London: Leaders of the Hindu community in Britain have protested against one of this year's six Christmas stamps issued by Royal Mail on the ground that its image amounts to an insult to Hinduism.
The stamp in question is based on a 17th century picture that shows a man and a woman with 'tilak' marks on their foreheads worshipping the infant Jesus Christ. The image is reported to be on display in a gallery in Mumbai.
Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain, told IANS: "Would the worldwide Christian community feel comfortable if the government of India issued a Diwali stamp with a Christian priest offering worship to baby Krishna?"
A Royal Mail spokesman said no offence had been intended. "We thought it would be nice to return to a religious theme," he said.
Kallidai asked Royal Mail to withdraw the stamp, and accede to his earlier demand to issue a stamp to mark Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. However, this demand has evoked no response from Royal Mail.
"It is striking to see that Royal Mail thinks it prudent to issue Christmas stamps that can cause resentment in the worldwide Hindu community but remains silent on issuing stamps for Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by the third largest faith community in Britain and by a billion Hindus worldwide," Kallidai said.
The controversial stamp is priced 68 pence and will be used to send mail to India. It went on sale Tuesday.
According to the city art gallery, the picture on the stamp is an Indianised version of a European print of "The Holy family with St Anne and the two angels".
The Telegraph reported that the picture has a European theme but with a Mughal setting.
The picture was chosen for Royal Mail by this year's stamp designer, Irene Von Treskow, an Anglican priest in an English-speaking church in Berlin.
She told the paper that she was fascinated by the image because it was so interesting to see a Mughal painting with a Christian subject.
Treskow does not believe the picture is offensive. "How can it be?" she asked. "It is 17th century art."
She said she found the painting in a book and then looked up the image on the Internet.
Kallidai said the man in the painting has a tilak marking on his forehead, clearly identifying him as a Vaishnava Hindu.The woman has the traditional 'kumkum' mark on her forehead, identifying her as a married Hindu woman.
"These are exclusively used by Hindus," he said.
"While many people doubt the authenticity of the age of the painting, we believe that even if this were true, it would be insensitive to use it at a time when the issue of conversions in India has been a subject of heated debate.
"Even if we accept that an artist in 1620 made the mistake of portraying practising Hindus worshipping the infant Christ, we should be asking if this is politically and communally correct in the 21st century," Kallidai said.