text and sculpture by Christian de Vietri
O Lord Hanumān!
Servant of Lord Rama!
Son of Anjana Devi And Wind-God!
O mighty Hero!
O learned Nava-vyakarana-Pundit!
O wise Sage!
Prostrations unto Thee.
Hanumān is one of the most popular divinities of India and most celebrated figures in Indian thought. In the great epic poem, the Ramayana by sage Vālmīki, Hanumān takes center stage in the fifth book, the Sundara Kāṇḍa, as the embodiment of speed, strength, wisdom, courage and devotion.
Vālmīki in the Ramayana describes Hanumān using the word vanara meaning "forest dweller". Hanumān is also described as a warrior and a scholar with great knowledge. The amazing qualities of Hanumān have led many to worship him as a deity in his own right. Hanumān is known as Sankaṭ Mochan – reliever of troubles, Mahavir – the mightiest hero, the incarnation of Śiva, the Śakti of Rudra, the son of the Wind-God, one of the seven Ciranjīvi (immortals), a personification of Brahmacharya, and the embodiment of surrender to God.
This sculpture of Hanumān is a work of devotion. The work started with deep process of research and introspection into the nature and qualities of Hanumān. It was not just a matter of creating a visual form of him. To reveal his form, I went through a process of experiencing all that Hanumān embodies.
The motivations and purpose of an artwork of this nature will be somewhat foreign to current contemporary discourse around art. Contemporary Art is fundamentally understood as the localised creative expression of an individual artist. In the art of Eastern traditions, creativity is understood as a universal energy the artist serves and aligns with, rather than something possessed by the artist. Surrender of the personal ego to the wisdom of tradition is the starting point. This involves lettings go of personal preferences and biases, so they do not interfere with the outcome of the work. The outcome of the work has many different aspects – object of worship, aesthetic delight and reminder of certain divine qualities all of us have within ourselves.
The story of Hanumān is an appropriate mirror for the actual process of making the sculpture, because both are inherently devotional. Hanumān was born with incredible supernatural powers – the ability to change shape and size, to travel at the speed of light, to move mountains – but he forgets these powers and only recalls them when he is in service of something greater than himself. In my own trajectory as an artist I have experienced how certain skills have developed only from being completely focused on dedicated service to others, to a higher power, to something that is of benefit to the whole of humankind.
It is said that Hanumān was only able to use his power in the service of God. The rest of the time we can assume he suffered from the equivalent of what artists would call "artist's block". A creative block of any sort is always and only a matter of us getting in our own way. Creativity is never "blocked", because it is the nature of the universe to eternally create. We only stop this flow by our pettiness, our narrowmindedness, our selfishness. When we forget ourselves and choose to serve others with detachment, we open to a higher power that is far greater than anything we could conceive of with our rational minds. It is then that creativity pours through us.
Hanumān's power emerges from a state of surrender. It is a soft power, born of devotion, manifesting as selfless service, courage, love, and loyalty. The principles that have guided the production of this sculpture operate at a subtle level and transmit a subtle power, having to do with the effect of the proportions, the mathematics of the shape, the scale, the rhythm of the measurements, the material, and various other aspects of the design. While other contemporary representations may be culturally acceptable, they are likely to be infused with the personal subjective views and biases of various artists and reproducers of art in recent history. This may give them a certain energy and beauty, but we cannot say objectively what their effect will be on Consciousness. With a traditional form, such as this Hanumān sculpture, the effect is known because it is engineered with precision. The potency, authenticity, and safety of the sculpture is therefore guaranteed.
Traditional sculptures in the Indian tradition are made according to specific proportions. These are like rhythms or beats in a piece of music, except that they are applied to the measurement of material form. This figure of Hanumān has been created to a specific "beat", so to speak, expressed in the measurement of his limbs and overall bodily proportions. It is a subtle yet direct expression of the actual vibrational quality and virtue of Hanumān – purified mind, open heart, unwavering devotion.
Most of the Gods and Goddesses of the Eastern traditions hold weapons and instruments of various sorts which indicate their attributes, and function. In this sculpture of Hanumān, he doesn’t hold any swords nor axes nor arrows. He is completely un-armed. He holds nothing but his supreme devotion, palms joined in Anjali mudra. The gesture of Anjali mudra is an honouring of both the self and the other. Hanumān is acknowledging with reverence his own divinity, the divinity of his beholder, and supreme divinity.
The first bell on the tail of a Hanumān statue is believed to be designed by Sri Vyasaraya, a patron saint at Vijayanagara empire who constructed 600 temples to Hanumān. According to the mythology of Hanumān, Lord Mahavishnu who had been in disguised as Ram, appeared before Hanumān in his true form and advised him to transfer all his powers into a small bell and tie it to the end of his tail, so that all those seeking the favour of Hanumān could ring that bell and receive his blessings and hear the divine sound of pure devotion.
From the Western cultural perspective, there is the notion that decoration is something superfluous. In Indian culture it expresses power, status, and character. From a political perspective, beautifying oneself with jewellery is considered necessary because it is interpreted as the manifestation of virility and righteousness. The ability to attract is a power far greater than brute force. In ancient Indian sculpture, the ornateness of a figure is a way of expressing the effulgence and beauty of Consciousness. It is a celebration of the multiplicity of variegated forms that emerge as the manifest world from the one absolute source. Ornaments on the body of the sculpted figure are located at specific points that correspond to energy centres of the subtle body anatomy, each having their own significance. The foot-bands are Hanumān's discipline, the anklets are his vows, the belt is his perseverance and self-containment, the bracelets are his renunciation, the necklace is his generosity, the earrings are his patience (stretched earlobes are his wealth), the crown is his wisdom as well as his supreme spiritual attainment.
Like all divinities of the Eastern tradition, Hanumān stands on a lotus. It is barely recognisable as a lotus and is not meant to be realistic. You will find Hanumān’s body too is simplified, smooth and stylized. When natural forms are sculpted in the Indian tradition, they are not intended to be carbon copies of nature precisely as we see it with our eyes. This stylisation is a way of giving expression to the intangible qualities of the material world, to the essence of life that animates nature rather than just the material level of reality. The lotus is significant because it grows in the mud of ponds, but it arises with immaculate purity, completely unstained, at the surface of the water. It is the quintessential symbol of enlightenment.
Traditional sacred art is a mirror that reflects back to us our own essential nature. It serves to remind us who we truly are. I hope this sculpture will invoke within you the energy, qualities and perfection of Hanumān, to inspire, guide and uplift you.
May this sculpture be of benefit to all!
(This sculpture is made-to-order at any size, miniature or monumental, customized to the personal Nakshatra. For more information please contact the studio of Christian de Vietri at www.christiandevietri.com)
Christian de Vietri is an artist based in New York. His art education took place at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris where he completed his Bachelor of Fine Art, Columbia University in New York City where he completed a Master of Fine Art, and in Nepal where he studied traditional Newar sacred art. He has extensive training in the practice and philosophy of Yoga, has received initiation into Śakta and Śaiva lineages, and has been authorised to teach classical Haṭha Yoga.
His sculptures have been exhibited and collected internationally for the past 20 years. Several awards have been bestowed upon Christian, including the Citizen of the Year Award for his contribution to visual art in Australia.