Hello dear Aalayam family!
The Aalayam authors want to extend a warm welcome to all our new members! Welcome to the fold! Remember to spread the word, if you will, about the Grand Aalayam Giveaway! The contest is still open!!
Today's topic is about Indian superheros - Hindu mythology's contribution to legendary characters with superhuman abilities and/or magical powers, wearing distinctively cool costumes, having magnificent personalities, and placed on the earth to primarily fight against evil forces.
I am going to keep the tone of this post deliberately cheeky, non religious and non pedantic. These are my views alone and DO NOT represent the teachings or representations of Hindu religion. So, with that out of the way, here goes! I have used the images from Sanjay Patel's whimsical book on Hindu Deities in this post, purely because I think the pictures are so cute and represent these "larger than life" heroes with so much sauce!
Growing up, my grandmother used to fascinate me with stories about these superheroes - Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Rama, Krishna and all the cool avatars these dudes used to manifest themselves into. The ladies got a mention too occasionally - Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Sita - well, what can I say, gender discrimination was not so outrageous back then!
Just like fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, my grandmother's tales used to mesmerize me with the contrast between the good guys (the legion I continue to talk about through this post!) and the bad guys! (they don't get a mention, although if I must, Duryodhana is my favorite - talk about loyalty!)
(note the reproductive symbolism via the Lingam, that depicts power!)
Animals are an integral part of the support system to these superheroes. Whether as means of transportation, avatars to address world emergencies or trusted confidantes. This glorification of animals (and ergo - vegetarianism, for the most part) stems from the belief that God (Universal good for the atheists) resides in all living creatures. Krishna and the docile cow, Vishnu and Shiva's king cobra, Kartikeya's glorious peacock, Rama and the loyal monkey or Durga's valiant tiger, all creatures great or small, have their place in this legion of superheroes! (all these superheros get a one page dedication in Patel's book, please do read!)
Female empowerment is synonymous in our mythology with benevolence, harmony, fertility (yes, yes..hold on to your skirts!) power and balance!
Whether it is Mahadevi, who appears as bloodthirsty, evil relinquishing warriors like Durga or Kali...or as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity and happiness.. or as Saraswathi, the epitome of knowledge and the arts, all these accomplished ladies reign supreme in establishing a strong foundation of good and proper, and if necessary, powerful and unrelenting, to people who depend on them! A boilerplate for the modern day woman right?
Now, on to the wives and mommies. What is a great superhero, without a supportive partner he can rely on to keep the home-fires burning huh? Parvati, aka Uma, Gauri and Shakti is symbolic of unflappable commitment to her husband, Shiva, and her unwavering devotion to her children Ganesha (the elephant headed dude) and Kartikeya (of the peacock fame).
And of course, who can forget Sita, the quintessential honorable wife, who was banished because her chastity was questioned, although empires were destroyed to protect it! In Patel's words, Sita's martyrdom to her duty, as a steadfast and faithful wife has left a profound legacy.
Now for the modern day parenting conundrum! I am sure all of you face this with your kids as well. How do I expose my kids to the spiritual and austere aspects on these superheros, Gods, deities however you want to think of them, in a western society, without stepping too deep into the religious manifestations and interpretations? How do I make the core message - "triumph of good over evil", and make that relevant to the everyday challenges my kids face at work, at play and at life's sandbox!?
We sure have some awesome examples. Our legion of superheros and heroines, have set the stage of model behavior (some behaviors are suspect as well, trust me, diabolical politicking, disloyal abandonment, manipulation for world good etc..) hey, but that's where individual and parental judgement come in! Isn't that right?
I leave you with a cool image of Nataraja, the dancing king, who vanquished evil with some seriously cool dance moves! Nataraja's cosmic dance symbolizes the balance between creation, preservation and destruction, in a way, urging us, everyday heroes to hold our responsibilities, actions and reactions in stylish equilibrium!
Disclaimer: All images are reproduced and reimagined from the Little Book of Hindu Deities and copyrighted to the author Sanjay Patel. This is a blog post inspired by the illustrations in the delightful book and is to be considered as the Aalayam author's opinion on Indian mythology . No part of this article represents the views of Sanjay Patel or of the Hindu religion.