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More than just a tailpiece!

Every Tuesday, we have a spectacle here, but what does history have to say about Connaught Place's Hanuman Mandir? Find out with R.V. Smith

The Hanuman Mandir near Connaught Place, which is actually on the old Irwin Road, is said to date back to antiquity. Some even associate it with the Pandavas. The story goes that Bhimsen, who was the strongest man of his time, with the strength of several elephants, was once on his way to Hastinapur through a jungle. There he found an old monkey lying right in the middle of a paghdandi (pathway). He asked the simian to move his long tail out of the way. The monkey replied in a human voice, "You are a strong young man, remove it yourself because I am too old and weak to do so."

Bhimsen caught the tail but couldn't move it an inch. He exerted all his strength and still the tail remained where it was. He eventually realised that it was no ordinary monkey but some divine manifestation trying to test him. Bhimsen folded his hands and accepted defeat. The monkey suddenly took its true form and, lo and behold, Hanuman himself stood before the astonished Bhim.

In Hanuman's honour

The Pandava made his pranam and asked for the Monkey God's help in the fight he and his brothers were waging against the Kauravas led by Duryodhan. But Hanuman said his yug (epoch) had passed long ago and he could not interfere in a "present-day conflict". But he added, "continue with your efforts and you will succeed in the end as truth is on your side." This tale, incidentally, also formed part of the tele-serial Mahabharat.

You can make what you like of it, but the story goes on to say that Bhim decided to build a temple in Hanuman's honour. The Bhairon temple near Purana Quila is also said to have been built by him.

Hanuman Mandir is not part of Bhim's creation but the site is, according to a pujari this scribe spoke to in 1960, which was long before the teleserial was made. There is, however, a certain portion of the temple that is still pointed out to visitors as being a relic of the Mahabharat days. Maybe the area was part of a forest then.

Historical truths

While it's difficult to vouch for the tale of Bhim and Hanuman, what is probably correct is this temple was actually built by Raja Mansingh during Akbar's reign. It was rebuilt in the third decade of the 18th Century by Raja Jai Singh II, after the Rajput ruler and friend of Moghul emperor Mohammad Shah Rangila had constructed Jantar Mantar. Jai Singh used to live in his palace, not far away, in the place that has now become Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. He would often visit the temple close to the site of Jantar Mantar and worship an idol of Hanuman on Tuesdays. His prayers having been answered with the completion of the Delhi Jantar Mantar, the Raja went ahead to reconstruct the temple of his favourite deity also.

The Shiv Mandir next to Hanuman Mandir is said to mark the site of an ancient Shivala, again associated with the Mahabharat days.

Fact and gossip merge in the case of both these temples, where one ends and the other begins is hard to tell. But the present buildings of the Hanuman Mandir and Shiv temple are certainly not ancient but modern structures that have undergone many renovations that their supposed antiquity is lost to posterity.

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