Hanuman Plays

hanumanBy Harmonist Staff

Sony’s Play Station 2 game Hanuman: Boy Warrior, featuring what some consider a denigrating depiction of a beloved Hindu deity, has caused an uproar, or at least threats of one, from the Hindu community. The Universal Society of Hinduism called for Sony to pull the game from shelves. A few weeks later, it seemed as if Sony had responded to the demand. However, more recently GamePolitics reported that the leader of the Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed, proffered up a threat to Sony about their lack of response:

“Hindus upset over Sony’s Hanuman: Boy Warrior videogame and further frustrated by the callous handling by Sony officials, might give a boycott call of all Sony products world over… despite communication between Sony officials and Hindu leaders, the issue had not been resolved yet. Sony officials said that they would look into it and be back with the Hindu leaders, but they were yet to hear back from Sony…

“If nothing is heard by Hindu leaders from Sony by May 21, then all the protesting Hindu groups and leaders would re-evaluate the protest and announce the future course, which might include calling for boycott of Sony products world over by Hindus and other like-minded people and supporters…”

However, a closer look reveals that personnel at Negative Gamer were suspicious about this threat and according to them there’s no real proof that a Universal Society of Hinduism even exists. Hindu Blog actually notes that there are no existing reports about the formation of the society. There’s also no official website. And as of today, there are no boycotts. Apparently the Universal Society of Hinduism has been in the news for similar issues before. Most notably, they (or perhaps he) voiced concerns about the 2008 film The Love Guru.

Hindu fanaticism exists but it really does not go well with Hindusim and its long history of tolerance and inclusiveness, nor does Hinduism lend itself well to  institutionalization. Accordingly, Rajan Zed is justified in having his own opinion. Another might well be that the popularization and interpretation of Hindu deities in pop culture may introduce them on a level that will later spark interest in the deeper poetic and philosophical sense in which they seek to explain the nature of the world ultimately as lila—a divine game, lokavat tu lila kaivalyam.

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12 Responses to Hanuman Plays

  1. Syama Gopala dasa

    I agree with this liberal stance but do wonder if there is a border that can be crossed. For instance, they once produced toilet seats with Shiva and Ganesha portrayed on them. Any thoughts?

    • I definitely think there is a line that should not be crossed–the toilet seats is going too far in my opinion. Problem is, where to draw the line will not be universally agreed upon.

      • The threshold of the bathroom, perhaps?

        • Sounds good to me. Let’s see if the fanatics go along with it.

        • The threshold of the bathroom…Maybe not?

          In the late 70’s we did a bhajana program in central Pennsylvania at the ashram/ retreat center of Yogi Amrit Desai. (Before he was ousted from his own organization for philandering). As a student he had been a regular at the Philadelphia temple and when he struck out on his own as a yoga guru he incorporated into his organization much of what he had experienced at Iskcon. His devotees chanted on japa beads, carried Gaudiya beadbags, followed a semblance of the four regulations, and his female followers wore white saris. In assembly he sat in what his disciples called Guruji’s big chair (vyasasana).

          Strikingly different however were the bathrooms at his ashram. In contrast to Iskcon’s bare bathroom wall policy, at his place the bathroom walls were lavishly decorated with Krsna posters. Iskcon Krsna lila posters even hung above the urinals and inside the doors of the stalls, I guess to give everyone the opportunity to fix their minds on Krsna, even while relieving themselves.

          My question is—what really is wrong with Radha-Krsna pictures in the bathroom? After all he/she sees everything anyway. Would the Universal Society of Hinduism disapprove of Krsna posters in the bathroom of a Hindu ashram?

        • Unfortunately some Western bathrooms are cleaner than some Eastern altars.

  2. I personally find nothing inherently offensive with the diety of Hanuman being depicted in a game. I think some of the other posters on here are right, that it could be a gateway for people to learn more about this spiritual culture.

    As long as the game does not use this sacred image as an opportunity to denegrate or disrespect the tradition and world view out of which the image came. Now, who decides what disrespect is or isn’t, of course, is the central debate. On the one hand, being American, but adopting an historically Indian world view allows me a certain freedom to seperate the essential spiritual contributions of Indian culture without all the other cultural baggage, as I see it. If I were Indian, however, I might see the spiritual truths and the culture as being inseperable, and any adoption of one without the other as a perversion in and of itself. This is not a unique debate, and I can see where they are coming from. I remember travelling to Southeast Asia over Christmas in 2004 and seeing Christmas trees and Santas in many hotels and shopping areas, but having no idea what Christmas really was, being Bhuddist, and thinking, “is this what traditional Indians (or Arabs or what have you) think of Westerners adopting their culture and religion?” (I found it humorous, not offensive)

    It’s a fine line, on the one hand, having someone from without find new ways to look at and incorperate areas of your spirituality can be good because they are not looking at it through the sometimes blinding cultural lens. But on the other hand, not having at least some semblance of that culture could cause even a sincere person to cause offense.

    Where does this offense come from? Is it valid, or are some taking ownership of univeral forms and truths and purporting to be God’s gatekeeper for the rest of the world?

  3. Perhaps Mr. Zed has seen something of the game I haven’t seen. When I watched the trailer, I couldn’t find anything that denigrates Hanuman or appears offensive. Perhaps the whole idea of commercializing a deity or spiritual hero is what Mr. Zed finds objectionable. If that’s the case, we may have to take on the entire Bollywood machine, as well as innumerable graphic-novel portrayals of Hanuman and Rama, along with the rest of those devotees and devout Hindus so revere.

    This somewhat reminds me of the fuss over an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess a few years ago. Some devotees whom I admire led a protest against an episode in which the main character, Xena, is in India. She encounters Krishna, whom she mocks at first, as is typical of her character. When she comes to understand something of Krishna’s character, she kneels and sincerely prays to him for help. And in the heat of battle, she invokes Krishna’s name, and she emerges victorious. Hardly pure devotion, to be sure, but Xena was uncharacteristically respectful of Krishna by the end of the episode.

    It should be noted that in the entire run of the series, Xena encounters gods and goddesses of many cultures, and she never shows any reverence for any of them. In fact, she derides their arrogance, caprice, and indifference to human suffering, even their cruelty. She battles many, often defeating them. But, as one of the show’s producers points out she never kneels to any god; Krishna is the only god to whom she ever prays. And Lucy Lawless, who played the title character, says herself of that episode that her character prayed to “Krishna, the supreme godhead of Hinduism.” Even though the protesters may have mischaracterized some things about this episode, they did call attention to Krishna as he appears in popular media.

    It may be that the game falls short in conveying the depth of Hanuman’s devotion to Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and some may want to point that out. But, unless there’s something about the game we don’t know yet, and I admit there certainly may be, the protests may serve to call more attention Hanuman: Boy Warrior. If players who become accustomed to identifying with Hanuman become curious and investigate the character further, then both the game and the protests may end up being, as they say, all good.

    • The sentence “But, as one of the show’s producers points out she never kneels to any god; Krishna is the only god to whom she ever prays” should read “But, as one of the show’s producers points out she never kneels to any god other than Krishna; Krishna is the only god to whom she ever prays.

  4. Syamasundara Dasa

    Before even thinking what my position is, I tried to imagine a videogame with Jesus as the protagonist, and it surely felt bizarre.

    I know nothing about the game, but if it’s anything like the usual ones, where the player identifies with the character, and according to how one plays, he or she may win or sometimes die, I don’t really like the idea of Hanuman being killed.
    It would be great if they made a videogame that, even if it doesn’t extol the glories of Hanuman’s devotion to Rama, has him lifting a mountain, setting Lanka on fire, etc.

  5. What about this apology of Burger king. Were hindus right in protesting in the first place?

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