Halloween has come and gone, without incident. Heidi Klum played it safe this year dressing as a crow, none of the neighborhood kids donned Lil' Ganesh costumes after all, and my daughter Shruti's first Halloween costume (an adorable pumpkin) was a hit.
But fresh on the heels of my Halloween hypothetical about the bona fides of dressing up as a Hindu deity, a real-life example of the ultra-fine line between good-natured fun and tasteless pot-shot. I give you...
... Hare Krishna Halloween costume.
Yes, this is a real Halloween costume. I know because every year, around Halloween time, my inbox gets hit with a couple of emails from outraged Krishna devotees about it. Usually, they demand that I help spearhead a campaign against this blatantly offensive stuff.
(In addition to my work with the broader Hindu community, I also serve as the North American communications director for ISKCON, the Hare Krishna movement.)
Personally, I don't like the costume. I think its a rather tasteless cheap shot at a misunderstood religious minority. And adding insult to injury, its not even an accurate rendition -- the orange "robes" are all wrong; the tuft of hair (called a sikha) that monks keep is not usually braided like that; and that pseudo-Egyptian dance move is just lame.
But does it cross the line? Is it offensive? Tasteless as it may be, does it warrant the protests, boycotts, and letter-writing campaigns that some would like to see?
I'm not sure, but my hunch is no.
I doubt that manufacturers of such Hare Krishna costumes intended to single out one faith to mock; I think they just saw an outlandish look that -- thanks to the fact that Krishna devotees zealously took the faith to the streets, especially in the 1970s -- is recognizable enough to get spoofed. Seeing it in that light, having a Halloween costume modeled after you may even be seen as a bit of a compliment.
Oh, and contrary to what my outraged Hindu friends might think, other religions have been getting lampooned on Halloween for years. Here are some examples (I've spared you the "naughty nun" variety, but I trust you can use your imagination):
As for the folks wearing the Hare Krishna costume... I imagine that very few of them mean any ill will towards real Krishna devotees. Most of them probably know very little about Krishna consciousness or Hinduism. As reader LinZi commented on my previous post, "Halloween...doesn't take itself seriously... Halloween is about playing around, dressing in costumes, and eating too much candy..." I tend to agree. In fact, over the years I've bumped into more than a few Halloween-Hare-Krishnas. They are invariably excited to learn that I am the Real McCoy, a bit embarrassed by their choice of costume, genuinely appreciative of my having enough of a sense of humor to be friendly with them, and grateful for a crash course in what the Hare Krishna movement is really all about.
So when it comes to the Hare Krishna costume, maybe the best response is to remind ourselves that Halloween and all its wackiness only comes once a year, and to not take ourselves so seriously that we can't enjoy it.
What do you think?
Post-script: File this one under "Krishna gets the last laugh"... I remember reading an article about two guys who decided that it would be funny to dress up as Hare Krishna devotees for Halloween and hit the streets. As fate would have it, they ran into the real Krishna devotees (who were amused by their imitations) and hung out with them. They were so impressed by the experience that some years later -- you guessed it -- they ended up joining the Krishna devotees for real.
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