Alpa Sharira

[Shri Hanuman]“O best of the monkeys, how do you desire to take me from here to the presence of my husband, the king of human beings, with such a small body?” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 37.30)

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कथं वाल्पशरीरस्त्वं मामितो नेतुमिच्छसि।
सकाशं मानवेन्द्रस्य भर्तुर्मे प्लवगर्षभ।।

kathaṃ vālpaśarīrastvaṃ māmito netumicchasi।
sakāśaṃ mānavendrasya bharturme plavagarṣabha।।
katham vā alpa śarīraḥ tvam mām ito netum icchasi |
sakāśam mānava indrasya bhartuḥ me plavaga ṛṣabha ||

You have been given a task. Create a large covered area in the backyard, which right now is a grass field. This is for a wedding at a home, done particularly for convenience and cost. By not booking a traditional hall, the newlyweds intend to use the savings for future expenses.

The most practical option is to create a tent. Purchase the materials that already exist, since this is not an uncommon task. People host events outdoors all the time. There is past experience to rely on. As the guest list is quite large, the tent needs to accommodate many seats underneath. There will also be a place to serve food. A dance floor is necessary, as well.

You drive a truck to the parts supplier and then load everything into the back. Reaching the venue, the same parts get unloaded and then assembled. After the event concludes, the process needs to be repeated in the reverse. Take down the tent, disassemble everything that is connected, load into the truck and then unload back to the supplier.

For this task the hands and legs are primarily used. The prior vision is within the mind, but just thinking about the end does not make it occur. There has to be work applied. That work must include use of the hands and legs. Those who are lacking strength, who do not move around very well, or who have no motivation in the area of manual labor will likely not succeed in the task.

Compare this to Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is said that He can accomplish any task with any part of His body. This is one of the reasons the four objects in the four hands of Lord Vishnu, the visual manifestation of the Almighty in opulence, are equally auspicious. Though the club and the disc are traditionally viewed as weapons, the flower and the conch-shell can also accomplish the same. That is to say that although a flower is light and known to crumple with the least amount of pressure applied, if Vishnu wanted He could use one to successfully attack an enemy.

Similar contradictory features exist on Bhagavan’s transcendental body. Though His body is soft to the touch, like the shirisha flower, it can be as hard as adamant, like the time absorbing a blow to the chest from Bhrigu Muni, which was part of a test to see which of the three presiding deities of the creation possesses the mode of goodness in full.

“My dear father, O great sage, I know that your feet are very soft, like a lotus flower, and that My chest is as hard as a thunderbolt. I am therefore afraid that you may have felt some pain by touching My chest with your feet. Let Me therefore touch your feet to relieve the pain you have suffered.” (Lord Vishnu speaking to Bhrigu Muni, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)

[Bhrigu kicking Vishnu]The dual-sidedness in ability is passed on to a certain degree to the devotees, i.e. those who are serving Bhagavan in thought, word, and deed. Completely pure in intention, Shri Hanuman has no interest in extending his fame, though today he is known throughout the world. He has no interest in showing off, though he has the most over which to boast. He has no interest in achieving mystic perfections, though his abilities rival those of the best yogis.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi refers to Hanuman as having an alpa-sharira. In Sanskrit the alpa prefix has the opposite pairing of su. One means lesser and the other greater. The words can also refer to other pairs of opposites, such as inauspicious and auspicious, small and large, and ugly and beautiful.

In this context the reference is to “small,” stating that Hanuman’s body is not large enough to carry Sita back to her husband, Shri Rama. The distance is quite considerable, across a vast ocean. She is an adult woman, though emaciated by grief due to a long time of forced separation, brought on by the wicked king of Lanka, Ravana.

Despite the smallish body, Hanuman does have the ability. He had crossed over the ocean using a size enhanced by yogic power. This was done in service to Rama, so the Supreme Lord helped. The same Vishnu with the soft and hard chest was there as the prince of Ayodhya to boost His devotees to new heights, overcoming great obstacles in the process.

[Shri Hanuman]The visuals are not everything, as even the apparently weak female held prisoner in Lanka was capable of destroying the entire community, should she have chosen to use her powers acquired through dedicated vows to her husband, who is Bhagavan Himself. Connected to the Divine in yoga, a person can defy the laws of nature in ways similar to the Supreme Lord.

In Closing:

Bhagavan not by nature restricted,

With qualities each other contradicted.

Body like flower soft and light,

But hard when against enemy fight.

Ability to devotees descending,

Like Hanuman’s form extending.

To what can be seen more,

Success to Rama’s servants for sure.

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