Introduction to my upcoming book, Hanuman’s Quest – Andy Fraenkel
It would be impossible to consider the philosophy and spirituality of the Vedas and Hinduism without entering into story. The Ramayana is the oldest and most revered story in India (if not the world), and Hanuman, one of the most extraordinary personalities found in the Hindu tradition. 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 variations of the Ramayana have emerged throughout Asia. Relief carvings at Angkor Wat depict accounts of the epic. The story has been enacted in drama, dance, storytelling and puppet shows. The Ramayana, serialized on Indian TV thirty years ago, was a phenomena. 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.
Dr. Robert Goldman, Professor of Sanskrit, explains, “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, the Ramayana.”
Expounding the timeless teaching of Sanatana Dharma, the Ramayana is indeed a world classic, and a vital part of the sacred culture and heritage of all humankind. For thousands of years the story has been referenced to introduce moral and philosophical points, to help maneuver through life’s challenges, and for daily inspiration and meditation.
My first venture into storytelling began in 1972 by telling a few of Hanuman’s stories at an open-mic in Madison, Wisconsin. Now, almost 50 years later, it is my great fortune to continue to share the endearing and enduring stories of the princely monkey. Usually, a knowing smile comes to a face familiar with Hanuman as the story unfolds.
Herein, as with my previous book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest, I bring to bear my life’s work in theater and storytelling. And again, in this telling I have attempted to remain true to the story while envisioning it in the form of a movie on the big screen. My hope is that Hanuman’s Quest will leave readers with the experience of being absorbed, enlivened, inspired and informed. Surely, this should be the purpose of a good movie, performance, book or any work of art. 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.
In closing, I 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 the 2014 Humpi 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 Book Trust.
Today, the auspicious Hanuman Chalisa, by the 16 century poet Tulsidas, is chanted all over the world. In the invocations at the beginning and end of this book, I offer my own rendering of Tulsidas’ poem, describing Hanuman’s many remarkable qualities. As a skilled fighter, an agile gymnast, a poet, speaker and musician par excellence, and a scholar of Vedanta, one could say that Hanuman was the world’s first renaissance man, and the 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.”