views updated May 14 2018


HANUMĀN is the name of a Hindu monkey god widely venerated throughout India. One of the principal characters of the Hindu epic Rāmāyaa, Hanumān is also called Sundara ("beautiful"), and the fifth book of the Rāmāyaa, in which Hanumān plays a central role, is called Sundara Kāa (Book of the Beautiful One). Here Hanumān, a minister for the monkey king Sugrīva, first comes to know of Rāma, who is searching for his wife, Sītā, who has been kidnapped. Hanumān negotiates friendship between Rāma and Sugrīva and later flies across the ocean to Lanka in order to locate Sītā. Finding her under an aśoka tree, he presents Rāma's signet ring as a token of recognition, conveys Rāma's message of consolation, and assures her that Rāma will come to rescue her. He then destroys a large part of Lanka, but is captured and brought before the demon king Rāvaa. When Hanumān coils his long tail and sits on it at a level higher than that of Rāvaa, the king orders that an oil-soaked cloth be wrapped around Hanumān's tail and then ignited. Hanumān flies about with his fiery tail and burns large parts of the city. He returns to Rāma to bring the message from Sītā. During the ensuing battle, Hanumān is sent to the mountains to bring sanjīvini ("reviving") herbs for Rāma's brother Lakmaa, who is wounded. Unable to identify the herbs, Hanumān brings the entire mountain.

There are several stories of Hanumān's miraculous and divine birth. His mother was the apsaras Anjanā, who was married to Kesari, but who conceived Hanumān when Vāyu, the wind god, overcome by her beauty, made love to her. Another story tells of Vāyu entering into Anjanā's body through her ear, thus causing Hanumān's conception.

When Hanumān was born he was so hungry that his mother's milk could not satisfy him. He therefore flew into the sky to eat the sun, which he thought was a fruit. The god Indra threw his thunderbolt to stop him, injuring the boy's chin. Angered by this act, the wind god took Hanumān into a cave to shelter him. But when Vāyu disappeared the people in the world were no longer able to breathe. At the request of the gods, Brahmā entered the cave and healed Hanumān's wounds. The other gods also blessed Hanumān and conferred on him various boons, including eloquence of expression. Because of his injury, which left his jaw swollen, the child was known as Hanumān, "having a large jaw."

In folk traditions Hanumān is worshiped as a deity with magical powers and the ability to conquer evil spirits. As an unmarried god who never spilled his seed he is especially popular with body builders, because it is believed that one must be celibate in order to have a strong body. In the Jain Rāmāyaas, Hanumān is not a bachelor, but is married to the daughters of Khara and Sugrīva. Whereas in the Rāmāyaa of Vālmīki Hanumān plays the role of the minister, the messenger, and the trusted servant of Rāma, in the later bhakti Rāmāyaas Hanumān is described as the supreme devotee of Rāma, and is therefore considered the model of devotion. It is believed that Hanumān first wrote the story of Rāma, but that he threw it into the ocean to give an opportunity for Vālmīki's Rāmāyaa to gain prominence.

See Also



Aryan, K. C., and Subhasini Aryan. Hanumān in Art and Mythology. Delhi, n.d.

Sastri, Hari Prasad, trans. The Rāmāyaa of Vālmīki. 3 vols. London, 1962.

New Sources

Ludvik, Catherine. Hanumana in the Ramayana of Valmiki and the Ramacaritamanasa of Tulasi Dasa. Delhi, 1994.

Velcheru Narayana Rao (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 21 2018

Hanumān, Hanumat, or Sundara (the beautiful) A major character in the Rāmāyaṇa, the monkey-king, or chief, Mahāvīra (‘great hero’). He led a band of monkeys, or ape-like creatures, who gave vital assistance to Rāma in the rescue of Sītā from Rāvaṇa's kingdom of Laṅkā. He is a symbol of strength and loyalty, and is patron of wrestlers.

For the bhakta (devotee to God, bhakti), Hanumān is the symbol of dāsya, the servant in relation to the master.


views updated May 18 2018

Hanuman a semi-divine being of monkey-like form, whose exploits are described in the Ramayana; he helps Rama rescue his wife Sita from the demon king of Lanka.

The name hanuman also denotes a pale-coloured langur monkey of the Indian subcontinent, venerated by Hindus.


views updated May 29 2018

Hanuman In Hindu mythology, the monkey general who helped Rama to find and rescue his wife, Sita. His attributes include great strength, agility, and wisdom. He remains a favourite deity in rural India.