The fact that Indians favour fair skin is no secret. And this desire for fair skin manifests itself in a number of ways – the extensive market for fairness products, the positive perception of and the preference for fair-skinned people in personal and professional spheres, and even in how we depict our gods.
But can’t our gods be dark-skinned?
This is a question that a Chennai-based duo has dared to ask through their photo series ‘Dark is Divine’. It reimagines deities as dark-skinned individuals, and questions the preference for whiter complexion when it comes to those we worship.
For Bharadwaj Sundar, co-founder of Chennai-based production house Slingshot Productions, it began with a picture in his home.
“Whether it’s temples within our own homes or the pictures of gods at a barber shop – they are all the same. All of them show gods who are fair,” he observes.
What bothered him was that while a majority of us have much darker complexions, we prefer to worship gods with fairer skin because we equate it with being better.
“I believe it’s a post-colonial hangover,” Bharadwaj says. “The idea that fair is superior and better seems to have come from there. Because here, in India, we’re a majority of dark-skinned individuals.”
He also noticed how some of the gods like Rama and Krishna were depicted as blue-skinned sometimes, but were never portrayed as having dark brown or black skin.
“I don’t know about others, but I’m dark-skinned, and I’d like to relate to my gods when I pray to them,” he says.
Bharadwaj began conceptualising the project in September 2017. While it was supposed to be a 12-photo series for a calendar, due to budget constraints, they decided to limit the number of photos to six.
But the 7th one came into being because, during the process of shooting, their make-up artist was moved by the concept and requested for another photo to be added. That photo became Sita with her sons, Luva and Kusha.
Sita with Luva and Kusha
The photos were shot by Naresh Nil, another co-founder of Slingshot Productions.
The ultimate goal they hope to achieve with ‘Dark is Divine’ is not just acceptance of the idea, but the normalisation of a dark-skinned god.
“The ultimate victory for such a project would be if someone printed one of the photos and perhaps added it to their place of worship in their home and prayed to that god,” Bharadwaj says.