Technicolor Gods

Talk about mood swings!
Three faces of the goddess Devi, a.k.a Parvati. She appears here as Sati, who jumped onto her husband's funeral pyre, Kali, the face of death and destruction, and Durga, the beautiful but impenetrable consort of Shiva.

technicolor gods

The poster gods, their multiple arms and spurting wounds, their sultry eyes and robust limbs, splayed for all the world to see. They ooze divine seduction.

From the world's oldest religion, they descend to the page, virulent icons hot off the press. They swing from rearview mirrors and perch on dashboards. They are beacons on the smog-choked streets of Bombay and Kanpur, Calcutta and Kanyakumari. They are ubiquitous, in heaven and on earth.
Indian earth.

Their gaudy colors seep from blue pores, their gold breasts beam, their fiery teeth snack on small children's heads. From the flatness of their posters they explode into the five dimensions of sense. It is a public broadcast of sex and violence, a technicolor remnant from a culture long dormant.

India, today, tightly wrapped in prudery, pressed under the censor's grip, agasp at advertisements aping Marilyn Monroe and her skirt-billowing antics. Not always so.

In the time before invasion, the time before the gods were trapped inside statues, India gave the world the Kama Sutra, the ultimate sensualist's guide. The mechanics of lust and sexual latitude peel from the page with the virility of the poster gods. Sex without shame. Words raw with lust. Bodies coiled in passion. Lips, nails, teeth, it's all fair game. The unabridged edition of India's suppressed desire. Today, celluloid musicals, lurid in their pulsing hips but devoid of real action.

Poor Shiva, father of the lingam, how disappointed he must be. Shiva the hunter, the slayer, king of the forest, god of fire. Shiva who tames rivers and masters the mountains. Who drinks the juice from poisonous snakes. He is frozen in temples with his wife straddling his lap. On posters he is serene, meditative, his third eye radiant.

But then posters never lie. He is Kala, too, god of destruction, the black face of decay. He and his venomous wife, Kali, wear garlands of skulls and reek of decomposing flesh. The two sides of nature, creator, destroyer. He who gives life can taketh it away. Like the baby Krishna who nurses from the demon's breast until he sucks her dry.

And the poster gods nod their heads condoningly. Krishna will grow up to take thousands of lovers, perhaps populate half the subcontinent. Sex and death. No room for ambivalence. There are no squeamish thoughts in the pantheon. These are gods, after all. So complete. Self-aware. Compelled to follow their instincts. Ready to lead the rest of us out of darkness by the technicolor light of their poster faces.

Julie Winokur