Hanumān Jayantī in Maharashtra
Lord Rāma’s story is well-known from Vālmīki’s epic Rāmāyaṇa. There are countless regional variations of Rāma stories, but the basic outline is as follows: Rāma is banished from his would-be kingdom of Ayodhya; he travels to the forest with his brother Lakṣmaṇa and wife Sītā, who is abducted by the demon-king Rāvaṇa; Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are assisted by Hanumān and his monkey-troops in a great battle of good and evil; ultimately Rāma’s side wins, and he returns to Ayodhya with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa. Rāma and Kṛṣṇa are today the two most popular “earthly embodiments” (avatārs) of the great god Viṣṇu, and Hanumān is considered to be Rāma’s faithful servant (dāsa) and model devotee (bhākta). Hanumān also is one of the most widely-recognized Hindu deities in contemporary India. In the presentday state of Maharashtra, located in central-western India, Hanumān is called Mārutī in Marathi (Sanskrit: Māruti), and he enjoys unparalleled popularity. Maharashtrian Hindus (and even some non-Hindus) engage in wide-ranging devotional practices for his annual festival, Hanumān Jayantī (“birthday”), which occurs precisely at sunrise each year on the first full-moon of Caitra (March-April), the first lunar month of the Hindu calendar. In the following section I describe my observations of Hanumān Jayantī celebrations at two locations: atop a hill in a rural area (1999), and at a few of the numerous temples in the modern city of Pune (1998). These two sites illustrate in part the immense fluidity one sees during the course of a single festival day. I use my field notes, photos, and video footage (from Pune) to describe this annual festival.