Holy cow, Rama! You been working out?
IN A major shift from traditional iconography, the gods are being “butched” up by various artists to make them more appealing to modern young Hindus.
According to this report, one New Delhi artist, 23-year-old Anirudh Sainath Krishnamani, says he was disappointed as a child by the fair-skinned and clean-shaven depiction of Lord Rama in a TV serialisation of the god’s story in the “Ramayana.”
Krishnamani says that image doesn’t comport with the Rama described in Hindu texts, where Rama fights many battles and single-handedly slays 14,000 demons. (Were some of them gay demons, one wonders?)
Rama was this really macho, warrior kind of person. He shouldn’t be looking like this really soft and nice-nice person.
Hmmm, I get his drift.
A recent digitally-rendered piece by Krishnamani shows Rama with a dark complexion, dreadlocks and broad chest, aiming an arrow while riding on the back of Hanuman, the monkey-god, who is slicing through the sky like a jet.
In Shiva: The Legends of the Immortal, a series of graphic novels, the title character:
Boasts bulging muscles that ripple under his tiger-skin wrap and dark tresses that blow in the wind as he battles with his trident.
People today require “a little bit more visual convincing” of gods’ extraordinary powers, says Sandeep Virdi, a 26-year-old graphic-novel fan from Delhi who applauds the new looks.
Prakash Sharma, a spokesman for Vishva Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, says his organisation isn’t opposed to presenting Hindu gods as muscular and strong.
“But there should not be an effort to change the original character” of the deities, he says, adding the portrayal shouldn’t be demeaning.
The changes are part of a re-imagining of Hindu stories that supporters say makes them more relevant to India’s middle-class youth, who are navigating a far different world than the one in which their parents lived.
Young Indians “want to connect to the tradition in a very different manner,” says Joseph M T, assistant professor of sociology at University of Mumbai. The gods’ new look has “resonance to an aspiring India at some level.”
Graphic novel publishers say they are careful to show respect to the gods in the story lines, even while giving them a more powerful look. But traditional depictions still abound in mainstream media, including old-school comic books and the calendars that hang in many Hindu households.
Another Delhi-based artist, Anant Mishra, shows gods in clothes and settings that might not seem out of place in a Western comic book. In one painting, Hanuman lounges in a Batmobile-like vehicle in the sky, wearing armor appropriate for a sci-fi film, watching over an apocalyptic scene on earth.
Not everyone is thrilled with the changed iconography. Krishnamani was ordered to remove three of his paintings from an exhibition in Bangalore last year because they showed goddesses in the buff. In one, Shiva kisses his wife Sati, who is topless. The artist threatened to sue after he was ordered by police to make them vanish. The plods acted after a complaint was lodged by Bharatiya Janata Party State media coordinator A L Shivakumar about the paintings that depicted Kali, Mohini and Shiva-Sati in the nude.
Krisnamani, 22 at the time, griped:
I am the one that’s hurt and offended.
He attributed the offence taken to:
Ignorance about Indian culture and mythology. If art keeps receiving such blows and if artists keep backing down, there will be no art left in this country.
Indian publishers such as Holy Cow Entertainment, Vimanika Comics and Campfire Graphic Novels have launched comic books and graphic novels that combine familiar story lines with new scenes and dialogue.
Said Vivek Goel, founder of Holy Cow Entertainment:
We’re trying to give cutting-edge art to the same old mythological stories.
Lots of brilliant images of the made-over gods with their muscles all a-ripple here.