Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I Doubt It

People often argue that ancient or even pre-medieval India was sexually more liberal than it later became. They often put forth this argument in favour of more sexual freedom in the country today and against moral policing.

While I would agree with their cause of more sexual freedom, I somehow do not agree with the fact that India was some kind of a sexual paradise in the old times. Being a civilization that has preserved its roots for more than three thousand years, it seems highly unlikely that we would take such a one-eighty-degree turn in this respect.

The evidences put forth in support of this argument often comprise of ancient Indian sculpture/paintings like those at Khajuraho, Ajanta and Ellora or even those belonging to the Mughal times. These often depict couples in a variety of sexual positions and even sex with animals and sex in public surrounded by numerous vassals and servants. Literature such as the Kamasutra are cited every now and then. Epics such as the Mahabharat and works of Kalidas also depict relative sexual freedon.

Although I have no doubts that ancient India was more liberal in these matters that we now are, I have my doubts regarding the extent of this liberalism. Even a cursory glance at above examples is enough to show that most of these works were patronized by the ruling class. The actual perpetrators of these sexual acts were also either gods or people of the ruling class. I’m yet to encounter an example were people of the lower strata of the society or even the middle class, such as it were at that time, subscribes to these liberal ideas.

An even more cursory glance at today’s society will reveal that the lifestyle of the rich and elite, the P3P’s in today’s parlance, is far removed from the lifestyle of the masses. Indeed, the amount of sexual promiscuity in the privileged section of the society is far more than that in the less privileged one. I have reason to believe that it was so in the ancient times too. Kings were kings – absolute monarchs – what was to prevent them from breaking the sexual norms of the society – whatever they were.

One of the fundamental natures of the Indian society has been different codes of conduct for different sections of the society. The Kshatriya was allowed to eat meat, hunt, play dice, keep as many wives as possible, drink alcohol – a lot many vices were allowed, in fact, almost all of them. A Brahmin was supposed to lead a more austere life. Eat what is called “satvik” food. Refrain from sexual promiscuity etc etc. Thus, while Kunti can bear a child without marriage and Draupdi can take five husbands at a time, Ahilya was turned to stone for a crime she did not even commit. Indra and Chandra were repeatedly punished for misbehaving with the wives of Brahmins while they could freely watch Apsaras dance in their own court. Clearly the rules of the game were different for different people.

In light of all this, what the evidence merely suggests is that only a certain (upper) strata of the society was sexually liberal rather than the entire society. Even today the upper class in sexually liberal so there hasn’t been much difference. The lower strata are conservative and I believe that it was conservative all along.

11 comments:

  1. Being a dolt, I don't know whether this is true or not. But it did make for interesting reading.

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  2. Ancient India was definitely more liberal in their sexual habits.How do you think AIDS came onto the human race? AIDS was a diease confined to just the monkeys. So it's obivous how it came onto humans. Scriptures are supposedly meant to teach everyone certain ethics, so I doubt if they would have included anything that had to do with sexual activites, as sex was considered an act of pleasing the animal instincts.

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  3. I remember discussing something similar with you.

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  4. There is a difference. In the ancient times, people(may be of higher classes only) were not hesitant in displaying their sexuality in public. Be it statues of Khajuraho or epics of Kamasutra, it was very well expressed and gracefully accepted as well while today, explicit sex is there in the upper class but they are very reluctant to make it public. They do it behind the curtains and want it to remain like that, which is entirely different from what was the practice of past.

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  5. @Atul:
    You see, there is a difference in social structure too. Those were the times of absulute monarchy while today we have democracy.

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  6. I agree with your views, those scriptures in the temples are of divine nature and not to be mistaken, regarding the sex with animals, what i have heard from my grandpa is, some god i dunno the name while wandering in the forest had sex with some buffalo which gave birth to Mahishasuran who is a demon. So the moral of the story is having sex with an animal is bad. We have to understand in that way i guess. Sexual liberalisation doesnt mean pre marital sex, becoz everything has an age and sex too has to happen in the right time at a persons life. One more thought in my opinion is sex is a precious gift that a cultured human being has to preserve and give for their beloved, dont give it to others.

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  7. What difference does it make, whether there is democracy or monarchy?

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  8. You see, in a democracy a ruling class cannot behave in the manner that it would like to. In a monarchy therre is no one to stop them so that they'd do whatever they want. In India there has been a long tradition of the men of ruling class being free womanisers. Such things were always shrugged off as "bade logon ke shauk". Its in a democracy that you have to worry about "image".

    @Behzad:
    Yes, I do remember that discussion. I'm sorry. At that time I said that Ajanta and Ellora does not have sexual paintings. They do. I learnt that only recently.

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  9. I dont know much, So can't get who is right.

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  10. Nothing to be sorry about :) Your arguments do make sense though.

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  11. A country of a Billion hypocrites. We curse people who talk openly of pre marital sex, we ban porngraphy, We don't give sex education. Yet we turn every woman (who we also rever as god) into a factory of sorts churning out babies. check out Hypocrisy #01

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