What Color are Indian Gods and Goddesses?

January 23, 2018

In India where light skin is coveted, a new campaign is re-imagining popular Hindu gods and goddesses with a darker skin, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

The desire for fairer skin is not new in India and for centuries, fair complexion has been considered superior.

Fairness creams are among the highest selling cosmetic products in the country and top Bollywood actors and actresses regularly appear in commercials endorsing fairness products.

In recent years, creams and gels have been introduced which claim to lighten armpit hair and even female genitals, and advertisements encourage customers to believe that lighter skin tones would help them improve their lives by getting a better job or win them love.

In the past few years, there have been campaigns such as Dark is Beautiful and #unfairandlovely, calling on people to celebrate dark skin.

Yet, the unhealthy obsession with light skin has continued and, as ad filmmaker Bharadwaj Sundar says, it’s not just limited to earthly beings, it includes the divine too.

“All the images of the popular gods and goddesses that we see around us, photographs in our home shrines or prayer halls, online, on calendars, stickers and posters in shops and pasted behind auto-rickshaws, all show them to be light-skinned.”

In a culture obsessed with fairness, Mr Sundar points out that even Krishna, who is described as a dark-skinned god in the scriptures, is often shown as fair. And so is the elephant-headed Ganesha, even though there are no white elephants in India.

“Everyone here prefers fair skin. But I am a dark-skinned person and all my friends are dark-skinned too. So how do I identify with fair-skinned gods and goddesses?”

To fight this disconnect, Mr Sundar, who is based in the southern city of Chennai, teamed up with photographer Naresh Nil and the two have come up with “Dark is Divine” – a project that portrays gods and goddesses with a darker skin colour.

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