The 34 Asterix comic books feature 704 traumatic head injuries. Thus have academics analysed and published in a paper in the European Journal Of Neurosurgery, Acta Neurochirurgica. The researchers, lead by Marcel A Kamp, examined the signs (periorbital ecchymosis, hypoglossal paresis etc) and rated the seriousness of each injury according to the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Over 50% of the traumata were classified as severe (GCS between 3-8) and in 696 cases the cause was blunt force while 8 were caused by strangulation. Of course most of the victims were Romans (63.9%) and the rest included Vikings, Britons, Normans, Goths and even extraterrestrials; most of the injuries were caused by Asterix and Obelix (57.6%). Those who consumed Getafix’s Magic Potion suffered from more severe traumata. So goes on an article reporting the same. The analysis has the world of science excited and impressed. Okay. So that might be one big joke and not so robust, apparently, but someone tried.
I wonder. Can Indian pop kitsch mythology withstand even the slightest scientific or academic analysis? It is not an (pseudo)intellectual question. Could the gods, goddesses and demons (asuras) undergo tests classifying actions and reactions, using the Amar Chitra Katha comics as reference? Yeah, Asterix and Obelix cannot be compared to the 330 million Hindu gods because they are created by humans for comic books, as cartoon characters. That is one argument. Hindu mythology has developed over millenia and is largely an allegory for the mysteries of the world and questions about existence. But aren’t the pictures in the ACK comics derived from some reference? Don’t we make our gods in the images we want to see and admire? Or does the aura of mythology and the holiness attached to it preclude enquiry and analysis?
One Sunday morning some years ago, a friend and I went to the Avondale Market. There was a stall selling pooja paraphernalia. The usual kitsch and glitter that our Hindu gods and we love. And fair, rotund, rosy-cheeked, beautiful goddesses. ‘Nice goddesses,’ I told the Indian man from Fiji. ‘These images are inspired by Raja Ravi Varma you know.’ The man was aghast. ‘These goddesses are thousands of years old, sacred. Our holy texts describe them.’ ‘Really, who told you?’ I wanted to have a few laughs. My friend rolled her do-you-have-to eyes. 🙂 Pardon me for talking down from my pedestal but how on earth do we move ahead if we don’t know where we come from? And I don’t mean in sociological terms or as a migrant living in the Western world. If religious priests had it their way we would all live and die blind in a world created by their gods. So we need to know these gods came about in the first place. No?
I swing between being atheistic to agnostic and somewhere in-between I acknowledge the presence of a higher power, the laws of this universe that are equal and unrelenting. The rest is all man made. So are our stories and myths. I’ve always enjoyed the many stories from Hindu mythology. My grandfather was an amazing storyteller and he could narrate stories at the drop of a hat. Not just from the Hindu epics but tales of local saints and miracles, unkown-to-Brahmanism. He was an avid reader and taught us to be the same. Then to seek the real meaning beneath. That is what Hindu mythology is about. Representing the ever flowing universe and all within. Everything alive, everything divine, everything in flux. Nothing is pure good or pure evil, one balances the other and even the Gods (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) are not infallible.
Even if, at this moment, the universe cannot be comprehensively broken down within the realms of physics and biochemistry, why not try to analyse where the imagery comes from? My ancestral family deity is represented by a stone. Never mind the statue in-between. And the village goddess is as black as sin.
Now think of a pictorial representation in terms of popular culture. In order to humanise and hence relate to mankind. Is that an ever evolving process or set in stone? If we let the religious priests have their way, then yes, pictorial representations would be set in stone. Unless there is money to be made. Then I suppose it is fine for Vaishnodevi to look like a light skinned version of Pocahontas as imagined by Disney? The fairness cream being sanctioned by the holy texts. Until then. Paresis of mythical past. Just saying. Now I’m off to re-read Asterix’s adventures. Along with my surgery chapter on head injuries.