Punjikasthala, an apsara (celestial nymph) in the palace of Devraj Indra, was exquisitely beautiful and full of vivacity. Getting bored of her opulent and luxurious lifestyle in Indra Loka, she descended on the earth in search of variation in life and different kinds of amusement. However, when she was in a frolicking mood, she came across a monkey meditating in padmasana (lotus posture) like a human sage. Seeing such a funny sight, she not only ridiculed the monkey sage but also hurled fruits and pebbles at him. The sage tried to restrain her in vain. At last, the livid monkey sage cursed Punjikasthala to transform into a monkey as soon as she would fall in love with someone.

Then the accursed apsara entreated Lord Brahma to find out a way to emancipate her from her misfortune. Brahma advised her to descend to the earth to conjoin her prospective husband and give birth to a son who would be the incarnation of Lord Shiva. He also enlightened her that she would be acquitted of the curse as soon as she gave birth to the divine child.

One day from a distance she witnessed a chivalrous man engaged in a fierce battle with a ferocious lion. She was enamoured by the prowess of the man who was none but Kesari, a male vanara (monkey) and the son of Brihaspati. The marriage between Anjana, another name of Punjikasthala, and Kesari was solemnised. The couple prayed to Lord Shiva to get Him as their son. Shiva granted their prayer.

In the meantime, Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya, was performing putrakama yagna (a holy fire to beget sons) in the hope of having offspring. Agni, the fire god, bestowed the king with sacred payasa (pudding) to distribute it among his wives to get them impregnated. Then a kite swooped down and snatched a fragment of the pudding. The kite dropped it where Anjana was engrossed in deep meditation of Lord Shiva. As per the direction of Lord Shiva, Pavana, the god of wind, carried the pudding to drop it into the outstretched hands of Anjana. She swallowed it and conceived. She gave birth to Hanuman who was the incarnation of Lord Shiva. Thus Hanuman was born out of Immaculate Conception of Anjana.

Another mythological story, however, depicts that Hanuman was born as a result of physical mating between Anjana and Pavana. Anjana despite her monkey appearance was equipped with a good many qualities as a soul. Once while she was out repenting her karma, her spiritual beauty infatuated Pavana. He seduced her resulting in the birth of Hanuman. Again according to a South Indian Version of Shiva Purana, Hanuman was the son of Lord Shiva and Mohini (the female avatar of Lord Vishnu). Thus the birth story of Hanuman has been merged with that of Ayyappa of Sabarimala.

There are several controversial discourses regarding Hanuman’s birthplace. According to Valmiki Ramayana’s Kishkinda Kanda ‘Anjaneya Hill’ in Hampi in Bellary district of Karnataka was the birthplace of Hanuman. The hill is situated on the bank of the sacred river Pampa near the Risyamukha Mountain. Some scholars think that Anjani Guha (cave) in Gumla district in Jharkhand state was the birthplace of Hanuman as there are also mountains named Risyamook mentioned in Ramayana. Besides, the Anjaneri Mountain in Nasik district, Lakshka Hill near Sujangarh in Churu district in Rajasthan and so on are some of the places considered as the birthplace of Hanuman.

Though Hanuman is a popular Hindu deity, he cannot be confined only to Hinduism. This legendary persona may be traced in Jainism and Buddhism, too. He is found even in legends and arts outside the Indian subcontinent such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. Everywhere Hanuman is projected as heroic, brave and scholar.

According to the Hindu triumvirate, Lord Shiva is one of the three major deities. A god named Rudra, though not Shiva, is mentioned in the Rig Veda. In several scriptures, Hanuman is attributed as the incarnation of Lord Shiva or Rudra. Panchamukha Hanuman is considered the 11th Rudra of Lord Shiva. Again, Lord Shiva is a coalescence of the basic features of Brahmin, Kshatriya and Sudra (Dalit). He is a Brahmin when He teaches Yoga, a Kshatriya when He punishes the evil powers and Sudra when He smokes ganja in crematorium ground and leads bohemian life.

Hanuman is also attributed with the traits of Brahman, Kshatriya and Sudra. In the Hanuman Chalisa composed in Awadhi language by the great 16th-century poet Tulsidas, the qualities and activities of Lord Hanuman are narrated. His wisdom, courage, strength and devotion to Ram are depicted in Hanuman Chalisa. Here Hanuman is identified as Pavanasuta (son of Pavana) as Vayu carried the divine power of Lord Shiva into Anjana’s womb.

Hanuman is described as ‘an ocean of wisdom and virtues’. In Kishkindha Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, Lord Rama attributes many qualities and characteristics in Hanuman’s personality. Hanuman is described as the possessor of the knowledge of all Vedas and scriptures. Besides, He is endowed with the capacity of faultless speech.

Above all, Hanuman acquired ashta siddhi (eight quintessential perfections). They are Anima (capacity to be reduced to atomic size), Mahima (capacity to increase in size infinitely), Garima (capacity to increase weight infinitely), Laghima (power of being the lightest), Prapti (capacity to be omnipresent), Prakamya (ability to perceive the desires of others), Istva (Lordship over creation) and Vastva (having control over natural forces).

He is also a scholar of nine nidhis (divine treasures) which are Mahapadma (great lotus), Padma (lotus), Shankha (conch shell), Makara (crocodile), Kachchapa (tortoise), Mukunda (precious stone ie cinnabar), Kunda (jasmine), Nila ( sapphire) and Kharva (cups, vessels baked in fire).. Suryadev is the preceptor of Hanuman. Besides, Tulsidas in his scripture Ramayana describes Hanuman as “Kandhe muj jinou saje…” (Hanuman’s shoulder is adorned with sacred thread). All these qualities manifestly establish that Hanuman is a Brahmin.

Some scholars believe that Hanuman is mentioned in Rigveda. They opine that the Vrishakapi of Rigveda alluded to Hanuman. Again according to Frederick Eden Pargiter, a British civil servant and orientalist, Hanuman is a proto-Dravidian deity.

Hanuman may be identified as a Kshatriya when He is adorned with gada (club). He is viewed as the ideal combination of strength and heroic deeds. He had a good many chivalric deeds in His credit. Hanuman assumed Panchamukha (five-faced appearance) to extinguish five lamps burning in different directions at a time. He did so to kill Ahiravana, brother of Ravana, and protect the lives of Lord Rama and Lakshmana. He again proved saviour of Rama and Lakshmana when they were captured by Mahiravana, another brother of Ravana. The saga of Hanuman’s remarkable role in rescuing Sita, the wife of Lord Rama, who was abducted by Ravana, comprises the main story of the Ramayana. He is still considered the patron god in wrestling bout.

Despite all His valour, courage and wisdom, Hanuman dedicated His life for the service of Lord Rama. After the great victory against Ravana, Rama was crowned as the king of Ayodhya. Like other aides of Lord Rama, Hanuman was also honoured by Sita with a necklace of precious stones. Hanuman tore off the necklace to find out traces of Rama and Sita in the stones. When He was mocked by others, Hanuman bifurcated/split His chest to prove that Rama and Sita were actually residing in His heart. Besides, Hanuman was the carrier of Rama’s flag. Being Chiranjibi (immortal) Lord Hanuman stayed on Arjun’s flag as the Kapidhvaja (having flag of Kapi i.e. monkey) in his war chariot during Kurukshetra War narrated in the great Hindu scripture Mahabharata.

Thus Hanuman proved Himself an incarnation of the confluence of Gyan (knowledge) symbolising Brhambhana, Shakti (strength) symbolising Kshatriya and Bhakti (devotion) symbolising Sudra. He was elevated from an animal to the height of a God through His activities, not by His birth.

In the 17th century, Hanuman emerged as a symbol of resistance and dedication against Islamic persecution. Another Bhakti Movement saint Samarth Ramdas, presented Hanuman as a symbol of Marathi nationalism and resistance to Mughal Empire. However, in the present context when intolerance triggered by communalism, casteism and political narrowness has inflicted our country, we should try to strengthen the spirit of “Unity in Diversity” by imbuing it with the diversified identities and characters of Lord Hanuman.