Britney's bindi
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Britney's bindi

Spears' visit to temple in California put spotlight on Hinduism in international arena, writes Meeta Chaitanya.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 09:56 IST

Britney Spears' recent visit to a Hindu temple in California with son Sean Preston, an event that in isolation may be trivial enough, but as part of a canvass of occurrences that put the spotlight on Hinduism in the international arena, is representative.

Representative of a cultural montage that with its enormous reach is eager to capture some fleeting glory of this ancient glyph. Hollywood's fascination with Hinduism has over time and episodes both ignited the Indian fury and fanned its reach.

If some like Spears actually visit Hindu temples and don symbols like Om, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, marigold flowers and the tilak, there are others who wear it even more literally on their sleeve.

Quite often American and British television offers sightings of what had hitherto belonged to a different world. Seeing Jennifer Aniston in an episode of Friends sporting a T-shirt with a Hindu God imprint, or Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg) wrapped in yards of batik against a backdrop of a Hindu calendar isn't the least bit of an anomaly. In fact, sporting of clothes, jewellery or tattoos of Gods and symbols is harmless, even fun.

Precedents in film are not so innocuous. Carnatic vocalist Manickam Yogeswaran chanted verses from the quintessential book of Hindu philosophy, the Bhagvad Gita as the background score for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

Reportedly, the singer wasn't even aware of the fact that he had lent his composition as the soundtrack for a lovemaking scene. Jane Campion's Kate Winslet starrer Holy Smoke had its own sense and sensibility about Hinduism.

Mike Myers on the cover page of a leading magazine dressed as a dowdy crossover to Vaishnavism and Aerosmith's Nine Lives album cover did not go unnoticed by stalwarts such like the AHAD (American Hindus against Defamation).

The most ambiguous and misrepresented notion however seems to hover around Goddess Kali. As early as 1984, Steven Spielberg explored the concept of the devouring Goddess in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom depicting the deity as demonic rather than pious.

Similarly, in Runaway Bride (1999) a very sombre protagonist speaks of the female prototype thus: To be fair, the man-eater isn't exactly new… In India, she is Kali, who likes to devour her boyfriend Shiva's entrails. An explanation that could have precipitated a furious backlash for being just as misplaced as it is false. 'Boyfriend Shiva'; seriously now!

But like Britney's Bindi, and Madonna's myriad blink-n-miss Hindu avatars the trend of embracing Hinduism is not all that perfunctory. Some filmmakers, acknowledging the ingrained verity in this ancient ideology, for it is more than religion, have strummed a different tune, making it a structural part of holistic theological cinematic experience.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003) is one such example. The Sanskrit sloka: Asatoma Sat Gamaya, Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya, Mrityorma Anritam Gamaya, meaning (going from)- the unreal to the Truth, from darkness to Light, from the ephemeral to the Eternal- constitutes the backdrop to a fight sequence between Neo and agent Smith. The difference between a hurriedly glossed over reference and studied integration is thus obvious.

Of celebrities, a lot can be said and cited- like Kabala and Buddhism, Hinduism is being explored tentatively by the likes of Spears not so much probably as a serious religious alternative but merely as a fashionable brush with something eclectic, oriental and archaic.

Many of them, from the Beatles to Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn have made inroads into India and its philosophy, which is bigger than Hinduism, and, derived wholesomely from it. This here-and-now trend of revisiting one's ideological orientation however has seen veritable translation off the tube and the screen. Many people from the Diaspora, leave alone the 'others' are vying for a spot in this elite clique and are now recent converts to sporting and flaunting one's religious ideology.

Atlanta Metro area boasts of many traditional Indian temples such as Hindu Temple Augusta, GA Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Riverdale, Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Temple among others that welcome members from Atlanta's community irrespective of religious orientation. The pop star's pit - stop at an Indian temple may not be significant enough to contribute to the 'reach' of the religion but it sure has generated piquant curiosity.

With the re-orientation of both Indians and friends from other communities, it wouldn't be surprising to see interest go up and hopefully, at least some people would be on the lookout for something a little less than nirvana, but surely more than the bindi.

First Published: Jan 24, 2006 21:43 IST