Hindu Gods // 3rd grade

As an art teacher, I strive to make citizens of the world. I teach at a small, semi-diverse (though we strive to get better at this issue) private school in Philadelphia and it can feel a bit like a bubble. When for the most part, everyone looks and sounds the same, we forget the voices, religions, differences of others. Therefore, I strive to create projects that showcase cultures and religions from around the world.

It's hard to talk about religion with 3rd graders! But I had a little help from Sanjay Patel of Pixar.


Son of Gujarati immigrants, the London-born Patel moved with his family to California at the age of four. His father bought a motel in San Bernardino, California. Patel grew up in the motel helping his father at the front desk but mostly immersed in his passion for drawing cartoon characters and watching animation shows on television.

But each time the cartoon shows would come on television, Patel’s father would want to pray to Hindu gods. And Patel and his older brother would be forced to join the rituals. “My dad would pray three times a day — morning, afternoon and night,” Patel told me last year at the Telluride Film Festival where his short was programed with the documentary He Named Me Malala. “Morning and afternoon was when the cartoons would come on. But there would be no conversation since we would start to sing aarti. And he would turn off the cartoons. But I wanted to watch Voltron. In the morning there would be Japanese cartoons and American ones in the afternoon. And they would both come diametrically in conflict with my dad’s pujas.”

What made the matter worse was that Patel’s father never gave his sons the context of Hinduism and who the gods were in Hindu mythology. “Sure I grew up with the names,” he added. “But would I know that Hanuman was the son of the wind god? Or that Krishna was an avatar of Vishnu? Of course not.”

It was only later as an adult that Patel read books about Hinduism. He has now authored four books on Hinduism — all in style of animation. The books — The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow (2006), Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010), The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities(2011) and Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth (2012) have been huge successes.


Students examined Hindu and Indian culture surrounding the images. My 3rd graders were pretty excited about learning about all these different Hindu stories and what the stories were trying to convey.

I showed students Sanjay Patel's artwork and asked them to embody the god of their choice. I asked my students to create a self-portrait of themselves as if their Hindu god took over their bodies. What would they look like?

Students got right to work drawing themselves as Hindu gods on 11 by 17 piece of paper. I create head and torso shape tracers for students so they could ensure their drawing was big enough for the page.


Students then encouraged to make their skin tone the skin tone of their god. Using watercolour cake trays, students painted their god in the likeness of themselves. Anna, above, made a different dress for herself. Anna chose Shiva because he "protects and transforms the universe". Anna definitely looks out for others and makes sure everyone in her class knows what to do.


Students will learn about Hinduism, Indian culture, and create self-portraits embodying the god or goddess of their choice.


Researching Hindu gods and making connections to your students. Many of my students didn't realize of in depth the religion. We focused on how the gods are reflective of our values as a society.


11 by 17 watercolour paper, watercolour cakes, flat paint brushes, oil pastels, construction paper, construction paper crayons.


"Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities" & "Little Book of Hindu Deities" by Sanjay Patel


Sanjay's Superhero Team