'Hindu' stamp

Valerie J Roebuck vjroebuck at MACUNLIMITED.NET
Sat Mar 11 13:52:08 UTC 2006

I have just been asked a question about a controversy that has 
persisted since last November, and wonder whether anyone on this list 
may be able to help.  The matter concerned last year's UK Christmas 
stamps, which showed six different representations of the Madonna and 
Child, all intended to be from different cultures:


The problem arose over the 68p stamp, which shows a man and a woman 
with tilak marks on their foreheads worshipping the infant Jesus (who 
hasn't got a tilak).  The Royal Mail claims that the design is based 
on a 17th century painting now in a Mumbai gallery.  I assumed that 
the couple were meant to be Mary and Joseph, portrayed as Indians. 
However, some Hindus, such Ramesh Kallidai of the Hindu Forum, read 
the scene as depicting a Hindu couple worshipping Christ, which 
seemed to them to imply the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. 
They found it 'disrespectful'.


According to Kallidai, 'The image features a man with a "tilak" 
marking on his forehead, identifying him as a Vaishnava Hindu, while 
the woman has the traditional "kumkum" mark on her forehead 
identifying her as a married Hindu woman.'

My enquirer would like to know whether the tilaks shown are indeed 
recognisably Vaishnava, and if there is anything written on the 
history of such markings, or their meaning in artistic 
representations of this period.  And I would like to know if anyone 
is familiar with the painting on which the stamp is said to be based. 
What we can see of it on the stamp seems unlikely to be 17th century, 
unless it has been greatly adapted, but of course such photos can be 

Any thoughts?

Valerie J Roebuck

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