Progress seems to be stalked by paradox. A decade later a child could be hard put to believe that not long ago there was life on earth without mobiles, selfies, internet, etc. or whatever might have become their shape by then. At the same time, the force with which we are reinforcing certain extant elements of medievalism, it will be difficult for the child to believe that there was a time when “Dalit” meant anything other than a congeries of castes. This author views “Dalit” as a significant word even in its current usage, conveying reality and implying protest, but this usage must not be perpetuated. We must envisage a future when the tradition of caste has become a past.
However, identifying Hanuman as a Dalit in either the old or the current sense of the term would have mystified the seer-poet Valmiki and defied the farsightedness of any savant of any genre. The association of social injustice and prejudice the word conjures up in our mind simply does not relate either to the genesis or to the glorious career of Hanuman. But the remark was obviously made in good faith, probably because Hanuman and his tribe led by Sugriva had been rendered practically outcaste by the tyrannical Vali, living as oppressed till Rama’s intervention.
Be that as it may, since a time of great excitement and stormy exchange is unrolling before the nation as an inevitable backdrop to the approaching elections, vocabularies will be ransacked by orators in search of powerful similes and metaphors and the hoary characters from our epics will be dragged into the arena. Already modern Indian literature is replete with mythological characters reconstructed with contemporary notions of realism or psychology.
Here is a sample of the quality of creativity behind such ventures, from a popular prose version of the Mahabharata in English: At the royal court of Hastinapura, when Duhshasana tried to disrobe Draupadi, why did Krishna intervene miraculously making the length of her sari inexhaustible? Because she was his relative and because once Draupadi had “bandaged” Krishna’s wound by tearing a part of her own “expensive dress” and because both were self-born. The mighty assurance that the episode had given to millions through the ages that while all the human beings could fail a person in distress, the Divine alone never failed if one turned to Him, had no place in the interpretation.
The vision of the epic poets encompassed larger vistas than our logic-based perception can. They saw invisible forces from several occult planes, supra-rational as well as infra-rational, participating or intervening in human affairs. Not only Valmiki and Vyasa, but also Homer narrated their role in gross terms because they were as real to them as the human encounters. Once upon a time the listeners or readers of the epics possessed the faculty that recognised such intermingling. But evolution’s agenda required fuller development of our rational capacity. The process pushed our intuitive and supra-sensory genius to the back of our surface mind. Today one may not accept this theory, but to try fit
the epic characters or situations to the Procrustean bed of our notions is unpardonable ingratitude.
Hanuman was, in the mystic parlance, a ‘vital being’—a member of an extinct species, the vanaras, equidistant from man and the ape as far as their physical traits went. But individually Hanuman’s was an enlightened consciousness. The sun represents jnana (wisdom) in spiritual symbolism and Hanuman was educated by him. His wisdom helped him recognise the divine in Rama and thereafter he became the personification of bhakti (devotion). For the sake of his Master to whom his surrender was total he performed karma (action) of incredible proportions, natural and supernatural. Thus was he perceived as jnanayogi, bhaktiyogi and karmayogi—all in one, an example of synthesis. According to a prophecy he is the Brahma (Creator) of the future, a promise of fulfilment for the mankind still in the making.
Meditations on the epic characters revealed several inspiring scenes in the visions of mystics. Here is one on Hanuman, funny at the start but ending with a profound revelation of the raison d’être of his being: All the lieutenants of Rama during his mission to rescue Sita attended his coronation in Ayodhya. One moonlit night, while enjoying dinner at an open yard, a young vanara pressed a berry and its seed leaped up. “You are showing me how to jump, are you? Look!” said the vanara and instantly made a show of his capacity at high jump. “That’s all?” asked the vanara next to him and he too jumped up. In a moment several vanaras were at the feat, each trying to do better than the others.
A little away sat Hanuman, relaxed. A friend walked up to him and said, “These chaps are unaware of your presence. Shouldn’t you shame them by a sudden jump?” Hanuman smiled but kept quiet. As a few noblemen who enjoyed the festive goings-on also repeatedly requested Hanuman for a show, softly he spoke, “Not even an iota of my power can I spend except for the service to my Lord!”
That was Hanuman. Let us not disturb his poise. It is unfortunate if there should be any quarrel on his identity in a totally different milieu. It is simply absurd that Valmiki should be questioned as to why he did not portray him as a normal human being!
Eminent author and recipient of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship