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Excerpt: My Hanuman Chalisa by Devdutt Pattanaik

My Hanuman Chalisa explains Tulsidas’ hymn to Hanuman, the Hindu deity who embodies courage. This excerpt features a commentary on Doha 1 of the Chalisa

books Updated: Sep 23, 2017 14:23 IST
Devdutt Pattanaik

Doha 1: Establishing the Mind-Temple

Shri guru charan saroja-raj nija manu mukura sudhaari.

Baranau Raghubara Bimala Jasu jo dayaka phala chari.


Having polished my mind-mirror with the pollen-dust of my

guru’s feet.

I bask in the unblemished glory of the lord of the Raghu clan

(Ram), bestower of life’s four fruits.

Thus begins the Hanuman Chalisa, composed by Tulsidas four centuries ago in Awadhi, a dialect of Hindi spoken in the Gangetic plains around the cities of Awadh, or Ayodhya, and Kashi or Varanasi.

Chalisa means a poem of forty verses (chalis means forty in Hindi). Hanuman Chalisa, however, has forty-three verses. The main forty verses are chaupai, or quatrains (verses with four short, rhythmic segments). Framing these are three dohas, or couplets (verses with two long, rhythmic segments) — two at the beginning and one at the end — which serve as the entry and exit points into the ‘mind-temple’ that is created by the Chalisa.

Hindus have always believed that a temple can be created in the mind using words and verses, just as brick, wood and stone can be used to construct a temple in the material world. The psychological world exists parallel to the physical world; these are the two worlds inhabited by all living creatures (jiva in Sanskrit) according to Hindu scriptures. Only the non-living (ajiva) exist solely in the physical world.

Author Devdutt Pattanaik (Renjit Menon/Courtesy HarperCollins)

In Hinduism, mind and matter are seen as interdependent, and their complementary nature was expressed using many words such as dehi-deha, atma-sharira, purusha-prakriti, shiva-shakti. The value placed on the psychological world is the reason why sacred Hindu writings are full of symbols and metaphors. The literal is for those who cannot handle the psychological, and prefer to see the physical as real. This yearning for the literal is indicative of insecurity, for the insecure mind finds it easier to control matter, which is measurable, than the mind, which is not.

The verse refers to the mind as a mirror that reflects the world.

We think we engage with the real world, when in fact we engage with the world reflected in the mind-mirror. A dirty mirror will distort our view of the world, so we need to clean it. The cleansing agent is the dust of the guru’s feet, who is so realized that the dust of his feet have the potency of pollen (saroj).

Our dirty mind-mirror is contrasted against the pure (vimala) glory of Ram who offers the four fruits (phala chari) that come from God, that nourish human existence: dharma (social order), artha (wealth and power), kama (pleasure) and moksha (freedom from material burdens).

Read more: Religion is not a sensitive topic: Devdutt Pattanaik

Is there a relationship between the pollen of the guru’s feet and the fruit bestowed by God? There could be. The mind which is a mirror (mukura) can also be seen as a flower (mukula), similar sounding words when we think about it. Is that deliberate device used by the poet? We can surely speculate. By the use of pollenflower-fruit metaphors a connection is established between the guru’s wisdom, a clear human mind, and the glory of the divine, which together will give us what we desire.

Watch more: FB Live conversation with Devdutt Pattanaik

Having sought the blessings of the guru and invoked God, and polished the mind-mirror, it is time to declare the intention behind this enterprise we are embarking upon. It is time for the sankalpa.