An ancient treatise was set afire; An event of no consequence to the average Indian conspired. But the implications inherent to such an act might well have sent ripples way out into India’s future.
One exemplary remnant of ancient India is Vatsyayana’s ‘Kamasutra’, a treatise on lifestyle, and sexuality that best highlights the sex-positive attitude of Hinduism. So dominant was its influence that world renowned art on the walls of Khajurao Temples in MP, amongst others, was inspired by it. A holistic account on the art of interpersonal living and grooming of intimate relations, the text is so much more than modern Indian psyche, suffering from prudish colonial hangover, can even begin to comprehend. The politicization and furor over its existence brings to light a long history of antagonism to love in modern India.
Image Credits: Abe Books
In the wee hours of a late August evening, members of the Bajrang Dal stormed into an Ahemdabadi bookshop demanding the repeal of all copies of Kamasutra from shelves on account of illustrations therein being hurtful to Hindu sentiments. One need not venture very far to question these claims: Indian propitiousness for the art of making love finds expression on the walls of a myriad of temples. Strange tidings, indeed, for world’s second most populous country that mobs run amok with the idea of love being a taboo averse to religious sentiments.
The jagged chasm separating these groups from the reality of their own history is not entirely their own mistake: from obliteration of the myth of Bhagiratha’s birth and hushed whispers replacing all conversation over Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava, to sanitized versions of the epics, attempts abound at creating politically convenient versions of history and culturalism. And these outfits are only furthering the mindless oppression of a culturally rich past in favor of a highly entrenched and authoritarian version of Hinduism. Add to it a politically charged atmosphere pushing against national diversity and we have at hand a ticking time bomb that will mutilate us beyond recognition if left unaddressed.
The farouche hesitancy gripping Indian mass conscious on the subject of a text like Kamasutra is a lingering specter from our shackled past: we have imbibed our erstwhile colonial masters’ ‘shame’ over our cultural openness and wide-ranging acceptance of life and vitality that they took another two centuries or so to develop themselves. Consequently, the west now accepts and welcomes what it disparaged in our cultural ethos. While groups like the Bajrang Dal are vehement in their allegation that ‘westernization’ of Hinduism would destroy the society’s moral fabric, all that comes across is their paradoxical desire of sticking close to an outdated western perception of modernity.
The problem is two-fold: a post-colonial disjunction from our roots, and a deliberate perpetuation of the same by our political leaders with the hope of clinging onto reigns of power. Separating religion and politics, while a very difficult proposition to implement, is the need of the hour, down from the smallest acts of burning of books to cleansing the hallowed halls of the country where the serpent of communalism is beginning to bare its fangs.
By Samya Verma
Samya Verma is a third year student of (not) history at the Hindu College. She swears by caustic sarcasm, political satire and dark humour. With no plans for the future, she is currently soliciting advice on how to avoid unemployment; feel free to chip in at firstname.lastname@example.org