An American brewery faced widespread criticism and protests from the Hindu community after it named its latest drink after goddess Kali, but ironically enough liquor is one of the essential offerings made to a deity widely worshipped throughout Bengal and symbolises feminine energy.
Indologist Manab Chatterjee said the use of liquor in worship has been mentioned in the "Niruttara Tantra", a compilation of exotic rituals belonging to the Kali class of Tantra, a religious cult that seeks to tap divine power in each individual.
"The fifteenth chapter of the Niruttara Tantra deals with the 'Panchamakara', known as the five Ms, and used in 'Vamachara' rites. These are madya (wine), mamsa (flesh), mina (fish), mudra (money) and maithuna (sexual intercourse)," said Chatterjee.
Vamachara, a Sanskrit term generally translated to mean "left-hand" achievement, refers to a particular mode of worship which is at considerable variance from standard Vedic practice.
"The sadhaka (devotee), at night, sits with his Shakti to his left, doing the various types of Nyasa first. The chapter gives the rules of puja and, towards the end, enumerates the ten Mahavidyas or the ten avatars of Kali," said Chatterjee.
Nyasa is the conscious act of touching or placing the fingers or hands on sacred, sensitive, or medicinally active points of the body. In Hindu tantric meditations and pujas, the practitioner lays his hands on himself in each of these places in special sequences.
"Liquor is an essential element in worshipping the goddess who symbolises shakti (power) and destruction. Liquor signifies strong emotion and it is consumed as 'prasadam' after being offered to the deity," said Indologist Purba Sengupta.
Another Indologist, Dipak Mukherjee, also said that Tantriks and Aghoris use wine in worshipping the goddess.
"Tantriks and Aghoris use wine to worship the goddess, but it was unsuitable for the wine company to use the name of the goddess to promote their product," Mukherjee said.
The Burnside Brewing Company of Portland, Oregon, had apologised and said it has postponed launch of the Kali-Ma beer. The company also plans to rename the product.
The issue was raised in parliament by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which even demanded that the government summon the American envoy on the issue.
This is not the first time Hindu gods have been used by foreign companies to promote their products, leading to protests from the Hindu community. In 2007, Hindus in Odisha had protested against the US-based clothing and accessories portal Cafepress.com which had a series of undergarments with images of Hindu deities on it.
In 2008, supermodel Heidi Klum had created controversy by dressing up as Kali for a Halloween party in a club at New York.