Amsterdam craft brewery Friekens proudly presents the newly designed label of its India Pale Ale.
It’s the result of a chain of events started by a press release issued in May 2019 by ‘Hindu statesman’ Rajan Zed from Reno, Nevada, U.S.A.
In the press release Zed, flying the flag of the ‘Universal Society of Hinduism’, stated that the use of the image of Ganesh on the label of Friekens’ I.P.A. is ‘highly inappropriate’. According to him linking a deity to an alcoholic beverage is ‘very disrespectful’ and ‘deeply trivializing’ of ‘immensely venerated’ Ganesh, in the meantime implying he was speaking on behalf of Hinduism’s 1.1 billion adherents.
The press release got picked up by Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool, which published an article on its website, and asked the brewery to comment. It stated, by word of a startled associate, that it never meant to offend anyone, that an apology would be issued and that the label would be removed from the website.
On its website, Friekens Brouwerij advertised its I.P.A. as a ‘nectar of the gods’ that’s ‘an almost transcendental apparition of intense taste experience’, and ‘beer that Ganesh, the sympathetic Hindu deity with the elephant’s head, looks down upon in inebriated benevolence’. After the protest, Ganesh was blurred on the label as shown on the site, and the reference in the text was blacked out.
Rajan Zed immediately issued a triumphant new press release, which by and large repeated his former, adding that companies should have their ‘senior executives’ trained in religious and cultural sensitivity.
Friekens, truly a micro-brewery, doesn’t have such a management structure, and isn’t planning on getting one. I.P.A. got brewed only once up to then. Only now it returns to Friekens’ assortment, with its new label. Although this again sports a fat bloke with an elephant’s head, it’s explicitly not Ganesh.
Friekens I.P.A., meanwhile, is as tasty as before, and will undoubtedly be favoured by all deities, of any religion, and their followers alike!
Beer and religion:
A heady brew
Friekens Brouwerij is not the first brewery sporting an image of an Indian deity on the label of its India Pale Ale, and certainly won’t be the last. It’s a pretty obvious choice, after all.
‘They’re like comic book figures’, sais a spokesperson of GRAFX MFG, Friekens Brouwerij’s Amsterdam graphic design studio. ‘Nice drawings, colorful, four, six, eight or even more arms and legs, instantly recognizable as Indian.’ Especially Ganesh, the sympathetic Hindu deity with the elephant head, is popular among beer brewers. ‘You could say there’s some convergence with alcohol and elephants.’
That a pressure group would be upset about the use of Ganesh on the label of Friekens I.P.A. came as a surprise. But if reproaches are religiously motivated, one should tread carefully. We’ve all seen images of outraged flag burning masses of bearded (mostly) men demanding compensation for the wrongs they or what they believe to be holy have been done. ‘It’s strange how the religious always require respect for their faith, but hardly ever seem to be willing to do likewise for other beliefs or convictions.’
Friekens Brouwerij was targeted by the Universal Society of Hinduism. ‘Darn, that’s something! A Universal Society! Doesn’t that suggest this organization not only represents the 1.1 billion Hindus here on earth, but also those across the universe? God (…) only knows how many are out there!’
This couldn’t be further from the truth, because the USofH is ‘not a membership organization’. It’s the vehicle of Rajan Zed, self-declared ‘Hindu statesman’ from Reno, Nevada, USA. And it’s not the first time this one man action group been at it, as some googling learns. Friekens indeed wasn’t the first, a lot of micro breweries came up with the same idea. Images of Hindu deities also appeared on door mats, duvet covers, and leggings. Shoe company Converse printed the cover of Jimi Hendrix’ Axis: Bold As Love, on which the nimble guitarist is pictured amidst Hindu deities, on its All Stars sneakers (The album cover has been banned in Malaysia since 2012).
Zed always follows the same procedure; he issues press releases in which he takes offense and leaves it to (local) media to fuel the outrage and have the perpetrators express remorse. More often than not, Zed quickly gets what he wants this way, the product is discontinued and excuses are made.
‘If it were up to me, he wouldn’t have gotten his way. I’m with Richard Dawkins, who sees religion as a delusion. There’s no need to have respect for that. If anything, pity, maybe. And it’s not like Hinduism is one of the most pleasant religions out there, just take a look at what’s ailing Modi’s India.’
‘Cultural appropriation? No, I’m not that woke. In a globalized world, culture will be appropriated back and forth. To me it’s public domain. It’s not as if India doesn’t borrow from Western culture as well, and in India you see deities depicted on all kinds of businesses, like banks, workshops, and restaurants.’
‘I think a deity on a beer label is fair game. Indeed, religion and Friekens Brouwerij do have a fair bit in common: they’re both in the business of opiate for the masses! But the decision wasn’t mine to make, so Ganesh had to go.
‘That’s why on the new label we also have an obese dude with what appears to be an elephant’s head, but it explicitly is not Ganesh. If anything we have sort of a hybrid holyness here. A combination of Buddha and Ganesh. Bunesh as it were, or better yet: Gaddha. Inna Gaddha Da Vida, Baby!’
(Opinions expressed by GRAFX MFG are not necessarily endorsed by Friekens Brouwerij.)
Who is Rajan Zed?
What is the Universal Society of Hinduism?
- One-man outrage industry: profile of Rajan Zed
- Rajan Zed’s website
- Rajan Zed’s press release on Friekens Brouwerij (1)
- Rajan Zed’s press release on Friekens Brouwerij (2)
A couple of breweries also targeted by Rajan Zed:
- The Musketeers, Ursel, Belgium
- Tollgate Brewery, Ashby De La Zouch, England
- The Cheshire Brewhouse, Congleton, England
- Wishbone Brewery, Keighley, England
- Tempest Brewing Co., Galashiels, Scotland
- Primator Brewery, Náchod, Czech Republic
- Olde Salem Brewing Co., Virginia, USA
- Eudora Brewing Co., Ohio, USA
- New Braunfels Brewing Company, Texas, USA
- Odd 13 Brewery, Colorado, USA