A Christmas stamp depicting a Hindu couple worshipping baby Jesus has been criticised as “disrespectful” but Royal Mail has refused to withdraw it.
The stamp, featuring a man and woman with Hindu markings, is one of six depicting images of Madonna and child from around the world.
The Hindu Forum of Britain has asked for it to be re-designed without the Hindu markings or withdrawn.
Royal Mail, while apologetic, said it was not possible to amend or withdraw.
A Royal Mail spokesman apologised for any “unintentional offence” caused to the Hindu community by the 68p stamp, taken from a 17th century picture.
The image features a man with a “tilak” marking on his forehead, identifying him as a Vaishnava Hindu, while the woman has the traditional “kumkum” mark on her forehead identifying her as a married Hindu woman.
The original painting hangs in a Mumbai gallery.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “It was common for Hindu artists during that period to paint images that depicted western culture, including paintings about Christianity.
“The stamp simply features a Hindu artist’s interpretation of Christianity’s Madonna and Child scene.
“However the Royal Mail does apologise for any unintentional offence caused to the Hindu community.”
The Hindu Forum of Britain, an umbrella body representing more than 250 Hindu organisations, called the stamp “disrespectful” and questioned its use.
Secretary general of the Hindu Forum, Ramesh Kallidai, said: “Royal Mail sources claim that the original painting printed on the face of the stamp is dated 1620.
“While many people doubt the authenticity of the age of the painting, we believe that even if this were true, it would be insensitive to use it at a time when the issue of conversions in India has been a subject of heated debate.
“Even if we accept that an artist in 1620AD took the artistic license to portray practising Hindus worshipping the baby Christ, we should be asking if this is politically and sensitively correct in the 21st century.”
He asked for it to be withdrawn or re-designed without the Hindu markings.
“The use of Hindu images in an appropriate manner has never been an issue,” he added. “It is only when images are used in a disrespectful or inappropriate way resulting in offence and hurt that we become concerned.”