India’s Sensual Past
THE SOURCE: “From Kama to Karma: The Resurgence of Puritanism in Contemporary India” by Wendy Doniger, in Social Research , Spring 2011.
Attacks on stores and res-taurants that celebrate Valentine’s Day. Protests against artists and writers who link Hindu gods with sexuality. The arrest of couples who put their arms around each in public. These incidents in India today aren’t isolated, argues the Indologist Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago. Throughout much of the country, Hindu fundamentalists are engaged in “pervasive and often violent moral policing.” Many of them blame the West for tainting India with lasciviousness, but they’re pointing a finger in the wrong direction, Doniger writes.
India has a rich tradition of eroticism, and a tradition, just as old, of what Doniger calls “Hindu Puritanism.” The Rig Veda, India’s earliest Hindu sacred text, written around 1500 BC, “revels in the language of both pleasure and fertility.” Various other texts, including the Upanishads and the Tantras, which appeared in subsequent centuries, refer to ritual sex. But sexual acts coexisted with the path of meditation and asceticism—some interpreted the acts as intended to occur only on a symbolic level—and so a kind of religious doublethink arose that fostered tolerance.
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