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!
Now let's examine how valid these perspectives are.
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.
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.
References & Notes:
1 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
Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton.