Pumas 4 Palin

Hanuman For Hussain – Of Idol hearts and idle minds, weird weird stuff!

Posted on: July 15, 2008

New thoughts on an old story:

First, looking back at this one year-old story we are struck by its enduring popularity. Also, to commemorate  Obama’s Inauguration Ms. magazine printed a cover photo which to observers was a take off on the Superman image. But we find an uncanny similarity of Obama’s chest exposure  to an old familiar standard,  the good old Hanuman bhakthi motif. What do you think?

          New image - Old idea / At-a-glance propaganda

New image - Old idea / At-a-glance propaganda


This is a story about a tiny figurine that grew to a 2 foot giant in a few months.
It’s a tale of idol hearts, idle minds, inane politicos, and Indian sentimentality gone awry.

It is fascinating, laughable and weird.

The subject of this story is a two foot statue of Hindu God  Sree Hanuman. The statue is made of brass and weighs  about 35 pounds. It is plated with pure gold and is valued at $2,500. You got to admit, that’s a lot of rupees!

And it’s coming to a Convention near you.

Western sense of wonderment meets Eastern vulnerability to mind-warp.

US media’s sense of the quaint, and an editorial sense of what constitutes news meets the Indian public’s thirst for connecting with all things seemingly winsome and imaginedly Indian.

It all started when Time magazine published a White House Photo of the Day seen here to the right, as part of a series of photos of the lucky charms carried by the candidates running for White House. Oh sure, no body was thinking politics during a campaign! All that stuff , just happened to be in their pockets or purses. Sure enough, the published photos had something for everyone. And so the show started.

MSN got the ball rolling by highlighting what must have felt to the editors a quaint and winsome come-on caption: Obama seeks Hanuman’s blessings for victory.

That ‘tiny monkey God,’ of course, appears to be a statue of the Hindu monkey God, Hanuman, says the posting but editors and the photographer have not identified it as such. (MSN News).

In Hindu mythology and folk-lore, Lord Hanuman is usually spoken of as a companion, friend, servant and worshipper of Rama. In the Hindu pantheon Hanuman (not monkey-god for heaven’s sake), is pretty highly placed, almost always depicted in the company of his chosen leader Lord Rama. He is featured with in a noble, supporting role in the epic, The Ramayana. When seen by himself, he denotes strength, valor, confidence, fearlessness, moral authority and self-assertiveness. Hence the prayer to him Hanuman Chalisa in moments of crisis of confidence. Hanuman to the rescue when the mind falters and the spirit sags. Hanuman, your everyday coach and shrink.

Obama must have been chanting the chalisa,  and been suitably rewarded, for we now have this Lord Hanuman notion, based on a tiny East Asian figurine, (Indian native iconography depicts Hanuman either as ape-faced, carrying a club, in a devotional pose or, as five-faced Panchamukhi). Carrying a trident is a feature of the Hanuman Art of South-east Asian countries.

Enter Indian media and bloggers promoting the meme that ‘Barack carries Hanuman, he is one of us.’  NDTV, Rediff India, India-Server all dutifully reported on this idea as The Truth, in an uncritical repetition that Obama was a devout Hanuman follower.  Times of India adored it, and preferred Obama over McCain

More recently, WaPo continued this narrative by revealing how at a town hall meeting in New Mexico Obama displayed his collection of charms given by people “investing their hopes in me.”  The paper went on to quote a gushing DC consultant Bhavna Pandit. “In India, they’re like, ‘Wow! The person who can be the president has a connection to us that’s very personal.'” [sic] “They think it’s kind of neat. They rarely see our religion played out in the mainstream media in America.”

Pandit said news of the Obama trinket has swept across Indian American living rooms and through Indian newspapers and TV networks. She said the people she knows as “aunties and uncles” — women and men from her parents’ generation — are suddenly taking note of Obama in a way they had not done before.

After all is said and done,  only Vyenkata Bhatta Dasa, a Hare Krishna writer gets it right, in the way only honest cross-cultural obervers do. Writing as nimbly as Krishna steers the chariot, Bhatta Dasa concludes:

Of course, as interesting as the connection may be to Hindus, the devoutly Christian Obama would probably not view the little statue as anything more than a lucky trinket. … …. it might not hurt Obama to keep his mind — and pocket — open to the possibilities.

There is much more after the fold.


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