- The monkey god Hanuman is one of the most universally worshipped divinities of the Hindu pantheon. He is the son of Anjana, an APSARAS (nymph) who was herself born as a monkey, and VAY U, the god of the wind. In the RAMAYANA story, Hanuman is a friend to Lord RAMA, the incarna-tion of VISHNU. He is equally worshipped by Vaish-navites (worshippers of VISHNU) and Shaivites (worshippers of SHIVA).It is said that Hanuman as a child saw the Sun, thought it was a fruit, and leaped up 300 leagues to catch it. BRAHMA once gave him the boon that he would not be slain in battle.In the Ramayana, Hanuman flies over to the island of LANKA to see whether Rama’s wife, SITA, is there. He finds her, but she dissuades him from tak-ing her back lest he besmirch Rama’s reputation. In a scene famous in Indian mythology, he is captured on Lanka by the demons (rakshasas). They march him through the streets to his execution, humiliat-ing him by tying an oil-soaked cloth to his tail and lighting it. Furious, he jumps from building to building and sets the capital city on fire.Hanuman fought bravely in the battle against the demons; he is remembered for going off to find herbs to revive LAKSHMANA, Rama’s slain brother. Not knowing which herbs to collect he took a whole mountain of them; from them medicine was found that restored Lakshmana to life. Hanuman follows Rama back to AYODHYA to serve him; the god gives him the boon of everlast-ing youth and longevity. Hanuman is seen as the foremost of the devotees of Rama.Hanuman is also found in one passage of the MAHABHARATA, where he meets BHIMA, another son of his father, Vayu. Bhima, known for his power, fights with Hanuman and is defeated. Only after-ward do they realize they are half brothers.Hanuman is known for his superhuman pow-ers, his celibacy (though in some parts of India he is seen as married), his ability to expand and con-tract himself, and his learning, including grammar and the Vedic sciences. He is often regarded as a village protector and is the special divinity of wrestlers and acrobats.Iconographically Hanuman is usually depicted with only two hands, carrying a club, but other images give him eight hands that hold several weapons and a shield, for fighting in the war against the demons. In one hand he holds the HSanjivini mountain, the mountain of herbs that saved Laksmana’s life.Further reading: K. C. Aryan and Subhashini Aryan, Hanuman in Art and Mythology (Delhi: Rekha Prakashan, 1975); Devdutt Pattnaik, Hanuman: An Introduction (Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer & Simons, 2001).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.