Last month a lesser-known right-wing outfit called Bajrang Sena made news for objecting to the sale of Kamasutra books and miniature erotic sculptures at the famous Khajuraho Temples in Madhya Pradesh. A unit leader of the organisation — that owes allegiance to BJP and RSS and wields influence in the country’s small pockets — was quoted by the news media as saying that sale of such figurines and books propagating nudity cannot be allowed at the “sacred premises of a Shiva temple”. She had also said that it not only affects the image of Indian culture in the eyes of foreign tourists but also influences the younger generation by imparting the wrong moral values.
In April, a man named Rahul Jain in Rahatgarh, a small town in MP, was booked for sharing on his Facebook wall a picture of a popular eighteenth century painting, showing Krishna and Radha in a love-making posture, that was sold for over USD 200,000 by Christies Auction House, New York. The initial complaint was filed by a member of BJP’s IT cell and Jain was booked under non-bailable offences including publishing obscene information in electronic form and promoting enmity and hatred towards a religion.
Yogi Adityanath, the Hindu priest chief minister of the country’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, recently said that the “Taj Mahal and other minarets do not reflect India’s culture”. He said that instead of gifting small replicas of the Taj Mahal to foreign dignitaries, the government should gift them copies of the Ramayana and the Bhagvad Gita as tokens of Indian culture.
Incidents such as these reek of irresponsibility and ignorance of facts, especially coming from persons and groups commanding influence on a large part of the population.
The Khajuraho Temples, a UNESCO world heritage site, were built between 950 and 1050 CE by the Chandela dynasty. According to historians and scholars, these shrines are a celebration of the divine marriage between Shiva and Parvati. Some of them suggest that they pertain to the tantric tradition of Hinduism, which is most often associated with Shaktism wherein the Goddess is supreme as the metaphysical reality is believed to be feminine.
Claims that the exhibition of eroticism at these temples are against the ethos of Indian culture are outrageous; they stem from the discomfort of religious fundamentalists with libertarianism and their attempts at sexual shaming and imposition of sexual moralism. Hinduism is an intrinsic part of Indian civilisation and any attempts to alter facts relating to it in the name of morality must be abhorred.
It makes complete sense that at the Khajuraho temples sex has been celebrated as divine and sacred and that there is a Shiva temple at the premises. The Shiva Linga, after all, is a union of the linga and the yoni, i.e.; the energy and potential of Shiva with the female creative energy of Shakti or Parvati. The temples celebrate their holy union while depicting eroticism as sacred.
The Kamasutra, an ancient Indian Hindu text on human sexual behaviour written by Vatsyayana, a 2nd century AD Vedic scholar, may not appeal to the drab intellect of some who may insult it by calling it obscene and shameful. However, Kamasutra is a significant part of ancient Sanskrit literature and thus precious heritage that we have inherited from our ancestors. Similarly, the ancient paintings of Radha and Krishna making love are a symbol of the same legacy of which the Bhagvad Gita is a part and which is celebrated enthusiastically by Hindus at holy sites such as Mathura and Vrindavan.
Heritage is the key
By pointing fingers at traditions and heritage that have been part of our inherent culture and value systems, the atmospherics in the country today are being manipulated to decimate historical as well as modern narratives that do not suit the ideology of the ruling dispensation and foist on the people an alternative made-to-order culture.
Coming to Yogi Adityanath’s jibe at the Taj Mahal, it is unfortunate that his and his party’s well-known animosity for a particular religion is being used to downplay the value of historical monuments. The Mughal Dynasty is a part of our history and we cannot disregard it. A lot of Hindu right-wing ideologists believe that the Mughals were only plunderers who did no benefit to India. Not going into complete merits of this argument, even if we assume that most Mughal rulers were indeed tyrants we can still not belittle what their rule bequest us with.
For instance, even though Qutb-ud-din Aibak of the Delhi Sultanate vandalised the Khajuraho Temples after annexation of the Chandala kingdom in the thirteenth century, we cannot trivialise the Qutub Minar built by him in the twelfth century in Delhi. Similarly, Mughal cuisine is a part of north Indian gustatory delights and we take immense pride in it. The Taj Mahal is an architectural marvel, a UNESCO world heritage site and a wonder of the world according to some lists and Indians should be proud of it.
It’s quite a coincidence that while fingers are being pointed by the right-wing in India at our ancient cultural heritage, in Iraq some deplorable maniacs from the Islamic State (IS) have blown up the historic Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its iconic leaning minaret in the Old City of Mosul. Former residents and natives of the war-torn region lamented as the monument that had been part of their culture since the twelfth century was reduced to rubble within minutes. This mosque is the latest among the troves of precious heritage ruined by Islamic radicals who consider it to be idolatrous. The Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, the historic town of Palmyra in Syria, the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, are just a few other examples.
Destruction of such precious heritage is part of an effort to establish supremacy of the propagators of a stifling Islamic caliphate who want to erase all history and culture that do not align with their hateful ideology. Islamic radicals such as the IS and Taliban believe that traditions and lifestyles alternative to the ones propagated by them are wrong and illegitimate. For them it’s not enough to forcefully decimate the existing so-called un-Islamic visceral cultures; they want to eradicate the minutest remnant of anything from the past or present that would remind the masses of the prevalence or possibility of anything apart from strict Sharia laws. Throughout history, there have been efforts towards erasing heritage with the aim of replacing inherent cultural values with new ones considered more appropriate by the new rulers. Such destruction of cultural ethos and physical heritage has mostly stemmed from efforts at gaining territorial and political advantage. What is being propagated by the ruling dispensation in our own country today may not be equivalent to the despotism of the historic past but is parallel to attempts made throughout history to impose on the people customs preferred by the rulers by obliterating value systems that have thrived for years. We must be careful as it is not always good for history to repeat itself.