The book ‘my Hanuman Chalisa’ by Devdutt Pattanaik re-introduces us to one of the most favourite chants of Hinduism. G. Venkatesh reviews this lovely interpretation.

Writer: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Pages: 167
Price: ₹178
Year of Publication: 2017

Devdutt Pattanaik, using the Tulsidas-creation Hanuman Chalisa, as his medium, portrays Hanuman not merely as a Vedic/Puranic metaphor for an embodiment of virtues, but rather as a secular demi-god with a celestial-cum-mortal parentage, inspired by and inspiring other mythologies and religions. In lucid English prose, which also expands the reader’s vocabulary of Sanskrit terms, the author digs deeper and fans out wider at the same time, to try to understand the mind of the poet, Tulsidas. While doing so – verily a bold attempt to read between, behind and through the words of the couplets and quatrains, so to speak – he presents a convincing exposition of the ‘idea of Hanuman’ propounded by the poet as a prayer which may have been chanted a zillion times by several Indians over time, in times of anxiety, stress, fear, sadness and worry. These ‘negatives’ that attack all human minds invariably as long as Homo Sapiens walk the earth, can be converted to positive energy – hope, strength, fortitude and calmness – by the grace of Hanuman.

Chanting with true faith in one’s heart is a sine qua non. Having entrenched a high degree of faith free of the risk of being corrupted by intellectualism, devotees of the Monkey-God can venture out to interpret the lines with the help of a book like my Hanuman Chalisa.

Illustrated by the author himself with great assiduousness (this is a highlight of the book), the interpretation of the Chalisa provides a complete ‘darshan’ – one sees, reads, thinks, understands and believes at the same time.

Apart from its philosophical and ‘symbological’ nature, the book also provides information from folklore and different variants of the Ramayana, which may make many readers react with an ‘Aha’ expression on their faces. Intellectuals may tend to debunk myths and folklore and demand scientific and rational explanations. But the trick here for clever and wise readers is to try to look for and appreciate the underlying truths – the messages for good living, which religions ideally must propagate among adherents. The skill of any reader is in being able to grasp the writer’s intentions. Just as Pattanaik has attempted to unearth the intentions in the poet’s mind for his exposition of this ‘idea of Hanuman’, readers ought to make an attempt to find out what Pattanaik wishes to achieve by interpreting the Chalisa. In my opinion, succinctly, the message is this – Lord Hanuman is the embodiment of all possible virtues which humans could aspire for during their lifetimes. There are references to several of these in the book.

One would never associate a monkey with restraint, stability and discipline, let alone obedience and respect. The mind has often been likened to a monkey, unable to remain focused. Using the Monkey God as a medium, the Chalisa promises what seems utterly impossible to a ‘thinking man’ – taming the monkey-like human mind, by appealing to Hanuman.

It was my original intention to quote from the explanations of each of the 40 quatrains, but I will desist from doing that. And yes, if readers are seeking to enhance their general knowledge of the Puranas and Vedas, they will stand to gain from this book – of course, this is not a tome, but nuggets of knowledge and wisdom are strewn around this 167-page must-read (for all devotees of Hanuman who have been chanting the Chalisa). Get a copy, read, pass it on as a gift, and let it keep moving on from reader to reader, as a blessing which ought to keep flowing.

G. Venkatesh

G. Venkatesh is Associate Professor, Department of Engineering and Chemical Sciences, Faculty of Health, Science and Technology, Karlstad University, Sweden. He is also a freelance writer for several magazines around the world.