By Vaughn Paul Manley, M.A.
Hanuman, the celebrated monkey devotee of Ram in the epic story The Ramayana, is one of the most popular Hindu deities. There are arguably more temples and small roadside shrines to Hanuman than all of the other Hindu deities combined. You see them everywhere, almost on every street corner, in both north and south India, like this one:
When I got interested in yoga and meditation in my teens, I had no interest in the Hindu deities, especially not a ‘Monkey God.’ I found the idea repulsive; an embarrassing and “sinful” aspect of becoming a yogi, like worshipping Aaron’s ‘Golden Calf’ of the Old Testament. It took several years to finally become liberated from my narrow minded Judeo-Christian misconceptions, which said that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion for heathens! Now I don’t mind being considered a heathen as long as I can worship Hanuman. Since understanding that all the Hindu deities are merely different forms of the one God, I say, “Go Hanuman! Bajrang Bali Ki Jai!“
Worshipping is what we already do, all the time, we just don’t realize it. Our minds naturally worship something. To worship simply means to focus our attention with devotion, and most of the time we’re devoted to fulfilling our material desires. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.” We worship money, fancy cars, luxurious homes, cool gadgets, offering huge sacrifices to attain these, while regularly prostrating at the modern temple: the Shopping Mall.
Whatever we aspire to and put our attention on grows, and how we worship today has sprouted our materialistic society. We have things, but not peace, since they get lost, broken, or tie us down to hefty loans, etc. The only lasting peace comes from directing our monkey minds toward God: the ultimate worship.
However, it’s awfully hard for the mind to conceive of God at all. God is described as avachaniya in Hindi, unspeakable. It’s much easier to focus on a form of God, or deity. Mata Amritanandamayi says, “Name and form are ladders to reach the formless Divine.” Focusing our minds on a tangible form of God leads us to the intangible infinite.
By worshipping a deity we increase that deity’s divine qualities within us. Hanuman represents a range of qualities that are extremely helpful, especially when we’re going through difficult times – devotion, faith, courage, strength, and power. These are the qualities that are most lacking when we’re emotionally discouraged and depressed. Therefore, worshipping Hanuman during difficulties (or anytime) is time well invested and provides instant relief.
A common epithet for Hanuman is Sankat Mochan, or dispeller of distress. Hanuman represents absolute faith and devotion to God as Ram. Sita and Ram always live in his heart, which he proves when he rips it open. It’s a universal principle that when we’re devoted to an ideal greater than ourselves we are relieved of our stress and petty concerns. Mahatma Gandhi said:Hanuman is always ready to serve Ram, a higher ideal, and by worshipping him we acquire this divine quality. Simultaneously our distress is removed. Hanuman is called Kripa Nidhan, the abode of grace, due to this quality of removing distress.
Another common epithet for Hanuman is Bajrang Bali, or body with strength like lightning. He gives the strength and courage to overcome difficulties quickly, just like lightning strikes quickly and powerfully. He’s also called the em>Son of the Wind, and gets the job done swiftly, like the wind. There’s no whimpering or vulnerability in Hanuman, as he meets every challenge with the power of the name of God on his lips. He’s often depicted as kneeling on one knee, ready to spring into action to serve Ram, like an Eveready Battery fully charged.
TheRamayanais full of Hanuman’s acts of bravery and superhuman power making him the ultimate superhero. He has the faith to move mountains, which he does when he carries a whole mountainside filled with the sacred herb, Sanjivani, to heal Ram’s brother, Lakshman. He can also make himself large at will, which he does to burn down Lanka and defeat Ravana’s demon warriors. Likewise, he can make himself small, which he did to enter Ravana’s palace undetected and find Sita. Therefore, Hanuman represents the ability to conjure up whatever qualities are necessary in the moment: to rise to the occasion to face our challenges, or make ourselves small and humble. His attitude is,“Whatever it takes, I’ll do it 100%,”as he fulfills Ram’s work and brings goodness into the world. This is the attitude we need to become successful at any endeavor.
Hanuman’s power is a result of his devotion or bhakti. Stories in the Ramayana imply that devotion to God is even more powerful than God himself. For example, Hanuman’s devotion enabled him to fly across the ocean to reach Lanka and rescue Sita, whereas Ram had to build a bridge to get across.
Hanuman’s the ideal devotee, singularly focused on serving God in the form of Ram. The best job description is to be a devotee, and what better role model than Hanuman. He silences our fickle, monkey minds by directing them toward God in pure devotion. His heart is like a light switch permanently stuck in the ‘on’ position.
The purpose of his incarnation was to embody devotion, and it makes sense that he chose the form of a monkey to do so in unrestricted fashion, unbounded by human laws. He’s considered an incarnation of Shiva, while Ram is considered an incarnation of Vishnu, so the love between Hanuman and Ram is really the dance of devotion between Shiva and Vishnu.
Ultimately, devotion is the reason we incarnate as well, because when we have devotion in our lives we realize our connection to God. In the Ramayana, Hanuman’s devotion made it possible for Sita to be reunited with Ram. The Ramayana is an allegory representing the soul’s evolution, with each character representing an aspect of our own nature. For instance, Ram represents God, Sita represents the individual soul as soon as she became separated from Ram, and Hanuman represents devotion. When our individual soul (Sita) is kidnapped by the demon Ravana (Ego), we need the help of devotion to an ideal (Hanuman) to reunite us with the Divine (Ram). So when we’re feeling disconnected from God, Hanuman ignites the devotion that reunites us. See also the article, The Ramayana: A Myth to Live By.
Hanuman is often worshipped alongside other deities, and his image is usually found in any Hindu temple. Sometimes he’s depicted nearly formless: just a rock painted red-orange (sindoor), maybe with a discernible image of him, maybe not. This is a strange concept for most Westerners. The idea is that remembrance of Hanuman in any way, even in a simple image on a rock, awakens devotion.
Worship without devotion is just a rote mechanical practice. But once the heart is enlivened, then worship becomes that much better, regardless of which form of God you’re worshipping: Krishna, Lakshmi, Shiva, Ganesh, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, etc. For this reason, worshipping Hanuman can be considered a supportive practice that helps one become a better devotee of one’s chosen form of God, or religion. Ultimately, Hanuman takes us beyond devotion to a form, towards devotion to serving Ram in all forms and seeing God’s omnipresence everywhere (sarva vyapak).
Hanuman is worshipped primarily on Tuesdays, Mars’s day, in north India, and on Saturdays, Saturn’s day, in south India. So Hanuman is associated with both Mars and Saturn. He represents Mars’s qualities, but is primarily a remedy for Saturn.
Hanuman represents Mars because he’s a warrior, like Mars, and represents power, strength, courage, energy, etc. which are all qualities of Mars. Hanuman is also associated with the color red or red-orange and the gem red coral, just like Mars. Hanuman balances the negative aspects of Mars like self-centered desire and ambition, impulsivity, domination, control, etc. by directing his entire energy towards service to a higher ideal, Ram. Hanuman’s actions are life affirming because they’re devoted to goodness, which Ram represents. This counters the destructive, aggressive force of Mars. Just like fire can be either destructive or purifying, Hanuman directs the fiery quality of Mars toward positive outcomes. For instance, in the Ramayana he burned down Ravana’s stronghold of Lanka, which represents the purification of our ego-centered thoughts. Therefore, Hanuman is a remedy for Mars’s afflictions in the natal chart.
However, Hanuman is primarily considered a remedy for Saturn’s afflictions in the natal chart, not Mars. Hanuman is the perfect antidote for Saturn because his qualities balance such a long list of Saturn’s negative qualities, as shown in the following table:
Hanuman / Saturn
Quick / Slow
Unlimited Powers / Limitations, Restrictions
Courage / Fear, Cowardice
Faith, Security / Doubt, Insecurity
Strong, Fit, Energetic / Weak, Emaciated, Lazy
Selfless, Generous / Selfish, Miserly
Open Hearted Devotional / Closed Hearted Bitter
Joyous Service / Burden of Responsibility
Hanuman represents the positive qualities of Mars, like strength, courage, and energy, which are antidotes for the weakness, fear, and laziness that an afflicted Saturn represents. Hanuman also represents a major shift in attitude from Saturn’s sense of limitation to unlimited possibilities, from selfishness to selflessness, from closed hearted bitterness to open hearted devotion, from seeing responsibilities as a burden rather than as joyous service. Therefore, to call upon Hanuman facilitates a transformation of a whole slew of negative, misery inducing qualities of Saturn.
Hanuman is considered the only Hindu deity not affected by Saturn. Even Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are said to have succumbed to the negative influences of Saturn, but not Hanuman. Therefore, Hanuman is often worshipped as a remedial measure to mitigate the malefic effects of Saturn.
There are several stories demonstrating Saturn’s deference to Hanuman. In the Ramayana, the demon king Ravana captured Saturn in an attempt to avoid bad luck, and bound him in chains. After Ravana was defeated in battle, Ram asked Hanuman and the other monkey warriors to take care of the woman, children, and wounded. It was during a search that he found Saturn trapped in a dungeon and rescued him. As a show of gratitude, Saturn blessed him, promising that those who prayed to Hanuman would have Saturn’s negative effects reduced.
Another story, indicating the same result, is that Saturn once climbed on Hanuman’s shoulders and began to impose his oppressive influence. Hanuman then immediately grew in size to the point where Saturn was sandwiched between Hanuman’s shoulders and the ceiling. Writhing in pain, Saturn begged Hanuman to release him, and promised that those who prayed to Hanuman would have his negative effects mitigated.
Hanuman Sadhana (Spiritual Practices)
In the Hindu tradition, there is always a short japa mantra that can be repeated to invoke the qualities of any deity. Hanuman’s japa mantra is:
If one doesn’t have the time or interest to do a longer practice then chanting a japa mantra works very well. It can be easily memorized and repeated anytime, anywhere. Usually it’s repeated 108 times, using a japa mala (beaded necklace), but any number will be beneficial.
In 1992, I was told by a respected swami, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, that if I chanted Hanuman’s japa mantra it would give me an instant burst of energy and strength. It’s like a “double espresso mantra!” So, I gave it a try when I needed it most. That summer I was living at a yoga community in Nevada City, California and took a long hike down a slippery ravine to a secluded place on the Yuba river. I decided to take a nap after swimming, but when I woke up it was almost dark. I was still feeling drowsy and thought, “There’s no way I can make it back before it’s completely dark and the trail becomes dangerous.” But then I remembered what swamiji had said and began synchronizing my steps with Hanuman’s japa mantra. I was amazed at how quickly my energy shifted and I stormed uphill in no time. Now, when I feel fatigued but need to get something done, I often break out Hanuman’s japa mantra.
The primary practice for worshipping Hanuman is reciting the Hanuman Chalisa, the Forty Verses in Praise of Sri Hanuman. It takes 5-10 minutes to recite depending on the melody and tempo. If it’s chanted with concentration and sincerity then it’s tremendously beneficial, and time well spent.
My Jyotish guru, K.N. Rao, often recounts how the great yogi, Neem Karoli Baba, would suggest to his devotees to recite the Hanuman Chalisa whenever they faced any difficulty in their lives. It was the primary remedial measure, along with reciting the name of Ram (Ramnam japa), that Neem Karoli Baba suggested.
One of the best ways to learn the Chalisa is to listen to a recording and begin singing along with it. I recommend a Book/CD by Krishna Das, a Western devotee of Neem Karoli Baba. It’s called, Flow of Grace, and is designed to teach the Hanuman Chalisa.
It’s well worth it to memorize the Hanuman Chalisa, because then you can recite it anytime, anywhere: while you drive, wash dishes, fold laundry, etc. Memorization is the ancient Iphone App of the yogis, giving you an ultimate portable playlist. In 1992, I spent the whole summer memorizing the Chalisa, because I wanted to chant it during my first trip to India later that year. Once I got there, I tried to find rickshaw drivers that had Hanuman’s picture somewhere in the cab, and would sing the Chalisa while we drove. I’ll never forget how one driver in New Delhi was spilling over with enthusiasm as we sang it together all day. “Come on, just once more?!!” he’d ask laughing hysterically.
One drawback to the Chalisa is that chanting 40 verses is a long practice for most people, and obviously much more complicated than reciting Hanuman’s short japa mantra.
Another drawback, especially for Westerners, is that the Chalisa is usually sung in Hindi. This means that most Westerners don’t have a clue what they’re saying. If they haven’t learned the meaning, then it can seem like reciting gibberish for 5-10 minutes. This usually doesn’t get people excited enough to make it a regular practice, let alone commit it to memory.
The good news is that it can actually be chanted in English! An English translation was done by my teacher, Ramdas Lamb, Ph.D., in 1971 at the request of Neem Karoli Baba, while at the Hanuman Temple in Vrindavan, India. What’s unique about it is that it closely follows the same meter and rhyme pattern of the original Awadhi-Hindi version by Tulsidas, so that then any Chalisa melody can be chanted in English. Maharaji wanted Westerners to benefit by knowing the meaning of the Hanuman Chalisa so he asked Ramdas, who was a monk in the Ramananda order, to create an English version and share it with the devotees. At the time, Ramdas was studying a book on the Chalisa in Hindi and Neem Karoli Baba wrote “Ram Ram” in it and then asked him to do the translation. Ramdas is currently a professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Hawaii.
Chanting the Hanuman Chalisa in English has now become one of my favorite practices, because I’m constantly inspired by the meaning. I’ve spent the last two months memorizing it, and have found that it works with any Chalisa melody. My son Jai often asks me to sing it while we drive or before bed. One time I was singing it while folding laundry and got distracted so I stopped. Then, he surprised me by picking up where I left off! One time he said, “Daddy, Hanuman is so strong I bet he can pick you up!” I said, “Yes, Jai, Hanuman is picking me up all the time!”
Here’s a YouTube video that I made of the English version of the Hanuman Chalisa with lyrics to follow along, using one of my favorite melodies by Krishna Das. Jai Sri Hanumanji!