My ten year-old-son asked me the other day who my favourite superhero was. I knew where that came from. Visibly stirred by the artificial action in an Avengers flick that he knows he mustn’t believe in as they are a figment of American imagination directed at brainwashing the world’s children to buy overpriced merchandise, he possibly wanted to dwell on the topic of superheroes. I asked him whether he wanted a fictional name or a non-fictional one. “There are real ones in the world, you mean?”
Of course, pat came my reply. Who else is Bhagwan Hanuman? He is the original superhero, right? My bub was intrigued. He switched off the television, took out his Amar Chitra Katha titles on Hanuman, pored over them for the next one hour, only to return with some relevant observations.
“You are right,” he said and then we spoke on this for a while. If you come to think of it, Shri Hanuman, who is part of our Sanatani history, never really needed a commercial tag of a ‘superhero’ but in terms of valour, might, intentions, balance and heart, isn’t he the most obvious superhero we had? Interestingly, so pervasive was his power over our consciousness, that even after years of Islamic invasions and colonisation, when we want to feel reassured in hours of weakness and insecurity, he is the God we reach out to. Look around yourself, in every tiny nook of Bharat, you will find a Hanuman temple. Not a day goes when people don’t offer their prayers to Him, seeking His protection from harm. There is a strange calming power in the Hanuman Chalisa as it is chanted in the wee hours of the day before Bharatiya denizens set out to battle against the daily grind. He is authentic and credible enough without some fancy superhero name but wasn’t he behaving all throughout like one? Yes, we might not have expensive films made on him (ideally that should happen now as we have the resources and it is easier to capture the imagination of impressionable children using such visual tools) and only relied on badly scripted cartoons, but once we delve into ancient literature, there is ample proof of Hanuman ji’s gallant antics not just for Shri Ram but for all of us.
On Hanuman Janmotsav, I think this is something we must talk about today so that the discussion percolates to the masses, especially our children. Especially when their minds have been systematically trained to just fall for the synthetic narratives of the West. We must tell them that people from every part of India (in West Bengal, women also observe a weekday fast in Hanuman ji’s name) deeply revere the ‘action hero’ personality of Pawanputra Hanuman not just because he is the ultimate protector, but he is upheld as an ideal of humility and devotion despite being a superstar in his own right.
These qualities are described in the Sanskrit verse, too. ‘Yatra yatra Raghunatha kirtanam tatra tatra krta-mastakanjalim/vashpavari paripurna lochanam Marutim namata rakshasa-antakam.’ It means, ‘Wherever the glory of Rama is sung, there, with his hands clasped over his bowed head and eyes overflowing with tears, is Hanuman; I salute Hanuman who vanquishes demons’. Hanuman is considered a nityasuri or the one who is free of karma for eternity. He is also believed to be still on Earth to help us in our struggles through life, quite literally so. No wonder, wherever the Ramayana is recited, there is a palaha or seat of honour reserved for Hanuman. He is thought to be in attendance. I remember a Durga Puja pandal we went to as children where in front of the celestial murti of Devi Durga, there was always a bright orange statue of Hanuman ji. The organisers of the Puja belonging to a Byam Samity never forgot to pay their pious respects to the kavacham or protective presence of the son of Anjani and Pawan.
Long before Superman, Batman, Hulk, Ironman or even Shaktimaan (sad that India always wanted to ape the West instead of probing into its remarkable history) there was Hanuman. He wasn’t just all brawn. He was a consummate all-rounder with qualities like intelligence, patience, compassion, helpfulness and grace peppering his spiritual aura. Bajranjbali was devoted to a larger cause, he was humble, and of course immensely strong. Born in a family of monkeys, to King Kesari and his wife Anjana, Hanuman grew up to be multi-skilled. His pivotal role in the Ramayana is acknowledged in the whole of Southeast Asia, albeit in different forms and with varying legends. Honestly, I think it is high time to declare that he has a greater fan following than most other of the Mans. At least that’s what the original Superhero should have!
Sharmi Adhikary is a senior lifestyle journalist and columnist with a yen for exploring interesting concepts in fashion, culture and cinema.