Ekam Satah Viprah Bahudha Vadanti
"The Truth is One, but we see it in Different Ways"
In the middle of the summer, I was skimming through articles when I came across an article entitled "Xena Meets Krishna." Before I knew it, I had fallen back into the Xena fandom after a year away and was awaiting an episode that has caused quite a bit of commotion.
And furthermore, a controversy was raised for me that affected me on a more personal level than most of this nature: it involved people of my religion calling to censor something because, in their opinion, it was sacreligious.
Their action, as expected, has lead to a "to hell with your religion anyway" attitude among many fans. While I think that educated people have gathered that the groups protesting are "ultra-conservative," I was nonetheless upset to find letters from angry people proclaiming things like "Who cares what a bunch of people in India think, anyway?" This disturbs me because it treats protestors as outsiders. I am Hindu and an American citizen. There are Hindus all over the world, all with very individual, differing beliefs. I don't represent all of them anymore than the members of the protesting groups.
The other reason that I am compelled to write this letter is the calling I feel not to let all Hindus' reputations suffer at the hands of a conservative few. By pulling the episode from syndication, they succeeded in stirring contempt among fans, making it "Xena vs. the Hindus." None of the Hindus I have talked to (most of whom aren't fans and don't care) objected to the existence of this episode. The writers of the article I read on Hinduism Today reported that they enjoyed "The Way" and thought that it conveyed the philosophies of Hinduism accurately despite the historical discrepencies.
I understand and share the desire of Hindus who do not want to have our faith misrepresented by Hollywood. I remember how I was mocked as an elementary schooler with remarks fostered by the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which represented evil, human-sacrificing followers of the goddess Kali. Kali is perhaps the most misrepresented deity in Western fiction--yes, she is the goddess of retribution, but in a good sense--she destroys ignorance and protects the weak.
The episode of Xena, then, actually dispels this false portrayal by showing Kali in a good light. Rather than a terrible being calling for human sacrifice, she triumphs against an evil demon.
Krishna, according to nearly everyone who has seen the episode, was portrayed in a respectful light. I don't think that it's fair to claim that "The Way" presents Krishna as fictional; there have been Biblical figures on Xena as well, and figures from a number of other living religions. As with any representation of a religious figure, people who believe will go on believing and people who don't will probably have regarded the deity or divine individual as fictional in any case. By showing Krishna in a positive light, "The Way" will present his followers in a positive light. Viewers may or may not believe that Kali is real, but they will see that she is not demonic.
Hinduism is not a set of doctrines and prescribed codes; it is a way of life. Not all Hindus necessarily interpret scriptures in the same way. Not all Hindus necessarily read scriptures. They may believe in devine incarnations of God, or they may see the gods as representations God's facets, or of Hindu philosophy. People are born into the religion; I know atheists who still consider themselves Hindus, and they often hold truer to the philosophies of Hinduism than the most dogmatic. Hinduism accepts that people are at different stages in life, and that their needs vary according to those stages.
I can understand why people might object to the historical inaccuracies of the show. This is a strange issue to address, because I tend to have a problem with, for instance, Disney's perpetuating John Smith's Pocahantas myth and completely diregarding the facts. But X:WP is a series which pays absolutely no attention to time. The Greek myths themselves are never told accurately; they meet Homer one day, and then they're at Troy; they're in Ancient Greece, and then they're with Caeser. Ultimately, I think that fans of the show realize that time is one thing that Xena tends to disregard. I wound up writing a rant on this...
But what strikes me most about this accusation from Hindu groups is the supreme hipocracy of attacking inaccurate portrayals of deities on Xena when BOLLYWOOD does that all the time on Hindi movies. Don't even get me started on that one!
Moreover, history changes and varies as time passes. Besides written documents, Hinduism contains a rich oral tradition. As in any oral tradition, stories are passed down and told and modified according to the listener's needs. A story may be told in two completely different ways to people who need different sorts of advice to apply to their lives. My point is that it doesn't truly matter whether something is totally accurate or not. No human work is devoid of error, and when it comes to stories, even divine or historical accounts, I hold the effect that they have on their audience as superior to "accuracy." It's more important to ensure that a story's philosophies shine through to help the listener than quibbling over whether this figure was really here or there during this or that time. "The Way" reportedly conveys Hindu ideals such as ahimsa (nonviolence). In this day of relative cultural sensitivity, the writers have carefully avoided offensive portrayals of Hindu deities. Perhaps the events didn't really happen, but the underlying messages of Hinduism were revealed. So what's the problem?
And then there's the homophobia. Well, let's see, what can I say about that? (I'm going to ignore for a moment the fact that the protests regarding Xena and Gabrielle's alleged lesbianism were all about subtext and lacking concrete evidence.)
The core of Hinduism is that of acceptance--of oneness with everything. It seeks to discover the essense of all things, to find what makes them what they are. To understand that there is God in everyone and everything, so we are all connected--even if we do not agree, even if one person is a hateful monster and the other's a saint. The divine exists in all, and every known Hindu figure who is praised as achieving self-realization has preached respect and tolerance toward those with opinions diverging from their own. To understand and not to condemn. So why would Krishna not come to the aid of a woman who seeks to save her friend from a demonic being even if he disapproved of the nature of their relationship?
And the issue's not quite so black-and-white as "censorship is evil." First of all, television shows by their very natures are censored in that the writers are restricted by what will and won't be accepted to produce and air. When's the last time child pornogrophy was graphically portrayed on a mainstream TV show? Censorship in some form or another is unavoidable and not always objectionable.
I don't know if in my heart of hearts I am completely and totally against all censorship. I think back to all the misportrayals of all things Indian that have upset me. Masses of people out there believe things that are entirely false about my culture because of the media's bastardization of it. I may be against book-burning, but I don't know if I would be writing this if there were Hindus--or Muslims, or Jews, or Mexicans, or feminists, or any group at all--protesting a hatefully offensive commercial. If that commercial is withdrawn, is that censorship so evil? I may support the freedom of speech of people I disagree with, but that doesn't mean I won't protest a hate crime if it occurs. Are members of "No More Sidekick Abuse!" (whose link doesn't seem to work) terrible censors?
It's one thing when a minority is tyrannically imposing sanctions on the majority; it's another when the majority is apathetically hurting the minority. (Of course, these things are subject to selective interpretation according to perspective.)
It all goes back to what my mother always said--that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. This episode of Xena, according to the comments and synopses I've read from those who have seen it, is not hateful or offensive. It may have historical inaccuracies, but it portrays the Hindu gods in a respectful manner. Hindu deities exist in many, many other films and novels, often in a far less benevolent way. If "The Way," which conveys the central philosophies of Hinduism despite its historical inconsistencies, educates an audience about a religion they know nothing of, that strikes me as a good thing. I am sorry if Hindus who seriously took the time to watch the episode were offended by it, but I think that the censorship controversy has done more harm than good.
A television show is all about making money, but storytelling is an artform that can influence people by making them think, by spreading information in an entertaining manner. Frankly, I know that many people probably don't care, that they just watch the show for fun. I also know that when I see a TV show or read a novel that contains information of a religion or culture that I am unfamiliar with, I become curious. I seek more information. I learn about things that I may not have otherwise looked into.
So I thought about writing this letter and sending it to various sources. And then I thought about it some more and decided that it may be more useful to provide a resource for all the good people out there who say that "The Way" made them view Hinduism in a good light, that it made them interested in learning more. And so I am creating this site, which is at your disposal.
the subversive pomegranate
what do you want?
who are you?
where are you going?
Xena: Warrior Princess is © MCA/Universal and whoever else legally owns it. This page is © 1999 shilpa.