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01 May 2008

Between Ears, Not Legs

Nithin Sridhar
Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hairs, the sacrificial grass; her skin, the soma-press. The two labia*(lips) of the vulva are the fire in the middle

[Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad, 6.4.3]

This man (ama) am I; that woman (sâ), thou!
That woman, thou; this man am I!
I am the Sâman; thou, the Rig!
I am the heaven; thou, the earth!
Come, let us two together clasp!
Together let us semen mix,
A male, a son for to procure!

[Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad, 6.4.20](1)

Whenever the issue of love, nudity, sex and Hinduism comes into picture, we usually get to see one of the following reactionaries: (a) The West in general and its scholars studying South Asia [for example RISA(2)] in particular, and their Indian counterparts who consider Hinduism to be a mix of voodoo and pornography; or (b) The Hindu orthodoxy which thinks sex is taboo.

Now let's examine how valid these perspectives are.
Hindu purusharthas:
Purushartha means "objectives of a human being". They are the canonical four ends or aims of human life. They serve as pointers in life. The four Purusharthas from the lowest to the highest are: kama - pleasure or desire(3), artha - wealth, dharma - righteousness or morality and moksha - liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.

According to the Kamasutra, "In the beginning, the Lord of beings created men and women and, in the form of commandments in one hundred thousand chapters, laid down rules for regulating their existence with regard to dharma, artha, and kama."(4) Further, it says, "Man, the period of whose life is one hundred years, should practise dharma, artha and kama at different times and in such a manner that they may harmonise together and not clash in any way. He should acquire learning in his childhood, in his youth and middle age he should attend to artha and kama, and in his old age he should perform dharma, and thus seek to gain moksha, i.e. release from further transmigration."(5)

So, according to the Hindu scheme of things, even though enlightment is the ultimate goal of life, it encourages people to enjoy everything and fulfil all material desires. Moksha is a long process. It can be achieved only when all material desires are quenched. And hence, Hindu religion prescribes two methods: the path of renunciation and the path of a householder. There is another less popular but more maligned path: the path within, or tantras, which accepts everything material and condemned as taboo and, hence, aims to rise above bestial desires.

Sex as yajna:
Yajna or sacrifice is derived from the root, yaj. It means "worship" or "the offering of oblation".
Max Müller defines yajna as "an act by which we surrender something for the sake of gods"(6).
Sex is worship. It is an act by which the partners in a couple surrender their ego in order to gain pleasure, progeny and, eventually, even enlightment.

"Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hair the sacrificial grass; her skin the soma-press. The two labia of the vulva are the fire in the middle. Verily, indeed, as great as is the world of him who sacrifices with the Vâjapeya ["Strength-libation", libation is an act of pouring a liquid as a sacrifice (as to a deity)] sacrifice, so great is the world of him who practises sexual intercourse"(7) (Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad)

These verses clearly show that sex was treated as a form of worship, an act to not only to fulfil one's desires and gain pleasure, but also as a sacred act.

Sex as Meditation:
In Vijnana Bhairava Tantra(8), during a conversation between Shiva and Shakti, Devi asks: "O Shiva, what is your reality?/ What is this wonder-filled universe?/ What consttutes seed?/ Who centres the universal wheel?/ What is this life beyond the form pervading forms?/ How may we enter it fully,/ above space and time,/ names and descriptions?/ Let my doubts be cleared!"

Shiva explains her 112 methods of meditation to attain enlightment. He says: "At the start of sexual union/ Keep attentive on the fire in the beginning,/ And so continuing,/ Avoid the embers in the end./ When in such embrace your senses are shaken as leaves,/ Enter this shaking./ Even remembering union,/ Without the embrace."

These verses clearly indicate how the sexual act can be utilised for achieving enlightment. Enlightment is a state where all egos vanish. In a sexual act, too, the partners in a couple leave behind their ego and unite with each other and achieve sexual ecstasy. This very thing can be utilised to achieve spiritual ecstasy.

It is the study of 64 arts(9) like singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, union of dancing, singing, and playing instrumental music, writing and drawing, tattooing, etc. The Kamasutra or the "art of lovemaking" is only a part of this shastra (discipline).

Is Hinduism pornography and tantra a sex manual? The straight answer is a simple "no". It is Victorian puritanical authoritarianism which condemns any depiction of sex. Hinduism recognises the role of sexual desires in human lives. The sexual depictions in some of the temples were meant to not only educate the people, but also to help those who were involved in sexual sadhanas (penance) for enlightment. There is a difference between nudity, expression of beauty and pornography. What appears in the Hindu Puranas and Itihasas are expressions of genuine beauty and not pornography.

"Tantra" is a much maligned word. It actually refers to a vast body of literature called the "Agamas" which are practical manuals for meditation. There are many Shaiva, Shakta, Pancharatra Agamas. Using sex for meditation is prescribed in only a few of the many different paths described in the Agamas. So, it is wrong to equate tantra with sex.

Sex education:
This branch of education has throughout featured in Hindu history. Vatsyayana says, both men and women should learn the Kamashastra(10).

Pre-marital sex and love marriages:
In Hindu society sex was always considered a matter of individual choice. There are many such instances in our history. Scriptures too depict pre-marital sex and love marriages. So, complaining that they are "anti-Hindu" is ill-informed. The Manusmriti recognises eight kinds of marriages of which "gandharva marriage(11)" is one. It is a voluntary union of a maiden and her lover, which arises from desire and sexual intercourse for its purpose.

The same can be said about extra-marital affairs. As they are personal affairs, we should let individuals decide about it. Hinduism has always given this much freedom to its people.

In the Hindu society, sex is neither taboo nor pornography. Sex is sacred. Sex is recognised as human desire, which should be satisfied and which can be used to attain the ultimate goal of enlightment.

The writer is a Mysore-based student of civil engineering

References & Notes:

Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad forms part of the Satapatha-brâhmana. The verses are
taken from chapter titled "Incantations and ceremonies for procreation"

2 Religions In South Asia (RISA), a department under the American Academy of Religion (AAR), has been sponsoring studies for years now to deride Hinduism. Our gods and goddesses like Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, Laxmi and Kali, our rituals like
Upanayana our saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and scriptures, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Gita all have come under such distasteful sexual
connotation and nauseating voyeurism that one begins to wonder if it can at all
be called academics.

3 Kama in general means material desires and pleasures: physical, emotional, sexual and psychological. According to the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana: "Kama is the enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, assisted by the mind together with the soul. The ingredient in this is a peculiar contact between the organ of sense and its object, and the consciousness of pleasure which arises from that contact is called Kama."

4 Chapter 1, Preface, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton:

5 Chapter 2, Observations on the Three Worldly Attainments of Virtue,
Wealth, and Love, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana
, Translated by Sir Richard

6 Max Müller's Sacred Books of East series.

7 Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad

8 Vigyana Bhairava Tantra.

9, 10 Chapter III. On the Study of the Sixty-Four Arts, The Kama Sutra of
, Translated by Sir Richard Burton.

11 http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl-wed-types.htm


Surajit Dasgupta said...

I agree that sex was not taboo in Hindu scriptures. Nor was it absent in Hindu society initially. However, since this article equates the practice with love, and since it sees profundity in the matter of choosing one's partner, it must come with a caveat in this modern age, lest it be construed as the writer trying to justify reckless sexual behaviour as well.

Had this article been written, say, 20 years ago, I would have supported it whole-heartedly, as that was an era when elders in our society gave no importance to individual liberty in choosing one’s life partner. Even today many villages in India witness honour killings when a couple marries against the wishes of the families they belong to. If it is about fighting such regressive parents and clans, I’m ready to use scriptures as a weapon to fight them. That weapon will include urging the government to legalise gandharwa wiwaaha.

However, can the words "love" and "sex" be used inter-changeably in today's urban India? This article is surprisingly silent on adultery and promiscuity. While it talks about pre-marital affairs, it does not discuss two types thereof: (1) eventually marrying the person with whom one had had an affair, and (2) having an affair with one and marrying another. I support the first kind of pre-marital affair, not the second. Here's why:

If gandharwa wiwaaha is made legal, won't the second case above mean that the person's wedding ceremony was actually his/her second marriage (as "affair" should mean "marriage" by the gandharwa definition)?

As for an extra-marital affair, by the same token it amounts to two marriages.

Let me remind the writer that at least nine different kinds of marriages are cognizable by Hindu scriptures, including raakshasa wiwaaha which, bluntly put, means "rape". Does he support this kind of 'marriage' too? Won't it then betray the same mindset as that of the Islamic panchaayat that had ruled two years ago that Imrana Bibi, a woman raped by her father-in-law, was de facto her father-in-law's wife, post-rape?

Finally, let me address today's youth. If an affair means indulging in all acts (including sex) that a marriage inculcates except that one-night ceremony where hundreds of friends are invited, shouldn't there be a legal obligation to declare one's pre-marital affairs too? Since a divorced man/woman has to declare his divorcee status (and whether or not he/she has children) to marry again, the law must force a person who has had an affair, too, to declare that he/she is a de facto divorcee and that he/she had had sex though that didn't lead to reproduction. This, of course, means that I don’t believe people who claim that their affairs did not involve sex.

It's so very convenient to accept and reject provisions in the scriptures selectively. If you have real courage, accept it fully. If not, do not dangle a few stanzas from the scriptures that seek to elevate lust to the status of love.

Nithin.S said...

Thank you for reply.
The main intention of the article is to highlight the fact that eventhough few ideals and guidlines have been set by Hindu scriptures, there is no rigid rules.There is much flexibility and Hindu society historicaly has given enough personal space and individual choice.

In matters related to adultry and pre-marital sex, i believe that its personal choice. I may not practise it personally, but i wont oppose anyone having pre-marital as long as he is not forcing the women for it which will amount to rape.

The article does not deal with legal aspect too. Personally, i do not support giving status of Marriage to an affair.

As for the usage of scriptures, Unlike islamic society, Hindu society has so many scriptures stating things many times contradictory. People have freedom to accept and reject things they want.

Further i believe that, Hindu religion recognised that the values n principles in a society changes from time to time. hence, the laws of society, the rights and wrongs have been flexible and unbinding which is not the case in islamic society :)

Chandril said...

From the article it transpires that Nithin has wanted to uphold the Hindu philosophy of “sex”. Mockery made by the Occident about the Hindu philosophy is due to the religious difference. Hinduism is a varied concept which accepts a lot of things that are proscribed in other religions. But it is never true that “tantra” and “kama” (sex) are two sides of the same note. “Tantra” is practized for achieving spiritual enlightenment while “kama” can provide sexual ecstasy. Writers in the west purposefully malign Hinduism by calling it pornography.

But marriage and affairs can never be the same. The idea of disclosing one’s affairs before tying the knot, as suggested by Surajit Dasgupta, is void. Whether he accepts it or not there can be affairs which are absolutely free from sex, and it will be pretty difficult to prove those affairs.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

Chandril, here we are not talking of platonic relationships. If a relationship is platonic, the need to marry is anyway not felt with as much urgency as in the case of the affair that involves sex besides a tremendous urge to have your partner always by your side. Let us be clear about a few basic points in this issue. I can understand that one who has no experience of the following may not be able to appreciate it.

Sex is actually a very healthy habit not only for the body but also for the mind. It has been observed that couples who do not make love regularly have strenuous relationships. I pity the mentality of the majority of adult Indians who tend to presume that their parents and grandparents have stopped having sex years or decades ago and 'yet' they love each other. What do you mean by "yet"?

It may surprise a person who has not had sex in his/her life so far that the day after a couple (married or otherwise) has sex, living without the partner starts appearing so difficult -- something that was so easy and normal before sex happened. This, of course, does not take into account the mental framework of prostitutes.

Now, the longing and pain experienced in even a momentous separation after a single session of sex shows that sex of this type can be equated to love. This feeling of an unwedded couple is indistinguishable from the one felt by a legally wedded couple that has lived together happily for years on end.

I wish a woman responds to this, as it is mainly the female partner that goes crazy about a man right after she has had sex with him. It has been noticed in some cases, however, that the intensity of a man's yearning for a particular woman reduces (though love may remain intact) after he's had sex with his love interest. Thus considering the time span between the beginning of an affair and the day when a couple has sex for the first time, the cliché, "A man offers love for sex and a woman offers sex for love," sounds apt.

If an affair has led to your marriage (or you had had a long affair that unfortunately did not culminate in marriage), you will agree that an affair and a marriage are the same thing except that one-day/night occasion which is known as "wedding". Also, if you insist that you've had an affair which DID NOT involve sex, I'm sorry to say that I doubt the veracity and intensity of your love. By not having sex with the one you love (or loved), you actually did not do each other a favour; rather you denied each other an inexplicable kind of sublime pleasure. The denial made both of you miserable.

Men, I have an audacious piece of suggestion for you. If you really love a woman and don't want to lose her come what may, have sex with her. If she is a genuine woman, she will take on the might of the whole world, go against the wishes of her parents and society and make everyone her enemy if only to ensure that she is finally legally married to you.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

My comment above has a typical Indian context. The 'formula' suggested in its last paragraph may not work in other cultures.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.