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The presidency: 'Monkey god' in the middle?

Posted By Maralyn Lois Polak On 07/02/2008 @ 12:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

You can be sure presidential candidate Barack Obama is not the only one in America with a Hanuman monkey-god keychain bouncing around in his back pocket. So why condemn him for idol worship or worse? How narrow-minded, insular and jingoistic have some of us become? Don’t answer that! Since when has carrying lucky charms like this become a crime, let alone a sin?

Still not sure what I’m talking about? C’mon, you’ve seen the headlines!

But I beg to differ. Embodying strength and tenacity, “Lord Hanuman” is one of the most popular deities in the Hindu pantheon. Actually, the monkey god “Lord Hanuman” is a mighty ape, and since apes just were extended “rights to life and freedom” in Spain, why not call his representation a statue rather than an idol? It’s nicer!

Temples dedicated to Hanuman are among the most common public shrines in India. Considered an avatar of Lord Shiva, Hanuman’s worshipped as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance and devotion – entirely appropriate for a presidential election year, doncha think?

During times of trouble, Hanuman’s devotees chant his name, sing his hymn, “Hanuman Chalisa,” and proclaim “victory to thy thunderbolt strength.” Annually, on sunrise of a full moon in April, the celebration “Hanuman Jayanti” commemorates the birth of Hanuman. Saturdays and Tuesdays are fast-days for his Hindu followers.


Besides being one of the most popular gods in Hinduism, Hanuman is also one of the most important personalities in the Indian epic scripture, “The Ramayana.” Supposedly, Hanuman’s most famous feat therein was leading a monkey army to fight a demon king and rescue a kidnapped princess.

In modern times, various prophets, including the revered miracle-maker Sri Sathya Sai Baba of India, have claimed to see Hanuman. Others have also asserted his presence wherever “The Ramayana” is read in its original Sanskrit, rather than transliterated.

Yatra Yatra Raghunath Kirtanam
Tatra Tatra Krita Mastaka anjalim
Bashpawari Pari purna lochanam/Marutim nammascha rakshas antakam.”

Which means:

That wherever the deeds of Sri Rama are sung,
At all such places does Hanuman cry tears of devotion and joy,
At all such places does his presence remove the fear of demons.

Often, Lord Hanuman is celebrated in many of the wildly mesmerizing kirtans, or yogic devotional chants, performed by Krishna Das, an American originally from Long Island and born Jeffrey Kagel, who has been singing the “Hanuman Chalisa” for more than 30 years now.

Certainly, a powerful symbolic figure such as Hanuman would seem to have special inspirational appeal to an unusual political candidate such as Barack Obama.

Legend has it, Hanuman was mischievous in childhood and sometimes teased the meditating sages who found his antics unbearable. Realizing Hanuman was merely a child – although invincible – the sages placed a slight curse on him. By this curse Hanuman forgot his own prowess and recollected it only when others reminded him of his stupendous skills.

And the complex symbolism could be even more resonant for Barack Obama. According to Wikipedia:

The monkey symbolism of Lord Hanuman is related to the notion that a human being’s mind is ever active and never restful, hence the depiction of a human being with the face of a monkey. Furthermore, Lord Hanuman symbolically stands for pure devotion, complete surrender and absence of ego or the lower self. … Symbolically he also stands for the subtle body consisting of the breath body, the mental body and the intelligence body. … Once … the mind becomes devoted unconditionally, the mind can [also] obtain miraculous powers and perform amazing feats like that of Lord Hanuman.

Have we finally found the perfect next leader-to-be?


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