Depiction of Indian gods in Japanese games : Artistic liberties?

The Bollywood movie ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ by the legendary Raj Kapoor has a song  “Yashomati maiyya se bole nandalala, radha kyun gori, mein kyun kala? (Krishna asking his mother why he is dark while Radha is fair). Krishna is referenced as a dark (or black?) personality while there are many instances where we see Krishna depicted in a “blue” color in India. Which is the real color?

The Nintendo 3DS title Shin Megami Tensei IV by SEGA will be released on February 10, 2016 and Krishna has been depicted in a third “brown” color to which Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism  has taken an exception to. See here.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 8.56.47 PMAccording to the website

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, said that in a video game set-up, the player would control the movements of Lord Krishna, while in reality the devotees put the destinies of themselves in the hands of their deities. Moreover, Lord Krishna depicted by “Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final” wears fedora type hat (widely associated with gangsters), tall riding boots, knickerbockers pant, blue hair, fancy jacket and shirt with neck-scarf, and has brown face; while in Hindu images he is usually depicted wearing dhoti and is blue-skinned; Rajan Zed points out.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 8.57.20 PMIs this the first time that Japanese game developers have taken artistic liberties and depicted Indian gods? No…. : I have been playing all sorts of Japanese RPG titles over past 15 years on Playstation Portable, PS2/PS3 etc.  and I have been witness to various depictions of Indian gods in exotic forms and characters beyond what a regular Indian can recognise.

Lets look at the Trinity of Indian Godessess, Laxmi-Saraswati-Durga in Japanese games….

Durga in the game title Monster Strike (モンスト):

SnapCrab_NoName_2015-10-31_14-43-56_No-00What I like about Rajan Zed’s position is that he is not calling for ban, What he is saying is

Hindus welcomed entertainment industry to immerse in Hinduism but taking it seriously and respectfully and not for refashioning Hinduism scriptures, symbols, concepts and deities for mercantile greed. Zed or other Hindu scholars would gladly provide genuine entertainment industry seekers the resources they needed for their study and research regarding Hinduism.

Makes sense.

Laxmi in the game title Puzzle and Dragons PANDORA (パズドラ) :

MONS_1114The lotus flower, the elephant lurking in the corner and the most important gold coins all clearly point to the “laxmi” element. Stories, symbols and rituals have been extensively in Hinduism used to convey the ideas over generations. With artistic liberties, does the idea remain consistent or get distorted? Keeping the idea consistent is important and that is what Rajan is trying to call out.

Sarasvati in PERSONA 3:

This wildly popular PSP title has a depiction of Saraswati which is consistent to the original form. I was pleasantly surprised around 2010 when I had bought this game from the department store LABI in Sannomiya, Kobe and it took me time to reach the status when I could create the character Sarasvati after making good progress in the game.   The depiction in Persona made a lot of sense and kept consistency to the theme and I think game developers will help the society at large if they put more effort into bringing a studied element to the characters.p4g_201206212I do not know the new game title Shin Megami Tensei IV and exactly what the gameplay and positioning of Krishna is, but as far as I have seen the Youtube trailer of the same, I think SEGA has done enough justice in the story telling on Krishna, the color not withstanding. If you understand Japanese see the below video and judge for yourself.

Rajan has pointed out that Sega should follow its own “Group Management Philosophy”, which includes the phrase to “strive to enrich our society and culture.” He said that in the case of Shin Megami Tensei IV, depiction of Krishna creates confusion by spreading misinformation about the Hindu deity and that reimagining Hindu religious symbols and stories for commercial purposes is hurtful to the religion’s followers.

I am no judge of how valid that statement is, but hopefully we see Japanese game developers make future depictions of Indian gods in games in a moe mature format true to the original idea proposed in mythology.

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