The other day, I parted with “Jai Bajrangbali” over the telephone with one of my friends. We were discussing the Congress’ victory in the Karnataka elections and how the party had flooded cyberspace with symbols associated with Hanuman. For instance, the Congress’ national website had shown Rahul Gandhi with the Karnataka leaders, P.C. Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar, under a giant picture of Hanuman.
The Hanuman imagery reminded me of my brief interaction with the Indologist, Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, that had driven me to go through a few portions of Valmiki Ramayana, once again. A crucial chapter in the Ramayana is where Hanuman gets introduced to the readers. In Valmiki Ramayana, this takes place in the Kishkindha kaand where Sugreev sends Hanuman to find out about the intentions of two strangers, Ram and Lakshman, roaming the forests of Rushyamukh Parvat near the river, Pampa.
Why does Sugreev send Hanuman and not any of his other ministers? Sugreev says that Hanuman is the best candidate to be a minister-turned-messenger. Why? Interestingly, this is where Valmiki underlines some of the characteristics of Bajrangbali.
What are the qualities that a king’s messenger must have? If we go through Manu’s Dharmashastra or the Mahabharata, we shall find these mentioned elaborately and, interestingly, Hanuman matches them all. In Dharmashastra, Manu writes, “Dutanchai prakurabita sarvashastravisharada (a messenger must have a thorough knowledge of almost all subjects). What else? He has to be “suchi” (honest), “daksham” (competent), and “bhadrakulajata” (with a good family background). There is no mention of ‘warrior-like qualities’ or physical strength that are commonly associated with Hanuman.
In the Valmiki Ramayana, Ram’s synopsis of Hanuman’s character is as illuminating. After Hanuman meets the duo, has a small chat with them, and learns all that he needs to know, Ram tells Lakshman, “Did you notice how articulate Hanuman is? He, in fact, seems to be a scholar — well acknowledged with the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, vyakaran (grammar), and the essence of the Upanishads.” “Hanuman’s eyebrows,” Rama continues, “don’t move unnecessarily. He doesn’t shout or whisper.” Hanuman began, continued and completed his words in a single tone, said Ram, and added that Hanuman also knows how to spell every syllable.
Again, there is no mention of his strength or warrior-like attributes.
The first impression of Hanuman often has to do with only power or fierceness. Most of us seldom spare any thought of his other qualities. Even Tulsidas’ Hanuman Chalisa starts with “Jai Hanuman gyangunsagar”. Will it be wrong if we take the word, ‘gyan’ (wisdom), and not strength, to be the foremost quality of Hanuman?
In fact, in all of the Ramayana, nowhere do we find Hanuman acting in an aggressive manner except in the Lanka-dahan kaand. According to Valmiki, he’s always composed, polite, well-mannered, devoted, highly educated and wise.
It is thus curious that Hindutva imagines Hanuman as an aggressive, fierce deity. Little wonder then that vigilantes indulge in moral policing, support patriarchy, and participate in majoritarian violence — all in the name of faith and gods.
Fanatics have been present in every age. Throughout history, they have perpetrated wrongs on the common people. If you ask me, it’s a double crime — a crime against humanity as well as the crime of tarnishing an epic character.