A Durham company this week issued an apology after a Hindu leader urged the business to stop manufacturing products that feature the images of the faith’s deities.

Spoonflower, which bills itself as the world’s largest custom fabric, wallpaper, and home decor digital marketplace, issued the apology the same day that Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, took the company to task for producing napkins that carry images of Hindu deities.

Zed described the items as “highly inappropriate,” in a statement to the INDY this week. 

Zed noted that Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about 1.2 billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought that should not be taken frivolously, adding that Hindu deities are highly revered.

“It was deeply trivializing of immensely venerated Hindu gods and goddesses like Shiva, Krishna, Lakshmi, Ganesh, Murugan, Kali, Hanuman, etc., to be displayed on napkins,” Zed said in the statement.

The deities “were meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not for wiping mouth [and] fingers, catching crumbs [and] gravy—which may be beef—blowing nose, containing coughs [and] sneezes,” just for  “mercantile greed,” Zed wrote.“Inappropriate usage of sacred Hindu deities or concepts or symbols or icons for commercial, or other agendas [is] not okay as it hurt the devotees.”

In addition to calling for the withdrawal of “the objectionable Hindu deities’ napkins from company’s and resellers’ websites,” Zed also asked Michael Jones, Spoonflower’s CEO, to “offer a formal apology” to Hindus. 

Jones could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But in a Monday statement on the company’s website, he called Spoonflower “a trusted global corporate citizen that welcomes and appreciates learning how to better serve its expanding community.”

“We apologize to the Hindu community for the inadvertent misuse of this imagery,” Jones said in the statement. “While we strive to ensure we are as inclusive as possible, we always want to appropriately respond when we are fortunate enough to learn that we sometimes don’t know what we don’t know. We humbly acknowledge that fact.”

Jones said he first learned on Monday morning that certain textile designs that displayed Hindu imagery “on some of our dining products” featured on the company’s website “is unsuitable within Hindu religion tenets.”

Jones also thanked Zed for alerting company officials and reached out to him “to get a thorough understanding of his concerns, and take the appropriate actions to address them.”

“Among the actions we will take is in removing Hindu deity designs from Spoonflower.com home decor, and its home decor marketplaces,” Jones announced. “Considering that we will also be communicating this change to the varying artists, we anticipate this will take some time to achieve.”

Zed thanked Jones and Spoonflower for the company’s prompt response and for “understanding the concerns of the Hindu community.” The Hindu leader also suggested Spoonflower should send its senior executives for training in religious and cultural sensitivity in order for the officials to understand the feelings of customers and communities when introducing new products or launching advertising campaigns.

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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