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?