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Rihanna’s Instagram pose with Ganesh earns criticism from Hindus

Rihanna's topless Instagram portrait featuring a pendant depicting a Hindu deity drew calls of blasphemy — and payback for her recent comments on India's farm crisis.

Rihanna talks to media backstage after Savage x Fenty fashions were shown in a performance at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at the end of Fashion Week, Wednesday Sept. 12, 2018, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)

(RNS) — Having offended Muslims last fall with a lingerie fashion show that played sacred Islamic texts while models danced, the singer and CEO of Savage X Fenty posted an Instagram photo of herself wearing only a pair of girly boxers from her lingerie line and a few strands of jewelry — including a pendant of a silver elephant representing the Hindu god Ganesh.

Hindus in the U.S. and India took exception, calling out Rihanna for her lack of modesty in the presence of a religious symbol as well as for her appropriation of the image itself.

“(W)earing a ganesh pendant whilst half naked with absolutely no knowledge of the cultural symbolism it carries, disrespectful … ” wrote Shankar Khushi on Twitter. “i expected better from rihanna, my religion is not your damn aesthetic.”


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Others noted Rihanna chose to display Ganesh on Feb. 15, the day Hindus celebrate as Ganesh’s birthday, or Ganesh Jiyanti. The god of beginnings, Ganesh is honored before starting a business or major project. 

Just two weeks earlier, Rihanna, whose company is valued at $1 billion, according to Forbes, caught the eye of many in India and the Indian diaspora when she voiced her support for farmers protesting the Indian government’s agricultural policies, tweeting, “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” Other celebrities quickly concurred.

Officials in Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government lashed out at the singer at the time, suggesting outsiders should not interfere in the months-long crisis. And, now, with the recent Instagram post, one member of Modi’s ruling party, Ram Kadam, leapt at the chance to upbraid Rihanna. “This exposes how #Rihanna has no idea or respect for Indian culture, tradition and our issues here,” Kadam wrote.

More concerning for some was that, despite having to apologize for her clash with Muslims four months ago, the star seems to have learned little about respecting others’ religions. “(It’s) an obvious pattern now,” wrote pando, another tweeter this week, “and even though she apologized for this, it doesnt justify the fact that she yet again disrespected another religion.”