Published November 21, 2010
Newsweek's depiction of President Obama on its latest cover has irked some Indian Americans who, fresh off Obama's visit to the world's largest democracy, are not happy with the image of the U.S. president as the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva.
The Newsweek cover shows Obama with several arms carrying policy issues while balancing on one leg. The headline reads: "God of All Things" with a subtitle, "Why the Modern Presidency May be too Much for One Person to Handle."
Shiva, who is one of three pre-eminent gods in the Hindu religion along with Brahma and Vishnu, is considered the destroyer of the world, which must end, metaphorically speaking, in order to be reborn as a more universalistic place. However, the god's purpose is not to foretell an apocalyptic ending.
Shiva is often manifested as Lord Nataraja, who has multiple arms and balances on one leg, and is viewed as dancing in a representation of the rhythm and harmony of life.
Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism in Nevada, told the English-language Sify News in India that Nataraja is highly revered and meant to be worshipped, not indecorously thrown around. Zed, who is known for his work on interfaith dialogue, said it is not OK to use Hindu concepts and symbols for profit or self-serving purposes.
Suhag Shukla, managing director and legal counsel of the Washington-based Hindu-American Foundation, told FoxNews.com that her group doesn't think Newsweek was being malicious or trying to offend Hindus, but "the cover was in line with the media's comfort of utilizing Hindu symbols or deities to symbolize an issue."
"Hinduism's sacred images are too often appropriated in popular culture without understanding their spiritual relevance to Hindus," she said. "For Hindus, the iconography gives insight into the divine realm, and each aspect of representation is replete with profound symbolism that is lost and even debased by such attempts at humor."
Shukla, who noted that Hindu images are frequently used in media as caricatures because of a fundamental lack of understanding about the very complex religion, said it's impossible to retract the image since the magazine reached mailboxes on Friday. However, her organization will contact Newsweek on Monday.
Newsweek, which could not be reached for comment, did not have the image posted on the magazine's website on Sunday.