Future of Hinduism
Mythology, Media, and the Future of Hinduism
Even in the relatively short span that these tales have appeared in the media, great contributions have been made. For instance, long before mythologicals allegedly provoked religious extremism by turning up on Indian television in the 1980s, they were sparking the spirit of Gandhi, social reform, and Indian independence to life in the stages and cinema halls of early 20th-century India (read more here about film pioneers Phalke and Nagiah). The question for us to ask now is what the tales of the gods need to liberate us from in the future. In an age of terrorism, wars, environmental degradation, financial hoaxes, and mass mediated delusions, the need for the tales of the gods is stronger than ever. The challenge for us is simply to tell them better.
We are already telling ourselves more stories about the gods than ever before, thanks to new media technologies. But in order to tell ourselves better stories, and stories that speak as much to new concerns as old ones, we must avoid the extremes of the present moment. Fortunately, there are indeed many new voices that are rising to the sky in praise of the gods in ways that make sense to us in the 21st century. Devdutt Pattnaik's work covers anthropology, philosophy, and art but speaks to us ultimately in one simple voice, of devotion. Sanjay Patel's vision of the gods shows freshness in their form and a charming 21st-century American sort of coolness to them, without straying into irreverence at that. His child gods, delightful and divine all at once, are the best images of Hinduism's popular pantheon as it leads us into the future. It is as if each god is being reborn with each child that comes onto this earth, and it is up to us to learn to live and walk worthily among them once more.
Vamsee Juluri is a new father, novelist, and professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco.