Much of contemporary Christianity has embraced the commercial culture, from church growth marketing and consumerism to the transformation of Christian language and imagery into tacky knick-knacks to buy and sell. Now the Hindus are doing it.
Nestled between the wedding sari boutiques and hipster jean shops, there’s a store in the city’s most popular shopping mall that’s playing with the gods.
The fashion, art and design store has funky throw pillows depicting a psychedelic-looking Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music and the creative arts. She’s lounging on her pink lotus while swans float nearby and smaller versions of her likeness play the flute, drums and sitar.
There are retro journals, too, each featuring a particular god or goddess and a cheeky back story about the deity’s personality and dramas. “Ganesha is a foodie, and is crazy about ladoos [Indian sweets],” one says of the elephant-headed Hindu god.
Not all that long ago, that kind of cheeky irreverence about Hinduism's most-sacred deities might have caused riots in the streets. Krishna on a mouse pad? Monkey-headed Hanuman on a drink coaster? Unimaginable a few years back.
But today they are just a (mostly) accepted sign of how young, urban Indians are changing the way they view themselves and their society. Market experts say it’s also a sign of how India, an increasingly affluent and globalized society, is able to see itself through the eyes of the rest of the world.
“Young India is imagining what it can be. And it sees an abundance of inspiration in our culture, our religion, our streets,” said Hemant Dongre, an artist and one of the founders of Play Clan, the shop best known for the funky new take on the gods.“The economy is opening up. This has inspired a whole generation of young Indians to be creative, break mental barriers and have fun with ideas and commerce,” he said.
As more businesses use images of Hindu deities on handbags, stuffed animals, coffee mugs and the dresses of runway models, it is causing more fascinated buzz in artistic circles than anger among religious purists. . . .
“Indian religion and culture is now open to new concepts,” said Puri, who has two young daughters. “The divine beings are depicted like cute icons and that makes them more relatable. What’s great is that the younger, educated, college-going children would appreciate these deities depicted in a new and improved way, because they would not put up a traditional image in their rooms.”
I suspect that this sort of thing works better with Hinduism, with its many deities that can be manipulated into serving the devoted consumer than with Christianity, which insists on bringing up unpopular subjects such as the Cross. I predict pop Hinduism gets popular over here.