April 26, 2002

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - Swedish furniture maker Ikea has apologized to Hindus in Sweden for an advertisement showing a glittering toilet seat adorned with a meditating Buddha.

The picture appeared in a section with decoration tips in the latest issue of Ikea Family Magazine, sent to 700,000 households in the Scandinavian country.

Many of the estimated 10,000 Hindus in Sweden complained and representatives from Hindu groups sent a joint protest letter to the company on Tuesday. Ikea, known worldwide for its inexpensive, put-it-together-yourself furniture sold in giant blue-and-yellow warehouses, apologized the next day.

The article, headlined ``Make the nicest toilet seat yourself,'' features a picture of Buddha, with legs crossed and eyes closed, glued on a toilet seat spray-painted in gold.

The adjoining text, which incorrectly refers to the god as Shiva, a Hindu god of mercy and compassion, includes decoration tips ``inspired by the gold and glitter of the Orient.''

Ashok Dhawan, chairman of the Hindu temple in Stockholm, said he threw away his Ikea membership card after he saw the article.

``When I saw the picture, I first thought, 'how good that they print this picture.' Then I saw it was a toilet seat. I became furious,'' Dhawan said Friday.

Protest organizer Shahsi Sharma said he was satisfied with the apology and considered the issue resolved. Sharma added that Ikea conducts a much appreciated education program to combat child labor in India.

Ikea spokeswoman Tina Paulsson said the company would pay closer attention to pictures with religious and cultural motifs in the future.

``We have unfortunately not been sufficiently attentive to this picture and its symbolism and meaning for a lot of people,'' the company said in a fax.

Ikea was founded in 1943 in a small village in southern Sweden, a nation of some 9 million people. The company now has more than 140 stores with 70,000 employees in 22 countries.

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