“Many people today are confused about what constitutes real spiritually, about the qualities of a real leader, and as to how we can attain real peace and prosperity in these troubled times,” says award-winning storyteller Sankirtana Das, the New Vrindaban-based author of new book Hanuman’s Quest.
“I firmly believe that most people want to live a peaceful, principled and meaningful life. Both Hanuman’s story in the Ramayana and the story of Mahabharata are invaluable guides to help us understand and maneuver through today’s challenges.”
Released on February 7th and running at a brisk 116 pages, Hanuman’s Quest tells the story of Hanuman, the great hero and devotee of Lord Rama, and his adventures in the Ramayana.
Chapter titles include “Last of the Flying Mountains,” “Impending Danger,” “Hanuman’s Boons,” “Taken,” “The Search Begins,” “Hanuman’s Leap,” “Lanka Burns,” “The Bridge,” “Kumbakarna, the Colossus,” and more.
“This re-telling of Hanuman’s heroism, valiant feats, and charming escapades will surely entertain and delight readers,” comments Vineet Chander, Hindu Chaplain at Princeton University, in the foreward. “The author also beautifully brings out the more subtle wisdom nestled in these stories.”
The cover of Hanuman’s Quest
Sankirtana’s first venture into storytelling, it turns out, was telling a few of Hanuman’s stories at an event in Madison, Wisconsin in 1972. Over forty years later, in 2015, he began working on a book, but then got the opportunity to first create a CD with original background music by Sada Ruci Das and Tommy Raga at their Mystic Valley Studio.
The resulting product won the 2016 Storytelling World Award’s “Good for all ages” category, and was a huge hit with children.
“Every day my wife, who teaches at the Gopal’s Garden Homeschool Co-Op here in New Vrindaban, asks the kids what they would like to hear as they’re having lunch, and they clamor in unison ‘Hanuman’s Quest,’” Sankirtana says. “I’ve also heard from parents around the country who have thanked me for making the CD. Chaitanya Mangala Prabhu, an ECO-Vrindaban board member, told me that his young son wanted to hear it every morning as they drove to school.”
After releasing the CD, Sankirtana started another new project before returning to complete the Hanuman’s Quest book in 2019, which includes many more stories not heard on the CD.
For the work, he drew from or was inspired by Manmatha Nath Dutt’s first complete English prose translation, The Ramayana (1891-1894); Hari Prasad Shastri’s English translation, The Ramayana of Valmiki (1957); Radhanath Swami’s series of talks on Hanuman and the Ramayana during his 2014 Hampi Yatra (pilgrimage); and of course Srila Prabhupada’s translation of the Srimad Bhagavatam Ninth Canto, with its chapters on The Ramayana.
“As with my previous book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest, with this one I bring to bear my life’s work in theater and storytelling,” Sankirtana says. “The storyteller’s craft is especially meant to ignite the imagination, to help the listener, or reader, fill in the panoramic scenes, and probe the depths of the story. In this telling, I have attempted to remain true to the story while envisioning it as a film on the big screen.”
Sankirtana Das tells stories to a rapt audience at New Vrindaban
Sankirtana calls Hanuman “the world’s first superhero,” a “champion of Santana Dharma, with its four pillars of compassion, truthfulness, cleanliness and self-discipline,” and “one of the most extraordinary personalities found in all of the Vedic literatures.”
He describes Hanuman as a “skilled fighter, an agile gymnast, a poet, speaker, musician par excellence, and a scholar of Vedanta,” and says his his story remains extremely relevant to the world today.
“In the Ramayana, Sita, the daughter of the Earth, was harassed by Ravana,” he explains. “Today we have Mother Earth herself being abused by so many greedy, little Ravanas. Unchecked greed is destructive. Ravana’s greed and lust destroyed him and his entire dynasty.”
Hanuman’s story can also provide personal inspiration. “Hanuman has long been referenced to introduce moral and philosophical points, to help maneuver through life’s challenges, as well as for daily inspiration and meditation,” Sankirtana says. “He is a heroic, principled, and talented figure. The problem early in the story is that Hanuman has forgotten his true heritage and his extraordinary abilities. That’s the situation we’re in. We’re all spiritual beings but we have forgotten our heritage. Like Hanuman, we need someone to remind us who we really are.”
Hanuman’s Quest is already extremely popular with readers, with devotees buying extra copies for their friends.
“I particularly want devotees to use my books as a way to introduce this Krishna culture, tradition and spirituality to their friends,” Sankirtana says.
There are many other audiences for the book too. “I specifically wrote Hanuman’s Quest to be attractive to a wide audience: for those who have heard the stories from childhood; for use in the classroom; for those who don’t know anything at all about these Sanskrit classics; and of course for the youth,” Sankirtana goes on.
The author is already at work on several other book projects, including “In Search of Story,” based on a workshop he’s given over the years that helps people explore the pivotal stories in their life journeys.
Until then, readers are raving about Hanuman’s Quest. Krsnanandini Devi of the Dasi Ziyad Family Institute called it “a healing and empowering adventure,” and Kaustubha Das of the Wisdom of the Sages podcast joked, “Let me just say that every devotee, book worm, nerd or anyone that wants to know why I got a giant monkey tattooed on my chest will enjoy this.”
Dr. Ravi M. Gupta, Charles Redd Chair of Religious Studies at Utah State University commented, “In the long-lived and beloved Ramayana everyone’s favorite part is the story of Hanuman. Andy Fraenkel’s [Sankirtana Das’] fresh rendition is special because it maintains the oral nature of the story. The words glide off the tongue and you can almost hear the voice of an ancient bard. In fact, when I received my copy, I couldn’t help but read it out loud, drawing in the entire family. This retelling will capture the hearts and imaginations of young and old alike!”
These kinds of responses are encouraging for Sankirtana. “When readers connect with my book, I feel that I have succeeded,” he says. “The Vedic philosophy is also there. It’s icing on the cake. But I am not trying to convince anyone about anything. The main thing is that the books are story and character driven. I just want the reader to connect with the story and the personalities in the story on a visceral level; it’s that heart connection which helps to cultivate bhakti. Basically, when my readers are pleased, I feel that I have pleased Srila Prabhupada as well.”
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For more about Sankirtan’s books, visit https://mahabharata-project.com
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Archbishop Eric Escala, Continuing Anglican Church
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Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium