BOOK REVIEW: Hanuman by Anant Pai

Hanuman (1)Hanuman by Anant Pai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in page

 

This comic book is one volume in a huge collection of graphic depictions of Indian mythology (not only Hindu, but also Buddhist, Jain, secular folklore, etc.) Having lived in India for the better part of a decade now, I must admit that, sadly, my understanding the country’s mythology and folklore is not up to snuff. In my defense, I have often found that my Indian friends tend to have a varied and or tenuous grasp of the subject, a given person might know about some story or deity in considerable detail, but know virtually nothing about others – even if they are relatively popular tales. It’s just such a huge and disparate collection of stories that only experts are capable of both a breadth and depth of understanding of the topic. Even those books that attempt to simplify, making the subject comprehensible to a layman, often get bogged down in the vast number of characters and stories. Having stumbled upon this series on Amazon Prime, I thus decided to change tack and take in Indian Myth and Folklore in the chewable (if child-centric) bites offered by these comic books.

This book tells the story of the monkey-god, Hanuman, particularly his role in the story told in the “Ramayana.” If one is looking for a broader story than that, you may be disappointed. Anyway, this tale seemed like a good place to start because I already knew the story, at least in broad brush strokes. Thus, I had some basis for comparison of how this series tells the story. In a nutshell, the story revolves around the conflict between Rama and Ravana. Ravana has absconded with Rama’s wife, Sita, and is holding her hostage at his stronghold in Lanka, attempting unsuccessfully to woo her. (Though the latter part is not addressed, herein.) Hanuman enters the scene because he allies with Rama, and the monkey-god is sufficiently superpowered to leap the sea from coastal India to Sri Lanka. Hanuman, therefore, goes to Ravana’s territory to reconnoiter. When discovered, Hanuman makes a daring (if mischievous) escape to report back to Rama. The monkey-god then plays a crucial role in Rama’s battle against Ravana.

The only part of the story that I remembered from before that wasn’t addressed was the bit about Rama wrongly accusing Sita of infidelity and her response. I suspect this was primarily because the story is directed at children, and marital unfaithfulness was considered to be too intense of a topic. However, it might have also been the case that this bit of the story was deemed to be too big a can of worms to open in a Hanuman-centric telling of the story.

I enjoyed the book. With superpowered characters and heroic deeds, it’s not all that much different from the superhero tales of modern comic books – which, themselves, are sometimes rooted in varied mythologies. The art is simple and clear (if a bit dated in approach,) and I found the text surprisingly devoid of the clumsy exposition that has historically plagued comic books. If you’re interested in taking in mythology and folklore in bite-sized chunks, it’s worth checking this one out – particularly if you don’t mind that some simplifications are made to make the story more kid-friendly.

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DAILY PHOTO: Gigantic Orange Hanuman

Taken June 24, 2015 at Jakhu Temple in Shimla

Taken June 24, 2015 at Jakhu Temple in Shimla

I’m standing in the foreground for scale, and even if I were only 10 inches tall (I’m not) that would be a pretty grandiose Hanuman.

Taken from a distance. Surveying all.

Taken at a distance. Surveying all.

DAILY PHOTO: Hanuman

Taken November 2, 2013 at Hampi.

Taken November 2, 2013 at Hampi.

Among the many devotees of this Hindu deity are wrestlers, who admire the monkey-god for his reputed strength. In Rama’s war against Ravana, he was said to have picked up a mountain and carried it a great distance, which is pretty strong.

He’s not whimsical and mischievous like Sun Wukong, the Taoist monkey-king (who also has god-like powers), but some believe that Sun Wukong’s myth was partially influenced by Hanuman’s myth. (Of course, the more irreverent and anti-authoritarian Taoists had a different take than the caste-conscious Hindus. (Whimsicality and mischievousness are considered more virtuous among the former than the latter.)

This Hanuman temple is a small, stone-block affair abutting a giant boulder on the trail from Hampi Bazaar to Achyutaraya temple. As you can see, it still has local devotees.