Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Little Book of Hindu Deities

Sanjay Patel's The Little Book of Hindu Deities is a light-hearted visual look at Hindu Mythology told by unfolding the story of most of the important Hindu Deities. It is by no means an exhaustive treatise on the subject and most likely intentionally so because few texts can lay a claim to any kind of completeness in this regard. The stories of Hindu Mythology are so entwined with Indian culture, that it's often impossible to separate the two. Because they define Indian civilization, they transcend religion itself. I was raised as a Parsee in India but on a very healthy diet of Hindu mythology to the point where we embraced it as our own. In his acknowledgements, Sanjay tells us that he works at Pixar Animation Studio and was born in the UK and raised in LA and that he has never been to India. This makes his effort even more remarkable, because not only does he capture the essence of each deity, but he does it crisply.

The format of the book makes it an excellent read for kids (I have two sons 8 and 5 who are discovering Indian culture as they grow up in the US). Each diety gets a terribly cute animated avatar, rendered by Sanjay, with a one page write up in large font. Each deity's name is followed by it's pronunciation. The text is easy to read and understand by anyone over the age of 8 and is playful enough for kids, but will result in at least one question per page to an adult. If you have a 5 year old, expect a few more questions. You can either read it to your kids or have anyone over 8 years old read it themselves. Importantly enough, Sanjay doesn't shy away from the complexities of the mythology even when he gets to the Shivaling.

Sanjay sometimes does get flippant in his attempts to make the topics accessible. You get the feeling he could have toyed with Shiva less ("Shiva has long hair, but he is not a girl. He just doesn't like haircuts") and made his tone more consistent (there are pages where he distinctly increases the complexity of his language and narrative).

But given his background, Sanjay strikes gold with his kid-friendly and stylistic updates to the visuals of each deity. Rendered in paper-cutout fashion, each piece of artwork is decorative and colorful, almost a poster in its own right. (In fact, you can buy a selection of the artwork from Sanjay's
web site)


blue dot green said...

I can see, how it can be a great resource to NRI parents, in educating their children about Hinduism -P

Unknown said...

I came to know about this book after reading your review.
I went to the author's website, which is also cool.
Don't you agree the visuals are unique and simply cool.
Bottom, I wanted to thank you for this useful information.

Unknown said...

You are welcome, S. It's a fun book for kids and adults alike.