“Sent by the great soul Sugriva, the king of Vanaras, I have arrived here. My name is Hanuman and I am a Vanara.” (Hanuman speaking to Rama and Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.21)
Shri Hanuman is one of the most famous objects of worship for followers of the Vedic tradition. He is kind, sweet, gentle, strong, courageous, and the grantor of the boon of devotion to Lord Rama. Though Hanuman is well-known throughout the world, it is still nice to revisit the incident of his first meeting with Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. The above referenced statement from the Valmiki Ramayana is from that first meeting, where Hanuman graciously introduces himself to the two brothers, whom he would later go on to be a faithful servant of. Devotees of God can revel in these wonderful words and also derive great lessons from them.
Who is Lord Rama? Simply put, He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is certainly great, but how can we measure that greatness? In order to properly understand abstract terms, we need a frame of reference, something we can use as a comparison. Since God is the greatest person in every respect, the leader in every metric ever created, it is difficult to gain a firm understanding of His glorious nature. To aid the fallible human being in its quest for knowledge, the Supreme Lord descends to earth from time to time in various shapes and sizes. During these appearances, the actual form of the Lord, known as an avatara, depends on mankind’s propensity towards spirituality at the specific time. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, mankind was generally pious. Though the Treta Yuga itself consisted of thousands of years, there was a brief period of time where society was wholly dedicated to chivalry and righteousness. In the Vedic tradition, the term dharma is used to convey righteousness, religiosity, or general piety. During this specific time when people were dedicated to dharma, God decided to descend to earth in human form so that the people of the time could directly offer their worship to Him.
This form of the Lord, known by the name of Rama, appeared as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. Dasharatha was no ordinary king; he was a descendent of one of the first kings on earth, Maharaja Ikshvaku. Ikshvaku was a descendent of the famous solar dynasty, so all the members of this line were extremely pious. Not only were the Ikshvaku kings chivalrous, but they actually set the standard for good government. Dasharatha, who lived up to the Ikshvaku tradition in every respect, had one thing missing in his life: a son. It is important for a male to beget male children because this enables them to repay their debt to the forefathers. Though it seems like we have no control over the circumstances of our birth, it is not the case. Each person is placed with a specific mother and father based on their previous life’s activities. If we are born into a pious family, it is no accident. Since our forefathers enabled us to take birth in the family that we did, it is up to us to continue the family line, enabling future pious souls to have a chance at spiritual advancement.
Now granted, the debts we incur at the time of birth can easily be paid off by becoming devotees of God. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is the true mission in life, so one who takes to this sublime engagement automatically becomes absolved of all sins and material debts. Nevertheless, Dasharatha still wanted to keep the family traditions going; he wanted a son to whom he could pass his kingdom down to. Due to Dasharatha’s good nature and dedication to chivalry, God decided to reward the king by appearing as his son. The Vedas tell us that God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, and that Krishna’s immediate expansion is that of the four-handed Lord Vishnu. Vishnu then descends to earth as various avataras, or incarnations. Lord Rama is one of Vishnu’s most famous avataras, and since He appeared during a time where religiosity was greatly adhered to in society, Rama too made sure to act very piously.
By performing many great activities during His time on earth, Lord Rama allowed future generations to relish in His transcendental pastimes by reading about them in the great Vedic texts. Though it is certainly a blessing to hear about these activities millions of years later, it is considered an even greater boon to have been around during Lord Rama’s time. This was the benediction reserved for the greatest of souls, of which Hanuman was one. As part of His life’s journey, Lord Rama ended up roaming the forests of India for fourteen years alongside His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. Unfortunately, Sita would one day be kidnapped while the group was in the forest. This all happened for a reason, as the Lord needed an excuse to take on the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Since Rama was dedicated to adhering to the rules of warfare, He wasn’t allowed to go after Ravana without just cause. Once the demon kidnapped Sita and took her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, the Lord had the excuse He needed.
After Sita was taken away, Rama and Lakshmana were initially unaware of her whereabouts. They scoured the forests and eventually made their way to Kishkindha. This particular forest was inhabited by a race of human-like monkeys known as Vanaras. Their leader was Sugriva, who had set up camp on the mountain of Rishyamukha. Sugriva had a brother named Vali whom he was deathly afraid of. The two got into an argument once, with Vali vowing to kill his brother. Sugriva immediately fled and found asylum in Kishkindha. On a previous occasion, a curse was pronounced on Vali which prohibited him from entering Kishkindha. While on the Rishyamukha Mountain, Sugriva could see Rama and Lakshmana approaching. Not knowing who they were, the monkey-king got scared, thinking that they might be emissaries of Vali coming to kill him. Sugriva then asked his chief warrior, Hanuman, to go down and see what the two princes wanted. He told Hanuman to assume a false guise so that the brothers would not know who he was. Hanuman gladly obliged.
Hanuman was no ordinary monkey. He was the son of the wind-god, Vayu, so he was extremely strong. Veda means knowledge, so the Vedas themselves present comprehensive information on all important subjects. The Vedas tell us that the vital force of man, aside from the soul residing within, is wind, or air. Yoga is practiced quite regularly today, with one of its most popular exercises being pranayama, a breathing routine aimed at controlling the wind inside the body. The idea is that wind represents strength, so anyone who can harness this strength can achieve equilibrium within the body and also great powers. Hanuman, being the son of the deity of the wind, was thus a great yogi and naturally very strong. Due to several other benedictions he received from the demigods as a child, Hanuman could perform other great feats as well. He could assume any shape at will, and his knowledge of Sanskrit was perfect. When he first approached Rama and Lakshmana, he glorified them with sweet words which were perfectly formed.
Above all these great personal characteristics relating to speech and strength, Hanuman’s defining attribute was his devotion to God. Ironically enough, he was unaware of this great devotion until he met Lord Rama face to face. Nevertheless, we see that he was a pure devotee at heart, for he had no problem accurately describing Rama and Lakshmana’s glories. Hanuman derived so much pleasure by praising the two brothers that he eventually gave up the ruse. In the above referenced statement, we see Hanuman honestly identifying himself, going against Sugriva’s orders.
How did this happen? Up to this point, Rama and Lakshmana had not uttered a word. They listened attentively to the kind words put forth by Shri Hanuman. For the devotees, there is no duplicity in their dealings with the Supreme Lord. Even though Hanuman was ordered to act in a certain way, simply by seeing his prana-natha, the Lord of his vital air, he completely surrendered himself. One look at Rama’s beautiful face was enough to take away all his inhibitions. The rest, as they say, was history. Hanuman would lead Rama and Lakshmana to Sugriva, with the brothers subsequently forging an alliance with the Vanara king. Hanuman would end up being the chief warrior in Rama’s successful fight against Ravana.
To this day, the name of Hanuman is synonymous with love and devotion to God. His glories are limitless. A person could spend many lifetimes trying to describe Hanuman’s greatness and still not reach the end of his splendorous attributes. The Vaishnava saint, Goswami Tulsidas, summarized Hanuman’s greatest attributes in his famous Hanuman Chalisa. This poem is recited daily by millions around the world. Hanuman is the gate-keeper to Lord Rama’s kingdom. Those who wish to become devotees of the Lord are advised to first receive the blessings of Shri Hanuman.
Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman are worshiped together in what is known as the Rama Darbar. Though the relationship between Hanuman and Lord Rama is well-known today, it all started on that fateful day in the forest of Kishkindha. We should take advantage of the Vedic texts that recount this wonderful incident. Moreover, we should follow Shri Hanuman’s lead by taking up devotional service ourselves. One should learn to approach the Lord in the same way that Hanuman did, that is by offering kind prayers and obeisances. As a result of his surrender, Hanuman forged an eternal relationship with the Lord. The same thing can happen for us. In this day and age, the easiest way to approach God and offer Him kind prayers is to regularly recite the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Let our soul remain connected with the Supreme Soul for eternity. Let us always remember the lotus feet of Shri Hanuman and the wonderful love he has for the Supreme Lord.
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