Artists: Notes on Art Making

If we go back to the earliest surviving beliefs of the people who inhabited the sub-continent now called, India we find that in their first confrontation with human destiny, they were intense, open and unashamed like children finding out for themselves the facts about life. 'Where go the stars by day?' asked the Rigvedic poet. 'Why do the rains come down?' 'How did the world begin?' Such are the first naive questionings. These were followed by deeper probings into creation itself. And, after the few centuries of such hunches, there were also dialogues in which the whole problem of how man sees, what he perceives, in fact, why he came to be at all, is rationalized.

Among the common beliefs that arose from the period of the Upanishads, or the books thought out in the forests, the belief about creation was uttered through certain metaphors: Desire arose in the heart of the one supreme, who wished to unfold himself into the Many. And there is a corresponding desire in the men to become one, thus preserving, renewing and continuing the world process.

This symbolical truth came to be illustrated by the holy triangle inscribed with a point in the middle, in the ritual of the Hindu faith, and the act of biological creation became sacred in prayer. Later, the signs of the lingam and the yoni came to be elaborated by many cults, in different forms of Yantra drawings, plastic shapes of wood and stone sculpture, and myths were evolved to sanctify the act of conjugation, the marriage of male and female for procreation, on the , parallel of the original coming together of father god and mother goddess, of Shiva and Parvati and Krishna and Radha.

The philosophy of the Hindus entered into everyday life and became an unselfconscious popular belief, leading to a large-minded admission of sex as an organic part of human society, not only with the divine sanctions given to procreation, for the continuance of the human race, but in the play function of sex for the satisfaction of human desire.

Both these aspects of sex experience were written about in great detail in the Kama Sutra of Vatsayana, which is attributed to about the 2nd century B.C. and throughout the Gupta period which witnessed the classical renaissance of poetry, drama, painting, sculpture and architecture, the sutras of Vatsayana, with their intimate analysis of human emotions in the relations of male and female, entered creative literature. The sensuousness of the imagery of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti and Bhasa owes a great deal to the insights of Vatsayana. Indeed, one may say, that the pagan wisdom of this sage, which regarded the body-soul as the vehicle of various desires, continued to influence the arts by an almost routine acceptance of the elemental facts of man and woman, possessed in this world of manifold experience by passions, desires and tendernesses. Sometimes they were rendered in allegorical stories, at others in prose and verse, and frequently, in magical rites and in the superstitions of the folk.

There is no doubt that carnality, in its most unpsychological, forced and unfelt forms, was also practised by certain sects, under the guise of ritual, as, for instance, by the Kapalika cults which flourished underneath the surface of the accepted norms.

As the chaos of foreign invasions continued from generation to generation, sex, both in its sacred and profane aspects, was indulged in, without many sanctions, except those applied by the caste society. But when the terror produced by the incursions became a permanent feature of medieval societies, the religious taboos, particularly against the foreigners who indulged in rape, became more and more rigid, and sex was driven underground; injunctions against all coming together, outside organized marriage, began to be considered unholy, until a puritan tradition grew up which made cohabitation into a shame and the whole creative act, with its attendant joy, into the utterest degradation.

It is a well-known truth of social behaviour that constancy of convention runs parallel with change of habit, through the frequent rebellious overthrow of custom and routine habit.

The action and interaction of well-worn habit, and the defiance of orthodoxy, thus characterised the static feudal periods. Inside the warp and woof of outer discipline, certain classes used the old myths of the dalliances of the supreme god with the divine consort as a cover for their own pleasures. And as the basic Hindu doctrines were assimilative of a variety of ways of life, many contradictory expressions of individual behaviour co-existed, inspite of the definition and redefinition of the laws of Manu by the priestly oligarchies.

The impact of the Western invasions, infiltrations and incursions, from the 15th century and after, brought in a new kind of interpretation of sex, namely, that of the Christian church, which considered the conjugal act as sin. The various comments on Hindu customs and manners, written by European travelers, seem to condemn both the sacred and profane attitudes towards human sex union as degenerate.

Although, as I have explained above, there were many taboos, injunctions, and prohibitions against sex, prevalent since the earlier invasions of India, and women had even been put behind the veil and given an inferior status, the concept of obscenity became current mostly after the European conquests.

The Christian tradition itself had never been accepted wholesale even by the people of the West, because the pagan strains in the various European civilization had survived until before the industrial revolution. Except, however, that the outer shells of the laws, as well as the conventions established in Great Britain, after the puritan revolt and the imposition of the bourgeois morality established by the middle classes of the 18th, 19th centuries, imposed certain sanctions which were to become almost universal with the spread of the British Empire. It is in this way that the concept of obscenity entered into our own legal system and began to exercise its baneful influence on the social life of our own middle sections, who came strongly under the influence of the Christian church, curiously through the defense of their way of life, which was under attack from the protagonists of the British imperialist culture. As the alien rulers of India did not often conform to the Christian doctrine, the orthodox Hindus and the missionaries became unconsciously united in the contempt against the vicarious indulgences of both the 'White Sahibs' and the 'Brown Barons'. This alliance of orthodoxies may have been broken through the antagonism of Hindu and Christian faiths in many ways, but from different points of view, the sex taboos have conduced to the atmosphere of puritanism for the last hundred years.

The benign reign of Queen Victoria, with its promises of freedom to subjects, encouraged a new kind of Indo-British orthodoxy, and led to the wholesale acceptance, even by the rebels against British rule, of the inhibition against open sex. Furtiveness in all talk about the facts of birth and marriage, and a colossal hypocrisy about matters about which our ancient and medieval world had remained essentially worshipful, now began to prevail.

The attitude of our new generations still continues to inherit the taboos of the 19th century, because there has been little rediscovery of the various personalities of India of the past, and hardly any fundamental confrontation on the terrestrial plane in the contemporary period. The arranged marriage is accepted, by and large, with its implied violence on the woman, while the Western idea of courtship is willingly pursued for pleasure, to be discarded before the legal wedding with a wife.

The destructive criticism of my book Kama Kala, which was an essay in rediscovery of the tenderness in sex relations, as revealed in the best sculptures of Khajuraho (11th century A.D.) and Konarak (13th century A.D.), shows that even educated people will not yet admit the liberal understanding of other modes of life than our own historically constricted ones. And from the case of the President of India versus Padamse, in which the learned judges ruled that the presentation of 'Shiva fondling the breast of Parvati is obscene since it may excite the onlookers' sexual feelings', it is clear that our laws are far more rigid than those in the home country of puritanism, where D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was recently considered 'not to be obscene.'


Here have been three important test cases of the application of the law of obscenity in Great Britain and America in the contemporary period, which excited a tremendous amount of intellectual discussion in the West. The prevalent liberal thought in Europe showed a remarkable trend of resentment against the Christian taboo and against the laws founded on the basis of puritan prohibition.

The first case, which caused a good deal of debate, was the seizure, by the British Customs authorities, in the early twenties, of copies of the classic novel by James Joyce, Ulysses. The intelligentsia of Great Britain, among whom there were many who did not consider this book to have much literary value, still protested against the behavior of the Customs authorities, and, later on, the ban was lifted to allow Ulysses to be sold in the open market.

The second important case arose from the seizure, a few years after the Ulysses affair, by the British Customs authorities of D.H. Lawrence's novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. The banning of this book really became part of a censure against almost all the works of D. H. Lawrence, until the Home Secretary actually ordered the police to seize certain pictures painted by this novelist, when they were shown in a London gallery. Many of the writers, who were profoundly impressed by the creative genius of Lawrence, protested violently against the British Home Office, and the author himself wrote a famous pamphlet, PORNOGRAPHY AND OBSCENITY, which became the basis of a new wave of liberal thinking against the orthodox hypothesis, which emphasizes the sinfulness of humanity in relation to all pleasure. The controversy raged nearly for a generation and although the laws of obscenity remained on the British Statue Book, the sanctions of tolerant public opinion have made it very difficult for the courts to judge what is obscene and what is not obscene. Though the paintings of Lawrence, seized by the police, were never returned, his novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, appeared in an unabridged edition with an authentic text through penguin books series and sold more than a million copies.

The curtain of darkness, which has been lifted from Great Britain since that time, has, however, been brought down rather sharply on the USA. Both Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover were seized by the Customs authorities in that country. And, later, the novel of Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, was contested in the courts in a prolonged legal action and it is, so far as I know, still banned in the States. Lately, my own book Kama Kala, was seized by the American Customs authorities, although it is now freely allowed to sell in the USA, on the Continent of Europe and in Great Britain.

In India the situation is more paradoxical: while there is no ban on any of these books from the Home Office, the Sea Customs authorities, under orders from the Ministry of Finance, have prohibited the entry of all these books into India.

The cases I have cited above clearly reveal that while public opinion is, by and large, fairly enlightened in the West, the law of obscenity is still unrevised, mainly because the Christian church upholds its dogmatic assertion about sex as sin.

The intelligentsia is also divided into two sections: a small part believes in the revival of Christian values, right or wrong, and a large part believes in the extension of liberty on the principle that those who love liberty are not afraid of license.

The discussion further turns on the whole question of morality. The philosophers, who uphold the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant, naturally consider that what is good is good because the State says so. And other thinkers feel that morality is a relative question, which depends mainly on how different people feel and act in their struggle to grow into awareness. Between these two poles of opinion, there is a vast mass of inchoate, confused, lower middle-class thinking which observes the laws more in the breach than in the acceptance, and is yet too timid to form individual opinions on the issue, which is more psychological than moral. The resulting chaos is already obvious from the Kisch art of the Hollywood or the Denham film, or from the commercial sex novel, which titillates and excites the sexual passions, without satisfying them, but covers them with a sugary sentimentality of the last episode of conjugal felicity shown in the church or registry office marriage, which is supposed to make all illicit sex respectable. In fact, the insinuations, the innuendos, the subterfuges of sexual excitement, are permitted in the popular magazines to satisfy the 'dirty mind', so long as they can keep within the laws and not show any open acceptance of sex.

Those who are intelligent thus see clearly the prevalence of a vast lie, which allows the debasement of the primary impulses, through free fornication by suggestive words and phrases, without recognising the reality of the passion from which all procreation begins.


The recent discussions about the theme of sex in Indian art and literature seems to show that the liberalism of the Western intelligentsia has not yet percolated among our own intellectuals. Although Jawaharlal Nehru shared the opinions of those who had an open mind in regard to each particular case of what is obscene and what is not obscene, with a strong inclination in favour of freedom of the sexes in actual practice-especially after he became Prime Minister of India, he confessed to his difficulties in accepting, for India, the judgment of the British court about Lady Chatterley's Lover as 'not being obscene'. His colleagues among the political leaders of our country, with one or two generous exceptions, have thrown their weight on the side of orthodoxy. Especially was this so, when Jawaharlal took up cudgels on behalf of my book, Kama Kala, against the ban on it through the old British Sea Customs Act. The 'grey disease', as D. H. Lawrence called it, which drives sex underground, by encouraging sublimation through masturbation, or through illicit connection with the wives of others (without physical connection), is hypocritically indulged in by quite a few people in our country, who feel dissatisfied with their arranged marriages but have not the courage to accept their inner compulsions.

The literary intelligentsia appears to have absorbed the influence of the advanced European-American novel and increasingly postulates love as against the arranged marriage, without, however, coordinating this hypothesis with their own real lives.

There are any number of provocative, sensational and direct references to the beauty of the young female form in the essays of significant writers, but always with a view to the ultimate denigration of the very aspects which please them, which means that they accept titillation without accepting its consequences.

The commercial film has gone completely over to indecent suggestion and overt falsification of the sex impulse though the hero and the heroine are properly married off according to Vedic rites at the end, to avoid the film being censored. Kissing is taboo in Bollywood, Mollywood and Collywood, though cuddling is frequently given exaggerated emphasis in portrayal to compensate the audience for not seeing the mouths meet. The whole atmosphere is highly charged with the opposition between the respectable marriage ideal, in order to gloss over the meeting of the lovers, through 'pick up' or a 'chance get-together', in the Hollywood style. And this is contrasted against the violence of the villain, whom the audience is made to admire more than the feeble hero by all kinds of not very clever tricks. The plot is often taken from the West, and is juxtaposed onto Indian conditions, making for the kind of commercial sex which appears in No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Haddley Chase.

In the world of pictorial and plastic arts, the nude has begun to be copied from the model without any relevance to Indian social life. The ennoblement of the naked female, in the long tradition of Western art, has never been absorbed, and, after learning to draw from the hired female model in the art school, the young painter seeks his theme among the prostitutes in the cages of Bombay rather than in the beautiful females of ordinary life, because they are not within his reach. The more seemingly idealistic, traditional painters have tended to sentimentalise the semi-nudity of the female form, dripping with water from the transparent sari after the bath.

In this atmosphere it is not surprising that even the rediscovery of the ancient attitudes of frankness in sex matters should be deprecated by highly intelligent critics like Mr. Ashok Rudra.[1]

Actually, the main attack in Mr. Rudra's essay is on my own person, though he has tried to be objective by a detailed criticism of my exposition in Kama Kala, where I had put down Some Notes on the Philosophical Basis of Hindu Erotic Sculpture. I would like to ignore the personal references and merely say here that this critic and I differ wholly in respect of the sculptures of Khajuraho and Konarak. Whereas I believe that the thirty or so pieces in the Khajuraho and Konarak temples have been infused with classical grace and tenderness, Mr. Rudra begins his article by saying: 'I shall straightaway describe the erotic temple sculptures of India as obscene, knowing fully well the provocative effect it will have on certain readers, especially those who are likely to share the views of Mulk Raj Anand.'

There can hardly be any discussion on Khajuraho and Konarak when there is such a fundamental polarity in our total outlooks. And I do not propose to question the right of a critic to hold an opinion in this matter different from my own.

Only, I would like to say that in criticism, specially of the old art of India, which is intended to be mostly illustrative, inspite of the 'poetry by analogy' of plastic and pictorial forms, the mixture of philosophical and aesthetic considerations is somehow inevitable. I plead guilty to this charge, and inspite of Mr. Rudra's insinuations, I would still like to persuade him to do a total darshana of these master­ pieces, before condemning all 'the erotic temple sculptures of India as obscene.'

Undoubtedly, he would be right to condemn quite a few of the crude and violent dispositions, which human psychology cannot admit as part of sexual intercourse, even in the feudal period, such as the clever yogic pose in Khajuraho, which is a good carving though more suggestive of acrobatic skill than passional communion.

But it is important to remember that, however abhorrent the age of monogamy may find the practices of the age of polygamy and polyandry, the morality of these various ages remains relative and calls for different standards of judgment. The impatience of the single minded Mr. Rudra might be tempered with some regard for other forms of behaviour than those of the people produced by the modern Anglo-American civilisation. Clearly, he has not gone through the translations of classical Indian dramas, the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, the poems of Vidyapati, and of Chandidasa as well as Tagore, and perceived the implications of the lila of love making, in which, for good or ill, the Indian of various centuries took delight. Nor has he read with sympathy the translations of Tantric texts by Sir John Woodroffe.

Perhaps some awareness of Sadism, as practised in Soho square and Greenwich village, during the same time as Havelock Ellis, D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller were preaching the inviolability of genuine sex relations, would have had a salutary effect on his mind. And he would not have dismissed Lady Chatterley's Lover and Tropic of Cancer as unworthy of attention.

I am sanguine that he would not then have accused me of chauvinism, because he would have found at least two whole generations of the world intelligentsia agreed on the need to emancipate the human personality from the suppressed violences, self-defeating neuroses and hypocrisy, which have resulted from the negation of integral sex in many parts of the world today, at the same time as the commercialists have released all the temptations of mock sexuality for the purpose of salesmanship of bad culture. Obscenity and the dirty mind therefore go together, the dirt being the sediment of corruption left by the poisons of a whole civilisation going away from nature and its fundamental realities.

Apart from the deliberate and somewhat malicious verbal assaults on me, Mr. Rudra seems not to want to understand the implications of my analysis of the early medieval erotic sculptures for the present day. I have nowhere suggested that we can revive the beliefs and the rites of an earlier age. Nor am I conditioned to assume classicism at a time when the confusion of ideas, emotions and feelings, through the interaction of East and West, makes for a different kind of confrontation of human destiny than in periods of the monarchical orders, or of the ordered disorders. I would not deny that the attitude behind my writing is essentially, what Mr. Rudra means, when he accuses me of being a 'romantic', though I would like to define the rendering of this attitude rather differently, namely, in terms of an Indian expressionism. This may be further defined as the drama of the body-soul in the search for creative experience, as the weapon of a comprehensive humanism. As this may seem a rather wordy explanation of my position, may I illustrate this 'comprehensive' stand in terms of the man-woman relationship as I conceive it in relation to the contemporary period?

I believe that tenderness between the sexes, realised through sensitive understanding of the differences of attitudes of the couple, and the realisation, through inspired love, with its attendant manifestation in the spiritual and the physical union, may make for some kind of balance in the individual himself, as well as in his relationship with the opposite sex. The life-giving impulses expressed through the Lawrencian 'quick' or 'spark' of the Indian conception, do seem to me to afford the evidence of a vital connection between man and woman. And the gentle rhythmic calm of the balance between the male and the female, though seldom realised, may often, be seen in the aspiration of most conscious and even unconscious, folk. Perhaps the innocent abandon of passionate love-play in the midst of nature, stimulated by the participation in the areas of creative arts, provides the background for the fusion in the 'tender moment.'

I am not unaware that there is always the challenge of the un­reachable in the work-a-day world separateness. There are also the confusions, muddles and contradictions of our time, so many things of the routine life of the profit-ridden civilisation which reduce the body-soul to the tired pulp of a bored cynical acceptance of days and nights of loveless longing. Also, there are all the gadgets for a sensational make belief, which many young people mistake for the reality of connection. Often the vast and intricate disconnections between the arranged marriage couples are only bridged by the excitation by either partner of jealousies, hates and adumbrations of interests of the other man or the woman. The freedom of love, which can emerge from the apperception of genuine relationship, and which may demonstrate itself in the silent understanding when one hand comes into the other, is absent. The spirit which makes the complete human personality, is seldom possessed. Instead, the brain, the loins and muscular energies are summoned together, in mechanical juxtapositions and awkward assaults which make sex tantamount to rape. The flagellation of such intercourse seems to make up for the reality of what is imagined to be the connection between real lovers. And there are other vicarious indulgences, which nevertheless betray the fact that the would-be lover, who has snatched himself a she, is not near her, or the female who goes to college more to find a husband than to derive knowledge can only be intermittently aware of what she really wants.

In our country, the segregation and aloneness of the bulk of the population of both sexes makes for the most perverted sentimentalities, perversions and evasions. Under such circumstances, the more sensitive first seek the perfume of the elusive spirit, and wish to integrate the inward senses around those intensities of longing which are the stuff of poetic living.

In all creative arts, and in creative living or loving, there is then the compulsion of conscience, through which the subtlest vibrations of the body-soul out well the depths, in which feelings, emotions and passions have been surging against the conflicts of inner mood and outer situation, until, from the lamentations of discontent and ardent desire, the violins of the two bodies, with taut strings, may seek the sound of each other's music in the mirror of the four eyes. The transparent light does not come even then, unless the open and unashamed confrontation can invoke the prolonged ecstasies, or intense moments, of the love-play which the body-soul has instinctively longed for, and which the wisdom of men like Vatsayana has made into a delicate art.


[1] Erotic Temple Sculptures of India, by Ashok Rudra-Conspectus, No. 4, 1965.
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