To Hindus such imagery is not trivial but has meanings which the western mindset rarely fathoms. These icons and images are not chosen at random but have specific purpose. As Hindu author Stephen Knapp writes:
Vedic paintings or symbols are unique in that they can deliver the same spiritual energy, vibration and insight that it represents. In other words, through the meditation and devotional mood of the artist, the art becomes a manifestation of the higher reality. This is also why there is much training that goes into being such an artist. In this way, the painting or symbol becomes the doorway to the spiritual essence contained within. They are like windows into the spiritual world. Through that window we can have the experience of darshan of the Divine or divinities, God or His associates, or whatever is represented in the painting.
Therefore this is the great divide on how Hindus and the west respectively approach art. For the west, especially at its consumerist lowest common denominator, everything is profane. Nothing is sacred. So imagine when Hindus pray to goddess Kali only to walk into a restaurant and see her image on a toilet seat – this actually happened. At one point a famous footwear house decided to put Hindu imagery on shoes. More poignantly Hindu places of worship are destroyed with disturbing regularity in Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh in yet another abuse of sacred imagery. That is rarely reported.
Western mindsets are only concerned where Hindu imagery can be exploited For example let us look at the pictures of Hitler as Shiva. Or is it Shiva as Hitler? In any case we see the use of one of history’s notorious dictators made to look like one of Hinduism’s most revered images.
Then again when we see a swastika it is immediately equated with the evils of Nazism, when of course it predated Nazism and was a symbol of good fortune in Hindu culture. Yet the appropriation of the swastika by the Nazis meant that Hindus have in some ways been robbed of their very identity because that symbol is now equated equivocally with Nazism.
So here we have the classic example of how the much vaunted ‘freedom’ of expression has been abused and twisted from its original meaning.What may seem trivial but when one looks deeper and there is nasty undercurrent to the issue under discussion. If the swastika can be used in this way, then what else has the potential to be detached from its original meaning and purpose? That does not sound so innocent any more does it?
The western cultural arrogance is far from dead. Indeed it has only been updated. Western paradigms simply cannot make sense of ancient pre-modern cultures, aside from what makes them a cheap and quick profit. The more controversial the better, at least where Hindus are concerned.
Indeed they have been bold where abuse, exploitation and insulting of Hindu imagery is concerned. This brings us to the crux of the matter on how Hindu culture is merely some cheap resource to use and exploit, while the sentiments and dignity of that culture’s very adherents are ignored and trampled upon in what we would think is a diverse and democratic society.
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