Tuesday, March 15, 2011





The art form around the theme of Vishnu has inspired Joan Cummins, Ph.D., guest curator of First Center for the Visual Arts to organize an exceptional exhibition titled “Vishnu: The Hinduism’s Blue Skinned Savior.” This exhibition will be on display at the Center till May 29th and again it will be displayed at Brookline Museum between June 24th and October 11th 2011.

It is always interesting to see how even the most well meaning and sincere scholars of Hinduism in the West represent Hinduism and its images and how confusing it is for anyone to make sense of what is being presented. It is imperative, therefore, to revisit the concept of Vishnu on this blog, www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com to grasp the significance of Vishnu and comprehend the concept to help one truly appreciate the “mythology” (not “mystology” as the Freudian slip of a typographic error just took place) and the art associated with the concept and worship of Vishnu. The literature included in the exhibit does not seem to do justice to these, though it is an excellent contribution and a tribute to Vishnu (with some backhand remarks that misrepresent Vishnu as well as Hinduism).


The brochure describing this exhibition starts with introduction of Hinduism, placing it chronologically as a religion beginning in or around 1000 BCE. This is the date for the “compilation of the Vedas” according to the designers and obviously being quite oblivious to the fact that Buddhism was born in 600 BCE.

That leaves only 400 years for the entire history of Hindu Bharat from Vedas to Mahabharata to Ramayana to evolve. It would have been much more enlightening to mention the Vedic and Vedantic notion of one Supreme Being, "Brahman," as the earliest discovery of the Hindus and all deities being rightfully described as manifestations of one and the same “divine power.” Instead, the brochure observes as if it is an accepted fact that “Many Hindus argue” (emphasis added) that there is a single divine power but the brochure makes it a point to say that not all agree. This type of treatment of a major religion of the world shows lack of comprehension of the basics and views it from a typical “monotheistic” lens even describing Vishnu as a “savior” which is not a typical Hindu concept but an extension of Christianity projecting Jesus Christ, who is described as the “savior,” onto Vishnu.

The description “blue skinned” is also an awkward wording as “skinned” has two connotations rarely meaning “covered” by blue skin. Vishnu is not often described as blue colored in contrast to his avatar, “Krishna.”

It is a well known fact that Vishnu is the second of the Hindu Trinity, "Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara." In Hindu cosmogony, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver, and Maheshwara is the destroyer in simplistic terms. It is, therefore, important to maintain the sacredness of the image of Vishnu and state at the outset that Vishnu is revered by most Hindus for whom he is like God to Christians. For many he is the only God. Simply describing Him as “a deity” again shows a bias towards Hinduism as a polytheistic religion.


“Plato said we are trapped inside a cave and know the world only through the shadows it casts on the wall….The skull is our cave and mental representations the shadows.” (Pinker, 1997, p84) (Pinker, S. 1997. How the Mind Works. New York: W. W. Norton)

The internal representations is what any human being relates to especially when the object with which he/she relates is absent in reality. The abstract concept of infinite (Ananta), formless (Niraakara), non-manifest (with no qualities to describe, meaning Nirguna) nature of the Brahman or Vishnu is difficult for the human mind to comprehend, and therefore, it is symbolically represented as an image. All religions do this because of the nature of the human mind but many religions refuse to admit that they have some form of notions and symbols representing the Supreme Being that are concrete.

Anthropomorphizing a deity is a necessity for the Hindu mind to be able to relate to it, and worship it. If it is to be revered and adored, it needs not only be sacred but have all the attributes of human and more so.

The word “Vishnu” is derived from two roots, “Vish” (pronounced as Wish) to pervade or to enter, and “Nu” denoting minute or cutting through everything. Thus, Vishnu pervades all space which is infinite represented by the color of space, that of the sky, “light blue.”

The Hindu concept of God is slightly different in that there can be duality during the devotional process but there is always recognition that everything emerges from the Supreme Consciousness (Brahman) which can be called by different names for different aspects of the same and Vishnu is just one of those names. Vishnu also has nearly thousand names describing the nature of Vishnu in great details.

The all powerful being operates through four principal energies, kinetic (represented by Chakra), gravitational energy represented by “Gada”, electromagnetic and vibrational energy including sound and light represented by “Shankha,” and a very special directional force of the Universe that can be seen as evolutionary force or negative entropy represented by “padma” (unfolding or blooming). Vishnu as the preserver also has an aspect directed towards the mankind and that aspect is called “Narayana” who is all loving and protective.


Description of Vishnu as Gagana sadrusham refers to the infinity of the sky. His description of Meghavarnam refers to his color as dark as cloud. But, why do the modern artists (since 8th century CE) paint Vishnu as blue? My best conjecture is that it is probably the consequence of the racial inferiority that crept into Hindu society by the invasion and occupation and consequent subjugation of HINDUS to the rule of whites and semi-whites. For instance in Mahabharata, Droupadi was described as most beautiful and ageless beauty (Krishna- meaning dark). She arose from the Homa as a tender dark bud of night lotus (sirutotpala Komalama Varni.) Arjuna (arjuna means white and also pure in action) was not the most handsome, but his younger brothers Nakula and Sahadeva were; and they were of brown complexion. When they were exiled to the forest, onlookers cried at their lovely sight. Both dusted themselves with soil to look less attractive and thus lessen their grief. When Westerners want to write about Hinduism they should have modesty to refer to some authentic Indian scholars of Hinduism.

Now about polytheism of Hindus; all religions of the world, to begin with, were polytheistic and then they evolved into monotheistic or atheistic cults, later expanding into religions. A look at Judeo-Christian bible for instance confirms this. In delivering Ten Commandments, God says, “Thou shall have no other God besides me, for I am a Jealous God,” implying that there are other Gods, albeit of lesser quality or power driven into anonymity in the politics of religions just like the Greek Gods. Vedic literature shows the desperate search to know the reality behind the phenomenal world including the search for the nature of Creator, not accepting the folklore or some priestly authority. After many centuries of struggle Vedic quest reached the conclusion regarding the Nature of One God (Brahman – Nirguna and Saguna) and some them of even No God (Shoonya) in the Buddhist tradition, an offshoot of Hindu Vedic quest: but all Hindus live harmoniously with different views. “Ekam sat vipraah bahudhaa vadanti” meaning one “Truth” is variously interpreted by the wise ones (the knowledgeable ones). The inquiry (Jignyaasaa) is still open and continues.

(The author acknowledges the kind contribution to the content - in the last two paragraphs by Dr. Seshachalam Dutta)

Please see other articles on this blog for further clarifications by reading “Demystifying Ganesha,” “Demystifying Shri Krishna,” “Demystifying Hanuman”, “Hinduness for World Peace and Harmony” to comprehend Hinduism and Hindu science and art of iconography.

(To be continued, as this article is a work in progress)

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