Hanuman, meaning the one with a disfigured jaw, is an incarnation of Lord Shiva. He was born to the monkey King Kesari and an apsara called Anjana. Lord Vayu also plays an important role in his birth and therefore he gets the name of Pavanaputra.
Hanuman comes across as a well behaved monkey in Ramayana. He was the chief adviser to Sugreeva, brother of Vali, a monkey king. Hanuman then becomes a close devotee of Rama and helps him rescue Sita from Lanka with his huge army of monkeys. Hanuman is known for his intellect, prowess and devotion.
Keeping the stories apart, the phenomenon of Hanuman tells us something more sublime. Lord Hanuman symbolically stands for pure devotion, complete surrender and absence of ego or the lower self.
|Illustration by Chithrangi Srinivasan|
As a prominent warrior of the vanara race, he symbolically represents the lower self or the animal nature in man, which when refined and transformed becomes stabilized in God and serves the divine cause in total surrender (sharanaagati), just as it happened in case of Hanuman. As the son of Vayu, he symbolically represents the subtle bodies, namely the breath body (praanama kosha), the mental body (manomaya kosha) and the intelligence body (vignanamaya kosha).
Human mind is as fickle as a monkey, jumping from one place to another, hopping from one thought to another. Hanuman is known to possess supreme physical strength and supernatural powers like flying anywhere he wants to, expanding and contracting his body size. The human mind also flies uncontrollably using its imagination, mischievously runs behind objects that draw the senses, amplifies passions and desires but at the same time is supremely powerful.
There is a story in Ramayana in which Hanuman is made to forget the greatness of powers he possesses because of a curse. He would remember if only during the most critical of situations when people encourage and inspire him to use it for the right cause. So is the human intellect. It doesn’t know the wonders it can work. So it has to be channelized into the right path and inspired! (Remember the meaning of the Gayatri mantra? It inspires the human intellect!)
Monkeys and human minds have the same qualities of chanchalatva and asthiratva. These monkeys can never be the ally of the Lord as long as they are ruled by Vali, the incorrigible lust. As long as our minds are ruled by lust we are not ready to do Ram’s work. So Vali had to be destroyed and Sugreeva anointed the King of Kishkindha.
He is celebrated as a Chiranjeevi, meaning immortal. He is a perfect example of true devotion and complete surrender. He also symbolizes the story of animal man in us who through the path of devotion and service to God, can purify himself and attain immortality.