my Hanuman Chalisa

by Devdutt Patnaik

Read time: about 5 minutes

Jai Hanuman
Gyan Gun Sagar.
Jai Kapish
Tihun lok Ujagar.

Hanuman Chalisa was written by Tulsidas almost 500 years ago supposedly while he was imprisoned by Akbar. Written in the language of Gangetic plains called Awadhi, the Chalisa was meant to be accessible to the non-elite crowd who wanted to be closer to the gods. Tulsidas gave us a masterpiece that is recited in every prayer, however, it is seldom understood. Devdutt Patnaik has brought to us ‘his Hanuman Chalisa’. This is a part of series where the author breaks down the religious epics to be understood by the common folks.

It is one of the better religious writings that I have seen off late, not just for its accessibility but also for its literary style. Patnaik has written a book that is meant to be cherished.

Cover: my Hanuman Chalisa

Cover page

The cover page is saffron, a color associated with the Monkey God. There is Hanuman himself on the cover lifting Sanjeevani Parbat and a demon under his feet. The graphic is completed with complimentary text beneath where the author clearly says ‘my Hanuman Chalisa’. Notice the lowercase m in ‘my’ and the uppercase beginning of Hanuman and Chalisa. The use of English language here is evident assertion on the work Hanuman Chalisa. The author carefully states that this is Hanuman Chalisa – generic but his interpretation of it.

I absolutely love the cover. It is a simple yet intelligent design.

Characters

I am talking about Hanuman Chalisa as a work of literature written by Tulsidas, therefore I will treat it as such. Tulsidas describes Hanuman from different epics written previously. He describes his physical form, his intelligence and wisdom (which are two different things), his strength and prowess etc. throughout the Chalisa. There is a massive description of Hanuman’s love for Lord Ram. One understands his lineage, his childhood, his education and worldly greatness through the forty quartets of the Chalisa. Hanuman is talked about throughout with great appraisals. Every sentence is introducing something new about the god we worship.

Content

While Tulsidas created a Chalisa to bring the Hanuman closer to those who wanted to think of him in prayers, Devdutt Patnaik has brought Chalisa for those who want to understand the Chalisa that they recite during the prayers. While tulsidas’s Chalisa is full of praises of Lord hanumna, Patnaik’s Chalisa explains Tulsidas’s Chalisa with the back-stories and epics about Hanuman.

The Chalisa begins with two dohas to clean the mind as a temple. And ends with asking a blessing from the God himself. In between are forty chaupais that are sung in the praise of Lord Hanuman. Each chaupai here is typed in the Devanagari script after which comes the transliteration and then comes the translation. The first is the original chaupai. Second is to help people with the pronunciation and third to give them a literal translation.

After each chaupai the author gives us the back story or the understanding of the verse. These stories are taken from the epics of Ramayan, Mahabharata and other tales of Hanuman. These stories are what we have all grown up listening to but it is the first time I have built up the connection to each chaupai. While clearly explaining the meaning of each chaupai, Patnaik also clears out the evidence of there being different forms of Hanuman being worshipped everywhere. One should not go into the literal translation as this is meant only to nourish the soul. The author also talks about Hinduism as a religion and common practices in it and how is it different from other religions. Many concepts of Hinduism have been touched upon in this book that are beautiful when read. This book also sets travel goals for the readers. Watch out for a temple where Hanuman is worshipped with his consort and one where he wears a nose ring to appear as a woman.

Language

It is a good accessible writing. The author brings the Chalisa closer to people through his own explanation of it.

Good points

The cover art is beautiful. It is thoughtfully designed. The character description of Hanuman both in Tulsidas’ and Patnaik’s version are brilliant to read through. The content makes you feel closer to understanding the Chalisa. It answers the question, ‘Why do we say what we say?’ The language is stunning.

Bad points

One may find the translations of the Chaupais not exact at all places. This is due to the difference in readings, also the understanding the epic by the author and others. However, the author clearly owns up and calls it ‘my’ Hanuman Chalisa which is only fair.

Overall

I am not a very religious person but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Whom do I recommend this to

This is for those who recite the verses in pujas but want to clearly understand the Chalisa themselves. Religion and mythology enthusiasts are going to love this book.

Quotable Quotes

By contrast, Hinduism is life-affirming. Desire (Kama) is accepted as the force that creates the world, with destiny (karma) as the counterforce that limits the satisfaction of desires. If one wants to give purpose to life, then it is to enjoy desire and accept destiny, without being addicted to either, and realizing there is more to life than satisfaction and suffering, desire and destiny.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com