Cultures and civilizations rely on material things for the satisfaction of their physical needs. But they are also inspired by ideals, ennobled by ideas, and enhanced by visions and abstract principles for their spiritual sustenance. So we have majestic names and enriching icons in all traditions.
In the complex canvass of Hindu culture, there is the endearing figure of Hanuman, a hero in the epic Ramayana, a mystical personage who never ceases to evoke love and respect in the hearts of all who are imbued in the essence of Hindu culture. The devout praise him through pious poetry and beautiful bhajans (devotional music), and pray to him in places of worship.
Few names in the lore command the universal respect that the great Hanuman does, perhaps because he is looked upon as an aspect of Shiva perennially linked to an aspect of Vishnu. His form and name may strike the outsider strange, and a Non-Hindu may be surprised, if not shocked, to see a figure of worship that has the face of a monkey, while a probing scholar, untouched by the spiritual undercurrent in the framework of the faithful, may be tempted to see inner meanings that are opaque to the practicing millions. But to those who are brought up in the culture the many names and images of this greatest of all of Rama’s devotees stand for many a virtue. His simian figure in contrast to Rama’s serene stature, is perhaps meant to remind us that we humans are so different from the Divine, while his deeds and demeanor stand for devotion, loyalty, determination, extraordinary power, purity of mind, erudition, clarity of mind, physical and moral integrity consecrated to service of the good, action against evil, and selfless dedication to a righteous cause. Hanuman’s exploits in the saga of Rama reflect all these admirable qualities and more. He is represented with a halo around his head with a crown, a mighty mace in a hand, and often with an open chest where Rama and Sita may be seen. Sometimes He is pictured with a mountain on a palm.
On this full-moon day in the month of Chaitra on the Hindu calendar, Northern sectors of the Hindu world remember Hanuman with special affection by celebrating a festival in his name: Hanuman Jayanti. [In the Tamil country one does this on New Moon day in the month of Margazhi.] Every year on this day, to affirm their commitment to the positive potencies that Hanuman represents, the people of the tradition offer prayers and exclaim, “May His thunderbolt strength be victorious!”
Whether we take the Hanuman of the epic literally or contemplate him only to visualize virtues, let us reflect this day on the name that has inspired countless generations of Hindus as a symbol for the qualities displayed in the Saga of Rama. In doing so we not only become part of a cultural continuity in the long thread of time, but also remind ourselves that we too are capable of some of those noble qualities in our own modest measures. Jai Hanuman!
March 30, 2010