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Hinduism, incomplete and abridged; and a response - The Indian Express

Ramesh Menon ()
19 December 1996

Title : Hinduism, incomplete and abridged; and response
Author : Ramesh Menon
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : December 19, 1996

I am a Hindu. I saw Husain's picture of Saraswati and was not outraged by
it. It is no labour of devotion but a modern, stylised work. Perhaps, as
many artists do, he drew a young lady he knew in the Devi's image. But the
splayed legs, and her state of near-nudity, could indeed give offence to a
conservative Hindu.

Also, such a work by a Hindu artist on a theme from another faith would evoke
a hysterical response. Hinduism is tolerant, and it seems Hindus are fed up
of their traditional liberality being taken for granted. But then, it is
worth remembering that Husain would hardly dare draw this picture today. The
drawing is mildly erotic, even mildly offensive, but the reaction to it has
been barbarous. Religious paranoia is hardly an authentic Hindu sentiment.

Let us not forget that Husain is a Muslim artist who was moved to paint Hindu
themes in an era when they were not fashionable in India, but Marx, Lenin and
Mao were. To say that his only intention in drawing Durga or Saraswati was
to demean them or insult the Hindus would fall short of the truth. But
perhaps the furore is not only about Husain's picture but about the modem,
politically aware Hindu's attitude towards his religion.

So are we embarrassed by the erotic aspects of our faith? For, if we take
such violent exception to Husain's Saraswati, what should we make of
Kalidasa, Jayadeva, and the great Vyasa himself? Or of Vishnu appearing
before Siva as Mohini, and their union? Or the Devi in Kodungalloor being
worshipped with songs that would make a sailor blush?

And Krishna's And so much more, because nakedness and love-making were never
considered 'dirty', but sacred. Our ancient artists used explicit eroticism
in their most devotional work. Should we raze their temples, then, or burn
the kumarasambhava, the Gita Govinda and the Puranas? Should the cave in
Amarnath, perhaps, be sealed for obscenity? Compared to all this, Husain's
Saraswati does seem mild enough.

To me, Hinduism is the advaita of the Upanishads, the magical splendour of
the Puranas, the lyric purity of the Ramayana, the mystic mantras of the
Vedas, the earthy wisdom, profound morality and grandeur of the Mahabharata
and the living grace present in thousands of temples across India. And yes,
we can't deny it, Hinduism is also the eroticism of the Rasakridha, the
Kamasutra, of Konark and Khajuraho. All of which the Hindu understands and

There is hardly another great faith as liberal as Hinduism. And,
understandably, the Hindu worries about the mockery his tradition attracts
from younger, more unitarian and puritanical religions. Some years ago, a
Parsi friend was holidaying with us in Hong Kong, and I took him to the fire
temple there. The priest spoke to us of the mystic fires and we listened with
interest for an hour. Then, suddenly, he turned to me and asked sneeringly
whether Krishna had died of syphilis, since he had been "fooling around with
all those cowherd women". I was stunned.

Hinduism offers me God a the immaculate parabrahmam; as Brahma, Vishnu and
Siva; as Rama and Krishna, Narasimha and Matsya; Ganesh and Kartikeya; as
Lakshmi and Saraswati, and as infinity more. Hinduism has a cosmic vision of
time such as no other religion does. Do I want to reduce my complex and
incomparable faith to a narrow orthodoxy? Not likely.

I don't want Hinduism to be, censored so it can compete politically. I don't
want it abridged to suit these loveless times, or reduced into a bigot's
petty dogma. Finally, eternal Bharati Devi, mother of art, mother of
galaxies, hardly needs me to defend her modesty. But I myself have need of
her grace to preserve me from intolerance. We need to resolve our
differences, not fan the flames of wrath that have been lit. Hindu, Muslim,
and voluble secularist, too, must consider this.


A response

Ashok Chowgule
President, Mumbai Pranth.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

December 19, 1996.

This has reference to "Hinduism, incomplete and abridged" (Dec 19) by Shri
Ramesh Menon. A person who cannot be outraged by a nude Saraswati has no
business to talk about protecting Hinduism. It shows a sick state of mind,
and one does wonder how a publication like Indian Express can give space for
such drivel. Shri Menon can give such lectures to his pseudo-secular
collaborators, but let him not be under the impression that the masses will
be fooled by his idiotic statements.

In the 50s, Nehru was very fond of saying that majority communalism is a
greater danger than minority communalism. The same is being said by people
of the ilk of Shri Menon today. Their whole programme is not secularism, but
to denigrate Hinduism. The fellow-travelers of Nehru were guiding the
destiny of this nation, until Ram Janmabhoomi came to the centre stage. The
power of this movement has been appreciated by Shri V S Naipaul, when he
said, "What is happening in India is a new historical awakening....Indian
intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not
understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is
happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at
times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening." (The Times of
India, July 18, 1993.)

The pseudo-secularists are afraid of losing the power that they have had, and
so are in the process of creating confusion. A year ago, Shri Menon wrote:
"The State's ostrich attitude towards God has led to the hijacking of the
Hindu religion by illiberal men, and portions between faiths have hardened,
perhaps irreparably. It is time the Indian state reclaimed God and plural
worship in the name of the Indian people....There is no doubt the Congress is
responsible - the way to hell is paved with good intentions. But, the
Congress was also the party responsible for the stifling social economy we
lived with for almost 40 years." (Expelling God, Indian Express, Nov 19,
1995.) This ostrich attitude was authenticated by the pseudo-secularists,
who now want to deflect the blame on to some one else. This intellectual
dishonesty is a feature of Indian secularists, whose God is Marx.

Yours sincerely,

(Ashok Chowgule)

The Editor, The Indian Express,
Express Tower, Nariman Point,
Mumbai 400 021.

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