Hanuman being given the janehu, despite being a servant of Ram and a wild forest creature, is not highlighted in the Valmiki Ramayana but becomes prominent in later texts, especially regional Ramayanas written in vernacular languages in the last five centuries, when caste excesses had peaked. People were asking: what makes a real Brahmin, effort or birth? Hanuman becomes Brahmin by effort and education, while Ravana is the son of a Brahmin named Vaishrava, who married a rakshasa woman, Kaikesi. The Vedas turn Hanuman from beast to human, giving him the wisdom and compassion to unconditionally help a man find his lost wife. By contrast, Ravana although human, and despite his Vedic knowledge, behaves like a brute, grabbing another man's wife for his own pleasure.
That Hanuman holds a weapon in his hand establishes him as a warrior (Kshatriya). That he holds Ram's flag establishes him as a servant (dasa, Shudra). That he has the sacred thread across his chest establishes him as a Brahmin, one who has accessed the Vedas. Thus the highest and the lowest stations of Vedic society (varna) are accommodated in Hanuman, a creature of the forest.
When the Ramayana became popular, Vishnu-worshippers saw Ram as the mortal form (avatar) of Vishnu who kills Ravana, a devotee (bhakta) of Shiva. This turned the Ramayana into a tale of rivalry between Vishnu and Shiva. To counter this, Shivaworshippers said that Hanuman was the form of Shiva. They pointed to Hanuman's status as brahmachari (celibate, continent and content, with no wants or needs) and his colour being as white as camphor (karpura-go-ranga) indicative of his being Shiva.
According to Shaivites, Shiva himself descended as Hanuman to destroy Ravana, an errant Shiva bhakta. According to them, Ravana had offered his ten heads to Shiva and obtained boons that made him very powerful. But as Rudra, Shiva has eleven forms. Ravana's offering of ten heads satisfied the ten forms of Rudra. The eleventh unhappy Rudra took birth as Hanuman to kill Ravana. Hence Hanuman is also Raudreya. In Maharashtra, the seventeenth-century saint Ramdas established eleven Maruti temples, reminding all of Hanuman's association with the eleven forms of Rudra.
Excerpted with permission of Rupa Publications India from My Hanuman Chalisa by Devdutt Pattanaik available in bookstores and online.
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