My Ganesh, and all he represents, is reduced to an exotic ‘object’ – one to be plonked into your flowerbed for the summer and then forgotten about.
“As a Hindu, I try to understand and assimilate the deep spiritual and philosophical aspects of my faith into my everyday life.
One of the values that is central to my belief is respect – respect for other people, respect for nature and respect for life.
So you can imagine my shock, when a trip to my local supermarket left me feeling disrespected, disheartened and disappointed.
Hinduism is known as the world’s oldest religion, and followed by approximately 900 million people worldwide. It allows worshipers to create a personal and unique connection with god in the form that is most aligned to their being.
Some worship the stoic yogi Shiva, others the powerful goddess Parvati, but all will have a connection with the much loved elephant-headed Ganesh. He is seen as the epitome of auspiciousness (Mangal-Murti), remover of obstacles (Vighan-Harta), and the lord of all (Vinayaka).
He is depicted symbolically; big ears to show we should listen more, an elephants head and trunk to show strength, a big belly to teach us to peacefully digest life, holding an axe to cut material bonds and a rope as a lifeline to pull us towards enlightenment.
He is worshiped daily on clean and sanctified altars with diyas (clay candles), flowers, incense and sweets.
Annually, he is bought into Hindu homes with great pomp and ceremony in an 11-day festival known as Ganesh Chathurthi, after which he is carefully returned to nature by immersion in water (GaneshVisarjan).
So why was my beloved and revered Ganesh placed on a dirty supermarket self as a ‘object’ in the ‘seasonal’ isle being sold as a garden ornament? Why had a major British supermarket culturally appropriated this deeply symbolic iconography as a summer garden aesthetic? And all this in 2021, in a period we are all working so hard to understand race, power and privilege to make the world a better place?
As a member of a minority ethnic group, I’ve grown up knowing the face of racism – both explicit and implicit. I’ve been told I don’t belong, that I should ‘return home’, and that my presence in England was an insult to its ‘glory days before immigration’.
My vast multi-faceted culture has been reduced to curry, Bollywood and arranged marriages. My Ganesh, and all he represents, is reduced to an exotic ‘object’ – one to be plonked into your flowerbed for the summer and then forgotten about.
This is nothing more than cultural appropriation – the inappropriate act of adopting elements of one culture by a dominant culture without treating it with due respect and awareness.
Ganesh is NOT an aesthetic ‘object’, and most certainly not seasonal as this supermarket would have us believe.
Some might ask ‘what’s the harm?’. I felt I was never fully accepted for having Indian heritage, but all of a sudden a white celebrity wearing a bindi or sari meant we were in vogue – we were the fashion of the season. All of a sudden we were acceptable – but just the bindi part – not the entirety of us.
A symbolic dot placed to show enlightenment from my culture was reduced to a fashion accessory and therefore acceptable, but our values and struggles were not of interest to the dominant culture. Why bother about systemic racism, cultural biases, and the mistreatment of others when we could just focus on ‘the pretty sparkly dot on your forehead’?
I went to a medical appointment in which the non-Asian practitioner enquired if I was Indian on seeing my name, and simply uttered ‘bhangra’, and then proceeded, without invitation, to show me his very bad version of a popular bhangra dance step he’s learnt at an Indian wedding.
The harm comes when the experiences of an entire minoritised people is completely overshadowed by a dominant culture who clinically isolates one aspect and then uses it to the advantage or enjoyment.
This supermarket wasn’t spreading spirituality; it’s wasn’t respecting Hindu belief, nor was it celebrating diversity – it was simply looking to make a profit from an ancient belief system through the blatant disrespect of its origins and meanings.
I’m also bewildered around their choice to sell a religious item in a supermarket.
Do we see sales of the Quran under the dates on the shelves at Eid? Have we ever seen statues of Jesus Christ on the cross next to the baked beans at Christmas? So, why is Ganesh being sold in Spring 2021 between a squirrel and a plump robin?”
UPDATE FROM ASDA
Since this piece was published in Asian Express, Asda confirmed it has pulled the Ganesh statue from sale. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “At Asda we always aim to create products our customers will love and it is never our intention to cause offence. We have taken the decision to no longer sell this item and we are hoping to donate any remaining statues to charitable causes.”