Sri Hanuman assumed Panchamukhi or five-faced form to kill Ahiravana, a powerful rakshasa black-magician and practitioner of the dark arts during the Ramayana war.
In the Ramayana, during the battle between Rama and Ravana, when Ravana’s son Indrajit is killed, Ravana calls his brother Ahiravana for help. Ahiravana, the king of Patala (the Underworld), promises to help. Vibhishana somehow manages to hear about the plot and warns Rama about it. Hanuman is put on guard and told not to let anyone into the room where Rama and Lakshmana are. Ahiravana makes many attempts at entering the room but all of them are thwarted by Hanuman. Finally, Ahiravana takes the form of Vibhishana and Hanuman lets him enter. Ahiravana quickly enters and takes the “sleeping Rama and Lakshmana” away.
When Hanuman realizes what has happened, he goes to Vibhishana. Vibhishana says, “Alas! They have been abducted by Ahiravana. If Hanuman does not rescue them fairly quickly, Ahiravana will sacrifice both Rama and Lakshman to Chandi.” Hanuman goes to Patala, the door to which is guarded by a creature, who is half Vanara and half reptile. Hanuman asks who he is and the creature says, “I am Makardhwaja, your son!” Hanuman is confused since he did not have any child, being an adept Brahmachari. The creature explains, “While you were jumping over the ocean, a drop of your semen(veeriya) fell to the ocean and into the mouth of a mighty crocodile. This is the origin of my birth.”
After defeating his son, Hanuman enters Patala and encounters Ahiravana and Mahiravana. They have a strong army and Hanuman is told by Chandrasena that the only way to vanquish them is by blowing out five different candles located in five different directions, all at the same time in return for a promise to be Lord Rama’s consort. Hanuman assumes his five-headed form (Panchmukhi Hanuman) and he quickly blows out the 5 different candles and thus kills Ahiravana and Mahiravana. Throughout the saga, both Rama and Lakshmana are rendered unconscious by a spell by the demons.
The five faces with their directions are
- Sri Hanuman – (Facing East)
The significance of this face is this face removes all blemishes of sin and confers purity of mind.
- Narsimha – (Facing South)
The significance of this face is this face removes fear of enemies and confers victory. Narasimha is the Lion-Man avatar of Lord Vishnu, who took the form to protect his devotee Prahlad from his evil father, Hiranyakashipu.
- Garuda – (Facing West)
The significance of this face is this face drives away evil spells, black magic influences, negative spirits and removes all poisonous effects in one’s body. Garuda is Lord Vishnu’s vehcile, this bird knows the secrets of death and the beyond. The Garuda Purana is a Hindu text based on this knowledge.
- Varaha – (Facing North)
The significance of this face is this face wards off the troubles caused by bad influences of the planets and confers all eight types prosperity (Ashta Aishwarya). Varaha is another Lord Vishnu avatar, he took this form and dug up land.
- Hayagriva – (Facing Upwards)
The significance of this face is this face confers knowledge, victory, good wife and progeny.
This form of Sri Hanuman is very popular, and is also known as Panchamukha Anjaneya and Panchamukhi Anjaneya. (Anjaneya, which means “son of Anjana”, is another name of Sri Hanuman). These faces show there is nothing in the world which does not come under any the influence of any of the five faces, symbolic of his all around security to all devotees. This also signifies vigilance and control over the five directions – north, south, east, west and the upward direction/zenith.
There are five ways of prayer, Naman, Smaran, Keerthanam, Yachanam and Arpanam. The five faces depict these five forms. Lord Sri Hanuman always used to Naman, Smaran and Keerthanam of Lord Sri Rama. He totally surrendered (Arpanam) to his Master Sri Rama. He also begged (yachanam) Sri Rama to bless him the undivided love.
The weapons are a parashu, a Khanda, a chakra, a dhaalam, a gada, a trishula, a kumbha, a Katar, a plate filled with blood and again a big Gada.