Activist objects to museum selling toys of Hindu deities

This image provided by Modi Toys shows a plush children's toy depicting the Hindu deity Lord Krishna. The toy was one of several depicting Hindu deities that Hindu rights activist asked the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts to stop selling because he considers them insensitive. The museum temporarily halted sales to review the complaint but says it plans to resume sales. (Julie Patel/Modi Toys via AP)
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By MARK PRATT

Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — A Hindu rights activist is calling on a Massachusetts museum to stop selling children’s plush toys representing three Hindu deities, which he says are “insensitive.”

Toys depicting Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman were available on the Peabody Essex Museum’s online shop last week but had been removed by Tuesday, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, said in a statement.

The deities are “greatly revered in Hinduism and were meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be thrown around loosely on the floor, bathrooms, cars, etc.” Zed said. He also called for a formal apology from the museum. Zed previously asked the Rubin Museum of Art in New York to stop selling the toys.

The Salem-based Peabody Essex Museum halted sales of the toys while it reviewed the complaint, spokesperson Whitney Van Dyke said in an email. “These items will be back on sale shortly,” she said.

The museum pointed out that the toys are widely available and are manufactured by New Jersey-based Modi Toys, founded by an Indian American family.

They are intended to spark curiosity in Hindu culture and heritage, company co-founder Avani Modi Sarkar said in a statement.

“While we understand not all will agree with our approach, we take pride in knowing we are giving families an option to learn and practice Hinduism in a fun and a functional manner,” she said.

Another organization, the Hindu American Foundation, which posts guidelines for the commercial use of Hindu imagery on its website, has no problem with the toys, spokesperson Mat McDermott said.

“While we recognize Mr. Zed’s concerns, we have no categorical objection to the sale of these toys,” said McDermott, who noted that he has seen them for sale in Hindu temples. The toys are also sold online by mega-retailers Amazon and Walmart.

The Peabody Essex Museum has an extensive collection of Indian and South Asian pieces on display that “celebrate the beauty, diversity, and complexity” of the region, the museum said.

Hinduism is the world’s third-largest religion with about 1.1 billion adherents.

The Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism has initiated several campaigns targeting what Zed considers the misuse of sacred symbols for commercial purposes.

In 2020, online home goods retailer Wayfair pulled a beach towel depicting a Hindu deity after objections by the organization. Zed was also part of an interfaith coalition that in 2019 called on nightclubs to stop using Buddhist and Hindu imagery as decor.