Bajrangbali Hanuman is known by more than 108 names like Marutinandan, Pawansuta, Chiranjeevi, Mangalmurti, Mahadhyuta, Manojavaya, Mahatapase, Kalanabha (organizer of time), Deenabandhave (defender of the oppressed) and Anjaneya (Son of Anjana) to his devotees all over the world.
An ardent devotee of Lord Rama, Hanuman is universally recognized all over the world as a symbol of strength and energy. He is also bestowed with infinite and miraculous powers which enable him to change his appearance- grow big or small, fly in the air, move mountains, gobbles up the Sun God, capture the clouds, fight the evil spirits (both demons and witches) – anywhere, anytime in just a few seconds. While doing any of the above activities he is always seen to be wielding a rather heavy mace (a celestial weapon) at all times.
An (incarnation) of Lord Shiva, Hanuman the son of Vayu (God of Wind), is one of the most popular and powerful characters in the Indian scriptures best known for his contribution in both Ramayan and Mahabharat. Though openly identified for his role in the epic Ramayana, not much is known about his precise contribution during Mahabharat.
One of the central actors in the epic Ramayan, Hanuman is known to have changed the course of history by– going to Lanka as Lord Rama’s ambassador, setting flame to King Ravan’s Lanka (made of pure Gold), lift a mountain to get Sanjeevni (a herbal medicine) to cure an unresponsive Laxman, assembling an impromptu army of Vanars to fight on behalf of Lord Ram (being on exile. he did not have any army with him).
Truly speaking van means “forest”, while nar stands for men. They were supernatural forest-dwellers bestowed with great power and godly traits like Vali, Sugriv, and Hanuman who lived in the forest and had monkey-like characteristics such as hair, fur or tail but resembled the humans in terms of speech, clothing, or habitation. According to ancient Hindu scriptures the Vanars created by Lord Brahma to help King Ram in the battle against Ravan. They attained the shape and valor of the gods and goddesses who sired them and looked like bears and monkeys (their forefathers).
According to ancient epics the Vanars were inhabitants of Kishkindha region where King Rama initially met them while searching for Sita. The Vanaras boldly agreed to help Lold Rama fight against Ravan, and get Sita back. Nala the son of Vishwakarma (a reputed engineer in the vanara army) and another vanara called Nila (an architect built the Rama Setu, a bridge across the ocean between Rameswaram and modern-day Sri Lanka, to enable Lord Rama’s troops to reach Lanka. Extra ordinary efforts like this helped Lord Ram’s fragile and seemingly disjointed army to fight and win the Mahabharat war.
However very little is known about Chiranjeevi (immortals who live forever and cannot die) Hanuman’s crucial role in the epic Mahabharat as the elder brother of Bhim (they were sons of the same father, Vayu). This is why his name is mentioned in the Mahabharat- first when he met Bhim and secondly when consented to Lord Krishan’s proposal to protect Arjun during the Kurukshetra war by remaining as a lucky charm and symbol strength and intellect on the flag atop Arjun’s chariot.
It is believed that inconspicuously seated on the flag of Arjun’s chariot Lord Hanuman was always present by his side and protected him during the fierce war. A relatively unknown story reveals that — once on a pilgrimage to sacred Rameswaram in South India, Arjun couldn’t help being amazed by the sight of the famous Nala Setu built by Rama’s army to go across and reach Lanka. Out of the blue, a thought came up in Arjun’s mind and left him deeply puzzled and jolted him forcibly. He was thinking of Lord Ram when suddenly a doubt came up in his mind.
“Surprisingly why does Keshav consider Ram, the eldest son of Dashrath (Dasa -ten and rath – chariot) a better warrior than me? If he is so good why did he need Nal the king of Nishadha and the Vanars sena – a group of people living in forests (Van – forest, nar – humans) to build the bridge when he could have single-handedly made a huge bridge of arrows?
Wass Ram such a good archer as Krishan and Bheeshma project him in front of me?” he thought.
This doubt cluttered his mind and he started doubting Krishan and Bheeshma’s version that Ram was indeed the world’s best archer of all times. Meanwhile, Hanuman who was meditating nearby at Gandhamardan Parbat known for its medicinal plants close to Balangir and Bargarh district of present-day Odisha came to know of Arjun’s thoughts.
According to the legend during the Tretaya Yug in the middle of the battle between Ram and Ravan Sushena’s the renowned physician asked Hanuman to bring Bisalyakarani – an herb as soon as possible from the Himalaya Mountain to immediately save Lakshman’s life and revive him. Hanuman who had never seen the herb before couldn’t identify the herb so he carried the entire Himalayan mountain and was flying back to Lanka when a small portion dropped down and overtime the entire mountain called Gandhamardan where more than 250 species of medicinal plants grow came up there. Today the historic Sri Nrusinghanath temple (built by King of Patnagarh, Baijal Singh Dev in 1313 A.D.) has a 28 ft Hanuman Statue and attracts thousands of pilgrims from far and wide is situated on the northern slope of Gandhamardhan Hill 110 km west of Baragarh and 164 km from Sambalpur. This area is so rich in medicinal plants that two Ayurvedic colleges and hospitals can be found on both sides of Gandhamardan — one in Bargarh district and the other in Balangir. Apart from this the famous Sri Sri Harisankar Devasthana Temple depicting the rare images of Lord Vishnu and Shiva is located on the southern slope of the Gandhamardhan hills.
Meanwhile, Hanuman who had correctly read Arjun’s thoughts appeared before him in the guise of an ordinary, old Vanaras and said, ”Friend, I know what is bothering you. But you probably do not know the complete story. Let me tell you that our Vanaras ancestors were so huge and heavy that it may not have been possible to enable thousands of crores of the very heavy Vaanaras on a bridge of arrows to Lanka. So in all probability, Lord Ram the best archer of his time decided to construct the bridge using huge stones, rocks, and boulders.”
But strangely Hanuman’s logic instead of satisfying Arjun made him all the more uncomfortable. “Don’t try to fool me. I myself am an archer and know how to construct a bridge of arrows that can withstand huge weights. If Lord Ram was such a good archer, he could have built an even a much sturdier bridge which could have taken almost double the number of vanaras”, Arjun argued.
“Had I been there, I too could have done so,” he added.
This made Hanuman go wild with rage. How could he hear such absurd remarks against his master – who lived in his heart and dreams anytime in the day or night? Such was his devotion and veneration that wherever he closed his eyes – he would hear the name Ram in his ears, his hands clasped together as a mark of respect and tears rolled down his eyes.
Hanuman obviously did not like the criticism of his master but controlled himself and calmly told Arjun, “No archer howsoever good can construct such a bridge that can withstand the weight of 1000s of heavy and hefty vanaras. You seem to be a Kshatriya and a warrior yourselves. I would like to openly challenge you. Can you construct a bridge of arrows that can withstand the weight of even a fragile old Vanaras like me?
Arjun accepted the challenge and agreed to build a bridge of arrows on a nearby river. Hanuman would then try to go across and Arjun would be declared the winner if the bridge could sustain his weight. However, if he lost, he would self-immolate himself over a burning pyre.
This was indeed a serious competition so Arjun concentrated on building a bridge of arrows that could withstand Hanuman’s weight — using all his skills and strength. When his time came, Hanuman simply kept his tail on the bridge chanting the name of Lord Ram and the bridge crashed like a slab of butter and red-hot knife.
As decided Arjun prepared a pyre and lit it but just as he was going to climb on it, a Brahmin (Lord Krishan in disguise) appeared on the scene. He didn’t want his dear friend and devotee Arjun to lose his life. So like a clever defense lawyer Krishan asked Arjun and Hanuman if their act was noticed by a witness. They understandably denied and said there was none. Secretly enjoying the whole drama Lord Krishan told them point-blank to attempt the game or challenge again because the previous attempt was illegal without a witness. Just to ensure that it was a legitimate, unbiased, objective, and legally acceptable contest Arjun offered to be the witness and asked Arjun to build the bridge again.
Arjun did so and built the bridge again keeping Lord Krishan’s image in his eyes. Hanuman once again climbed the bridge but nothing happened and the bridge was able to support his weight.
Amazed at the result, both Arjun and Hanuman looked around and saw that Lord Krishan in disguise as a Brahmin had lent his shoulder to the bridge so that it could sustain Hanuman’s weight but in the process, he was heavily injured and bleeding profusely.
Hanuman immediately recognized Lord Ram standing in front of him in the guise of the Brahmin while Arjun was convinced he was Lord Krishan.
Hanuman started weeping inconsolably. It came as shock to him that Lord Ram had to wield the weight of the bridge and his shoulder was bleeding because of him! This is when Lord Krishna an incarnation of Lord Ram hugged Hanuman and told him that he was grateful and indebted by Hanuman’s gesture in treta yug- the second out of the four stages of mankind. “I am highly indebted. You have done so much for me. I can’t even if I try repay your debt, which no one can even equal,” he said.
You carried me on your shoulders in this yug, so as a mark of respect I will affectionately carry your dearest friend on my shoulders in the Dvapar Yug the third out of four stages of life in Hinduism.
Realizing his mistake Arjuna touched Hanuman’s feet and asked his forgiveness. Hanuman not only blessed him but added “As an act of repentance, I shall stabilize and protect your chariot in the impending great battle that is “, said Hanuman.
“So be it. You shall be present on the banner of Arjun’s chariot when he rides on to the battle in the Great War,” Lord Krishan sealed the promise made to each other.
This is Hanuman remained present on the flag atop Arjun’s chariot in the battle at Kurukshetra.
A few decades later Krishan met Hanuman who agreed to be seated on the Arjun’s flag for the total duration of Mahabharat War which lasted 18 days. About 1.66 billion warriors were killed in the bloodiest battle one of the greatest of Indian epic which heralded the beginning of the Kalyug
On the last day of the war, Lord Krishan asked Arjun to step down and after he did so thanked Hanuman for being there till the end. Lord Hanuman bowed and left the chariot which caught fire as soon as he left. Arjun was flabbergasted to see all this and asked Lord Krishan why did the chariot catch fire? This is when Lord Krishan told him that the chariot would have been burnt and destroyed a long ago if Lord Hanuman sitting atop the flag did not protect from the celestial weapons.