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The Inspiration Games

The Inspiration Games

September 04, 2012

Why most western scifi is inspired by Indian Mythology.

“It was India which invented the bow and arrow” my Dad blustered over the phone from Bombay, “remember Arjuna’s skill at archery? How he could concentrate till he saw nothing else but the target and shoot it with unerring precision time after time….”  He had just returned from seeing the Hunger Games at his local multiplex, when my weekly Sunday phone call had sparked off this conversation; with him insisting that the cross-bow was an Indian invention.  “Uh! Dad,” I protested, “not everything in science fiction comes from Indian mythology….” I was, as usual, embarrassed by his well known theme of India shining and claiming ownership of emerging trends. Yet his comment gave me pause for thought. I began to wonder if he had a point?

Cut to a few years back, when, on one of my annual trips to Bombay, the extended family had trooped off en masse to see Avatar in 3D at the brand new IMAX theatre in Bombay. I sat next to my father enjoying his excitement as he leaned forward to perch precariously close to the edge of the seat, fascinated by the incredible images flashing across the cinema screen.

And as the scene with the Tree of Souls which has a neural link to the Na’vi uniting them all as one, unfolded, he gasped in surprise shaking his head; explaining to me later that Ayurveda the Indian system of traditional medicine had a very similar concept of unity.  That, all living creatures are linked to this planet and are one with Earth. The concept of blue people itself was familiar as many Indian Gods are depicted in similar fashion.

Flying chariots, Gods teleporting at will across dimensions, powerful weapons of war that could destroy entire armies, revolving discs and guided swords spewing fiery sparks which would return to their owners after hitting its target, illusions which could frighten without hurting, and the massive bow which only Rama could string to win the heart of the beautiful Sita… Hmmm! I had seen these scenes countless times over the years, in the stories from Indian mythology which my grandmother narrated to me as a child growing up in Bombay.

Amar Chitra Katha (Indian comic books) took over where my grandmother left off, yet what chance did a teenager’s raging hormones stand against tight bodysuits, plunging necklines, fanatical crime fighting and passionate love stories. With the first Superman movie I was in love with caped crusaders – Spiderman, Legion of Superheroes (my personal favourite) Green Lantern, Wonder Woman not to mention Tarzan & Phantom and much later Conan the Barbarian – I lived happily with them for a very long time. And then I stumbled across the gaming world which is proud to borrow from Indian mythology. Take for example Asura’s Wrath an action video game released earlier this year. According to the game’s producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya, “Asura’s Wrath takes elements from Hindu mythology and blends them with science fiction. In the game, Asura is a demigod fighting to reclaim his daughter from the deities who kidnapped her and banished him from earth.”

Or for that matter Xena the Warrior Princess’ trademark chakram which looks and acts very similar to the famed Sudarshan Chakra (Lord Vishnu’s deadly weapon of choice – a golden discus which cuts through the target and returns to owner.)

Over the years I realised that Hollywood and the West have looked to Indian mythology for inspiration. But time has come full circle, with a brave new breed of Indian fantasy writers seeking to carry on the tradition of the ancient epics. Check out the brilliant Ramayana 3392 AD from New York based Liquid comics and the seductive Devi.

Do you have more examples of western science fiction drawing from Indian mythology? Do let me know. 

4 Comments

  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    05.09.12 11:29 AM
    Actually I have lot of respect for our ancient religion and traditions. But saying western science fiction borrows heavily from Indian mythology is not accurate. As an ardent reader of science fiction and fantasy I find much stronger influence of Celtic, Greek, Egyptian and Native Indian mythology much more than Indian mythology. Also some borrow from Norse mythology and biblical mythology. In case you feel bad about them borrowing from our mythology, I am taking revenge on them by writing science fiction/fantasy borrowing from Greek mythology.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    04.09.12 02:10 PM
    Brilliant ideas are always borrowed but are never invented. If you invent the concept then most likely it will not succeed first time round without being changed. So this does not surprise me at all. Nicely written.

    HARRY
  • ravi swami
    By
    ravi swami
    04.09.12 01:40 PM
    Ha...I was wondering when this topic would surface - back in the day when I was contributor to this esteemed blog, I did toy with the idea of a similar piece, but am wary of being laughed out of town by my U.K industry comrades, such as they are...:)

    Your opening para' reminds me of the character "Mr Everything Comes From India" from "Goodness Gracious Me" - in my case, it's usually my mum who points out these similarities, since she's the film-buff.

    There IS a strand of Orientalism that permeates and informs Hollywood SciFi - there's no doubt about that, but then I think this is because Hollywood is made up of people who can trace their heritage back to the Middle East, & not Europe - Arabian Nights stories simply got updated to "SciFi" in films, but before that there has always been a more "East" facing outlook in America in general.

    A lot of movie SciFi is influenced by a general interest in the East which takes in influences like the writings of Edgar Cayce and the Theosophists, and the stories of the Arabian Nights - subjects which got a determined cold shoulder in the U.K and are usually sidelined to crankdom.

    SciFi in the U.K (where I live) tends to be more science-based and rationalist in its outlook - I can only point to one such example of Eastern references entering scifi in the U.K (in film & TV) - Tom Baker mentioning "Dravidian Starships" in an episode of Dr Who in the 70's...:)

    You asked for examples - well, of course not EVERY SciFi movie has Indian or Eastern inspired concepts, but a lot of them do - Star Wars is one, even if Lucasfilms website vigorously avoids ANY mention of the Ramayana in amongst the raft of cultural references it includes.

    My all-time favourite scifi film is Forbidden Planet (1954) and initially it struck me as taking in modern ideas like Freudian psychoanalysis - nothing Eastern inspired at all - but then it features an underground extinct alien civilisation with near magical powers - an idea straight out of the writings of M.Blavatsky and Bulwer Lytton - both of whom were clearly inspired by, & curious about, Asian mythology.

    In terms of literary scifi, you couldn't really say that most Western SciFi takes in ideas which have their origins in the East - but again, some landmark SciFi novels do - eg Zelaznys Lord of Light, and possibly Dune - there's certainly a fascination with the same qualities & themes / devices which run through "Arabian Nights" stories.
  • Stuart
    By
    Stuart
    04.09.12 10:04 AM
    There's a lot of validity in the examples you cite, but I still have a serious problem with the subtitle "why *MOST* western scifi is inspired by Indian mythology" - citing a handful of Hollywood blockbusters, including the awful steaming pile of turd that was Avatar, does not support the contention that *most* western scifi was inspired by Indian mythology. The article presupposes that "western scifi" = "Hollywood movies", doing a grave disservice science fiction's literary origins, and in science fiction literature, as opposed to Hollywood movies, derivations from Indian mythology are much less common. Except of course for masterpieces like Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series

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