This depiction in Fortune magazine of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the Hindu deity Vishnu prompted criticism, and an apology from the magazine's editor. Image via the Twitter feed of artist Nigel Buchanan

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as Lord Vishnu? Magazine apologizes for deity depiction

(RNS) Hinduism certainly has numerous memorable manifestations of God, from Brahma the Creator to Shiva the Destroyer.

But despite the remarkable success of retail giant Amazon, its founder Jeff Bezos is not one of them.

That’s why the editor of Fortune magazine is now apologizing for a colorful cover that depicts Bezos as the Hindu deity Vishnu -- known as the Preserver -- in a story on Amazon’s plans to “conquer” the enormous marketplace in India.

“Neither the artist nor the editors of Fortune had any intention of parodying a particular deity or of offending members of the Hindu faith,” Alan Murray said Tuesday evening (Jan. 12) in a brief statement on the magazine’s website. “It is clear that we erred and for that, we apologize.”

The tempest over the image on the current international edition of Fortune erupted after the Sydney-based artist who drew the cover posted it on Twitter on Jan. 5.

“Ok, cool @FortuneMagazine now do one with Bezos as Jesus in honor of Black Friday?” blogger Anil Dash tweeted in response on Saturday.

In an ongoing thread, Dash made it clear that he was not concerned with “sacrilege” as much as his perception that Fortune had no one in its office with the background or sensitivity to question the propriety of such an illustration.

“Also, many Indian people (like my dad) were born under colonial rule. So a headline discussing a corporate ‘invasion’ is probably not ideal,” he added.

Others were not as forgiving about the irreverence of the illustration.

Vishnu is "a highly revered major deity in Hinduism meant to be worshiped in temples or home shrines and not to be used indecorously or thrown around loosely in reimagined versions for dramatic effects,” Rajan Zed, a Nevada-based Hindu author and activist, wrote in a statement on his website.

How could "a mortal" be depicted as Lord Vishnu, "who is the director of our destinies?” Zed asked. He also denounced the “inappropriate usage of Hinduism concepts and symbols for pushing (a) selfish agenda or mercantile greed.”

Depicting religious figures in secular forms or to poke fun at them can often raise the ire of believers, and in some cultures and faiths can provoke charges of blasphemy or even violent attacks on those believed responsible for such transgressions.

In India religious sentiment is running so strong that an arrest warrant was reportedly issued last week for a famous Indian cricket player, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, over his appearance as Vishnu on the cover of a business magazine from three years ago.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)