Today marks Hanuman Jayanti – and, as has become our custom, we present an (A)Arti-cle in His Honour. A ‘Jayanti’, in case you were wondering, is one of those wonderful Sanskrit terms with several mutually reinforcing meanings – it is, at once, a ‘Victory’, but also can mean a ‘Birthday’. So is therefore eminently appropriate to designate, as today is, the High Holy Day of a particular Deific.
But Who is this Great God? And, for our purposes – how does He connect to the broader Indo-European mythic field?
It would be tempting to do as many others have – and presume that this ‘monkey’-featured deity, most prominently hailed amidst the Ramayana, is a figure that is exclusively endogenous to India. A ‘post-Vedic’ incorporation, perhaps, from the forest-dwelling tribesfolk of the jungle hinterlands of Bharat and little to do with the ‘Aryans’ up until the latter chose to make Him so. That would be a grave mistake to make indeed. For even leaving aside the most curious occurrence within the Grimnismal of what appears to be a hailing of Thor as a ‘curious Ape’ – there is quite the extensive suite of evidence to show how Lord Hanuman, Bajrang Bali Himself, is of exactly this Striker/Thunderer deific complex. Garbed in a manner which, as befits His purpose, may seem unfamiliar and ‘foreign’ to the foeman – yet to the devotee and the discerning one is appearant with all the comfort of a long-lost friend. Such is ever the situation when somebody seeks to deny and to denigrate this or that irreducibly Indo-European figure as being “non-IE”, “non-Aryan” as part of a pernicious push to de-Indo-Europeanize the Hindu Faith. But I digress!
In terms of the Vedic roots for the Hanuman figure , the most prominent point of origin is, of course, RV X 86 – the rather curious ‘Dialogue Hymnal’ which features Indra’s Wife complaining to Indra about a certain ‘Vrsakapi’ Who is stealing Indra’s offerings. The … context of this particular hymnal is rather ribald, and shall not be delved into in any great depth here. But it is important for our purposes as it has Indra directly stating that there is no problem – the offerings consumed by Vrsakapi, they go to the same place as those consumed by Indra. Indra and Vrsakapi, in other words, are ritually equivalent. They are the Same.
Vrsakapi, in case you were wondering, effectively means ‘Ape-Man’, although the relevant linguistic particle may easily refer to any such strong, virile masculine creature of the animal world: a Bull, for instance, is quite prominent in these terms. It would be tempting to speculate that the famed Lion-headdress of Herakles might hail ultimately from similar origins – and that the ‘Animal-Headed’ conceptry has become differently understood in the different Indo-European cultures which have carried forward this motif down the ages; in much the same manner that some of the Nordic phrasings are rather blurry between when a warrior is wearing the skin of an animal as a garment … and ‘wearing the skin of an animal’ in a far more essence-tial, primal sense of being transformed.
It is, of course, interesting to note that Vrsakapi also occurs in application to two sets of deifics – to Shiva and Agni (but, then, I repeat myself), but also to Vishnu and Krishna (but then, again … well you know). As applies the former this is largely what we should expect. After all, the Bull is a prominent iconographic hailing of the Sky Father found elsewhere in the Vedas, and also in the Greek Indo-European comparanda for instance. The mentioning of Vrsakapi amidst the Eleven Rudras may therefore either be taken as referring to Lord Shiva (and it is not at all hard to see how The Alpha Male might be a somewhat figurative resonancy to this understanding of the Sky Father; a Lord of Beasts in another sense – as One Among Them, at the highest possible apex), or it may refer to the commonly held belief that Hanuman is an Avatar of Lord Shiva … and therefore, we may somewhat succinctly surmise, a Rudra Himself. In either case, “Like Father, Like Son” – as we shall soon see.
The mentioning as applies Vishnu and Krishna is more unexpected … if you are unsure as to where to look. For as we have previously asserted, Krishna in particular is a similar expression of the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer deific complex – just as Lord Hanuman is. Although as with Lord Hanuman, He represents a particular ‘subtype’ of this complex. The ‘Demigod’ form – wherein the parentage entails a Divine sending by the Sky Father, likely via the relevant portion of the Asvamedha rite, and thus produces progeny with three parents: a ‘mortal’ father (in this case, the Vanara, Kesari), a Divine Father (variously identified as Vayu or Shiva – but, again, I repeat myself), and a ‘mortal’ mother (the Vanara woman, Anjani). I shall not go into detail elucidating this typology, but interested parties should consult my earlier work – ‘Perseus , Krishna , Karna – Three Perspectives Upon The Origin Myth Of The Indo-European Striker/Thunderer’. And, with a view to more broadly exploring the situation with accompanying examination of its metaphysics – ‘The Apple of Odin to Rerir, The Fire-Seed of Agni, The Egg of Nemesis, The Paternity of Alexander, And The Asvamedha of Dasharatha – On The Equine Investiture Of The Divine Essence In A King’s Heir-To-Be In The Indo-European Mytho-Religious Sacro-Political Tradition’.
As we can see from those previous pieces – this is not a solely Hindu understanding; but one which occurs right the way across the Indo-European sphere, amidst Greek and Nordic mythology in remarkably congruent ways.
So – we have an array of material showing Hanuman to be an archaically attested figure, carried forward with the inexorable storm-force through the history of our living Indo-European religion. People often confuse – or dare to presume – that innovation as to ‘exterior’ elements means outright invention when it comes to the ‘inner essence’ of a figure or a practice. This is quite frequently not the case – as can clearly be seen here. The Parentage schema aligns, the ritual schema aligns, and we have quite direct attestation in the most archaic Indo-European mytho-religious canon available to us.
But let’s go further.
One of the most prominent of Hanuman’s names is Bajrang Bali – The Strong Thunderbolt. You can quite clearly see how ‘Bajrang’, akin to another well-known Hanuman epithet – Bajrangi – derives etymologically from ‘Vajra’. As it should, given that Lord Hanuman is, of course, the Striker/Thunderer – wielding a massive, mighty ‘Gada’ (‘Mace’), and striking with the furious thunderous force. Although it also refers to His Indomitable Nature – the ‘Vajra’ having a meaning not merely of a weapon, the Thunderbolt, but also of the ‘Diamond’, the Indestructible. An epithet clearly demonstrated in its tangible application during the course of the Ramayana, wherein Ravana’s torturers attempt to break Hanuman’s will and secure disclosure of information by setting His tail on fire … and only wind up with a rather fired up Hanuman escaping from the restraints upon Him as a merest act of will and proceeding to rampage across the rooftops of Ravana’s capital of Lanka, setting the city afire through His burning tail without the slightest discomfort upon Him. This also happens to partially fulfil a prophetic curse leveled upon Ravana by NandiJI, the seneschal of the Shaivite Household, that Ravana’s kingdom would be destroyed by monkeys.
The hailing of Hanuman as Maruti – ‘Of Maruta’ – would further fit with His placement within the Indo-European divine familial schema. Maruta in this context would refer to Vayu / Rudra (it is an attested epithet of both – and again, I repeat myself), with Maruti therefore being the Son of this Wind Lord. And similarly, also inferentially referencing the Maruts, of which the Striker/Thunderer stands at the head of.
This ‘Thunderous’ resonancy also finds itself expressed in the course of a favourite Hanuman devotional hymnal of mine – the Bajrang Baan [‘Arrow of the Thunderbolt’]. There, a verse begins with ‘जय जय जय ध्वनि होत अकाशा’ – an emphatic statement that the High Heavens (Akasha) Resound with the Glory of He; other verses hail the sound of His Name as imminently preceding the delivery of the Devotee through rains of the Divine Weaponry bombarding down from the Heavens.
In terms of the theology of Hanuman, there are a few points of particular, especial interest. One of which concerns just how Hanuman wound up here in the first place. It is said that Hanuman was, effectively, cast down from Heaven due to His disposition causing problems up there – too lacking in seriousness or the apt concern for the interests of others to stand as a stabilizing pillar for creation … and a particular incident featuring the attempted devouring of the Sun due to Its looking like a particularly delicious mango. He was sent down to live amidst mortal-kind, with His memories of His Divine Nature, and His accompanying Siddhis [‘Powers’/’Abilities’] wiped from His Mind likewise. He was placed under a geas which meant that these should remain obliviated to Him until He had started to take life and His role in a more appropriate manner – working to serve and look after others, rather than just playing pranks and acting in a seemingly self-interested manner. The course of the Ramayana also chronicles Hanuman overcoming this – acting, without quite realizing it, on the long-arcening pathway back up towards the Heavens; remembering His true nature and reattaining His prior status of the divine empowerment through His enacting assistance to Rama, Laxman, and Their quest to recover Lady Sita. There is a tangible template for all of us mortal devotees in this, I suspect – we are all upon a quest to recover and become more than we presently are, through the service of a Holy Cause. Eric Hoffer once said that “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” HanumanJI’s lived example demonstrates that the faith – and, most importantly, deeds – in service of just such a Holy Cause, can in fact lead to the ultimate restoration of Faith in ourselves, as well. The two causes are truly one!
This typology, the scenario of the Striker/Thunderer, occurring amidst Humanity, working and living among us and making use of His prodigious abilities to ‘earn a place amidst the Heavens’ – is not unique to Hanuman, nor the Hindusphere specifically. We find Herakles working toward His Redemption, in a slightly different manner, via His Twelve Tasks … culminating eventually with the Demigod’s proper Apotheosis to stand amidst the ranks of the Olympians as a ‘true’ and ‘full’ Deity in His Own Rite. We also find the tale resonating out across time and space – and even though there is much wrong with its telling, the Marvel Cinematic Universe presentation of the character-arc of their interpretive rendition of ‘Thor’, is also expressive of this patterning. A deific cast down due to lacking the appropriate seriousness and ‘noblesse oblige’ which comes with great power (‘great responsibility’, to reference a certain other comic-book mantra), learning amidst the mortal world the vital integrality of these elements to His true divine nature, and so recovering this … winning His way back unto the Heavens, as the hoped-for, longed-for result.
The occurrence of the Striker/Thunderer ‘down here’ amongst us, also helps to explicate the consistent presentation of this figure as being the Friend to Man, the Protector of Mankind. We see this in the hailings of Herakles and of Thor – so it should come as no surprise to find Hanuman similarly regarded. We may surmise that the Striker/Thunderer deific is not only a truly fearsome and formidable opponent – but amongst the greatest of possible allies, benefactors, and indeed ‘Friends’ any man could have. Seemingly also a rather more ‘approachable’ and charitably-minded figure than His Father. Although as ever in the case of aggressively competent deities – the fact that the devotee may see a more compassionate and positive facing in no way diminishes the terrifying wrath of same to the enemy. Indeed, these are quite contingent and mutually reinforcing meanings – we speak the name of Hanuman to send demons quailing and fleeing in terror, after all.
A further particular point of coterminity between the figures of Hanuman, Herakles, and Thor – concerns Their faculty of truly remarkable strength. Not merely of character (especially as ‘rediscovered’) but in the physical sense as well – although it is physical strength often tempered by an intellectual perspicacity as well. The Striker/Thunderer is no mere lunk-headed brute, but capable of strategy, insight, and innovation too – much to the unwelcomed surprise of His opponents. In Herakles’ case, we see this via His tricking Atlas into taking the Sky back; in Hanuman’s case, via the ‘deal’ of sorts reached with the Surasa demoness as He attempts to fly across the straits to Lanka. It would be tempting to engage in a more full-length enquiry as to whether the Tests of Herakles, and for that matter, the Trials of Thor in Utgard, might bear close resemblance to various of the Deeds of Hanuman in the course of His restoration of Siddhis … but we shall save that exploration for another time.
Yet in terms of physical strength, there is one element to His Tale that has always resonated with me (well, one amidst many – for we are rapidly running out of time before I head to Mandir to offer praise and tribute in person upon this particular Tuesday-night occurrancy!) ; and that is Lord Hanuman’s picking up and ferrying of Mt Drona in order to bring a particular healing herb to the fallen Lakshman (Who was suffering from something akin to ‘radiation poisoning’, to proffer a somewhat simplistic modern analogy for the scenario in question). Hanuman had been sent forth to retrieve the herb, yet was unable to make it out amidst the valley it grew in, and so brought the entire mountain back with Him in order that He might save His dear friend (and as a mark of just how dear a friend – when Hanuman opened up His Chest to reveal His Mighty Heart, therein to be seen were Ram, Laxman, and Sita … for They were indeed quite directly the major occupants of His chest cavity, His Heart and core of being in pious devotion to same). There is an element of humour to this, of course – but also an element of poignancy. That is true dedication. And it gives tangible expression to the aphorism we are familiar with – that faith can move mountains. As well as inverting the Islamic notion that if the Mountain shall not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad shall have to go to the Mountain.
Although in terms of the ‘Good Guy Hanuman’ understanding, the element which often springs to mind is another one – concerning the sage Valmiki, author of the Ramayana (well, one of them) wherein much of this occurs. It is said that Valmiki encountered Hanuman up in the Mountains while journeying to seek inspiration for his literary efforts. And noticed that Hanuman was, in fact, writing His Own account of the events of the Ramayana, which He shared some of with Valmiki. Valmiki burst into tears, overcome with both the sheer beauty of Bajrang Bali’s rendition … and the fact that even an author as eloquent as he would be unable to ever produce anything of comparable marvel and excellence and magnificent beauty. Seeing this, Hanuman without a second thought cast His draft into the nearby glacial stream – determining that it would cheer up Valmiki to be now able to write the most renowned Ramayana as the result of the loss of its superior. A streak of ‘humility’ which may be somewhat divergent from what we might perhaps expect from the more overtly prideful Striker/Thunderer expressions to the West. There’s apparently a Temple in India which claims to possess a fragmentary portion of the HanumanJi Ramayana, written in an ancient script upon preserved palm-leaves; but that, I shall have to look into at some other time.
Hanuman, for us here in the Hindusphere, is a great many things. Loyal, honourable, pious, brave – and possessing an admirable sense of humour, into the bargain as well. At once an Avatar of the Greatest God (and there is an interesting suggestion that this might be ‘Patrilineal Incarnation’ – somewhat resonant with the Nordic ‘Patrilineal Reincarnation’ understanding), as well as the Greatest Devotee. A Shaivite by Essence, and yet supremely at ease with what is nowadays considered a Vaishnava Avatara as well (for those outside a Hindu audience – suffice to say that Shiva and Vishnu .. do not always get on so cordially). A God of great violence yet also great tenderness; employing all the indefatigable and implacable force of the Storm on the one hand, and all the innate Thunderousness of Laughter and good cheer upon the other (using said humour to assist, even and especially in unorthodox ways, the serious path of piety for the dedicated and perhaps even ‘conventional’ devotee). An incredibly powerful being – but One who has also become a beacon for the supreme value of compassionate engagement with others. And a prominent Deity, Who is nevertheless a tangible template for living for the mortals down here below. A Deva Whose Form is indelibly and irreducibly associated to India – and yet Who also finds expression elsewhere throughout the Indo-European World.
Some might suggest that this would render Him a ‘God of Contradictions’. Art not so.
As we have so often observed, it is most peculiar that people seem to expect The Gods to have more two dimensionally flat and featureless personas or characterizations than they do the ordinary humans with which they might daily happen to interact. The complexity and multifaceted nature of Hanuman – and the Striker/Thunderer Deific complex that He so eloquently expresses – is exactly this Reality made manifest.
Nobody ever saw fit to seek to question the roiling clouds of a Thunderstorm as to its many shiftings of speed and shape and hue .. insisting, perhaps, that it’s too ‘dark’ to be the bearer of the Thunderbolt or that the zephyrous winds do not speak just quite the right language for the listener’s delicate ears and sensibilities. The Storm is taken as it is – and run away from by those who are unutterably opposed to it yet may never truly exert domination over same. It has its own interior logic, and we are blessed to be able to behold in some small measure – and benefit from the tangible, per-cussive applications of Same !
To this we can but only add –
Bajrang Bali Ki Jaye !