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Indians are viewed as prudish and ‘lesser’ sexual beings by western standards, whether this is an impression created by reaction of Indians to westerners or their own frigidity one cannot ascertain. In Victorian times the view on Asians was quite the opposite when linga or phallus worshiping Indians were thought shamelessly sensual and in want of civilisation. Today an Indian, more so the Indian living in the west prefers not to question the popular view on his traditional non-liberal attitude towards sex; carrying the cultural burden like a cross. Agreed a modern Indian has on an average lesser number of sexual partners and is perhaps a late starter in mating game as also early to retire, but that has nothing to do with our religious or cultural indoctrination for we know very little of our own culture. Our sexual behaviour and conventions are mostly a result of social conditioning and this conditioning has nothing to do with our rich heritage.
Tell me of one ancient civilisation that had studied erotica as a subject and written a complete handbook for the layman about matters of sex and love? Indian scholars advocated temperance only as much as the Greek philosophers did and erotica was celebrated and taken up as a subject of art, music, literature and philosophy as much as in other civilisations. Kamasutra, or the treatise on rules of love was compiled in fourth century B.C. by Vatsyayana the great scholar of erotica and philosophy who has delved on ethico-socio-spiritual aspects of love making. In fact not only has sex been considered the primal force it is taken to be as one of the three aims of human life or what they called the purushartha. Do you think then our ancestors with this worldview on sex and love were frigid in their minds and sexual behaviour? Paintings depicting intercourse were a good omen and not porn that leaves youngsters with a lopsided view of sex. The Indian society in ancient times was more permissive and it served the interest of women better than it does today because it viewed sex as a sacred act to beget sons as also enjoy the body in its youth.
Vatsyayana has likened sex to food in that, ‘just like food cannot be given up because it gives indigestion, similarly sex cannot be given up despite the errors committed in the madness of lust’. Meaning sex is not an act of indulgence and pleasure but a primary need of the man that must be gratified. Further, on sexual union he says depends the survival of the species, making it one of the most important aims of life. Vatsyayana contends that repression of sexual instinct is not desirable because negation of a primal instinct will create imbalances of mind or what we call today neurosis. To quote him: ‘without food body becomes thin and weak, without eroticism mind becomes restless and without spirituality the soul is degraded’. Do you think then young adolescents who studied texts that taught techniques of lovemaking were any less sexually expressive than the youth in the west today?
To take it further monogamy was not an essential demand but only an ideal and there is a chapter (chap 5) in Kamasutra that recounts tricks to seduce another’s wife. Courtesans had a place in social setup; they were not hookers with painted faces strutting their stuff at red lights. Those were women trained in art of erotica, music, dance, etc. and there is a whole set of advice to them by Vatsyayana for these women had to make a living out of the ‘practice of sex’. So it seems to me that ours was a civilisation more permissive and liberated where man’s instinctual gratification was given as much importance as self realisation. Virtue was the most important aim but not the only one and definitely not at the expense of others.
Author: Rashma N. Kalsie (march.postings)