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Hanuman:  Hero of Two Epics
-by NN Sinha

          A recurring name in the mythological traditions of India is HANUMAN (the pride of chin). Ancient epics - Ramayan, Mahabharat - and the Puranas (Chronicles) describe him as a great warrior of extraordinary strength and supernatural powers. What sets him apart is his tale and a face of an ape. This probably comes from the tribe he belonged to. Vanara, the name of his tribe, also means ape. The ancient story-tellers imagined his tribe to consist of ape-men.

          The saga of Hanuman as a devoted aide of Ramayan's hero Ram is as popular throughout South Asia as it is in India or wherever Indians live. From the moment he met Ram, who in search of his abducted consort Sita happened to pass through the Vanara kingdom of Bali and Sugreev along with younger brother Laxman, he became his constant companion.

           His exiled king Sugreev sent him to Lanka to seek out Sita who was in the island's rakshasa king Ravana's captivity. During the attack on Lanka, Hanuman was one of the chief warriors. There were few among the enemy to match his super-human strength. Crossing the sea, burning of Lanka, fetching sanjivani herb from the Himalayas to bring Laxman back to life after being struck down by Ravana's son are some of the famous episodes from his exploits.

           He is believed to be the son of wind-god (Vayu). Hence the ability to fly at great speed. His exploits of super strength are many. Mentioned in both Ramayana and Mahabharata, his traditional description of a tailed superman is matched by simian origin and habits. As a child too he was extraordinary. There is a story of his attempt to swallow the sun god and Indra, the king of heaven, throwing his vajra (thunder weapon) at him as a preventive action. The weapon struck Hanuman on the chin (Hanu in Sanskrit) which gave him the name he came to be known by.

           According to epic Ramayana believed to have been authored by saint poet Valmiki in Vedic Sanskrit, birth of Hanuman was pre-ordained along with the incarnation of god Vishnu - one of the Hindu Trinity - as Ram. Gods sent him to earth to serve Ram and help him in his 'mission' to destroy all evil elements which were trying to destroy true 'Dharma'.

          Hanuman's first meeting with his lord took place when Ram was searching around for his consort Sita in the forests of central India. Hanuman who was then in the service of his Vanara king Sugreev, not only traced Sita to the southern island of Lanka, where she was kept in captivity by Ravana, the local ruler, but fought the final battle for her rescue along with Ram, his younger brother Laxman and the whole army of Vanaras. Hanuman accompanied his master to Ayodhya, the kingdom on the banks of the Ganga, and served as his commander till Ram returned to his godhood.

           Two incidents from his life during the expedition for Sita's rescue deserve mention. Hanuman leapt across the sea to reach the spot where Sita was confined in Ravan's palace and while returning how he burnt down parts of the royal residences and the city. The second incident is about Hanuman's amazing flight to the snowy Himalayas thousands of miles to the north to bring the life-giving herb Sanjivani which was urgently required to revive Laxman who had been struck down by Ravan's eldest son during the battle. Hanuman never married and is believed to have lived long enough to bless the Pandavas with victory in the Mahabharata war.

           Mahabharata is India's ancient, immortal epic, also in Sanskrit. Mahabharat or the great war of the land of Bharatvarsha, ie, India, is recounted in great detail in this epic. It's the story of the Kurus, one of the Aryan clans of north-west probably ruling over the territory of the present Haryana, Delhi and old Punjab. This war involved almost all the kingdoms of northern India and probably occurred 1500 BC. Two families of cousin brothers - the Kauravas and the Pandavas - fought for the throne of Hastinapur. Before the battle the Pandavas lost everything to Kauravas in a game of dice and were exiled. During the exile, Bheem, one of the Pandavas, met Hanuman who was resting in a dense forest.

           The epic poet describes his superior physical strength, even though he had become very old. Bheem, the strongest one among the five brothers, could not move his tail as he lay in his path. When Bheem was humbled, Hanuman gave his introduction. Bheem was thrilled to have met the legendary warrior of Ramayana. Hanuman assured him of Pandavas' victory. His figure appeared on the war banner of the main chariot of Pandavas.

-India Overseas

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