Hindu Group Calls Madonna Performance Sacrilege

World Vaishnava Association protests singer's use of sacred imagery in her sexually charged live appearance.

The ever-controversial Madonna sparked more than just viewer excitement when she

performed onstage wearing a see-through shirt, humping her guitarist and donning

Hindu-inspired costuming at the 15th annual MTV Video Music Awards on Thursday.

She also triggered a protest from a Hindu group offended at her live performance, which

juxtaposed religious iconography with raunchy disco-dancing.

Madonna either "misunderstood the significance of wearing the Tilak or treated it very

cheaply," the World Vaishnava Association was quoted as saying. "We sincerely hope it

was the former and not the latter."

The World Vaishnava Association was protesting the former Material Girl's use of sacred

Eastern facial markings and imagery in her sexually charged performance that opened

the awards ceremonies, according to United Press International. The organization

said that the use of "Vaishnava tilak" facial markings by the dance-pop diva, which are

"traditionally worn with gravity and sincerity as an expression of devotion to the Supreme

Lord," was inappropriate due to the sexual, provocative nature of the singer's

performance.

A representative for Madonna could not be reached by press time.

Madonna, who was the night's big winner, taking home six awards, began her

performance dressed in traditional Indian garb, including a black sari and colorful

face paint.

Surrounded by East Asian dancers, she performed a subdued version of the hymn-like

song "Shanti/Ashtangi" from her album Ray of Light. The song featured Indian

percussion and tablas and Madonna seated on the stage floor. But, in typical Madonna

fashion, things started to get raunchy as soon as she launched into the more uptempo

title track to Ray of Light.

The organization that provided Madonna with one of the backdrops for the performance

had a different reaction. "We are happy to have supplied Madonna with the image that

she used at the recent MTV awards," said Raoul Goff, director of Mandala Publishing

Media, an organization that publishes books and artwork pertaining to Vedic and Hindu

religious subjects.

The image, a woman with four hands playing a guitar, entitled "Sarasvati, Goddess of the

Arts," is from the book "Form of Beauty," a copy of which Goff said Mandala gave to

Madonna.

Affirming her career-long fascination with mixing the sacred and profane, Madonna, who

has spoken openly about her recent spiritual awakening, dropped the spiritual Indian

motif and burst into a raucous disco-styled version of "Ray of Light." Stripping down to

black dress pants and a sheer white tank top, the singer was joined on the song by

retro-rocker Lenny Kravitz on guitar, with whom she engaged in a sultry bump-and-grind

dance.

"Madonna's interest in Hinduism, yoga and spirituality is typical of many artists ... who

have run the gamut of experience and are now turning to the great traditions of India,"

Goff said. "The timeless wisdom of Vedic culture, music and mantras rang clear as

Madonna began her performance with an invocation of chanting while millions of

viewers looked on."

In 1989, Madonna raised the ire of the Catholic Church for her controversial video for

"Like A Prayer," which featured the pop diva dancing provocatively in front of an altar

with an African-American Christ-like figure. Then, in 1992, her nude photo-essay book

"Sex" drew protest from religious groups for its graphic content.