Inspiring Tales from Art and Mythology
Once Shiva and Parvati, ever the adventurous lovers, decided to transform themselves into monkeys and indulge in amorous games in the dense Himalayan forests. During a climactic moment, the seed of Shiva found its mark and impregnated Parvati. Since they were in simian form it was but natural that the offspring born of such a union too would be a monkey. Not desiring to go against the laws of nature, Shiva directed the wind god Vayu to carry his semen from Parvati’s womb, and deposit it into that of Anjana – a female monkey, who at that very moment was praying for a male child.
At the time of Hanuman’s birth, the undisputed leader of the monkey-world was Vali, a strong and powerful ape. When Vali came to know that Anjana was pregnant with a child who was bound to develop into a powerful rival, he decided to end matters in Anjana’s womb itself. He created a missile using five metals: gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. When the unsuspecting mother was asleep, he directed the missile into her womb. A normal child may have succumbed to this dastardly attack, but not one born of Shiva’s fiery seed. The missile as soon as it touched Hanuman’s body melted, and transformed into a pair of earrings. Thus wearing the trophies of his first battle, fought while still in his mother’s womb, Hanuman gloriously entered this world.
Little Hanumana Goes for the Sun
Indeed, having both Shiva and Vayu as his illustrious fathers, he was no ordinary child. Hanuman was restless, spirited, energetic and inquisitive. He was obviously endowed with awesome strength and the scriptures abound in tales expounding on his remarkable feats. Once for example he mistook the sun for a ripe fruit (monkeys are naturally lured by red ripe fruits), and rushed towards the sky in an attempt to grab it.
As he grew up, Hanuman sought to educate himself and for this purpose he chose Surya the sun god as his guru saying: “You see everything there is to see in the universe and you know everything there is to know. Please accept me as your pupil.” Surya hesitated. “I don’t have the time,” he said. “During the day I ride across the sky, and at night I am too tired to do anything.”
“Then teach me as you ride across the sky during the day. I will fly in front of your chariot, facing you from dawn to dusk.” Impressed by Hanuman’s zeal and determination, Surya accepted him as his pupil. Thus Hanuman flew before the chariot of the sun god, withstanding the awesome glare, until he became well versed in the four books of knowledge (the Vedas), the six systems of philosophies (darshanas), the sixty-four arts or kalas and the one hundred and eight occult mysteries of the Tantras.
Having become a master of all that he set out to learn, it was now time for Hanuman to pay for his education (guru-dakshina). Surya asserted that watching the devoted pupil study was payment enough for him but when Hanuman insisted on giving something to express his gratitude, the sun god asked him to look after the welfare of his son Sugriva, who was the stepbrother of Vali, the king of monkeys.
Before Vali became the lord of apes, a simian named Riksha ruled over them. Once it so transpired that Riksha fell in an enchanted pool and turned into a woman. Both the sky-god Indra and the sun-god Surya fell in love with her and she bore each of them a son. Indra’s son was her first born Vali while Sugriva her second offspring was the son of Surya. After bearing the sons, Riksha regained his male form.
Abduction of Sita by Ravana
When Riksha died, in accordance with the law of the jungle, the monkeys fought each other for becoming the leader. Vali successfully killed or maimed every other contender to the throne and became the undisputed ruler of the monkey world. As one who had successfully earned his dominant place among the apes, Vali was not obliged to share the spoils of power with anyone, but being of a magnanimous nature he shared everything with his younger brother Sugriva. It was in these circumstances that Hanuman entered the companionship of Sugriva who later became the king of monkeys himself. It was under Sugriva that the massive army of monkeys helped Lord Rama reclaim his wife who had been abducted by the demon Ravana.
Hanuman The Selfless
Valmiki and the Wounded Bird
A pair of lovebirds, reveling in their natural freedom, was soaring the boundless skies. Fate however had scripted a cruel ending to their mating. A hunter’s arrow found its mark and the devoted female lost her male. She did not however escape from the scene but rather lingered on, circling over the lifeless form of her mate. Witnessing this poignant episode inspired the accomplished sage Valmiki to poetry and what came out of his heart was the Ramayana, one of the greatest epics the earth has had the good fortune to inherit. Indeed, Valmiki’s poem became renowned in the three worlds as it struck a chord in every heart that heard it.
One day Valmiki came to know that the great Hanuman too had penned the adventures of Rama, engraving the story with his nails on rocks. A curious Valmiki traveled to the Himalayas where Hanuman was residing to partake this version. When Hanuman read out his narration, Valmiki was overwhelmed by its sheer power and poetic caliber. It was truly an inspired piece. Valmiki felt both joy and sorrow. Joy because he had had the chance to hear an exceptionally beautiful poem, and sad because it obviously overshadowed his own work.
When Hanuman saw the unhappiness his work had caused Valmiki he smashed he engraved rocks destroying his creation forever. Such was Hanuman’s selflessness. For him, narrating the tales of Rama’ s adventures was a means to re-experience Rama, not a ticket to the hall of fame.
Hanuman’s name too illustrates his self-effacing character, being made up of ‘hanan’ (annihilation) and ‘man’ (mind), thus indicating one who has conquered his ego.
Hanuman and Yoga
Hanuman as Yogachara
If yoga is the ability to control one’s mind then Hanuman is the quintessential yogi having a perfect mastery over his senses, achieved through a disciplined lifestyle tempered by the twin streams of celibacy and selfless devotion (bhakti). In fact, Hanuman is the ideal Brahmachari (one who follows the path of Brahma), if ever there was one.
He is also a perfect karma yogi since he performs his actions with detachment, acting as an instrument of destiny rather than being impelled by any selfish motive.
Hanuman – The First to Teach Pranayama and the Inventor of the Surya Namaskar
Pranayama is the ability to control one’s breath so that the inhalation and exhalation of air is rhythmic. Vayu, the god of air and wind, first taught pranayama to his son Hanuman, who in turn taught it to mankind.
The Surya Namaskar (salutation to the sun) too, was devised by Hanuman as a greeting for his teacher Surya.
The Enduring Relevance of Hanuman
In Hindu symbolism, a monkey signifies the human mind, which is ever restless and never still. This monkey-mind happens to be the only thing over which man has absolute control. We cannot control the world around us but we can control and tame our mind by ardent discipline. We cannot choose our life but we can choose the way we respond to it. Hanuman, when he was a child, was tempted by the sun and he rushed towards it thinking it to be a delectable fruit. On his way however, he was distracted by the planet Rahu and changed his path. Thus Hanuman is the temperamental human intellect, which is unquiet and excitable. It is only by diverting it to the path of pure bhakti (devotion), that it can be made aware of its profound and silent essence.
According to the Hindu point of view, there is no objective world ‘out there.’ The whole manifested world is a subjective phenomenon created by our own selves. We – as humans – have the unique ability to condition our minds. In other words, we have the power to change the way we perceive life. And by changing our perceptions of life, we have the power of changing our world. When Hanuman enters Rama’s life, he changes Rama’s world. He transforms a crisis (the loss of Sita) into an opportunity (rid the world of Ravana). He transforms a victim into a hero.
Thus, Hanuman is no ordinary monkey. While embarking on the search for Sita, the monkeys were confronted by the vast ocean lying between them and Lanka. They wondered how they would make their way across this mighty obstacle. Someone suggested that Hanuman jump and cross over the sea. But Hanuman was doubtful, “I cannot do that,” he said. At that moment, one of his companions reminded Hanuman of the awesome powers lying dormant within him. Instantly Hanuman regained memory of his divine strength and he successfully leaped across the ocean. Thus our mind too needs to be reminded of its divine potential and of the fact that it can achieve phenomenal heights provided it believes in its ability to perform the task in question. Truly Hanuman is symbolic of the perfect mind, and embodies the highest potential it can achieve.
The Asana Practice: “It was the greatest leap ever taken.”
This pose then, in which the legs are split forward and back, mimics Hanuman’s famous leap from the southern tip of India to the island of Sri Lanka
Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings and groin.
1. Come in to a kneeling position with the thighs perpendicular to the floor.
2. Bring the right leg straight out in front of you with the heel on the floor.
3. Keep the right leg straight, until you have also brought the left leg as straight as possible extending behind you.
4. Keep the hips parallel and facing forward.
5. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
Beginners:Use a block under each hand to support yourself, if you cannot straighten the back leg completely. You can also place a block under the front leg for support, if it does not come down to the floor.
Be careful! This is an intense hamstring stretch. Only come down as far as is comfortable.
Advanced: If you are able to straighten both legs and come all the way down to the floor, interlace the fingers over your head and take a slight backbend.