About those flying monkeys

HARIDWAR, INDIA - FEBRUARY 11: A Hindu priest sits next to a statue of the God Hanuman waiting for offerings on the banks of the Ganges river on February 11, 2010 in Haridwar, India. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees are expected for the Kumbh Mela, hailed to be the largest religious gathering in the world. The Kumbh mela is celebrated every three years and rotates among four Indian cities. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

It's such a simple thing, I guess, but I love the way Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ann Rodgers previews upcoming religious events. It doesn't matter what my level of interest is going into one of her stories, I always come away something to think about. Take this story about a visit from Hindu Swami Tejomayananda to a local convention. The point of the visit is to educate 2,000 attendees on a beloved chapter in an epic of Lord Rama. She explains a bit about the Swami's approach and his popularity. Perhaps the piece relies a bit too much on one particular interpreter, but the context is still helpful:

The story is from the Ramcharitmanas, a 17th century translation of the Ramayana -- the epic of Rama -- from Sanskrit into colloquial Hindi. Although the Ramcharitmanas isn't one of the primary Hindu scriptures, it is considered a holy book, and many Hindi-speaking people chant one of its chapters as part of their daily devotions. That chapter, known as the Sundarkand or "beautiful chapter," will be the Swami's topic, Mr. Dharmarajan said.

The story concerns Lord Rama, an avatar, or manifestation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. Rama was the virtuous crown prince of a kingdom in northern India, but was unjustly sent into exile. His wife Sita went with him. When Sita was kidnapped, Rama enlisted Hanuman, a flying monkey who commanded an army of monkeys, to help rescue her.

"There is enormous symbolism built into these stories, which many people don't understand. They laugh at the Hindu religion and say, 'You worship a monkey,' " Mr. Dharmarajan said of Hanuman.

Rodgers explains that some believe the army of monkeys symbolizes human reason. It's not a lengthy story. I imagine that there are many other interpretations of the monkeys and it would be nice to see those, too -- but she makes it clear that she's showcasing just one school of thought in Hinduism. But I figure it takes a particular talent to write stories about upcoming events and make them as interesting as she does.

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