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Adoration & Worship / Hatred & Contempt

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by IJSingh, Jun 12, 2015.

  1. IJSingh

    IJSingh United States
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    Writer SPNer Contributor

    Sep 24, 2004
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    As a Sikh I would have an objection to a chocolate image of a Guru as much as I would have to a silver engraving or a marble torso -- not so much because some see it as insulting to the Guru but that, like trash talk, it is trivial and distracts from the message.

    As I was thinking about an essay for this week I saw that my past few columns have been somewhat ponderous. So here is one with a little lightness of spirit and yet it is not entirely without a point.

    Just recently The New York Times carried an item that took a good quarter of the front page. Was it important or was it trivial? Was the space worth the matter? That’s the question.

    It seemed that a chocolatier in the trendy part of The Big Apple traffics handsomely in superbly designed, intricately detailed, chocolate figurines of religious icons like Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and even the elephant-headed Ganesh (from the Hindu pantheon) who’s perhaps lesser known in contemporary American society.

    Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 7.51.21 PM.png

    These chocolate replicas are not huge over-sized concoctions for display in museums, churches, temples or castles but small bite-size statuettes to be eaten and enjoyed.

    I don’t quite know how long the business has been plying its profitable trade or if in the past any religious believers have taken umbrage at these icons of their faith being sold in the marketplace for gustatory delight.

    But in matters of religious sensitivity so many of us are thin skinned and battles lines are so quickly drawn, that a cease fire becomes difficult, if not impossible. Peace, even with a sense of whimsy or irony, is then unthinkable.

    The New York Times (February 9, 2015) reported that Hindus had taken serious offence and, via a group impressively dubbed the Universal Society of Hinduism, demanded an immediate recall of the chocolate figure of Ganesha from the market. They consider such images as outrageous, demeaning and contemptuous of what is holy and sacred, hence entirely inappropriate.

    Let’s indulge in a little hair splitting here.

    Keep in mind that it is not the statue that is offensive here but its construction as an edible chocolate. I draw this fine distinction because Hinduism approves and makes all kinds of idols, statues and pictures of its numerous religious revered icons and they are proudly displayed in all temples and majority of Hindu homes. Many such Hindu idols are fashioned in sand, stone, clay, metal, even gold and silver, and widely worshipped.

    But the American Hindu community’s discovery of, and their umbrage at, the edible Ganesha seems to have been very recent – a matter of only a few months or weeks.

    The owner of the business stated that they had been making and selling chocolate Ganesha for five years with nary a protest. But I suppose better late than never.

    As a post script I add that the business claims to be very sensitive to religious sensibilities. For instance, they do not appear to manufacture or sell chocolate figurines of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Given the present climate and longstanding Islamic practice, such figurines would surely provoke Muslim wrath. Such are religious and political realities these days.

    But the devil is in the details.

    I wonder if an edible image of a dearly beloved religious prophet is at all a sign of contempt and hatred. Or could it, by a slight redirection of reasoning and a different eye and perspective, be interpreted as a mark of adoration and even veneration.

    Let me tell you upfront that, as a Sikh, I come from a tradition that does not approve of icons, paintings or statuettes of the founders of the faith – The Gurus of Sikhi. Two issues intersect here. One is that no authentic images exist from the times of the Gurus who lived 300 to 500 years ago. There is no credible record of what any of the ten Guru-Founders of the faith looked like. The second point is it doesn’t at all matter what they looked like. The matter of edibility is an issue that does not enter the equation at all.

    Yet, this century and the last have seen a plethora of pictures, etchings, and other art renderings of what the Gurus might have looked like. This growing trend is regretted by the majority of Sikhs but carefully sidestepped as artistic imagination and expression, even misdirected devotion, at its best. They are widely available and are dime a dozen, even though the idea runs absolutely contrary to Sikh teaching and stands rejected in the tradition. They are to be found in countless Sikh homes as well.

    Our dismissive attitude towards such distractions, in my view stems from the unchallenged dictum that it is not the flesh of the Guru but the teaching that is important. All flesh is transient whether mine, yours or that of the Guru. The Gurus’ message is eternal.

    As a Sikh I would have an objection to a chocolate image of a Guru as much as I would have to a silver engraving or a marble torso -- not so much because some see it as insulting to the Guru but that, like trash talk, it is trivial and distracts from the message.

    The Guru is bigger than the opinions of you, me or any Tom, {censored word, do not repeat.} and Harry. Our cheap talk or images and shenanigans about the Guru cannot belittle or diminish, nor can our flattery and cajolery enhance the Guru.

    My views are based on the fact that such figurines shift our focus away from the message and towards the mortal messenger.

    What do you think?

    June 10, 2015
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  3. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Mentor Writer SPNer Contributor

    Jun 30, 2004
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    Inderjeet ji,

    Guru Fateh.

    I agree with you on your above. However, many are not able to find the message hence give preference to the messenger whose message is of least importance to them. For example, I have no idea what is Ganesh's message. Anyone?

    This is the reason Sikhi is idea based not deity based like many other religions.

    Regarding chocolate edible figurines of the Hindu deities, I would not have problems with it if one considers one's god is omnipresent which means the Source/Energy is in everything, even in what we eat in any shape or form.


    Tejwant Singh
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  4. Original

    Original United Kingdom
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    Jan 10, 2011
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    As always, an enjoyable read.

    The subject matter to hand has religious connotations and requires rational analysis. That is to say, both ritual and symbolism within the meaning of a "belief" system plays a fundamental role in human life. At best, it is seen as one of the many dimensions of religious practice where an outer behaviour coordinates to an inner intention to make contact with the invisible. The practitioner, whether a ritual or an artefact has the "right" in a liberal society [alledgedly] such as our own to practice and to preserve such practices purely private and away from public domain. The difficulty from a legal perspective is to strike the right balance between one's freedom to protect and preserve religious icons against the freedom of expression of another [manufacturer]. And, here you may well import the recent atrocities of the Journalists in Paris as a result of "unbalanced" rights in a democratic society. The edible chocolate artefact of Ganesh need to be seen in light of the bigger and deeper meaning of the word "belief". In my view, it's a sensitive part of human cognizance and must therefore be respected.

    As regards Sikhism, I concur very much with what you say, but insofar, human nature an evolving condition, all will come to the realisation of the spiritual Sikh as opposed to the symbolic.

    Good day !
  5. Awakeand Singh

    Awakeand Singh United States
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    Jan 9, 2012
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    At the risk of complete flippancy I would dare say that not a few people consider the consumption of chocolate, regardless of its form, to be a deeply religious experience!:popcornsingh:
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