Hanuman Leaps Across the Ocean
This painting from the National Museum, New Delhi depicts Hanumān crossing the ocean to reach Lanka and is from a folio from the Shangri Rāmāyaṇa from the 18th century. As he passes through the glistening rain-filled clouds in the sky, disappearing then appearing once again from behind the clouds, In the words of Valmiki, Hanumān appears, as he flies through the sky, “like the moon who shines and is hidden alternately”. On seeing Hanumān flying past, celestial beings such as the devas and gandharvas shower him with floral blossoms. Specifically, the folio depicts the moment when Hanumān has just taken a gigantic leap from the Mahendra mountain. Hanumān flies in the sky with effortless ease, his long wrap fluttering in the wind. Far beneath him, from the depths of the ocean emerges gigantic Mainaka mountain.
In the Kishkinda kanda of the Valmiki Rāmāyaṇa, Hanumān, tasked with leaping across the ocean to rescue Sita, is dejected, cursed by the great sages to forget his own physical capabilities. Jambavan encourages him by recounting the story of his birth and his encounter with Indra and urges him to take on the mammoth task.
बलं बुद्धिश्च तेजश्च सत्त्वं च हरिपुङ्गव।
विशिष्टं सर्वभूतेषु किमात्मानं न बुध्यसे।।4.66.7।।
‘O leader of the monkeys! you are superior in strength, wisdom, brilliance and valour to all beings. Why do you not realise your own strength?’
‘O Hanumān, tiger among monkeys, rise up and cross this great ocean. You have that supreme capacity among all beings.’
With that Hanumān, inspired and now knowing the task is not too tremendous for him to achieve with ease, rises with a newfound confidence. In order to cross a hundred yojanas, Hanumān, the best of monkeys, expanded his might and strength. Beholding him, a warrior of great strength, all the vānaras filled with enthusiasm and collectively gave up their grief. They rejoiced and propitiated him, while celebrating jubilantly. Seeing Hanumān’s magnificent size, they were wonderstruck, just as all beings were when they saw Lord Nārāyaṇa in his incarnation of Vāmana. Upon expanding into a humungous size, the wise Hanumān’s face was bright, glowing like a burning oven and shining like smokeless fire.
Hanumān, having risen from the midst of the monkeys, saluted reverentially to the elderly bear-king Jambavan and said :
‘The Windgod is a friend of fire who is a powerful consumer of oblations. His strength is immeasurable. He wanders in the sky and shatters the mountain tops. I am the son of the swift-moving Windgod, Maruta, comparable to him in physical prowess.’
Jambavan blesses Hanumān who had realized the true depth of his immeasurable strength. ‘By the blessings of the sages and by the grace of the elderly monkeys may you be victorious in crossing over the vast ocean.’
Hanumān then addressed the vānaras that were gathered there:
‘The earth cannot bear the thrust of my leaping. O monkeys! when I leap, I can crush mountains into dust and pull the vast ocean with me with the force of my thighs.’
Saying so, He ascended the great mountain Mahendra, whose peaks he surmised could withstand the crushing force of his feet as he lept over a hundred yojanas. Full of grassland inhabited by deer, thickly grown with various trees and creepers full of fragrant flowers and fruits, where lions, tigers and proud elephants roamed, Mahendragiri mountain was a place that echoed with the mesmerizing sounds of birds and waterfalls.
As the mighty Hanumān, who was equal to Indra in valor attempted to lift off from Mount Mahendra, the huge mountain, crushed by his feet, looked like a proud elephant that had been struck by a lion. The rocks of the mountain got scattered by the sheer force. Deer and elephants were terrified. The trees were shaken violently and streams of water gushed forth. Taken aback by the rude shock, couples of intoxicated gandharvas left the vast slopes of the great mountain in a huff . Flocks of birds and groups of vidyadhāras flew away and serpents went into hiding. The sages, alarmed and agitated, abandonned the mountain peaks.
The mountain was shaken for a moment by Hanumān’s action, which caused the flowers to drop down from the tree tops. With heaps of flowers full of fragrance fallen from the trees all over the mountain, it looked as though it was a mountain of flowers. The mountain, pressed hard under the feet of the valiant Hanumān, discharged streams of water just as an elephant in rut would exude mada, the secretion of intoxication.
Hanumān, huge as a mountain, moved his body and shook the hair on his body, thundering like a cloud. Like the king of birds Garuḍa would shake a serpent, he shook his tail covered with hair in order to take off. The monkey fixed his arms, which resembled iron clubs, firmly on the mountain and crouched his waist and contracted his feet.
A mighty elephant among vanaras, Hanumān holding his feet firmly and standing in that position, contracted his ears and addressed the monkeys, just as he was about to leap:
‘Just like an arrow released by Rāghava would fly, I too will proceed with the speed of the wind to reach Lanka ruled by Ravana.’
With that, he took flight, and the son of the Windgod flew through the sky with his coiled up tail, looking splendid like the banner installed at the festival in honour of Indra (on the fifteenth day of the month of Bhādrapada). With his white teeth and curled tail, the wise son of the Windgod looked splendid like the halo of the Sungod.
Upon seeing Hanumān crossing the massive ocean, the gods, gandharvas and demons rained flowers on him. The Sun spared Hanumān from the heat and even the Windgod served him by blowing cool while he endeavored to fulfil Rāma’s mission. The sages praised him while he was coursing through the sky, the gods and gandharvas sang praise of him extolling his majesty and vigour. Observing the unwearied monkey the nagas, yakshas, the demons and learned sages praised him. While the monkey-chief was leaping across the ocean, the Seagod wished the wellbeing of the Ikṣvāku dynasty and honored him.
The Seagod, who belonged to the same Ikṣvāku clan, thought to himself, ‘If I fail to help the monkeychief, the wise will blame me. I benefitted on account of a scion of the Ikṣvāku race (the famed King Sāgara who brought the Gaṅgā to earth from the heavens) and I should not be an impediment to his task of helping Rāma.’
Having resolved to help Hanumān in any manner possible, he decided to make arrangements for him to rest in the midst of his journey. For this, the Sea God Varuṇa addressed the noble, golden mount Mainaka, hidden in the depths of the sea:
‘O foremost mountain you are kept here by Indra, lord of the gods as a barrier against the intrusion of demons residing in the netherworld. You are at the entrance, preventing the violent demons of the immeasurable nether world from jumping to the surface. O noble mountain! you have the capacity to expand across, upward and downward freely by your will. I therefore prompt you to grow. Valiant Hanumān, a tiger among monkeys is flying over you to fulfil Rāma’s mission. Rise up from the waters. Let him rest on you since this noble monkey is our guest and worthy of worship. O golden-peaked mountain! you are the refuge of the gods and gāndharvas. Let him also rest on you for a while before he negotiates the remaining part of the journey.’
Hearing the command of the god of the ocean, mount Mainaka, rich in gold and covered with trees and creepers rose up at once from the water. Just as the rising Sun comes out with glowing rays tearing the veil of dark clouds, the mountain rose up from the water of the ocean. At the insistence of Varuṇa, the lofty mountain appeared, projecting its peaks, hitherto submerged in the water. The golden peaks inhabited by nāgas and kinnāras resembled the rising Sun. The noble mountain, Mainaka glittered like a thousand Suns with its self-effulgent golden peaks shining against the sky.
Hanumān, who saw this mountain rising ip from the depths of the ocean, considered it an obstacle being put in his path, and struck the mountain with his chest just as the wind would strike a cloud. Felled by the vānara’s speed, the tall mountain overwhelmed with joy roared in a high pitch. Now the mountain assumed a human form and standing on its own summit, and glad at heart, addressed the heroic vānara suspended in the sky.
‘The son of Rāma’s family, Sāgara, has extended the breadth of the ocean in the past. It is most appropriate that he (Varuṇa, the god of the sea) honours you in return as you have set out in the service of Rāma. O great monkey, you may rest here for a while and continue your journey. O foremost of the monkeys, after eating plenty of sweet and tasty roots and fruits and resting a while, you may resume your honorable journey’.
The great Hanumān, though pleased with the words of Mainaka, and his offer of hospitality, declined as the day set (for the accomplishment of the task) was drawing to a close. As a bhakta of Rāma and with single-minded determination to accomplish the task, he replied that ‘A vow is made and I will not halt in the middle of my work.’
Having said this, the mighty monkey gently touched the mountain with his hands before ascending to the sky.
- Valmiki Ramayana
- Hanumān in the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki and the Rāmacaritamānasa of Tulasī Dāsa by Catherine Ludvik
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