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 Indian 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]…
However 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 to 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.
Yet, 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]