Wednesday, March 10, 2010


An article in The Times of India equated Avatar to a treatise on Indianism "for Indophiles and Indian philosophy enthusiasts", starting from the very word Avatar itself. A Houston Chronicle piece critiqued the film in terms of the ancient Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, commenting on the Na'vi visual similarity with Rama and Krishna—avatars central to the respective epics and traditionally depicted with blue skin, black hair, and a tilak mark on the forehead. Another critic found that elements of the film's plot resembled such teachings and concepts of Hinduism as reincarnation of the soul, ecological consciousness, and incarnations of deities on Earth, commending Avatar and its director for "raising the global stature of Hinduism ... in months", while criticizing them for substantiating the western reluctance to accept anything oriental in its pristine form.
Cameron calls the connection a "subconscious" reference: "I have just loved ... the mythology, the entire Hindu pantheon, seems so rich and vivid." He continued, "I didn't want to reference the Hindu religion so closely, but the subconscious association was interesting, and I hope I haven't offended any one in doing so." He has stated that he was familiar with a lot of beliefs of the Hindu religion and found it "quite fascinating".
Answering a question from Time magazine in 2007, "What is an avatar anyway?" James Cameron replied, "It's an incarnation of one of the Hindu gods taking a flesh form. In this film what that means is that the human technology in the future is capable of injecting a human's intelligence into a remotely located body, a biological body."In 2010, Cameron confirmed the meaning of the title to the Times of India: "Of course, that was the significance in the film, although the characters are not divine beings. But the idea was that they take flesh in another body."
Following the film's release, reviewers focused on Cameron's choice of the religious Sanskrit term for the film's title. A reviewer in the Irish Times traced the term to the ten incarnations of Vishnu.Another writer for The Hindu concluded that by using the "loaded Sanskrit word" Cameron indicated the possibility that an encounter with an emotionally superior—but technologically inferior—form of alien may in the future become a next step in human evolution—provided we will learn to integrate and change, rather than conquer and destroy.

Vishnu and Lakshmi riding on the winged Garuda.
Maxim Osipov of ISKCON argued in The Sydney Morning Herald that "Avatar" is a "downright misnomer" for the film because "the movie reverses the very concept [that] the term 'avatar'—literally, in Sanskrit, 'descent'—is based on. So much for a descending 'avatar', Jake becomes a refugee among the aborigines." Vern Barnet in Charlotte Observer likewise thought that the title insults traditional Hindu usage of the term since it is a human, not a god, who descends in the film. However, Rishi Bhutada, Houston coordinator of the Hindu American Foundation, stated that while there are certain sacred terms that would offend Hindus if used improperly, 'avatar' is not one of them.Texas-based filmmaker Ashok Rao added that 'avatar' does not always mean a representative of God on Earth, but simply one being in another form—especially in literature, moviemaking, poetry and other forms of art.
Explaining the choice of the color blue for the Na'vi, Cameron said "I just like blue. It's a good color ... plus, there's a connection to the Hindu deities, which I like conceptually." Commentators agreed that the blue skin of the Na'vi, described in a New Yorker article as "Vishnu-blue", "instantly and metaphorically" relates the film's protagonist to such avatars of Vishnu as Rama and Krishna. An article in the San Francisco Examiner described an 18th-century Indian painting of Vishnu and his consort Laksmi riding the great mythical bird Garuda as "Avatar prequel" due to its resemblance with the film's scene in which the hero's blue-skinned avatar flies a gigantic raptor. Asra Q. Nomani of The Daily Beast likened the hero and his Na'vi mate Neytiri to images of Shiva and Durga.

The hovering Govardhan mountain protects Krishna's tribe from an air attack, as in Avatar.
Discussing explicit or implicit similarities between the film and the philosophy of Hinduism, reviewers suggested that, just as Hindu gods, particularly Vishnu, become avatars to save the order of the universe, the film’s avatar must descend to avert impending ultimate doom, effected by a rapacious greed that leads to destroying the world of nature and other civilizations.Maxim Osipov observed that the film's philosophical message was consistent overall with the Bhagavad Gita, a key scripture of Hinduism, in defining what constitutes real culture and civilization.
Critics saw an "undeniably" Hindu connection between the film's story and the Vedic teaching of reverence for the whole universe, as well as the yogic practice of inhabiting a distant body by one’s consciousness and compared the film's love scene to tantric practices. Another linked the Na'vi earth goddess Eywa to the concept of Brahman as the ground of being described in Vedanta and Upanishads and likened the Na'vi ability to connect to Eywa with the realization of Atman. One commentator noted the parallel between the Na'vi greeting "I see you" and the ancient Hindu greeting "Namaste", which signifies perceiving and adoring the divinity within others. Others commented on Avatar's adaptation of the Hindu teaching of reincarnation,a concept, which another author felt was more accurately applicable to ordinary human beings that are "a step or two away from exotic animals" than to deities.
Writing for the Ukrainian Day newspaper, Maxim Chaikovsky drew detailed analogies between Avatar's plot and elements of the ancient Bhagavata Purana narrative of Krishna, including the heroine Radha, the Vraja tribe and their habitat the Vrindavana forest, the hovering Govardhan mountain, and the mystical rock chintamani. He also opined that this resemblance may account for "Avatar blues"—a sense of loss experienced by members of the audience at the conclusion of the film.