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Hindu goddesses and saints dressed in tight-fitting leotards and modern clothes, walking the violent streets of modern cities, wielding fantastic weapons and fighting evil and wrongdoers: You’ll find all of this and more in the new Shakti line of comics from Virgin Comics. With names like “Devi,” “The Sadhu,” “Snake Woman,” and “Ramayan Reborn,” these editions are all about Hindu gods, goddesses, mythology, culture, and philosophy.

Shakti comics are being backed by some powerful names, including Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, Shekar Kapur, director of “Elizabeth” and “Four Feathers,” and none other than the writer and spiritual leader Deepak Chopra. Gotham Chopra, Deepak’s son, is the Chief Creative Officer and Editor in Chief. Virgin Comics is based in Bangalore, India, and houses nearly 100 artists and writers in its creative studio.

For the traditionalists and the conservative Hindu community–which has been outraged by the pictures of gods and goddesses imprinted on T-shirts, shoes, bags and other clothing items–this might seem like rubbing salt on a raw wound. To the liberal, the young, and the sanguine comic reader, this might just seem like an interesting work of fiction. Either way, it will be interesting to see whether these comics are commercially successful.

In the comic books, the illustrations and stories are like those in any superhero comic book, and the stories are primarily about fighting evil and letting good prevail. Still, the books seem too bizarre at times and the comics may come across to some Hindus as a misrepresentation or a disrespect of Hindu gods and culture.

Devi, for example has been created to fight a fallen god Bala. The pure gods sacrifice a part of themselves to create this powerful new entity. Devi is voluptuous, dressed in highly unlikely clothes, and wields a lightning-like weapon that crackles and destroys. Devi is reborn in the present day and continues to fight the evil Lord Bala, this time in a tight black leather outfit and knee high boots.

This idea is innovative, but unlikely to molify Hindu conservatives, who will think of these comics as deprecating Hindu gods and goddesses. Still, Virgin Comics is trying to reinvent the rich indigenous narratives of India and is poised to expand from the realm of comics into films, television, animation, gaming, wireless content, websites, merchandise, and more. “Secrets of the Seven Sounds,” a full-length animated feature for kids inspired by the ancient Indian myth Ramayana is currently in development, with Virgin Comics and Kahani World, a Toronto-based independent animation company, as co- producers.

— Posted by Visi Tilak

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