Hindu leader wants Seminole Heights street mandala removed

He says such works of art are sacred and should not be trod upon — and other religious leaders agree.

click to enlarge Left to right: Stephen R. Karcher, Rajan Zed, ElizaBeth Webb Beyer and Matthew T. Fisher. - Courtesy of George A. Anastassatos
Courtesy of George A. Anastassatos
Left to right: Stephen R. Karcher, Rajan Zed, ElizaBeth Webb Beyer and Matthew T. Fisher.

Late last month, City of Tampa workers came under fire after they accidentally covered up a portion of street art inspired by mandalas, the elaborate works of art Hindu and Buddhist practitioners say are meant to represent the universe its deities.

The story caught the eye of an out-of-state religious leader, who said such works of art should not be exposed to the elements in such a way.

"Mandalas are sacred symbols and do not belong on the surface of public roads where humans and animals tread, dogs can pee/poo and vehicles trample these under the tire," said Rajan Zed, who is president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, in a statement.

He added Friday that multiple leaders from other religious communities joined his call, including Greek Orthodox Christian priest Stephen R. Karcher, Nevada/California Rabbi ElizaBeth Webb Beyer and Buddhist leader Matthew T. Fisher.

They called on Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman to have the mandala recreated as a mural on a nearby wall, and not on the road.

"Cities, counties and civic associations should not be in the business of inappropriate usage of sacred religious symbols," their joint statement continued.

The mural, the first of its kind in Tampa, sits at the intersection of North River Boulevard and West Louisiana Avenue, though asphalt now covers more than half of it.

Artist Catherine Thomas designed the mural and community members helped paint it.

Murals painted directly on the roadway have multiple possible benefits, including slowing car traffic in pedestrian-heavy areas and helping a neighborhood forge its identity.

Zed said it's not street art he and his fellow clergymen oppose, but use of sacred symbols.

"Murals on public roads to slow down drivers or other purposes were fine as long as they were not the sacred religious symbols," their statement read.

Zed may be familiar to some political observers.

In 2007, Zed received national attention as the first Hindu to deliver invocation on the floor of the U.S. Senate. He was interrupted by Christian protesters. The incident even caught the eye of Judge Roy Moore, who, despite being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior toward multiple minors in the late 70s and early 80s, will likely be elected the next U.S. Senator from Alabama on Tuesday.

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