Hindu Activist Rajan Zed at it again -- Demands that Gamescom ban Smite
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 10th Aug 2012
Regular readers of the GU news stream will be familiar with the self-proclaimed "Hindu Statesman" and activist Rajan Zed, a man who while he has no official ties to any of the formal Hindu sects and has never held a diplomatic post according to the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, has been waging a no-holds-barred campaign against game developer Hi-Rez Studios over the inclusion of deities in their upcoming fighting game Smite.
Zed is incensed over the use of what he terms sacred figures in a video game -- Smite is a fighting game that is designed along the genre lines of traditional Japanese Deity Fighting games -- and in particular Zed resents the use of the Hindu goddess Kali, who in addition to being routinely depicted by Hindu artists holding a variety of edged weapons and the severed head of her enemy while standing upon their decapitated bodies, is also traditionally depicted topless, with a garland of severed heads that symbolize her status as the goddess of death and battle resting upon her ample breasts, whose large and erect nipples are meant to illustrate the other side of her dual nature as a nurturing mother figure who promotes propagation of the species following battle. Images of Kali that are used specifically for fertility prayers are often carved or painted with the goddess completely nude, with emphasis upon her genitals and breasts.
The campaign that Zed has been waging has largely been one of relentless press releases emailed to games journalists; press releases in which he claims wide support from various other religions, but when these claims are verified they have all turned out to be supporting unofficial comments from various low-level clergy who are friends or casual acquaintances of Zed, and who are not empowered to speak for their respective faiths or religious organizations.
According to Zed the world Hindus have urged Gamescom staff to ban any display or play of SMITE at the expo, but when we contacted Gamescom they stated that other than email from Zed and some of his supporters there has not been the groundswell of popular support that is being implied in the most recent press release from Zed's organization -- which he runs from the guest bedroom of his suburban home in Nevada (USA) and through a rented post office box.
The Hindu goddess Kali as depicted in the video game Smite is presented wearing a bikini-like covering over her breasts, while in traditional religious images (see embedded images below in this article) she is routinely depicted with her milk-swollen bare breasts as prominent elements of her image and personality.
-- Loud Protest but No Support from the Hindu Community --
Zed has maintained that Hindus as a group are uniformly upset at the use of their gods and goddesses in the online video game SMITE, however interviews with prominent members of Hindu communities in California, New York, Boston, Miami, and the District of Columbia (see past coverage) as well as senior members of the three official Hindu religious organizations in India suggest that any anger that is felt is localized to Nevada and Zed's small group -- the general response to the protest has been confusion, as the position of Hindus is that the use of those images by persons outside of their faith does not concern them.
Zed's issues with the use of deities Kali, Vamana and Agni appear to be restricted to his position as the leader of his organization, the Universal Society of Hinduism in Nevada (USA), of which he claims to be the President. Inquiries with the Nevada Secretary of State's office reveal that Zed is listed as the President of a not-for-profit religious studies organization of that name, while his college-aged son fills all of the other official positions, including Secretary and Treasurer.
In contrast to the rather chaste and proper costume used in the game Smite to cover the goddess Kali's nakedness, traditional Hindu religious images of her focus upon her nude form which is an important part of her identity.
-- No Official Religious Support --
A Spokesman for the Vatican stated categorically last month that while individual Catholics are free to support Zed's cause if they like, there is no official or unofficial support from the Catholic Church, and none has been requested by Zed. A similar result was obtained from Jewish officials in North America, who were unfamiliar with Zed or his protest. Calls to a number of large Buddhist temples and organizations including the Krishna Temple in Los Angeles revealed that they are also unfamiliar with Zed's cause -- though they seemed to know who he was -- and have not been contacted directly to support it. The Buddhist spokesperson explained that the use or depiction of Hindu deities in a video game would not be an issue that their organization would necessarily be interested in protesting.
"That sounds kind of cool" was one response we received when the basic gist of the game was explained to them.
While Rajan Zed's argument that re-imagining Hindu scriptures and deities for commercial or other agendas was not okay with him is certainly within his rights, his demands for censorship and the punishment of the developers involved in the creation of the game appears to cross a line of reasonableness for many Hindus.
"This is America," a Krishna scholar who declined to be identified in print explained. "The First Amendment is one of the most important parts of the freedom that we have here, and while I can see how the use of Kali might upset some conservatives in the faith, when you consider the different aspects that she represents it appears to be a fairly accurate depiction of her. Besides, using tactics like censorship is not good; that is not something that we can support. It is Un-American."
"Video game makers should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects, as these games left lasting impact on the minds of highly impressionable children, teens and other young people," Zed vehemently declares in his latest press release, adding that "(the) Goddess Kali, who personifies Shakti or divine energy and (is) considered the goddess of time and change, is widely worshipped (SIC) in Hinduism. Vamana is the fifth avatar of Vishnu the "preserver" in the Hindu triad with Brahma and Shiva as the aspect of the Supreme, who had ten incarnations to establish dharma. Agni is one of the most significant Vedic deities, second most frequently invoked in Rig-Veda."
In this traditional carving of Kali of a type that is routinely used as the centerpiece to home shrines to the goddess, with children and adult worshipers praying to her for any number of reasons associated with death, war, birth, and sex.
-- The Images of Kali --
In the process of covering this story the issues and claims made by Zed with respect to the goddess Kali have resulted in scores of interviews, official inquiries with the Indian government and the three major Hindu sects in India, as well as Hindu organizations and Hindus in North America, resulting in a glaring set of contradictions with respect to Zed's characterization of Kali and her many natures.
Kali is the Hindu goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti -- the name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, and lord of death, and traditionally is defined as "the black one." The eternal consort of Shiva, Kali is considered to be the goddess of time and change as well as war and death on one side, with her other side is Bhavatārini (literally "redeemer of the universe") or the benevolent mother goddess who encourages birth, rebirth, fertility and sexual union.
A complicated figure in the Hindu religion, Kali is traditionally depicted in all forms of art -- paintings, sculpture, and weaving -- with very large milk-swollen breasts with hard prominent nipples and is presented as the ideal in beauty of form and motherhood. Prayers to Kali for fertility, for sexual satisfaction and pleasure as well as prayers for vengeance and death during wars are all commonly placed at her feet.
The images embedded above provide stark contrast to the claims that are being made by Zed that Kali is being depicted as a whore and pornographic starlet -- the traditional images of Kali as depicted above are far more revealing than the treatment that she has received at the hands of the artists at Hi-Rez Studios.
Rajan Zed has refused to respond to dozens of email messages and phone calls over the past three months. He could not be reached at his home to obtain comments or reply to questions for this article.