Utpal Borpujari

January 22, 2010

US ‘stamps’ on Hindu deities spark debate

By Utpal Borpujari

Seven “stamps” issued by a private company in the United States depicting Hindu gods and goddesses as well as the Sai Baba has stoked a controversy with claims and counter claims regarding whether they actually are postage stamps

While the company behind the products has said they can be used as valid US postage stamps, apparently through a system that allows private firms to issue stamps with popular images on them, the stamps do not find any mention in the official US Postal Service (USPS) catalogue.

Hindu organisations in the US have welcomed the issuance of the “stamps”, carrying images of Sri Krishna, Shiva-Parvathi, Sai Baba, Murugan, Lord Venkateshwara, Vinayaka  (Ganesh) and Lakshmi, but there online debates are arguing whether they are  “real” postage stamps or not.

Atlanta-based company USA-Postage.com, which has issued the “stamps”, says they are valid postage stamps. “Usa-postage.com allows customers to put their favourite digital images on valid US postage. The high-quality, adhesive-backed postage is produced using advanced printing technology within a short timeframe,” the company says.

The “stamps” have been customised for the Indian community in America and it is for the first time “real” US postage is depicting the “exclusive designs” of deities, organisations like Hindu Janajagruti Samiti have claimed.

The “stamps”, priced at 44 cents each, can also be bought on a commemorative sheet priced at $18.99.

“We are proud to serve the Indian community in USA with postage that reflects its culture,   heritage and religious beliefs,” USA-Postage.com, which targets small businesses, home offices and individuals in the Indian community in the country, has said.

However, online debates, on websites like boardreader.com are questioning the claim of these being real postage stamps. “It is a novelty where anyone can have his or her photo and use it as a postal stamp, like in Franking machines where the logo can be replaced by any image of your choice and still the letter can travel to its destination” even as the USPS collects the revenues under a licensing system, one post argues.

Another post says, “I do not know what to make out of it but I can assure you that I am smelling a rat. Vishwa Hindu Parishad has spread the following news all across India that US government has issued postal stamps to facilitate the Indian community in the US (sic).”

These “stamps” have been issued in the backdrop of the USPS announcing recently that it would issue a stamp honouring Mother Teresa during 2010. Hindu organisations in the US, such as the the Universal Society of Hinduism, have also been lobbying with the USPS for long for a stamp depicting Diwali.

Interestingly, according to reports, an online petition, started by Atlanta businessman Bob Ghosh demanding a stamp on Diwali, even had the name of India’s first prime minister, the late Jawaharlal Nehru, as a signatory.

Those campaigning for the Diwali stamp have said that philatelists the world over would be delighted to add such a “worthy and innovative” product to their collections.

The controversy regarding these “stamps” have come at a time when Thailand has issued stamps depicting Ganesha, Brahma, Narayana and Shiva, priced at five Bahts each, along with a First Day Cover showing a picture of a decorated conch-shell and special cancellation stamp depicted the “Om”.

(An abridged version was published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 21-01-2010)



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