Introduction to my upcoming book, Hanuman’s Quest – Andy Fraenkel
It would be impossible to appreciate the philosophy and spirituality of the Vedas without entering into story. The Ramayana is the oldest and most revered story in India (if not the world). Dr. Robert Goldman, Professor of Sanskrit, writes in The Ramayana of Valmiki, "Few works of literature produced in any place at any time have been as popular, influential, imitated and successful as the great and ancient Sanskrit epic poem. . .” Originally written by the sage Valmiki in twenty-four thousand verses, The Ramayana tells of events in the Treta-yuga and is considered “itihasa”—“that which took place,” or that which is true.
It was already an ancient story when it was narrated to the
Pandavas five thousand years ago in The Mahabharata. Over the
centuries, numerous versions of the Ramayana have emerged
across Southeast Asia, and in Tibet and China as well. Relief
carvings at Angkor Wat depict accounts of the epic. The story has
been enacted in drama, dance, storytelling and puppet shows.
The Ramayana was a phenomenon when serialized on Indian TV
thirty years ago. As each new episode aired, crowds in the
villages gathered around the few television sets available, and the
streets of large cities were eerily deserted, with everyone at home
watching the show.
In the story, the plight of Rama touched the hearts of
Hanuman and his monkey friends. They stepped forward to come
to his aid. It can be said that Hanuman is the main hero of Th
Ramayana and one of the most extraordinary personalities found
in all of the Vedic literatures. The princely monkey is the
champion of Sanatana Dharma, with its four pillars of
Compassion, Truthfulness, Cleanliness and Self-Discipline.
Hanuman has long been referenced to introduce moral and
philosophical points, to help maneuver through life’s challenges,
as well as for daily inspiration and meditation.
This story is especially relevant today. Forces that in ancient
times played out in battles between Celestials and Asuras
continue to play out today in a variety of ways: including the
corrosion of civility and compassion, the distortion of truth, and
the ravaging of the earth caused by the demands of our modern
consumerist culture. The forces of rampant greed, characteristic
of this age of Kali-yuga, unleash untold injustice and suffering
upon the citizens of our planet, both human and non-human.
These challenges must invariably awaken us to the inherent
sacredness of all life, including the life of the planet itself.
Expounding the timeless teaching of Dharma, The Ramayana is a
foundational text of the spiritual culture of humankind. My first
venture into storytelling began in 1972 by telling afew of Hanuman’s
stories at an event in Madison, Wisconsin. Now, almost 50 years later,
it is my great fortune to continue to share these endearing and
Herein, as with my previous book Mahabharata: The Eternal
Quest, I bring to bear my life’s work in theater and storytelling.
The storyteller’s craft is especially meant to ignite the
imagination, to help the listener, or reader, fill in the panoramic
scenes, and probe the depths of the story. Again, in this telling, I
have attempted to remain true to the story while envisioning it as
a film on the big screen.
My hope is that Hanuman’s Quest will attract a new spotlight
to his story, and leave readers absorbed, informed, and inspired.
Surely, this should be the purpose of any good movie, play, book
or work of art.
In closing, I have been inspired by and am indebted to:
Manmatha Nath Dutt for his first complete English prose
translation, The Ramayana (1891-1894); Hari Prasad Shastri for
his English translation, The Ramayana of Valmiki (1957); to
Radhanath Swami for his series of talks (found on YouTube) on
Hanuman and the Ramayana during his 2014 Hampi Yatra
(pilgrimage); and to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada for
his translation of the Srimad Bhagavatam (Ninth Canto – with its
chapters on The Ramayana), published by the Bhaktivedanta
Today, the auspicious Hanuman Chalisa, by the 16th century
poet Tulsidas, is chanted all over the world. My invocations at
the beginning and end of this book are inspired by Tulsidas’
poem, describing Hanuman’s many remarkable qualities. As a
skilled fighter, an agile gymnast, a poet, speaker, musician par
excellence, and a scholar of Vedanta, one could say that
Hanuman was the world’s first renaissance “man”. . . . and the
world’s first superhero as well.
FROM FOREWORD BY VINEET CHANDER, HINDU CHAPLAIN, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY
“Few personalities in the Hindu pantheon have captured hearts or inspired courage in quite the way that Hanuman has. This re-telling of Hanuman’s heroism, valiant feats, and charming escapades will surely entertain and delight readers. The author also beautifully brings out the more subtle wisdom nestled in these stories. Hanuman is the embodiment of devotion. All of Hanuman’s other wondrous qualities, in one sense, stem from a heart dedicated to his Divine Beloved. Hanuman’s Quest offers us a powerful glimpse into this heart, and the opportunity to make cultivating such a heart our own aspiration.”