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Hanuman Nataka – Ancient Drama Dedicated To Hanuman In Bengal

Numerous poets have drawn inspiration from Valmiki's Ramayana, crafting literary masterpieces rooted in its narrative. Among these, the Hanuman Nataka, traditionally attributed to Hanuman himself, stands out as a noteworthy example. This ancient composition adopts the form of a nataka or drama, primarily delivered in poetic verses but interspersed with sections in prose.

Two distinct recensions of the Hanuman Nataka exist: the Mahanataka, meticulously edited by Madhusudana Mishra of Bengal, comprising 788 verses across 9 ankas or scenes; and the Hanumannataka, edited by Damodaramishra of western India, encompassing 578 verses distributed across 14 ankas.

According to Damodaramishra, the origins of the text trace back to a piece of rock discovered by fishermen and later acquired by King Bhoja. Remarkably, the authorship is ascribed to the legendary Hanuman himself.

Despite its designation as a nataka or drama, the Hanuman Nataka diverges from the conventional features characteristic of Sanskrit dramas. Instead, it aligns more closely with the jatra-literature of Bengal, a genre of drama set in rural surroundings and performed in open auditoriums.

The narrative unfolds with Rama and Lakshmana accompanying the sage Vishvamitra to his hermitage, closely mirroring the events of Valmiki's Ramayana. A notable divergence occurs when Ravana, assuming the guise of Rama, attempts to entice Sita. However, his endeavor is thwarted by an akashavani or voice from the void, issuing a warning. Interestingly, select verses from this composition have found their way into the renowned works of Bhavabhuti, dating back to 800 CE.