A few weeks ago I noted that an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. suggested that the Hindu god Vishnu was an ancient astronaut, and I suggested that such claims, which appeared to be at odds with the typical way Marvel deals with ancient deities in the comics (though, as always, it is much more complex than that), presented ancient astronaut ideas to one of television’s largest audiences. As it turns out, Hindu activists were also outraged at the suggestion that one of their deities is an extraterrestrial being.
The Universal Society of Hinduism, a Reno, NV-based nonprofit that claims to provide outreach for the billion Hindus worldwide, released a statement demanding an apology from Disney, Marvel, and ABC for their insensitive suggestion that Vishnu was an alien rather than a god.
In 2007 Society president Rajan Zed was the first Hindu to deliver a prayer as a guest chaplain in the United States Senate, to much protest from conservative Christians. (An earlier Hindu prayer had been delivered in the House of Representatives in 2000). He said in a statement released late last month that Vishnu is too sacred to be treated as a mere alien:
Rajan Zed stated that Hindus were for free speech as much as anybody else if not more. But faith was something sacred and attempts at debasing it hurt the adherents. Television and Hollywood should be more conscious while handling faith related subjects, as television and cinema were very mighty mediums and these could create stereotypes in the minds of some audiences. […] “Hinduism had about one billion adherents and offered a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken lightly. Symbols of any faith, larger or smaller, should not be mishandled,” Zed said.
Zed also asked ABC, Marvel, and Disney to post information about Hinduism and the god Vishnu on their respective websites. ABC declined media requests for comment.
The Universal Society of Hinduism also made news this week when Zed released a statement saying his group was planning to ask for permission to place a monument to the monkey god Hanuman alongside the Satanic Temple of New York’s proposed monument at the Oklahoma state Capitol building, part of a growing protest against the erection of a Christian Ten Commandments monument at the site. Under Oklahoma law, equal space must be provided for all religious groups. Zed said that the Hanuman statue would honor the god’s perfect grammar and great strength.
It should be fairly obvious that Zed has chosen popular and easy targets for publicity purposes. Unsurprisingly, his Society isn’t concerned about Ancient Aliens, which most weeks tells us that Vishnu, Shiva, and the other Hindu gods are space aliens who flew about the country in flying saucers, dropping atom bombs on unsuspecting Indians.
It shouldn’t be surprising that several Hindus also advocate the ancient astronaut theory, just as several self-described Christians claim God drives a flying saucer. For example, one Hindu started a blog called Aliens Were Believed as Hindu Gods in 2006 to advocate the claim that “all our Hindu myths and stories” can be explained with reference to aliens. The Hindu creationist Michael Cremo has also been happy to advocate fringe archaeology with a Hindu bent on Ancient Aliens, although he believes aliens are really gods rather than the other way around.
Claims that Indian deities were extraterrestrials date back to Theosophy, which adopted and adapted Vedic texts and assigned their supernatural events to “Ascended Masters” whom Theosophists believed lived on Venus, the Moon, and other heavenly bodies before descending to earth to guide and teach humankind.
So, what I’ve learned from this is that outrage is a function of the potential for publicity, and it’s OK to claim that a billion people mistakenly worship aliens as long as you claim it’s a scientific fact and not merely part of a fictional universe.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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