Orlando Sentinel: Retail hit – Hindu dieties

Orlando Sentinel

By Kumari Kelly
Retailer sparks new line of Lenox: Hindu deities
A collectibles dealer whose shop is near Disney inspires a whole new
LAKE BUENA VISTA —- Simmi Chopra sells a lot of Lenox Classic Mickey
Mouses at her Mitzi’s Hallmark and Collectibles Shop just outside Walt
Disney World.
So many that the Lenox company sends her on paid vacations as “thank
yous.” A company executive said, “She’s substantial with us. A very,very
good Lenox customer.”
Now, Chopra wants Lenox to expand beyond Mickey, Minnie and Donald to
Ganesha, Durga and Lakshmi. Millions will recognize the names as revered
Hindu deities; Chopra also sees them as the next line of popular Lenox
“This project is near and dear to my heart,” Chopra said.
Her family has owned the shop for 19 years, capitalizing on its location
on State Road 535, just outside the entrance to Downtown Disney and Walt
Disney World.
Chopra credits a strong commitment to customer service, such as knowing
product lines, being willing to make special orders and remembering
customers, for the family’s success.
“I know everybody’s name,” she said. “I know everybody’s dog’s name and
cat’s name. It’s very important.”
Chopra, who is of Indian descent and practices the Sikh faith, hopes to
make the names of Hindu gods and goddesses more recognizable.
Ganesha, the seated, elephant-headed god with four human arms, is likely
the most-recognized deity of hundreds in the ancient religion of Hinduism,
which dates back to 2000 B.C. Buddhists and Jainists will also recognize
Lord Ganesha’s symbolic elements, which include nearly every aspect of his
body as well as objects from a rope to an ax.
His large ears hear the requests of mankind; his large stomach consumes
the sorrows of the world; one hand holds desserts, sweet rewards to the
spiritual seeker. His one raised leg and one leg on the ground represent
“living in the world, but not of the world.”
But persuading Lenox executives living in Pennsylvania to craft the statue
wasn’t easy. The company’s Lenox Classics collectibles typically are
high-volume versions of recognizable characters created by Disney,
Universal Studios or others with similar pop-culture connections.
“When Simmi came to us, we didn’t know if we wanted to do that,” said
Dennis Wood, Lenox vice president of sales. “But . . . she convinced us
she could market this to her faith market.”
Once the company agreed, making the 15-inch-tall, 12-inch-wide Lord
Ganesha proved to be an arduous task. He’s no simple elephant.
Complexities such as a tiny mouse that serves as his companion and the
minute desserts in his hand were difficult to mold in Lenox quality.
The company, founded in the late 1880s, guarantees satisfaction: You don’t
like it, bring it back. Ganesha’s dozens of formed pieces, 100 attached
crystals, 15 hand-painted colors and 24-karat-gold trim made the large
porcelain bone-china statue a particular challenge.
“We’ve done crosses, rosaries, menorahs, and there wasn’t anything about
this particular faith [keeping us from it], it was just the process itself
was an extraordinary challenge,” Wood said.
“It took us almost a year to find the right factory. That is literally
dozens of different pieces. It’s a very time-consuming construction
No worries.
“He’s known for removing obstacles,” Chopra said of Ganesha. “I knew it
would get done.”
It took three years to complete the project. Multiple molds were tried and
trashed along the way.
The first piece rolled out in June, and Chopra donated it to the Hindu
Temple of Greater Orlando in Casselberry. The second came with a $2,000
price tag, as they all do. Kam Srinivasan, 28, a Realtor whose mother
assisted Chopra with the project, snapped it up for her Orlando home.
“What I thought was so very special about this piece was he looked so like
a young Ganesha,” said Srinivasan, whose husband, Sanjay, sells jewelry.
“He looked so ready to bless, he was so inviting, like `Come on, I’m ready
to bless you.’ ”
Everyone may not connect with the idea of an abstract, universal god, but
some can connect with a smaller form, such as Ganesha, said B.V.K. Sastry,
who has a Ph.D. in Sanskit literature and is a professor of Hindu studies
at Hindu University of America in Orlando, in explaining the role such
deities play.
“There is a need for the smaller form which the individual can work with,
without feeling the awe-creating enormity of the god,” Sastry said.
“Therefore, several symbolic representations of the divine are provided in
Hinduism, so that everyone can start from a point of comfortable
Those who want to connect with the Lenox sculpture can do so only in
Orlando, since Chopra took all 1,000 of the limited-edition pieces as the
sole retailer. Her commitment to do that was key in persuading Lenox to do
the project, Chopra said.
People in nearly every state have ordered the piece, she said. Customers
on a budget have put it on layaway.
“It’s just a good-feeling piece,” Wood said. “I think a lot of Christians
would like it, too. It just makes you feel good. It’s gorgeous.”
Chopra is now working on the second piece in the line of Hindu-themed
sculptures, the symbol “OM,” due out early next year. The symbol is
considered sacred and represents the presence of Brahman, which Hindus
believe to be the omnipresent divine source of all things. It also may be
chanted as the sound “aum” audibly or silently in meditations.
The sculpture will retail for about $95. The “OM” symbol contains three
curves that loosely appear in a shape not unlike the number 3 with a third
curve extending laterally from the right side. A dot appears to hover over
a semicircle just to the top right.
“We wanted to try to place this in every house,” Chopra said. “That is why
it is so reasonably priced.”
Goddess Durga, representing strong female and mother energy, the next
deity released, is scheduled for spring, then Lakshmi, the goddess of good
fortune and wealth, which they hope will be out next fall.
With the future sculptures, Lenox executives say, Chopra won’t have
exclusive dibs. Expect other retailers to have them available.
Said Wood of the retail possibilities: “This kind of opened our eyes.”



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