“’The black-eyed Vaidehi is not aware of my strength or my power. Therefore, let her see that form which I can display at my desire.’ Hanuman, the best of the monkeys and annihilator of enemies, thinking thus then showed to Vaidehi his real form.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 37.32-33)
न मे जानाति सत्त्वं वा प्रभावं वाऽसितेक्षणा।
तस्मात्पश्यतु वैदेही यद्रूपं मम कामतः।।
इति सञ्चिन्त्य हनुमांस्तदा प्लवगसत्तमः।
na me jānāti sattvam vā prabhāvam vā asita īkṣaṇā |
tasmāt paśyatu vaidehī yat rūpam mama kāmataḥ ||
iti saṃcintya hanumān tadā plavaga sattamaḥ |
darśayāmāsa vaidehyāḥ svarūpam ari mardanaḥ ||
These two verses from the Ramayana appear to be contradictory with respect to the nature of rupa. The Sanskrit term has several meanings, but in this context the reference is to the form. Several attributes describe that form, which is always used in devotion to the Supreme Lord.
The premise is that Sita Devi is unaware. She does not have janati, or knowledge, of how Hanuman made the amazing leap across the ocean. How could she? Under terrible distress caused by wicked characters threatening to eat her, to never allow her to meet her beloved husband again, to countdown the days and hours until the final reckoning, the princess of Videha could not see into the past.
Only the present was in front of her, that of a monkey-like figure claiming to be benevolent, to act only in her best interests. He has news of Shri Rama, the husband in all righteousness from whom Sita was forced to separate, due to no fault of her own.
Now that same messenger proposes to take Sita back to Rama’s side. Hanuman will cross over the ocean, but how is that possible? Surely the idea must have sprung from his monkey-nature. Letting emotion override intellect, there was no chance of success.
Accepting that personal insult, receiving which was a first for him, Hanuman endeavors to convince her. He has the rupa of a monkey of human-like size at the moment, but there was a different shape used to cross over the ocean. That rupa was very large, and it was assumed at will, kama.
The chief minister of Sugriva from Kishkindha is described to be the best of monkeys. He is the topmost of the forest-dwelling species known as Vanaras. Hanuman is also the annihilator of the enemy. These both relate to his bodily features. He uses the form to successfully defeat opponents, while retaining the monkey-like image.
At the same time, the display to Sita is for the svarupa. In the most common context, this Sanskrit word refers to the self-form, the real bodily manifestation of the individual. Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says that the svarupa of every living entity is Krishna-dasa, that of servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
It is not that the monkey form was fake or temporary. It was also the svarupa, but here the context refers to the crossing of the ocean. It was the “real” within that specific realm, for which Hanuman was now referencing. The proposal to bring Sita back with him was in using that enlarged form, which would then make the idea less preposterous.
Indeed, Hanuman’s svarupa is always on display in the pastimes serving the Supreme Lord Rama. At one moment he is a mendicant in disguise. At another he is small enough to fit into the mouth of a female monster. He assumes the size of a cat to search through Lanka for Rama’s missing wife. He becomes small to escape the ropes placed around him by Ravana’s henchmen. He then takes a larger form to set fire to the city in revenge. In every way Hanuman’s svarupa is beautiful, one to be respected, honored and worshiped into the infinite future.
His svarupa form real,
To Sita Devi to reveal.
So that to believe in his claim,
That Hanuman over ocean came.
Sometimes large and sometimes small,
Since in devotion svarupa to call.
To Shri Rama the benefit giving,
Servant’s honor into future living.