India Uptight over Erotica in Hinduism?

This week in Delhi an exhibition on nudity in art was forcibly shut down by Hindu fundamentalist groups who took offense! Paintings in another gallery in Bangalore were also forcibly removed because the same groups found the nude portrayals of goddesses objectionable!

It is exactly this sort of public response to nudity, sex and sexuality in India today that I question in my book Sex and Power.

Below is an excerpt from the introduction of my book.

Languorously sensual and of exquisite form, men and women in stone on ancient khajuraho1Indian temple walls engage in explicit and imaginative love-making, in an array of intriguing poses…A man caresses his delighted lover’s naked breasts with a lotus bud…[Another] kneels before his lover and performs cunnilingus…One couple prefers intercourse in the standing position…[while] another couple in coitus understandably requires assistance…the man below…balanced on his head, the woman…on top held in position by two supporting female[s]…

khajuraho2However shocking the use of such explicit erotica in temples may…it would still be a mistake to regards these temples as anomalies of time…Between 100 B.C. and AD 1500 [for a period of over 1000 years] such temples were built all over India, the walls decorated with some of the most blatant depictions of sex ever to adorn a place of worship.

How many civilizations…been inspired to portray human sexuality with such artistry, elegance and candour…? But even more significantly, what makes these temples …fascinating is how their very existence poses a challenge sculpture sensualto the moral climate of contemporary Hinduism.  Even though these temples are a product of Hindu culture, no architect in India today would dare construct a temple or for that matter any public building along similar erotic lines. It would be considered sacriligeous—a disregard for public sentiment—and given India’s current socio-political climate, could catapult the masses into a state of violent agitation.

shiva and parvati in stoneYet, whatever these temples may or may not say of their times…the question we should really be asking is how they speak to the social, the sacred and the moral ethos of our times. What we need to ask is why sex is such an odious subject in our contemporary world that we are dumbfounded by these historical sculptures? Why was the depiction of erotica on temple walls permissible a thousand years ago but not today? What causes this shift over time in a society’s perception of sexual permissibility and moral precepts? And what role does religion play in this change? These are some questions that will be examined in this book. [Excerpt from Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies, Penguin Global, 2009, p.2-5]

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  1. Many so called erotic and sensual temple decorations are showing Yakshas and Yakshinis , beings who resemble humans in outer outlook .

    Yakshas played an important role in ancient India , places and people who worshiped Yakshas prospered. Showing their eroticism on location in art was a way to protect the area , no one wished to cause the wrath of Yakshas . So it had more divine nature and not merely as human desire.
    This kind of art were often under the patronage and protection of Rajas.

    • Oh — it was far more than that. The Yakshas only pertain to the Vedic period. But the Vedic influence had waned by the 1st millennium. And if you you bother to through even a little bit of how people lived all through the 1st millennium AD in India, it was highly sensual! There is plenty of literature which of course we are not taught in school. But do you find it embarrassing that sexuality and sensuality was an integral part of living in India embarrassing?

  2. As the world moves to a more corporate centered ideology, things that do not contribute to the corporate bottom line become attacked. No longer do we have time for art, entertainment or even eroticism unless it contributes to the profits. These attacks will not come through the front door, no they will come thru the back door, threw groups that are easily manipulated to suit the goals of those in power.

    God forbid we mere pinions enjoy our life or do things outside the business world.

    Keep up the good work Rita, your voice is such an important one.

    • Wally, I’m also reading three books by women from Iran right now. And what strikes me as scary, because I’m seeing it increasingly in India too now, is how fundamentalist groups first attack women and the arts (writers, artists, musicians etc) in the name of religion!

  1. Why India’s View on Sex and Sexuality is Deadly! « REVOLUTIONS IN MY SPACE: A BLOG BY RITA BANERJI

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