Dipping into India’s divine

  • Published : Aug 18, 2011 - 19:01
  • Updated : Aug 18, 2011 - 20:12
The National Folk Museum of Korea showcases Indian deities and spirits

From Bollywood to its rich religious customs, India is the place to visit for anyone who wants to experience both cultural heritage and entertainment in South Asia.

And its Hindu religion, among many other faiths, attracts countless visitors worldwide. Worshipping more than 330 million Hindu deities, the county has developed a rich and original culture closely tied to its unique religious customs and practices.

The National Folk Museum of Korea’s current exhibition, “Journey to Indian Mythology,” features India’s religious relics including masks, sculptures and paintings related to its Hindu gods and goddesses.

The exhibition is being held in celebration of Korea’s growing multiculturalism, and to raise awareness on South Asian culture as more immigrants from the particular region have been making Korea their second home.

Among the featured deities, Surya, the chief solar deity in Hinduism, also has a link to Korea, according to the museum.

“Dano, one of Korea’s traditional holidays, is also often called ‘Surit-nal,’” the museum said.

“And the root word of the term ‘Surit’ is reportedly from Surya.”

The exhibition also introduces the term “Trimurti,” the Hindu trinity that consists of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. Among the three, Indians devotedly worship Shiva and Vishnu, according to the museum.
A painting of 10 avatars of Vishnu, the Supreme Hindu god. (National Folk Museum of Korea)
An artistic relic that portrays Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit story. (National Folk Museum of Korea)

Vishnu, in particular, has 10 avatars that represent him. In Hinduism, Buddha is considered as the ninth avatar of Vishnu.

Each of the three deities has their own wife. Shiva is married to Parvati, the supreme divine mother, while Vishnu’s wife is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Brahman is the consort of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and science.

Ganesha, a son of Shiva and Parvati, takes the form of an elephant. He is generally perceived as the remover of obstacles, and is one of the most widely worshipped deities throughout India. Visitors are offered diverse representations of Ganesha, along with other deities.

The featured exhibits, especially wooden and bronze sculptures of the deities, reveal the supreme beauty and delicacy of India’s Hinduism. They are also fun to learn about, as each deity and their avatars have different roles and characteristics.

Religious shrines in ordinary households of present India have been recreated to be exhibited in this show. The recreated scenes show how religious values and practices are deeply embedded in Indians’ everyday lives.

Among the featured artifacts, a painting that contains all 10 avatars of Vishnu is a must-see.

“Historically, Indians did not produce that many artworks that feature all of the 10 avatars of Vishnu,” Lee Geon-woo, curator of the museum said.
A bronze sculpture of Nataraja, a depiction of Shiva as the cosmic dancer. (National Folk Museum of Korea)

A bronze sculpture of Nataraja, a depiction of Shiva as the cosmic dancer, is another notable exhibited item. Indian Hindus have believed that Shiva would destroy a flawed universe by his divine dance in order for Brahma to cerate a better world.

Artifacts that portray Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit narrative that have been enormously popular in India throughout the history, are also on display. The story features Kishkindha kingdom’s prince Rama ― who is portrayed as an avatar of Vishnu ― whose wife Sita is abducted by a demon. The ancient tale has been made into present-day TV dramas and still beloved by many Indians throughout the country.

“Journey to Indian Mythology“ runs until Sept. 19. For more information about the exhibition, call (02) 3704-3154.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)