Hellenic Icons and Hindu Murti

In putting together my syncretic shrines it is sometimes a bit jarring when you see the imagery of the two different cultures together. Hindu murti depict the gods resplendent in jewels and beautiful cloth. They are adorned richly for all appearances, and I have yet to see one that was nude. This is a startling contrast with often nude Hellenic icons that share the shrine space. When considering that these are supposed to be *the same god/dess* the distinction is enough to give a pause between how these two cultures represented their deities.

Now most goddesses, with the exception of Aphrodite, were not depicted nude. They were often depicted regally adorned but still minimally with simple robes and varying levels of complexity in headdress compared to the extravagance of Hindu gods. Yet the gods themselves are most often depicted nude, or mostly nude. And I think that this comes down to mostly cultural context.

From what I can gather Hindu gods are depicted in the most beautiful of ways. (With the exception of Siva in all cases) they have the finest silks of the most beautiful and brilliant patterns and colors, and they are richly draped in jewels and various jewelry. Each one looks like a king and queen in their regal beauty. This seems to me to be the point. They are of such higher beings than any earthly king or queen that they have the most ornate appearance to reflect this. Their power and beauty is emphasized in the human manner of adorning, although when the murti itself is decorate with specific gems and jewels that sacred to that deity it is more than just adorning but by what Hellenes would call theurgy, bringing the deity more present by the association.

Hellenes on the other hand found beauty in natural simplicity. The chiton, for all it’s simplicity was favored because it was considered by far more elegant than the sewn trappings of other cultures that they encountered. But the god themselves were of such perfection in and of themselves that their naked beauty was the expression of the most perfect natural beauty. To depict the gods nude or modestly adorned was to emphasize the natural beauty of the deity that did not rely on human trappings. Although Aphrodite was often more richly adorned. This is not to say that temple statues and the like did not have richness of cloth and jewelry, for they did. Chitons and jewelry were favored offerings and would have adorned the statues as opulently as desired. However I would say that the cult statues of temples were perhaps in an entirely different class than the simple reliefs, frescos and statues that were more common.

When keeping these things in mind I find it easier to have a syncretic shrine without going argh Dionysos is naked and Krishna is all to the nines, this doesn’t look like it fits. What I remind myself is that it is the nature of the god that I am seeing and giving worship, not necessarily the cultural expression of how that deity is made to look that is relative specifically to that culture. I love and value the cultural images, the icons and murtis because they are important representations of the gods and their presence in our lives, but I am not worried about how it looks expressed together. Which is a positive move for me in making my shrines more clearly unified rather than divided out despite giving syncretic worship. It has been successful for Siv-Apollon and Parvati-Artemis, but Siva makes that easy given his own simplicity of adornment. So now it is time to make the connections a bit more clear on my other syncretic shrines too.

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4 thoughts on “Hellenic Icons and Hindu Murti

  1. The symbolism of clothing in Egyptian iconography seems to be that of filtering the God’s presence, such that the least-clothed Gods manifest the “hottest”, so to speak, shining like a sun upon beings (think Semele). This is somewhat parallel to the rarity of full-face depictions of the Netjeru (except in cult statues, of course), full-face icons (like we see with Hathor or Bes) being apotropaic for this reason.

    • Very interesting. I am not as familiar with Egyptian religion as I would like to be, and have probably forgotten more than half of what I have read n my youth but that is something I don’t know if I would have noticed.

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