“Covered with various flowers, shoots and buds, that monkey, resembling a cloud, became beautiful to behold, looking like a mountain with fireflies.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.51)
sa nānākusumaiḥ kīrṇaḥ kapiḥ sāṅkurakorakaiḥ |
śuśubhe meghasaṃkāśaḥ khadyotairiva parvataḥ
The Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana is a unique section of Vedic literature because it is almost exclusively dedicated to the exploits of someone who is not deemed to be the original form of Godhead. Though the Ramayana gets its name from the central object of worship and the character who garners the main focus of attention in the work, an entire section of this poem is still dedicated to someone who gives off the appearance of an ordinary monkey. Though roaming the earth in the outward dress of an animal, the star of the Sundara-kanda, a divine figure in his own right, is the most courageous of servants, the dearmost friend of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and everyone related to Him through familial bonds or through the relationship of pure loving service, or bhakti. Just as the Supreme Lord is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure and a singular entity who possesses the most blissful form, His pure devotees, those who take Bhagavan’s interests to be their life and soul, similarly possess a radiant beauty that never diminishes. The Sundara-kanda is filled with descriptions of the outward brilliance of Hanuman and the glorious nature of his activities.
When a man is bitten by the love bug, he tends to view his object of affection as being the most beautiful in the whole world. As the saying goes, “the clothes make the man”, the outer garments worn by a human being can make a difference in how others view them. Some attire is more visually appealing than others, so carefully choosing the right outfit for each occasion is important for those who want to stand out and be known for their appearance. Those who are in love, however, view their loveable objects as being beautiful regardless of the situation or what they are wearing. For example, a man harboring deep affection for his girlfriend or wife will feel that she is exquisitely beautiful, even after she has just gotten up out of bed in the morning. For the female recipient, such feelings aren’t easy to understand, for there is a reason behind the expression, “You look like you just got out of bed.”
Sleep doesn’t do much to enhance the outer beauty of the individual, as lines and wrinkles develop around the face, and the body becomes unclean through hours of remaining in a dormant state. A person needs to clean themselves up before they feel they can make a presentable appearance to anyone outside of their intimate circle. It is undoubtedly true that a person looks different after taking a shower compared to how they appeared when they first got out of bed. But the lover sees the inner beauty of their object of affection, so any association, regardless of the time or circumstance, is cherished. Since the beloved wife looks the most innocent right after waking up in the morning, the inner beauty of her soul comes to bear in the eyes of the husband.
The ability to see beyond the manifestation of clothes and skin is dependent on the angle of vision of the beholder, as the level of amorous feelings harbored can drastically alter the way others are viewed. Yet those who take to the most sublime engagement of devotional service always remain beautiful, both on the inside and out, regardless of external observation. For our material beauty, we require validation from others, but when we take to devotional acts aimed at pleasing the wishes of the Supreme Lord Krishna, the inner and outer beauty are retained at all times. One such magnificent figure is Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, who is a celebrated incarnation of Krishna and a worshipable object for millions around the world.
Ironically enough, Hanuman takes the form of a Vanara, or a human-like monkey. Not to be confused with some science-fiction character, a Vanara is a forest dweller of the Treta Yuga, a time period which occurred many thousands of years ago. Since the second age of creation saw a high level of purity amongst the population of the earth, even the monkey figures had an enhanced level of intelligence. Though they retained their natural penchant for intoxication and excessive sex indulgence, the monkeys showed signs of civilized life. Hanuman, though in the form of a Vanara, retained his exquisite beauty at all times. His behavior was not limited to his body type, nor was he a servant of the senses. Even the human beings are driven by the desires to eat, sleep, mate and defend, but one who has controlled their senses can see past these activities, giving priority to those engagements which fit into the larger picture.
What exactly is that grand vision? The individual soul is by constitution blissful, full of knowledge and brimming with spiritual appeal. Yet, in the conditioned state, the soul is placed into various types of bodies depending on past activities and desires. Karma works off of the thoughts and wishes at the forefront of consciousness, and it rewards or punishes the living entity according to the activities driven by the mind. Therefore the soul is sometimes placed into the body of an animal, while at other times it gets the form of a fish. Of all the forms of body, none is considered more auspicious than the human being. The human form brings the best opportunity for the soul to take to activities that can complete the evolution of consciousness. Unlike the material elements that surround the soul in each lifetime, consciousness stays with the individual from body to body. When the mindset is fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, the individual is deemed liberated. When the mind is free of material designations, attachments and allurements to sense demands at the time of death, the soul is immediately transferred to the spiritual sky, the land that exists outside the purview of time and space. In the wholly pleasurable realm, all the aspects of creation, including knowledge, renunciation, material elements, birth, death, old age and disease, are non-existent. In the spiritual world everyone is engaged in bhakti, or loving devotion, at all times.
Though the human form of body is the most auspicious, Hanuman didn’t require a particular form to successfully carry out his tasks. He had a more important purpose to serve than merely searching for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Hanuman is an eternally liberated soul, so he is never under the clutches of maya, or the illusory energy of material nature. Since his body is always beaming with devotion, his effusive aura results in an exquisitely beautiful sight to behold for whoever is fortunate enough to point their eyes in his direction. This wonderful effulgence was on full display when the great Vanara leapt his way to the island of Lanka. During Hanuman’s time, Lord Rama, a pious prince and incarnation of God, roamed the earth. As part of His pastimes, He kindly allowed a group of Vanaras to aid Him in the search for His missing wife, Sita Devi. These monkeys lived in the forest of Kishkindha, which was presided over by the Vanara king Sugriva.
Hanuman happened to be Sugriva’s chief aide, his most trusted servant. When Hanuman met Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, a bond was immediately formed. Though Hanuman was a devotee from birth, it wasn’t until he met Rama that he became reacquainted with his true nature. Since Rama asked for Sugriva’s help, Hanuman took the monkey-king’s subsequent instructions as his life and soul. Sita was being held captive on the island of Lanka, which was situated across a massive ocean. When Hanuman’s search party reached the shores of the ocean, it seemed as though they were stuck. Each monkey in the group declared how far they could leap, but the distances put forth were not far enough to reach Lanka.
To break the impasse, Jambavan, one of the elderly members of the group, apprised Hanuman of his original nature, of how he had taken birth from the wind-god Vayu and how he could assume any shape at will. After making note of Jambavan’s words, Hanuman increased in size to a massive stature and confidently asserted that he would leap his way to Lanka and find Sita. If Sita wasn’t in Lanka, he would leap his way to the heavenly realm and look for her there. If he still couldn’t find her, he would bring her captor, the demon-king Ravana, back with him to Kishkindha. If Ravana put up resistance, Hanuman would uproot the entire island and carry it back with him, such was the strength possessed by Shri Rama’s most dear friend.
In the track and field sport of long-jump, the competitor runs for a short period of time in order to gain momentum prior to their leap. The idea is that the faster the jumper runs, the longer they will be able to travel once in the air. Hanuman also got a head start, but not from a short run. The illustrious son of the wind-god climbed atop a mountain peak and crouched down very low to increase the intensity of the ensuing thrust into the air. Since his size was massive at the time, many trees and flowers were uprooted in the process of his preparation. When Hanuman finally catapulted into the air, the trees and their accompanying flowers followed him in his initial ascent. Maharishi Valmiki compared the buds, shoots and blossoms to well-wishers who travel with their friends for a short period of time as they are departing. It is quite natural for hosts to not want their guests to leave the home, especially if the guests are close friends and relatives. It is often seen that when the guests are departing, the host family will come outside of the house and maybe even go up to the car. They will remain outside until the guests are finally out of vision.
In ancient times guests would leave on horse-driven carts or on foot. Therefore the hosts would follow their friends on foot for quite a distance in order to retain the personal association until the last possible moment. When Lord Rama, Sita Devi and Lakshmana had to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya, the citizens followed the chariot all the way into the forest. The well-wishers were so attached to their beloved prince Rama, an eternally existing manifestation of the Supreme Lord, that they refused to live without Him. Finally, Rama devised a plan for escape, which had His charioteer waking up early one day and creating two sets of tracks with the wheels of the cart. Seeing that Rama’s cart had left and not knowing which direction it had gone, the citizens had no choice but to turn back to their homes.
The trees and flowers were so attached to Hanuman and his glorious mission that they refused to let go of him right away. They joined him for the beginning of his aerial journey, finally relenting and falling into the sea. In the above referenced passage, we see that Hanuman’s appearance was like that of a giant mountain covered with glowworms, or fireflies. Resembling a massive cloud in the sky, Hanuman appeared exquisitely beautiful. Normally, the uprooting of trees is a sign of destruction and impending chaos, but in this case, the incidental damage was an indication of future success and victory. The trees were more than happy to assist Hanuman, as he was executing the mission of the Supreme Lord.
Hanuman is loved and adored by the sincere souls because there is only one activity he takes to: devotional service. For exalted figures such as Hanuman, there is no other duty. He is full of knowledge, bliss and understanding, and he uses whatever is at his disposal for the pleasure of Rama. In this way he proves to be an exemplary character and an object of worship. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would successfully find Sita, return the information of her whereabouts to Rama, and then play an integral role in the subsequent war fought between Rama’s army led by the Vanaras and Ravana’s army led by the Rakshasas. All would end well, as good always eventually triumphs over evil. Through it all, Hanuman remained beautiful, for that is his very nature. To this day he remains firmly dedicated to hearing about Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, and chanting their glories. Day and night, through good times and bad, through war and peace, Shri Hanuman always beams with transcendental love, or bhakti. He is the beacon of light, the savior for all the fallen souls who have lost sight of the true mission in life, that of returning back to the spiritual world. Focusing our attention on the incomparably sundara Hanuman, we can never be led astray.
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