Hanuman’s characterisation is every child’s delight and stories abound of his antics. There multitude of such short stories are attempts to paint a mental picture in the minds of readers of his sharp wit matching with his superhuman strength.
Today, we are going to see one such interesting legend. Thanks to Sri. KK uncle’s chance posting of a visit to Varaheeswarar temple at Thamal (is inbetween Vellore and Kanchi) and a picture from Sri. ArvindhanNeelakantan’s Flickr album of a sculpture from Munchirai Sivan Temple, Kanyakumari district, we see today two versions of one story.
The crux of the story is simple, faced with an equally hardy opponent, Hanuman uses his sharp with and tact to get himself disentangled from a potentially long drawn battle.
The story is that of Hanuman Vs Surasa.
Having brought up on healthy dose of Amar Chitra Katha ( our tribute to Uncle Pai – we salute you for bringing us hours and hours of fun+knowledge), lets for once go through the core text to read what happened.
Time is of the essence as Hanuman attempts to jump across to Lanka is search of Sita, at the foothills of Mount Mahendra. Aided by the wise Jambavan, Hanuman realises his true strength and leaps across. Enroute, the demi gods test his skills.
You can follow the whole episode in verse and detailed text
Thereafter, Devas together with Gandharvas, Siddhas and great sages spoke thus to Surasa, the mother of Nagas, equal to the Sun in brilliance. “This glorious son of Vayu, going by the name of Hanuma is flying over the ocean. You obtain a horrible mountain like demonic appearance and make a face with fearful tusks, red-brown eyes and as vast as the sky, and create an obstacle to Him for an instant. We are desiring to find out if by His strength and also courage and intelligence He can win over you or obtain sorrow.”
That Goddess Surasa, thus spoken to by Devas and also being respected by them, wearing a horrible disfigured appearance of a demon in the middle of the ocean which caused fear to all, and stopping Hanuma who was flying, spoke these words. “O best among Vanaras! You have been given by Devas as my food. I will eat you. Enter inside my mouth.”
mama bhakshaH pradishhTastvamiishvarairvaanararshhabha |
ahaM tvaa bhakshayishhyaami pravishedaM mamaananam || 5-1-151
Thus spoken to by Surasa, the glorious Hanuma, with a happy face and with folded hands, spoke these words to Surasa. “The son of Dasaratha, with the name of Rama entered the forest of Dandaka together with His brother Lakshmana and wife Seetha. When that Sri Rama, with a bitter enmity towards Rakshasas, was diverted in another task, His famed wife Seetha had been taken away by Ravana. I am going for Rama’s sake as a messenger to find Her presence. O subject of Sri Rama! You are suited to help Rama. Otherwise after seeing Seetha and informing that to Sri Rama who makes Seetha without troubles, I will obtain your mouth. I am promising truthfully to you.”
Thus being spoken to by Hanuma, Surasa with power to take desired form, spoke thus: “No one can overcome me. This is my boon.” Mother of Nagas, Surasa, desiring to know the strength of Hanuma, spoke these words on seeing Him going away.
“O best among Vanaras! You are bound to go only after entering my mouth. This boon had been given to me long ago by Brahma.” – speaking thus, with quickness she opened her wide mouth and stood before Hanuma. Then Hanuman speaking thus to Surasa, became angry and became ten yojanas long and ten yojanas wide.
Seeing Hanuma, who looked like a cloud, being ten yojanas long, Surasa also made her mouth twenty yojanas long. Thereafter, Hanuma got angry and became thirty yojanas long. Surasa made her mouth forty yojanas high. The courageous Hanuma then became fifty yojanas high. Thereafter, Hanuma got angry and became thirty yojanas long. Surasa made her mouth forty yojanas high. The courageous Hanuma then became fifty yojanas high.
Surasa then made her mouth sixty yojanas long. The mighty Hanuma in the same fashion, became seventy yojanas high. Surasa made her mouth eighty yojanas high. The mountain-like Hanuma then became ninety yojanas high. The great wise Hanuma seeing that mouth with a long tongue which was horrible and equal to hell being opened by Surasa, greatly reduced His own body and became the size of a thumb.
The glorious Hanuma with great speed, quickly entered Surasa’s mouth and came out of it and standing in the sky spoke these words to Surasa. “O daughter of Daksha! I indeed entered your mouth. My regards to you. I will now go where Seetha is. Your boon also came true.”
so.abhipatyaashu tadvaktraM nishhpatya cha mahaajavaH |
antarikshe sthitaH shriimaanidaM vachanamabraviit || 5-1-168
Seeing that Vanara being released from her mouth like the moon from the mouth of Rahu, goddess Surasa spoke these words assuming her normal form. “O gentle Hanuma! Go according to your comfort to achieve the desired task. Bring Seetha together with the great Sri Rama.”
Seeing that third very difficult task of Hanuma, all the creatures then praised Hanuma saying “Good! Good!”. That Hanuma, equal to Garuda in speed, neared the ocean which is the abode of Varuna, entered the sky and went in His original path.
So, lets go back to the two depictions. The one from Thammai first.
It is a brilliant depiction of showing the action of Hanuman diving in almost perpendicular. For people unaware of the story, they are bound to think that the Demoness is swallowing someone. But the ‘sculpture moment’ in this work is the depiciton of the tail of Hanuman!
Coming to the Munchirai depiction
Here, he is shown as entering through the mouth and existing through the ear. Considering that such an act is bound to leave Surasa injured it can only be called an error or we may have to give the benefit of doubt to the sculptor for trying out a local variation of the Surasa story.
Sometimes inorder to win some you have to shrink !
( I have been searching for a similar depiction in Sucindram temple. I hope viewers can check and contribute this rare sculpture on their next visit)
Some other contemporary depictions of this found on the net