Religion is deeply intrinsic to the Indian society and has inevitably permeated all aspects of Indian lifestyle, including trade and commerce. Since religious names and symbols are generally considered a common heritage, this article delves into the legal framework for registering religious names and symbols as trademarks in India.



India, being a pluralistic country, has several religions. Our architecture, holy books, epics, and symbols all reflect the country’s diverse and rich heritage, which includes religion. The Constitution of India further protects this heritage by granting its citizens the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate their religion under Articles 25-28[i], subject to reasonable restrictions.

However, religion is a sensitive subject in India, and the use of names of gods and goddesses, religious scriptures, and figurines is subject to certain reasonable restrictions under the Constitution of India and other national laws, including the Trade Marks Act, 1999. The use of religious names and symbols in trade and business to draw clients has proven to be an effective strategy to promote growth over the years, as consumers can attribute a strong emotional and spiritual attachment to the associated items with their faith. However, such use is also characterised by the nature of the goods and services including the issue of morality attached to said goods and services in contemporary society.

Hence, while not completely prohibited, the propagation of hypersensitivity with regard to religion and religious names and symbols dictates the jurisprudence around the usage of such marks under the Indian trademark law.

Statutory Laws in India:

 Under the Trade Marks Act 1999, Section 9 sets out the absolute grounds for refusal to register a trade mark. Section 9(2)(b)[ii] specifically places certain restrictions on the registration of marks that are likely to hurt or insult the religious sensibilities of any class or section of society.

In addition, a list of notified prohibited trademarks is provided in the Central Government Trademarks, Practice and Procedures Manual[iii]. The list includes, among others:

The terms “Lord Buddha,” “Shree Sai Baba,” “Sri Ramkrishna,” “Swami Vivekananda,” “the Holy Mother alias Sri Sarada Devi,” “Balaji,” or their equivalents, as well as the emblems of the Ramkrishna Math and Mission or a colourful imitation thereof; or the names and images of Sikh Gurus, such as Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Raj, Guru Harkrishnan, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and Guru Govind Singh; and/or the name and/or picture of Lord.

Judicial Pronouncements:

There have been a number of cases over the years considering whether the use of trademarks of religious names and symbols is permissible in India or not.

In the case of Amritpal Singh v. Lal Babu Priyadarshi[iv], the mark RAMAYANA was declared unregistrable. Section 9(2)(b) of the Trade Marks Act, was interpreted in this case in a strict sense, which marked the first time that a general ban on the registration of the name of a religious book was introduced. According to the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the name of a holy book or religious text cannot be used as a trademark for products or services. Examples of such text includes the Bible, the Quran, the Ramayana, the Guru Granth Sahib, and others.

In the case of Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Works v. District Judge, Munsif City[v], the trade name used on a tobacco product was “Ganesha.” The case had two arguments. First, that the product was not of good character, and is a vice in Hinduism. Secondly, people would use a packet with a pictorial representation of the God Ganesha and it would be discarded after use. Dismissing the objections, the Allahabad High Court ruled that there was no evidence to suggest that smoking harms religious sensibilities and also noted that photographs of gods are used on wedding invitations, diaries, calendars, etc. “Smoking of bidis may be injurious to health but it certainly is not treated as anti-religious. No religion, much less, Hindu religion and religious scriptures prohibit smoking of bidis. If the bidi smokers throw bidi packages on the street or in waste paper basket, the petitioner cannot be held responsible for their said act…In fact, symbol of ‘Lord Ganesh’ is used on many articles and by registering the symbol with numerical 501, it distinguishes the product of the petitioner from others giving petitioner an invaluable right to use the trade mark and prevent his right from infringement under the Act.” The progressive interpretation of the Court was well appreciated.

In the case of Freudenberg Gala Household Product Pvt. Ltd. (Gala) v. GEBI Products (Gebi) (2017)[vi], the dispute centred on Gala’s use of the trademark ‘LAXMI’ for brooms. Despite the name being associated with a Hindu goddess, Gala obtained a “label” registration for it. Gebi adopted for brooms “MAHA LAXMI,” another name for the same goddess. The court ruled in favour of Gebi, clarifying that the Gala’s label mark does not grant exclusive rights to individual words. It was emphasized that the use of the names of gods is not exclusive, preventing a single party from monopolizing such words. This case highlighted the difference between protecting a label mark and claiming a monopoly on a common word, especially the name of a God.

In the case of Shyam Steel Industries Limited v. Shyam SEL and Power Limited and Another (2020)[vii], the appellant had sought an injunction against the respondents for using the trade mark “SHYAM” in the manufacture of TMT bars. The respondents argued that “SHYAM” referred to the Hindu deity Lord Krishna and not merely a person or name. However, the court rejected this argument and emphasized the need for the Respondents to substantiate the claim with convincing evidence. The court said that it cannot say as an infallible principle of law that registration of the word ‘Shyam’ of appellant was invalid and its registration should be cancelled. The respondent has to prove, by leading cogent evidence, before the Board, that indeed the name ‘Shyam’ refers to God only, is not distinctive of the appellant, is generic and common.


The Trade Marks law provides for registration of marks, where prior to its date of application, the same have gained a distinctive character through use or recognized as well-known marks. However, the name of Gods and Goddess, being common personal names, ought to be considered on a different pedestal. While it can be argued that trademarks in the form of label marks with other textual and/or device elements, incorporating the name of Gods or Goddess are distinctive as a whole, registering them as word marks is extremely difficult, and even if such registrations are granted, the same will remain susceptible to a risk of challenge in future proceedings. It would be extremely difficult and uphill task for a proprietor to claim exclusive rights over such a word mark and their enforcement against other marks.

Author: Ravi Chadha and Aakriti Singh









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