The international Hindu community has expressed outrage against the fashion retail outlet Urban Outfitters after they began selling a quilt with the image of Lord Ganesh superimposed on it, in a direct contravention against Hinduism‘ beliefs regarding the portrayal of deities and yet another example of Western fetishism of the beliefs and imagery of one of the world’s oldest religions.
Urban Outfitters is a high-street clothing and home furnishings chain which operates in both America and the United Kingdom. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company specialises in selling clothing, housewares and shoes with a vintage, retro and funky hipster feel. Together with its subsidiary brands, the retailer operates around 400 shops worldwide.
The company recently began selling the ‘Valentina Ramos For DENY Lord Ganesha’ duvet cover on its American website for a retail price of between $129 and $169. According to the product description listed next to the offensive item, the quilt was designed by Venezuelan-born graphic artist Valentina Ramos, a member of the DENY Designs artists’ colective. This collective specialise in “fresh, statement-making pieces” and is only being shipped in the United States. Observant devout Hindus who chanced upon the quilt cover on the website began writing complaints to Urban Outfitters. Images of Hindu deities are accorded the uttermost respect and are used by worshippers to focus their minds on God when praying. Usage of deities’ images for commercial purposes is considered blasphemous and disrespectful. In the case of Urban Outfitters, the usage of Lord Ganesh’s image, shown on the site in thick line drawing format and printed with stereotypically bright ‘Indian’ colours, is particularly onerous as customers who purchase the Valentina Ramos cover will be using it to sleep under and engage in intimate activities.
Urban Outfitters were previously slammed by the American Hindu community after selling socks imprinted with the image of Lord Ganesh, which were quickly withdrawn from sale after the backlash. The red and blue socks which has a Tamil-style image of Lord Ganesh sewn into the fabric around the part of the item above the ankle, were being sold for $8 a pair and were dropped from sales in December 2013. The retail chain has in previous years also insulted Navajo people, African- and Irish-Americans, and the obese. Its branding of t-shirts and scarves has also drawn criticism from groups with the US Christian and Jewish communities.
Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism said in a statement about the duvet yesterday: “[Lord Ganesh is] highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be slept … upon. Inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotee.” Zed’s comment and this original story were published by the international Hindu rights and education organisation Forum for Hindu Awakening. He has also asked Urban Outfitter’s president Richard Hayne and chief executive officer Tedford Marlow to tender an apology to the group and the wider Hindu community.
Mr. Zed also made statements on Urban Outfitter’s previous transgression with the socks depicting Lord Ganesh. At that time, Urban Outfitters released a statement in response, saying: “We sincerely apologize [sic] if we offended the Hindu community and our customers.
“We appreciate Rajan Zed and the Universal Society of Hinduism for bringing this matter to our attention and for helping us understand the cultural and religious sensitivities this product carries. We will remove the Ganesh Socks immediately from our website and stores.”
Urban Outfitters have not yet responded to Zed’s comments on this current and repeat slander against the Hindu faith and the offending duvet cover is still available for sale on the retailer’s website, as noted today by the Half-Eaten Mind.
Lord Ganesh, also known as Ganpati Dada and Vinayak, is the son of Lords Shiva and Parvati in Hinduism. He is the remover of obstacles in a person’s life and symbolises all beginnings and ends. He is also the patron deity of the arts and sciences and blesses humanity with intellect and wisdom. Many yoga centres in both India and the West place an image of Lord Ganesh on the walls of their premises to bless the quest for learning among yoga students. Some smaller companies producing clothes for yoga fans in the US have included small images of Lord Ganesh on their clothing for decoration but have not attracted controversy due to their more devoted intentions surrounding the use of the holy image.
Many Westerners have long being attracted to both Indian culture and religion, with bindis, Asian fabrics, ethnic jewellery and arts long making trends in Europe and North America. While many commentators have lauded this cultural crossover, others have claimed that the obsession with trends and fashion, the ‘next big thing’ have reduced both cultural and religious symbols of non-white cultures to mere playthings and statements. Artistic depiction of deities is commonplace among Hindu artisans but is always done in a respectful manner and not using media or materials that are blasphemous or offensive to the religion.