Last year, we bought a few children’s books of Hindu mythology. One of these was the story of Hanuman, a monkey who is the son of the wind God and has magical powers. He has the ability to fly, to grow and shrink as he wishes, and is incredibly strong. In the Ramayana, a Hindu epic, the evil demon Ravana steals Sita, the god Rama’s wife, and Hanuman helps to save her. To paraphrase heavily, he first flies over to the island (Sri Lanka) where Sita is being held captive, then purposefully gets captured. The demons set his tail on fire, so he grows his tail out as long as possible before dancing all over the island and setting it ablaze, then jumps back to Rama on the mainland. Later, when Rama’s army is in full battle with Ravana’s and there are many dead warriors on the field, he is told to fly to the Himalayas to bring back healing herbs. Unable to tell which are the right herbs, he simply lifts the entire mountain and brings it to the battlefield. As the wind wafts over the mountain, the scent revives the fallen warriors.
We recently bought a new illustrated book of the Ramayana, and the boy loves it, as do I. The pictures are stunning, and the text is witty and clear. It’s a joy to look at and to read, which we’ve been doing almost every night since we got it almost six weeks ago.
His favorite character, by far, is Hanuman. Whenever we get to Hanuman’s part in the story, he pumps both fists in the air and yells “Hanumaaaaan!” Once, right before he was going to fall asleep, he cocked his head and whispered to me, “You know what, Mommy? Hanuman is more powerful and braver than all the superheros!” After reading the Ramayana, he told Eric he wanted a mantra of his own, and Eric asked who his favorite person was in the story. Sometimes we’ll hear him softly chanting, “Hanuman, Hanuman” to himself, over and over. I couldn’t figure out his adoration at first, but then Eric pointed out that Hanuman is basically a monkey and a superhero, so what’s not for a four year old to love?
This is so cool to me that he loves the Hindu myths and is familiar with the gods and demons. Like I’ve mentioned before, we’re not religious but I think it’s great that the names and stories are familiar to him. After all, it’s all part of who he is and I want him to be connected to it. Honestly, I didn’t know the stories in such detail until we started reading them to him. More than cultural identity, though, I learned the other day that there are more immediate tangible benefits to his love of Hanuman.
A few nights ago, we received “Fantastic Mr. Fox” from Netflix, which the boy had seen in the theatre with Eric, but which I hadn’t. I asked if he could wait to watch it for a few minutes while I cleaned up the kitchen, and despite my polite exhortations, he refused and said he wanted to start the movie right away.
I went upstairs while Eric stayed down with him for a bit, and then I heard him yell up the stairs, “Mommy! I’ll wait to watch the movie with you!”
Eric came upstairs, and said, “Ok. Now, don’t laugh at this, but do you know how I got him to wait to watch the movie?”
“How?” I asked.
“Well, I sat down, and looked at him, and I said, ‘Now, what would Hanuman do in this situation?’ The boy said sheepishly, ‘He would wait for Mama.’ And then he thought for a few seconds, and yelled up the stairs that he had changed his mind.”
Not only did he wait for me to watch the movie, he came upstairs and helped me clean up the kitchen. He wrapped the leftover pizza in foil, wiped down all the countertops, the fridge, and the dishwasher, and then patiently waited for me to finish the dishes before we headed downstairs and watched the movie together.
If Hanuman can inspire my child to be a thoughtful, considerate person, I’m all for it. Moreover, that a phrase which has been reduced to a bumper sticker and is basically fodder for pop culture mockery (WWWCND, anyone?)–that this sentiment can still hold meaning is rather remarkable. Maybe there’s some power in these old myths after all.