“My Hanuman Chalisa” by Devdutt Pattanaik

“Jo yeh padhe/Hanuman Chalisa/Hoye siddhi/sakhi Gaureesa” these lines are known to almost every Hindu. If they have not actually read them, they would have heard them recited by their elders, their parents and their grandparents. The lines written in Awadhi by Tusidas over 400 years ago mean, “Whoever reads/these forty verses of Hanuman/Will achieve whatever he desires/a claim to which Gauri’s lord (Shiva) is witness.” Awadhi is a dialect of Hindi that was commonly spoken in the areas of the Gangetic plains which include the holy cities of Awadh or Ayodhya and Kashi or Varanasi. 

46 year old Devdutt Pattanaik has established himself as being India’s foremost present day mythologist by dint of over 700 articles and 30 books on the relevance of our ancient mythology in modern times with special reference to management, leadership and governance. Interestingly, Pattanaik did not start his career as a journalist. He trained in medicine and worked for 15 years in the health care and pharma industry before following his passion for writing about mythology.

His book, “My Hanuman Chalisa” (Rupa, 2017) 168 pages, makes for interesting reading. The name, “Chalisa” comes from “chalis” being “40” in Hindi. For one familiar with arguably one of Hinduism’s most powerful prayers, it is a refreshing refresher while as it is an easy to read eye opener for the uninitiated. The book covers the origins of the prayer, and explores each of the 43 verses that make up the prayer.  Actually, the prayer has 43 verses although called “Chalisa” with 40 verses being chaupai or quatrains with four short, rhythmic segments and three dohas or couplets which have two long rhythmic segments.

The way the book is structured is that each chaupai is written in the Hindi script with first a transliteration and then a translation to English. Sample this: perhaps one of the most powerful in the chalisa.  I can’t reproduce the Hindi script but the transliteration goes,  “Sankat kate/mite sab peera/ Jo sumirai/Hanumant Balbeera” which means , “Problems cease/pain goes away/when one remembers/Hanuman, the mighty hero.”  You get the idea, I am sure, from this example. More importantly, then follows Pattanaik’s elaboration on the chaupai and his interpretation of what it means. The stories are replete with examples from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and other ancient texts.

All in all, the book was quite fascinating. I was interested to see that the many illustrations that liven up the book considerably were also from the author!

Highly recommended for those interested in learning about our rich heritage.



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