Vishnu’s new avatar ?

Popular perceptions are funny things, especially in art.. You don’t realise how deeply entrenched they are in your mind till you see something that is different. So much so that it forces you to re-look and re-imagine the perception in a new context. No matter how much of an open mind I keep and think I am aware of internalising popular perceptions, I am surprised every now and then. This blog post is about one such incident.

It had been a regular day — there was nothing special or extraordinary about it. Just one of those ordinary days. As I got off the bus from work that March evening, fond thoughts of spending the evening with some music, popcorn and books accompanied me as I walked home. As I passed the local vegetable market, I saw a large tableau set up by a local organisation, which depicted Lord Vishnu reclining on Sheshanag in his characteristic pose.

Lord Vishnu. Sheshanag At first glance, the tableau looked normal and I would have passed it without a second glance if I hadn’t looked at the face. And that’s when I stopped !

Lord Vishnu. SheshanagVishnu was frowning and his face expressed a mixture of disdain and disgust. There seemed to be suppressed anger too on his face. And then I noticed the puffy eyes, a gaunt face and even a 5 o’ clock shadow on his chin. And that was not all. This Vishnu had a sagging chest and a paunch as well. The hand lifted in blessing looked perfunctory and more like “stay where you are”, or “stop right there”. As for the hand supporting his head, Vishnu looked liked he had a headache.

3-WP_000719Popular art in the form of paintings or sculptures, and even literature depicts/describes Vishnu with a serene expression, and an all-knowing look, sometimes mischievous, sometimes playful. And he looks as perfect as a God is expected to be — no sagging chest, no paunch, no stubble.

Vishnu 4I was surprised and a little bit shocked as well when saw Vishnu in a such a different avatar. And my first thought was why did the artist represent him the way he did — like someone’s cranky old uncle or grandfather.

What was the artist thinking? What was going on in his mind?

Was this representation deliberate to make people stop and think?

Or was this the author’s own dismay at how society is today and what Vishnu as the Creator must be feeling at the state of his Creation?

Or was this the artist’s representation of Kalki, the last avatar of Vishnu who appears at the end of Kalyug?

Or was the artist disillusioned with God and religion?

Just wondering…

PS: What do you think of Vishnu’s expression?

Update (September 3, 2013; 10.00 pm):
A blogger friend, Rushikesh Kulkarni, pointed out that the “Vishnu” in this post is not a manifestation of the artist’s imagination of this god. Instead, this is a representation of one of Maharashtra’s most famous saints, Swami Samarth, as Vishnu. Swami Samarth (also known as Akkalkot Swami Samarth) is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, has a large following in this state of India. Thank you, Rushikesh.

42 thoughts on “Vishnu’s new avatar ?

    1. Hello Saiswaroopa. Welocme to my blog and thank you for stopping by and commenting. 🙂

      Yes, I’m quite sure that this is not a depiction of some leader, at least a political leader. In fact, I found out some time back that this is a depiction of Swami Samarth as Vishnu/ Do read the update, I posted a while ago.

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  1. I would like to believe that the artist was disillusioned about how the society is faring today and what Vishnu must be feeling at the state of His creation today. Maybe, also to an extent, that he is let down with the marriage of politics and religion and how both end up depicting God. Interesting post though!

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    1. Thanks, Akshay. I would have agreed with your observations if I had not discovered earlier today that this is Swami Samarth as Vishnu (see the discussion on my FB page). My question now is why is Swami Samarth, who is an incarnation of Dattatreya, represented as Vishnu?

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    1. A warm welcome here, Sunil. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. 🙂

      Yes, Vishnu looks annoyed among many other things or rather Swami Samarth in the form of Vishnu does. I posted an update after a fellow blogger pointed out that this was not Vishnu, but that of a very popular saint in Maharashtra, Swami Samarth. My questions however, still remain.

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  2. The torso seems to be that of Ganesh, and the face of a local politician. Chest I think resembles Saibaba. There is a reference to Saibaba in the background. A thought provoking image…

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    1. Your observations are very interesting, Nutsure. I posted an update to this post a short while ago based on what a fellow blogger pointed out — this is Swami Samarth in the form of a Vishnu.

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    1. Your “… could be anything” comment is quite accurate, Desitraveler. As I discovered earlier today, this is a very popular saint from Maharashtra . Swami Samarth, who has been represented here as Vishnu.

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    1. Good to see you here, Sreenivasan. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. 🙂

      The mystery has been solved, as far as the identity of Vishnu is concerned. A fellow blogger pointed out that this is Swami Samarth, the popular saint from Maharashtra, who has been represented here as Vishnu. But why he is represented as Vishnu is still a mystery.

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  3. I think he looks like some local leader or someone…being depicted as Vishnu *rolls eyes* but you are so right…we have such a strong perception in our minds..its difficult to break it..

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    1. That’s a very interesting observation, Ranjana, and one that is so apt in today’s tough economic times. 🙂 However, as I mentioned in an update, I put earlier today this is not Vishnu per se, but one of Maharshtra’s most popular saints, Swami Samarth in the form of Vishnu.

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  4. He looks positively pugnacious – could be the artist is willing him to take control and do something about the state of our country/ the politicians/ lawlessness …

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    1. That is what I would have liked to think so, but as an update I posted earlier today says, this is not Vishnu, but one of Maharashtra’s popular saints, Swami Samarth represented as Vishnu. Now, the question is why did the artist choose to represent Swami Samarth as Vishnu ?

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  5. Showing a deity in painting sculpture or in arts in general, should
    take care of the basic entity of a deity or god…
    which is at least The Supreme Beeing…
    This street sculpture lacks of most basics…

    It,s probably meant for fun…

    Seriousity goes somewhere else…

    Anyway… a nice article in this very serious world…

    Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Regards

    RAM51

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    1. Artistically the statue definitely lacks merit, but this was not made for fun. As I discovered in the evening today, Vishnu is represented here as Swami Samarth, one of Maharashtra’s most popular saints. I have updated this blogpost when I got to know this. As to why Vishnu has been represented thus is still a mystery for me at least.

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    1. Welcome here, Alcor. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I posted an update yesterday evening after I got to know the background behind the representation — this is Swami Samarath, a very popular saint from Maharshtra, in the form of Vishnu.

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    1. Hello Rupertt. Welcome to “My Favourite Things” and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I found out yesterday evening (do read my update) that the artist has chosen to represent Swami Samarth, a popular saint from Maharashtra, as Vishnu. But why he has chosen to do so still remains unclear.

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  6. I’d like to think this is how Vishnu looks these days. Disgusted, disgruntled, dismayed by all he sees us doing. Maybe, its time we got to work on restoring the peaceful, serene look on his face. As for the paunch, he needs to go on a diet. We should start feeding the poor, starving masses instead of offering him prasad/bhog. That’ll bring him back to his svelte shape.

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  7. Interesting observation, Sudha!

    I think Vishnu looks sick and tired – at the current state of affairs of the world, maybe? Or, maybe, the artist is just disillusioned with all the things people do in the name of religion and God.

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  8. Interesting capture, Sudha. havent seen this particular depiction of Swami Samarth. incidentally, he is usually shown with such an expression like he is fed up with the world, since he never had much patience for the follies men came to him with. he is said to have been impatient and also used to get angry seeing how people behaved. also, about his being depicted as vishnu, that is not new. he is an incarnation of Dattatreya, but Datta himself is said to be an incarnation of vishnu. this comes from the legend which says that the devas went to vishnu and prayed that the earth was getting too difficult a place, and that humans couldnt possibly wait for kalki to come and solve their problems. vishnu replied that kalki couldnt possibly come earlier than intended, but he would send smaller parts of himself in the form of saints to help people on earth cope with their lives. thus, datta as well as all the bhakti saints are considered part avatars of vishnu.

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    1. Thanks for the additional interesting and valuable information, Anu. I thought Dattatreya was a combination of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, and not just Vishnu. Still, an interesting representation of Vishnu I must admit.

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  9. That’s an interesting sculpture! Vishnu does look disgusted with the state of the world, but the additional detail the end, about Swami Samarth was new to me. Now I have to read some more about him.

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  10. What the hell the artist did.. He insulted lord Vishnu,he is always powerful and immortal. I totally hate about this sculpture. People are making fun out of gods by doing this kind of things. This only makes themselves funny.

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