/hun"oo mahn', hah"noo-; hun'oo mahn", hah'noo-/, n., pl. hanumans for 1.
1. Also called entellus. a langur, Presbytis (Semnopithecus) entellus, held sacred in India.
2. (cap.) Hindu Myth. a monkey chief who is a conspicuous figure in the Ramayana.
[1805-15; < Skt hanuman, nom. sing. of hanumant]

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Monkey god of Hindu mythology, a central figure in the Ramayana.

He was a guardian spirit, the offspring of a nymph and the wind god. His great heroic exploit was recovering Rama's wife, Sita, from captivity by the demon Ravana. Hanuman also flew to the Himalayas and carried back a mountain of medicinal herbs to cure Rama's grievously wounded brother Laksmana. Worshiped in the form of a monkey, he is an important deity because of his strength and his faithfulness to Rama.

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▪ Hindu mythology
 in Hindu mythology, the monkey commander of the monkey army. His exploits are included in the great Hindu Sanskrit poem the Ramayana (Rāmāyaṇa) (“Romance of Rama”).

      While still a baby, Hanuman, the child of a nymph by the wind god, tried to fly up and grab the Sun, which he mistook for a fruit. Indra, the king of the gods, struck Hanuman with his thunderbolt on the jaw (hanu), thus inspiring the name. When Hanuman continued to misbehave, powerful sages cursed him to forget his magic powers, such as the ability to fly or to become infinitely large, until he was reminded of them. Hanuman led the monkeys to help the god Rama recover Rama's wife, Sita (Sītā), from the demon Ravana (Rāvaṇa), king of Lanka (sometimes thought to be Sri Lanka). Having been reminded of his powers by Jambavan, the king of the bears, Hanuman crossed the strait between India and Lanka in one leap, despite the efforts of watery demonesses to stop him by swallowing him or his shadow. He was discovered in Lanka, and his tail was set on fire, but he used that fire to burn down Lanka. Hanuman also flew to the Himalayas and returned with a mountain full of medicinal herbs to restore the wounded in Rama's army.

      Hanuman is worshipped as a subsidiary figure in temples dedicated to Rama or directly in shrines dedicated to Hanuman himself. In temples throughout India, and specifically in striking South Indian bronze sculptures, he appears in the form of a monkey with a red face who stands erect like a human. For his service to Rama, Hanuman is upheld as a model for all human devotion ( bhakti).

      Hanuman is also a popular deity in Tibet, Southeast Asia, Japan, and China, and throughout this area many temples are erected for his worship and districts of towns bear his name. Outside India, rather different tales are told of him. Although steadfastly chaste in the Sanskrit tradition, for instance, he has wives and children in other traditions. He has been identified as the inspiration for the monkey hero of the great Chinese poem Xiyouji (“Journey to the West”). In the late 20th century he was depicted as a fierce superhero in Indian comic books, and his image was blazoned on the banners of the most militant Hindu organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; “National Volunteer Party”). The Hanuman langur (Semnopithecus entellus), one of the most common Indian monkeys, is named after the Ramayana character.

Wendy Doniger

Additional Reading
Philip Lutgendorf, Hanuman's Tale: The Messages of a Divine Monkey (2007), is a good study of Hanuman. William Buck, Ramayana (1976, reissued 2000), is a readable translation of the epic poem.

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Universalium. 2010.

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