I had been procrastinating for a long time about reading Nine Lives by William Dalrymple. It is a travelogue, telling the tale of nine people who are carrying on their lives in the path of traditions that are many centuries old despite the onset of a wave of 'modernistic' living and thinking. But for me, it is more about W.D, celebrating nine people practicing their art, & though in one of the nine stories, the Stapathi clearly says, that "making idols may be a form of art for a lot of people but for us it is a way of devotion towards the almighty." I agree with the Stapathi too, in India it really is difficult to describe carving idols as someone practicing art, it would be degrading for those who do that as a form of devotion to their beloved God/Godess. But when I refer to it as 'practicing art,' I only refer to the part where centuries of practice transforms itself into skilled architects of Hindu dieties. The rest & everything around it is devotion, I believe in that. How else can someone explain the fact for generations one family continues to master it (leaving apart the politics of dominion over a form of earning a living, ofcourse). But being oblivious of politics is always a simpler & naiver way out.
But that is not what I really wanted to think aloud here. What caught my attention, was the reconfirmation of the fact that for almost all the Hindu Vedas & all Hindu philosophies, the four main goals of life are Dharma (virtuous living), Artha (material prosperity), Kama (aesthetic & erotic pleasure), & Moksha (liberation). The first three are believed to be aims of everyday life, while Moksha is the release of one from the cycle of birth & death. If these seem to be true then how & when did sex or Kama become such a taboo? I don't think it would be wrong if I argued that India pioneered the use of sexual education through art & literature. Remember Kama Sutra, written during the 1st-6th centuries :)
Infact, The Tantric school of Indic/Hindu philosophy formed at some point, during (1st & 6th centuries) the same time the KamaSutra or the Vatsyayana Kamasutra was written, and part of the philosophical system was the idea that sex, as a basic and powerful desire experienced by all humans, could be utilized as a way of achieving enlightenment. Some ardent devotees of this system for example might deliberately break sexual taboos that were ridiculed, such as extramarital sex, to master human nature and achieve greater understanding of the universe, their soul.
On the otherhand, the early Vedas had a more structured view on Kama. These mostly were moral perspectives on sexuality, marriage, & fertility prayers. Even then, nudity & sexual education or depiction of sexual postures was considered acceptable in art. Ajanta & Khajuraho temples are the living examples of the same. But this kind of lewd descriptions in art could also be debated as realistic depictions of the time & age. As in most countries with tropical climates, India being one, did not need to wear clothes, and other than for fashion, there was no practical need to cover the upper half of the body. This is supported by historical evidence, which shows that men and women in many parts of ancient India mostly dressed only the lower half of their bodies. Whilst this has changed in modern times, it is likely that taboo against nudity was not present in many Asian, African and South American civilizations.
It is mind-boggling to see how the Indian values have altered, almost to the opposite most time, so much overtime, & for me with the little reading that I could manage to get before this post, it looks like the invasion of the Mughals had only a little to do with the change, what with their Purdah system. We might think that the strict manner in which the Mughals followed the Purdah system, it might have infected the entire Indian populace, but there has been no apparent evidence that it was forced to the Hindu women. Also, the fact that Purdah did not affect men, leaves a lot to think about.
So, the only alternative, the British invasion on India with their Lords & Ladies, seems to have brought to India, ship-loads of clothing & bodice :). With the British Raj being ushered to direct rule, all Indian customs & mannerism started being ridiculed at. Victorian values stigmatized India sexual liberalism. The pluralism of Hinduism & its liberal attitudes were condemned as barbaric & the proof of inferiority of the East. The result, it led some & later some more Indians wanting to conform their religious practices and moral values to Victorian ideas of "high" civilization. There the end of free & happy sex to the invention of virginity locks :P
But that's not the end of it all, countries such as India became more conservative after being influenced by European ideas. At the same time, translations of the Kama Sutra and other 'exotic' texts became available in Europe, where they gained notorious status, and ironically may have triggered early foundations of the sexual revolution in the west. Irony as they say life is...
I know, I am stating the obvious, but it was just very fascinating to recall all this & share with all. Hope you guys have fun reading it...