An Indian Hindu, who had taken his university courses on comparative religious studies seriously enough, was returning home after watching the Hollywood film ‘Wonder Woman’ on a weekend evening. After his overwhelming feeling, thanks largely to Rupert Gregson-Williams’ brilliant soundtrack, died down a little by the hustle and bustle of the public transport system of a typical Indian metro city where he lived, he started reflecting on the film:
Challenges to Judeo-Christian Worldview
Throughout the film, the Judeo-Christian idea that “humans are born sinners, and thus they are by nature sinners”, springing forth from the story of original sin of man as expounded in the Old Testament, faces a serious challenge in the conviction of a character named Steven Trevor in the film.
Trevor holds the conviction that humans cannot be stereotyped into essentially ‘bad guys’ with hatred, jealousy, weakness, fear and evil defining their very essence. This view on humans can potentially counter two different takes on humans simultaneously; one of Ares’ who asserts that all humans are essentially evil by nature, and the other of Diana’s who likes to believe that humans are essentially good (since they had been created in the image of “Gods”, as the joint narration by Diana’s mother Hippolyta and mentor-cum-Amazonian general Antiope at the beginning of the film informs the would-be Wonder Woman), but got corrupted later on by Ares who filled them with envy, hate and fear to compel them to fight with each other until their extinction. Both these views on humans largely conform to the biblical worldview.
Trevor tries to convince Diana that there is an eternal battle between good and evil going on within each human being. Other characters like Sameer also reinforce the idea with less spiritual and more secular undertones, but it goes on to ultimately reconfirm Trevor’s view. In other words, other people’s views which draw inspiration from sources other than the spiritual or the metaphysical unlike Trevor’s, may still converge with Trevor’s worldview. By expressing how everyone is fighting their own battles at the level of the individual, Sameer’s take on the human nature presents a sort of surface, covering the deeper metaphysical take of Trevor’s. Thus, the ultimately prevailing worldview on the essence of the human spirit is accommodated in a structured manner in the narrative of the film. It gets reinforcements from some superficial worldviews, almost verging on the materialistic; at the same time it is contrasted with an antithetical idea (but spiritual all the same) that is extremely negative and which calls for the destruction of humankind.
Parallels with the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata
Trevor’s assessment of the human character vaguely echoes that of the Bhagavad Gita, wherein a visibly disturbed Arjuna has to seek Krishna’s counsel on how to win his internal battle and overpower his various powerful enemies within – klaivyam (a mixture of the vices sloth and weakness), akartavyam (non-duty/departure from the path of one’s duty/failure to perform such duties as those fulfil dharma) and adharmam (non-dharma) itself – by resolving his doubts and to get ready for the external battle of the Mahabharata.
It is also interesting to note that the one who finally convinces Diana of the potential of humans to be good by making a choice is a spy, who is not supposed to take active part in open warfare and yet who is perfectly capable of decisively changing the course of the war by his crucial intervention. At the same time, the one who has to be convinced of this ‘truth’, whose illusion has to be dissolved by this interlocutor, is a warrior – and one who will deal the final blow to win the battle. These parallels are hard for a Hindu, or for that matter for anyone who is well-read in the Bhagavad Gita and its philosophical conclusions, to overlook.
Most of all, the few occasions when such dialogues between Trevor and Diana the ‘Wonder Woman’ take place in the film are all set against the backdrop of the battlefield – especially the final one where the face-off between the Wonder Woman and Ares the god of war occurs. This is a telling parallel, perhaps the definitive one which leaves us with little room for doubt, of the battlefield of Kurukshetra with the situations depicted in the film.
Last but not the least, the rigour with which Antiope trains Diana after she has come of age reminds a Hindu of the special care with which Dronacharya had prepared Arjuna under his tutelage. In order to equip the greatest-warrior-to-be with every single move and the deadliest of weapons, the two teachers from two very different worlds of heroic tales (those of the Amazons in the ‘Wonder Woman’ and of the Mahabharata) leave no stones unturned – the trainings imparted to the heroine/hero as depicted in both the ‘Wonder Woman’ and in the Mahabharata are ruthless.
In the ‘Wonder Woman’, Antiope charges on her trainee Diana with deadly blows – disarming her, causing her to fall on the ground and defend herself with her bare hands. Similarly in the Mahabharata, Arjuna is charged with the task of defeating none other than the great warrior King Drupada and taking him as hostage. With such ruthless tests set out before their charges, both these teachers, although separated by vast oceans of time and culture, have been extolled by the two narratives on similar high pedestals.
Reconciliation of Ancient Greek Religion with Christianity
It is interesting to see how the Greek ‘myths’ thriving from the ancient, polytheistic, ‘pagan’ religion of the ancient Greeks, as well as the worldview they contain, have been reconciled with Biblical stories in the film. It is because of this that Hippolyta and Antiope’s narration of how things came to be as they are, recounted to young Diana, is replete with Biblical ideas, or at least their parallels: such as humans being created in the gods’ image, an evil god corrupting the minds of humans, the loss of paradise, defeat of the evil god at the ‘Alpha-god’ Zeus’s hand, and the like.
Perhaps this is not the first time that it has happened. Perhaps this is a modern expression of an ongoing process of assimilation that had started in the remote antiquity when Christianity trumped the polytheistic religions of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
In the ‘paradise’ of ‘Wonder Woman’, where the Amazons dwell, and which is hidden from the humans by a mysterious fog in the midst of some ocean, young Diana grows up to be a warrior – the best of her kind – but it was not what her mother Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons had intended for her. Why? Because, as Hippolyta confides in general Aniope, the greatest grief would befall her dear daughter the day she gets to know the truth. The truth about her origins, the truth about Ares the god of war, the truth about the ultimate weapon of destruction which will kill the god of war, and above all, the truth about humankind – its core nature, its element, and what defines a human – whether it is good or evil. Here again, we get to identify a biblical pattern: knowledge begets grief. It is the act of eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden that brings grief to the first humans according to the Bible. The God of the Bible had forbidden Adam and Eve to eat the fruit in the following words:
And we all know what happened after Eve and Adam did eat from the tree of knowledge – they were cast out from the garden, from paradise, and thrown down to earth, from which day their sorrows began:
When the Indic, dharmic thought, which has its inception in the Vedas, is compared to this biblical worldview, we see a stark contrast between the two perspectives on knowledge. On one hand, there is the entire Vedic canon, eulogizing knowledge and praying to the almighty through its poetic sūkta-s for more and more knowledge, for dissolving all illusions and bringing the human face to face with the Truth; and on the other, the Judeo-Christian theological take on knowledge – which reckons it as the fundamental source of all miseries and sorrows. With the advent of the Age of Reason, the Christian world started to prioritise human attempts to know the world, and themselves, over giving in to the unknown in pristine, devout religiousness.
The point is: every perspective encapsulates within itself a whole worldview. To buy one and ignore another does not stay an innocuous personal choice when one is imposed on the other until the latter is pushed to oblivion. And it turns into outright violence of the most insidious kind when the onslaught on one worldview, with a mind to completely wipe it out, is done in a systematic manner. This is violence unleashed on a particular way of making sense of the world specific to a country or a people, in other words a way of knowing the world – violence on an epistemology.
Drawing upon the works of the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser had theorised the exercising of power in terms of controlling Repressive State Apparatus (abbreviated as RSA, consisting of the police, the judiciary, the prison system and the army) and Ideological State Apparatus (in short ISA, consisting of the mass media, and the education system prevailing in schools and universities).
In India, the ISA has been controlled, since independence, by a group of ‘elite’ academicians controlling university and school curricula and loyal to the various brands of Marxist/postmodernist ideology which is not autochthonous to India, nor even to Asia.
The pernicious effects of the Marxist ideology of class struggle and its postmodern rebranding of the binary oppressor-oppressed power-relations in identity politics have brought Europe and North America to the brink of an acute civilizational crisis, wherein the autochthon suddenly finds itself out of its homeland – and every value, belief or custom it cherished is being trumped by those totally foreign to its land.
This is a result of a war that is fought on two fronts – ideological and political. The opening of European and North American borders is the political dimension of this war, and the undermining of the value system of the Christian civilization, and everything that civilisation had achieved, through deconstructionist, postmodernist education in schools and universities is the ideological dimension of the war that the politically defeated Marxists in Europe had lodged ever since the establishment of the so-called “Frankfurt School” by Adorno and Horkheimer in Germany.
The outcome of this political and ideological onslaught is that the ‘rationalist’ and ‘Christian’ worldviews have been driven to complete oblivion in Europe and in parts of North America. Consequently, the rationalist and Christian gazes have lost their ‘right’ to interpret the affairs of the lands which once championed these ideologies, these worldviews. The few people who still espouse these worldviews in these parts of the world are looked upon as ‘regressive’, ‘parochial’, and sometimes even criminal, thanks to the drafting of certain laws that criminalise criticism of ideologies (such as Islam and postmodernist identities) that are mainly responsible for the undoing of European social structures.
The onslaught on Indic thought, launched simultaneously by the mainstream world media and the bigger chunk of the academia, has won the first round of the ideological war in India, but the case for India’s autochthon is not completely (or at least as hopelessly) lost as in the case of Europe and North America.
What about the second round? Well, as a starter for a winning strategy, Indians must own their gaze – they must first identify the autochthonous worldview that has helped India’s ideas survive and thrive over millennia and then turn the gaze from the colonial or invader-conqueror’s side to the autochthonous Indic side. Hence the need to look at anything and everything from the Indic point of view, the Swadeshi point of view, and interpret the world freshly from what have been dominantly done since the day of India’s independence. Be it literature, films, arts and aesthetics, scientific knowledge or political affairs – let the gaze be Indic – dharmic.
Let the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain/Sikh try and understand the world and its present affairs without the help of any external ideological glasses. Let the worldview nurtured at home for millennia be her starting point and her compass. Let India know the world in its own terms and let the world know (and accept) India in her own terms; only then will there truly be mutual respect – which we in this country have largely lost, notwithstanding our big talks at English news channels, due to what Indian-American author Rajiv Malhotra describes as “difference anxiety”: a resistance to the truly liberal idea that “difference must be seen as positive and be examined openly by all sides” and what Hinduism has always harboured as its core value. The loss of recognition of difference in the so-called mainstream (of both mass media and the academia) desperately seeks to suppress India’s autochthonous worldview, which has come to define Indian-ness, in the present-day academic discourses about India and the issues concerning her – within the country and beyond.
For a change, the Hindu viewer of this Hollywood film tried to watch the film through an Indic gaze. True, it didn’t change the epoch of Macaulay, but at least the American film got a fresh viewer’s gaze, and the viewer felt quite confident that he would be able to hold his own ancestral ground during the next day’s passionate exchange of personal reviews with his Americanized Indian peers at office. He surely doesn’t want to wake up one fine morning and find himself taken off his feet, exiled from his fatherland like an uprooted European these days.
- ‘Being Different’, Rajiv Malhotra (India, 2011)
- Bhagavad Gita, Gita Press (Gorakhpur, India, 2015)
- The Bible, King James Version
- ‘Wonder Woman’ (2017 film)