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Colourism of the Divine

I have read an interesting article from the BBC about a studio in Chennai, India, that made a series of images depicting the Hindu gods: Dark is divine: What colour are Indian gods and goddesses? by Geeta Pandey.

For much of Indian history, there was and still is discrimination against those with darker skin colours. Historically, similar discrimination was common in agricultural societies all over the world. This bias was stemmed from the class system, as labourers, being more exposed to the sun, produced more melanin than the nobles and the middle class. In India, colourism led to depictions of the Hindu gods as light-skinned, even though some of them, such as Kali, were described as black or dark-skinned since ancient times.
Kali vanquishing evil; created circa 1770
Short film and advertising production studio “Slingshot Creations”, created a series of dark-skinned versions of the gods to help promote awareness of colourism in India. To see the full attribution (models, styling, etc.) and descriptions of each image, go here and click on each image.
சிவன், or Shiva as depicted by Slingshot Creations Shiva dancing the Tāṇḍavam

The article omitted the name of the woman, Nithya, who helped with concept and creative input, giving an impression of the idea coming entirely from the men in the company. They also left out the studio, Slingshot Creations, and a link to the photographer's site, which reduces the chance of them getting business from those impressed by the work.

From a conworlding perspective, reading this story caused me to think of some interesting questions pertaining to fictional religions. How are the divine depicted in art? How do societal prejudices get reflected in religious art? How do these prejudices affect people's perception of religious figures? As a real world example, traditional European art depicts God as a white male. In the same religious traditions, other ethnicities have painted God black or shown Him as Middle Eastern. In the present, some feminist Christians depict God as a woman. This reflects how power structures and rebellion against those power structures can play a big role in even the minor details of our world, and therefore can have a similar impact in conworlds.


  1. My worry is that the very idea of a deity is inherently supremacist. How does presenting a person of any demographic as being worthy of worship have a place in an equal society?

    1. I agree that the idea of worshiping a demographic or a human leads to evil. This post, however, is about the depiction of gods who are not considered to be humans. I myself am an agnostic, but just because you and I disagree with religion doesn't mean one can't respect the followers of the religion.