By Kevin Herrera for Santa Monica Daily Press
COLORADO AVE — A Santa Monica-based company that sells custom yoga mats has decided to pull a design which features the Hindu deity Lord Ganesha after receiving a complaint from the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism.
Rajan Zed, a self-proclaimed Hindu statesman based in Nevada, has made it his mission to stop companies from printing images of Hindu gods and goddesses on items like G-strings, flip-flops, and T-shirts for dogs, which he says trivializes the religion.
Zed sent a letter to YogaMatic on Jan. 27 demanding the company, located on Colorado Avenue, to pull the mats featuring Lord Ganesha, a human body with the head of an elephant who represents the power of the supreme being that removes obstacles and ensures success in human endeavors.
Zed recently sent a similar letter to a company in San Mateo, Calif. — CafePress — to stop using the images of Vishnu, Kali, Shiva and other gods on their wares, according to a report in The Daily Journal.
"Lord Ganesha is one of the most highly revered deities," Zed told the Daily Press Tuesday. "We worship our deities and show respect. So to have a yoga mat, what you are doing is you are standing on it, you are putting your feet on it and that is very inappropriate."
Zed further said that such trivialization of Lord Ganesha was disturbing and offensive to Hindus the world over. Hindus are for free artistic expression and speech as much as anybody else, if not more, but faith is something sacred and attempts at trivializing it hurt followers, Zed added.
He said a yoga mat featuring Jesus Christ would be equally offensive.
William Cawley, CEO and founder of YogaMatic, said the company responded to Zed's letter as soon as he received it and chose to remove the design in question. The design was submitted by an independent artist "in good faith." Cawley said it was not a popular design.
"Rather than go into a debate with someone who is clearly trouble, it was easier to take it down," Cawley said. "I certainly didn't want to argue about it. Apologies to anyone who was upset. That certainly was not the idea."
Cawley said most of the designs featured on YogaMatic come from individuals and feature photos they've taken and submitted. The designs include photos of landscapes, animals, ocean scenes — even Buddha and the Dalai Lama.
"Ninety percent of sales are by people making their own mats. That's what we're all about," he said. "That said, we don't want anyone to be unhappy."
Zed drew attention in 2007 when he was the first Hindu to open the U.S. Senate in prayer, which drew protests from the gallery.
In 2009, Zed demanded that director James Cameron issue a disclaimer before and after his blockbuster "Avatar" saying it has nothing to do with the Hindu religion and its concepts and that the title was just a coincidence. The concept of avatar — commonly known as incarnation — is a central theme in Hinduism.
Zed was also upset when pop sensation Katy Perry and comedian Russell Brand announced their decision to end their marriage. The celebs were married in India and reportedly incorporated some Hindu customs.
When the divorce filing was announced, Zed issued a statement in which he said, "If celebrities opt for a Hindu wedding, they should be prepared to adhere to the commitment, devotion, responsibility, sanctity and morals, which are attached to it."
Since then he has been the subject of blogs questioning his motives. Is it for fame and fortune or for the love of Hinduism and the desire to spread its teachings? Some believe Zed is only about self promotion.
"From what it looks like, there is a self-proclaimed pope-in-the-making for Hindus in America," wrote blogger and composer Joseph Thomas, who is based in India. "Watch out for more publicity stunts from Mr. Rajan Zed in the coming days."
Zed said he sent the letter to YogaMatic after receiving a complaint from a fellow Hindu.
"Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about 1 billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken lightly," he said. "Symbols of any faith, larger or smaller, should not be mishandled."