Madonna Blasts Back At Critical Hindu Group

Pop diva answers criticism of her sexually charged performance at MTV Video Music Awards.

The often-controversial Madonna issued a brief but pointed response to a Hindu organization's condemnation of what it called her "sacrilegious" performance of a song at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 10.

In addition to suggesting that the Hindu group, the World Vaishnava Association, was being hypocritical in their attack on her, the ex-Material Girl questioned its representative's choice of television viewing.

"The essence of purity and divinity is non-judgment," Madonna said in the statement. "They should practice what they preach."

"If they're so pure," Madonna continued, "why are they watching MTV?"

The response followed equally chilly remarks from a representative of the World Vaishnava Association, which earlier this week criticized the controversial singer for either misunderstanding or misusing the significance of wearing a Tilak facial adornment during her performance at the video awards ceremony.

In particular, the WVA protested Madonna's use of the sacred Eastern Tilak as imagery in her sexually charged performance, which opened the awards ceremony.

The organization said Madonna's use of "Vaishnava Tilak" facial markings, which are traditionally worn with gravity and sincerity as an expression of devotion to the Hindu Supreme Lord, was inappropriate due to the sexual, provocative nature of the singer's performance, which included her bumping and grinding with retro-rocker and guitarist Lenny Kravitz.

The WVA also reportedly objected to the singer's use of henna marriage markings on her hands, as she gyrated in a sexually suggestive manner and wore clothing through which her nipples were clearly visible.

On Wednesday, the vice president of the WVA, Swami B.V. Tripurari, countered the earlier comments and gave his blessing to the singer's performance. "The Hindu community and Eastern spiritual seekers the world over should be happy for Madonna personally, in terms of her genuine interest in enlightened life, and grateful to her for her sincere efforts to attract others to the same."

Madonna's performance at the awards show began innocently enough, with the singer 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" (RealAudio excerpt), from her hit album Ray of Light, which includes several songs that deal with what the singer has called her recent spiritual rebirth. In typical Madonna fashion, things started to get raunchy as soon as she launched into the more uptempo title track (RealAudio excerpt) from Ray of Light, during which she stripped to black dress pants and a sheer white tank-top and engaged in a sultry bump-and-grind dance with Kravitz.

On Monday, Ray Goff, a director of the Mandala Publishing Group, the organization that provided Madonna with one of the backdrops for the performance, defended the artist's choice of stage props and costumes. "We are happy to have supplied Madonna with the image that she used at the recent MTV awards," Goff said.

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.

The WVA's Tripurari is one of the directors of the Mandala Publishing Group, which publishes books and artwork pertaining to Vedic and Hindu religious subjects.

Tripurari said that while the Hindu community should be thankful for Madonna's interest in a spiritual life, her use of popular music and dance in such pursuits is potentially controversial, given her influence on her millions of fans. "Thus a rather small and conservative group of Hindus has criticized her performance in terms of its sensual appearance," Tripurari said.

He added that he does not entirely agree with such criticism, which he felt bypassed the "very heart of spiritual pursuit."

Madonna's official spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, reportedly offered her own response to the latest criticism of the singer, who has also run afoul of the Catholic Church in the past for her controversial melding of sacred and suggestive images.

Noting that No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani has modeled henna markings during recent public appearances, while wearing such skimpy outfits as the blue bikini she sported at the MTV event, Rosenberg was quoted in the New York Daily News as asking, "Why don't they pick on her?"