The Many Names of Hanuman

Hanuman is one of the most beloved figures in the Hindu pantheon of Gods.  There are many ways to approach a deity but perhaps the easiest is to relate as a personal archetype. The word archetype was coined by the Swiss psychotherapist, Carl Jung.  An archetype is a symbol or form that is imprinted in the subconscious. Archetypes live within our collective unconscious and surface in times of transition to guide us toward our True Self.  Part divine, part human and part monkey, Hanuman is the archetype of wisdom, self-control, devotion, valor, righteousness and strength.

Hanuman is the son of Anjana. His second most common name is Anjaneya, literally "son of Anjana."  There are many stories surrounding the birth of Hanuman.  His paternity is linked to two gods, Shiva and Vayu, and a simian father, Kesari, as well.  The most commonly accepted story claims he is the son of Vayu, the wind god.  Hanuman is known as Vayuputra, Pavanaputra and Maruti, all of which name him as the son of Vayu.  As Hanuman has been credited with a number of birth stories, there follows a number of different dates on which he is said to have been born. The most popular is the full moon of the month Chitra (March/April) which sets his birthday on a Tuesday just five days after that of Rama, his ishta devata.  According to Vedic astrology, Tuesdays are associated with conflict and accidents because it is governed by the malefic planet, Mars.  On Tuesdays, we may feel more fiery than normal and it is advised to channel this Martian energy into our yoga practice.  Hanuman represents the ability to transform this primal energy into tejas - radiance, strength, courage and penetrating insight.  The forty verses of the Hanuman Chalisa composed by Tulsidas, the great sixteenth century poet, is traditionally sung on Tuesday to invoke his qualities of strength, intelligence and devotion. Sankata Mochan, Hanuman is the dispeller of sorrows.

Hanuman is perhaps best know as the great monkey hero of the Indian epic, the Ramayana.  We can gain understanding of the Ramayana by recalling Homer's Odyssey, another ancient epic, in which the Greek hero Odysseus goes through many trials and adventures before reuniting with his faithful wife Penelope.  In the Ramayana, Rama is on a divine quest to subdue the demon king Ravana, rescue his beloved wife Sita, and restore the balance of good and evil on Earth.  Rama is seen as the supreme glory of mankind and teaches us how to act with valor, dignity, compassion and chivalry.  His wife Sita is the embodiment of grace, beauty and virtue.  Hanuman is the life force that unites them.  

Hanuman is a karma yogi - one who practices the yoga of action.  His entire life was spent in the service of others. Hanuman was totally free from the desire for personal fame or glory.  In the whole of the Ramayana, all of his feats were done for the sake of others.  He performed all of his duties with humility, modesty and great devotion.  For that he is called Dasarama, one who serves Rama.  Hanuman also personifies bhakti through his single pointed and immutable devotion to Rama.  Thus he is named Ekagrabhakta.  Hanuman was the first to sing songs of adoration (bhajans) and songs of praise (kirtans).  His music was an outpouring of his infinite love for Rama.  Hanuman attained liberation solely by chanting the name of Rama, his personal deity, and the utter surrender of his personal will to that of his Lord.

Interestingly, the monkey is often used a symbol for the human mind, which is ever restless and never still. This monkey-mind happens to be the only thing over which we can, in theory, have absolute control. We cannot control the world around us, but we can tame our mind through consistent practice.  Hanuman's name gives us a idea of his character.  It is a combination of two Sanskrit words, hanan (mastery) and manas (mind).  Hanuman is symbolic of the perfected mind and embodies the highest potential it can achieve.  According to yogic thought, the physical body is an extension of the mind.  Hence Hanuman, with perfect mastery of his mind and senses, had superhuman strength.  He is often called Bajarangabali - ones whose body is like a thunderbolt.  Hanuman is so strong that he can lift mountains and so agile that he can leap across the sea.  Flying Monkey!

Hanuman is associated with the physical culture of hatha yoga. Hanuman is said to have composed the practice of surya namasakra, the sun salutation, which combines the essential yoga postures with the energy of devotion, to honor his celestial guru, Surya.  His celestial father, Vayu, taught him pranayama, the science of breath control, which he in turned taught to humans.  Air sustains all living beings.  One can go days without food and water, but it is impossible to exist even for a short while without air.  Air is life.  As such, Hanuman is also called Pranadeva, the God of Breath or Life.

Hanuman is a Chiranjevi, those who live until the end of this cycle of creation.  He is know for his mighty intellect and is thought to have learned the Vedas from Surya, the sun god, himself.  He is the wisest of the wise - Gyaninama Graganyam - the strongest of the strong and the bravest of the brave.  Rama himself describes Hanuman thus: "Heroism, cleverness, strength, firmness, sagacity, prudence, prowess and power have taken up their abode in Hanuman."

The Hanuman Chalisa declares that there is no blessing that Hanuman cannot bestow.  Sita granted him the power to bestow the eight siddhis (divine attainments).  However, the greatest boon one can ask of Hanuman is the uplifting of the spiritual qualities for which he himself is known.  

Having polished the mirror of my heart with the dust of my teacher's feet, I narrate the pure fame of Raghupati (Rama), who bestows the four fruits of life - dharma, kama, artha, moksha. 
Knowing myself to be devoid of intelligence, I invoke Sri Hanuman, the son of the wind. Grant me strength, intelligence and wisdom and remove my shortcomings and sorrows. 
~ Hanuman Chalisa by Tulsidas


Recommended Reading:

Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God by Vanamali

The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon