Hanuman, The Ally
Strong, resourceful monkey ally of Rama; a god in his own right
The monkey warrior Hanuman is a key player in the epic. He is celebrated for his prowess, determination, and loyalty. He finds and reaches Princess Sita after her abduction, helps achieve victories in combat, and protects Prince Rama and his brother in moments of danger. He has many of the qualities of a superhero. He can change his form, grow larger or smaller, and leap vast distances. His bravery and resourcefulness are renowned, and he is unconquered on the battlefield.
At the same time, Hanuman has qualities that may be less expected. He speaks refined Sanskrit and has a talent for storytelling. While he gets into situations that remind us of his monkey nature, as when his tail is set on fire and he quenches it in the ocean, he shows a non-monkey-like side in tender allegiance to his human friends. Hanuman continues to be widely beloved, with his adventures, and even tales of his childhood seldom presented in the arts in earlier centuries, spawning animated movies.
In fact, Hanuman is a paragon—an exemplar—of devotion to Rama and Sita. He relates to them as worshipers should to their chosen deity. He reveres them, loves them, and lives only to serve them. Over and over in traditional artworks (nos. 51–53) and in popular prints he kneels humbly before Rama and Sita. In India people usually think of Hanuman as celibate, with all of his love focused on Rama and Sita. In Southeast Asia, however, Hanuman is often seen as a ladies’ man, romancing female creatures from mermaids to demonesses.
Hanuman is a god in his own right, the most widely worshiped Hindu deity, it is sometimes said, in all of India. In modern times his importance seems to have been growing and taking on new aspects. He has become a patron saint of wrestlers, and is represented as increasingly muscular. He has come to be associated, for some people, with burgeoning Hindu nationalism.