At the Huffington Post, Hindu American Foundation co-founder Suhag Shukla talks about Western culture’s use and appropriation of Hindu sacred imagery using the recent Newsweek Obama-Nataraj cover as one example.
‘Hindus don’t respect their own icons so why the big deal over Newsweek’ was the rumbling of some. One need only take a quick stroll through the aisles of an Indian grocery store anywhere in America and, especially throughout India, to find Lakshmi brand flour, Ganesh brand rice or Saraswati brand camphor (all brands named after Hindu Gods). These are but a few examples of the infinite commercial invocations of sacred images seen throughout the Indian, majority Hindu context. Why then should Hindu Americans be upset by the Newsweek cover or even Burger King’s placement of the Goddess Lakshmi on a burger?
The answer is simple — it matters who is using the image, and even more importantly, why. For decades, we’ve watched Hinduism’s sacred images plastered on advertising, packaging and billboards on an ever-increasing variety of consumer products throughout India. Indeed, not every Indian or Hindu use is done with a nod to the sacred, but one will often sense an inside understanding — even reverence — in its use. Manufacturing companies in the Hindu world also use images of Hindu deities to invoke God’s blessings for the success of their endeavor, or it may be that the business is a family business with a family name that has religious connotations.
Shukla acknowledges that there are many different Hindu perspectives on these appropriations, but that Hindus should “assert the right to rule-making” when it comes to their sacred iconography.
As ties between the Hindu community and modern Pagans continues to deepen, we’ll have to decide where we stand as the American Hindu community tries to draw boundaries between what is and isn’t an acceptable usage of their sacred images. It also raises the question of how modern Pagan faiths should respond to usages of our own iconography within popular culture and advertising. How would we have felt if, instead of Nataraj, they portrayed Obama as Cernunnos? What about terrible movies that mangle pre-Christian mythology? HAF seems to be advocating that religious groups take a more active role in policing their iconography and imagery, should we be following their example?