Festivals of India: Hanuman Jayanti

Celebrating the birth of India’s ancient superhero, Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated on different days in different parts of India. In most states of India, the festival is observed either in Chaitra, usually on the day of Chaitra Pournimaa or in Vaishakha, while in a few states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it is celebrated in the month Dhanu, also called Margazhi in Tamil. The date of Hanuman Jayanti varies from year to year and across India, various states and communities celebrate it in different times of the year. Communities in South India usually celebrate this festival during the Margazhi month of Moola Nakshathram as that month is believed to be when Hanuman was born. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, however, celebrate Hanuman Jayanti from Chaitra Purnima to the tenth day of Krishna Paksha in the month of Vaishaka. Maharashtra places the holiday on the full moon day during the month of Chaitra.This year, the festival is celebrated today, the 8th of April, across India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and across the world where his devotees reside.

Also known as Sankatmochan, Dukhbhanjan, Maruti Nandan or Pawanputra, Lord Hanuman is an ardent devotee of Lord Sri Rama and is widely known for his unflinching devotion to Sri Rama. He is said to be able to assume any form at will, wield the mace or gada as well as many other celestial weapons, lift and move mountains, dart through the air, seize the clouds and equally rival Garuda in the swiftness of flight. Hanuman is seen as a symbol of strength and energy and also someone to turn to when a devotee is in difficulty.

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On Hanuman Jayati, devotees of Lord Hanuman celebrate him and seek his protection and blessings. They flock to temples to worship him and present religious offerings. In return, The devotees receive Prasad or the holy offering by the temple priests as sweets, flowers, coconuts, tilak, sacred ash and holy water. People also celebrate him on this day by reciting various devotional hyms and prayers like the Hanuman Chalisa and reading holy scriptures like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Lord Hanuman is said to be the epitome of belief, trust and devotion. On this day, devotees pray to imbibe these qualities in their lives and lead a principled life.

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Lord Hanuman was born on the Anjaneri mountain. His mother Anjana was an apsara who was born on earth due to a curse. She was redeemed from this curse on giving birth to a son. The Valmiki Ramayana states that his father Kesari was the son of Brihaspati, he was the King of a place named Sumeru. Anjana performed intense prayers lasting 12 long years to Shiva to get a child. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva granted them the son they sought. Hanuman, in another interpretation, is the incarnation or reflection of Shiva himself.

Hanuman is often called the son of the deity Vayu or the Wind God; several different traditions account for the Vayu’s role in Hanuman’s birth. One story mentioned in Eknath’s Bhavartha Ramayana from the 16th century which states that when Anjana was worshiping Shiva, the King Dasharatha of Ayodhya was also performing the ritual of Putrakama yagna in order to have children. As a result, he received some sacred pudding or payasam to be shared by his three wives, leading to the births of Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna. By divine ordinance, a kite snatched a fragment of that pudding and dropped it while flying over the forest where Anjana was engaged in worship. Vayu, the Hindu deity of the wind, delivered the falling pudding to the outstretched hands of Anjana, who consumed it. Hanuman was born to her as a result. Another tradition says that Anjana and her husband Kesari prayed Shiva for a child. By Shiva’s direction, Vayu transferred his male energy to Anjana’s womb. Accordingly, Hanuman is identified as the son of the Vayu

Another story of Hanuman’s origins is derived from the Vishnu Purana and Naradeya Purana. Narada, infatuated with a princess, went to his lord Vishnu, to make him look like Vishnu, so that the princess would garland him at swayamvara or the husband-choosing ceremony. He asked for ‘Hari Mukh’ (Hari is another name of Vishnu, and mukh means face). Vishnu instead bestowed him with the face of a vanara. Unaware of this, Narada went to the princess, who burst into laughter at the sight of his ape-like face before all the king’s court. Narada, unable to bear the humiliation, cursed Vishnu, that Vishnu would one day be dependent upon a vanara. Vishnu replied that what he had done was for Narada’s own good, as he would have undermined his own powers if he were to enter matrimony. Vishnu also noted that Hari has the dual Sanskrit meaning of vanara. Upon hearing this, Narada repented for cursing Vishnu. But Vishnu told him not to repent as the curse would act as a boon, for it would lead to the birth of Hanuman, an avatar of Shiva, without whose help Rama (Vishnu’s avatar) could not kill Ravana.

Lord Hanuman is best known for his role in the epic poem and sacred text the Ramayana, which tells the story of the divine Prince Rama. Rama was sent into exile unjustly by his stepmother, Kaikeyi. While in exile, Rama’s wife, Sita, is abducted by the demon Ravana. Much of the epic poem is devoted to Rama’s determined quest to rescue Sita from Ravana. Rama successfully recovers Sita and kills Ravana with the help of the vanara or his monkey army. Rama and Sita return to the kingdom of Ayodhya and usher in a golden age of humanity. Rama, the titular character of the Ramayana, is identified as an incarnation, or avatara, of the god Vishnu.

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Hanuman plays a central role in the Ramayana, and his stories are nearly always tied to those of Prince Rama, also called Lord Ram. Even before Hanuman’s birth, it was predicted that he would be a devotee of Lord Ram. After he was born, Hanuman was a trouble maker who, among other feats of mischief, tried to grab the sun from the sky. In response, powerful sages cursed Hanuman and made him forget his magic powers. Hanuman became a loyal servant to Rama and a commander of Rama’s legions of monkeys. The memory of his powers was restored to Hanuman by Jambavan, the king of the bears, and as a result, Hanuman made a giant leap across the strait that lies between India and Sri Lanka, called the Palk Strait today, to steal the medicinal herbs necessary to heal the wounded in Rama’s army. When Hanuman struggled to identify the herbs, he picked up the entire mountain and brought that back to India. Before Hanuman left Sri Lanka, his tail was set on fire. Hanuman, however, used this fire to burn Sri Lanka to the ground.

Hanuman is held up as the embodiment of loyalty and devotion and these admirable traits are recognized year round at temples dedicated to Hanuman and given special attention during Hanuman Jayanti. During Hanuman Jayanti, Hindus take an early morning holy bath and either attend temples dedicated to Hanuman or perform puja at home if they have their own shrine dedicated to Hanuman. The Hanuman Chalisa is read in order to conquer evil spirits and provide mental peace to those reading and listening. People apply red powder to their foreheads in an echo of how Hanuman covered his whole body in sindoor to ensure Rama’s immortality. There is an interesting legend to why Hanuman covered his body with Sindoor. As per the legend, when Lord Hanuman found Sri Sita applying sindhūr to her forehead, He questioned her and she replied that doing so would ensure a long life for her husband, Lord Sri Rama. Lord Hanuman then proceeded to smear his entire body with sindhūr, thus ensuring Lord Sri Rama’s immortality.

Hanuman is also celebrated as a symbol of devotion, strength, magical powers and energy and also as the 11th Rudra avatara of the great god Shiva. Many devotees pray to Hanuman to be blessed with bravery, intelligence and loyalty like that which Hanuman displayed.

Hanuman is a popular god among Hindus, and his temples are often filled with monkeys who know that humans cannot harm them so long as they are on temple grounds. Hindus, however, are not the only ones who recognize Hanuman. Hanuman also appears in Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism as well as in Indian pop culture.

Hanuman has been honored for millennia, and that fact has not changed in the modern age. Thousands still flock to his temples and wear sindoor in recognition of his devotion to Rama. Hanuman himself would likely be pleased with this. There is, after all, something perfect about the determined loyalty of Hindus to the god who was known for his faithfulness.

Here’s the divine voice of the late singer M.S. Subbalakshmi reciting the Hanuman Chalisa to end this blog post!

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