Ramayana is an epic portraying exemplary characters. Rama is the ideal king, Sita the perfect wife and Hanuman the perfect devotee. The character of Hanuman exemplifies how devotional service is practiced in its perfection, how a pure devotee relates with his worshippable Lord and how the Lord reciprocates.
Origin of Hanuman
Hanuman was born the son of Kesari and Anjani. His mother Anjani was previously an Apsara (celestial lady) named Punjikasthala who took birth in the monkey race as a result of a curse. Despite this her beauty was unrivalled and once attracted Vayu, the powerful god of the winds. Hanuman was born as a result of the union of Anjani and Vayu-deva, but as Vayu-deva revealed that this was not a sinful activity since the appearance of Hanuman was ordained by the great Lord Vishnu Himself.
When Ravana had become invincible by the boons he had obtained from Brahma, he became a terror to even the powerful demigods. With Lord Brahma at their head, they prayed to the omniscient Lord Vishnu for help. In response, Lord Vishnu confirmed that He would descend as Rama, the son of King Dasaratha. He also ordered the demigods as follows, "Soon My advent on earth will occur. Assisted by all of you I will crush the despicable Ravana. The evil one did not ask for immunity from humans and animals. As promised I will descend as a human. Without leaving your posts as the controllers of the universe, you are capable of expanding yourselves. You should therefore appear on the earth as monkeys." In accordance to the wish of Lord Vishnu, Indra, the king of the demigods, expanded into Vali, Surya, the sun-god, into Sugriva, Vishwakarma, the celestial architect, into Nala and the Ashwini twins into Mainda and Dvivida. Vayu, the wind-god, expanded into the mighty Hanuman.
When appraised of their role in assisting Lord Vishnu, both Kesari and Anjani became exceedingly grateful and were soon blessed with the birth of an effulgent and powerful progeny they called Bali, one who is extremely powerful. He was also called Bajrang Bali, Kesari-nandana (son of Kesari), Anjani-putra and Anjaneya (son of Anjani).
Hanuman tries to swallow the Sun
As a child once Hanuman thought the rising Sun in the sky to be an apple and quickly flew up in the sky desiring to eat it. Indra alarmed at the sight of some one approaching to swallow the Sun, quickly deployed his weapon the Vajra. Struck by this powerful weapon, the child Hanuman fell down unconscious. When Vayu-deva witnessed this he became extremely angry and withdrew himself from the universe. When the winds in the sky and the very life-airs became suspended, there was great anguish in the three worlds. All the demigods, headed by Brahma implored Vayu-deva to give up his anger.
Vayu-deva finally gave up his anger and resumed his function in the universe and the grateful demigods showered many benedictions on Hanuman. Indra gave him the boon of being able to die only when he desired, Brahma gave his protection from his powerful weapon the brahma-astra and the other demigods showered him with many mystic powers and weapons. Since the weapon of Indra and struck and broken the jaw of Hanuman, he got the name by which he would be most famous. Hanuman which means "one with a broken jaw."
Hanuman accepted the very same Sun god he had tried to swallow as his guru and learned from him the Vedic scriptures and science of war. Later on, Hanuman on several occasions displayed his impeccable grasp on Vedic scriptures, when trying to convince Ravana to give up Sita, when counseling Sugriva and by strictly following the codes of battle in the war against the rakshasas. His strength and skills as a warrior are matched by his keen intellect, knowledge of the scriptures and a deep compassion for all living entities.
Hanuman looses his powers
As a young child Hanuman could not control his great powers and in childish exuberance caused much disturbance to the peaceful sages in the forests. Much disturbed by his excessive energy and indefatigable powers, the rishis finally cursed him to loose all his powers. However by their mystic vision they realized that Hanuman would play a vital role in later assisting Lord Rama in His pastimes. They therefore decreed that when some one would remind Hanuman of his powers the effect of the curse would be lifted and Hanuman would get complete recollection of his great powers.
Meeting with Lord Rama
While living in exile with Sugriva, Hanuman first encountered Rama and Lakshmana as they searched for Sita. Hanuman on the orders of Sugriva had disguised himself as a Brahman to try and find out if the two mighty bowmen were sent by Vali, the vengeful brother of Sugriva. However on seeing Them, all doubts were immediately wiped from the mind of Hanuman who immediately revealed his true form.
From this time, Hanuman became completely absorbed in one and only one thing, the service of Rama. Later when Hanuman and his troop of monkeys were stuck on the southern shore of the country, separated from Lanka by the ocean, Jambavana reminds Hanuman of his great powers. The duration of the curse thus ends and a greatly powerful Hanuman jumps across the ocean to wreak havoc in the golden city of Ravana.
Hanuman the perfect devotee
The relationship between Rama and Hanuman demonstrates the perfection of devotion in the mood of service (dasya-rasa). In an almost classical manner Hanuman demonstrated the symptoms of pure devotional service. Everything that he did was only for the pleasure of Lord Rama, whether it was building bridges, fighting rakshasas or flying across the country to fetch life saving herbs, his constant meditation was how to best serve Rama. When he sought out Sita in Ravana's Lanka, he was not merely satisfied at delivering to her the message of Lord Rama. He also destroyed the forest, killed many rakshasas and burnt down half of Lanka. That is the mood of a pure devotee. To consciously cultivate everything that is positive to the service of the Lord and reject everything that is not.
Even though Lord Rama reciprocated very sweetly with gratitude, praise or benedictions for Hanuman, he never had any expectation for them. Hanuman often presented himself as a simple ignorant monkey in front of Rama. When Hanuman returned from Lanka with news of Sita, an overjoyed Rama embraced him tightly. However a clearly uncomfortable Hanuman stated that his position could only be at the feet of his Lord. The highest reward for him was to serve Lord Rama. Service to Rama was the most exalted destination for Hanuman, and he constantly endeavored to perfect himself in this respect.
Glories to Hanuman
After ruling for eleven thousand years when the time came for Lord Rama to return to His eternal abode, most of His close associates, including Sugriva, accompanied Him. However Lord Rama ordered Hanuman to stay back, to protect and inspire His future devotees. Lord Rama gave Hanuman the benediction that he would live for as long as His glories would be sung in any corner of the world.
Even though Hanuman appeared in the Treta-yuga, millions of years later he made an appearance again in the Dwapara-yuga to help his younger brother Bhima. In order to serve Krishna, in the battle of Mahabharata, Hanuman personally resided in the flag on the chariot of Arjuna. During the battle, the fierce cries of Hanuman struck terror in the hearts of the opposition and greatly encouraged the Pandava warriors.
Devotees pray to Hanuman to protect them from material obstacles in the path of devotional service and engage them in the service of the Supreme Lord Rama.