Why it’s offensive to offer a lamb dinner to the Hindu god Ganesha?

Sept24,A recent ad from the meat industry in Australia, seeking to promote lamb as a food that people from a wide range of religious backgrounds can consume, has given offense to many Hindus in Australia and internationally.

In Australia, the ad prompted a complaint by the High Commission of India. In the United States, Hindu organizations issued a statement protesting the airing of such an ad.

While the ad was initially released in Australia, it quickly made its way onto YouTube, where it had recorded over a million views at the time of writing.

The ad features a host of deities from various religions sitting down to a meal of lamb. These diners include Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, Kuan Yin (the Buddhist goddess of compassion) and Confucius, as well as Greek Gods Dionysus, Aphrodite, Thor, Isis and the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Prophet Muhammad is left out as his depiction is considered highly offensive to Muslims.

However, on this guest list is a highly revered and beloved Hindu deity, Ganesha, readily recognizable by his elephant head. As a scholar of Indic traditions, I can see why Hindus are upset.

Who Is Ganesha?

Coming back to the ad, what does it mean for Hindus when Ganesha is depicted in an ad serving lamb?

For many Hindus, Ganesha is a beloved deity who is considered to be the “remover of obstacles.” As such, he is invoked at the start of any venture (including worship offered to other deities). Most recognizable for his elephant head, he is the son of Shiva, the supreme being for the Hindus and his consort, Parvati.

A plate of ladoos, the favorite sweet of Ganesha.
v i p e z, CC BY-NC-ND

While at least one ancient text, the “Manava Gṛhyaśāstra,” suggests that at one time, Ganesha may have been offered meat, in contemporary practice this has been replaced with vegetarian food, the most popular of which is the “ladoo” – a delightful Indian ball-shaped sweet made from chickpea flour, usually yellow or orange in color. It is common for Ganesha to be depicted holding a plate of ladoos.

The chief rationale for vegetarianism is the principle of “ahimsa,” or doing no deliberate harm to any living being. This value is promoted not only in Hindu traditions, but among the Jains (a community that is almost exclusively vegetarian) and Buddhists in India.

While vegetarianism may not be universal among Hindus – nor have they always practiced it – the ideal it represents is held in high regard. This makes an image of Ganesha sitting down to eat lamb jarring, to say the least, for many Hindus.

Jeffery D. Long, Professor of Religion and Asian Studies, Elizabethtown College


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