Ever noticed the idol of Goddess Durga during Durga puja, astride a lion, with ten arms, and in one holding her trident poised to kill the demon Mahisasur, the buffalo-demon? What is the significance of her ten arms, the lion and the trident she holds? These and more such symbolic representations are part of a specific art history known as iconography - the study of religious images in stone, metal or wall carvings. Images may be baked in clay; while brass, copper, bronze, silver or gold are commonly used metals to craft these images.
Gods, goddesses and celestial beings described in religious texts are amorphous, intangible or abstract concepts (amurta or nirguna in Sanskrit). It was not easy for the common man to relate to them, hence ancient civilisations created these images (samurta or saguna in Sanskrit). Thus, the image of a god with multiple hands is meant to describe his/her multiple abilities. Similarly, a god with multiple heads is an attempt to portray multiple aspects of his/her personality.
For example, the monkey god Maruti standing with folded hands in front of Lord Rama indicates his devotion to Lord Rama; the goddess Durga as Mahishasurmardini with many hands, carrying multiple weapons, indicates her proficiency in warfare and her immense power.
Hanuman, or Maruti, or Anjaneya as he is known, is a very popular god all over India. He is equally worshipped by all – rich and poor, illiterate as well as highly educated, in the urban as well as in rural areas. One is sure to locate a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, in almost every village in India.
In puranic (ancient) times, Hanuman was worshipped as an essential part of the Rama-panchayatan (the cluster of five includes Lord Rama and his wife Sita who were worshipped as one; his three brothers Laxman, Shatrughna, and Bharat, and his ardent devotee Hanuman - all form the panchayatan). Hanuman was not worshipped as an independent deity until several hundred years later.
It was only in the ninth century A.D. that Maruti was first worshipped as an independent deity and continues to be worshipped as one, even today. In almost all the Ram temples, the figure of Maruti is either standing or kneeling in front of Ram, whereas in most Maruti temples there's no figure of Ram. Maruti (son of Marut) the diety's popular name in Maharashtra and western India, Vayuputra another name that's popular in western and central India is believed to have assisted Vishnu during his avatar as Rama. He is called Hanuman ('the one with a broad chin) in the North and in South India, he's known as Anjaneya (son of Anjani).
Several Maruti icons commonly seen, are:
1. Das Maruti (Dasanjaneya): Maruti with hands in anjali-mudra (folded hands) appears in the pose of an ardent devotee, in the presence of Lord Ram. As a variant, he is depicted carrying Ram over his shoulders (Ramanjaneya).
2. Veer Maruti (Veeranjaneya): Maruti has the Dronagiri in one hand and a mace in the other, resting over his shoulder. He could also be depicted as crushing Jambumalya or Panouti under his feet.
Not so commonly found images of Maruti are Panchmukhi Maruti, Chapet-daan Maruti, Maruti flying back with Dronagiri, etc. Some images of Maruti depict four arms - the back upper arms carry the shankh (conch shell) and chakra (divine wheel of power).
Maruti is known for his extraordinary strength (Bajrang Bali) and yet, he's in complete servitude to Ram (Daas-Maruti or Ramanjaneya); he is known to have knowledge of the Vedas, shastras (Vedshastra-sampanna) and also of the arts and music.
Valmiki Ramayana's account of the first meeting between Ram and Maruti, describes how Ram was highly impressed by Maruti’s mastery over Sanskrit.
Hanuman was blessed with a body as strong as a vajra, therefore he is called vajr-anga Bali, i.e., Bajrang Bali. According to Tantra this is possible only for a Siddha yogi who has mastered all the eight siddhis. During his exploits in Lanka, because of his mastery over Ashta-siddhis, he could reduce his size to that of a small fly – anima (miniaturize), and increase his body size to a mountain - mahima (maximize), etc.
The earliest independent image of Hanuman ever worshipped was from the 8th or 9th century (on display in a museum in Lucknow).
Hanuman, the son of Kesari and Anjana is believed to be born from a portion of prasad (religious offering) dropped in Anjana's hands, by a kite, hence he is called Anjaneya, a very popular name in south India.
Hanuman is depicted on the coins and seals of many dynasties like Kalchuri, Chandel, Pandya, Yadav, Vijayanagar, Kadamb and Hoysala. Arcat Nabab Mehmood Ali Vajla had the figure of Hanuman on his coins, while on the coins of Prithvidev Kalchuri, we see Chatur-bhuj Hanuman.
Hanuman was tutored by Surya, the Sun God. While they were traversing the earth, Surya made him proficient not only in the Vedas and Shastras but also in the arts and music; and Hanuman was believed to have reached such high levels of proficiency to have defeated sage Narada in a contest.
He is one of the Chiranjeevis (immortals) and hence he plays a part in the epic of the Mahabharata.
Hanuman was presented and popularised by Saint Ramdas in Maharashtra and by Saint Tulsidas in north India.
Temples all over the country and abroad, wherever Ramayana is depicted through sculptures, have shown Hanuman integral to the theme.
Presenting individual icons of Hanuman that are popularly worshipped:
Chapet-daan Maruti Right hand in Chapet-daan mudra (open palm ready to slap away any evil); left hand rests over his waist as it holds a gadaa (mace).
Daas Maruti, in anjali mudra (arms folded in front of Ram), ever ready to follow his wishes.
Lanka Dahan Maruti, in Anjali (namaskar) mudra stands in front of Sita, while he holds Lord Rama’s ring. His up-turned tail has agni-jwala (flames) emanating from it.
Vyakhyan Maruti, fairly uncommon depiction of Maruti sitting cross-legged over a kamalasan and wearing a dhyan-patta around the hips and knees.
Yoga Maruti Yoganjaneya, Shilparatna (a 16th century classical text on traditional performing arts) mentions an esoteric form of Hanuman where he is depicted as a yogi sitting cross-legged on a pedestal, wearing a dhyan-patta. His right lower hand in abhay-mudra holds an aksha-mala (rosary) and his left hand rests on his left knee. Upper hands hold the shankh (conch) and chakra (divine wheel).
Shayan Hanuman, located at Jam Sawali Dist. Chhindwada (near Nagpur) M.P.
Shayan Hanuman, at the Temple at Malshiras (Zopya-Maruti), also at Khuldabad near Aurangabad
Panchmukhi Hanuman, with five heads and ten arms, with the heads representing heads of (1) Vanar facing front or east (2) Narasimha facing south (3) Garuda facing west (4) Varaha facing north (5) Hayagriva above the four heads is front-facing.
Vanar – monkey, Hanuman’s original face
Narasimha - eliminates fear
Garuda - possesses magical skills (patal-siddhi); cures snake-bites
Varaha - subdues evil spirits and eliminates diseases
Hayagriva - overcomes enemies
Hands on his right have go-mudrika, sword, trident, goad and mountain; while those on his left have a skull-cup, khatvang, noose, tree and chapet-daan mudra.
Hanuman crushing Panouti (sade-saati - the personification of the evil-eye) under his feet, foundat the Triloknath temple, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh. This is probably why people undergoing sade-saati (a recurring seven-and-a-half year period in one's life of challenging times) worship Shani-Maruti.
Veenadhar Anjaneya, Hanuman is seen standing with a veena (stringed musical instrument) in his right hand and a pothi (religious scriptures) in the left. A similar figure in metal is displayed in Tehetis Karod Devtaon ka Mandir at Junagad fort, Bikaner, Rajasthan.
Here, the veena indicates his mastery over music and the pothi (scriptures) indicates his mastery over the Vedas and scriptures (Ved-shastra-sampanna).
About the author: Dr Anand Kelkar is an orthopedic surgeon with an interest in iconography, mythology and art history. He is also an amateur artist specializing in landscapes and digital abstract art.
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