Scholar Hindol Sengupta created quite the storm on Twitter when he shared a work of art that he claimed was the ‘coolest version’ of Lord Ganesha. The work of Digital Art by Firhat Solhan showed a Being with two tusks with a crown of gold embedded with precious gems. It’s called ‘Meditation’ and there appears to be little to suggest that it’s actually Lord Ganesha.
Despite the artist not claiming that the Art portrayed Lord Ganesha (it was tagged elephant god by the artist on Deviant Art), Hindol Sengupta interpreted it as such. The instinctive reaction from Hindus to his caption was one of revulsion. People mostly pointed at the Islamic imagery in the work of art as the reason behind their disapproval. However, even instinctively, there appears to be something inherent about it that doesn’t ‘feel’ like it is about Ganesha.
The reasons could be debated but it could be said with a relative amount of certainty that the work of art wasn’t inspired by feelings of utmost piety. Religious works of art tend to have that effect unless they are driven by piety, the novel ideas do not manifest themselves in the manner the artists perhaps would have wanted to.
Consequently, Hindol Sengupta was mocked by people and his tweet even became a meme template.
Digital works of art of Gods and Goddesses can be beautiful and enchanting. The most obvious instance of it was the ‘Rudra Hanuman’ portrait by Karan Acharya that was a smashing hit by any measure. Despite the fact that it employed modern techniques, the aesthetics were still, quite clearly, Hindu.
Unfortunately, there appears to be a trend of portraying Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Digital Art that could only ever be described as ‘weird’, for the lack of a better word. In DeviantArt, one of the most popular websites where people share their work, such renditions abound.
An art depicting Indra by Molee on DeviantArt is a perfect example of this trend. While the art viewed in isolation is great, however, there appears to be very little about Indra to it. The God depicted in the rendition comes across as some Caucasian God, maybe Thor, but hardly Indra.
Molee’s Digital Art depicting Rama, too, suffers from the same flaw. There’s nothing offensive or vulgar about it but it just ‘feels wrong’, so to speak. Here, too, Rama seems to be some Caucasian man rather than Indian.
There are depictions of other Gods and Goddesses as well that appear to lack the ‘Divine’ essence of the Beings they claim to portray. Kali by Derek Langille suffers from the same flaw.
There’s this one particular art depicting Lord Shiva which has become quite popular with time in certain circles. The artist Ramawat depicts Shiva smoking cannabis in the mountains.
While there are numerous other works of Digital Art that fail to capture the essence of what they seek to portray, there is indeed true genius to be found in the genre. One of the most fascinating sub-genres is something that can be roughly called ‘Hindu Futurism’.
Concept Designer and Architect, Siddhartha Valluri, in his piece ‘Prayer‘ imagines the Ghats of Varanasi in the 22nd Century. He says, “At the Ghats of Varanasi, a complex and vast world paces ahead around the pristine architecture of our ancestors which is slowly crumbling away as the evening prayers continue as they always have for over a thousand years keeping the spirit of these temples alive.” He adds, “Through this concept, my main goal was to showcase the “Soul of India” in a very unique manner, not yet explored. I wanted to showcase the Indian Temple Architecture, the oldest unique style of architecture that evolved in India from the lens of a futuristic scenario set in the 2100s.”
In another work, ‘Ritual‘, Valluri depicts a Hindu Temple surrounded by spaceships and neon symbols. In his words, “Centuries, after these monuments were first constructed the glory of these monolithic temples, remains untouched. Yet, something is very different. Instead of priests walking the temple grounds we witness hoards of spaceships circling the temples and neon symbols decorating the temple walls creating an experience that perhaps not even the gods could have foreseen.”
In yet another work of art, ‘Sanctum‘, Valluri explores ” the inner chambers of an ancient temple lit by holographic images and symbols representing an amalgamation of how modes of worship may evolve.” He adds, “Even though parts of the temple have broken and chipped away after centuries of use, the essence of the temple remains untouched as a Holographic interpretation of Lord Ganesha sits proud at the centre of the temple Sanctum.”
Quite clearly, there’s something inherent about Karan Acharya and Siddhartha Valluri’s works of art that the works by other artists mentioned above lack. While it is difficult to point out precisely what that characteristic is but it can roughly be called ‘Hindu Aesthetics’. In the works of art by Firhat Solan and Molee and others, there appears to be very little ‘Hinduness’ about the works which is extremely unlike the works by Karan Acharya and Siddhartha Valluri.
People’s aversion towards the ‘coolest version’ of Ganesha by Solhan perhaps stems from that very fact. Hindus found it revolting for the same reason that worshippers of the Norse Gods would have found the depiction of Thor and Odin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe revolting. Although the characters in the movies are based on the Norse Gods, Their essence is completely lacking in them.
While Digital Art is certainly ‘cool’ to look at, most, however, miss their mark wildly. While the artists are extremely talented, their works of art often fail to capture the essence of the Gods they aim to portray. Very few of them could effectively capture the Divinity enshrined with the Gods. There are certainly hidden gems in there, however, gems which are indeed worthy of great applause.