I’ve long been fascinated by world religions — because the study of religion reveals a great deal about the nature of man. Recently my daughter Jennifer, who shares my interest in such things, showed me a book titled “The Little Book of Hindu Deities” — a Plume Book published by Penguin Group in 2006.
It’s the work of Sanjay Patel, an animator and storyboard artist at Pixar Animation Studios who has worked on films including “A Bug’s Life,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Incredibles” and more. Recently he created works for the “Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts” exhibition that runs through April 8 at the Asian Art Museum in Jennifer’s favorite city, San Francisco.
Most of the book consists of two-page spreads describing a Hindu deity on one side and depicting Patel’s playful image of it on the other. Jennifer quickly found the goddess she knew I’d most admire, portrayed by Patel holding a stringed musical instrument called a sitar.
She’s Sarasvati — the goddess of knowledge and the arts. Patel notes that she’s the first goddess to be worshipped in Hinduism, adding that “She developed a creative community of her own and has come to symbolize the independent woman as a thinker and a gifted creator.”
Folks who explore Patel’s work will learn about Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva — the Trimurti (Hindu trinity). Also manifestations of Shiva, avatars of Vishnu and assorted demigods. Even nine planets, four animal gods and the Hindu chronology of creation.
Patel recounts two great Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, making both accessible for readers not well-versed in Hindu philosophy or religion. He also addresses a small portion of the Mahabharata called the Bhagavad Gita.
There’s even a hot pink glossary page with familiar terms from “karma” to “nirvana” plus lesser known words like “kalpa” (one cycle of creation), “puja” (a Hindu religious ceremony) and “maya” (illusion, or the things that blind us to our desires).
“The Little Book of Hindu Dieties” is full of colorfully written and illustrated tales that make for perfectly-sized bites of bedtime reading. Or a fun way for teens to begin thinking about how various traditions differ from their own.
Click here to learn more about Patel’s work.
Coming up: Weekend arts sampler, Painting meets personality