Who Is Hanuman?

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Hanuman Definition

Hanuman, sometimes known as Hanumat or Anuman, is a prominent Hindu deity with monkey-like features, best known as a loving companion and devotee of Rama and Sita.

The word “Hanuman” has a few possible meanings.

The most common one is “disfigured jaw” where hanu means “jaw,” and man means “disfigured” or “prominent.”

Another possibility is that the name means “destroyed ego,” where han means “destroyed” or “killed,” and mana means “ego” or “pride.”

The name may also derive from the proto-Dravidian term for “male monkey,” anamandi.

a blue statue of hanuman in an hindu temple

Hanuman Deep Dive

Hanuman may have first appeared in the Rig Veda between 1500 and 1200 BCE, and also features in the Mahabarata and Puranas. Most, however, know him as a central figure in the Ramayana epic.

Hanuman’s spiritual father is said to be Vayu, the God of wind and breath. But his parents on earth are said to be Anjani and Kesari. He’s known as a vanara, an ape-like humanoid. These creatures, whose name is often said to mean “forest dweller,” may have in fact been a separate race of people who lived in the forest. In the scriptures, however, they are often depicted as shapeshifters, and distinctively hairy, with claws and tails.

The origin of the name Hanuman is said to come from a story where he leaps up to the sun, believing it’s a mango or some other fruit. Indra, the Lord of the devas, sees this and strikes Hanuman down with a bolt of energy to the jaw. In some versions of the story, the jaw is simply disfigured. In other versions however, Hanuman is incinerated and then pieced back together – except for his jaw.

As compensation for being struck down by Indra, he is blessed with various powers.

Among them, superhuman strength, imperviousness to fire, imperviousness to water and drowning, speed like the wind, and the ability to move to any place. Interestingly, he is then made to forget that he has these blessings.

Many pictures of Hanuman depict him ripping his chest open, revealing Rama and Sita inside as proof that his devotion to them is part of his very being.

a statue of hanuman ripping open his chest with rama and sita in his chest

Hanuman’s Story

In the Ramayana epic, he is enlisted by Rama to help find Rama’s wife, Sita who was abducted by the demon king, Ravana. Hanuman rises to the occasion by flying across the channel from India to Sri Lanka and wreaking havoc on the enemy. He becomes as small as an ant to do some reconnaissance.

Then, after finding Sita and eluding capture, he becomes a giant and sets the enemy fortress ablaze. In the ensuing invasion and hostage rescue, he kills several enemy generals. Rama’s brother is also wounded in battle, and the only thing that can save him is a specific herb to be found on a mountain in the Himalayas.

Hanuman flies there, but can’t find the herb amongst all the others on the hillside – so he picks up the whole mountain and brings it back to Sri Lanka.

Stories like this are among the reasons Hanuman is sometimes worshipped as a deity in his own right, as a symbol of strength, selfless service and devotion, and protection from evil.

a big orange statue of hanuman peeking over a hedge

Hanuman In Your Life

Om Shri Hanumate Namaha

(Hanuman moola mantra)

Recall that Hanuman was made to forget his blessings. It was only in love and devotion to his Lord that his true powers were awakened. How can you awaken this power in yourself?

In the Yoga Sutras, ch. 2, v. 32, it says that “dedication to Ishvara, the Lord of yoga,” is one of the internal disciplines, or niyamas, necessary for enlightenment.

So, what is Ishvara? Some say God, but it’s not so simple. It’s sometimes translated as the collective consciousness. The ultimate reality. Your true self. The oneness of all.

Isvara Pranidhana, dedication to one’s higher being, is what Hanuman was best at. But sustaining this kind of devotion can be a challenge. That’s why in Yoga you have the Three S’s:

Seva – selfless service

Satsang – spiritual community

Sadhana – spiritual practice towards a higher self

With the three S’s in your yoga toolbox, you might find ease in sustaining Hanuman-like devotion in your heart.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Hailing from the Yukon, Canada, David (B.A, M.A.) is a yoga teacher (200-hour therapeutic YTT) and long-time student and practitioner of various spiritual disciplines including vedanta and Islam.

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