This March 24th, devotees around the world will put extra focus on the essence of Gaudiya Vaishnavism—loving service to God—as we celebrate the appearance day of Lord Ramachandra, God’s form as the ideal leader. And who better to follow as the perfect example of selfless, devoted service than Lord Rama’s greatest devotee, the monkey warrior Hanuman?
We cannot, of course, imitate Hanuman’s actions. This is someone, who, as a newborn baby, tried to eat the sun because he thought it was a delicious-looking fruit, and would have succeeded had not Indra the lord of the demigods stopped him by striking him unconscious with his deadly thunderbolt weapon. He was then personally revived and granted untold powers by the creator Brahma, in an effort to pacify his father Vayu, the God of wind, who in a fury had taken away the ability to breathe from every living entity in the universe.
We can, however, follow Hanuman’s example of using his talents and capacities to the fullest in the Lord’s service.
Hanuman’s talent was strength, and a quick study of his life reveals endless examples of his using it to the fullest. When Rama’s wife Sita devi was kidnapped by the demon king Ravana, Hanuman jumped, with playful disregard, across thousands of miles of fathomless ocean to warn Ravana to release her.
Then, when the demon refused and launched an attack on him, Hanuman proceeded to kill eighty thousand of Ravana’s “Rakshasa” soldiers, then the great demon Jambumali, then the seven sons of Ravana’s ministers, the five commanders of Ravana’s armies, and finally Ravana’s own son Akshaya-kumara. He then set fire to the entire demon city of Lanka, before jumping back across the ocean to Lord Rama, who was extremely pleased with him when he delivered the news that Sita was safe.
Then it was time to go to war, and once again it was Hanuman who took the initiative, directing and participating in the construction of a bridge across the ocean to Lanka.
During the battle, Hanuman carried both Lord Rama and his brother Sri Lakshmana on his broad, strong back during confrontations with Ravana and Ravana’s deadly son Indrajit. In fact, Scriptures describe Hanuman as the best of all the Lord’s carriers, including Vishnu’s bird carrier Garuda.
One of Hanuman’s greatest moments occurred when Indrajit struck with black magic in the middle of the night, severely wounding Lakshmana and knocking him unconscious. Listening to advice from the physician Susena, Hanuman headed for Gandhamadana mountain in the Himalayas to bring back the herb visalya-karani, which alone could save the lives of Lakshmana and the many vanara soldiers that had also been injured. To do this, Hanuman had to defeat an army of protective demigods, uproot the entire mountain because he couldn’t distinguish which plant was the correct one, and swiftly return before it was too late.
Reading about all these incredible feats, we may feel inadequate. “How ridiculous will my meager efforts seem next to those of a devotee such as Hanuman?” we may think. “Will Lord Rama even care?”
A story from Hanuman’s own life answers this question. While Hanuman was hefting huge mountain tops into the sea to build the bridge to Lanka, he noticed a tiny spider brushing small particles of dust into the water with its legs to assist Lord Rama. He was about to brush the spider out of the way of his own serious work, when Ramachandra admonished him, saying, “Give up your pride! This spider’s devotional service is just as satisfying to me as yours. You are serving me according to your capacity, and he is serving Me according to his capacity.”
Two powerful lessons emerge here: the first is that whoever we are, we always have something to offer the Lord—and if we serve to our fullest capacity, with all our heart and soul, it will be accepted by Him as first class devotion. The second is that as we strive to do our best for the Lord, and progress in our service, we should never obstruct or belittle another’s devotional service, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to us.
Hanuman’s many feats of strength do not make him a brute—rather, he is very soft-hearted and caring. When he jumped across the ocean to warn Ravana and kill many of his men, for instance, he also gently comforted Sita in her distress, giving her Rama’s ring to assure her of his allegiance and promising her that her Lord would come and save her soon. Such care earned him a deep embrace from his master upon his return.
When the battle had ended and Lord Ramachandra had killed Ravana, Hanuman once again visited Sita, who was still in captivity, and brought life and joy back to her when he told her the good news. He then personally took her to meet her husband.
The Lord deeply appreciated such service, favoring Hanuman by presenting him with Sita’s gold necklace and granting him unflinching pure devotion to himself, Rama.
A devotee is very uncomplicated—his life is simply dedicated to doing whatever will please the Lord. This simplicity and innocent devotion is illustrated in a story told at Hanuman temples all over India.
When Hanuman was delivering Rama’s message and ring to Sita while she was being held captive by Ravana, he saw her applying reddish vermillion—known as “sindhur” or “kumkum”—in the parting in her hair, and asked what its purpose was.
“It is to give my husband Sri Rama a long life and to protect him from calamities,” Sita explained.
Hearing this, Hanuman thought, “If just a pinch of sindhur can protect Rama, how safe will a huge amount keep him?” He then promptly covered his entire body with sindhur.
When he returned to the other side of the ocean, where Rama was preparing his army of monkey warriors for war, the commander-in-chief Sugriva burst into laughter. Rama, however, gravely asked Hanuman why he had done such a thing. When Hanuman told him, Rama was deeply moved by this innocent show of Bhakti and proclaimed that any devotee who worshipped Hanuman with sindhur would receive His mercy and be able to cross all obstacles in devotional service.
Today, devotees at temples across India still worship Hanuman by anointing his deity form with sindhur.
Hanuman is also endowed with many other wonderful qualities, all of which he uses to serve Lord Rama. In the Vaishnava text Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, the traveling saint Narada Muni learns of these while searching for the greatest devotee of the Lord.
The book describes Hanuman as free of all fear, strictly celibate, and extremely intelligent—he is a skilled poet, thoroughly learned in all Vedic literature, and gave excellent strategic advice during the battle with Ravana.
He also carried out medical services, treating Rama’s battlefield wounds, and sang beautiful songs for the Lord’s pleasure.
While Lord Rama was living in the forest, on exile from his kingdom, Hanuman used his huge white tail to provide the Lord with a white umbrella—a traditional symbol of royalty at the time. The same tail also served as a sunscreen canopy, a fan, and, when Hanuman was serving as the Lord’s vehicle, a flag.
Yet despite rendering all these services to Lord Rama, when the Lord offered him liberation as a reward, Hanuman did not accept it—he did not want anything in return other than more service.
“Even though liberation destroys the bondage of material existence,” Hanuman told Rama, “I have no desire for liberation, in which I would forget that You are the master and I am Your servant.”
It is stated in the scriptures that wherever rama-katha, stories about Rama, are recited, Hanuman comes to listen. He makes every endeavor to increase the bliss of Lord Ramachandra’s devotees, both in ancient times and today.
It is also said that the immortal Hanuman has vowed to remain in this world as long as the holy names of Rama are chanted.
Sure enough, ISKCON devotees all over the world are chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, which contains the name of Rama, every day.
So on the sacred appearance day of Lord Rama, as we hear stories of his pastimes, and chant the Hare Krishna mantra—the essence of which translates as “My dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service”—we can be sure that the great monkey warrior Hanuman is right there with us, listening and increasing our desire to serve his Lord.