Sanjay Patel: A Hipster’s Guide to Hinduism

The 36-year-old pop artist and Pixar veteran brings a modern twist to the gods and demons of Hindu mythology

In his illustrated books, Patel distills the gods and goddesses down to their essentials as shown in this illustration from Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books)

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In the process of illustrating these deities and legends, though, Patel has been exploring his own roots. One thing he’s discovered is that the Hindu stories put many faces on the divine: some valiant, and some mischievous.

“One of the neat things my aunt told me,” Patel recalls, “was that the Ramayana is a tragedy, because Rama always put everybody else's happiness ahead of his own. But what’s interesting is that Vishnu’s next avatar—after Rama—is Krishna, the hero of the Mahabharata. Krishna is all about devotion through breaking the rules. He steals butter, has multiple lovers and puts his needs above everybody else’s.

“I was struck by the fact that—if you’re a follower of Hindu philosophy—there’s a time to be both. A time to follow the rules, and a time to let go, explore your own happiness, and be playful. That you can win devotion that way, as well.” The notion fills Patel with glee. “I think that’s really neat, actually,” he says. “It’s not just black and white.”

With this artist holding the brush, it could hardly be more colorful.

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