You can take a person out of his native culture but not the native culture out of a person. Malayali actor Asif Ali is trending in the news cycle for his ‘bravery’ of replacing Sri Thrikkaakara Appan of Onam with Iron Man’s gauntlet from the Avengers: Endgame movie. Sri Thrikkaakara Appan is a spiritual representation of Vishnu’s first human avatar Vamana, son of celestial rishis Kashyap and Aditi. In a fraudulent Dravidian narrative spun by EVR Ramaswamy and his acolytes, however, Vamana is maligned as an “Aryan invader” who tricked the ‘indigenous, lower caste’ ruler Bali into giving up his kingdom to ‘Aryan king’ Indra. This narrative belies the scriptures that say Bali was not only a devotee of Vishnu, as were his father Virochana and grandfather Prahlad, but also a Brahmin by the paternal birth rules. Prahlad’s father Hiranyakashipu was the son of the very same Kashyapa rishi (and Aditi’s sister Diti) who fathered Vamana. But the Periyarite hatred for anything remotely Hindu runs so deep that even most of Dravidian-narrative-subscribing Hindus don’t think their narratives through; Asif Ali is still a Muslim.
The message that the Muslim actor presumably wanted to convey to Hindus was two-fold. On one level, it is pure and simple mockery and contempt of Hindu iconography, the good ol’ iconoclasm. It is one word in which the entire history of Ali’s birth-religion Islam could be summed up, including in post-1947 ‘secular India’, where this is a crime on books but the law was almost never enforced on Muslims.
On the second, deeper level, the evident intent was to show the Hindus how their ‘mythology’ was as ‘flimsy’ and ‘shaky’ as a pop-culture comic book, and that their gods like Vamana and Indra might very well have been characters of children’s storybooks from the bygone millennia. On this level, however, Ali betrays nothing but his own ignorance and illiteracy of culture, history, mythology, metaphysics, and even social psychology.
The tool Ali employs to convey the second message is still a Hindu tool, ‘icon-worship’, shirk (placing anything or anyone in the position of Allah) or kufr (disbelief in Allah) in the eyes of Islam. The punishment for it is severe in Islam, ranging from death in this life to eternal hellfire in the next, regardless of how many other good deeds one may have committed to in this life. And the funniest thing is that if one interprets Ali’s act through the lens of Hindutva and dharma, he did not even manage to really insult the devatas or devotees, only managed to earn the ire of his Allah and the more hardliner clergy of Islam.
On a socio-political level, what he did was undoubtedly a dastardly act. It was made more pernicious by the fact that a Muslim dared to try and belittle a Hindu god, for which he should be in jail under Section 295A of IPC and 153A of CrPC (never mind the writer’s personal detest of these sections of law and opinion that they should be scrapped from the books, under the principle of absolute free speech).
Its socio-political impact was aggravated also by the fact that thousands of deracinated Hindu fools are cheering it, in complete disregard for the spirit of Chrislamic iconoclasm, its bloodied history of 2,000 years and the gory future it contains for us all — including those cheering today. To see this is a bit like watching a replay of Americans cheering for the mujahideen in the 1970s and ’80s.
On the more spiritual and/or psychological level, however, matters turn inside out. The Malayali actor does not realise that whether the gauntlet would still be a respectable object fit for worship in the eyes of the kafirs, given the significance it holds within Marvel mythology.
If Marvel depicted the real world (even an alternate universe), where Tony Stark did save trillions of lives, sacrificing his own, using this gauntlet, worshipping it would have still been haram for those whom Asif Ali tried to sympathise with, with his act. For Hindus, on the other hand, if anything remotely like this had existed in this world, this gauntlet would have become an ayudha (celestial weapon), which would be worshipped with as much fanfare as Sharang, Sudarshan, Kaumudaki, etc. PR Sreejesh turned to his goalpost and saluted it as if it were his deva after winning a mere medal, and we cheered on! Just think what a great significance this ayudha would have had for us. It was real in any plane, any dimension, any alternate universe.
Hindus’ history of creating divine objects from mundane artefacts, including creating deities through the process of consecration (prana pratishtha), is as old as the very Hindutva. In Mahabharata, Ashwatthama makes a blade of grass the conduit of Brahmastra, the most venerated and feared spiritual weapon. Ayudha puja is a tradition as old as Vijayadashami, and defence minister Rajnath Singh worshipped Rafale fighter jets on Vijayadashami of 2019 before they were inducted into the Indian Air Force. So, given that within the mythology of the ‘Marvel universe’, Tony Stark’s weapon symbolises the self-sacrifice of a ‘privileged’, “upper caste”, rich, ‘capitalist’, ‘exploiter’ bourgeois hero to save the life of trillions in the universe, Hindus would gladly bow down to the divine meaning the comic book hero’s sacrifice bestowed on the gauntlet.
This writer’s (informal) guru once remarked that the discovery of alien life would be a cataclysmic blow to Islam and Christianity that claim exclusive franchise on human salvation via a one-time-one-point-one-person intervention of God in human history. A Hindu, on the other hand, would be delighted to map Vishnu avataras on the aliens’ gods as well. He views even the Sai Baba temple at Shirdi as a cultural and spiritual victory of this land’s Hindutva on Islam, by creating an Agama-compliant, shirk-committing temple to harness the spiritual shakti of a Sufi saint.
In his blind hatred, the Muslim actor did commit shirk, a Hindu act, and that’s what he needs to be mocked for so that not only a socio-political pushback to desert cult happens, but it happens in a way of normalising and furthering more iconography, more shirk, more kufr. The writer has previously already expressed his views on how the Hindu rage needs to happen on more ‘masculine’ lines instead of the more ‘feminized’ trigger-happy outrage model we are running on today. Along the same lines, here’s food for thought: Hindu outrage should also happen when Hindutva is violated, when a ‘sin’ on Hindu standards happens, not when hateful idiots like Ali end up violating their own religion, in a bid to insult Hindutva.
On an off-chance that Ali was really “trying to celebrate Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture”, here are a couple of suggestions on the same lines as his original act, in Muslim territory:
- Perhaps the Muslim actor could next consider sharing snaps of creating pictures of Allah, and his last prophet, the Mohammed of Arabia. That would be a great example of two-way syncretism, of Islam also modifying itself to accommodate local religions.
- Given that our neighbour Afghanistan has newly turned into an Islamic Emirate, perhaps Ali would consider it a ‘Ganga Jamuni privilege’ to be India’s cultural ambassador to Afghanistan, and propose three temple of Allah in Kabul, Karachi, and Kashmir, connected by the “KKK corridor”.
And if the above ideas make Ali fear for his life, the Muslim actor would do well to reflect on that his initial act of ‘worshipping’ the gauntlet, ‘celebrating’ the Kafir festival of Onam is not a lesser sin in the eyes of Allah. Playing on a line from Main Hoon Na by Ali’s co-religionist Shahrukh Khan,
Nafrat bahut soch samajh ke karni chahiye, Asif Ali. Hum jisase nafrat karte hain, aksar hum wahi ban jaate hain!