As one enters the age-old Hanuman temple on the banks of the Sangam in Allahabad, one expects to come face to face with the monkey-god standing tall and displaying his trademark macho image. But what meets the eye is amazing. Here is Hanuman in a reclining position, almost seeming asleep with eyes open! The statue is placed in a way that its head faces the north and the legs to the south. It is decorated with flowers, and fruit offerings are placed within striking distance. Surely this cannot be the work of an over-zealous creative craftsman and the managers of the temple to present the deity in a ‘different’ way, as some sort of a USP.
It is not. As with most temples with a hallowed past, this one too conceals a fascinating story which explains Lord Hanuman’s unusual posture. Once upon a time, there lived a prosperous trader in the city of Kannauj. He had all material comforts and a wife he loved deeply. But the couple had no children and the trader was distraught as a result. He decided to appease Hanumanji and proceeded towards the Vindhyachal hill range with a desire to construct a Hanuman temple there. In keeping with the times he lived in, he preferred a son.
Now, there is irony here. Hanuman, as we all know, was a celibate, and he should be the last person one ought to be approaching to plead for an offspring. But that is how it is — and has been for ages. To take the story forward, the trader, on reaching Vindhyachal, got an imposing statue of the deity cut out in stone. He then decided to take the figure along with him and bathe it in sacred waters in the course of a pilgrimage he wanted to undertake. While on this venture, he arrived at Allahabad, then known by its ancient name of Prayag.
During a night’s rest there, the trader had a dream. He dreamt that if he were to leave the statue at the holy Prayag and return home, he would be blessed with a son. And that was the first thing he did the following morning. He returned to Kannauj and was soon blessed with a child. Meanwhile, the Hanuman statue remained for years and years at the site where the businessman had left, and in the course of time, was submerged in the waters of the rivers at the Sangam.
The discovery of what came to be known as Bade Hanuman was serendipitous. A Hindu monk had arrived at the Sangam to take a dip in the sacred waters in the Magh month. While piercing his trishul in the sands to form a Dhuni, the mahatma found he had struck at some hard object. He began to carefully unravel the spot and discovered the statue. The monk then cleaned and purified the image, all the while taking care not to disturb the position in which he had found it — which was in a reclining posture. From then on, the deity remained as we see it today.
There is another story which explains the unusual position. The monk, whose name has been given as Balgiriji Maharaj, had made strenuous efforts to get the statue in a standing position, but try as he might, he failed to do so. Bade Hanuman would simply slip back to his original form. Many abortive efforts later he gave up, and the statue was finally consecrated and established as ‘Lete Hanuman’ (Lying Down Hanuman), and a temple came up there. The message everyone received was: When the deity himself did not want to stand up, why should ordinary mortals seek to do the impossible?
It is amazing that Bade Hanuman survived at a time when various Mughal rulers were rampaging across the country, destroying Hindu temples. It is said that when Aurangzeb heard of Lete Hanuman, he arrived at the Sangam with his team and ordered that the statue should be removed and thrown away. For days thereafter, the Mughal ruler’s people heaved and shoved, but failed to wrench the statue from the ground. Alarmed by the turn of events, Aurangzeb approached the Hindu monk who had found the reclining deity and sought forgiveness. The king then turned tail and left the place.
Maverick poet Firaq Gorakhpuri had once remarked that a visitor to Allahabad had seen nothing if he did not meet the great Firaq! The same can be said of Bade Hanuman temple. While in Prayag, if you haven’t had a darshan of Bade Hanuman, your pilgrimage is incomplete.