Sunday, July 29, 2007

God on a T-shirt

I've seen three in the last two weeks--images of Ganesha sported on t-shirts, throw pillows, and couch slip covers. In Hinduism, many of us practice idol worship. The image of a deity helps focus the mind and channel energy towards the vast and all-encompassing truth that is Brahman. And so the image is god--simultaneously representative and literal, part and whole.

I hate America's obsession with putting my god on a t-shirt; I hate the use of the sacred as decor. There are just too many cultural nuances that don't translate from one location to another. When I view an image of Ganesha, the aesthetics, the culture, and the religion are inextricably linked. I imagine some perverted abstraction of this triad appeals to the appropriators as well.

But see, it's different. You wear the image because you know he's the remover of obstacles; because you wish you could go to India; because you like to create your own spiritual practices. I hate when you wear the image because you don't know the complexity of Ganesha's role in Hinduism; because India's inside me, SCREAMING at the fact that you touched your feet to god, that you just sat yo' ass on my god's face,that you threw Ganesha in the washing machine with some bleach to get out the ketchup stains; because fuck your "spiritual practices" that rip out my history by the stalk and sever the roots.

For you, the meaning follows the image. You like the colors and the whimsical elephant head, intricate designs and little mouse. It reminds you of something exotic or spiritual, of going back to someone else's homeland. I, however, barely see the aesthetic appeal. I see the lehngas that girls wore to Ganapathi Puja when I was younger, the yellow laddus that saturated the late-summer air with sticky sweetness, the families we prayed for each year as community members underwent surgery or lost loved ones.

And so there's obviously a disconnect. But when I see this shit I have nightmares of you and me battling over who can claim the image...You tell me that as long as the eyes are closed*, it's just decoration. And I'm pleading with you to open your eyes.

*The eyes of a deity are opened during the inauguration of a temple. It's at this point that the idol becomes God. There aren't a lot of websites that explain this, so here's the footnote.

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