The BYU Museum of Art gained attention from the nation’s Hindu community Sunday, Sep. 21, when Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, expressed appreciation for the MOA’s “Loving Devotion: Visions of Vishnu” exhibition in a news release.
Zed and the Hindu community praised the art exhibit and members of the LDS Church for promoting their religion. The MOA’s newest exhibit focuses on “the rich heritage and symbolism of Hindu worship,” according to its website. The goal of the show is to “(immerse) viewers in the beliefs and culture of one of the world’s oldest and largest religions.”
The show is educational in nature and not specifically meant to promote religions.
The MOA has posted an online quiz that, once completed, tells participants which deity is their Ishta-devata, or the personal god with whom they feel the greatest connection. The quiz provides more information about Hindu beliefs and traditions.
Zed “commended BYU for promoting Hinduism and educating others about the deities and concepts of this oldest and third largest religion of the world,” according to the article.
The exhibition provides the community and students with a chance to experience Hindu artwork and culture in a new way, but it does not necessarily promote Hinduism on a religious basis.
Ashlee Whitaker, the museum’s religious art curator, said the MOA often has the opportunity to present religiously themed exhibitions. “Loving Devotion: Visions of Vishnu” provides audiences with the chance to better understand Hinduism in an alternative way.
“Hinduism is an umbrella term for different modes of worship,” Whitaker said. “One mode that we focus on in this exhibition is called Bhakti, which literally means ‘loving devotion.'”
Bhakti is a Hindu term used to describe a specific path to enlightenment. The worshipper’s goal on this path is to develop a deep devotion toward a deity. Vishnu and his incarnates are a focus for Bakhti. Devotees come to love a god through serving his or her incarnations. Gradually, the actions transform into a loving, fulfilling relationship with a deity.
Whitaker said they wanted to make the exhibition something that involved the local Hindu community. She and others who worked on the show met with devotees and received firsthand insight into Bhakti worship. They interviewed some members and also sent a film crew to India.
Viewers can walk through the exhibit and view the artifacts and artwork. Those who want more information or want to see the interviews and film can check out an iPad, provided by the MOA for free.
“We seek any opportunity to bring in works of fine visual art to understand any type of faith,” Whitaker said. “The goal of the exhibit is to give viewers a powerful educational experience, to engage in a conversation about faith and to see the works in a way you can’t normally.”
“Loving Devotion: Visions of Vishnu” will be displayed through March 21, 2015.
BYU students aren’t unfamiliar with Hinduism. Thousands from Utah Valley gather to the Sri Sri Radha Krishma Temple in Spanish Fork to participate in the Festival of Colors in March.
Donning white shirts and bandanas, students come by the carloads to throw colored chalk in the air and post pictures online. According to a statement from the Society of Hinduism, “Rajan Zed thanked The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…for camaraderie which participation of their youth at this festival displayed. Mormons reportedly formed the majority at the festival, outnumbering hindus in a big way.”
Holi, as it is known among Hindu practitioners, is a celebration “announcing the arrival of spring and the passing of winter,” according to the Festival of Colors website.
The tradition of Holi is linked to traditions of the Hindu faith and is celebrated with particular reverence in North India. It is dedicated to the worship of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The 2015 Festival of Colors will be March 28.