Archives For statues

Hindu leader Rajan Zed seems like a pretty busy guy, at least on paper. Ever since he catapulted to widespread public attention for giving a disrupted opening invocation in the US Senate chambers, he’s been giving opinions and issuing press releases on a myriad of issues. He’s for women bishops in the Church of England, a tax-free Yoga industry, and rich people giving to charity (among other things). What’s he against? That one episode of Supernatural with the Hindu deities, curry-flavored Kali mints, and now Sacred Source’s Shiva Shakti statue.

The Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism and the New Jersey-based Forum for Hindu Awakening on Tuesday urged Sacred Source, a longtime distributor of deity statues headquartered in Crozet, to stop selling certain statues depicting Hindu gods. Rajan Zed, president of the Nevada organization, said Sacred Source is selling statues that depict Hindu deities in ways he deems “inappropriate.” Zed said in a news release: “These deities were highly revered in Hinduism and inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or con-cepts for commercial or other agenda was not okay.” Bhavna Shinde, of the Forum for Hindu Awakening, cited the example of one statue offered by Sacred Source that shows Shiva sitting cross-legged with a nude woman in his lap, facing him. “They are selling statues of our deities … in denigrating positions,” she said.

So is this a case of Westerners offensively exploiting Hindu culture? It doesn’t seem so cut-and-dried an issue. The statue mentioned, Shakti Shiva, and all the rest for that matter, are produced in India by Hindus and subsequently sold to Hindus (and everyone else in the world) according to Sacred Source. Further, journalist Brian McNeil actually went to get other opinions, rather than just take Zed’s word on the offensiveness of Sacred Source’s Hindu line of statuary.

There is nothing in Hinduism that would forbid the sale of statues depicting the religion’s deities, said Krishna Karimikonda, president of the American Hindu Association. “They can sell,” he said. “They’re not selling artifacts. They’re not breaking any law. Some of the statues in India are not to be sold, but reproduced statues made of wood or some other material? There’s nothing wrong with that.” John Nemec, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia who teaches about Hinduism, said the statue depicting Shiva in a sexual pose with a naked woman is a “knockoff of tantric images that are sometimes seen in temples in India and Nepal.”

So there’s the American Hindu Association president saying that there isn’t anything wrong with the statues, though the Forum for Hindu Awakening, who are also protesting Sacred Source, say that Krishna Karimikonda actually was offended, and that he was quoted out of context.

“Even the American Hindu Association’s Krishna Karimikonda, whose comment has been published in the above news report, was offended (and said he was quoted out of context by the news reporter) when we contacted him and informed him about these statues of our Deities in sexual positions. So would be the case with every practicing Hindu – should he come to know about this, he would be offended at this blatant denigration.”

We’ll have to await actual word from Karimikonda to see if the American Hindu Association is going join the protest, or stand by the initial quote. Will other Hindu groups, like the Hindu American Foundation, take a stance? Is this an isolated outrage, or one that is spreading to other national Hindu groups?

Unlike the Kali mints episode, this issue could turn into something that may draw in the Pagan community, and force both individuals and organizations to take a stance in one direction or another. Sacred Source does considerable business with the modern Pagan community, and it’s rare to find a metaphysical store, or Pagan altar, that isn’t adorned with one of their pieces (or magazine that doesn’t carry their advertising for that matter). So what do we say, what do we do, when American Hindus say the company offends them?

I’m personally going to see what stances, if any, the larger American Hindu groups take, and I welcome feedback from my Hindu and Indo-Pagan readers on this subject. What do you think? Is this just another tempest in a teapot, or are the statues truly offensive and American Hindus just never noticed them before?

The Hindu has a fascinating article up about the artisans who create idols of the various Hindu deities. As you can imagine, it isn’t merely a job, but a holy undertaking.

“I can never fully express the joy and satisfaction I feel when I see the deity in all her/ his glory being prayed to by hundreds of devotees. The metamorphosis of a dull lump of clay to a vibrant throbbing god is an incredible process and it’s an honour to be a catalyst in this transformation,” says an emotional Vishwanath. A day in the life of an idol maker is marked by strict self-discipline, both physical and mental. “We bathe at dawn, get into fresh clothes and say a small prayer before embarking on idol making as often our work require us to stand/ stamp/ climb the idols. We also try and abstain from all worldly addictions in this period,” says Biswajeet Pal, one of Vishwanath’s chief helpers.”

It is important to note that traditionally made idols in the Hindu tradition are treated quite differently than mass-produced statuary. Once completed and “awakened” they are considered “alive” with the essence of the god or goddess in question. They must be fed with offerings and cared for, and once planted/rooted in a temple, never moved.

In a related story, the Indian district administration in Varanasi has prohibited the application of hazardous chemical paints during this years Navatri (when nine forms of female divinity are worshiped) to cut down on pollutants in the sacred Ganga/Ganges river.

“In a path breaking move to contain contamination of the holy Ganga due to immersion of idols laden with chemical paints and colours during Dussehra, the district administration has put a ban on the use hazardous chemical paints on idols during this Navratra. While the prohibitory order calls for ban of application of synthetic chemical paints on the idols of Goddess Durga and other deities during the festivity, the district administration is also looking for ways to promote the use of eco-friendly natural colours (obtained from leaves and flowers of some plants) on the occasion.”

In a land where millions of devotees immerse their idols into the Ganges, such changes could have a dramatic effect on pollution levels in the river. Both of these stories give us a fascinating insight into the behind-the-scenes activities that feed into a thriving religion of nearly a billion worldwide.

Remember back in 2002 when John “Let the Eagle Soar” Ashcroft, then Attorney General, ordered the half-naked statue of the Spirit of Justice to be covered by a drape?

“The [Department of Justice] spent $8,000 on blue drapes that hide the two giant, aluminum art deco statues, said spokesman Shane Hix. For aesthetic reasons, he said, the drapes were occasionally hung in front of the statues before formal events. The department used to rent the drapes, but has now purchased them and left them hanging. The drapes provide a nice background for television cameras, Hix said … ABC News reported that Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered the statues covered because he didn’t like being photographed in front of them.”

Well, it isn’t just Republican politicians who want to avoid being photographed around the bared breasts of a goddess. It seems Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden’s campaign team was a little bashful around a proudly (half) nude statue of Diana the huntress.

Joe, meet Diana. Photo by Javier Manzano.

“Normally, Diana the Huntress – the statue of her, that is – poses au naturel in front of the Union Depot building in downtown Pueblo. But on Wednesday, that changed. At least for a few hours. “I don’t think they wanted bare breasts showing,” said Mike Randall, the person in charge of putting a makeshift shift on Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon. “They said cover her up, so I put her in a toga,” said Randall, who used a large swath of black cloth to cover Diana’s unmentionables and a bunch of black string to keep his creation from blowing away. The enormous flag was added after the toga alone was deemed inadequate to keep Diana out of the picture.”

Diana covered. Photo by Javier Manzano.

A word of advice to politicians, don’t sweat the statues! It just makes you seem prudish and overly concerned with avoiding a potentially embarrassing photo (plus, I would love to get some great shots of politicians standing in front of pagan deities to use for my blog). Also, I can’t imagine it would be good luck to throw a toga and flag on Diana’s statue (she just doesn’t seem the acquiescing type). I’m just sayin’.

PS – Here is a shot of the de-toga-ed statue of Diana.