Bolsonaro, Modi, Bartimaeus, Hanuman

The monkey Hanuman carries a herb mountain — Wikimedia Commons

Recently Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to confirm the close collaboration between Brazil and India on fighting COVID-19. Regarding the supply of pharmaceutical raw materials for the production of hydroxychloroquine from India to Brazil, as a potential treatment for COVID-19, President Bolsonaro wrote

“Just as Lord Hanuman brought the holy medicine from the Himalayas to save the life of Lord Rama’s brother Lakshmana, and Jesus healed those who were sick and restored the sight to Bartimeau, India and Brazil will overcome this global crisis by joining forces and sharing blessings for the sake of peoples”

The reference to both Lord Hanumān and to the story of Bartimaeus were well-timed, as the letter was written at the time of the Hindu festival of Hanumān Jayanti as well as the approach of Easter. These references were also well-chosen as a metaphor for the contemporary situation.

The story of Jesus restoring the vision of either one or two blind men at Jericho is described in the three synoptic gospels. However, only in the Gospel of Mark is the blind man specifically named, in the following passage –

“And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. 
And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. 
And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. 
And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. 
And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. 
And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? 
The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. 
And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.”

[Mark 10: 46–52; KJV]

Nothing is known of Bartimaeus outside of this passage, and the name is not a common one. However, from this passage alone, Bartimaeus seems to be a significant figure in the overall narrative. By addressing Jesus as ‘son of David’ twice, Bartimaeus seems to be the first figure to explicitly acknowledge Jesus as the saviour of humankind, the Christ or Messiah. The firm faith of Bartimaeus in Jesus as saviour is certainly the most significant aspect. In granting him sight, Jesus tells him that it is his faith that is responsible for the cure.

The story of Hanumān bringing the medicine is rather different in nature. The incident occurs following a scene where, during a battle between Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa against Rāvaṇa, Lakṣmaṇa actually comes to the aid of Rāvaṇa’s brother Vibhīṣaṇa, and is very seriously wounded by Rāvaṇa, appearing to be in some sort of coma. Now, we read –

“Rāma, seeing that the life-breath of his dear brother was exiting, was filled with great sorrow and fell into grief-filled thought.”

[Yuddhakāṇḍa 101.9; my own translation]

With Rāma grieving for his brother’s life, the monkey-chief Suṣeṇa comforts Rāma by explaining that Lakṣmaṇa’s life can yet be saved. Then he turns to Hanumān and speaks as follows –

“Sir, going quickly from here to the Mahodaya mountain, which you were told about earlier by Jambavān, bring the medicinal herb called Viśalya-karaṇī (arrow-wound-healer) which grows on its southern peak, and also Sāvarṇya-karaṇī. Brave man, bring the medicinal herb Sanjīva-karaṇī [reviver] and Sandhānī. Bring [them] in order to revive the brave Lakṣmaṇa.”

[Yuddhakāṇḍa 101.30–32; my own translation]

However, there is a small problem when Hanumān reaches the mountain as he is unable to determine which is the right herb to bring back As such, Hanumān decides to bring back the entire mountain-peak –

“Arriving at the mountain and observing thus, moving quickly, the very strong Hanumān arrived at that supreme mountain and shook the peak of the mountain three times. Very strong, that tiger of monkeys completely uprooted the multitude of trees in blossom, and held it balanced in his hands. Holding the mountain’s peak like a dark rain-cloud filled with water, he leapt up from the surface of the earth. After returning at great speed, he set down the mountain-peak and rested awhile, then Hanumān said to Suṣeṇa — “I am not able to recognize those medicinal herbs, bull of monkeys, so I brought this whole peak of that mountain.”

[Yuddhakāṇḍa 101.37–41; my own translation]

Interestingly, Hanumān is supposed to have repeated the entire process of bringing the mountain over a second time when the entire monkey army was rendered unconscious and needed to be revived by the medicinal herb Sanjīva-karaṇī or Sanjīvanī. However, according to another account, Hanumān never returned the mountain to the original location at the end of the process, and the picture below shows the place from where it was supposedly taken.

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