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Yoga Mat Design Pulled After Religious Insensitivity Complaint

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Indian Hindu devotees gather around a huge idol of the elephant-headed Hindu god Lord Ganesha during its procession for immersion into the Arabian Sea, on the streets of Mumbai on September 11, 2011. (credit: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian Hindu devotees gather around a huge idol of the elephant-headed Hindu god Lord Ganesha during its procession for immersion into the Arabian Sea, on the streets of Mumbai on September 11, 2011. (credit: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images)

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SANTA MONICA (CBS) — A self-proclaimed “Hindu statesman” from Nevada succeeded in stopping Santa Monica-based yogamatic.com from selling yoga mats he said displayed an inappropriate image of sacred Hindu deity Lord Ganesha.

In a press release Sunday, Universal Society of Hinduism’s Rajan Zed wrote, “Lord Ganesha was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be trampled under one’s feet while doing yoga.”

Zed said the yoga mats trivialized a revered Hindu deity, disturbing and hurting followers of the Hindu religion worldwide.

The company’s owner, William Cawley says he was not contacted directly by Zed, but was made aware of his complaint via the press release. Cawley immediately removed the image from the website’s gallery and sent an email to Zed offering an apology to him and the Hindu community.

“I never like to be the focus of someone else’s distress,” says Cawley. “The idea is with all of our products that people have got the freedom to express themselves. Sometimes that may lead to something that someone else doesn’t like.”

Ninety percent of the mats sold on Cawley’s web site are produced using the customer’s own images. On an episode of “Oprah,” Jennifer Aniston gifted one of the mats displaying a photo of Oprah Winfrey’s dogs to the talk show host.

Cawley says the Lord Ganesha design was uploaded by an independent artist and made available on his web site in good faith. He says the mat had been available online for nearly four years, and very few had been sold.

“[Ganesha’s image] is on millions of products from the most bizarre to the most conventional,” says Cawley. “A lot of people use our mats as wall hangings, and several who purchased this design mentioned they were going to hang it on their wall.”

Cawley says Zed’s was the first complaint, and it was an easy decision to abate the issue.

“It may be an opinion more than a sort of law,” he says. “But there’s no point in entering into a debate because [Zed] is clearly very active with this issue, and we’re really not into courting controversy. It’s the antithesis of what we do.”

Zed previously made waves by protesting Paramount Pictures’ 2008 film, “The Love Guru,” starring Mike Myers, as well as publicly criticizing the divorce plans of Russell Brand and Katy Perry, who incorporated Hindu traditions in their 2010 wedding ceremony.

Cawley has yet to hear from Zed, but says he received a follow up press release publicizing his company’s decision.

Yogamatic.com is a division of Anymatic LLC, which employs fewer than 10 people. The company is listed among “Entrepreneur” magazine’s “100 Brilliant Companies.”

Zed did not respond to requests for comment by the time of this post.

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