Bending Doshas into Characters

Posted on December 6, 2012 by

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The Opening Monologue

“Yip yip” is what Aang says when he puts his flying bison into ignition.  Aang is a character on a show called Avatar: The Last Airbender.  In the show he is accompanied by several others who strive to aid him in whatever he may need on his journey by ridding the world of evil and making peace.  The geography of Aang’s world is divided into four nations.  These four nations are created on the basis of element.  Aang is an air bender so he is the air sector while fire, water, and earth take their places in opposite sects.  In the show, the fire nation has declared war on all other countries and has started a campaign of imperialism to take to them what is “rightfully” theirs.  Aang as the Avatar must restore peace to the world or face a new world dominated by the fire nation with many years of unpleasant dictatorship.  Coming from Hindu roots, Ayurveda is known as the “science of life” and is used exclusively by eighty-percent of those from Indian decent.  When following Aang on his journey, the show draws connections to Hinduism through Ayurveda and the doshas its characters function on.  It is interesting to analyze the meanings of these connections and why the writers would put such a blend of these dosha types together. Along with these doshas, it is also interesting to look at the characteristics associated with the character’s which portray them in an American light

Aang

One of the religions that is prevalent in the show is Hinduism.  Throughout the four nations exists the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air.  In Ayuverdic medicine, the most ancient medicine to be recorded, there exist the doshas.  These doshas are known as Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha, which are composed of different elements to make the personality of an individual and to figure out how to properly diagnose them when treated.  Instead of four elements there are five with the addition of space.  When looking at the main characters of the show and the elements that pertain to them, it is obvious that doshas had a strong influence on character development.  Aang is an air bender and would be considered Vatta.  Vatta is composed of space and air.  This dosha is known for movement, breathing, and balance.  Vatta types are typically quick of mind, skinny, flexible, quick to understand, and on the move.  When they have a dosha imbalance, Vatta types have fear and anxiety in their hearts along with restlessness.  Aang is the Avatar and his role is to bring balance to the world.  He comes from an air temple of monks who meditate on breathing and are very connected spiritually to the world.  Aang himself as an air bender is skinny and talks a lot.  In an episode where Aang is worried about fighting the fire lord, his dosha imbalance shows.  In the episode he is unable to sleep and is constantly training out of anxiety.  He is unable to sleep and dreams in fear of his defeat.  To balance out a Vatta imbalance, one should stay warm and stay calm.  Aang is used to a warm climate at the air temple and meditates on his issues to restore balance.  Often when he is confused and imbalanced he meditates and asks for advice form past Avatars.  Other types of doshas tend to like it cool however.

Monk_Gyatso

Aang’s mentor Monk Gyatso

Aang’s presence on the show has several purposes.  One of them is the Avatar, whose role is to bring peace and harmony between all realms of life.  I believe the writers made Aang a Vatta type in order to ease the tension of his duty to the world and to remind the viewers he knows what he is doing.  Vatta types are playful and quick of mind.  Making Aang a character that is able to joke around and have a good time makes the viewer not be as obsessed over the fate of the world and allows them to concentrate on the finer things as well.  While this part of the Vatta contributes well to Aang’s role, so does the the part of him that becomes anxious and restless.  It shows that he is still human and is not all play.  When these characteristics come up the viewers have a sense that Aang is well aware of the circumstances in front of him while still being able to enjoy the rest of his depth.  As a Vatta he is able to show the happy sides of the Avatar while attending to his duty to the world.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Since Aang is the Avatar, he has taken upon him a monk garb and personality.  His clothing along with others at the temple looks like those of monks around the world today.  Orange and yellow sagging cloth with a bald head and staff points Aang to the traditional monk perspective.  He is spiritually committed, wise, charismatic, and teaches others throughout the show much like Maheshi Yogi.  The most interesting part of Aang’s image is that he looks the most American in the show.  This is mainly because Aang is the protagonist.  If the viewer pays attention to the evil characters on the show, they will notice a more Asian face and style of life rather than the fun, go lucky Aang.  A similar instance happened in the creation of Aladdin.  Aladdin looks as if he was born and raised in the United States to make him more relatable to American children.  Jafar, the antagonist of the movie, looks much more Arabian than Alladin.  Making the hero of the story appear different than the viewer makes it difficult to watch and relate as easy as making them a reflection.  To a younger audience, close to home is good and foreign is threatening.

Katara

Zuko

Another character on the show is Katara.  The show begins with Katara and her brother Sokka finding Aang frozen in an iceberg.  The two break him out and that is when the journey begins.  Katara is a water bender and is considered a Pitta type. Pitta types are comprised of fire and water.  They are typically very smart, problem solvers, quick witted, and overly critical.  When they have an imbalance, Pittas hold anger, hatred, jealousy, and have impaired cognition.  Katara is the responsible one of the group along with her brother Sokka.  While she figures out the groups next moves with her brother, she comes up with witty comebacks and is very smart when it comes to fighting and being resourceful.  In an episode where Aang is learning water bending faster than Katara, she experiences a dosha imbalance.  Aang is studying a water bending scroll and is learning faster than Katara which causes immense anger and jealously.  This causes Katara to yell at Aang even though he did nothing wrong.  She also finds herself upset with the fire nation for killing her mother.  She once found the murderer of her mother and felt so angry but realized the revenge was not worth it.  To balance out the Pitta dosha, one must avoid excessive heat and use oils.  Katara was born and lives at the North Pole for most of her life so excessive heat would not be her favorite thing.  As far as oils go there is one reference in series where Katara is talking with a fortune teller of the seaweed oil she uses for her skin.  Usually Katara’s problems are caused by her outbursts and she resolves the issue directly by apologizing or other forms of direct confrontation.  She needed to figure out why she was so angry and confronted the man who she thought was responsible only to learn her lesson and find out revenge is not what she needed.  Another Pitta type in the series is Prince Zuko.  Zuko is a banished prince from the fire nation who has been scared by fire from his father and will not have restored his honor until he captures the avatar.  Zuko is a fire bender himself and was born in the fire nation.  Throughout the series he has a Pitta imbalance and is always angry.  Through journeying on his own and leaving his fleet that quests for the avatar, he discovers his true self and find balance.

Zuko and Katara

Zuko and Katara

Katara and Suko both have suffered losses and this blends very well with the Pitta type.  Katara’s mother died when she was little and Suko’s father banished him in his adolescence.  The Pitta allows them to show a great range of emotion when they develop.  Since they are Pittas, both have anger, hatred, and impaired cognition.  These outbursts are usually directed at other characters who help them find their way.  This makes for more connections between characters and helps balance each other out while seeing into them in the process.  We learn the story of Katara’s mother, and how her feelings about the situation change over the course of the series from how she gets upset and interacts with others.  We also learn about Zuko’s banishment and how his feeling of honor changes through his exchanges with other characters caused by his anger.  By being Pittas, Katara and Zuko have a proclivity to show their past digressions and add more interesting material for the writers.

North Korean Army

North Korean Army

Katara’s portrayal of someone from the North pole was a freebie since no one lives there.  The only characteristic that limited them from taking it as they wish was the thought of Eskimos.  Originating in Alaska, Eskimos typically have darker skin and wear parkas.  They also have igloos and hunt fish which the writer’s took full advantage of, having the first scene being Katara fishing in a parka with her brother.  Other than these traits, Katara continues to take on the American image with big eyes, no accent, and a girly personality.  Zuko, on the other hand, is portrayed in a more Asian light.  Not only does the Fire Nation have the largest amount of Asian culture, but it is also portrayed as being communistic.  All citizens in their same clothing hail to fire lord Ozai and wear the same clothes.  Any fire nation citizen will be wearing the same outfits and abide by rules such as pledges to Ozai throughout the day and singing about how great their nation is.  The culture and political system of the fire nation as a whole seems to be very similar to North Korea with the exception of royalty.  Zuko has a very strict style of clothing and only wears his fire nation material.  He seems very uptight and fits the characteristics of a civilian of North Korea when out in public.  All he cares about is regaining honor in his country and if he has to talk and act in a certain manner told he will do so.  Often Zuko will be talking greatly of the Fire Nation and his own father the fire lord.

Toph

The last character in the group is Toph.  Toph is an earth bender from an Earth Kingdom town who was born blind.  Despite her lack of sight, Toph is the most powerful earth bender to have lived.  Toph is classified as a Kapha.  The elements of Kaphas are earth and water.  They are usually heavy in body type and slow.  Kaphas do not grab onto new things easily, have great long term memory, not urgent, emotion driven, compassionate, loving, and calm.  When Kaphas are out of balance they are envious, attached, and disconnected.  In the show Toph is not heavy but does move slow.  She has trouble conforming to the group right away when she has troubles with Katara and is very lazy when the group is getting daily tasks done.    Despite her tough and lazy demeanor, she loves everyone in the group and finds them to be her new family since she left home to journey with them.  She was out of balance one day when wandering with Katara in the city of Ba Sing Se.  The two ran into another group of girls who thought they were prettier than them, causing Toph to be envious since she is said to look worse than them and cannot see her herself.  To get in balance, Kaphas must have variety.  The rest of that day Toph and Katara were out in the city and had fun with eachother.  She achieved the variety she needed and realized she does not care how she looks.  She explains to Katara that she does not care and knows who she is despite being blind.    Later on she becomes the first metal bender ever and is one of the most developed characters in the series.

Toph Wanted Poster

Toph Wanted Poster

Toph came later into the show and the writers knew they could not have her so easily conform to the group.  To make it seem like she is a whole new independent person, making her a Kapha was the perfect idea.  By making her not urgent and emotion driven it was a real surprise to the other characters.  Walking into a situation where others are moving as fast as they can to save the world and taking many moments to relax may cause them to be taken back a little.  As a viewer it is interesting to watch Toph like this because having so much smooth sailing and no changes makes something dull.  As a Kapha with the inability to grasp onto new things she was not set on the whole avatar journey from the get go and again this created interesting conflicts.  With these conflicts came resolutions from other characters and by Toph herself which helps the viewer see more of her.Toph__s_Wardrobe_by_DressUp_Avatar

Toph comes from a royal family and with this status is a more traditional Japanese style.  Toph often wears kimonos in the first episodes but soon takes on a whole new American style.  The only time she is representative of Asian culture in her style is when she is around her royal family known as the Beifongs.  The Beifong family symbol is a boar with wings, which is paralleled by the Japanese family crests.  Toph looks the most Asian of the good guys, having black hair and smaller eyes.  Still, those eyes are green which is not typical of Japanese or other Asian people.   Adding to this is how she breaks out of her foreign culture when she leaves with the gang, taking on a more informal look to conform to what the American viewer expects.

Doshas. Ether is the equivalent of space.

Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha describe the characters in the avatar series.  These three doshas have influenced the development of the characters on the show despite being created for the purpose of diagnosis in Ayuverdic medicine.  In the show the characters learn about themselves in ways that correspond to these doshas and figure out how to control them through experience on their journey.  Together they balance eachother, as do the four nations, and in the end restore balance to the world.  Putting these four characters together has the same effect and the writers must have known this.  All react differently with one another based on their dosha types and this makes for a more engaging show.  Because of this character framework, the interactions become something special and natural and they are with the Ayuverdic doshas.  Each one interacts with each other and helps to restore what was once offset.  The show is fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone who may be interested.

Photo Credit:

http://www.cosplayforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=21864

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/north-korea-marks-kim-jong-ils-70th-birthday/2012/02/15/gIQAcmoqFR_gallery.html

http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Gyatso

http://99covers.com/covers/watermark/2670.jpg

http://images.hollywood.com/site/avatar_the_last_airbender.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/fb/Katara.png/250px-Katara.png

http://static.zerochan.net/Zuko.full.719815.jpg

http://fc03.deviantart.net/fs71/f/2010/115/d/6/Toph_Earthbender_Wallpaper_by_worldstraveller.jpg

http://www.ayurvedaram.com/Images/prikriti-chart.gif

http://junekonopka.com/my-teachers/maharishi_mahesh_yogi/

Sources:

“Dosha Body Types.” Dosha Body Types. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2012. <http://whisperingworlds.com/ayurveda/dosha_body_types.php&gt;.

Knott, Kim. Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Larson, Karl I. Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Health Professionals. Burlington: Jones Bartlett Learning, 2012. Print.

“The Boy in the Iceberg”. Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko (writers) & Dave Filoni (director). Avatar: The Last Airbender. Nickelodeon. February 2005-July 2008 . No. 1, Book One, Two, and 3.

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Posted in: Hinduism