Shades of Divinity: Debating the Complexion of Lord Ram in Contemporary Politics

Featured & Cover   Shades of Divinity Debating the Complexion of Lord Ram in Contemporary Politics

“He possesses a voice reminiscent of the resonating tones of a dundubhi (kettledrum). His skin exudes a radiant glow, brimming with splendor. His physique is robust and square-built, with symmetrically proportioned limbs. He is adorned with a dark complexion.”

In the Sundara Kanda of Valmiki Ramayan, when Sita challenges Hanuman to demonstrate his knowledge of Ram and Lakshman, this is his eloquent reply. The repetitive emphasis on Ram’s dark skin appears consistently in various versions of the Ramayana. However, scriptures don’t always mirror the lived reality. In a world marked by diversities, where the struggle between great and little traditions persists, Ram is at times portrayed in blue, black, and occasionally even in white or green.

The question of Ram’s skin color becomes pertinent in a country predominantly inhabited by people labeled as ‘brown’ by the West. In the case of the most politically active deity of the century, who himself engaged in a legal battle to secure rights over his birthplace, the debate over his depiction takes on broader political implications.

The controversy emerged when three renowned sculptors from different regions were commissioned to create a 51-inch idol of five-year-old Ram lalla for the sanctum sanctorum of the Ram Mandir. Ganesh Bhatt and Arun Yogiraj sculpted the idol from bluish-grey stone known as Shyam-Shila, sourced from Karnataka. On the other hand, Satyanarayan Pandey fashioned a white idol from the makrana marble of Rajasthan.

Union Minister Prahlad Joshi announced on January 1, through a tweet, that Yogiraj’s idol would be installed in the consecration ceremony. However, reports suggested that during a meeting on December 22, a few senior trust members favored Pandey’s ‘Shweta’ version, despite 11 members supporting Yogiraj’s idol. Does the color of the idol hold significance in contemporary politics? Hindu saints and scholars argue that diverse interpretations lead to varied perceptions and, consequently, multiple depictions.

This isn’t the first instance of Ram being portrayed as white. Various television adaptations, including the widely popular one by Ramanand Sagar, depict Ram as anything but dark. Even when depicted differently, he is often shown in blue. Mythologist and author Devdutt Pattanaik points out the preference for blue over black, stating, “We had gods who were always pink, demons who were always brown, and dark gods who were always blue. Indra, Brahma, and Durga were pink, Asuras and Rakshasas were brown. Vishnu, Ram, and Krishna were blue.” He attributes this preference to the symbolism of blue representing the sky, ether, and divinity.

Discussing the blue depiction of Ram, Deepam Chatterjee, author of The Millennial Yogi, notes, “Blue depicts the infinite. It is the color of the clear day sky and of the deep sea. Divinity is often depicted as infinity. Hence, depictions of Lord Rama as blue are symbolic of his divine nature.” Referring to the Bhakti literature tradition, Chatterjee adds that Ram is called “Nīlameghashyama”—the one with the complexion.

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