Oh, My Pop Culture Vishnu: Hinduism in Pop Culture

When I was a much younger little lady, I had a falling out with the Almighty. I firmly believed that there was no god/goddess/gods or anything else of the kind. A year later my attitude grew and changed and I once again believed in something. I was raised Catholic all my life but after my year of atheism I wasn’t sure whether or not Christianity was right for me. So I began to research other religions to see if they fit me and my personal beliefs better. There was one religion that stood out to me above all the others: Hinduism. I loved Hinduism; it spoke to me in a way that no other religion had in years. I was even lucky enough to visit the Hindu temple near where I lived and talk to some of the people there. Eventually, I was led back to Christianity, but Hinduism would always have a special place in my heart.

Which is why on behalf of everyone who practices Hinduism I would like to apologize for the poor portrayal Hinduism in pop culture—at least in western culture.

Most westerners don’t know much about Hinduism. Even with the various research that I have done and the classes I have taken I would venture to say I don’t even know too much about Hinduism, because it is largely underrepresented in America. Other than Christianity, the two religions that get noticed the most are Judaism and Islam. I’d guess that this is at least partly because they are all Abrahamic religions, they share the same roots, same God, and many of the same religious figures. Many eastern religions, because they don’t have these similarities, are often a mystery to many westerns. Buddhism, for example, despite being a religion with a strong sense of pacifism, is often shown in western pop culture as having cool Kung fu fighting monks that use magic to kick your ass… yep. Hinduism gets a bad reputation I think because it is a polytheistic religion. Because most western religions our monotheistic anything that deviates from tends to look strange. This might explain while Hinduism gets portrayed as some old school pagan religion with virgin sacrifices and brutal, violent, and often evil gods.

There aren’t many examples of Hinduism in pop culture but here are two that bother me the most.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:

Oh this movie, while mildly entertaining it is one of the most racist (and sexist) movies in the Indiana Jones trilogy (there are only three, damn it). The Hindu people eat giant bugs and frozen monkey brains. Now I have never been to India, but I don’t think the food is anything like that, but basic culture aside let’s look at the religious aspects of this movie.

Indiana Jones crash-lands in the Himalayas and discovers a village where the people believe he was sent by the god Shiva to help retrieve the sacred Sivalinga stone, as well as the children, who have been kidnapped from the village. While attempting to retrieve the stones Indiana comes into conflict with a group of Kali worshippers who kidnap children, kill people, turn people into zombies (with a potion called the Blood of Kali), and commit ritualistic sacrifices lead by the evil priest Mola Ram. Mola Ram hopes to obtain all the Sivalinga stones and use them to rule the world! Mwhahaaha! His is an evil laugh.

There are so many problems it almost not worth it to pull it apart. Shiva is not really discussed at all in this movie despite the Sivalinga stones being his sacred stones. Shiva is a destroyer god and part of the Brahman so he is extremely powerful. Kali is also Shiva’s consort so I’m not sure what the writers where implying here by pitting the two groups against each other. Kali is a goddess of death and I guess many people view that then as evil or bad, but in the eastern traditions death does not mean evil. Remember Shiva is the destroyer, but death and destruction are also a part of rebirth and change. Kali and Shiva are also often connected with the death and destruction of obstacles or evil. They are both seen as good and great protectors.

Going off of Indiana Jones you’d think Shiva was a pacifist and Kali is the devil. The movie pits the two gods against each other as if they are the Christian God and the devil, but this is in no way the case. With all the great stories involving the Hindu gods why the writers of this script felt the need to invent their own Hindu traditions is beyond me.

Supernatural episode “Hammer of the Gods”:

Supernatural is a TV show that draws heavily on Judeo-Christian mythology so it’s no surprise that anything outside of that mythology isn’t handled very well in the show. In the season five episode Hammer of the Gods, Dean and Sam are led to a motel where various gods have gathered to try and find a way to stop the Judeo-Christian apocalypse. This could have been really interesting and it was, actually, it was a great episode, but as far as its portrayal of the Hindu gods goes… it was problematic.

In Supernatural pagan gods are all bad, and like to eat and kill people. Furthermore, they are all a lot weaker than they were when they had more worshippers. Okay, that’s an interesting take, but Kali and Ganesh, the two Hindu gods in this episode, are still worshipped and have many followers today. Though there are still a few groups that worship Odin or Hermes today, they pale in comparison to followers of Hinduism. After Christianity and Islam, Hinduism in the world’s third largest religion. Yet in the show, Kali and Ganesh are not nearly as powerful as the Christian God, in fact, they confess that they can’t even kill an angel.

That was something that really bothered me about this episode. I expected that Kali and Ganesh could take out an angel or two, but no, these gods don’t even faze them. Probably the most upsetting moment in the episode is when Lucifer shows up and kills all the gods! Kali only manages to survive because Gabriel, another archangel, protects her from Lucifer, but Ganesh is killed on screen. Let me repeat that, Ganesh, a god from the third largest religion in the world, is murdered on screen by Lucifer. That would be like Jesus being torn to pieces by Kali in a TV show. One major figure from one religion brutally murdering another major religious figure from a different religion. I mean, how did no one stop and ask, “hey, could this be offensive?”

Furthermore, Kali and Ganesh are shown to be of course pagan gods, which they are not. Paganism and Hinduism are very different. They are further shown killing and eating people.

I also think it shows how ignorant western culture is by the fact that the writers choose Kali and Ganesh as the two gods to represent Hinduism. If a council of gods was called, I’m pretty sure Vishnu and Shiva, of the Brahma would be the ones in attendance, not Kali and Ganesh. I assume they were chosen because these are the two most recognizable to westerners.

I find it especially interesting that Kali gives a short speech about the arrogance of westerners in this episode, but that doesn’t stop the episode itself from being exceedingly arrogant.

So I’ll say it again, for everyone who is a follower of Hinduism let me apologize on behalf of Hollywood and all America media. We are very, very sorry.

14 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Vishnu: Hinduism in Pop Culture

  1. Finally Found someone who understands and respects Hinduism ..Much more love from India God bless u ❤ Am so happy to read this 🙂

    • Thank you so much! As I said in this post Hinduism has a special place in my heart and always will. I’m so happy that you liked this post.

      Thank you for your comment and your blessing.

      • I should be thank ful to you for having so broad mind..am so glad i came across this site am gonna check this site out totally 🙂 do you have facebook? i would like be in contact ..

      • Thank you for understanding and respecting Hinduism….
        I would also like to state that Kali is not the goddess of ‘death’ per se… In fact she is one of the several forms of goddess Durga, and is primarily assosciated with.. well.. Power,Strength… In fact the wikipedia article on Kali is pretty accurate.

        Just today I watched Supernatural: Hammer of the Gods and while the episode was not that bad the portrayal of the non-christian gods, including Kali, Ganesh, Odin.. etc was just .. let’s say arrogant (or ill-researched for that matter).
        Also the fact is that just yesterday was Kali Puja(The worship of the goddess in India, primarily Bengal)

  2. well please make it clear that hinduism is a cooked up religion. It’s not religion, it’s not way of life e.t.c. I’m a brahmin and atheist now among 6 orthodox school of brahmins 5 are atheistic and two are openly anti-theist. The most orthodox Vedic school mimamsa is more atheist than buddhism or jain as it do not believe in deva also. Even then they never bother to ridicule ancient practices or tradition until it’s itself bothering. West tag poly-theist, pagan, henotheist does no good. Today scholar hindus are more of pantheist vedant and tantra is samkhya first is in essence atheist second is antitheist. General hindus do worship for the sake of worship or culture. Mythology is also quite different (remember purana were written after atheist revolution). The indian gods have no specific designation. God were created in men image. Kali in india is most benevolent god like shiva. For some she is metaphor for prakriti and shiva passive purusa. for Others she is brahman itself. For more bubbly person she’s mom.

  3. another thing being a indian I’ve never heard of story when kali has inflicted damage on any human. She killed asuras that too only in wars. She is shubhankari meaning who does only good and kshaniktrusta who gets pleased easily. Is all these negative image is just because of her appearance? Will west ever grow up from its long and deep rooted stereotype culture? Abrahamic god be it abba, allah, god, yhwh has done more damage to nature and human on morality issue than any god of india or any other place. In india we have a hypothesis of karma for morality and ethics and gods loved all despite our limitation being good. Just compare the mythology. Sorry to say but even being an atheist I’m very much in favour of indian religion. And forget about mythology indians were never aware of persecution and crusades and jihads. The only problem in india is that we have lost our gods and are filled with god.men! Vishnu the protector has killed asura. Vishnu himself was asura once. Indian mythology is not very strict.

  4. btw india has the largest number of vegetarians. It is the only country were all edible product has a compulsion to mark whether they are veg or not. I’ve heard that in west if you ask burger they will give you nonveg one but in india they give veg and if you want a nonveg you have to ask explicitly. Kali and kali like gods are also worshiped by jains who are strict vegetarian. Hindu priest do not eat any meat. A very religious hindu or jain don’t eat meat. Ganesh worshipers run from touching meat. Also being elephant head how can it eat meat? So lastly put I found these representation a little disturbing and a lot funny. How can indian people play these role don’t they understand english?

  5. Hi, I found this when I was wondering on the internet, and to tell that Hinduism is a monotheist religion, they have 3 Gods but they are all representation of one( like in Christianity the holy trinity), and in some types of Hinduism they call it krishna, on others they don’t have a specific name, an there are more which I dont remember or dont know.

    • There are more than three gods, but you’re right it is monotheistic. All the gods are different forms of God…and Krishna is a human incarnation of Vishnu, one of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. That is true for all of general Hinduism.

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  9. Hi. Just curious, but do you think most Hindus would mind if their Gods were represented somewhat accurately in Western Culture, or should it be left just to pop cultures where the majority of viewers are Hindu?

  10. u dont need to be sorry .. our Hindu gods can very take jokes on themselves sportingly … 🙂
    but i was delighted to read ur blog and ur portrayal of Hinduism .. keep it up .. 🙂
    do u have fb account?

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