore the entire mountain from the earth, and carried it back to Lanka.
So fast did Hanuman fly that the mountain began to heat up, and roast the herbs. The aroma of the cooking herbs wafted onto the battle field, and revived Rama and his army.
But Hanuman did not realize that his efforts had already succeeded. He sought out Jambavan, still carrying a mountain, and asked him where he should put it. Jambavan laughed, and had the monkey return it to the Himalayas.
The Name of God
After the war was won, as Rama prepared to take his leave of the kingdom of Ayodhya, Hanuman came before him one last time. As a gift, Rama gave the monkey a priceless bracelet, made of gold and beset with jewels. But Hanuman tore the bracelet apart, crushing the jewels between his teeth like nuts, and picking through them as though looking for something.
Rama, put out by the monkey's persistent difficulty, asked Hanuman what he was doing. Hanuman said that while men may value such things, to him it was worthless because it did not bear the name of Rama.
Rama replied that if he truly believed that, then he ought to destroy his own body, as it did not bear the name of Rama. In response, Hanuman dug his claws into his chest and pulled back the skin of his ribs, revealing the name "Rama" carved over and over into each of his bones.
Rama healed Hanuman's wound, and gave him his signet ring, the same ring that Hanuman had carried to Sita on Lanka.
With the spread of the Ramayana, Hanuman began to be revered as a god in his own right, often worshiped alongside his master Rama (who is revered as an incarnation of Vishnu). He is considered to be an example of a perfected servant of god, his devotion to Rama and his name being without limit.
Hanuman is also praised for his strength and courage, which he applies to right wrongs on behalf of the common people. He is something of a trickster figure, deflating the egos of tyrants and the oppressive.
Because of his strength and will, Hanuman is also seen as a miracle worker, particularly in dire situations- repeating the miracle of his resurrection of the army of Rama. Because of his cleverness and quick thinking, he is also known for intellectual endeavors and inspiration. He may be depicted sitting in a meditative posture, or reading or writing poetry.
In popular iconography, Hanuman may be depicted purely as a monkey, or as a basically human body with a monkey-like muzzle and face. He is usually depicted holding a giant mace (gada), a symbol of his strength and bravery, and often carrying the medicine hill that he carried to Lanka from the Himalayas. He may be shown carrying other weapons, as a sign of his protection of Rama and the faithful, or medicinal herbs as a sign of healing.
The image or name of Rama is often depicted alongside Hanuman, and sometimes Sita as well. Their image may be floating above him, or their names written on his body or his adornments. Sometimes their faces are emblazoned on his chest, or his is depicted pulling back the skin of his chest to reveal the image or name of Rama.
Temples to Hanuman are often connected to temples of Rama or Vishnu. Some may serve as a sanctuary for monkeys, including the species of Indian monkeys named for Hanuman. They may be fed or cared for by the priests or visiting pilgrims. Or they may just steal whatever they want from passers by; monkeys in India are often not very polite. Hanuman would no doubt approve.
As the only individual character to appear in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Hanuman's fame and appeal spread with the spread of these works. With the spread of the Ramayana beyond India, Hanuman became a religious and literary figure in other parts of the world. The Ramayana is enacted in story and dance throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia, and the role of Hanuman is often given special attention. Dancing the role of Hanuman is considered to be the pinnacle of traditional Cambodian dance, which has been revived since the fall of the Khmer Rouge. In Thailand, the version of the Ramayana often enacted their includes a romance between Hanuman and a giant fish or mermaid who tries to prevent his crossing over to Lanka.
Because Hinduism was supplanted in Southeast Asia by Buddhism, which places little influence on the gods and their worship, performances of the Ramayana outside India often became less serious than performances of the jataka tales, and this is often seen in the role of Hanuman, which is played for comedic effect.
And in a peculiar note, in January of 2002, a Muslim baby in Punjab, India was proclaimed to be an incarnation of Hanuman because of his 4' long tail. He tours temples in the region and throughout India with his Muslim grandfather and an entourage of Hindu priests, who receive donations from the faithful.
From the Ramayana:
Translated and retold by William Buck.
Who is this monkey Hanuman? Rama has let him loose in the world. He knows Rama and Rama knows him. Hanuman can break in or break out of anywhere. He cannot be stopped, like the free wind in flight.
Hanuman can spot a tyrant, he looks at deeds not words, and he'll go and pull his beard. Disguises and words of talk cannot confuse a mere wild animal. Hanuman's rescue of brave poets in any peril may be had for their asking, and that monkey will break the handsome masks of evil kings.
Hanuman will take your sad tune and use it to make a happy dance. We have seen that white monkey. Strong is his guard. Especially take warning, never harm a free Poet.
The Son of the Wind. The warm dry night wind, and all the trees swaying! I don't care for love or death or loneliness— here comes the high Wind, and what am I …?