Hanuman and the Hunger for more

Back in April this year, shortly after the first lockdown started here in Ireland, our lives, the way we knew them, were beginning to change in quite unexpected ways. You may remember how you and your family were impacted by it. While it was asked of all to minimize travel and organise lives in such ways as to have limited contact with other people, I was, probably like many others, trying to slowly adjust to this new lifestyle in the best way I could.

Grouping together my essential shopping journeys, I started looking for new solutions, so that there would be less travel involved. This is the route that the Hanuman symbol came through.

One week during my food shopping, purchasing a larger quantity of fresh beetroot, the idea came to dehydrate it and use it gradually for the coming months. The plan came to life, and the fresh beetroot turned into translucent dry slices. Taking a closer look, each slice was unique in its own way. Placing them over the window glass in the sun, fine veins and subtle shades of ruby red were seen running through it. Each slice was like a unique work of art, signed by Nature.

One particular slice drew my attention; it was relatively small and the intricacy of its internal shapes asked for more attention. So I began sketching on an A4 paper. Up to a point, it was easy to follow the fine lines and curves, but when my hand arrived to the centre of the page, it started doing something different. It was as if there was a new drawing within a the drawing, happening by itself. There was a feeling of a story being hidden in the centre of that beetroot slice that waited to be discovered. From that point, with the slice beside me, I tentatively allowed my hand to keep going in its own way. If you ever tried to draw something without following a pre-conceived shape, colour or idea in your mind, you know what was happening here.

Initially the drawing looked like a cross and the body of a person on the cross. You know how the mind is, trying to put a label on everything it sees…. It is easy to guess where my thoughts went. Letting go of the image, my hand continued. Then it turned into something different. After several attempts at re-discovering the shapes that were beginning to form in the centre, something new emerged out of the lines and curves. Have a look at the attached picture of the sketch and see what you may discover in it.

Who is Hanuman, and why his symbol was chosen for this article?

Lord Hanuman is one of the central characters of Ramayana, the great Sanskrit poem of ancient India. Known as “the Hindu monkey God”, he represents the qualities of strength, perseverance and loyalty in Hindu mythology. He symbolises complete surrender and true devotion to his real self in unity.

This article and sketch honour the ancient Hanuman symbol for the purpose of connecting it with contemporary and real life questions, such as how the mind perceives the internal and external challenges that it experiences.

There are various online stories available about Hanuman’s life.  I am following versions of the story, which can be found here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanuman, and here: https://www.facebook.com/drarjunpai/posts/1681451358659615.

A mischievous child, Hanuman flew to the sun using his special powers and tried to grab it thinking it was a ripe fruit. Punished by the King of Gods and being thrown back to the Earth, he fell and ended up with a disfigured jaw. As a consequence of the ways he made use of his divine abilities in the encounters with other people, he was later cursed to forget them unless reminded by another person. What followed throughout his adult life was a series of acts of faith, strength, and courage. Through engaging with deep compassion towards his fellow beings he remembered how to make good use of his special powers. In the end his actions led to him to being blessed with the gift of immortality by Lord Rama.

An interesting part of the Hanuman’s story in Ramayana is the episode of him visiting Mata Sita during her captivity in Valkimi’s cottage. She was happy to cook for him many delicacies but, as his hunger was insatiable, there was no more food left in the house stores. After praying to Lord Rama for advice, Mata Sita served him a morsel with a Tulsi (basil) leaf. Thus, Hanuman’s hunger was satisfied, as he, too, was a follower of Lord Rama.

Stories within stories: from the first lockdown, to the fresh beetroot, leading to the Hanuman symbol and how he dealt with the limitations.

Back to November 2020, among the string of restrictions that people have had to go through in this country and internationally, some have been more difficult than others to live with. Some of my memories of limitations belonging to past times were triggered, being pushed to consider how I engaged with them then and what patterns have been repeating in the recent times, including while this blog was imagined and created.

The topic of restrictions in our lives is an interesting one and can be considered beyond the Covid 19 restrictions imposed by any Government. Limitations related to other life aspects are possible, too; some that come to mind are weather/climate conditions, in relationships and mental or physical ability. Perhaps the topic is well worth reflecting on outside of the Covid 19 context. However, as this would go beyond the limits of this blog, here comes the full stop, but feel free to keep reflecting.

How have you engaged with the restrictions during the lockdown? Is there any part of Hanuman’s story that resonates with you?