While on a meditation retreat at the ashram of Amma Sri Karunamayi in India during the winter of 2019-2020, I began spontaneously and frequently shouting out the name “Hanuman” during my meditation practices. I knew that Hanuman was the monkey-faced deity in Hinduism, but that was really all I knew. And so I prayed that I wanted to get to know Hanuman. During that same retreat, Amma mentioned the sacred epic poem the “Ramayana” in which Hanuman is a central character, saying that it is a great blessing to anyone who reads it. Just a couple weeks later while still in India visiting Arunachala, I went to see Anubodh the celebrated flute maker to purchase another bansuri. As Anubodh came to the gate to let me in, I heard him peacefully singing a beautiful song. Upon asking him what he was singing, he answered, “The Hanuman Chalisa”. Then immediately upon arriving back in the US, I started reading the Ramayana as Karunamayi had recommended. I was absolutely moved, inspired, comforted, and uplifted through reading the Ramayana, perhaps moreso than any other book I’ve read in my life time. Near the end of the book, with my heart brimming, I read the words: “And now you know Hanuman.” My prayer had been answered.
Full of gratitude and inspiration, I began memorizing the Hanuman Chalisa, which consists of forty verses and takes about 10-12 minutes to sing. I found many different sung versions with different rhythms and melodies on the internet, but felt particularly drawn to the version I found sung by Lata Mangeshkar. I liked both the chord changes and melody, and learning it seemed within grasp of my limited knowledge of Indian music. Since both the language and sense of melodic phrasing was foreign to me, I admittedly tried to copy every nuance of her articulation and phrasing. When it came to actually recording the song, I took liberties with the instrumental arrangement, both simplifying it and adding some of my own style and sensibilities. I finished memorizing the Chalisa in early July of 2020 on the very day I started living in my van as a nomad, and have sung it everyday since as part of my daily devotions. I recorded the song in January 2021 at my parent’s house in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania while home for the holidays.
But recording the song wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to make a video expressing my joy and love for God as an offering to both Lord Hanuman and to Amma Sri Karunamayi, Sita herself, whose grace is responsible for introducing me to her beloved Hanumanji, the protector of poets. I set back out on the road continuing my nomadic van life in late February 2021, and headed straight for the Everglades of south Florida, a place I have been coming to for many years that feels magical and sacred to me. This place is teeming with Life and is like Eden to me. However there are no monkeys here to film, nor are there Hindu temples and iconography. Yet throughout my whole life I’ve felt that nothing in the material world reflects the truth, beauty, and grace of God as much as Wilderness and Nature. So it felt quite fitting to make this video for Hanuman using footage of the natural world as the central subject.
I spent the whole month of March exploring and getting to know the Everglades more deeply while recording footage all the while. It was a learning process in many ways. I got to know the creatures and their habits more deeply, carefully contemplating them through the camera’s eye. I also had to learn how to use my new Lumix G85 camera that I bought myself for Christmas with this and other projects in mind. I spent of lot of my time bass fishing in these murky, gator and gar infested waters, always with a camera on my hip and a tripod tethered to the back of my dirtbike. I learned a lot about fishing these waters too, and went from catching very little to being very successful on the regular, often enjoying a bass dinner at the end of a day’s expedition.
All in all, it was a deeply fulfilling and enjoyable adventure making this video. It was also a healing journey. I feel much lighter, freer, and more empowered than when I begun, and in truth, this is only the beginning. As I continue vanlife, I intend to keep producing music and filming wildlife throughout different ecosystems all across America. This gives me a meaning and purpose, and saves me from the sorrow of feeling like an aimless and solitary drifter. I consider all these animals my friends and family, and I never feel lonesome among them. As well, being in Nature I always feel close to God, witnessing beauty, balance and grace all around me, and knowing that I am part of it. Jai Hanumanji! Jai Karunamayi! Jaya Shankara!
Words by Tuladasi. All instruments and vocals arranged and performed by Mateo Monk. All footage filmed and edited by Mateo Monk.