In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hanuman

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Ramayana and Other Hindu Classics
  • The Hanuman Chalisa and Other Hindi-Related Devotional Writings
  • Scholarship, to Mid-1980s
  • Scholarship, Late 1980s on
  • Vaishnavite Devotional Expansion, to Mid-1990s
  • Vaishnavite Devotional Expansion, Late 1990s to Mid-2000s
  • Vaishnavite Devotional Expansion, Late 2000s on
  • Popular Culture
  • South Asian Regions
  • Salasar Balaji
  • Mehandipur Balaji
  • Southeast Asia

Hinduism Hanuman
Jeremy Saul
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0274


Hanuman, formally recognized as a vānara, a class of monkey-like semi-divine beings, has been known in the Hindu literature of South Asia since his appearance in the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which gradually took shape in the centuries immediately preceding and following the advent of the Common Era. In the Ramayana, Hanuman is praised as the exemplary devotee of Rama, the god Vishnu’s avatāra or manifestation on earth. Hanuman played a vital role in the struggle to win back Rama’s consort, Sita, after her abduction by the dastardly King Ravana of Lanka. Thus, esteemed as a heroic literary character, Hanuman’s renown spread wherever the Ramayana was adopted as an integral part of Sanskritic court life, even reaching parts of Southeast Asia. Additionally, beyond the confines of the court, Hanuman, as a physically invincible deity, began to attract devotion in popular practice in South Asia during an era of conflict among various rulers in the second millennium. Hanuman’s images thereupon became a common feature at small village shrines throughout the subcontinent, where he performed much like other folk deities, such as the Goddess, Bhairava (an angry form of Shiva), and ancestral and chthonic beings geared to villagers’ everyday needs. In the 16th century, one poet, Tulsidas, rewrote the Ramayana in an early form of Hindi prevalent in his time. Since then, that Hindi narrative has become the preeminent devotional literature for Hanuman. In the colonial era, Hanuman received somewhat muted attention from Brahmins and Western scholars, inasmuch as the latter more often regarded him as a demi-deity of lesser importance than the major canonical deities of Sanskrit literature that Brahmins upheld, such as Shiva and Vishnu (and Vishnu’s avatāras). But by the end of the 20th century, Hanuman had acquired enhanced cultural significance throughout India to the extent that one could now argue that he is among the most popular deities. This appraisal is based on Hanuman’s seemingly unmatched reputation for performing miracles, his frequent promotion as a heroic figure in ascendant Hindu nationalism, and the many new temples lately dedicated to him to an extent far beyond what we see for other deities. Along with this new prominence, one can see an escalation of popular literature and performance art in which Hanuman is accorded the highest level of affection. For this reason, any account of the literature of Hanuman necessarily tracks his historical trajectory of increasing popularity.

General Overviews

A range of literature, comprising both critical translations of primary sources and recent scholarship, provides a full overview of the rise of Hanuman from being Rama’s faithful follower in the Ramayana to his present status as an unmatched deity of miracles and symbol of contemporary Hindu activism. Starting with the oldest primary sources, Goldman and Sutherland 1984–2017, an edited seven-volume translation of the Ramayana of Valmiki, as well as the seven volumes edited by Govindlal Hargobind Bhatt (Bhatt 1960–2001), provide a solid foundation for appreciating Hanuman’s early appearance in Sanskrit literature. Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas of 1574, here translated by Gita Press in 2001, among various other translations, registers another important step in Hanuman’s cultural evolution, inasmuch as Tulsidas recast the Sanskrit epic in Hindi, with increased emphasis on Hanuman as a powerful deity in his own right. This made Hanuman more accessible to a wider, Hindi-speaking public. Since then, of course, there have been translations in other vernacular Indian languages, although written copies in other vernacular Indic languages seem to be very little represented in Western libraries, compared to Hindi texts. Among the Ramcharitmanas’s sections, the Sundarkand, which recounts Hanuman’s heroic actions in service of Rama, is nowadays endlessly reprinted as a standalone scripture to be recited at devotional events as a means of obtaining Hanuman’s divine intercession. Addressing Hanuman’s enhanced significance in contemporary society, Lutgendorf 2007 provides a comprehensive analysis of this god’s full history in literature and popular culture from earliest times to recent years. Like Lutgendorf, a number of other authors have been writing overviews of Hanuman, reflecting the deity’s increasing prominence in Indian public life. Pattanaik 2001 provides an accessible general introduction to Hanuman, in recognition that the god has become a figure of not just scripture but also of popular culture beyond textual references. Nagar 1995, and Nagar 2004 in three volumes, give a truly encyclopedic look at Hanuman in all dimensions of Indian life. Coming at this relatively recent point in history, Nagar and Lutgendorf’s writings in effect acknowledge the increasing amount of devotional attention that Hanuman has been receiving. But even before these analytical works, Geeta Press’s Hanuman Ank (1975), updated and reprinted several times (most recently in 2017), had pioneered what might now be called a genre of grand compendiums of Hanuman devotion.

  • Lutgendorf, Philip. Hanuman’s Tale: The Messages of a Divine Monkey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195309225.001.0001

    A historical narrative of Hanuman in literature and popular culture from his earliest days up to his heightened cultural importance in the present, with particular attention given to the god’s appearances in diverse regional retellings of the Ramayana and the Ramcharitmanas. The author examines the evolution of Hanuman from an assistant to Rama to an all-powerful deity worshipped in his own right.

  • Nagar, Shantilal. Hanuman in Art, Culture, Thought and Literature. New Delhi: Intellectual Publishing House, 1995.

    A comprehensive examination of Hanuman’s history, not only in literature, as discussed in reference to numerous Sanskrit extracts from the Ramayana, but also in regard to Hanuman’s appearance since early times in Southeast Asia and beyond. The book offers additional chapters on his role in devotional healing, as well as various popular stories about him.

  • Nagar, Shantilal. Hanumān Through the Ages. 3 vols. Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 2004.

    Similar in theme to Nagar’s 1995 work but substantially expanded, with even more weight given to Hanuman in both Sanskrit literature and vernacular regional literature from around the subcontinent. This book has an appendix containing numerous popular incantations for entreating Hanuman to intercede on the devotee’s behalf.

  • Pattanaik, Devdutt. Hanuman: An Introduction. Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer and Simons, 2001.

    Tracks Hanuman’s life as depicted in the Ramayana epic, and adds several chapters discussing his role in other texts, such as the Mahabharata, and his current renown in Indian popular culture. Overall, this is a richly illustrated study aimed at a general audience intrigued by Hanuman because of his great rise as a deity receiving devotion throughout India.

  • Shri Hanuman Ank. Gorakhpur, India: Gita Press, 2017.

    A substantial Hindi book that in effect anticipates the rise of Hanuman as a national hero in the following decades. This study not only provides a more devotee-oriented discussion of Hanuman in literature, with essays on his social role, but also usefully gives a survey of popular Hanuman shrines around the country. The book has been reprinted a number of times. Originally published in 1975.

  • Tulsidas. Shri Ramcharitmanas. Translated by Gita Press. Gorakhpur, India: Gita Press, 2001 [1574].

    A foundational text in the devotional history of Hanuman. It has become the preeminent text for the contemporary worship of this deity, and more broadly serves as a cultural reference point for Vaishnavite (that is, Rama-oriented) literature. In this text, Hanuman plays a prominent role as a morally exemplary deity whose invincibility is attained through his unmatched devotion to Rama. The Ramcharitmanas is available from various publishers.

  • Valmiki. The Valmiki Ramayana. Translated and edited by Govindlal Hargobind Bhatt. Vadodara, India: Oriental Institute, 1960–2001.

    Not altogether unlike Goldman’s edition, but also historically interesting as an example of Hanuman literary translation initiated at a historical time before the recent rise of Hanuman as a symbol of pan-Indian Hindu resurgence (ostensibly restoring Hinduism to its classical form). Hanuman’s important position in the epic is undeniable, and makes a good starting point for research on this god.

  • Valmiki. The Rāmāyana of Vālmīki. Translated and edited by Robert Goldman and Sally Sutherland Goldman. 7 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984–2017.

    A highly meticulous scholarly work, with careful cross-referencing throughout, making this edition a dependable foundation for any research on Hanuman as a literary figure in the Sanskrit epic. The editors assembled the translation over a period of many years, involving consultation with various scholars.

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