More proof from Obama’s pocket

In the past I have been accused by unruly commenters on this blog of being obsessed with President Barack Obama. No. That is false. Admiration is not obsession. I am however, endlessly fascinated (perhaps obsessed) by what is in the man’s pockets. In June of 2008 I cited this photograph in Time Magazine. I openly (but with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) wondered, “is Obama a secret Hindu?” In his pocket he carried a Hanuman good luck charm.

This morning I was on the WhiteHouse Flickr feed. I went there because I wanted to savor some of the images of a hard won health care reform victory. This was a “big f*cking deal.” There was a picture of Obama demonstrating an okey-doke. Another one that captured the exact moment history was made. But for me, none of them compared to this one, which had the following caption:

President Barack Obama holds a lucky charm given to him during the campaign, while on the phone with a Member of Congress in the Oval Office, March 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) [Link]

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p>So what is that lucky charm you ask? I blew it way up to find out for myself:

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p>First, I don’t belive that is an icon of Jesus Christ. The face is atypically wide and the beard too wild. I also very much doubt it is a Geico caveman (as one of my friends offered). That, to me, looks like a yogi or Hindu spiritual leader of some sort. I can kind of make out saffron robes, a garland around the neck, and perhaps, just perhaps, a bindi closer to the right brow. Am I just smokin’ something or do you guys see it too?

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p>We know that Obama doesn’t go to church very often (after the whole Reverend Wright fiasco). And this would be consistent with an observation made a few weeks ago by the Boston Globe:

… since President Obama took office a year ago, his faith has largely receded from public view. He has attended church in the capital only four times, and worshiped half a dozen times at a secluded Camp David chapel. He prays privately, reads a “daily devotional” that aides send to his BlackBerry, and talks to pastors by phone, but seldom frames policies in spiritual terms.

The greater privacy reflects not a slackening of devotion, but a desire to shield his spirituality from the maw of politics and strike an inclusive tone at a time of competing national priorities and continuing partisan division, according to people close to the White House on faith issues. [Link]

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p>Can anyone accurately identify who that is on the charm for me? Surely there is a sleuth among you up to this challenge?

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p>But I’m not done.

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p>Later in the day Manish from Ultrabrown sent me a link to an interview President Obama gave to Indonesian journalist Putra Nababan last week. You will recall that Obama was slated to go there this week but had to delay the trip due to the healthcare bill. Listen to the very first question and answer:

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Here is a summary of the first question:

During an interview with Indonesian journalist Putra Nababan of RCTI last week, Barack Obama commented on several rumors about the four years he spent in Jakarta as a child. Here’s a list of facts vs. myths according to the US president.

1. Obama loves the folklore of Indonesia’s shadow puppet (wayang) plays.

Fact “”I love the Mahabharata and Ramayana stories,” said Obama. “I used to love wayang and I am still inspired by the stories and [the character] Hanoman.” [Link]

All joking aside I know that Obama is a Christian. However, the President of the United States himself seems to be proving this Newsweek article from last year correct. Whatever their professed faith, Americans are slowly turning “Hindu” in practice. Even President Obama.

43 thoughts on “More proof from Obama’s pocket

  1. It very well may be some sadhu or another, but I think he’s just a magpie. :-) Something I totally sympathize with.

  2. Americans are slowly turning “Hindu” in practice. Even President Obama.

    I guess so, if killing Desis with drones is “Hindu.”

  3. It doesn’t matter what he is. He is likely to be the kind of guy who likes to take what he needs from a spritual buffet of hundreds of dishes. As this article asks, he could be the kind of person that is an exemplar of this mix and match philosophy. But that does not matter and it is well known that he is averse and inimical to India and cannot compare to George W.Bush when it comes to relations with India. He may be a hit with many in the US for his domestic agenda, but he cannot match dubya where India is concerned.

  4. One cannot convert to Hinduism, one is born a Hindu. Muslim Indonesia has retained many aspects of its Vedic heritage. This however does not make one a Hindu. The Hindu heritage of Indonesia could serve a healthy model for Pakistan.

  5. What does India want from the United States? Pakistan allied itself during the Cold War with the United States. India sided with the USSR, therefore being snubbed by the United States. Now, Luke it or not, Pakistan is a hotbed of terrorism in the Islamic world and borders the nation of Afghanistan.

  6. I guess so, if killing Desis with drones is “Hindu.”

    No, that honor does not go to a religion but a state. Sending drones to kill civilians is called “going Pakistani”.

  7. I can see Vibhuthi/Bhasma on the forehead of the yogi

    One cannot convert to Hinduism, one is born a Hindu

    Hinduism is more of a philosophy than a religion. I think you can just follow one of the several paths (Jnana/Bhakthi/Yoga/Tantra/Mantra..) to be a Hindu. (More here)

  8. Abhi, I know nothing about you, but the fact that you felt the need to enlarge a picture of Obama’s good luck charm shows that you are purely obsessed! Anyways, I see where these comments are going and I agree, Obama: good for Indian Americans, not good for Indian Indians haha

  9. @Mustafa

    Can you stop your I-know-Hindus-I-like-them-I-have-Hindu-friends cliches? I asked this very politely. Hindu kingdom once invaded, ruled, and plundered Indonesia and “Hindunized” the animists and pagans there, just like how the ancestors of Hindus of South Asia today became Hindus (the process of Hindunization took place for a long time). The process of Hindunization and Islamization of Indonesia took place in two different epochs– Hinduism through invasion and Islam through trade and sermon. Don’t you think lecturing Pakistanis or Sri Lankans to embrace their Hindu past like Indonesians is missing the context of their “encounter” with Hinduism? Maybe you want to lecture Indonesians to go back and embrace their pagan past too before they were all Hindunized en masse by a foreign army? Indonesians don’t know the existence of Modi and Advani, of Shivaji and Shiv Sena; the only Hindus they know are Hindus of Bali. So for them, Hinduism is merely a part of their history which was sewn together to be a part of their culture. They have no partition or bloody past to view Hinduism as the “other” culture. But they have bloody past with the Dutch.

    I’m all for Pakistanis/Sri Lankans/Indonesians to embrace their past, but to demand Pakistanis/Indonesians to tone down their “Muslim-ness” and to elevate their “Hindu-ness” sounded like the suggestion made by the Hindutva V.S. Naipaul .

  10. Anonymous,

    I’m Muslim and though I find some aspects of Hinduism attractive, Islam is more my thing. I’m not Zoroastrian, but I celebrate Noruz like most Afghans. I celebrate Yalda which is another major Zoroastrian holiday which is called an “eid” in Farsi which denotes holiday, and is not merely confined to the two major religious festivals in Islam.

    I have no qualms with being Muslim and acknowledging my pre-Islamic heritage. Unlike other Muslim countries which have no conflict with embracing their pre-Islamic past with their present Muslim heritage, Pakistani nationalism is based and rooted in everything non-Indian which leads to a cultural amnesia. Afghanistan is not the product of a colonial scheme of divide and conquer or Queen Victoria’s bias towards policies which favored Muslims at the expense of Hindus. There are things about Hinduism I find objectionable, but the Brahmanic heritage is also the story of Afghanistan.

    The thoughts from a non-madhab SuShi Muslim.

  11. 1) looks like a brown dude to me

    2) the “hindu” aspect of indonesian culture is most evident in java, and to some extent southeast sumatra. one should be cautious about generalizing about indonesia, as the acehnese and those from sulawesi are a lot less outwardly influenced by their hindu-buddhist past for example (and the eastern islands are often christian).

    3) as for this: Hinduism through invasion and Islam through trade and sermon. this is simplistic, and i think it is wrong. there were some conflicts with south indian maritime powers, i’m thinking the cholas for example, but it wasn’t really very significant. some local dynasties might claim indian ancestry, but it was not likely a mass migration. just like islam hinduism and buddhism probably came mostly through trade as well (the srivijaya kingdom of sumatra was at the nexus of the sea lanes between china and the indian ocean). when muslim merchants came to monopolize much of the indian ocean trade, many populations within the indian ocean trade network also switched religion, especially in maritime southeast asia. but, after the conversion of the coastal polities there were conventional military jihads against inland hindu-buddhist powers too. the eastern end of java was not islamicized until the 18th century, and it was not through trade but conquest (the dutch collaborated with the local muslim powers that be against the balinese who had influence in east java by making religious appeals; realpolitik).

  12. One cannot convert to Hinduism

    also, in the specific case of indonesia, after the conflicts of the 1960s and the rise of the new order many nominal javanese muslims converted to christianity or hinduism,* as the peasants who were aligned with left-wing movements were killed by islamic militias hired by their religiously orthodox landlords. this is especially in east java where the religious culture is more syncretistic than elsewhere. apparently there is a higher concentration of hindu converts around great historic temples as well.

    finally, there is an indigenous javanese religious tradition which lay underneath the “world religions” which they espouse, whether it be islam, christianity or hinduism. one can’t forget that, too many people end up using indonesia as a case study in their point of view in the “clash of civilizations,” and forget that indonesia isn’t just an empty glass.

    • indonesia’s pancasila philosophy is grounded in monotheism, and islam, catholicism, protestantism, hinduism, buddhism and confucianism are the only officially recognized religions. i don’t know if it is still true today, but during the suharto regime you couldn’t have no religion, and the non-abrahamic religions have been reconceptualized to make sense in an islamic context; i.e., hinduism, confucianism and buddhism are all officially monotheisms predicated on a creator god.
  13. It’s Paramahamsa Prajnanananda who is the current spiritual leader of Kriya Yoga International. You can click on my link for more details.

  14. Marvelous! Now the teabaggers have “PAGAN!” to add to their histrionic as$holery.

  15. I hope this doesnt catch fire and just gives fuel to people that already think he isnt American.

    The people who think Obama is not an American are so out to lunch and are beyond any reason. He knows this and is baiting them at this point. If he is to win a second term, he should just go all out with the foreign stuff and make their heads explode.

  16. @JPM: Looks like we have a winner.

    Hinduism through invasion and Islam through trade and sermon.

    Not quite. The Cholas were the asshole invaders, but I believe I have mentioned before that even the priests of their day thought they were assholes, so there’s no news there. By the time they showed up to run roughshod over South India and SE Asia, though, the area was already mostly Hindu* anyway. Moreover the Cholas didn’t show up with the objective of spreading Hinduism, they sacked Hindu cities with just as much glee as Buddhist ones. They just conquered things because they were assholes.

    You see, when much of your art, technology, and trade flows through one culture you slowly start to adopt that culture’s norms. Modern day secular humanism propagates the same way through the hegemonic dominance of American/Western culture.

    When the Indian Ocean trade lanes later became dominated by Arab traders the same thing happened (hurried along by the fact that Muslims would generally refuse to trade with non-Muslims once they got a dominant share of trade in the area.) And then, as Razib said, they jihaded (it’s a verb now!) their way inland.

    *I actually don’t really buy that Indonesia was predominantly “Hindu” prior to the Islamicization of the area either. The idea of “Hinduism” is anachronistic to the time period we’re talking about. Being “Hindu” didn’t even become a salient identity until well after the Islamicization of India. Prior to that it was people worshiping whatever tribal/family deities they cared to and vaguely acknowledged the results of whatever high-falootin’ philosophical discourse from the educated classes came about to tie it all together. They didn’t have any issues about adding new deities or mixing and matching philosophies to suit their purposes.

    As far as SouthEast Asia goes, they adopted some of the Hindu names for their Gods and started telling stories about the Mahabharata and Ramayana, but that’s probably just because the Mahabharata and Ramayana are flippin’ awesome. If you’re not insistent on worshiping your One and Only True God As Revealed by Your One and Only True Book then you’re not going to have any hangups about adopting another culture’s mythologies and integrating their pantheon into yours, which I think does more to explain Indonesian “Hinduism” than this idea that “They worshiped Rama so they must have been just like us!”

  17. Yoga Fire,

    you bring up some excellent points. Even if Afghanistan had retained its Hindu-Buddhist heritage, I figure Pushtuns would have still sacked Lahore in the 17th century and fought the Sikhs. Islam’s appeal to countless people in the Indian Ocean region was not about a sincere conversion to the message of Muhammad, it was about adopting to the dominant culture of the day. Modern Hinduism like you said is both a reaction to Buddhist challenges to the indigenous tradition and the military success of Central Asian and Persian Muslim invaders.

    Case in point, Bobby Jindal’s conversion to Christianity from Hinduism. To me, all religions are fabrications. Including my own, Islam. Muslims are no more belligerant than Hindus, just that in the post-9/11 world we live in, Indians now have a platform to articulate Islamophobia and gain Western sympathies.

  18. I also think it is sri sri ravi shankar. Art of living folk are everywhere (many of them white). Seems plausible that Obama may have encountered one one the campaign trail and been the recipient of this chain. Interesting that he chose to use it.

  19. ding ding ding! It looks like “jpm” in comment # 26 gets the prize. Great work! There will be a follow up post tonight.

  20. It doesn’t matter what he is. He is likely to be the kind of guy who likes to take what he needs from a spritual buffet of hundreds of dishes. As this article asks, he could be the kind of person that is an exemplar of this mix and match philosophy. But that does not matter and it is well known that he is averse and inimical to India and cannot compare to George W.Bush when it comes to relations with India. He may be a hit with many in the US for his domestic agenda, but he cannot match dubya where India is concerned.
    Anyways, I see where these comments are going and I agree, Obama: good for Indian Americans, not good for Indian Indians haha

    Listen Raju and Rajesh, this isn’t Sri Lanka. Or Tamil Nagu, or some obscure region near the equator populated by your color people. This is America baby, the U S of A, and we know all about your tricks and your lies. You hate us because you crave us but can’t attain us. You want to be a victim but you can’t find a predator to take interest in you. Am I right?

    That’s what I thought.

  21. Abhi, I know nothing about you, but the fact that you felt the need to enlarge a picture of Obama’s good luck charm shows that you are purely obsessed!

    Hey… let’s not make this about you, ok?


    Mitt Romney 2012

  22. Interesting that he chose to use it.

    Seriously, it’s interesting in that he’s a magpie. Anyone who keeps that much stuff in his pockets likes to dissipate nervous energy by playing with charms, it helps them think. He’s my kind alright–not my kind in that I’m a devout Hindu (happy Ram Navami, anyone who cares), but my kind in terms of being a fidgety person who likes to play with stuff in their pockets when they’re pondering. Abhi has the right tack. It’s funny, and it’s more funny b/c Abhi blew up the photo, but it doesn’t mean anything.

  23. ding ding ding! It looks like “jpm” in comment # 26 gets the prize. Great work! There will be a follow up post tonight

    Please dont.

    I really dont want to listen to conservatives drag Indians through the dirt.

  24. The Cholas were the asshole invaders…

    Tamils: the Vikings of South Asia! RAWWWRRR!!

  25. 29 · Yoga Fire,

    You need to brush up on your history. The Chola empire was a great empire and their defeat of the Sri Vijaya empire in Java had to do with trade disputes. Once they got them to let trade go uninterrupted, they let them rule themselves. You would be calling your own country the US assholes for all the invading they have done and are doing quite a lot if you were to use the same criteria or even if you lower the bar.

  26. This is clearly Paramahamsa Prajnanananda of the Kriya Yoga lineage. The other side of this pendant (not shown, obviously) is a picture of his revered master, the late Paramahamsa Hariharananda.

  27. That is a beloved Kriya yoga master named Paramahamsa Prajnanananda. He embodies love, wisdom, truth, devotion, and joy. On the other side of the pendant is a photo of Paramahamsa Hariharananda, the beloved master of Prajnanananda. Beautiful that he carries this with him as I believe it is also blessed… Important to note for all of you is that Prajnanananda does NOT identify with being hindu. He loves all the saints and sages of all religions and sees that there is unity amongst all faiths. He is not a religious leader. He is a spiritual master and advanced yogi.