An Irishwoman's Diary


WHEN I first saw the blue-tinted lead characters in a still shot from Avatar, my pre-conditioned mind screamed out “Hindu God” at me (now, I know better than to say which one). Later, watching the movie, there seemed to be a lot more to remind me of Hinduism – admittedly an uninitiated westerner’s perspective of Hinduism – true to the individual’s interpretation of the theory, but lacking in faith.

Unsurprisingly, I am not alone. Some quick online research will reveal a relatively large number of Hindus have opined that the movie has a lot in common with Hinduism. While some are happy enough that the concept is in the safe hands of the film’s writer and director James Cameron, others feel slightly offended by the trivialisation of the “ avatar” term. Nevertheless, there is agreement that the movie undeniably has a Hindu connection.

To begin with, those who thought the title Avataris derived from the name of one’s online or gaming profile image, here is a little correction.

The word avataris originally from Sanskrit and means “descent” or “incarnation” and refers primarily to one of the 10 forms that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver among the Hindu Trinity, took to save Earth’s inhabitants whenever evil took over. Again, the basic theme of the movie – one of living in harmony with nature – is at the heart of Hindu teachings.

The sci-fi element of the character played by Sam Worthington in transmigrating his soul and intellect into another body is also a skill believed to have been widely used by ancient Indian yogis and possibly the current breed as well.

The “green theme” storyline of the movie resonates with Vedic philosophy. Vivekananda, one of India’s greatest thinkers, famously referred to Hinduism as not a religion, but a “way of life”. A way of life which regards the whole universe as one big family, a way of life that is in total sync with nature and one where every manifestation of nature, including mankind, is deified.

Following the success of Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winner, Slumdog Millionnairein drawing attention to India (mostly negatively, unfortunately), Cameron’s Avatarhas succeeded in capitalising on that attention to surreptitiously draw the viewer to the teachings of Hinduism, albeit inadvertently.

This time, there is little to complain about and even radical Hindus will probably falter before raising slogans and spears. After all, what the radical rabble-rousing has failed to achieve in decades in the context of raising the global stature of Hinduism, Avatarhas achieved in months.

Despite all the thematic elements from Hinduism, one thing truly original is the good old American ego. Given its Hollywood origins, the script has remained faithful to the inherent superiority complex, and has predictably bestowed the honour of the “avatar” not on the movie’s native Na’vis, but on a white American marine – in the year 2053.

This and the world-class animation, in one fell swoop, has relegated the movie’s eastern origins to the background, decipherable only to the trained eye.

No doubt, there is ample evidence to suggest that Cameron looked to Hinduism and contorted (mastercrafted to some) what he discovered into his very own record-breaking blockbuster. But the issue that this has helped raise is the reluctance of the western world to accept anything oriental in its pristine form.

Why is it necessary to interpret and mould an original Eastern product so it suits the sensibilities and tastes of the average westerner? From the English curry, which bears little similarity to its original version to the so-called Indian head massage, why is it that everything has to pass the scrutiny of the western style sheet before it is accepted?

Why is it mandatory to reinvent and rediscover what has already been established in other cultures? It was laughable for instance, when a recent research survey (no point dwelling on the wasted millions spent in researching this) figured out that the turmeric in curry dishes helps fight cancer cells. For centuries turmeric has been an integral, basic ingredient in Indian cooking for this very reason. Again, it is hard to figure out how many billions of dollars cash-strapped Nasa had to spend to come to the century-old Indian astrological conclusion that Pluto is not a planet at all. The fact is that only a reinvented oriental wheel is considered worthy of the western world’s adulation – exceptions excluded.

Winning three Oscars this week will further boost Avatar’s success. Takings from the Hindu world have already contributed significantly to it – thanks to the universal appeal of 3D Hollywood.

As for the Hindu God depicted in the story, does it matter that many Avatarfans will never know or care that there is indeed a Hindu God with blue skin, another with a tail (not fibre-optic) and yet another that most Hindus believe is the one the story is based on. And as long as there is no litigation from the heavens for copyright violation, Cameron “king of the world” probably wouldn’t give a damn either.