Hanuman is one of the heroes of Ramayana. He has the face of a monkey and is an ardent devotee of Ram. It was mostly due to his help that Ram was able to defeat Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka. Do you know the story of the birth of Hanuman?
The birth of Hanuman starts with an apsara – Punjikastala. Punjikastala was a heavenly maiden and roamed the skies. Once when she roamed the heavens, she saw a monkey deep in meditation.
Instead of admiring the devotion of the monkey rishi, Pujikastala felt that the monkey sitting in a cross-legged posture was very funny. Unable to control herself she burst out laughing. However the monkey did not take any offence. He was after all a rishi...someone in control of his senses. He was so deep in meditation that he did not even know that someone was laughing at him.
Punjikastala misunderstanding the silence of the rishiand poked fun of him some more. She finally threw stones and fruits at the rishi. When one of the mangoes hit the rishi on his head, the rishi opened his eyes with a start, his meditation broken. He looked around furiously and saw Punjikastala aiming a stone at him.
The sage looked so angry that Punjikastala shivered. She involuntarily dropped the stone and looked mutely at the sage.
The sage looked at Punjikastala angrily, 'Why did you throw stones at me?'
Punjikastala remained mute staring at the Monkey-sage. 'You have now broken my meditation...I can forgive the rest...but I cannot forgive you for interrupting my meditation....'
Punjikastala looked at the furious sage still not able to talk. The sage continued, 'You think I am funny because I look like a monkey...I curse you that you will henceforth become a monkey yourself....'
Hearing this, Punjikastala burst out crying, 'Great sage! I w...was wrong...I did not understand who you were and I threw stones at you....I made...made fun of you....But turning me into a monkey is a ver...very harsh punishment....Please sir...' Punjikastala fell at the the sage's feet, 'I beg you sir! I have learnt my lesson. Please take back your curse. She said tears streaming down her face.
Looking at Punjikastala, the monkey-sage realized that Punjikastala had really repented her actions and was sorry for her actions. But he was a sage. Sages were powerful and when they said anything, they were immediately brought into effect. Their words could not be taken back.
The monkey-sage looked at Punjikastala and said softly, 'I am sorry Punjikastala, but I cannot take back my word! But your curse will end as soon as you give birth to an incarnation of Lord Shiva! Pray to him....'
Punjikastala looked downcast as the sage vanished from there. She felt some change in her body and ran to the nearest river. There she saw that fur had grown in her body, she had a small tail and her face was that of a monkey! Unable to bear the grief anymore Punjikastala walked aimlessly throughout the forest, wishing that the nightmare would be over and that she would again become her normal self. Pray to Lord Shiva...The words of the monkey sage came to her mind.
That night, Punjikastala made a small linga and worshiped Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati before going to sleep. She felt peaceful and fell asleep almost immediately.
In the morning, she again prayed to the Lord and the Goddess and then walked further deep inside the forest. As she walked, she saw a small ashrama there.
The people in the ashrama however did not make fun of her because she had the face of a monkey. They were true ascetics. They did not care how a person looked. True faith in God was all that mattered.
They gave her fruits to eat. Punjikastala was feeling very hungry after a long day. She gratefully ate the fruits.
'Who are you my child?' asked one of the oldest ascetics.
Punjikastala opened her mouth to say, 'I am...' when she stopped. What do I tell these people that I am an apsara who was cursed to be a monkey...These people will make fun of me if they come to know that I was cursed...My past life is done and over...I need a new identity, a new name...a new beginning....'Punjikastala winced as she looked as the calm and wrinkled eyes of the ascetic. She cleared her throat again, 'Sir, I am Anjana...' From deep down, Punjikastala felt that she had more than changed her name...She began to feel that she was destined to greatness because of this name...
'Well Anjana...You are a very brave woman...You have crossed this forest at night...' The ascetic shivered, 'We normally never go out at night...'
Anjana looked quizzically at the ascetic as he continued, 'There is a huge demon Sambasadan who lives here. He...' The ascetic shivered again, 'He is a monster. He terrorizes all the people in the forest....We think he may attack the ashrama today....' Anjana looked at the ascetic, 'We are preparing to defend ourselves against the demon...'
'I will also help you fight...' She said in a determined manner as the ascetic nodded and left to make preparations.
Anjana walked out of the hut and made a small linga on the ground and worshiped Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. These people are good and kind. They have given me protection, instead of laughing at me and my plight...It is my duty to protect these people...Please give me the strength to fight this demon.
Anjana felt distinct words flow inside her head, 'Sambasadam can be defeated only by his own blood my child...May you be victorious...'
Anjana opened her eyes as a new hope filled her body. She knew she had heard the words of the Lord and the Goddess and that they would guide her to victory....She got ready for battle. She was picking up the weapons, when she saw another man standing beside her who was examining the weapons. The man had turned his face away from her so she could not see his face. However the man was very muscular and well-built. Anjana realized that the man was a professional fighter a king perhaps....and that he probably was called upon by the people in the ashram to fight for them.
The man looked strong and from the scars in his body he looked like he had fought many times.
As Anjana was about to talk to the man, the man turned and Anjana gasped. The man had the face of a monkey...He carried himself like a king and Anjana realized that he was probably the king of monkeys here.
He came forward and spoke to her in a strong voice. 'I am Kesari! I hear that you are also going to fight the demon here. That...' Kesari smiled, 'That is very brave of you...'
Anjana felt proud as she picked up her staff and practiced with it, 'Well, you are also fighting, that makes you a very brave man....'
Kesari laughed, 'Well it is my duty. I am the King of the monkeys here and this ashrama comes within my territory. So I have to give these people all the protection that I can give them...'
Anjana was about tell him about Shiva and Parvati's dream, when they heard a loud roar. Anjana turned and saw a huge demon rush towards the hermitage. His size was so big that Anjana felt that even if he came inside the ashrama by mistake, he would trample the people and destroy the homes of the people in the hermitage....
'We have to lead the demon away from the ashrama...' Kesari said as he picked up his weapon and charged at the demon. Together the two of them along with some people from the ashrama and a small monkey army fought with the demon. Kesari fought the demon brilliantly, but unfortunately he was not able to hurt the demon.... The demon was always able to turn and twist away or change his form, before Kesari could actually hurt him.
However Kesari persistently kept pushing the demon back and once pierced the demon's shield. The demon roared as some of his blood flowed down on the earth.
Anjana who was firing some arrows stopped and ran forward. She dipped the arrows in the blood of the demon and fired the arrows. The demon wailed as the arrow pierced him. Kesari saw this and immediately came forward and dipped his staff in the blood and started fighting.
Whenever the staff or the arrow tipped in his own blood hit the demon, the demon roared as his body started melting.
Soon Kesari dipped his whole staff and pierced the demon straight in the heart. Sambasadan let out a loud roar and slowly disappeared.
The people in the ashrama let out a loud cheer when they saw that Sambasadan was no more. People carried Anjana and Kesari on their shoulders and happily brought them to the ashrama and dancing for hours together.
Sambasadan had been killing and injuring people very often and the forest had become a very dangerous place because of him. However now it was all over...The festivities went on all night and the people had a grand feast to celebrate the victory....
While the festivities were going on, an old ascetic of the ashrama came forward and asked to speak to Anjana separately. The ascetic was looking at her with pride, but he looked slightly uneasy as if he was going to ask a favour from her. Anjana looked at the ascetic and waited for him to continue. The ascetic cleared his throat and said softly, 'Anjana, we have a custom....Generally when a person fights and wins a battle for us, we give a very precious gift to that person...Today both of you have won this battle for us...I was wondering if....' Anjana looked at the ascetic wondering what he was going to give her.
'Would you consider marrying Kesari?' The ascetic blurted out as Anjana looked surprised. 'He is a brave man and you are a brave woman..You are the best gift for him and he is the best gift for you....Would...?'Anjana looked at the ascetic shyly as she did not say anything. Since she had seen Kesari fight, she was filled with awe at how brave he was. He was also extremely intelligent...Anjana had wondered all day whether Kesari would be interested in marrying her. But then she remembered that she had the face of a monkey...Though he was also a monkey, Anjana did not think she was pretty enough to attract him...
She cleared her throat and said softly, 'If Kesari is willing, I am also....'
The ascetic was happiness personified, 'We have already spoken to him. You see...he thinks you are very brave and beautiful and he wanted to marry you. But he did not know whether you would be...'
An auspicious day was chosen and Kesari and Anjana was beaming as they were married....
After their marriage, both Anjana and Kesari daily worshiped Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. They led a very happy married life.
Meanwhile in a faraway place called Ayodhya, King Dasaratha had no children of his own and was performing a yagna for children. After Sage Rishyashringa performed the Putrakameshti yagna for King Dasaratha, Lord Agni came before Dasaratha and gave him some pudding [payasam] which was to be be shared between King Dasaratha's three wives.
King Dasaratha gave the pudding to Kausalya and Kaikeyi. However as Dasaratha was about to hand over the pudding to Queen Sumithra, a bird snatched the payasam and flew away from there. Both Kausalya and Kaikeyi immediately gave a portion of their own pudding to Queen Sumithra, because of which Queen Sumithra gave birth to twins – Lakshmana and Shatrugana. Queen Kausalya gave birth to Ram, the hero of Ramayana and Queen Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharat.
[The bird which stole the payasam also has a story. The bird was actually an apsara – Suvarchala. Suvarchala was very impulsive and often acted without thinking. Once because of her impulsive behaviour, Lord Brahma got very angry with her and cursed her that she would become a bird. Suvarchala promised Lord Brahma that she had repented her ways. Lord Brahma said that his words could not be taken back and that Suvarchala would have to go to earth and stay as a bird. Lord Brahma however modified the curse and said that Suvarchala was to be freed from her curse if she touched the pudding given by Lord Agni to Dasaratha.]
Eager to have her curse lifted, Suvarchala snatched the pudding from Queen Sumitra. Immediately she changed form and became an apsara. The payasam fell from the bird's claws and was falling to the ground when Vayu, the Wind God following the orders of Lord Shiva, blew the pudding softly without spilling it...Vayu blew the pudding straight towards the forests where Anjana and Kesari were staying
Anjana and Kesari had just finished her morning prayers when Anjana felt something brush her hands. It was the pudding! Anjana and Kesari looked surprised when they heard a heavenly voice, 'Take this offering Anjana. It has the power of the Wind God as he was the one who blew it you and the essence of Lord Shiva inside it. You will have a healthy brave boy, who will be the incarnation of Lord Shiva...Take the pudding...'
Kesari looked with pride as Anjana swallowed the pudding.
Subsequently Anjana gave birth to one of the most powerful heroes of Ramayana – Hanuman.
However Hanuman was originally called as Anjaneya [Son of Anjana]. He was also called as Pavanputra, [which means son of the Wnd God.He was called so because he had the essence of the Wind God] Hanuman was also called as Kesharinandan [which means 'son of Kesari']
Anjana was freed of her curse as she had given birth to an incarnation of Shiva.
Vayu, whose essence was there in the young monkey boy looked after the boy as his own son...
But how Anjaneya got the name as 'Hanuman' is another story!