Puppets produced by a DUMBO business are no laughing matter — they are an affront to religion, Hindu groups charged this week.
In a statement distributed Wednesday, Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain based in Nevada, blasted Brooklyn-based puppets in the likeness of the Hindu gods Shiva and Ganesh, sold by the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, the Jay Street purveyor of unique and quirky items.
“Inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts for commercial or any other agenda is not okay as it hurt the devotees,” Zed said in a statement. “Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesh were highly revered deities in Hinduism and using them as puppets was troubling for the devotees, because in reality the believers put the destinies of themselves in the hands of their deities,” he continued. At press time, Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism,did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
Bhavna Shinde, of the group Forum for Hindu Awakening, dispatched a testy letter to the guild, saying, “We would like to bring to your attention that millions of Hindus around the world worship Lord Ganesh and Lord Shiva as their revered symbols of faith. Using the images of these deities in clocks/watches and making puppets and dolls of them, trivializes these revered symbols of faith.”
“The concept of manipulating puppets and playing with dolls made after deities is downright denigrating, given that Hindus perform devoted worship and spiritual practice to experience the eternal truth that these deities govern the universe,” the letter reads.
The letter urges the guild to immediately withdraw from its Web site any toys or materials in the likeness of the deities.
But Stephan Shaw, co-owner of the guild, said he has no plans to remove the puppets from the store or the Web site. “I live in a Hindu household,” said Shaw, who was born Jewish. “I made them at the prodding of my wife, Sunita, who is Hindu.”
He said the puppets are not disrespectful. “I think we did a faithful job reproducing them. We did them with love and care, and they are pretty cute.”
Besides, Shaw argued, Hinduism is a religion of idols. “You can buy millions of versions of Ganesh and Shiva. They are just representations of the deities, and I don’t think they are done in a disrespectful way,” he said.
“They feel we are doing something out of disrespect— but we are doing it out of respect,” he insisted.
The puppets cost $5.95, and larger dolls fetch $17.95. The guild also sells a Buddha puppet, as well as puppets in the likeness of Sigmund Freud, Andy Warhol, and Albert Einstein.
Shaw’s wife, Sunita Viswanath, said she is “culturally, religious, and in every way Hindu,” and gave input on the crafting of the puppets.
She said she was surprised by the objections. “I don’t think of my people as insecure enough to take this kind of offense,” she said.“I think of the religion as asking you to take things more lightly — this isn’t that big of a deal.”
Viswanath said her three sons happen to adore Ganesh — both the god, and the puppet.