There has been much rejoicement on social media at Hanuman being announced as the official mascot of the 2023 Asian Athletics Championships, being held in Thailand next month.
The celebratory comments remind one of former Uttar Pradesh sports minister Chetan Chauhan saying in 2018 that the Hindu God was a sportsman and a wrestler - only on being pushed to comment on the then-burning issue of Hanuman's caste.
Leaving questions on the intersectionality of mythology and professional sports aside, Hanuman's role in Thai culture, and even Thai sports, is a centuries-long phenomenon. This is because the Ramakien, the Thai adaptation of the Ramayana, which is one of Thailand's national epics and an important part of the country's literary canon, gives a more expanded role to the character.
The Thai Hanuman
Like the Indian version of the Hanuman, the Thai Hanuman is an embodiment of courage, martial skill and strength. But departing from the strict lifestyle of the Indian Hanuman, the Thai Hanuman is a promiscuous character, and prone to mischief.
As such, the character is a favourite in school textbooks and ubiquitous across Thailand. Murals at Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaeo, built in 1785, depict him playing Sepak Takraw in a ring with a troop of monkeys. Seasonal festivals have a pantomime character playing Hanuman as the central attraction. Hanuman amulets are popular with Muay Thai fighters as they believe it gives them strength. Soldiers and policemen are also known to wear Hanuman symbols.
In sports, the 2009 Asian Martial Arts Games in Bangkok, Thailand, the first and only Asian Martial Arts Games in history, organised by the Olympic Council of Asia, had Hanuman as the mascot.
The 1st ASEAN Deaf Games in 2018 also had a 'Hanuman Noi' as its mascot. The 2017 Youth Weightlifting Championship in Bangkok also had Hanuman as the mascot.
Thailand is not the only non-Indian nation to have Hanuman as the mascot of a sporting event. Even Indonesia, where too the character enjoys a similar reputation, had him as the mascot when they hosted the 1997 Southeast Asian Games.
Indian contingent at Asian Athletics Championship
As many as 54 Indian athletes have managed to qualify for the Asian Athletics Championships.
Men: Rajesh Ramesh and Muhammed Ajmal (400m/4x400m relay/4x400m mixed relay), Amoj Jacob (4x400m relay/4x400m mixed relay), Nihal Joel William, Mijo Chacko Kurian and Muhammed Anas Yahiya (4x400m relay), Krishan Kumar and Mohammed Afsal (800m), Ajay Kumar Saroj and Jinson Johnson (1500m), Gulveer Singh (5000m/10000m), Abhishek Pal (5000m/10000m), Mohammed Nurhasan and Bal Kishan (3000m steeplechase), Yashas Palaksha and Santhosh Kumar (400m hurdles), Tejaswin Shankar (decathlon), Sarvesh Anil Kushare (high jump), Jeswin Aldrin and Murali Sreeshankar (long jump), Praveen Chithravel and Abdulla Aboobacker (triple jump), Tajinderpal Singh Toor and Karanveer Singh (shot put), Rohit Yadav and DP Manu (javelin throw), Akshdeep Singh and Vikash Singh (20km race walk)
Women: Jyothi Yarraji (200m/100m hurdles), Nithya Ramraj (100m hurdles), Aishwarya Mishra (400m/4x400m relay/4x400m mixed relay), Chanda and Lavika Sharma (800m), Lili Das (1500m), Ankita (5000m), Parul Chaudhary (5000m/3000m steeplechase), Sanjivani Jadhav (10000m), Priti (3000m steeplechase), Pooja and Rubina Yadav (high jump), Baranica Elangovan (pole vault), Shaili Singh and Ancy Sojan (long jump), Abha Khatua and Manpreet Kaur (shot put), Annu Rani (javelin throw), Swapna Barman (heptathlon), Priyanka and Bhawna Jat (20km race walk), Rezoana Mallick Heena and Jyothika Sri Dandi (4x400m relay/4x400m mixed relay), Anjali Devi, Jisna Mathew and Subha Venkatesan (4x400)