The Hollywood movie, ‘Avatar’ has become the ultimate blockbuster. Seen by millions round the world to collect over 2.5 billion dollars at the box office, beating all past records, collecting three Oscars, it is totally alien, fantastic, plausible and yet possible. So film buffs see it more than once to be awed at its special effects and try to understand its hidden messages. Thus, it is perhaps pertinent to examine some of its underlying themes.
‘Avatar’ connects at many different levels, appeals to different age groups and cultures, and sends strong messages on a number of major problems like penetrating and colonising new lands in the past; and saving the environment today that confront man on this planet. The colonial theme can be applied to the early Americans against the Red Indians, the Europeans against the South American Indians, or the Europeans against the Africans, Asians or Aborigines.
The environment theme is also very powerful to save the natural resources from rapacious mining and destruction of living beings. A core concept of Hinduism is that all animate and inanimate come from a single energy source, which is Brahman or God. All the plants, animals, human beings live and die in this single energy source. This formless and indefinable energy is given form by living beings (both human and others) and worshipped as God – an important theme of ‘Avatar’. This Hindu belief is in its scriptures thousands of years ago. In the movie, the Na’vis can physically connect to each other, animals, plants and the co-system as they believe that they are just a part of the whole which includes all animate and inanimate beings on their planet, Pandora. This concept is shown beautifully as their hair braid or long plaits with which they connect with animals for protection and transport. Similarly, a mystical ‘Hometree’ is the centre of the energy network flowing through all living things. This tree is connected to the human body and this body is connected to all the Na’vis through holding their hands with each other to symbolically show the connection between souls. The Na’vi spiritual and physical home is the Tree of Wisdom; other trees are the Tree of Souls and the Tree of Voices – very much like the Bodhi Tree of enlightenment.
Pandora’s topography of floating mountains, stone arches in the sky and lush forests are found in ancient Hindu epics such a Mahabharata. The great Hindu epic Mahabharata ends when the Pandavas embark upon a treacherous passage in world’s highest mountain range into the clouds, very much like this movie. Ancient Hindu sages meditated under trees shown as Mt. Veritas or the Mountain of Truth in ‘Avatar’.
But there is much more than the title of this film that is rooted in Hinduism. James Cameron, the film’s director, producer, screenwriter, editor, and inventor, says he based the idea and title of ‘Avatar’ from Hinduism.
The people of Pandora, the Na’vi (Navi means new in Hindi) people have a cyan blue coloured skin. it points to Lord Krishna, the ultimate avatar in Hinduism. Among the thousands of names of Krishna, a popular one is ‘Shyam’ or the blue skinned one. Blue is the colour of the sky, the infinite. All Hindu gods are an attempt by the human mind to give form to the formless Brahman (God). The colour blue symbolises immeasurable and all pervading reality – formless Brahman. And Krishna is known for playing his flute and Na’vi is called the Clan of Blue Flute. A female in this movie is called Neytri, which means ‘one with beautiful eyes’ in Sanskrit.
A concept found in the Hindu scripture, The Puranas, is ‘Parakaya Pravesham’ – leaving one’s body temporarily and entering the body of another person. Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have done this to enter a king’s body so that he can learn about material world. Something quite similar happens in the movies as humans are able to temporarily enter the body of a Na’vi. It also hints at a form of reincarnation. Na’vi devotion shown by their singing together is like ‘mantra’ chanting. Na’vi bond to a flying ‘banshee’ with a dangerous and a required rite of growing up through a neutral interface. Then they ride and fly with it to move and also to fight. This is more like Lord Vishnu riding on Garuda. Warriors in Avatar riding on a banshee defeat the colonisers equipped with powerful ultra modern fighting machines, weapons and airborne vehicles. In the fierce fight, the Na’vi use a mantra can as a weapon, very much like in the great Kurukshetra War in the Mahabharata.
The special effect technology invented by Cameron for ‘Avatar’ is so realistic that more such blockbusters movies will be made for international audiences. So it is time to plan seriously for bringing the great Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata with this technology on the screen in their full glory. It is high time the original, the ultimate and the real avatar, the Supreme Lord Krishna, was presented in this manner.