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
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
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
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
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
"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.