The Politics of the female body

Part I: Nudity, Bollywood, and the Hindu Eros

[Counters temporarily disabled]

[Part I / Part II / Part III]

[Digest is still being compiled, copyedited, proofed and reformatted; introduction incomplete and to be revised – Sunthar]

This thread (links provided to the original unedited posts at the Abhinava forum) began with Ray Harris’ query about the history of Indian modes of dressing (following upon the heels and as a prolongation of an earlier post on Bollywood censorship) that Rajiv Malhotra readily endorsed to critique the ‘politics’ of Hindutva morality and advocate a return to pre-Islamic Hindu-Buddhist tolerance and even ‘permissiveness’ with regard to nudity and the depiction of sexual behavior.  The renewed discussion quickly took the form of a multisided debate with contributions also from Dominique Abalain, Sumita Ambasta, Vinay Bahl, Nandakumar Chandran Ashok Chowgule, Ray Harris, Jack Hill, Yashwant Malaiya, Paul Kekai Manansala (who has richly illustrated this digest with ancient bare-breasted frescos from across the Indian subcontinent), Kevin Merwin, Umair Ahmed Muhajir, R.M. Paulraj, Chitra Raman, V. Ravishankar, Sugrutha, A.H. Venkitesh, Radhakrishna Warrier, and Sunthar Visuvalingam. Only those posts that focus on (social emancipation with regard to) attitudes towards women’s bodies, sexual behavior, and the evolution of erotic sensibility within Hinduism and across Indian culture, have been retained in this digest. However, this wide-ranging discussion still covers such ground as ancient attitudes to courtesans and eroticism in Tantra, upper-caste control over dress-codes of lower-caste women, comparison of Hindu and Greek goddesses (including Helen of Troy), role models for women inside and outside of H/Bollywood, etc. Parallel and intertwined threads discussing the specificity of Hindu ethics (as opposed to Western ‘moralism’), the aesthetic norms of Bollywood, the imposition/banning of hijab in Muslim/Western countries, and the phallic dimension of the Shivalinga have been compiled into separate digests. This Part I ends with […]. Part II (“To Bare or Not to Bear?”) focuses primarily on women’s clothing and caste regulations in what is today the state of Kerala. Part III (“Anglo-Saxon Feminism and the Islamic Hijab”) is devoted to the confrontation between patriarchal tradition and women’s emancipation, especially as it has crystallized in the controversy over the imposition/banning of the Muslim head-scarf (hijab). Readers are advised to check the dates of posting if they notice any discrepancies in the logic.

I have inserted introductory comments to contextualize some of the posts [Do let me know if your views have been inadvertently omitted or distorted: this is an evolving archive!]. Having decided to make this archive available to the public, I would like to offer some concise clarifications—a conceptual grid as it were—of my own take on the various perspectives that are under scrutiny in this discussion:

Vedic sex and interdictory sacrality: The ‘pre-classical’ sacrifice, as exemplified by the Mahāvrata, was a festive occasion that included overt and ‘transgressive’ sexuality such as intercourse in public between a brahmin student and a prostitute. Such features were not merely the intrusion of popular licentiousness but integral to the meaning and success of the solemn ritual, such as the queen having to copulate with the (immolated royal) horse during the imperial Azvamedha. The long obsolete Gosava, for example, required the sacrificer to observe vows that included a series of incestuous unions. Though artistic performances and even ‘theatrical’ elements were integral to these ‘popular’ celebrations, the outlook was fundamentally a ritual one that enforced various normative prescriptions and sanctioned their carefully circumscribed violation. Even after the systematic elimination of such ‘perverse’ practices through the classical reform, the brahmanical sacrifice retained the sexual symbolism at its very core, for the real celebrant of these rites was the husband-and-wife pair conceived as a single bi-unity (dampatī). An autonomous ‘moral’ domain never emerged within this evolution to pit some universalizing standard of the good and the ‘decent’.  

Tribal license and brahmanical normativity: Though whatever little we know of tribal mores and dress-codes is mostly through extrapolating from a confrontation of the testimony of ancient classical texts with contemporary anthropological fieldwork, it is clear that the brahmanical norm did not extend beyond the patriarchal boundaries of Hindu-Buddhist-Jaina society. The regional variations in dress-codes and their evolution through time should therefore be replaced within a larger context of acculturation between different local (often matriarchal tribal and other) groups and the strict subordination of women and control of their sexuality as reflected in the (project underlying the) law-codes of Manu. [to be completed]

Abrahamic morals and Pornography:

Bollywood censorship and Transgression:

Aesthetics of Shrngārādvaita:

This compilation will be eventually complemented by others including those listed above; in the meantime please check out the (incomplete) Abhinavagupta forum-index under the following headings and topics:

 

[Forum-Index]

 

Index to threads below on “The Politics of the Female Body (Part I)” dialogue:

 

History of Indian clothing [did women go bare-breasted in the pre-Islamic period?] - Ray  8

Re: History of Indian clothing [accounts by foreign travelers should not be over-rated] - Nandakumar 9

Re: History of Indian clothing [bare-breasted pre-Islamic art corroborates foreign accounts…] - Paul 10

Re: History of Indian clothing […but foreign accounts should be validated against indigenous testimony] - Nandakumar 11

Re: History of Indian clothing [negative effect of Islamic/Abrahamic prudery on ‘liberal’ Hindu mores] - Rajiv  12

Re: History of Indian clothing [such Abrahamic norms to be welcomed if they reinforce Hindu tradition] - Nandakumar 13

Re: History of Indian clothing [request for bibliographic references] - Nandakumar 13

Re: History of Indian clothing [political instrumentalization of women’s bodies, clothes, and tradition] - Umair 14

Re: History of Indian clothing [why resort to Hindutva-bashing on even the slightest pretext?] - Ashok  16

FW: History of Indian clothing [Anglo-Saxon attitudes to Asian bare-breastedness and Malay sarong] - Carl 17

Re: FW: History of Indian clothing [many Malay students continue to wear sarong at home] - Paul 19

Re: History of Indian clothing [head-covering may be due to Greek influence reinforced during Muslim rule] - Yashwant 20

Re: History of Indian clothing [traditional societies have covered up after encounter with Abrahamic morality] - Ray  20

Re: History of Indian clothing [depiction of women in art might be imaginary rather than based on real-life] - Nandakumar 22

Re: History of Indian clothing [brahmin males went bare-breasted especially when performing rituals] - Paul 23

Re: History of Indian clothing [why would only the twice-born gaze lasciviously at ‘untouchable’ breasts?] - Ashok  24

Re: History of Indian clothing [pre-Islamic ascetic attitudes should not be confused with Taliban prudery] - Paul 25

Re: History of Indian clothing [Buddhist noblewomen traditionally went bare-breasted as opposed to nuns] - Paul 28

Re: History of Indian clothing [women and men were generally bare-breasted in many Asian societies] - Paulraj 29

Re: History of Indian clothing [Details of bare-breasted attire in Kerala just 2 generations ago] - Radha  32

Re: History of Indian clothing [problem is not nudity by idea of sin in onlooker, Lalleshwarī] – Ray  34

Re: Ethics in Bollywood [discussion & (Bollywood’s) understanding of ‘eroticism’ is too male-centered] - Chitra  35

Re: History of Indian clothing [Lalla’s nakedness probably more poetic metaphor than real-life behavior] - Jack  36

Re: History of Indian clothing [can’t reset dress-codes to pre-Islamic ‘freedom’ for sensibility has changed] - Chitra  37

“The Politics of the female body: Nudity, Bollywood, and the Hindu Eros” (svAbhinava digest—provisional title) - Sunthar 40

Re: The politics of the female body and the ‘Aryanization’ of India [rather a Buddhist innovation in dressing] - Paul 41

Re: The politics of the female body and the ‘Aryanization’ of India [yes, but an ‘Aryanizing’ Buddhist innovation in dressing] - Sunthar 43

Re: The politics of female body and ‘Aryanization’ of India [Buddhism due rather to non-Aryan influence] - Paul 43

Re: History of Indian clothing [double projection of ‘prudishness’ and ‘eroticism’ completely distorts picture] - Dominique  44

Re: The politics of female body and ‘Aryanization’ of India [Draupadī’s bodice may have been see-through]—Paul 46

Re: History of Indian clothing [Wearing the Muslim hijab is not a feminist statement for it confuses freedom ‘from’ with freedom ‘to’ – need to restore agency to women everywhere] - Ray  47

Re: History of Indian clothing [problem is not the dress-code in itself but its political instrumentalization] - Umair 50

Re: History of Indian clothing [chastity & license cannot be simply correlated to stringency of dress-codes] - Paul 51

Re: History of Indian clothing [ideological position of Western intellectuals that modern state should intervene to ‘free’ Muslim women from patriarchal control] - Sunthar 52

Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, & aesthetics of (Hindu) ‘catholicism’—Sunthar 52

Re: History of Indian clothing [(Muslim) women should be allowed to choose (even) to wear the head-scarf] - Paul 61

Re: [Muslim head-scarf must be replaced in larger (assimilationist) context – relevance of Indian case] - Sunthar 61

Of freedom and hijabs [Right of host-cultures to preserve their own norms in the face of Muslim double-standards] - Ray  61

Re: Of freedom and hijabs [Women not legally obliged to wear scarf in most Muslim countries] - Paul 61

Re: History of Indian clothing [Nadars fought to ascend caste-hierarchy rather than to wear breast-cloth (plus folklore on their Tamil origins and status)] - Radhakrishna  61

Re: History of Indian clothing [Nairs didn’t allow Nadar women higher rank than their own bare-breasted women] - Paulraj 64

Re: History of Indian clothing [clarification of Tamil Nadars’ contested place in the Travancore jāti-hierarchy and plea to replace caste-discrimination within global context ] - Radha  67

Re: History of Indian clothing [some concise historical background on the socio-economic transformations driving the quest of the Shanar caste for upward mobility] - Sunthar 69

Re: History of Indian clothing [Pillai caste were originally Tamils who adopted Malayalam and had been accorded high landowner status by the Nambudiri brahmins] - Paulraj 71

Re: Of freedom and hijabs [strict imposition of traditional norms of dress in Islamic countries even while demanding exempt status for Muslim women in the West]—Ray  72

Re: Of freedom and hijabs [discussion of hijab should maintain comparative thrust and especially its relevance to traditional Indian dress-codes] - Sunthar 72

Re: Of Freedom and Hijabs [] - Umair 73

Re: Of freedom and hijabs []—Paul 74

Re: Of freedom and hijabs []—Dominique  77

Re: Of freedom and hijabs []—Sunthar 78

Re: History of Indian clothing  79

Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation  84

Re: Of Freedom and Hijabs 84

Re: History of Indian clothing  87

Re: History of Indian clothing  88

Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, 88

Re: History of Indian clothing  89

Bosoms of Sri Lanka  90

Re: History of Indian clothing  92

Re: History of Indian clothing  93

Re: History of Indian clothing  94

Re: History of Indian clothing  98

Jataka Tales in Paint 101

Re: History of Indian clothing  106

Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, 109

Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, 110

Re: History of Indian clothing  111

Re: History of Indian clothing  112

Re breasts as sexual symbols (please ignore previous mail) 113

Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, 118

Re: History of Indian clothing  119

Re breasts as sexual symbols 121

Re breasts as sexual symbols 122

Re breasts as sexual symbols 124

Re breasts as sexual symbols 125

Re breasts as sexual symbols 126

Re breasts as sexual symbols 126

Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts 128

Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts 129

Asokan breasts 130

Questions of Eros in Hollywood: A similar problem? 133

Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts 135

Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts 136

Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts 138

Re: Questions of Eros in Hollywood: A similar problem? 139

Reply to Sumita  140

Women as other and eroticized breasts 142

Re: Reply to Sumita  143

Re: Women as other and eroticized breasts 145

Re: Reply to Sumita  147

Re: Reply to Sumita  148

You may want to fix this website typo. Also, an incorrect feedback link... 148

Re: You may want to fix this website typo. Also, an incorrect feedback link... 149

Re: Reply to Sumita  151

Re: Reply to Sumita  153

Re: Reply to Sumita  153

Re: Reply to Sumita  156

Re: Reply to Sumita  157

Helen of Troy—for Sumita  159

[Indo-Greek] Light 160

Indo-Greek parallels as reflected in Homer’s Iliad—Helen, the Trojan horse and the (inner) conflict of civilizations 160

Re: [Ind-Arch] Hot News : First ever discovered labeled portraiture of king As 164

Re: Reply to Sumita  166

Re: Reply to Sumita  168

Desired devis 169

Re: Desired devīs 171

Intelligent Women  172

Re: Reply to Sumita  173

Responding to Nandakumar 174

Why no nude goddesses or queens today? 177

Reply to Sugrutha  179

Re: Reply to Sugrutha [female sexuality was viewed as a disaggregating force in traditional society—SV] 180

Re: Why no nude goddesses or queens today? 182

Female sexuality  184

Re: Why no nude goddesses or queens today? 185

Female sexuality  186

Please repost your preceding message—my apologies! 187

Re: Why no nude goddesses or queens today? 188

Re: Female sexuality  190

Re: Female sexuality  193

[What is the history of women writers in India?] 194

Re: [What is the history of women writers in India?] 196

 

[Follow-up on the lively discussion that Ray had sparked off earlier on Bollywood censorship of exposure, kissing, etc.]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3601]

 History of Indian clothing [did women go bare-breasted in the pre-Islamic period?] - Ray

From: Ray Harris

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 12:15 am

Sunthar—new thread....

Hi all,

This is a new thread although it is somewhat related to the Bollywood thread and the discussion of non-normative ethics. It has to do with the changing code of modesty. It was sparked by reading some comments made by early Western travelers in India, particularly Marco Polo, who visited the Tamil lands (c. 1290). (These quotes are from a short history of India). Apparently he tried to find a tailor but soon discovered that Indians wore a single piece of cloth. The quote says, “Men and women, they are all dark, and go naked, save for a fine cloth worn about the middle.” The suggestion here is that women did not cover their breasts. Polo went on to say that, “They look not on any sin of the flesh as a sin.”

There is also a quote from a Russian trader (c. 1470), who visited the port of Chaul and said, “People go about naked, with their heads uncovered and their breasts bare...”

This short history also, by way of comparison, mentions that Hindu Balinese women often went bare breasted as late as pre-WW2.

These incidental snippets might suggest that the more modest standards of dress for women today developed some time after the 15th century. Was this due to the more conservative demands of Muslim rulers, especially the Mughals? When did India start to see the naked breast as immodest? This seems not to be a traditional attitude, but rather an imported one. 

If the cover up only started as late as the 15th century, this means that for most of its history India has had a rather different idea of modesty. What does this then mean for Bollywood censorship and a true Indian renaissance in terms of moral codes? BTW, this is not about licentiousness but about uncovering a pre-Islamic view of the Indian idea of the body devoid of the Abrahamic idea of sin and the particularly Western fetishization of the breast. How has this ‘Abrahamization’ affected other attitudes toward the body, toward sex, and ideas of modesty?

Does anyone know of any work done in this area?

Regards,

Ray Harris


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3602]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [accounts by foreign travelers should not be over-rated] - Nandakumar

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 8:56 am

 

> Marco Polo, who visited the Tamil lands (c. 1290).

> There is also a quote from a Russian trader (c. 1470)

> This short history also, by way of comparison, mentions that Hindu Balinese women often went bare breasted as late as pre WW2.

> These incidental snippets might suggest [Ray]

But that’s a huge suggestion.

We cannot only go by foreigners accounts of historical Indian dress codes. We also have to look at indigenous sources.

In response to Ray’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3601


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3604]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [bare-breasted pre-Islamic art corroborates foreign accounts…] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 9:43 am

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Nandakumar Chandran wrote:

But that’s a huge suggestion.

We cannot only go by foreigners accounts of historical Indian dress codes. We also have to look at indigenous sources.  [Nandakumar]

There are so many independent confirmations of foreign sources that it would be impossible to ignore them or suggest some grand conspiracy in their accounts.

However, there are numerous examples of bare-breasted women or women wearing sheer breast-covering (uttarīya) in Indian art.

It was said, for example, that in Sri Lanka noble women went bare-breasted. And in early Buddhism, nuns were required to cover their breasts after adolescence meaning that other women had no such restriction.

Court lady from Begram

Image from Cave II, Ajanta showing a sheer uttarīya.

Also, it’s not reasonable to deny that present-day traditional clothing especially head covering was influenced by the Muslim presence.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[In response to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3602]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3608]

 Re: History of Indian clothing […but foreign accounts should be validated against indigenous testimony] - Nandakumar

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 12:04 pm

There are so many independent confirmations of foreign sources that it would be impossible to ignore them or suggest some grand conspiracy in their accounts. [Paul]

Paul, as usual you’re letting your imagination run wild.

Wherever did I say the above?

I merely said that indigenous literature should also be consulted in this regard. And probably they present a truer picture of the topic than foreign accounts.

[In response to Paul (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3604]


[Rajiv’s intervention here is better understood in the context of his earlier claim that Hindu ethics is ‘non-normative’]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3605]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [negative effect of Islamic/Abrahamic prudery on ‘liberal’ Hindu mores] - Rajiv

From: Rajiv Malhotra

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 10:45 am

Ray has courageously opened up a can of politically incorrect worms. The change of clothing to comply with Islamic norms is just one facet of many similar subversions which Indians (especially the elderly) chat about privately. Another similar change mentioned is that Hindu weddings in North India are conducted at night whereas in the South and in earlier times these were held in broad daylight without fear of the bride being kidnapped by Muslims. Also, Hindu women cover their heads today and this is widely accepted as a sign of Hindu religiosity when in fact it was adopted out of fearful respect for the Islamic rulers’ normative injunctions.

When Indian women today go bare breasted (in cinema), have short hair (depicted in Ajanta caves), and don’t cover their heads, why do the Hindutva complain rather than celebrating it as a return to the freedom they once enjoyed? Could it be that many Hindu morals got Abrahamized / masculinized during Islamic and Victorian rules to the extent that now these colonial constructs are the new “Hindu ways”...?

Furthermore, it is politically incorrect for South Asian or postcolonial scholars to problematize such negative Islamic influences. Positive Islamic influences are okay/mandatory. To theorize that “Hinduism was constructed” by Sufi/British influences has become the latest fashion—Hawley’s School. Why not open the academic door to look at all kinds of influences both good and bad?

Oldenberg’s book showing the British origins of dowry extortion got mysteriously withdrawn by OUP India. (I wonder why RISA’s [Religion in South Asia academic forum] Kathleen Erndl has not issued a fatwa against OUP as they famously did against Motilal!). Dirks’ book showing the British origins of caste rigidity has not been blocked in India (yet) but they are avoiding dealing with its thesis as that would undermine the politics of Hinduphobia.

Regards,

Rajiv

[Response to Ray’s post (Nov 23, 2005)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3601]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3607]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [such Abrahamic norms to be welcomed if they reinforce Hindu tradition] - Nandakumar

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 12:11 pm

Why do the Hindutva complain rather than celebrating it as a return to the freedom they once enjoyed? [Rajiv]

Hindutva-vādins [proponents] can answer for themselves.

But as per my opinion:

Times change. We learn new things—from foreigners as well. If such things teach us to live by the dharma (the core values of the civilization as taught by Gautama Siddhārtha, Shankara, Thiruvalluvar, etc.) better, then we absorb it and integrate it into our culture.

[In response to Rajiv’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3605]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3609]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [request for bibliographic references] - Nandakumar

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 12:16 pm

Also, Hindu women cover their heads today and this is widely accepted as a sign of Hindu religiosity when in fact it was adopted out of fearful respect for the Islamic rulers’ normative injunctions. [Rajiv]

Can we have some reference for this?

Nandakumar

[In response to Rajiv’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3605]

---------------

Friends,

Just a recommendation for the time being: It might be best to respond to an interlocutor’s argument in a single reply rather in a burst of machine-gun fire (Gattling gun?). Not only does this reduce the amount of emails to read :-(and moderate:-) but also ensures that others do not likewise, without the benefit of seeing where you are really coming from, start shooting back in quick succession (with the rest of us bystanders being caught in the cross-fire?).

Of course, we all have after thoughts and corrections, and these cannot be avoided in any conversation (let alone a public forum).

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3610] -

 Re: History of Indian clothing [political instrumentalization of women’s bodies, clothes, and tradition] - Umair

From: Umair Muhajir 

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 6:27 pm

 

Ray,

I would be hesitant to generalize about India as a whole from accounts of the Tamil lands and/or Bali.  To put it another way, I have no doubt that Islamic influence is reflected in the dress of non-Muslims in India today (it would be strange if this weren’t so, given the long history involved), and certainly Western dress is rather well-represented in India today: so much so that even in remote villages one can find males wearing pants and shirts.  But I do not think there is evidence of any standardized mode of female dress having prevailed all over India, whether in medieval times or ancient times.  That is, dress is a phenomenon that is quite likely to be “local,” particularly in an era when one mode of dress was not presented as a symbol of progress/backwardness, etc. 

But both you and Rajiv have hit upon an important point.  As I have argued elsewhere, the Hindutva opposition to females dressing a certain way has little to do with Hindu dharma, and everything to do with the nationalisms and ideologies of which they are heirs.  For ease of usage, let us call this Abrahamic patriarchy; and let us recognize that in its modern incarnation (not only in India, and not only among the Hindutva-vādins) what we have here is Abrahamic patriarchy married to a certain conception of the nation.  On this view, women are not just women but are signifiers, and not just signifiers of the “old” values of honor and chastity, but also signifiers of the “new” values of national progress, strength, etc. The former by itself is problematic from my perspective; married (no pun intended) to the latter, without addressing the former, makes it even worse.  In a word: cultures and societies are “judged” (and typically found wanting) by universalists in direct proportion to how “they” treat “their” women.

One has only to consider the history of India to appreciate the impact of this point of view.  By the early twentieth century, a wife out of purdah was the sine qua non of the ‘modern’ Muslim (with the perversely patriarchal result that many North Indian Muslim males practically forced their wives and daughters to do away with purdah), and more generally the question of satī, dowry-related issues, and child brides were all used to mark out India as ‘backward’.  The issue here is not whether or not such practices are just fine (I take it as axiomatic that they are certainly not above critique), and nor whether these practices were prevalent (as unlike the Hindutvavādins, I do not believe that rarity inoculates one from critique).  Rather, the issue is the ideological use of the “woman question,” an instrumental use that is itself rather patriarchal.  This trope has survived down to the present day, with Western liberals (typically) horrified by purdah (viewing the issue purely through a prism of choices exerted by hermetically sealed subjects); and even in India, where the Muslim is ‘marked’ as backward in large part because of the condition of “his” women.  And with the Hindutvavādins, although no-one has ever attacked or stigmatized an Indian male for wearing Western dress, with women suddenly this becomes an issue.  And nor are the Hindutvavādins the only ones: although they have jumped on the bandwagon of the recent Khushboo “controversy” (in itself a rather weasel term for the social cowardice on display), the attitude of UPA-constituent PMK exhibits a classic demonstration of the term “fascist.”  What all this reveals is the instrumentalization of woman, who serves as a stand in for, as a cipher pointing to, various abstractions.  Unfortunately this sort of service is not merely a legacy of India’s Islamic conquerors (though it is certainly in part that), nor is it merely the result of colonial attitudes towards India (though it is certainly in part that), and it seems to me that the metaphysics underlying such a view are “in place” even prior to the Islamic invasions; the combination is highly problematic, and what is most disappointing is the utter political failure involved, a political failure in which complicity is rather widely shared (i.e., even accepting the “Islamization” thesis wholesale, why have Hindus rather enthusiastically imbibed various “Abrahamic” attitudes toward women, even though other Abrahamic attitudes seem to have been resisted rather well?  Why do Indian Muslims never tire of boasting about the fact that under Islam women had property rights and legal personhood twelve or thirteen centuries prior to Western Europe, even as the boast serves as the underpinning of an explicit maneuver to subordinate women in the home and the polity?).

Whether or not Indian cultures traditionally held certain views about how women ought to dress are certainly relevant, but not as much as ideologues would have us believe.  To put it another way, the relevance of tradition here is as raw material for a rather modern project.  It is the project that is indispensable, not the tradition—which goes a long way toward explaining why assorted Hindutvavādins and Islamists are simply uninterested in “counter-examples” from the tradition (in a move not unlike what Rajiv has alluded to, namely the liberal tendency to strip mine Sufism and hold it up as paradigmatic of “good” Islam (it always helps to not pay careful attention to the actual and rather diverse doctrines, practices and modes that are grouped under the rubric of Sufism), which move is itself complicit in the stigmatization of the “orthodox” as the “bad” Islam, while rendering the Sufi as simply the precursor of the (deracinated?) liberal.  Because counter-examples are not useful.

 

Umair Ahmed Muhajir

 

[Response to Ray’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3601]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3613]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [why resort to Hindutva-bashing on even the slightest pretext?] - Ashok

From: Ashok Chowgule 

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 8:15 pm

I do not understand why in discussions on Hinduism, the likes and dislikes of Hindutvavādins (and I am one such person) are brought in. On the issue of dress, the Roman Catholic Church has made severe comments against the ‘scanty’ way some of the members of the congregation have attired themselves while attending mass. Many colleges have passed rules about the way students dress. But such things are rarely, if at all, mentioned. However, the label of moral police is tagged on to Hindutvavādins only in such cases.

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

Vice-President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, India

 

[In response to Umairji’s post (November 24) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3610]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3611]

 FW: History of Indian clothing [Anglo-Saxon attitudes to Asian bare-breastedness and Malay sarong] - Carl

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam [on behalf of Carl Vadivelle]

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 6:56 pm

 

From: Carl and Wendy Belle 

Sent: Wednesday, November 23, 2005 3:51 PM

To: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Subject: Fw: [Abhinavagupta] History of Indian clothing

Dear Sunthar,

Just forwarding this, which I could not get through via the website; indeed, since I changed my email address […] I have had repeated problems with the three Yahoo groups to which I subscribe.

 

> 

 

Best wishes,

 

Carl

 

----- Original Message -----

From: Carl and Wendy Belle

To: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com

Sent: Thursday, November 24, 2005 7:47 AM

Subject: Re: History of Indian clothing

 

Dear Sunthar,

Just a comment to add to that of Ray’s. In fact, many Balinese Hindu women went bare breasted into the 1970’s, and in the backblocks country the tradition lasted somewhat longer. It is generally held that the unwelcome attentions of Western tourists, especially, I regret, those of my fellow Australian countrymen, and US servicemen on leave, were largely responsible for the “cover-up” which followed. Throughout the 1960’s the bare-breastedness of Balinese women received regular comment in the Australian press—often disapproving, occasionally salacious, but generally offered as ”proof” of how backward Balinese Hindus were compared to White Anglo-Celtic Christians.

Ray has opened an interesting topic. I offer the following vignette as just one small indicator of how social pressures may work on modes of dress. After my residence in Malaysia between 1976 and 1979, I took up the sensible habit of wearing a Malay sarong, especially during the hot Australian summers. Rumors quickly spread that I was a “cross-dresser,” and no amount of explanation could dispel the vague suspicion that I was somehow engaging in sexually and culturally subversive behavior. (Of course wearing a vesthi [white cloth wrapped around the male lower torso—SV] was even worse!) I have never succumbed to these pressures, I would rather be comfortable than fashionable, but it interests me how many Malaysian teenagers now see the sarong and traditional modes of dress as symbols of “old”, “rural,” and “backward” Malaysia; “uncool” relics which have no place in modern society even though they are far more adapted to the Malaysian climate than business suits, Western teenage garb or the apparel of Afro-American rappers. 

Regards,

 

Carl Vadivella Belle 

 

[Response to Ray’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3601]


Hello Carl,

I’m going ahead and forwarding (despite my earlier reply) as you requested so that your comments don’t become obsolete given the pace at which this thread is moving forward. However, I’d recommend that you post an updated and more elaborate version directly after re-subscribing.

Regards,

 

Sunthar

 


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3614]

 Re: FW: History of Indian clothing [many Malay students continue to wear sarong at home] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 10:30 pm

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Carl Vadivelle wrote:

I have never succumbed to these pressures, I would rather be comfortable than fashionable, but it interests me how many Malaysian teenagers now see the sarong and traditional modes of dress as symbols of “old”, “rural” and “backward” Malaysia; “uncool” relics which have no place in modern society even though they are far more adapted to the Malaysian climate than business suits, western teenage garb or the apparel of Afro-American rappers.

I know that many Malay college students wear the sarong at home to be comfortable but Western clothing when out in public.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Carl’s post (Nov 23, 2005):

 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3611]


Hello Carl and Paul,

My father always wore sarongs at home in Kuala Lumpur, even during the day, as did my eldest sisters. When I was in Benares and later in Indianapolis, they used to send me sarongs. I always wear a sarong at home when I’m no longer expecting visitors (like right now), and have never worn pajamas to bed either in France, the USA, or when I’m traveling (even to international conferences in posh hotels).

Regards,

Sunthar

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3612]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [head-covering may be due to Greek influence reinforced during Muslim rule] - Yashwant

From: Yashwant Malaiya

Date: Wed Nov 23, 2005; 7:55 pm

It does appear to be true that it was customary for Indian women not to cover their breasts at one time. The cloth used to bind them (I think there is a term for it), perhaps was for support and not modesty. That can be observed not only from Ajanta paintings, but from numerous sculptures as well as from Sanskrit poetry.

Bare breasts are seen for not only apsaras [heavenly nymphs] and dancers, but also noble women and wife of the donor couples. See

http://www.cbmphoto.co.uk/photos/LAQ40.jpg

I believe that the custom of covering the head was present before the arrival of the Muslims. I believe that there are some representations of this from Gandhara sculptures. The custom may have originated from Bactria, due to Greek influence. However it is possible that the custom may have become popular in North India after Turkish conquest due to the need for privacy. It never became popular in South to the same extent.

I have noted that women from Punjab cover their head during religious activities. I don’t remember observing it among others.

Yashwant

[Rest of this thread at Carl (23 Nov, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3611]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3615]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [traditional societies have covered up after encounter with Abrahamic morality] - Ray

From: Ray Harris 

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 12:36 am

Hi Nandakumar,

I don’t know that it’s a huge suggestion, more a passing comment suggestive of a change in the idea of modesty. I agree completely that we should look at indigenous sources and my post was an oblique way of asking if there were indigenous confirmations of these observations.

My uneducated guess is that the need to cover women more completely began gradually, perhaps in the north—and that the south, with its warmer climate occurred much later. This would also have been influenced by caste with the ādi-vāsī [‘aboriginals’] maintaining a more relaxed attitude. I’m wondering what the driving force behind the change was—does it have a scriptural basis, or was it pursued as a policy by those in power?

The same sort of process has happened elsewhere. Traditional societies are generally not as self-conscious of nudity but after contact with the Abrahamic traditions they develop a sense of shame and cover up. This has happened in Africa, Melanesia, Polynesia, the Americas, Australia, etc.

If we accept the very long history of India we might see the modern idea of modesty to be a very late development, occurring only in the last 400 or less years of a 5,000 plus history.

Ray

[Response to Nandakumar’s post (November 24, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3602]


Please insert a (functional) hyperlink; otherwise I’m obliged to look for it, and then come back to the pending post to insert it.

Sunthar

 P.S. I’d make the 2 observations:

1) The sexuality of brahmin women was subjected to more severe seclusion/restrictions than that of lower-caste women (compare Nambudiri and Nayar women in Kerala), which would affect dress.

2) Untouchables, both men and women, were often not allowed to wear upper garments as a mark of recognition; with severe (non-normative?) sanctions in certain areas if they attempted to cover-up...


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3616]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [depiction of women in art might be imaginary rather than based on real-life] - Nandakumar

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 6:18 am

It does appear to be true that it was customary for Indian women not to cover their breasts at one time. The cloth used to bind them (I think there is a term for it), perhaps was for support and not modesty. That can be observed not only from Ajanta paintings, but from numerous sculptures as well as from Sanskrit poetry. [Yashwant]

I find it surprising that the mere evidence of art and poetry alone seems to suffice in such arguments.

If somebody 200 years from now came upon issues of Playboy and hip-hop videos, would they be justified in saying such images represented the dress patterns of the USA in the early 2000s?

Art and poetry are necessarily flights of fancy and imagination and doesn’t necessarily map to reality.

Where is the evidence from regular texts that women went bare-breasted in ancient India?

A woman’s private organs are necessarily sexually arousing to the average man.

Does anything that the sages taught support such a behavior?

Is dharma about letting our sensuality run amok or about controlling the psycho/physical faculties for a higher ideal?

Buddha in response to Ananda’s query says one should turn away from the mere sight of women.

Shankara in one of his texts says: “don’t be seduced by looking at a woman’s navel.” [nārī-stana-bhara-nābhī-dezam dRSTvā mā gā mohāvezamBhaja-Govindam (SV)]

Do their teachings in any way indicate that they wouldn’t have minded women running around bare-breasted?

The logic that surrounds the interpretation of ancient Indian history is astounding to say the least.

Even after 5000 years of dharma ...

I pity poor Gautama, Shankara, Thiruvalluvar etc.

[In response to Yashwant (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3612]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3617]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [brahmin males went bare-breasted especially when performing rituals] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala 

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 9:57 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Ray Harris wrote:

If we accept the very long history of India we might see the modern idea of modesty to be a very late development, occurring only in the last 400 or less years of a 5,000 plus history.

In many areas of South Asia, the changes occurred only in the last 60 years or even less.

Sunthar wrote:

2) Untouchables, both men and women, were often not allowed to wear upper garments as a mark of recognition; with severe (non-normative?) sanctions in certain areas if they attempted to cover-up...

In Nepal the most likely person one will see topless are brahmin priests. Well, they have no upper garment but only the sacred string showing. They also tend to have shaven heads.

These are brahmins who perform rituals and not the modern Westernized brahmins who usually don western garb.

[Response to Ray’s post (Nov 24, 2005) with Sunthar’s comments at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3615]

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala


Brahmins may be obliged to be bare-bodied in ritual contexts, and twice-born Hindus, likewise, when entering orthodox temples (like Guruvayoor in Kerala, where I was also obliged to hire a veSTi at the entrance...). However, there are no such restrictions on wearing shirts, kurtās, etc., in ‘secular’ everyday life (of the ‘market’).

This has certainly not been the case with untouchables, who have had to organize and campaign politically even for such basic rights. A good and well-documented example would be the Shanars (toddy-tappers) of Tamil Nadu, who are now ‘respectable’ Nadars. This “Breast Cloth Controversy” (as it was officially called) won their women the right not to expose their breasts in public. In 1859, the Maharaja of Travancore promulgated an edict ‘authorizing’ Shanar women to cover their breasts. Talking of (non-?) ‘normative’ ethics, it’s worth noting that Christian Nadars, converted through the efforts of Robert Caldwell, played a leading role in securing such recognition.

The ‘moral’ here, I guess, is that ‘baring your breasts’ in public does not necessarily mean sexual ‘freedom’ (from the lascivious looks of the twice-born?)...it could mean just the reverse!

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3622]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [why would only the twice-born gaze lasciviously at ‘untouchable’ breasts?] - Ashok

From: Ashok Chowgule

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 9:23 pm

To Paulji’s comments, Suntharji added his own views. In it he posed:

“The ‘moral’ here, I guess, is that ‘baring your breasts’ in public does not necessarily mean sexual ‘freedom’ (from the lascivious looks of the twice-born?)...it could mean just the reverse!”

I think even the non-twice-born are also capable of undertaking the lascivious looks! :-)

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

 

[Response to Sunthar’s comment on Paulji’s (Nov 24) message at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3617]


Ashokji Namaste,

Agreed! But the point was that it is the twice-born (men, of course!) who were prohibiting the ‘non-twice-born’ women (and men) from covering themselves (unlike their own women).

In the 1890s the Nadars, for example, were actually trying to rise up the caste-hierarchy (as opposed to contesting the system as a whole...) by imitating the twice-born and demanding entry into the Tamil temples, which was strongly resisted. In 1899, they were violently attacked by the Maravars with thousands of homes destroyed and many killed (on both sides).

Regards,      

 

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3618]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [pre-Islamic ascetic attitudes should not be confused with Taliban prudery] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 10:06 am

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Nandakumar Chandran wrote:

It does appear to be true that it was customary for Indian women not to cover their breasts at one time. The cloth used to bind them (I think there is a term for it), perhaps was for support and not modesty. That can be observed not only from Ajanta paintings, but from numerous sculptures as well as from Sanskrit poetry. [Yashwant]

Where is the evidence from regular texts that women went bare breasted in ancient India? [Nandakumar]

There’s plenty of evidence from “regular texts.”

 A woman’s private organs are necessarily sexually arousing to the average man.

How do you determine that a woman’s breasts are “private”?

A woman’s breasts were designed for breast-feeding infants.

 Does anything that the sages taught support such a behavior?

What’s important is they say nothing about the importance of a woman covering her breasts. You’re confusing the “sages” with the Taliban.

 Buddha in response to Ananda’s query says one should turn away from the mere sight of women.

This is probably an allusion to lust, and as Ananda was a monk, he simply meant that one should put away lust as quickly as possible.

The idea that looking at a woman’s navel stir dangerous passions is a bit of a stretch. The Taliban would prevent one even from looking at the back of their hands, and would place a sack over their head. Of course, even that sack might be looking good after a while.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[In response to Nandakumar’s (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3616]


What evidence is there that Shankarācārya or other ascetically inclined sages would have liked to ‘see’ (excuse the innuendo...) women’s breasts and navels covered up in public? The ‘normative’ Purānas themselves are pretty graphic about how Shiva-Bhairava appeared as a naked ‘untouchable’ before the chaste wives of the sages who were seduced at first sight. Of course, the angry husbands ‘castrated’ him in punishment but we are still worshipping the disembodied result... ;-) The second half of that same line (that I used to sing in Kuala Lumpur to learn Sanskrit...) from the Bhaja Govindam (that I had edited above into Nandakumar’s post) continues: “these (breasts, navel, etc.) are but the modifications of flesh and fat; reflect on this again and again” (etan māmsa-vasādi-vikāram ittham cintaya vāram vāram), which I guess is what even the Bhairava-Kāpālikas did (while practicing sexual rituals) in the cremation-grounds...

On the other hand, I recently heard a Paris-based Afghan movie-director, in the context of a seminar at the Sorbonne on Indo-Persian cultural affinities account autobiographically for his aesthetic handling of (Muslim) women (and the question of purdah). For him, the woman’s body is meant to be bared and enjoyed and it almost amounts to ‘sin’ to wrap it in a sack. After a French man in the audience interjected that this was a rather male-centered (macho?) perception, I recounted an interview (after 9/11) I heard on NPR with a white American woman in Chicago who had converted to Islam and now voluntarily wears the purdah in public. She claims she experiences a new-found freedom at not being gazed at in a certain way.

What all this amounts to is that it is very risky to extrapolate judgments about dress codes across cultures, because the same behavior may have entirely opposed connotations in the two contexts, and may also undergo reversal with time. Since we’ve been talking about the perception of untouchables regarding the exposure of women’s bodies, it might be worth reading the astute observations of the most eloquent of them all on the sexual dynamic between Muslim females and Hindu males (by way of illicit liaisons):

http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_partition/410.html

 

by Dr. Ambedkar himself and in the context of the Partition of India!

 

Regards,

 

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3619]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [Buddhist noblewomen traditionally went bare-breasted as opposed to nuns] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala 

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 10:36 am

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Sunthar wrote:

The ‘moral’ here, I guess, is that ‘baring your breasts’ in public does not necessarily mean sexual ‘freedom’ (from the lascivious looks of the twice-born?)...it could mean just the reverse! [Sunthar]

Interesting Sunthar. From what I’ve read the situation was reversed in Buddhist society in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia where noblewomen most often went bare-chested. OTOH, Buddhist nuns were required to cover up as much as possible and may have been the first women in India to have such restrictions.

Indeed, from what I’ve read, the first artwork that shows some concerted effort to cover up the breasts of women is the Buddhist art of Gandhara, possibly due to Greek influence.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

 [Response to Sunthar’s comment on Paul’s post (Nov 24, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3617]


Quite apart from the influence of foreign (Persian, Greek, Muslim, Victorian, now American, etc.) sensibilities, I don’t think there was just one typical ‘indigenous’ attitude towards women’s dress-codes (and sexuality) within India. Not only is there an obvious contrast between the ‘patriarchal’ brahmanical/ascetic (Jain, etc.) norm and the ‘matriarchal’ substratum (like the mores studied by the British anthropologist, Verrier Elwin), there seem to have been all sorts of evolving (re-) configurations of this tension that varied with caste, sect, region, etc. Women’s breasts are very much celebrated in Sanskrit poetry (so heavy that they’re breaking her waist, so dense that you can’t pass a lotus fiber between them...so you don’t have to see “Choli ki Peeche” to get the picture!), so much so that they’ve given rise an entire vocabulary of double-meaning words (payo-dhara = cloud, etc., that our would-be kavi here Radhakrishna has been faithfully trying his hand at:-)

Such ‘fetishization’ of the female breasts need not necessarily have been a response to their having been covered-up in public (as Ray seems to have implied earlier with respect to Western attitudes), no more than foot-fetishes are due simply to their being hidden in shoes. It might be worth (re-) reading the ‘neuroscientific’ defense of the ‘busty’ Hindu goddess offered by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran’s ‘artful brain’:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2003/lecture3.shtml

 

Regards,

 

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3620] [akandabaratam msg# 19804]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [women and men were generally bare-breasted in many Asian societies] - Paulraj

From: R.M. Paulraj

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 12:47 am

Women were bare breasted in many Asian societies. One can see women wearing nothing above the waist in villages of Kerala even now. Modern, educated Malayali women have adopted sari as their normal dress, in place of the traditional ‘mundu’ (a ‘dhoti’ or ‘veSTi’ worn only below the waist).

Even in Tamil Nadu, though sari was the traditional female dress, the use of blouse (the jacket worn inside the sari) was newly introduced during the last century (maybe an adoption from Muslim women). Initially the blouse was worn only by the privileged upper caste women, while the women of lower castes were forbidden from wearing it. The lower castes ‘won’ the right to wear a blouse only after decades of—sometimes violent—struggles.

It may be pointed out that even men in many parts of India, especially those areas that had no direct cultural contacts with West Asia, traditionally wore nothing above the waist. Only a towel or shawl was occasionally draped around the upper body.

The single piece robe covering the whole body from neck to the feet is a West Asian dress adapted and adopted in many Asian cultures. It is worn by common people in some cultures, like the Muslims in South Asia, while in some other cultures it is worn only by clerics, like the Christian priests, Buddhist monks, and nuns belonging to these religions.

Let me also point out here that the social and political sensibilities of our own times need not be allowed to bias our view and understanding of the actualities of the past.

R.M. Paulraj

 

[Response to Paul’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3604]


From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 1:36 pm

Subject: The politics of the female body and the ‘Aryanization’ of India—an acculturation model of religious history [Sunthar]

 

Hello Paulraj,

The contradictions in the field-data and socio-religious attitudes with respect to women’s breasts and sexuality in India might perhaps make most sense within an ‘acculturation’ model. For example, a good question to ask would be: if the bald-shaven nuns were expected to cover up in order not to excite the ‘samsaric’ passion of their fellow-monks, thus reflecting the Buddha’s own attitudes towards the risks of admitting women into the Sangha, why was the religious community so lax in the portrayal of bare-breasted (wives of) donors at the shrines? If these lay devotees did indeed espouse the new dharma, should they not have been ashamed to be depicted in this manner even if they were (what an American voyeur might consider) ’exhibitionists’ in real-life? Should they not have assumed more ‘modest’ poses whatever the cultural reality? This would make more sense if replaced within the ‘Aryanizing’ role of Buddhism (and Jainism): many of these communities and their aristocracy would have originally been on the periphery, if not wholly beyond, brahmanical ‘patriarchal’ norms, such that the recruitment of their women as nuns amounts to an induction into a socio-religious world of renunciation quite different from their inherited (un-)dress codes and sexual mores. Buddhism could not have become the dominant religion it was for so long had it not peacefully accommodated itself to such radical differences.

This ‘acculturation’ process between Aryan and tribal is perhaps most strikingly illustrated by the politics of the female body in Kerala. Whereas the Nayar woman used to be readily accessible to (the pleasure of even multiple) Nambudiri men (whose children she bore and reared), that of the Nambudiri girl was highly sacrosanct and hedged in with taboos (e.g., she could not be exposed to the public eye even fully clothed and always accompanied even when going to the neighbor’s house). I recently heard Damodaran Nampoothiri (University of Calicut) talk in Paris to French anthropologists on “Sexuality, Modernity and Reform: Adultery Trials of Nambudiri Women in Colonial Kerala” (21st June). These were much publicized and often sensational cases, requiring the Mahārajah’s official supervision, of liaisons involving not just other brahmins (including relatives) but also Nayar men (and even lower castes). The women, sometimes mere girls, were severely punished if found guilty, sometimes even discreetly (unlike the Arabo-Muslim honor killings...?) murdered (even by her own family members), because her body was not (just) her own (but belonged to the whole community). The following discussion was quite interesting as there were several other visiting Indian scholars present, including women (one of whom objected to giving a misleading impression of our culture by airing such dirty laundry before foreigners). Though he could not find any religious sanction for such severity, I pointed out that the brahmin sage Parashurāma, who had lopped off his mother’s head without hesitation at the behest of his father for simply eyeing the naked beauty of a man bathing in the river (I ought to have added that the dutiful son’s first wish to his approving father was that her precious head be restored...), was after all the unanimous Malayali culture-hero. The question also came up as to why the Nambudiris should willfully bring such prejudice upon themselves as a community, by conducting such trials in public. Though we were already at the end of the discussion by then, I’d suggest now that their prestige at the summit of Kerala (caste-) society depended on the consensus acknowledging the purity of their women that these trials reinforced in the public eye. This is why the liaison (sambandham = ‘connection’) with Nambudiri males was welcomed by the status-conscious brothers of Nayar women, whereas the bodies of Nambudiri girls were, at least in principle, strictly off limits. I did have the opportunity to cite the (Tamil cult of the) untouchable Kāttavarāyan (and his ‘sacrificial’ marriage to the virgin Ārya-mālai, “daughter of a 1000 Vedic brahmins”) to affirm that this is precisely why these ‘untouchable’ girls (who burn folks like ourselves with fire?) were so desirable (Prof. Nampoothiri replied: “I must agree!”).

The success of this (acculturation) ‘politics of the women’s body’ may be judged by comparing the status of the Nambudiri brahmins, Vedic culture, and of the Sanskrit language itself, in Kerala, as contrasted with the (brahmanicidal?) plight of the Tamil smārta brahmins today....

Regards,

 

Sunthar

 

P.S. I’d invite you to join our Abhinavagupta forum so as to follow this thread in its entirety and contribute further to it.

 

[Rest of this thread at Paul and Sunthar (Nov 24, 2005) at 

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3619]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3621]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [Details of bare-breasted attire in Kerala just 2 generations ago] - Radha

From: Radhakrishna Warrier  

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 7:37 pm

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Sunthar wrote:

Women’s breasts are very much celebrated in Sanskrit poetry (so heavy that they’re breaking her waist, so dense that you can’t pass a lotus fiber between them...so you don’t have to see “Choli ki Peeche” to get the picture!), so much so that they’ve given rise an entire vocabulary of double-meaning words (payo-dhara = cloud, etc., that our would-be kavi here Radhakrishna has been faithfully trying his hand at:-)

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3619]

Such an interesting discussion and the “would be” kavi still booted and suited? Now is a good time to dive in, sans clothes and ethics. The naked skin is sure to be soothingly warmed by waters already well heated by hot discussions. Ah, a welcome dose of warmth in this stormy night of late autumn.

And to dive into the discussion, I conveniently press the reply button on this post. But what I discuss is not in response to this particular post alone.

By the way, I can offer only the “reference” of my eyes for what I am going to say now. No references to ancient or modern works, and no dropping of names of ancients or moderns.

Did women go bare breasted in India? Indeed, till relatively recently where I was born. In my boyhood, I did see many old grannies moving about without any upper garment, and that too in “upper” caste households. When they had to go outside the house they either wore a sort of blouse which they called ‘rouka’ or just tied a “mulakkacha” (poetic “kanchuka” of Sanskrit or the unromantic ‘breast cloth’ of English) around their upper body and threw over it a “randaam mundu” or the classical “uttareeya” of Sanskrit (“second dhoti” in staid old ‘Hinglish’.) I did see many paattees (Tamil Brahmin grandmothers) attired in nothing but a saree that wound its way around their bodies from a little above the ankles through in between the legs to finally around the upper body. No blouse or rouka there. And the top part would often unwind to unravel pendulous payodharas. The ‘pavada’ (pAvADa, long skirt worn beneath the saree) was something foreign to the Malayalee (and Tamil Brahmin) grannies of my boyhood. Namboodiri and other “high” caste Malayalee grannies (and ‘young’ middle aged ones too) wore tat’t’u (taRRu) beneath the mundu, which was far more substantial than the flimsy modern panties. Even grannies of today wear tat’t’u and have nothing but contempt for the panties which, in their opinion, fail to cover what it is intended to cover. Don’t know what the Tamil Brahmin paattees wore beneath their sarees. Probably nothing, like the Syrian Christian, Muslim, and “lower” caste grannies who had total liberation beneath their mundu-s, no piece of cloth ever going in between their legs. Descendants of the Shanars who fought the Nairs of Kanyakumari district (who themselves went bare breasted most of the time) for the right to cover their breasts, the grand old Nadar Christian women that I saw in my boyhood wore sarees in a fashion not very different from fellow Tamil-speaking Brahmin Paattees. Their bodies were covered only by this single piece of unstitched cloth. No blouse, no rouka, no pavada, and of course, no tat’t’u or panties.

I have seen fashion change drastically within my own not-so-long lifetime. From the mundu and practically bare breasts of my grandmother’s generation to saree and blouse of my mother’s, and from the saree-blouse/salwar-kameez/pants-and-shirts generation of my wife to the “don’t-know-name” clothes worn by the female class- mates of my son.

Thanks and regards,

Radhakrishna Warrier

[Response to Sunthar’s comment on Paul’s post (Nov 24, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3619]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3623]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [problem is not nudity by idea of sin in onlooker, Lalleshwarī] – Ray

From: Ray Harris 

Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005; 11:50 pm

Hi all,

Thank you for the interesting discussion, though I didn’t necessarily want to focus on the female breast. I was wondering more about the ideas of modesty. I’m reminded of an illustration of the Kashmiri saint Lalleshwari who went about naked. The picture had been crudely altered to increase the amount and length of her hair in an act of prurient censorship. I wonder what she would have thought of this since one of the points in going naked was to prove one’s detachment. It’s interesting to get the Buddhist perspective but another, dare one say, Tantric perspective is that the sin is in the beholder and not in the one who is naked. The fact is that the state of dress or undress is irrelevant to the degree of arousal. If you grow up around nudity then it is ordinary. It is the act of hiding that invites salacious curiosity.

So we have two opposite views—one that women are sexual provocateurs who should cover up to prevent men from getting aroused, the other is that sexual arousal is a matter of self-control and the responsibility of the individual. The former I would suggest, is an Abrahamic import.

So why the coyness in Indian cinema? Why was the popular picture of Lalleshwari doctored? It was no secret she went naked after the established tradition of the Naga sadhus and the earlier ‘gymnosophists’. It seems we can date this cover-up to as late as the 18th, 19th century, with no scriptural evidence to support it. I’m also reminded of the difference between European fashion parades and magazines where women’s breasts are occasionally bared and Indian fashion parades which are much more modest. An interesting reversal, no? And of course Europe developed a nudist movement and nudist beaches and resorts are now big business. Another curious reversal.

Of course the issue of nakedness is itself rather superficial. It’s the associated attitudes of shame, sin, guilt, blame, etc., that are more damaging. The effect of body shame in the West is a range of eating disorders, body dysmorphias, fetishization of specific body parts (even a pre-pubescent girl’s chest must be covered even though it is physiologically identical to a boy’s), plastic surgery—the fetishization of the ‘perfect’ body. And don’t think covering up hides anything. Bizarrely breasts are emphasized even more than otherwise. The cleavage is emphasized, even in Bollywood.

Is this what Lalleshwari would have wanted, is this what the spiritual tradition of India would see as healthy? And yet the censors actually assist this process by feeding into the ‘body as sin’ message. Is this something those who are promoting a ‘Hindu’ renaissance should be thinking about?

Ray Harris

 

[Response to Paul’s post (November 25, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3619]


[The 2 citation that Chitra is responding to from the earlier part of this thread on “Bollywood censorship” included in our digest on ‘non-normative’ ethics]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3624]

 Re: Ethics in Bollywood [discussion & (Bollywood’s) understanding of ‘eroticism’ is too male-centered] - Chitra

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 12:16 am

Ray said:

“It has always fascinated me that India could produce erotic art of a high quality, develop an aesthetic of the erotic, yet be far more conservative than the West in regard to its cinema. And indeed, even in terms of public modesty—if, that is, there is a supposedly non-normative ethics. A contradiction?” [msg #3534]

Sugrutha replied:

“Why must a sense of the erotic automatically lead to hedonism, promiscuity, and exhibitionism? Why can’t eroticism just be a subliminal sensitivity?” [msg #3562]

Excellent questions.

Ray’s first post got me thinking that the definition of “eroticism” would likely be different depending on whether you asked a man or a woman.

The frenzied lasciviousness that is currently seen in many Hindi and South Indian movies—where, in the name of “dance” the couple may mime all the moves short of actually performing the act—is conceived purely for the salivating males in the audience. It probably will leave the majority of women unmoved or at the most, mildly tickled.

Women, in my opinion, are turned on by far more subtle triggers than grabbing, groping, or physical exhibitionism. They may be attracted to a mannerism; a mind; the texture of touch; the rooms behind someone’s eyes; a sense of hunger restrained...

I don’t watch very many Hindi movies, but from what I see I think the problem is not “excessive modesty” but the lack of a more nuanced exploration of eroticism.

Regards,

Chitra

 

[In response to Sugrutha’s post (Nov 14, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3562]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3625]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [Lalla’s nakedness probably more poetic metaphor than real-life behavior] - Jack

From: Jack Hill

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 12:42 am

Thank you for the interesting discussion, though I didn’t necessarily want to focus on the female breast. I was wondering more about the ideas of modesty. I’m reminded of an illustration of the Kashmiri saint Lalleshwari who went about naked. [Ray Harris]

As a devout fan of Lalla’s vakhs, I have to object that it is very unlikely that she actually went about naked, as she is traditionally pictured. Despite the many folk tales of her dancing around naked in wild abandon, the only actual evidence of such is in her verses, or verses attributed to her, and as B.N. Parimoo in his very thorough study of Lalla-Ded has asserted, it is more probable that the nakedness suggested therein is poetic metaphor.

Respectfully,

==Jack Hill

[Response to Ray’s post (Nov 24, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3623]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3626]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [can’t reset dress-codes to pre-Islamic ‘freedom’ for sensibility has changed] - Chitra

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 1:56 am

Ray said: [msg #3601 History of Indian clothing [did women go bare-breasted in the pre-Islamic period?] - Ray]

“These incidental snippets might suggest that the more modest standards of dress for women today developed some time after the 15th century. Was this due to the more conservative demands of Muslim rulers, especially the Mughals? When did India start to see the naked breast as immodest? This seems not be a traditional attitude, rather an imported one.

If the cover up only started as late as the 15th century this means that for most of its history India has had a rather different idea of modesty. What does this then mean for Bollywood censorship and a true Indian renaissance in terms of moral codes? BTW, this is not about a licentiousness but about uncovering a pre-Islamic view of the Indian idea of the body devoid of the Abrahamic idea of sin and the particularly Western fetishization of the breast.”

 Rajiv said: [msg #3605 Re: History of Indian clothing [negative effect of Islamic/Abrahamic prudery on ‘liberal’ Hindu mores] - Rajiv]

“When Indian women today go bare breasted (in cinema), have short hair (depicted in Ajanta caves) and don’t cover their heads, why do the Hindutva complain rather than celebrating it as a return to the freedom they once enjoyed? Could it be that many Hindu morals got Abrahamized/masculinized during Islamic and Victorian rules to the extent that now these colonial constructs are the new “Hindu ways”...?”

Beauty, it has been said, is in the eye of the beholder. So too, unfortunately, is bawdiness.

The human response, and the male response in particular to the naked female form is not governed by what the texts define as “Indian” versus “Abrahamic” moral constraints as much as the conversation between the pituitary and the gonad.

And so, while the change in accepted modes of attire may well have occurred because of the influx of Abrahamic value systems, it will take a lot more than allowing a parade of bare breasts on the Bollywood screen to facilitate a “true Indian renaissance in terms of moral codes.”

I’m assuming that women were running around topless back then not just because they were magnanimously allowed to by the men, but because there was more equality of expectations of men and women in the realm of moral conduct.

That is certainly not the case, at least in the Indian society of today, where instances of moral apartheid between men and women are too numerous to catalogue. This is why many Indian women are forced to shrink from taking a rapist to court—they can be accused of inviting it upon themselves because of the way they dress or behave.

And I’m not sure that Indian women going bare breasted in cinema has anything to do with their “freedom”—from what I hear, the way to stardom in Indian cinema for women is still not up the ladder of histrionic development but past the gauntlet of multiple sexual favors…

Frankly, whenever I go back to Delhi and Gurgaon I see plenty of young women in the malls wearing tank tops and crotch-skimming jeans … does this mean they are freer—in terms of personal agency and control over their destiny—than a peer who dresses in a sari? To assume so would be a huge mistake, in my view.

To sum up, restrained dressing conventions may simply be a safety mechanism for dealing with contemporary realities. The Indian morality of today is quite different from pre-15th century times, and whatever be the historical reasons for the change, there’s no easy reset button.

Regards,

Chitra

 

[Response to Ray Harris’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3601

 

and Rajiv Malhotra’s post (Nov 23, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3605]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3627]

 Re: The politics of the female body and the ‘Aryanization’ of India—an acculturation model of religious history - Paulraj

From: R.M. Paulraj

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 3:43 am

Hello Sunthar,

An interesting thread.

The way the ‘body’ of a female was exploited by the casteist Brahmins to be an emblem of the social status of the caste to which she belonged is embedded in the customs relating to the dress, ornaments, etc., that were worn—or permitted to be worn. The right of possession of the body of females for purposes of sexual gratification, as sanctioned by the social codes prescribed by the same Brahmins, was intimidating to the lower castes while the Brahmin women were mostly outside of that code—though they also underwent suppression within their own community.

Dress code had also been imposed on men. The privilege to wear a shoulder towel (a ‘muNdu’ carried on the shoulder), wearing silk ‘dhoti’, etc., were conferred only on those groups ‘considered fit’ for such things by the Brahmins.

It may be pointed out here that even the way the hair on the head of a man was dressed was a pointer to the social status his caste enjoyed in the caste hierarchy.

Thank you for your invitation. I have joined the Abhinavagupta Yahoogroup.

R.M. Paulraj

[Response to Sunthar’s post (Nov 24, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3620]


Hello Paulraj,

Thanks indeed for joining us!

To facilitate the discussion, I’ll soon be posting a digest of this entire thread which is, partly and in a sense, a spin-off of the larger (ongoing) thread on Christian versus Hindu ethics with regards to modernity:

http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/Dialogues/NormativeEthics1-frame.htm [you’re already reading this thread]

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3629]

 “The Politics of the female body: Nudity, Bollywood, and the Hindu Eros” (svAbhinava digest—provisional title) - Sunthar

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam 

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 12:30 pm

Friends,

Here is the (still unformatted) draft of the digest of our ongoing (not-so-Platonic?) dialogue about:

The Politics of the female body: Nudity, Bollywood, and the Hindu Eros“ (provisional title)

that I’d request all further would-be contributors (and even ‘bystanders’) to (re-) read carefully before making further contributions.

As you can readily assess the amount of (re-) formatting involved (for what is, after all, being offered as a public service...), I’d request you to strictly adhere to the prescribed posting conventions. Replies to posts in the format (with hyperlink, author, and date):

[In response to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 23, 2005):

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3602]

Even if it is not a response, please take the trouble to look up the most recent and/or relevant post related to the subject:

[Rest of this thread at Nandakumar’s post (Nov 23, 2005):

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3602]

If you cite a previous post, please ensure that the name of the person being cited is also included above, within, or below the citation. And delete the entire preceding thread, unless it’s very short and makes good sense (as opposed to lazy use of the Reply button...). Simple rule of thumb: compose your messages as if you are already writing for a collaborative digest (without future regrets as to what you said and how...). 

You may be surprised at the large number of non-members who are also frequenting these digests and who appreciate being able to scan through (as opposed to having to decipher...) the logic of the arguments, recognize the various distinct voices, and decide whether to join in. I’m sure that you’d yourself appreciate being able to refer (other friends) to your own posts a few months down the road in the midst of an argument somewhere else...after all, we might be excused for thinking that, if you said something here, it’s because you thought it important..?

Regards,

Sunthar

[Rest of this thread at Paulraj (Nov 25, 2005)

Re: The politics of the female body and the ‘Aryanization’ of India—an acculturation model of religious history“]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3630]

 Re: The politics of the female body and the ‘Aryanization’ of India [rather a Buddhist innovation in dressing] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 2:12 pm

--- In akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com, Sunthar Visuvalingam wrote: 

The contradictions in the field-data and socio-religious attitudes with respect to women’s breasts and sexuality in India might perhaps make most sense within an ‘acculturation’ model. For example, a good question to ask would be: if the bald-shaven nuns were expected to cover up in order not to excite the ‘samsaric’ passion of their fellow-monks, thus reflecting the Buddha’s own attitudes towards the risks of admitting women into the Sangha, why was the religious community so lax in the portrayal of bare-breasted (wives of) donors at the shrines? If these lay devotees did indeed espouse the new dharma, should they not have been ashamed to be depicted in this manner even if they were (what an American voyeur might consider) ‘exhibitionists’ in real-life? Should they not have assumed more ‘modest’ poses whatever the cultural reality? This would make more sense if replaced within the ‘Aryanizing’ role of Buddhism (and Jainism): many of these communities and their aristocracy would have originally been on the periphery, if not wholly beyond, brahmanical ‘patriarchal’ norms, such that the recruitment of their women as nuns amounts to an induction into a socio-religious world of renunciation quite different from their inherited (un-)dress codes and sexual mores. Buddhism could not have become the dominant religion it was for so long had it not peacefully accommodated itself to such radical differences.

Sunthar,

I don’t see this as particularly “Aryanizing” so much as a Buddhist innovation related to the new monasticism, which also was not particularly “Aryan.” I’m assuming by Aryan you mean either Indo-European, Indo-Aryan, or Vedic.

For example, the Buddhist norms for nuns appear to be the first with regard to covering up women’s bodies.

The earlier “Aryans” of the Vedas and Upanishads don’t seem much concerned with this matter. Also it’s hard to read about the Mahisi ritual or some other practices and think of the Vedic folk as “patriarchal” or in anyway prudish about sex.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Sunthar’s post (Nov 24, 2005):

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3604]


Re: The politics of the female body and the ‘Aryanization’ of India [yes, but an ‘Aryanizing’ Buddhist innovation in dressing] - Sunthar

My use of the term ‘Aryanizing’ with respect to Buddhism, which is clarified in our “Paradigm of Hindu-Buddhist Relations,” does not imply that such monasticism, dress-codes, ethical norms, etc., were not innovative with respect to the surrounding culture, nor is it intended to minimize the opposition to brahmanism and its worldview (which seems to be the underlying intention of some Hindu scholars who have joined the growing chorus that ‘Buddhism’ itself is a recent invention...). The question can be easily answered by looking at how the early Buddhists themselves used the term ‘Arya’ and how proudly it is assumed much later by (brahmin) monks like Dharmakīrti (whom Abhinava simply addresses by this term). There was certainly a fierce ‘ideological’ contest over its definition (as also of the term dharma), but within the same larger cultural tradition (much like the ‘civil war’ now brewing within the WASP outlook...). Such a ‘masculine ascetic’ mode of spirituality insisting on permanent chastity and avoidance of women is not characteristic of the tribal religions of SEA, Africa, Americas, Oceania, and India.

By the time the Buddha appeared, the Vedic sacrifice itself had been reformed so as to eliminate such sexual (and violent) features (see Heesterman’s Inner Conflict of Tradition that I referred you to earlier in the ‘Normative’ digest). This same objection referring to the same ‘pre-classical’ rituals was raised on the Indian Civilization list, when I was posting my pertinent draft sections “Towards an Integral Appreciation of Abhinava’s Aesthetics of Rasa,” and they have been already answered on this list and included in condensed form in my (notes to that) essay online.

Sunthar


Subject:

 Re: The politics of female body and ‘Aryanization’ of India [Buddhism due rather to non-Aryan influence] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 4:09 pm

Sunthar wrote:

By the time the Buddha appeared, the Vedic sacrifice itself had been reformed so as to eliminate such sexual (and violent) features (see Heesterman’s Inner Conflict of Tradition that I referred you to earlier in the ‘Normative’ digest).

Yes, but I tend to favor the outlook that this was more of “non-Aryanizing” influence as has been suggested by many scholars coming from indigenous (not necessarily “tribal”) peoples.

Thus, this Upanishadic trend with some geographical favoring of eastern India continues in the same general location through Buddhist influence.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Sunthar’s post (Nov 25, 2005):

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3630]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3632]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [double projection of ‘prudishness’ and ‘eroticism’ completely distorts picture] - Dominique

From: Dominique Abalain

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 4:12 pm

My impression is that there might be two seemingly opposite outsider’s twisting of facts regarding notions of decency in India:

- One obviously resulting from the influence of Western prudishness’ encounter with India’s relaxed ‘fashions’.

- The other lying in the more modern indiscriminate projection of ‘eroticism’ (on traditional rural caste customs like Wadaris ladies in Maharashtra until recently wearing no blouse, on feminine statues representation, but also in treating Kāma (and the like) Sutras as part of the mainstream and widespread culture of traditional India…)

And, if true, one could even think of interaction between both, creating an especially abstruse kind of false consciousness.

As was already pointed, notions of decency might as well vary not so much according to moral imperatives, but depending on the context, and differences between rural (or pre-modern) and urban customs might explain a lot.

Anyway, I guess all should agree that the sense of modesty in higher stratum of Indian societies must at least go back to the story of Draupadi’s sari in Mahabharat.

In the legend of Jnanadev, the 13th century Maharastrian Bhakti great poet, as narrated centuries later (18th) by Mahipati in his work “Bhaktalilamrita” (V.59), Changdeva plays the part of a yogi full of pride about his achievements. His guru is the sister of Jnanadeva, Muktabai.

One of the stories around these characters goes like this. One day, as Changdeva is staying in Jnanadeva and Muktabai’s place, he steps in a room where Muktabai is and by mistake has a look at her in a private occupation.

As he turns away immediately, Muktabai scorns him (unfortunately relying on J. Abbot’s translation, much tainted with missionary vocabulary, but I don’t have the original) :

“You Guru-less wretch, why are you going back? What is the cause of such hesitation? You are not free from passions and not yet and expert in knowledge of the soul, you think of man and woman as essentially different, and therefore you have turned away. There is a soul in you and there is also a soul in me, and thinking of it in that way a wrong idea came into your mind. Now put aside the thought of the body as an outer shell of the soul, and regard both our souls as of one substance (…) The female body and the male body have a different appearance, but the soul in the animate and the inanimate is one; and if you thus recognize people from the point of view of their souls, you will not take a wrong view regarding them. If you think of yourself as pervading the three worlds you can have no desire for anything anywhere, thus you will be content in yourself. A bitch, a female cat and a cow, do these wear garment. I am just like those animals; why do you not realize this?”

Regards,

Dom Abalain

This post is just a general comment,

“The logic that surrounds the interpretation of ancient Indian history is astounding to say the least.”

[Rest of the thread at Nandakumar’s

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3616]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3633]

 Re: The politics of female body and ‘Aryanization’ of India [Draupadī’s bodice may have been see-through]—Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 6:03 pm

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com,

Dominique Abalain wrote:

Anyway, I guess all should agree that the sense of modesty in higher stratum of Indian societies must at least go back to the story of Draupadi’s sari in Mahābhārata.

Sari’s were and in some areas still are worn with the breasts exposed so again it depends on what is meant by modesty, or if the insult involves other implications as well.

In most art up to the 6th century, the sari does not have a bodice.

If anything, the evidence suggests that the bare breasts were originally a sign of the noble class rather than vice-versa. In the royal court this seems to have been a practice in many instances.

Even in late north and western Indian paintings it was common to see sheer bodices worn with saris.

 

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Dominque’s post (Nov. 25, 2005):

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3616]


[Passages below, and even entire posts, that digress to the contemporary controversy over the Muslim veil have been snipped out or summarized - Sunthar]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3634]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [Wearing the Muslim hijab is not a feminist statement for it confuses freedom ‘from’ with freedom ‘to’ – need to restore agency to women everywhere] - Ray

From: Ray Harris

Date: Fri Nov 25, 2005; 8:33 pm

Hi Chitra, all,

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by a conversation between “the pituitary and the gonad.” Sexual arousal is a function of the mind. If nudity is the trigger for arousal then what of those traditional societies where nudity is the norm? Sexual arousal is a complex matter of both individual and cultural triggers—arousal is learnt. In the West the breast has been eroticized and the notion of it as a sexual trigger is learnt by the very act of hiding and yet emphasizing it, obsessively so. A child picks up these cultural messages early. Yoga techniques teach the control of the mind and places the problem of arousal in the individual.

I would suggest that the change in moral codes has nothing to do with controlling men’s sexual arousal but has more to do with perceptions of how arousal occurs and who is responsible. The feminist critique argued that the responsibility lay with the individual and not on women and how they did or did not dress. The feminist position is that women ought to be able to dress exactly as they please without fear of judgment of any kind. The Muslim argument that the hijab is some kind of feminist statement is double-think. It’s nonsense which confuses the freedom ‘from’ with the freedom ‘to’. In fact I’ve met naturist women who argue that going nude ‘freed’ them from the need to present a constructed image of themselves through make-up and fashion. The feminist would argue that all these choices should be available without men using it as an excuse to impose their desires on women. How many Muslim women, or Hindu women, would be free to become naturists?

I agree with you that the real issue is the free agency of women. The young women in the malls are likely just as much ‘fashion slaves’ as young Western women.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should push a reset button. What I was suggesting was that the current Indian moral conservatism is actually not rooted in Indian tradition but has been absorbed from elsewhere. It may have more to do with a reaction to Muslim and European colonialism and not wanting to appear to be uncivilized. In the European imagination nudity was associated with savagery, be they noble savages or not.

The irony in this is that as the colonies (including SE Asia, Melanesia, Polynesia, etc) were covering up to appear civilized the West began reacting against conservative sexual mores and began taking their clothes off (the first nudist club in Europe was the Freilichtpark opened in Germany in 1903). The sexual revolution in the West was in part inspired by the ethnographic studies done in the Pacific. A curious reversal occurred. The churches sent missionaries to convert the heathens and to cover them up and the work of Malinowski on the Trobriands inspired the likes of the sexologist Havelock Ellis in the West. Today many Polynesians are devout Christians but in the West the sexual revolution undermined the moral authority of the church. The colonies are now often more conservative than their old imperial masters, for instance, the Dutch. A curious reversal indeed.

BTW, I’ve just read a piece in our newspaper ‘The Age’, a reputable Australian paper, detailing the extent of some of the puritan backlash in India. The banning of dance halls in Mumbai, the imposition of an 11 pm closing time in Karnataka, the over reaction of officials in Chennai over photos of a private party, the misuse of cameras on the seafront to catch kissing couples, and the vilification of the TV host Khushboo over comments about virginity and the use of condoms. Perhaps India should form a conservative alliance with the Christian Right and the Taliban? How is any of this related to Indian tradition? Or is this puritanism a newly constructed edifice of a nationalist project?

No, I’ll go a step further. No doubt the conservative response may well be that India does not want to go down the degenerate path of the West. This is the type of thing we hear from Muslims. That the West is decadent, corrupt. This is where Occidentalism is created—where the Orient essentializes the Occident and fabricates the ‘other’ that suits their imagination. One of the ironic reversals is that whereas India and China both developed a highly sophisticated knowledge about the connection between the erotic and religious ecstasy both countries have developed a modern conservative and sexually puritanical response. But now the West has absorbed both the Indian and Chinese knowledge systems and then added its own corpus through the discipline of sexology.

Of course I can hear the cries that New Age Tantricism is a distorted representation of the Indian tradition (perhaps, but then, it often does not try to be traditional and admits that it adds its own interpretation). But such an argument is more about the creation of the ‘other’, the Westerner as cultural thief, cultural vandal, and libertine. An argument which skims over the depth of the new work being done on human sexuality (eros/desire) in the West (and here I am thinking of Foucault and even Deleuze and Guattari), especially the way eros is problematized and controlled by authoritarian forces.

Ray Harris

[Response to Chitra’s post (Nov 25, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3626]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3635]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [problem is not the dress-code in itself but its political instrumentalization] - Umair

From: Umair Ahmed Muhajir

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 12:05 am

A post that might well be relevant to this discussion, particularly given Ray’s note on the hijab in his most recent post (a note I have great sympathy with I might add):

http://qalandari.blogspot.com/2005/11/some-thoughts-on-purdah.html

An excerpt (but do check the whole thing out):

“The author hits the nail (perhaps inadvertently) on the head as to the following: polygamy is problematic because it is used as a means of control—of women, of their bodies, of, broadly speaking, their sexuality—and is as problematic as the veil because that is also used for precisely these reasons. But unlike the author the problem as I see it is the oppressive political arrangement, and not the veil or polygamy per se. To put it another way: a law that mandated the wearing of short skirts would be no less oppressive than one mandating the wearing of the burqa; in both cases it is the law (and the sort of polity implied by the framing of such a law) that is problematic in the first instance; in itself the dress concerned—whether burqa or bikini—is problematic inasmuch as it encodes a certain ideology of femininity, but this problem is not of a kind that would make one mode of dress (burqa) more problematic than another (bikini). The toddy-tappers (Nadars) of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore offer a useful illustration: until the mid-nineteenth century, Nadar women were forbidden from covering their breasts in public, only winning the right to do so after long agitation. Nakedness here was the signifier of low-caste status, not of liberation.”

[Umair Ahmed Muhajir]

[Response to Ray’s post (November 25, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3634]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3636]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [chastity & license cannot be simply correlated to stringency of dress-codes] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala 

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 12:17 pm

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Ray Harris wrote:

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by a conversation between “the pituitary and the gonad.” Sexual arousal is a function of the mind. If nudity is the trigger for arousal then what of those traditional societies where nudity is the norm? Sexual arousal is a complex matter of both individual and cultural triggers—arousal is learnt. In the West the breast has been eroticized and the notion of it as a sexual trigger is learnt by the very act of hiding and yet emphasizing it, obsessively so. A child picks up these cultural messages early. Yoga techniques teach the control of the mind and places the problem of arousal in the individual.

I agree Ray.

Even in “tribal” and “nude” societies there are examples where chastity was emphasized.

For example in “pre-contact” Polynesia, which is usually idealized as a “free sex” society, chastity of certain classes was strongly enforced in some areas.

Chiefly women in Samoa and Tonga often had to produce the “tokens” of virginity present on special ceremonial mats after their wedding night, the lack of which could have grave consequences. This was a pre-Christian tradition.

And the fact that the law requires breasts to be covered in most of Europe has not promoted chastity in any special way. Today’s Europeans are probably as free-wheeling as any bare-chested indigenous peoples in the Amazon forest. There just more discreet about it (in most cases).

I do agree with Umair’s idea that either the head sack or the bikini when enforced or forbidden represent a type of control when they are not equivalent with the same controls on men.

The idea that a woman’s chest is more “sinful” than a man’s is not scientifically valid.

Freedom implies the choice of choosing the bikini or even the burqa and one has to wonder whether “enlightened” France’s banning of head scarves is not a way of targeting a community by controlling their women.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Ray’s post (Nov 26, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3634]


Re: History of Indian clothing [ideological position of Western intellectuals that modern state should intervene to ‘free’ Muslim women from patriarchal control] - Sunthar

Hello Paul,

The (often very explicit) argument advanced by intellectuals and opinion-makers—whether an anthropologist like Emmanuel Todd or a political scientist like Frédéric Encel—is that the State should help free Muslim women from the patriarchal control of their religion so that they can choose as ‘individuals’ (in all matters) and intermarry into French society. If you want to make the opposite argument (and I’m not taking sides now...), you need to study their analyses and logic in the context of what is happening to (young) Maghrebin women in the suburbs (at the hands of their own men). The scarf is the most visible and consequential symbol of this control being extended from the home into the public school system...

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3637]

Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, & aesthetics of (Hindu) ‘catholicism’—Sunthar

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam 

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 2:03 pm

This article concerns four Tamil novels, which upper-caste men who used the Western novel to publicize contemporary problems concerning women’s education and sexuality, composed between 1879 and 1924. The author demonstrates connections among reform for women, the Dravidian ethnic and literary revival, and the overarching national awakening during colonial rule in Madras, India. The male authors drew moral and literary validation from contemporary recompilations of classical Tamil texts when they articulated their views on improving modern women’s lives, but they also reaffirmed patriarchal notions of female chastity and domesticity. Bourgeois Victorian ideas on women’s domesticity and sexual restraint reinforced traditional Indian views. Thus, while these male novelists successfully challenged unjust customs, such as girls’ illiteracy, child marriages, and widow abuse, their paradigms on modern womanhood inhibited the full development of gender equality. Their heroines irrevocably shaped public perceptions of the female persona, and they became blueprints for modern Tamil fictional characters.

Sita Anantha Raman, “Old Norms in New Bottles: Constructions of Gender and Ethnicity in the Early Tamil Novel

Journal of Women’s History—Volume 12, Number 3, Autumn 2000, pp. 93-119 (Johns Hopkins University Press)

Adoring Thee, who art the bestower of prosperity on all Thy votaries, Hari (Vishnu) was able to become a charming female (Mohinī) and stir waves of passion in the minds of no less a Deity than Hara (Shiva), the Destroyer of the Three Cities.  And Smara (Kāma, like Cupid), through Thy adoration, obtained a form – a veritable feast for the eyes of his consort Rati, with which he has become capable of causing deep infatuation even in the minds of sages. [...] See how ineffective are the weapons of Kāma Deva (Cupid) in and of themselves! His bow is made only of flowers; its bow-string is a line of honey-bees; he has only five arrows, and these are made of flowers; his minister is the undependable Spring season; his battle chariot is the shifting and formless Malaya breeze; and above all he is Ananga, the bodiless one.  Yet, blessed by Thy gracious glance, he by himself, is victorious over the whole world! [...] May the Divine Mother Tripura-sundarī, the Pride and Self-Awareness of Lord Shiva, vouchsafe Her presence before us – the Mother with Her slender waist girdled with jingling bells, with Her frame slightly bent in the middle by the weight of Her breasts that bulge like the forehead of a young elephant, with her face resembling the autumn moon, and with her hand sporting a bow, arrows, a noose and a goad. [the insignia of Cupid—SV]  [...] If Thy gracious side-glance falls on even a very decrepit old man who is ugly to look at, and whose erotic sensibilities are dead, he will be followed in all haste in their hundreds by love-lorn young [only unmarried?—SV] women having their locks scattered, their rotund breasts exposed by the loosening of their clothes [like the wives of the Seven Sages after Bhairava?].

Ādi-Shankarācārya, The Waves of Beauty (Saundarya Laharī)

That she carried within herself an exceptional foetus was evident and is glorifyingly described in the traditional biographies: “as her pregnancy advanced, her whole body became lustrous like a blazing sun difficult to look at. What wonder is there if in course of time it became difficult for her to move about, bearing within, as she did, the energy of Shiva who is the support of all the worlds. She began to feel the contact of even tender and sweet smelling flowers a burden. What then to speak of ornaments? A general lassitude gradually crept on her, making everything burdensome to her. Another psychological change, characteristic of women in pregnancy, came over her. Whatever was rare she would like to have, but on obtaining it, would immediately lose all interest in it. Thus the relatives brought many delicacies to please the expectant mother, but her interest would abate as soon as she had tasted them. Well, the life of a pregnant mother is indeed full of ordeals. The line of her abdominal hair, resembling the mossy growth in the rivulet of radiance that flowed to the navel after encircling her hillock-like bosom, shone as the staff carried by accomplished yogis, placed there by the creator himself for the use of the divine child within—as if to declare that he was a sannyāsin, even in his pre-natal state. In the guise of her two breasts for suckling the child, the creator had verily made two jars filled with a new type of nectar that was enlightenment (mukti) itself. It looked as if the two breasts of the mother stood for the theory of difference and the thinness of the middle region for the doctrine of Shunyata (nothingness), and the child within was refuting and correcting these by causing the enlargement of the breasts and the abdomen.” The newborn was named Shankara, which is but another epithet for Lord Shiva. [...] Seventeen days passed in this intellectual exercise before Bharati realized that Shankara was invincible in Vedic lore and philosophies. She thus gave a new strategic direction to the whole discussion saying: “O wise one, discuss with me the science and art of love between the sexes. Enumerate the number of positions envisaged in our ancient erotic manuals? How do the preferences of the two genders manifest and vary with the bright and dark fortnights?” Shankaracharya gave a calm reply to her missives: “Holy mother, here we are discussing the shastras (scriptures).” “Has not the science of love too been deified as a scripture? It has indeed been granted the status of a shastra (Kamashastra: kama—desire; shastra—canon). A sannyāsin is supposed to have conquered all his physical desires, and there is no scope for any debilitating thought to ever enter his mind. Thus, if you feel that a mere discussion on the science of love will distract and titillate you, there definitely is some fundamental gap in your knowledge. How then can you be a guru to my husband?” Shankaracharya contemplated for a moment and then replied: “Mother, I will indeed reply to your questions. However I have two requests. First, I need a month’s time to prepare myself and secondly, I will submit the answers in writing only.” Bharati accepted both his pleas. It is said that Shankara, making use of his yogic powers, entered the dead body of a king, granting it a new lease of life. Thus embodied, Shankaracharya then traversed the perfumed gardens of love, gaining a first hand experience in the practical aspects of the ancient Kāma Sūtra. Texts indicate that Shankara became so engrossed in these amorous activities that he forgot his original purpose and his disciples had to come to the court and sing hymns extolling the virtues of non-dualist Vedic philosophy before he regained his composure and reverted back to his old body. [...] One day suddenly, Shankara felt the flavor of his mother’s milk on his tongue. He realized that she was beckoning him. He rushed to his native village to be on his mother’s side. She was on her deathbed. The sight of her beloved son relieved her of all agony and she came to terms with the inevitable.

Nitin Kumar, Life of Shankaracharya—The Adventures of a Poet Philosopher

M. P. Pandit and others say that Shankaracharya (founder of nondualistic Vedanta) later in his career turned more toward Tantra and that, in fact, the ritual in the maths (monastaries) is Tantric. Saundaryalahari, a Tantric text in the school of Shaktism, is attributed to Shankaracharya. Do you agree?  Shankara’s main purpose was to remove the influence of Buddhism and Mimamsa, his two rival philosophies. For that he took to dialectics-tarka. He had a double approach: one for the samnyāsins (renunciates who had left the world) and one for householders. He had two kinds of disciples also. And for the householders, he had a different thing to say, which is seen in his Dakshina-mūrti Strotra, which is nothing but Shaivism, and his Saundaryalaharī, which is based on a Tantric outlook. So I fully believe that in practice he was a follower of Tantra. But in preaching to samnyāsins—because his main purpose was to interpret the import of the Veda, which people had forgotten -Shankara taught Vedanta, the essence of the Upanishads.

An Interview with Deba Brata Sensharma” (Moksha Journa, Issue # IIl)

The point to be made here is that the symbolism of transgression is omnipresent and inescapable in the Hindu tradition, even when the fact is denied or absent. The transgressive aspects of the cult of the Mother-Goddess in her terrible forms like Kālī, Cāmundā [a skeletal female body with shriveled breasts—SV], Chinnamastā, etc., are too well-known. The socially inferior Hindu woman is not only educated in all the arts but also granted unlimited erotic satisfaction and liberation within the sacred precincts of the temple-walls which, adorned with ascetic-and-courtesan motifs and soaring to the pinnacles of orgiastic ecstasy, project her heavenward as voluptuous apsaras. It is in the same temple that the chaste Hindu wife, bound in matrimonial subservience to her husband, comes to pray and make offerings for the weal of her family. But within the orgiastic secret tantric rituals, the distinction between the courtesan and the familial woman would appear to become blurred, and one can only wonder as to what reality the adulterous beauties extolled so effusively by the Sanskrit poets correspond....

Sunthar V. “Transgressive Sacrality in the Hindu Tradition“ (1984)

Hello Nandakumar,

Since we seem to find Shankara and Tiruvalluvar (taking us all these days for a ‘non-normative’ ride?) in the same (Victorian) boat, I might perhaps be excused for prefacing my own musings on the contemporary Indian ‘moral’ sensibility with my first experiences in the Tamil country.

Given my Zaiva-Siddhānta family background, childhood in a capital of the (former) British Empire, schooling in the elite Victoria Institution (VI), first self-conscious initiation into breathing-techniques from bald Sinhala monks at the nearby Theravāda Buddhist national temple, and subsequent meditation only just a little further away at the Vivekananda Ashram, I too inherited the sort of ‘puritanical’ streak that seems to inhabit your allegiance to Shankara and Tiruvalluvar as the rightful ‘guardians of morality’ for India past and present. During the last two co-ed VI years, for example, I would avoid the (mostly Chinese) girls, particularly those whom I friends told me were gossiping about my cuteness. So I may be hardly suspected, not just on this list, of arriving in Madras in the early 70s with some cultural project of sexual liberation based on (Ray’s understanding of the Hindu) scriptures and tradition. However, even I was not prepared for the sort of prudishness that seemed to reign over the contemporary relations between the sexes in Tamil Nadu. My hosts in Madras insisted that I reserve a seat well in advance on the bus to Pondicherry which, for anyone familiar with the Indian public services, meant wasting a whole day standing in queue. When I boarded the bus a few days later, on the first leg of my South Indian pilgrimage, to take my reserved front seat, there was a girl already sitting on it. So I tried explaining to her politely, in both English and Tamil, that this was my rightful place, but she just refused to talk back. As I did not want to take someone else’s reserved seat, I started to complain to the men around her and was surprised to find myself treated as the offending party. Finally, I had to move with my luggage to one of the few empty spots close to the back of the bus. Later, I discovered that even after having reserved a seat at the cinema, you were expected to shift to the far end or simply move to another row, if your neighbor was a woman! Isn’t it a rather ’long stretch’ for the ‘purest’ of the Dravidian race to have evolved, over four millennia, from (Afrocentric?) ‘phallus-worshippers’ (zizna-devā?) to the south of Mohenjo-Daro to devoutly Victorian Tiruvalluvars, many of whom still proudly flaunt family-names derived from the Linga?

One does not need to read Wendy Doniger’s doctorate on the ‘erotic ascetic’ to appreciate the truth that, though opposed, eroticism and asceticism, reinforce each other at a higher level not just within the spiritual praxis of the individual (e.g., Pāzupata) but also as a shared cultural sensibility with regard to sexuality. The renouncer cultivates dispassion by meditating on the female breasts and navel as mountains of flesh from which the unwary tumble straight down into a bottomless pit of endless desire, whereas the hedonist pursues carnal pleasure as if it were the only repeatable moment of liberating relief from the desire underpinning the endless stress of this life. The erotic ascetic simply carries this (axio-) logic to the extreme by turning desire upon itself (kāma-stham kāma-madhya-stham kāmānkuza-puTī-kRtam, kāmena kāmayet kāmān, kāmam eva viniyojayet—Abhinava): sexual enjoyment becomes the (even transgressive) means par excellence to shatter the bonds of illusion and inner dispassion becomes the transcendental aphrodisiac for intensifying the divine pleasure! Though rare might be the individual, like Abhinava, who harmoniously unites the two poles, this ‘aesthetic’ formula, I believe, still remains at the heart of Indian eroticism. This is why Hindus have always looked upon Vātsyāyana, the author of the Kāmasūtra, as a (voyeur?) sannyāsin (which is how Prof. Byrski assured me he had been portrayed in the Hindi Utsav, a free cinematic rendering of the Mrcchakatikā), and Shankara as having ‘rounded out’ his education through the assiduous, even forgetful, service rendered in the royal harem (not to mention his obeisance to the untouchable in Benares...), the sort of single-mindedness of which only a true renouncer is capable. Even if we concede that the Saundarya-Laharī (like the Bhaja-Govindam?) is not really the work of the staunch Advaitin, and that Shankara’s subsequent fanclub has been responsible for not only extending his dig-vijaya to include the (sexual) ‘conquest’ of women but also for embellishing his pre-natal disputations with the quaint conceits of Sanskrit kāvya, the question remains why the brahmanical consensus saw it fit to do so and as enhancing (rather than compromising) his reputation. The originality of Hindu ‘ethics’ has been its ability to hierarchize, (partly) reconcile, norm-alize, and creatively ‘problematize’ opposing values through contextual distinctions of time, place, station, caste, occupation, sect, age, (individual) vocation, etc., and holding out the possibility of living each situation out to its fullest. This is why we see no problem in attributing all three ‘centuries’ (zataka) to the same Bhartrhari: unreserved panegyric of women, their wiles, and their pleasures in zrngāra; their (Shankara-like?) deconstruction in vairāgya (‘dispassion’); and the reconciliation of conflicting values within social ‘ethics’ (nīti). What we see making the headlines across the Indian press today would seem to be rather a growing caricature of this creative tension: Victorian prudery and commercialized exhibitionism feeding off each other in a vicious circle!

The traditional dialectic underlying the Hindu erotic sensibility can offer us valuable insights into the sexual mores of other, and even contemporary, cultures. As every (not just English and Indian) schoolboy knows (at least from rumors!), French women are apparently not so ‘Catholic’ when it comes to flirtatious behavior that can range from the physically sensual, through a certain charm of hospitality, to the intellectually refined: the fact is that men and women visibly enjoy each others’ company and welcome (if not solicit) the attention of the opposite sex. Without going into the various streams of cultural history that have flown together to distinguish French manners and sensibility from those of their (ever ‘sexually-harassed?) Anglo-Saxon sisters, we may focus on the Parisian salons, hosted by truly remarkable women, that were frequented in the 18th century by the top intellectuals and artists. Many of these highly educated and refined women had a pious convent education and ended up their days in penitence if not actually becoming nuns. For the most of this life, however, they not only flirted with remarkable men, whom they often nourished and nurtured (not just emotionally and intellectually), but also served in succession as their willing mistresses enjoying all the pleasures of life. This curious combination of deep-rooted piety and mundane profligacy was itself—it seems to me—contained within, conditioned, and sustained by a specifically Catholic ethos with respect to sinning (in the flesh) and salvation (as exemplified especially by the rites of confession). Mundane life and its pleasures are ephemeral and the ultimate reality is the Kingdom of Heaven hereafter, so that the choice (and vacillation) is between enjoyment and repentance, and, why not, both. This may be contrasted to the Protestant ethic, which has come to insist (after some European meanderings of its own...) on (visible self-restraint in) worldly conduct as being the outward insignia of the elect. The tremendous influence exerted by such women from behind the scenes of the otherwise masculine stage of French history may be judged by the degree to which the ‘Sun King’, Louis XIV the supreme monarch of Europe, was beholden to the counsel of Madame Maintenon (a Catholic with some strong Protestant sensibilities...), by whose beauty, virtue, and wisdom he seems to have been deeply smitten, even over-awed. In fact, I became very interested in her (and thereby this whole salon culture...) after seeing the movie Saint Cyr, a few years ago in Paris, about her (ultimately failed) attempt to establish, with the king’s personal backing, a school for transforming orphaned girls into highly cultivated and independent young ladies (sabotaged by growing ‘patriarchal’ resistance...). This is how I envisage the ancient Indian courtesan culture, retained well into Muslim times, as forming the aesthetic sensibility of young (especially aristocratic) men (would have extended to ‘bourgeois’ merchants in the Buddhist context...), and as reflected in the high respect accorded by the Mrcchakatikā to the (not just erotic) ‘virtue’ of the heroine Vasantasenā. Jaina asceticism has similarly reconciled itself to the world by exemplifying, in hagiographies like the Jīvaka Cintāmani, aristocratic lives devoted to pleasure and valor, exhausting them before turning eventually to stringent penance. It is the Zaiva Siddhānta bhakti of the Periya Purānam that subsequently introduced a ‘Protestant ethic’ of sorts into the Tamil soul.

The (‘agnostic’?) Tiruvalluvar himself betrays a strongly Jaina sensibility (some scholars believe he was actually a Jain). Though the southern Shaivas (and their royal patrons) vanquished these (northern?) opponents through the bhakti revolution, the whole of Tamil culture (from untouchable through middlebrow Dravidian to smārta brahmin) is now pervaded by this ‘puritanical’ streak (but didn’t the Tamil sage devote an entire book to Eros?). Colonial ‘enlightenment’ has succeeded in amputating this ‘moral organ’ from its spiritual trunk, but only at the cost, it seems, of supplanting it with an exaggerated (and self-defeating?) prudery that might perplex even good ‘born-again’ American fundamentalists.

So, if Tiruvalluvar were looking through the surveillance cameras on Marina Beach, would he perhaps feel compelled to rewrite the Tirukurral?

Regards,

Sunthar

[Response to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 24, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3616

Rest of this thread at Ray (Nov 25, 2005)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3634]


[Read Part III (“Anglo-Saxon Feminism versus Islamic hijab”) of this digest for the full content of the following posts – Sunthar]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3638]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [(Muslim) women should be allowed to choose (even) to wear the head-scarf] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala 

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 2:29 pm


Subject:

 Re: [Muslim head-scarf must be replaced in larger (assimilationist) context – relevance of Indian case] - Sunthar

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam 

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 2:29 pm


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3639]

 Of freedom and hijabs [Right of host-cultures to preserve their own norms in the face of Muslim double-standards] - Ray

From: Ray Harris 

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 4:01 pm


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3640]

 Re: Of freedom and hijabs [Women not legally obliged to wear scarf in most Muslim countries] - Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 6:03 pm


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3641]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [Nadars fought to ascend caste-hierarchy rather than to wear breast-cloth (plus folklore on their Tamil origins and status)] - Radhakrishna

From: Radhakrishna Warrier 

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 7:09 pm

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Umair Ahmed Muhajir (25 Nov 2005) wrote:

A post that might well be relevant to this discussion) particularly given Ray’s note on the hijab in his most recent post (a note I have great sympathy with I might add):

 http://qalandari.blogspot.com/2005/11/some-thoughts-on-purdah.html

The toddy-tappers (Nadars) of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore offer a useful illustration: until the mid-nineteenth century, Nadar women were forbidden from covering their breasts in public, only winning the right to do so after long agitation. Nakedness here was the signifier of low-caste status, not of liberation.

This is in response to Umair Ahmed Muhajir’s post dated 25 November 2005. The link to the post and the relevant excerpt to which I am responding appear at the end of this post.

In my humble opinion, the Nadars fought more for a higher place in the caste hierarchy than for the right to cover the breasts of their women. The European missionary cleverly manipulated the caste pride of the Nadars to make them revolt against the Nairs, and ultimately led them almost en masse to Christianity. The Nairs who insisted that Nadar women go “topless” had their own womenfolk going about bare breasted most of the time. In the four-fold varna hierarchy (cAturvarNya) the Nair was the ‘shoodra’ (zUdra) at the bottom. But he at least had varna (‘savarNa’) and hence was considered higher in the pecking order compared to those that did not happen to have a varna to speak of. So the Nair considered the toddy-tapping, Tamil- speaking Nadar to be much further down the food chain, outside the pale of cAturvarNya like the Malayalam-speaking Ezhava who was an ‘avarNa’ on account of being a toddy tapper. The term used in Malayalam for both Ezhavas and Nadars is the same ‘Channan’ (cAnnAn. Literary Tamil ‘cAnRAn’. Colloquial Tamil ‘sANAn’ from which comes the Anglicized ‘Shanan’.) But the status accorded to the Nadar seems to have been even below that of the Ezhava. It might be interesting to look into some of the legends prevalent in Kerala about the history of the Nadars of the erstwhile southern Travancore (now Kanyakumari district in the state of Tamil Nadu).

First, the legend concerning the arrival of the Nadars in southern Travancore from the adjoining ‘Pandi’ (pANDi, Pandya desha, Tamil speaking region). It began in late seventeenth or early eighteenth century CE with refugees from a heavy drought seeking asylum in the lush green, well watered west coast. The kings of Travancore were quick to grant refuge to these poor Nadars fleeing rainless Pandi. The trickle of refugees through the passes in the Sahya (that stooped very low as it neared the lands end of Kanyakumari) soon became a deluge. Initially, the local Nairs welcomed the additional labor force that perhaps came cheaper than the existing, like the West welcoming immigration for the cheap labor that it brings. But soon, like many in the West who fear that immigration will ultimately dilute their blue eyes and blonde hair, the Nairs began fearing an impending ‘Nadarization’ of their homeland. But before they could do anything, the resourceful Nadar had Tamilized the land. The Malayalee became a minority. As an exercise in “damage control,” representatives of the Nairs went to the ruling king and complained of their “plight.” The king liked to appear ‘dharmiSTha’ (just, ruling according to dharma) and would not take any direct steps to stop those who sought ‘abhaya’ (refuge). But he gave a little freedom to local authorities in taking steps that, at surface at least, appear non-discriminatory. The clever local authorities devised an ingenious and apparently non-discriminatory strategy. They stipulated that would-be immigrants be able to pronounce correctly a few simple words common in both Malayalam and Tamil. The kAvalkkArs (guards) who manned the passes would shout “say ‘kOzhi’”. KOzhi in both Malayalam and Tamil is hen/cock. The Nadar would faithfully reply “kOLi,” unable to pronounce the letter that happens to be part of the very name of his/her dear mother tongue. The guard would immediately turn him/her away. This ensured that the Malayalee could pass unhindered while filtering out the Nadar and many other fellow Tamils. It is not known for sure whether this technique was actually implemented or is merely part of a folk legend.

Once the land was ‘Nadarized’, the Nadar was in no mood to remain subservient to the Nair. Where they came from, they had but recently waged and won a valiant war with their own brethren, the fierce Maravars, as part of caste mobility wars, the never ending struggle that goes on among the constituent castes in the hierarchy for a higher place in the pecking order. The irrepressible Nadar must have begun to show his defiance to the Nair in many ways immediately from the time he could muster the strength to do so. But this show of defiance might not have been by insisting that he be given the right to cover his woman’s breasts. The way the Nadar woman dressed could not have been any different from the way other Tamil women dressed, or for that matter most other South Indian women of those times dressed. It was a piece of unstitched cloth, a ‘chela’ that covered them from ankles to upper torso. It might have cursorily passed over the breasts, just as a “second cloth” (randaam mundu) passed over those of the Nair woman on occasions. I can’t imagine the women to be too prudish, or the men to be very concerned in the matter of the breasts becoming unveiled when the women were engaged in their routine work. Nakedness of the upper torso was not the signifier of low-caste status because the Nair woman too went bare breasted even in public. (In a Malayalam translation of the travelogues of a seventeenth century European traveler, Dutch if I remember correctly, I have read him describe as bare breasted the powerful queen of Kallada, obviously a Kshatriya woman far higher in the pecking order compared to an ordinary zUdra Nair.) The insistence on the right to cover breasts coincided with the beginning of the vigorous efforts of the missionary to convert the Nadar. Covering the breast became a convenient issue for the missionary to whip up passions, and manipulate the caste pride of the Nadar to ultimately lead him to the Christian fold.

Thanks and regards,

Radhakrishna Warrier

Response to Umair’s post (25 Nov 2005)

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3635]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3645]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [Nairs didn’t allow Nadar women higher rank than their own bare-breasted women] - Paulraj

From: R.M. Paulraj

Date: Sun Nov 27, 2005; 8:41 am

I would like to set right some of the misconceptions regarding the ‘Nadar vs. other Hindu castes struggle’ in the erstwhile state of Travancore, though some of the information I provide here will be in response to Radhakrishna Warrier’s message that can be read in

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3641].

Most of the Nadars, or Shanars as they were called sometimes, in the southern parts of Travancore were impoverished migrants from the areas of present Tirunelveli and Ramnad districts that lay to the east of the Travancore state. These poor migrants were members of the land-owning agricultural community which was well off in its native regions. The poor Nadars were driven into the parts of Travancore by famine and a hostile social condition in their native areas where they had come under increasing attacks by the Marava and Nayakka castes. The migrants were only economically weak while being socially at par with the Nairs of Travancore.

The struggle began when the Nairs, fully supported by the Namboodiri Brahmins and Pillais (VeLLALAs), began depriving the Nadars of their social status by imposing various caste codes on them. The Nadars, being new-comers and far less in numbers, initially submitted to the diktats of the ‘National Council of Pidagaikars’, the supreme caste council of the Nairs of Travancore which annually ‘reviewed’ the compliance of caste codes by various castes in the state and devised new codes to ‘maintain’ the caste hierarchy while supervising and reinforcing the existing practices—all, under the sanction of the rulers (who belonged to the Pillai caste) and the Namboodiris.

The codes imposed on the Nadars included the following: Nadars must remain 36 paces from a Namboodiri and 12 paces from a Nair. They should not carry an umbrella, or use foot-wear and remain bare-foot always. The wearing of golden ornaments was prohibited. No Nadar should build a house with more than one storey. They should pay an exorbitantly high annual poll-tax. The Nadar women should not carry water pots on the hip, as was the custom, but should carry it on their head instead, as a sign of subservience.

The ban on covering the breast was only one among these numerous ‘rules’. This was strictly implemented by the state officials, who were mostly Nairs, among the other similar restrictions. They went to the extent of stripping the Nadar women in public, when found guilty of wearing the ‘sari’ with its one end passing over the breasts.

It must be remembered that the Nadar women in the Tamil country wore the ‘sari’ covering the breasts just as the women of any other caste there. The Nadars were not used to such repressive practices in the regions where they lived prior to the migration into Travancore. Hence, the struggle was only inevitable, given the violent repression unleashed by the Nairs with the blessings of the rulers. It was a case of state terror.

That the missionaries sided with the numerically weak and impoverished Nadars was only a natural course any modern and humane persons would take to. There was no en masse conversion of the Nadars to Christianity as Radhakrishna Warrier states. The percentage of Christians among the Nadars of this area, even today, is only about twenty, while the number of Christians among the Nairs and Vellalas is only close behind.

Moreover, branding the Nadars as very low in the caste hierarchy, as being lower than the Nairs, is also basically wrong. There was a large Nadar population in the Tamil country, in areas from Tirunelveli to Tiruchi and Coimbatore. They were never known to be inferior to any other major caste in the region. They were in no way less equal to the Nairs of Kerala, though it is true that the migrant Nadars in Travancore were an economically weak and ‘yet to be naturalized’ group in the place of their domicile.

The migrant Nadars possessed no agricultural lands in their new home. They had become landless laborers. One occupation that a large number of them took up, in circumstances where there were no opportunities for better undertakings, was toddy tapping. Their counter-parts in the Tamil country were mostly a land-owning agricultural community that was also traditionally involved in mercantile activities. (Toddy tapping was the vocation of a section of all communities in their respective areas of domination. The Maravas, Vannias, Mudalis, Gounders, etc., did the toddy tapping themselves in the respective areas where they formed the majority of the population. It was not an exclusive craft of the Nadars.)

It may be recalled here that the Nairs were the backbone of Travancore’s administration as they formed the majority of the state’s officialdom. The police and army were made up of them. More importantly, they were among the ‘original inhabitants’ of the state juxtaposed to the ‘alien’ Tamil speaking Nadars. The rulers naturally sided with these numerically superior ‘locals’ who also formed the major portion of the population of the adjacent state of Cochin and the other petty kingdoms on the western coast.

Language also played a significant role. The language of the state of Travancore was Malayalam, which was also the mother-tongue of the Nairs, Namboodiris and the Pillais, the three communities that allied against the newcomers who were Tamils. That the Nadars were required to pronounce the word ‘kOzhi’, etc. to ‘qualify’ to cross the border check-posts (a discriminatory visa rule?) was an insult since any migrating poor and unlettered people can not be expected to pronounce difficult words properly.

The story of the Nadars in nineteenth century Travancore state is one that clearly depicts how a section of a well civilized community is subjected to degrading and discriminatory suppression in its adopted home by a numerically and politically more powerful community of equal status that is driven by selfish economic and social policies.

The stigma of the Travancore suppression still remains. The Nadars are generally thought to be toddy tappers by others as a result of the large-scale adoption of that vocation by migrant Nadars in Travancore under repressive conditions during the eighteenth century.

Sorry for having written a long message. Thanks.

R.M. Paulraj

[Response to Radha’s post (Nov 26, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3641]


[Radha’s reply below has been moved up to immediately follow Paulraj’s post]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3649]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [clarification of Tamil Nadars’ contested place in the Travancore jāti-hierarchy and plea to replace caste-discrimination within global context ] - Radha

From: Radhakrishna Warrier

Date: Sun Nov 27, 2005; 8:07 pm

This is in response to the post of Shri R.M. Paulraj dated 27 November 2005

I would like to set right some of the misconceptions regarding the ‘Nadar vs. other Hindu castes struggle’ in the erstwhile state of Travancore, though some of the information I provide here will be in response to Radhakrishna Warrier’s message that can be read in

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3641].

 Dear Shri Paulraj,

Thank you for the post and your sincere efforts to clear misconceptions on the subject of the Nadars of the erstwhile south Travancore.

Personally, I believe I am free from a few of the types of misconceptions you endeavored to clear.

Moreover, branding the Nadars as very low in the caste hierarchy, as being lower than the Nairs, is also basically wrong. [Paulraj]

My concept, or misconcept is that Mudaliar or Nadar, Vellalan or Pallan, Nair or Namboodiri, no one is below or above anyone just because of the accident of birth in a particular caste, or in any particular religion, race or social class. I was just recounting legends that I happened to come across and was expressing my view that the Nadar’s fight was not merely for the right to cover his woman’s breasts, but more against the low status accorded to him in the caste hierarchy. The Nadar was a proud person and did not, like some other castes, meekly submit to the indignities heaped on him by the powers that be. Your post seems to reiterate this point.

The poor Nadars were driven into the parts of Travancore by famine and a hostile social condition in their native areas where they had come under increasing attacks by the Marava and Nayakka castes.[Paulraj]

This “hostile social condition,” this “increasing attacks by the Marava and Nayakka castes” is what I would consider part of the never ending jostling for power that went on (and goes on) among the constituents of the caste hierarchy. At any given time a few castes emerge as the winners and many more end up as losers. Whoever emerged the winners in the struggle appropriated for themselves such ‘varna’ titles as Kshatriya, Brahmana, Vaishya or even Shoodra (eg. Nair) and dictated demeaning terms to the losers. But yesterday’s winners may be today’s losers and today’s winners may end up losers tomorrow. The senseless struggle goes on.

As you point out, even before coming to south Travancore to be lorded over by the Nair, the Nadar had to face indignities at the hands of his brethren the Marava and the Nayakka in his Tamil homeland. This clearly shows that such things happened everywhere in India. I would extend Swami Vivekananda’s words to the whole of India and say the entire Bharatam (India) was a big Bhrāntālayam (lunatic asylum) in the matter of caste. Well, why India alone? If we see the demeaning face of caste in India, we see the uglier, more dehumanizing face of slavery elsewhere in the world. Read Alex Haley’s Roots and you will realize that the caste indignities imposed by the Nair or Namboodiri pale into insignificance before the dehumanizing indignities that those who called themselves “Christians” heaped on fellow human beings, the black African slaves.

I do not wish to go on and am closing the discussion from my side. But before that, let me point out a few remarks of yours which I believe to be in error.

…under the sanction of the rulers (who belonged to the Pillai caste) [Paulraj]

Travancore and the other erstwhile princely states on the west coast (that presently comprise the state of Kerala) were ruled by those who styled themselves Kshatriyas and had the appendage “Varma” added to their names. They considered themselves scions of the ancient Chera dynasty and adopted such titles as “Kulasekhara”. They were quite distinct from Vellala Pillais or Nairs though there is every likelihood of them being raised to Kshatriyahood from among the ranks of these very castes through the artifact of the “hiranyagarbha” [golden womb] ceremony in the distant past.

The language of the state of Travancore was Malayalam, which was also the mother-tongue of the Nairs, Namboodiris and the Pillais, the three communities that allied against the newcomers who were Tamils. [Paulraj]

The first language of the Vellala Pillais was, and continues to be Tamil. A large section of these Pillais have adopted the matrilineal system of the Nairs, but not their language. There are some Nairs who take the surname ‘Pillai’ but they are not the same as Tamil speaking Vellala Pillais.

Thanks and regards,

Radhakrishna Warrier

[Response to Paulraj’s post (27 Nov 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3645]


Subject: [Abhinava]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [some concise historical background on the socio-economic transformations driving the quest of the Shanar caste for upward mobility] - Sunthar

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Sun Nov 27, 2005; 8:07 pm

Hello Radha,

In closing (at least for the time being...) this caste-history thread that seems to be taking us too far away from the relevance of Indian dress-codes to questions of modesty, eroticism, and (non-) ‘normative’ ethics, I’d like to take the liberty of making the following points:

·         Shanars were semi-untouchable toddy-tappers who also worked as agricultural laborers. South of the Tambraparni river, their subcastes were also proprietors who claimed to be ‘lords of the land’ (Nadars). In Ramnad district (Maravar country), their merchants controlled six towns (Sivakasi, Virudhunagar, Tirumangalam, etc.)

·         Though the primary aim of the Shanars was to rise up in the caste-hierarchy, the (right to wear the) breast-cloth became a primary signifier of (the eventually consensual recognition of) this higher status, whatever other value of (Christian or other) modesty it may have also acquired. Even the Izhavas of Kerala, who did not convert, (largely on account of Narayana Guru) were constantly threatening to do so to extort ‘more equal’ acceptance into the Hindu fold.

·         Though there have always been internal tensions within the traditional caste-order, this (new) disequilibrium was introduced largely by the (globalizing) colonial monetary economy (a logic we also see for the Muslim weavers in the context of the Lat Bhairo riots of Benares...). The development of sugar refineries increased the price of jaggery, enriching the Nadars (and also the Izhavas), who re-invested in tea, coffee, etc., plantations n Ceylon, Malaya, etc.

·         This financial independence from the traditional ecology of exchanges/prestations (like jajmani system in the North) helped them dissolve internal differences, organize horizontally, and adopt ‘purer’ norms. The violent clashes with Maravars was provoked by their attempts to forcibly enter Hindu temples both out of devotion and recognition of caste-ascendancy (the urban temple is, after all, the successor of the Vedic sacrifice in regulating social order).

·         Anthropologists agree that the traditional hierarchy, which was governed by holistic interdependence, has slid in modern times into increasing rivalry, sometimes even violent confrontation, between separate (= ‘substantialized’) castes. I would simply point out that such entropy/conflict/tension was always taken into account in the old ritual order, and the system these days shows some signs of reverting to interdependence within the new political ‘economy’ (witness Mayavati’s volte-face with regard to brahmins, etc., in UP).

The caste-system certainly poses mind-boggling challenges and many injustices, present and past, but in attempting to chalk out possible future trajectories, it’s well worth asking ourselves how many other societies have successfully conserved so much human group-diversity....

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3652]

 Re: History of Indian clothing [Pillai caste were originally Tamils who adopted Malayalam and had been accorded high landowner status by the Nambudiri brahmins] - Paulraj

From: R.M. Paulraj

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 1:27 am

I would like to clarify some of the points in the context of Radhakrishna Warrier’s message, though the Moderator wants to close this sub-thread for the time being.

I agree with Warrier’s position of seeing no differences between human beings on the basis of caste. But, in a discussion about issues rising out of caste based discriminations it is not possible to avoid the caste system altogether.

It is true, the Pillais were a Tamil caste. But they had already settled in the Travancore region and had adopted Malayalam as their language. They were considered next to the Brahmins in the Hindu caste hierarchy and were allies of the Namboodiris and Nairs in the then existing caste groupings in the state. The Pillais of Thiruvananthapuram and Thiruchhoor areas still speak Tamil at home.

The Brahmin priests had styled the rulers of Travancore as ‘kshatriyas’, keeping with their custom of conferring the ‘kshathriya’ title on any ruling house of some substance. (Some rulers in places like Rajasthan were fortunate enough to be admitted into the Brahmin fold.)

Otherwise, dear Mr. Warrier, we are both on the same side of the fence.

Thank you.

R.M. Paulraj

P.S.: The famed dancer-actress Padmini, who was well known as belonging to a Pillai family, used to claim to be a member of the Travancore royal family.

[Response to Radhakrishna Warrier’s message at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3649]


[Read Part III (“Anglo-Saxon Feminism versus Islamic hijab”) of this digest for the full content of the following posts – Sunthar]

Subject: [Abhinava msg #3643]

 Re: Of freedom and hijabs [strict imposition of traditional norms of dress in Islamic countries even while demanding exempt status for Muslim women in the West]—Ray

From: Ray Harris

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 8:00 pm

Hi Paul,

I guess Sunthar will pull the plug if this discussion digresses too far from the mandate of this list.... [practically the whole body of this message has been snipped out – Sunthar]

BTW, we could extend some of these arguments to Hindu women and the pressure they feel to conform to a new puritanical standard that is also dismissive of Western fashion.

Ray Harris


Subject:

 Re: Of freedom and hijabs [discussion of hijab should maintain comparative thrust and especially its relevance to traditional Indian dress-codes] - Sunthar

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Sat Nov 26, 2005; 8:00 pm

I don’t have a problem as long as the discussion remains on a general conceptual level and maintains the comparative thrust (even if only implicitly) with respect to Indian dress-codes / erotic sensibility. I would however strongly discourage against getting side-tracked into (quibbling over) minor details at the expense of the larger issues. We’re doing OK...so far!

Sunthar

PS. [snipped].


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3644]

 Re: Of Freedom and Hijabs [] - Umair

From: Umair Muhajir 

Date: Sun Nov 27, 2005; 12:40 am

Ray wrote:

“...But it is not just Saudi Arabia, but Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, etc.”

Inasmuch as the above (and Ray’s post in general) is meant to, or has the effect of, eliding the distinction between various countries, I must differ.  There are tons of people (e.g. Pakistanis and Indian Muslims) in Qatar and Kuwait who do not wear the hijab-- they just wear the sari or the shalwar qameez as they would in the sub-continent.  This is also true of the United Arab Emirates and Oman as well.  These countries are in marked contrast to Saudi Arabia, where vigilante units are authorized, even obliged, by law to penalize people who do NOT wear the hijab, Muslim or not.  By contrast, in the countries I have mentioned, large numbers of Muslims and non-Muslims dress in traditional Indian clothing.

A somewhat different case is presented by Pakistan: Ray you are mistaken if you mean to suggest that the law or the police imposes “Islamic dress” on women.  This simply does not happen.  Any 10 hours spent in Karachi or Lahore will demonstrate that (most of the people you will see will be in shalwar qameez, but that is not considered “Islamic” by the likes of the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, etc.).  Away from urban Pakistan, most women do not dress in the Islamic hijab either, but in the traditional dress native to those parts of the sub-continent (interestingly, but not surprisingly, the hijab is more visible in urban than in rural Pakistan, and is more a bourgeois/middle-class phenomenon than it is a working or upper-class phenomenon).

You seem to suggest that where women veil themselves (as millions undoubtedly do in Pakistan, Egypt, etc.) they must be doing so because of social coercion.  I am prepared to accept that social forces legitimize and privilege one manner of dress over another, but you seem to suggest a coercion that is individual and personal in nature; that is, you link this to the situation in France, where many girls complained about being harrassed and threatened by men because they weren’t wearing the veil.  The two situations are different: the Pakistani or Egyptian model is more of an “acculturation” model: i.e. most women in these countries wear traditional dress, just as non-Muslim women in Rajsthan, Punjab, U.P., etc. all do so.  Even among those who veil themselves, there are as I see it (at least) two categories.  The first (best represented by the Urdu-speaking Muslims of North India, and their immigrant cousins in Karachi) consists of families the women of which traditionally wear the veil in publicIn the home, however, they do not veil themselves, often even before men before whom the Shariah as interpreted by the traditionalist Sunni ulema would require veiling; the second group is a more “modern”, less traditionalist group, and use the veil in relatively strict accordance with the Sunni ulema’s interpretation of the Shariah.  This latter group seems to be conflated by Ray with all the others; in fact, however, this latter group is a minority in the sub-continent (some combination of the former + traditional non-veiled dress probably constitute the majority), whereas in Saudi Arabia it is precisely this view that is enforced to the fullest extent by a police state.

I apologize for holding forth at some length, but I wish to highlight that the issue is not amenable to easy generalizations, certainly not ones that seek to lump the phenomenon of acculturation with that of an authoritarian state and ideology.  [I of course do not mean to suggest that there can be nothing problematic about an acculturation model, merely that the same shoe won’t fit as to both.]

Finally: Western tourists are advised to dress conservatively not only in the MIddle East, but also in South Africa, India (depending on where the tourist is going), and other countries; I do not think this to be a particularly “Islamic” problem (I myself have had the embarrassing experience of talking to two Americans who were in Delhi for a couple of weeks, and the precautions these women felt they had to take there, which they felt were called for by the capital’s truly alarming sexual assault rate; perhaps they were overreacting-- but does anyone really believe that it would be advisable for Western women to dress as they pleased in Pushkar or Ajmer, even if they obviously can in a Bombay or Delhi club?)

Umair Ahmed Muhajir

[Response to Ray’s post, dated November 26, 2005, at:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3643]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3646]

 Re: Of freedom and hijabs []—Paul

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Sun Nov 27, 2005; 9:51 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Ray Harris wrote:

Yes, the headscarf ban is directed at Islam. The other country to ban the hijab in schools and government institutions is a Muslim country, Turkey.

As such it must be considered a deplorable method regardless of who is implementing the ban.

The hijab ban in Turkey has been the source of much discord and popular polls show about 3/4th of the population disagree with the practice, which however is not a legal sanction.

The Turkish ban is carried out entirely through private regulations of schools, organizations, etc. There have been cases of hospitals denying treatment to women wearing headscarves.

Also, regarding the “double standard,” it may exist but I brought up the French case as an example of women manipulated in two instances: being forced to be modest, or forced to be less modest. Also, I don’t know whether most of the immigrants to France would agree with forcing women in their original countries to wear the hijab. Maybe certain freedoms compelled some to migrate in the first place.

Also, I do know that it is not ‘civil’ law in most Muslim states, but where the law is silent custom is not. Women feel pressure to conform from their family, friends, and neighbors. In some towns, cities and neighborhoods women who dress in the ‘modern’ style can face overt and covert discrimination. Western dress is often associated with living an immoral lifestyle. The rumors start, if you do not wear the hijab you must be a slut.

I think this is quite a bit of an exaggeration. Even if partially true, it does not in my opinion give any excuse for outright banning of this traditional garment.

Again, I’m no stranger to Muslims living in the West. The idea that a woman wearing Western dress is automatically considered a “slut” just doesn’t ring true. Of course, some might consider such a woman in that way. There are also Western men who prejudge women who dress in certain ways.

In regard to progressive Muslim women’s groups—I gave the link to at least one. Others exist and other members of this group may be able to provide links and names. I guess a lot also depends on how you define progressive as distinct from moderate or conservative. I would define a progressive Muslim as one who sees the need to reform Sharia law and who is far more critical of the Koran.

I think what you are referring to involves only a very small minority of people.

 Finally, the freedom to choose can only exist when there is a real freedom to choose and I would argue that many French Muslim women are not free to choose to not wear the hijab. It is a political issue and there is pressure on Muslim women from Muslim men to wear the hijab as a pro-Muslim political statement.

Well, of course they are not free because the law doesn’t to allow them to wear the hijab in many instances!

The idea that Muslim men “pressure” their women to wear the hijab is also I think misleading. I would say as many Muslim women pressure their daughters in the same way.

Even if Muslim men do pressure their women, this is not at all an usual behavior peculiar to Muslims. All people tend to pressure others of their group to conform to certain norms and traditions of that group.

An orthodox Jew might pressure his daughter to marry another Jew, and his son to wear a yarmulke or other head covering.

If you have evidence Muslims are using violence or other illegal methods to force their women to dress in a certain way, then put a stop to those specific incidents. Don’t ban a practice which in and of itself is harmless.

Here is an interesting article on the subject:

French Researcher: Headscarf Ban Solved Nothing

http://www.islamwomen.org/EngIW/Data/Zine/hb1.htm

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

Response to Ray’s post [Nov. 26, 2005:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3643]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3647]

 Re: Of freedom and hijabs []—Dominique

From: Dominique Abalain

Date: Sun Nov 27, 2005; 10:59 am

It is worth insisting on the limitation of the ban to public (-funded and free of charge) shools and administrations. I noticed that many in English language press readers took it as a general ban.

Few more things I would like to mention:

- The French “Education nationale” (like more recently the civil administration) has always been a stronghold of the secular priesthood. It has been a place where secularism asserted itself against the Catholic church during decades of bloody struggles. Hence the epidermic reaction to yet another religious intrusion into their republican heaven.

- Before the ban was legally voted, during many years, cases of girls wearing Hijab were always singular cases. Sometimes the school would be tolerant, sometimes the girl would change her dressing during the classes... Later (and it would be hard to distinguish the chicken from the egg) some cases couldn’t come down to a compromise. Secular activists as well as Muslim organizations started putting the matter in the media and the public opinion. Secularists insist that at a point of time, plenty of girls, all over France, started wearing the veil, backed by legal arguments put in ad hoc handbooks by Muslim activist groups.

- Meanwhile, in the “cités” other girls would start complaining that there was systematic harrassment of all of them for not wearing the Muslim veil and dress.

The law was a result of lots of troubles in the opinion (where Muslim activist groups too played a big role) resulting among other things from the above situation. I don’t think it was ever understood in general as something very clever and definitive, but as an expedient to cut short the debate and provide the school managements with clear rule to follow.

It seems the American media found in this matter a nice opportunity to turn back against France the criticism it had received about the Irak war...

Let me add that I don’t mean to take the defense of France or French authorities in general (nor in this particular subject). I’ve spent a good part of my youth in informal groups trying their best to do precisely the opposite. But I find the ‘French ban’ is very often taken as starting point for ‘philosophical’ or ‘ethical’ analysis without real knowledge of its background.

I guess this whole subject is not really relevant to this group.

Dominique Abalain

[Somehow follows Paul’s post (Nov 27, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3646]


Subject: [Abhinava]

 Re: Of freedom and hijabs []—Sunthar

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Sun Nov 27, 2005; 10:59 am

Hello Dominique,

I couldn’t agree more with you!

Elizabeth has taught in such mixed public schools in the Paris suburbs and I have been present at many dinner conversations with her (especially women) teacher-colleagues on the (specifically French) complexity (and ‘situatedness’) of the issues. Part of the problem is that most of the teaching cadre has simply given up on their (especially Muslim) students because the (administratively dead-end) situation seems so hopeless. Nevertheless, Elizabeth has been consistently severe with and yet winning the respectful affection of (are the two so opposed?) many of her (especially girl) Maghrebin students (but then she’s not stuck in Paris...).

Your observations are quite relevant because we can see the same sort of (implied if not) explicit (and ultimately plain ‘lazy’...) extrapolation (even by would-be [Hindu] politico-cultural ‘leaders’...) to the far more complicated Indian universe (with its multiple social groups and conflicting norms), all the more so when it comes to projecting contemporary wishful fantasies onto the distant past...

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3653]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 9:11 am

Hello Ray,

<< I’m not sure I understand what you mean by a conversation between “the pituitary and the gonad”. Sexual arousal is a function of the mind. >>

I’m sorry if that remark came across as being facetious, but that in essence is exactly what I was trying to convey—that arousal is a function of the mind. The pituitary gland is situated at the base of the brain, attached to the hypothalamus. Its anterior lobe releases the hormones that stimulate and regulate sexual function.

I didn’t intend this to branch off into a discussion of what triggers physical arousal. I do agree with your observation that the mind is driven both by personal and cultural triggers. But do correct me if I misunderstood your original intent. My response to you was based on the way you had framed your original post, which I understood as follows:

Sometime post 15th century, Indian women became influenced by European and Islamic perceptions of how much exposure is decent—in other words, the tyranny of “Abrahamic” values. So why can’t Indians in general (and spokespersons of Hinduism in particular?) look into their own history and shed their prudishness because in so doing they will actually be more true to traditional Indian cultural values, rather than giving in to Westernization.

I have no problem with your suggestion that values have changed over time due to interaction with other cultures. I just don’t think one can easily undo the effects of thousands of years of societal “weathering” by returning to an arbitrary point in the past. Change can happen only by being realistic about the underpinnings of present-day attitudes. Next, rather than breaking brick walls with one’s head, one finds ways to get around them.

 You also say:

<< If nudity is the trigger for arousal then what of those traditional societies where nudity is the norm? >>

Actually I am aware that nudity can in fact kill the arousal response stone dead, under certain circumstances.

I’m not trying to justify moral policing of women’s dress choices, in case you were wondering. I believe strongly in freedom for women, and freedom to dress as one wishes is only a small part of that.

I also believe that the stranglehold of the patriarchal mindset had set in much before the 15th century, whatever might be the anecdotal evidence provided by European travelers or temple carvings.

The idea that women should be diminished, controlled, scapegoated, and patronized to promote societal well-being is reflected as early as the Manu Dharma Shastra, which is dated 600 BCE. The Manu Dharma Shastra is a reflection of the Hindu social realm, not the spiritual. Those two universes, in any society, have a very narrow field of intersection.

Independence and freedom from the consequences of judgment (nobody is entirely free from judgment by society)—hinges not so much upon moral proscriptions by any religious tradition as on education and economic independence.

The Bollywood movie star, Hema Malini, who is from an Iyengar family, had no problems with going through a farcical conversion to Islam for the sole purpose of “marrying” her partner Dharminder, who refused to divorce his first wife. She had two daughters with him who seem to have done quite well for themselves. I know other women who live the life they please. For that matter I know women in my family who live the life they please just by virtue of having a career, even though they’re not particularly wealthy.

 In post #3623, you ask in reference to “what Lalleshwari would have wanted,”

<< is this what the spiritual tradition of India would see as healthy? And yet the censors actually assist this process by feeding into the ‘body as sin’ message. Is this something those who are promoting a ‘Hindu’ renaissance should be thinking about? >>

I’m trying to understand how you’re taking Hindu spiritual notions of the irrelevance of the body, arrived at by practicing sages living a life of mental and physical discipline—and applying those standards to how *Bollywood* censorship ought to operate, or how the politics of religion ought to operate? I cannot think of two realms farther apart!

I strongly agree with the portions of Umair’s response in post #3610 excerpted below:

<< I do not think there is evidence of any standardized mode of female dress having prevailed all over India, whether in medieval times or ancient times. That is, dress is a phenomenon that is quite likely to be “local”, particularly in an era when one mode of dress was not presented as a symbol of progress/backwardness, etc. >>

<< What all this reveals is the instrumentalization of woman, who serves as a stand in for, as a cipher pointing to, various abstractions. Unfortunately this sort of service is not merely a legacy of India’s Islamic conquerors (though it is certainly in part that), nor is it merely the result of colonial attitudes towards India (though it is certainly in part that), and it seems to me that the metaphysics underlying such a view are “in place” even prior to the Islamic invasions; the combination is highly problematic, and what is most disappointing is the utter political failure involved, a political failure in which complicity is rather widely shared >>

<< Whether or not Indian cultures traditionally held certain views about how women ought to dress are certainly relevant, but not as much as ideologues would have us believe. >>

Actually, in contemporary circumstances I question even whether the option of wearing revealing clothing reflects true freedom or independence for women. I tried to explore some of those contradictions in a paper on Western and Indian perceptions of feminism that I put together for the WAVES Conference last year. I’d be glad to share it offline with you Ray, if you’re interested.

You indicate that you agree with this view in the following statement:

<< I agree with you that the real issue is the free agency of women. The young women in the malls are likely just as much ‘fashion slaves’ as young Western women. >>

Of more concern to me is that despite a brief fling with some of the more transient and illusory symbols of “freedom,” many of them will become subsumed by the great amorphous averaging-out of the Indian Institute of Marriage.

 << I’m not suggesting that anyone should push a reset button. What I was suggesting was that the current Indian moral conservatism is actually not rooted in Indian tradition but has been absorbed from elsewhere. It may have more to do with a reaction to Muslim and European colonialism and not wanting to appear to be uncivilized… >>

If you’re inferring greater moral conservatism overall in India from the proclamations of VHP or the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, I would ask you to consider how accurate it would be to judge ground realities for women in the US from, say the convention speeches of Pat Buchanan or the radio rants of Rush Limbaugh. Times are changing – all it takes is for women to stop waiting for someone to give them a hand up, choosing instead to take their lives in their own hands.

Regards,

Chitra

 Response to Ray’s post on November 25, 2005

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3634]


Hello Chitra,

If you separately send me your feminism paper, we could make it available for all our readers here at your svAbhinava section.

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3654]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, and the aesthetics of (Hindu) ‘catholicism’

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 9:03 am

Colonial ‘enlightenment’ has succeeded in amputating this ‘moral organ’ from its spiritual trunk, but only at the cost, it seems, of supplanting it with an exaggerated (and self-defeating?) prudery that might perplex even good ‘born-again’ American fundamentalists.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t respond to the many posts on this thread because I was away for the long weekend. I will write a comprehensive response to/against the many ideas which this thread seems to have generated.

But prior to this I would like the members to think about one thing:

Normally it is said in regards to sexuality/clothing, etc., that Victorian/colonial prudery changed the way Indians viewed sex. True, that such sentiment might have affected people who lived in the cities and who had direct interaction with the British and their ideas.

But how much of this argument is relevant when it comes to people in the villages? Are we to think that people in remote villages in Tamil Nadu prescribe to such attitudes regarding clothing and sex, etc., because they were influenced by British ideas?

There’re numerous traditional customs (even in cities leave alone the villages) which have shown little sign of being affected by European ideas and still persist to this day. Where is the evidence that the people in remote villages were influenced by European ideas?

 [In response to Sunthar’s post (Nov 26, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3637]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3655]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation

From: “Paul Kekai Manansala”

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 9:56 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Nandakumar Chandran wrote:

There’re numerous traditional customs (even in cities leave alone the villages) which have shown little sign of being affected by European ideas and still persist to this day. Where is the evidence that the people in remote villages were influenced by European ideas?

Yup, you can walk days into remotest high Nepalese villages that have no road connection and are off the tourist trail, and still find some people wearing printed t-shirts, smoking cigarettes, etc.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

http://sambali.blogspot.com/

[In response to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3654]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3656]

 Re: Of Freedom and Hijabs

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 9:45 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Ray Harris wrote:

Hi Umair,

I stand corrected in regard to the countries you mention. In regard to the need to dress modestly in non-Muslim countries, indeed, you are correct. But I was trying to convey, perhaps ineptly, the idea of reciprocity. As I recall the French bans were decried in many Muslim countries, including those countries that reserve the right to make similar laws for themselves. > Well, neither Umar or myself defended “similar laws” in other countries.

However, it seems that you have greatly overstated this issue. Not only are Western women not forced by law to wear the hijab in most Muslim countries, but neither are Muslim women so coerced. > So, either one can enforce a dress code or one cannot. If it is not right for the French to protect their secular values through a dress code then it is not right for Muslims to protect their religious and cultural values through a dress code.> Again this is misleading. Quotes from the following site—http://www.religioustolerance.org/rt_franc2.htm:

Re: the original prohibition:

“The Minister of Education ordered the expulsion from schools of all female students who wore the hijab. The French government took no action against Roman Catholic students wearing a crucifix, Protestant students wearing a cross, Sikh male students wearing a turban, or Jewish male students wearing a yarmulke (skullcap).”

It was only after much protest and controversy that other religions were added to this “secular” action, but not completely:

“The new “secularity law’ was passed with overwhelming support and a vote of 276 to 20. The law will take effect at the start of the school year in 2004-SEP. It bans the wearing of Muslim hijabs, Sikh’s head coverings, large Christian crosses or crucifixes, Jewish yarmulkes, etc. Small Christian jewelry is permitted.”

 > And it is especially not reasonable if they condemn the French but accept their own laws mandating dress codes. >

Well, it is reasonable for French Muslims to condemn the dress codes. One cannot generalize the beliefs of Muslims elsewhere on every Muslim in France.

Note for all its bold talk secularity, rights liberty, etc., France’s treatment of its minorities leaves something to be desired. The employment and wage disparity between Muslims and Christians in France is astonishing. Significantly greater than anything between blacks and whites in the Deep South of the U.S. of long ago. Overall unemployement is about 30 percent but in some areas there is up to 60 percent unemployment of young Muslim adults.

And despite having a large non-white minority I have heard that the French parliament does not have a single non-white member.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Ray’s post (November 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3651]


Hello everyone,

One could make similar observations about the dearth of Indologists of Indian origin in the French (as contrasted to the American) establishment, and the marginalization (in more than one sense...) of the few that there are...

But this thread was about dress-codes, eroticism, and normative ethics...not only has it digressed to the politics of the hijab in other countries, it is now in danger of being completely derailed into a controversy between Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism and French assimilationism.

With too many issues mixed up, we aren’t going to get anywhere. So I request that we suspend this subthread and get back to the original subject of Indian ethics in relation to sexuality and censorship.

Thanks.

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3657]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 9:51 am

Bhartrahari’s in his vairaagya shaatakam says: there’re only two things of real interest to a man. The breasts of a well formed young beautiful woman and the forest (renunciation).

However intellectuals might psychoanalyze the dynamics which surround the attraction between the sexes there is little doubt that the normal man is aroused by the sight of a woman’s breasts.

Grannys (Paatis) not taking care to cover their breasts is a ridiculous argument. Individual “kinks” aside, the normal male or female looks for youth, firmness, smoothness, etc., in the flesh of the member of the opposite sex. Old women don’t take too much care to cover themselves primarily because they know they don’t have anything anymore to physically interest a man.

Saints like Vardhamaana going nude is totally different. The emphasis there is that they have gone beyond the confines of the body. The body is not the point of emphasis at all as it is in Bollywood, eroticism, etc.

The normal idea that the Indian views on clothing and sex, etc., have been influenced by Victorian prudery cannot hold water since we find similar ideas in remote villages too where European ideas have had little or no penetration. In such societies many traditions, which are in total conflict with modern ideas too, persist, which only reveals the tenacity of such societies to cling to their cultural ideals.

Nadars’ protests against their women going bare-breasted is clearly to protect their women’s honor. That castes opposed to them used such laws so as to humiliate the Nadars speaks for itself.

BTW if topless statues are to be representative of ancient Indian women going bare-breasted in public, likewise are erotic sculpture indicative of ancient Indians doing it in the open?

Nandakumar

In response to numerous posts on this thread.

 

------------------

[Rest of this thread at Paul’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

 

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3656]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3658]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 10:02 am

 Where is the evidence from regular texts that women went bare-breasted in ancient India? [Nandakumar]

There’s plenty of evidence from “regular texts.” [Paul]

Er, Paul, I’m still waiting for you to provide such “evidence from regular texts.”

[In response to Paul’s post (Nov 24, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3618]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3659]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation,

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 10:07 am

There’re numerous traditional customs (even in cities leave alone the villages) which have shown little sign of being affected by European ideas and still persist to this day. Where is the evidence that the people in remote villages were influenced by European ideas? [Nandakumar]

Yup, you can walk days into remotest high Nepalese villages that have no road connection and are off the tourist trail, and still find some > people wearing printed t-shirts, smoking cigarettes, etc. [Paul]

1. India is more than Nepal.

2. And there’s more to culture and tradition than superficialities like t-shirts and smoking.

Also while a t-shirt can be a substitute for a shirt or an angavastaram [traditional upper garment] and a cigarette for a beedi [home-made Indian cigarette], a bikini cannot substitute for a saree. Primarily because of the values associated with such attire.

Nandakumar

In response to Paul’s post (Nov 28, 2005):

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3655]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3660]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 10:22 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Nandakumar Chandran wrote:

Bhartrahari’s in his vairaagya shaatakam says: there’re only two things of real interest to a man. The breasts of a well formed young beautiful woman and the forest (renunciation).

Since forest renunciation is hardly a universal idea, and is in fact absent from most societies, I think we can dismiss this statement.

BTW if topless statues are to be representative of ancient Indian women going bare-breasted in public, likewise are erotic sculpture > indicative of ancient Indians doing it in the open?

As noted there are scenes from the life of the Buddha and the Jataka tales from Ajanta and elsewhere showing most women in normal life going bare breasted (and also with some covering the breasts).

Also there are many written examples both Indian and foreign suggesting that going bare breasted was the norm.

For example, according to Manasollasa, the women of Dravida went bare-breasted. The Dhammapadatthakatha suggests that noble women in 5th century Sri Lanka went bare-breasted while Chandalas had to cover their breasts (opposite of the Nadar situation).

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3657]


Hello everyone,

I’d request everyone to bear in mind that there are many members who are not so familiar with Indian culture and traditions, let alone Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, etc. So please provide an English gloss for Indian terms wherever possible.

Thanks,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3661]

 Bosoms of Sri Lanka

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 11:00 am

 

Royal lady being served, Sigiriya fresco, 7th century Sri Lanka

 

 

19th century European century of Sri Lanka “natives”

Marco Polo on 13th century Jaffna:

“It is governed by a King whose name is Sendeznax. The people worship idols, and are independent of every other state. Both men and women go nearly in a state of nudity (the writer has cause to envy this climatic adaptation) only wrapping a cloth round the middle part of their bodies.”

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3662]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 10:58 am

Since forest renunciation is hardly a universal idea, and is in fact absent from most societies, I think we can dismiss this statement.

1. Forest renunciation is very prominent in Indian culture through the ages—aaranyakas, dharma shaastras, samnyaasins, siddhaas etc.

2. We’re specifically talking about India’s past.

As noted there are scenes from the life of the Buddha and the Jataka tales from Ajanta and elsewhere showing most women in normal life going bare breasted (and also with some covering the breasts).

Sculpture is not literature—not “regular works”.

And “elsewhere” is not being specific.

> For example, according to Manasollasa, the women of Dravida went bare-breasted.

Where? Please quote the verse.

Nandakumar

[In response to Paul’s post (Nov 28, 2005) :

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3660]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3663]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 10:43 am

BTW a general question: who benefits from such “liberated” notions of sexuality and dress codes today?

The dharma?

Corporates who want to sell their products—clothes, cosmetics, etc.?

Filmmakers?

I don’t see Gandhi or Vivekananda or Ramana Maharishi or Sri Sri Ravishankar supporting such ideas.

In contrast, filmmakers and actors like Kamalhassan and “artists” like MF Hussain (who painted a nude portrait of goddess Saraswati) do.

Nandakumar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3664]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 2:09 pm

BTW a general question: who benefits from such “liberated” notions > of sexuality and dresscodes today? [Nandakumar]

I forgot one primary such interested party: Indian intellectuals who are forever trying to retrofit Western values on Indian society primarily because having their intelligence hijacked (due to Western education), they cannot in any meaningful way reconcile themselves with traditional culture.

Ideas regarding free sex, revealing clothes, etc., is pretty much a modern Western phenomenon ą la Woodstock, Rock ‘n roll, Hollywood, MTV, etc.

In the guise of asserting traditional values (as against a non- existent “Victorian prudery”), Indian intellectuals are pretty much welcoming modern Western pop-culture with open arms.

[In response to my own post (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3663]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3665]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, and the aesthetics of (Hindu) ‘catholicism’

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 2:47 pm

I’m from a traditional smaartha family. One of my grand uncles was even a Shankaraachaarya. I’ve studied Indian philosophy for around 6 to 7 years.

With this background, when I come upon instances like Shankara enjoying pleasures in a royal harem, I can only think of it as a pleasure for the sake of knowledge—for the sake of helping the society.

Because Shankara is teaching Advaita to non-jnaanis who are normally sunk in lusts of life. So he need a basis in such lusts to teach them how to overcome them.

Likewise in traditional niyoga [‘levirate’ of sorts—SV] where a brahmin helps somebody ...

The emphasis is not pleasure for its own sake, but for the sake of knowledge or for helping the society.

Likewise in Saundaryalaharī, when the poet praises the female anatomy, I cannot think of equating it with the bawdy lyrics of Bollywood. The poet’s perspective is different. As a commentator in a column in the Hindu noted: you need be to spiritually mature to understand such texts.

BTW since the Brahma Sutra Bhaashyam and the Saundaryalaharī have significant philosophical differences, I find it difficult to accept that they were composed by the same hand.

Also Shankara is a follower of the smriti—mainly the Manu. Manu says a woman should not be alone even with her father or brother—however can this view be reconciled with all these liberal notions ascribed to Shankara?

Kaama is perfectly valid between a husband and wife. So traditional kaama literature is necessarily to be interpreted that way.

>But within the orgiastic secret tantric rituals, the distinction >between the courtesan and the familial woman would appear to become >blurred, and one can only wonder as to what reality the adulterous >beauties extolled so effusively by the Sanskrit poets correspond....

This is totally unwarranted and has no ground reality beyond the author’s imagination!

But modern interpretation of traditional Indian culture seems steeped in such flights of fancy!

BTW why is that such arguments are always against traditional culture the way it is practiced?

The normal traditional Hindu will be repelled by such an interpretation because it goes against the substance and practice of his culture.

While the brainwashed Westernized Indian “intellectual” welcomes it as “progress” (progress = Westernization).

Sexual perversion is historically a proven means to subvert a society.

[In response to Sunthar’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3637]


Hello Nandakumar,

You might want to desist from reading into my post more than what I explicitly put into it:

Nowhere in my previous posts have I endorsed Ray’s views and agenda regarding Bollywood (nor those of his opponents...like yourself), nor suggested that the West should be a model for India. Rather, I have often suggested the reverse and not just on this particular issue.

Instead, I concentrated on demonstrating, with evidence, that Shankara’s attitude to sexuality, women, and the ‘eroticized’ breast was more complex (and nuanced) than what your original citation from the (equally spurious) Bhaja-Govindam would have us believe, and not so far from Abhinava’s own views.

Whatever the ‘original’ Shankara may have been and taught, this is how the latter *brahmanical* hagiographies came to perceive him, but also use these attributions to justify the Sri Vidyā cult (alongside animal sacrifices?) in the ‘orthodox’ maths. So who is trying to subvert tradition here?

Abhinava himself (unlike Paul Gaugin!) was certainly likewise not for generalized (‘Polynesian’ style) free-sex. For example, while discussing the niyoga inthe context of his discussion of zānta-rasa, he clearly states that the brother-in-law smears his body with oil (?) in order to evoke disgust (= dispassion) while impregnating his sister-in-law. Point is that Shankara, despite the Veda/Tantra opposition, is perhaps not so far from Abhinava.

There are also Christian fundamentalists and secular puritans in the West who are even more ‘hung-up’ about sex just as there have been and still are ‘liberal’ currents to be found within the Indian traditions even in the most ‘unlikely’ (for the modern Hindu) places. Actually, I have previously made the point that the American preoccupation with and sensationalization of sex has as much to do with a submerged but still potent ‘puritanism’—which is precisely what came to the fore in the Clinton-Lewinsky soap-opera (maybe Bollywood should do a movie of the antics in the White House and clarify to the censor-board that it’s a true-to-life documentary?).

I have no problem with others having different opinions and, more so, opposed values (this is what has been distinctly ‘Hindu’ in India perhaps?), but it’s self-defeating, especially on a public forum, to attempt to dismiss another’s factual evidence and reasoned arguments by trying to stick a ‘Western’ label...

Regards,

Sunthar

P.S. You might want to take a closer look at the treatment of the Vasantasenā with respect to the (brahmin) hero’s wife in the Mrcchakatikā to see how Sanskrit playwrights understood the social and ritual role of the courtesan...

...and Bollywood fans here might have noticed that in Devadās, the wife and the courtesan finally get to meet because earth from the latter’s home is necessary for the accomplishment of the religious rites for the prosperity of domestic life!


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3666]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: R.M. Paulraj

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 3:46 pm

Hi all!

I agree with the views of Nandakumar. I would also like to add some more information to the ongoing debate.

The women-folk of the migrant Nadars in Travancore state actually continued to wear ‘sari’ the way they used to wear it before migrating to Travancore (like the women of other castes in Tamil Nadu). This infringed upon the caste pride of the Nairs since the Nair women, like the women of other Malayali castes on the west coast, normally went bare-breasted. The Nairs aggressively attempted to impose a dress code on the Nadars in order to make them accept a subservient position below them. This led to the uncompromising resistance from the Nadars.

Even today, there are various communities in different parts of the world the women-folks of which are bare-breasted. The males of a number of tribal communities in Africa, the Amerindian tribals in the Americas, especially in the central and southern parts of that continent, and a number of forest tribals in India, Indonesia, etc., are still scantily clad, while the females are bare-breasted.

One aspect of Indian clothing, I think should necessarily be noticed, is that the garments were all rectangular in shape—having been taken directly from the loom. ‘Wearing’ merely meant ‘winding’ these cloths around the body. The cloths were not worked any further to make them match the shape of the human body. No innovative thinking went into this. Even the turban, the counterpart of the western hat, was a piece of rectangular cloth wound around the head.

R.M.Paulraj

[Partly in response to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3657]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3667]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, and the aesthetics of (Hindu) ‘catholicism’

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 3:46 pm

> You might want to desist from reading into my post more than what > I explicitly put into it:

Sunthar, you’re reading more into my posts as well. Apart from dismissing your comment regarding the role of a housewife in a tantric ritual as a “flight of fancy”, none of my further comments regarding Indian intellectuals is directed at you specifically.

Though I do believe that you’ve a bit too much of a Western influence than is healthy/justified in a scholar who specializes in Abhinava (because it colours your perception of the Saiva), I do not necessarily group you with the modern Indian “intellectual”.

Modern Indian “intellectuals” as a rule have never studied tradition.

>Rather, I have often suggested the reverse and not just on this >particular issue.

But today arguments seemingly anti-Western are actually pro-Western. Like (a non-existent) “Victorian prudery” versus “true native tradition” aka pop culture.

> * Whatever the ‘original’ Shankara may have been and taught, this >is how the latter *brahmanical* hagiographies came to perceive him, >but also use these attributions to justify the Sri Vidyā cult >(alongside animal sacrifices?) in the ‘orthodox’ maths. So who is >trying to subvert tradition here?

But where’s the evidence of eroticism in sri vidyā?

> I have no problem with others having different opinions and, more >so, opposed values (this is what has been distinctly ‘Hindu’ in >India perhaps?), but it’s self-defeating, especially on a public >forum, to attempt to dismiss another’s factual evidence and >reasoned arguments by trying to stick a ‘Western’ label...

I don’t think I have ever shied away from reasoned arguments/discussions. My comments regarding Westernization, subversion, etc., are only in addition.

> ...and Bollywood fans here might have noticed that in Devadās, the >wife and the courtesan finally get to meet because earth from the >latter’s home is necessary for the accomplishment of the religious >rites for the prosperity of domestic life!

That can happen in Bollywood, but did that happen with Kannagi and Maadhavi in Silappadigaaram?

Nandakumar

[In response to Sunthar (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3665]

----------------------

Just a note on the Navaratri encounter: the two women do not meet in the earlier cinematic renderings of the story, nor is it sanctioned by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s original novel. Nevertheless, the theme introduced here of taking ‘auspicious’ mud from the courtesan’s abode seems to derive from age-old ritual, for which other parallels could be given (including the obligatory presence of prostitutes in the marriage procession as part of many local Hindu traditions). Eroticism and chastity are both valued within the Indian ethos (so Kannagi/Mādhavī wouldn’t really amount to a counter-example...) and you get interesting permutations, such as the courtsan Candramukhi becoming chaste after she meets Devdās. Cārudatta actually ends up marrying the transformed and ‘domesticated’ Vasantasenā.

Similarly, Kālidāsa who so sensitively suggests Pārvatī’s (sexual) modesty (lajjā) when Nārada visits her father to discuss her marriage (līlā-kamala-patrāNi gaNayāmāsa ca pārvatī) has been charged with ‘indecency’ for portraying the love-making of our (divine) parents in such intimate detail (Kumāra-Sambhava).

The task here, as I see it, is not so much that of heaping counter-eaxmples on either side but of seeing how they fit into a larger complex pattern of values and cultural aesthetics. What we seem to be witnessing in these, ancient yet ever-fresh, stories is the general Indian sensibility playing with these (apparent) ‘contradictions’ to arrive at ever new (tentative) resolutions....

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3668]

 Jataka Tales in Paint

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 11:32 pm

 

These “irregular” texts portray the texts of the Jataka in wonderful detail.

 

Birth scene from the Mahajanaka Jataka

 

Buddha in his past life from the Vessantarajataka

 

A noble lady from the caves of Ajanta.

 

Queen Sivali,

Mahajanakajataka

Queen Janpadkalyani, Cave1

Queen Janpada

Palace maids

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3669]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, and the aesthetics of (Hindu) ‘catholicism’

From: “Ray Harris” 

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 11:39 pm

Hi Nandakumar,

I was intrigued by this assertion:

“Sexual perversion is historically a proven means to subvert a society.”

I was wondering what evidence you had to support this view. I know that some have argued that the sexual licence of Rome lead to its collapse but this is wildly inaccurate. I suppose it also depends on a definition of “sexual perversion.” Greek society managed to create a high culture whilst indulging in a number of homoerotic practices. Sparta was also quite successful and homosexuality was practiced amongst both men and women in that society, in fact Spartan women were known to be educated, some being noted as poets and some as philosophers.

Ray Harris

[Reponse to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3665]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3670]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Ravishankar V.

Date: Mon Nov 28, 2005; 11:55 pm

This is a general reaction, not to anything by any single person in the discussion so far.

I had been meaning to send this response from the beginning of the discussion on this issue of women, dresses and culture in India, but held back. I thought that others seemed more knowledgeable in these matters and some one is bound to references to bring up previous scholarship in the matter to our attention.

I also expected emergence of some sub-threads to how nationalism, identity and anti-colonialism were often tied to dress, and thus lead us to another area where cultural discussion can also be examined as socially, historically and politically material while the tussles take place in the symbolic realm.

Since not much came up by way of reference to recent academic work, I (reluctantly) went for a bibliographic search. It helped that I knew what to look for. An OUP publication from the late 90’s. I had looked at this book some years back, planning to write an article on it reviewing it for a Tamil e-zine, but never got around to it. So here is perhaps a well researched book from OUP that some one with immediate access to a good university library can look up and give us some more information.

Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India by Emma Tarlo OUP

This book covers at least the years of Europe’s intersection with an India in transition from pre ‘modern’ era to a different world especially through clothing. That is all I remember about this book.

One review that Google search showed was from Tribune India. I have no idea what this newspaper/magazine is. It is possible it is a publication partial to RSS?

http://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99jul04/book.htm#1

I got a few pages of the bibliography of the book from Google but the link is too long. Copying it and pasting it to make it work may be a bit difficult. But doing a search with the names of the author and the book may lead one to the bibliography pages of the book.

Another review from a site whose name shows where the site comes from.

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1998/7/1998-7-21.shtml

Since the discussions here are relating the clothing to Hinduism, I thought the above review may be relevant.

A third link has a short bibliography related to clothing and cultural transactions which have a material basis. http://mcu.sagepub.com/cgi/content/refs/9/1/59

For example, how while identity construction is taking place actively through clothing, its discarding also generates many value transformations that are mediated through existing social tiers and the interactions among the various communities of people. Why focus only on sexuality? I can see that it is at the focus here perhaps because of its genesis in questions on Bollywood’s influence on Indian culture today. The above work shows even destruction of clothing has cultural implications and for some reason this article seems to locate these meaning making activities mainly in the lives of women. I don’t see much of a discussion about men in this paper. I wonder why? On the other hand Nytimes has recently published a series of articles on Clothing of contemporary African politicians and how most of them affect western clothes even while they are all rhetorically fiercely anti-west. It tracks the politics of such a conflicted sartorial politics in Africa and the discussion, if I remember correct focused on men for the most part.

I brought this up to suggest that other than sexuality, and identity politics based on chastity etc, there are other dimensions such as anti-colonial movements that have focused on clothingglobally through the past several centuries. In fact a large number of social movements across the world during the 20th century have used clothing as one of the key tools of mobilization. Nazis, Fascists, Communists, Indian Nationalists (of different kinds) and Dravidianists to name a few. A foucaldian take on that would be his key phrase ‘disciplining’—perhaps. While the positive spin on such matters seems to revolve around community cohesion or group solidarity for resistance or resurgence etc, for him it would simply be another way to servitude of the mind and body. I do note that some of our discussants looked at the French and their reaction to the ‘body politics’ of Muslims in France and elsewhere.

If any one wishes to look at the full article here is the link from google. http://mcu.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/9/1/59 SHEDDING SKINS The Materiality of Divestment in India LUCY NORRIS University College London, UK Journal of Material Culture Vol. 9(1): 59–71 Copyright (c) 2004 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)

Some references that caught my eye in the biblio section of this paper are: Bayly, C.A. (1986) ‘The Origins of Swadeshi (Home Industry): Cloth and Indian Society, 1700–1930’, in A. Appadurai (ed.) The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, pp. 285–321. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Hansen, Karen Tranberg (2000) Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia. Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press .

I am hoping that some one from the group here, who has read Emma Tarlo’s book would offer us some insights from that book for our benefit.

Ravishankar, V.

[Rest of this thread at R.M. Paulraj’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3666]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3672]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation,

From: “Paul Kekai Manansala”

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 12:05 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, [Sunthar] wrote: >

 * Instead, I concentrated on demonstrating, with evidence, that Shankara’s attitude to sexuality, women, and the ‘eroticized’ breast was more complex (and nuanced) than what your original citation from the (equally spurious) Bhaja-Govindam would have us believe, and not so far from Abhinava’s own views.

The redoubtable Ambrose from Akandabaratam recently posted a discussion on go-mata and this reminded me of the unusual way in which Sankara remembered his mother.

Now it was pointed out that animals all give up mother’s milk after infancy. Yet Indian pandits suggest continuing to drink milk into adulthood even though studies have shown that in some parts of India more than 50 percent of the population is lactose intolerant.

I got to thinking of the gravity-defying depiction of Indian bosoms in sculpture and the swollen udders of a dairy cow and nearly had a Freudian epiphany.

Maybe someone should contact Wendy Doniger or Paul Courtright, or has this angle already been studied before.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Sunthar (Nov. 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/abhinavagupta/3665]


 There’s certainly a symbolic identification of the cow not only with the mother but also the brahmin:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/792

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/798

Things get more intriguing because Shankara is said to have personally chopped his beloved mother up into pieces for cremation (a tradition apparently followed by the Nambudiris)....

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3673]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation,

From: R.M. Paulraj 

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 3:46 am

Paul says

Now it was pointed out that animals all give up mother’s milk after infancy. Yet Indian pandits suggest continuing to drink milk into adulthood

In India the traditional marital alliances of quite a number of castes, including especially the various Brahmin sects, had led to a peculiar situation that was prevalent in several households.

It was quite normal, in fact it was ‘the’ norm, to have more than nine or ten children in the days only about half a century ago. Naturally, the age difference between the elder children and the younger ones was anywhere between ten to twenty years or more.

Now, the girls were married off at a very tender age, i.e., immediately after attaining puberty, and in a large number of cases to the girls’ own maternal uncles. In the meanwhile, it was not unusual for such a married girl’s parents to continue to have children. As a result, it was also not unusual for some of the parents’ younger children to be younger than this girl’s first children. Consequently, both the mother and the daughter will be suckling babies at the same time.

In this situation, it was not uncommon for the ‘grandmother’, who will only be in her thirties and having a baby at her lap, to feed the children of her daughter from her own breasts along with her own child. It was also common for children to keep suckling till the age of eight or so in those days. Therefore, it was a great task to wean away a grown up child from suckling and it required a lot of effort to achieve this. One way to physically prevent a child from feeding from the mother’s/grandmother’s breast was to apply the bitter gel obtained from the pulpy interior of aloe vera leaves on the breasts. The child who attempts to drink milk would thus be discouraged by the bitter taste of the teats. (What an ingenious idea!).

It may be common among the animal kingdom to give up mother’s milk at infancy, as Paul Kekai Manansala says. But it was not equally common among our own species till about half a century ago.

Please don’t mistake me. I have no disrespect towards the mothers or grandmothers, nor I ridicule them, for these things. These are all things of the past when whole villages functioned as a single family in matters related to normal day-to-day needs.

It may also be noted here that the women had no qualms about feeding even an unrelated child in the neighbourhood.

R.M.Paulraj

[In response to Paul Kekai Manansala (Nov. 29, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3672]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3675]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: “Vinay Bahl”

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 7:18 am

Just to add to the bibliography on Indian clothes, also see my forthcoming article in _Dialectical Anthropology_ (November 2005).

The larger version of the article is published in a book _What Went Wrong With ‘History From Below’_. Kolkata. K.P. Bagchi 2005.

[Vinay Bahl]

[Response to Ravishankar’s post (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3670]

--------------

You can read Vinay’s article under the same title at EPW:

http://www.epw.org.in/showArticles.php?root=2003&leaf=01&filename=5366&filetype=\ html

http://www.svabhinava.org/friends/VinayBahl/default.htm

Sunthar

P.S. Vinay, I’ll be happy to post your new essay at svAbhinava Friends

 


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3676]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 8:48 am

For example, how while identity construction is taking place actively through clothing, its discarding also generates many value transformations that are mediated through existing social tiers and the interactions among the various communities of people. Why focus only on sexuality? I can see that it is at the focus here perhaps because of its genesis in questions on Bollywood’s influence on Indian culture today. The above work shows even destruction of clothing has cultural implications and for some reason this article seems to locate these meaning making activities mainly in the lives of women. I don’t see much of a discussion about men in this paper. I wonder why?

Dear Ravishankar,

Many thanks for adding depth of field to this perspective!

I was about to ask the “breast” minds on this group whether they had any insights to share on the evolution (or not) of the role many men arrogate for themselves in the lives of women !

Would I be stereotyping men unfairly if I said there is a tendency among men from all cultures to see women as part of their ecosystem and therefore requiring to be controlled (okay, “protected”), whereas on the other hand they quite naturally accept other men as individuals with distinct personalities ? If I’m right, is this impulse innate or culturally ordained?

Regards,

Chitra

[In response to Ravishankar’s post (November 29, 2005) at:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3670]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3678]

 Re breasts as sexual symbols (please ignore previous mail)

From: Venkitesh

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 4:07 am

Dear Friends

I hope I am contributing to this discussion.

In traditional cultures breasts did not have much to do with sexuality and more to do with motherhood. Hence women used go topless.

Only in modern times with the advent of semitic religions has breasts really been associated with sexual connotations.

http://www.breastfeeding.com/reading_room/breasts_shaped_babies.html

It is true that in many cultures around the world, the breast is not sexual,” says Marilyn Yalom, author of A History of the Breast and A History of the Wife. “The breast is over-eroticized in the Western world, but if you look at cultures in Africa, the breast is for the baby, not for the male. It is the buttocks that have become the erotic focal [there].”

The same is true in other cultures; for example, the Chinese make a fetish of the foot, whereas the Japanese concentrated on the nape of the neck. Blame the male academics for the sexual selection theory, Bentley says. “The majority of people who used the sexual selection argument have been male and were part of Western culture with its eroticized view of the breast.”

 http://www.sexscrolls.net/breasts.html

Breasts Through The Ages Or—Thanks for the mammaries. Ah …The breast. So many varieties. They are everywhere these days. Turn on the computer and up pops an ad. Breasts. Turn on the television and the characters are active. Breasts. Breasts in magazines, advertisements, everywhere. Breasts have a history of their own.

Yes, they rate their own history. During the ancient history of women, the breasts are displayed to their finest, in empire styles, toga wraps, and bodices that hinted or presented the bust line in all its glory. Gowns accentuated the female form, for the most part. Displaying the breast wasn’t taboo and often, servants and women bound for the games went without covering. Much of the art from our ancient past depicts the breast as a thing of both beauty and functionality. As Christianity swept the lands, the idea of modesty became part of religious behavior. Women in different areas hid breasts, legs and form, although style always allowed the most chic yet desirable bodices. The painting which portrays Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus, with her Divine breasts, brought about the power / erotic responses from men. They felt the power of fathering so that the breasts would fill with milk, combined with the erotic nature of breasts and nipples as an extension of sensuality. “The man is happy who can fill you with milk, and who can transform the virgin breasts into a beautiful and perfect woman.” In a poem written by Clemant Merot in the 16th century.

 The Female Breast and Sexual Attraction PART I (Click Here for Part II)

A Brief and Unusual History Lesson in Breastology A whimsical Look at the Past—Present—Future

http://www.allnaturalbreastcare.com/sexhistberc.htm

The male obsession with female breasts is a fairly recent phenomenon from a historical viewpoint. In all types of ancient art medium, the female breast was usually exposed. Even in the Christian realm, paintings, sculptures, and drawings commonly and frequently depicted females with one or more uncovered breasts. The Sistine Chapel is adorned with female breasts and ancient artifacts depicting nudity seem to have far greater shock value in modern times than the artists would have believed possible in their time period. The first well-known written work on human sexuality that involved reference to breasts occurred during the 2nd century BC with the advent of the Karma Sutra. In Ancient Egypt, women accented their breasts with primitive cosmetics and exotic scents. However, body painting began much earlier with primitive man and female breasts received far less focus than facial features. In truth, there are no ancient social or cultural precedents to explain the current belief that female breasts are sexual magnets for males. Female breasts and sexuality did not become strongly connected until the repressive Victorian age when women were expected to cover more of their bodies. Strangely, during this same era, the female breast reached a zenith of sorts, as women’s clothing was deliberately and provocatively designed to emphasize, enlarge, and expose as much of the female breast as possible without showing the nipples. Thereafter in western societies, the female breast continued its onward march towards becoming a social icon and sexual projectile.

 Cultural Differences It is also worth noting that American attitudes about the sexuality of breasts are hardly universal and may even represent a minority viewpoint in the larger worldly view. There are widespread cultural differences in male and female attitudes about female breasts and the role they play in sexual attraction. In so called primitive societies, the female breast was seldom covered. Eastern cultures and European attitudes about female breasts and nudity in general are quite different. For example, at one extreme, women in Middle Eastern countries are not allowed to expose any part of their breasts in public; yet, in most western European countries, females often and routinely go topless at beaches and public bathing facilities. As in most things, cultural differences abound but the question remains for American women. How did American males, specifically, become so obsessed with female breasts as objects of sexual desire and attraction?

As I believe the thighs and the buttocks were symbols of ‘turned on’ the men more than breasts.

Venkitesh (viji)

[Rest of this thread at Paulraj (Nov 29, 2005)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3673]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3679]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation, and the aesthetics of (Hindu) ‘catholicism’

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 8:34 am

Nevertheless, the theme introduced here of taking ‘auspicious’ mud >from the courtesan’s abode seems to derive from age-old ritual, for which other parallels could be given (including the obligatory presence of prostitutes in the marriage procession as part of many >local Hindu traditions).

Appreciate if you could give references here.

Eroticism and chastity are both valued within the Indian ethos

But only within the marriage—it should be clearly qualified.

No shaastra says it is ok to go to prostitutes.

It might have been a practice in the society, but has no shaastric sanction.

and you get interesting permutations, such as the courtesan Candramukhi becoming chaste after she meets Devdās. Cārudatta actually ends up marrying the transformed and ‘domesticated’ Vasantasenā.

Sorry, I’ve not seen the movie—so I’m lost here.

Similarly, Kālidāsa who so sensitively suggests Pārvatī’s (sexual) modesty (lajjā) when Nārada visits her father to discuss her marriage (līlā-kamala-patrāNi gaNayāmāsa ca pārvatī) has been charged with ‘indecency’ for portraying the love-making of our (divine) parents in such intimate detail (Kumāra-Sambhava).

There you go. It is a poet’s flight of fantasy which is in odds with the society’s sense of right and wrong.

After our discussions yesterday I checked with a traditional Advaita scholar regarding Shankara and Saundaryalahari. According to him :

1. You can appreciate a woman’s beauty without desire—that’s itself the measure of spiritual purity in you.

2. And it is a measure of Shankara’s devotion to Shakti to describe the godesses’s body in such beautiful terms, though the normal body is to be looked down on as a sack of skin which contains so many impurities.

So traditionalists who sustain the tradition view it in a totally different way than Western-educated intellectuals.

What we seem to be witnessing in these, ancient yet ever-fresh, stories is the general Indian sensibility playing with these (apparent) ‘contradictions’ to arrive at ever new (tentative) resolutions....

There’s always been dharma and adharma in the society.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sunthar (Nov 28, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3667]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3680]

 Re: Was the ‘original’ (ādi) Shankara a breast-fetishist? Erotics, renunciation,

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 9:40 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, R.M. Paulraj wrote:

Paul says

Now it was pointed out that animals all give up mother’s milk after infancy. Yet Indian pandits suggest continuing to drink milk into adulthood

There are certainly areas where milk has allowed people to survive. Mare’s milk among the nomads of Central Asia, and cow’s milk among the pastoral people of the Sudan and the Kalahari. In those environments, agriculture was until lately quite impossible.

However, in these areas they usually ferment and pre-digest the milk with lactobacteria.

Recent studies show the great majority of adults lack the enyzmes necessary to digest fresh milk. Older studies missed many lactose intolerant people.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[In response to R.M. Paulraj (Nov. 29, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3673]


 Let’s not stray too far and too long into the anthropology and biology of milk-drinking, as the original thread was on the (‘fetishization’ of the) mammary glands. The latter subject is of interest to (not just Abhinava’s) aesthetics (i.e., to this forum) because of the strong erotic value attached to prominent breasts in Sanskrit literature and the Indian visual arts. The question was: can Bollywood legitimately resort to such traditions, and if so how, in its handling of nudity and sexuality.

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3681]

 Re: History of Indian clothing

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 10:04 am

 

From my own studies I would say that women during Paleolithic times were equal to men and may have even had a higher spiritual placement, if the “mother goddess” statues are any indication.

Burial practices, when they existed, did not indicate any higher status for men.

Sometime during the Neolithic, things went downhill for most women. So I don’t believe it is innate.

You are quite right though.

In medieval Europe, women were not considered true citizens and thus were not polled or taxed. They could not sit as judges and rarely as witnesses in criminal proceedings.

They could not own or inherit property usually except as surrogates in the absence of an agnatic (male) heir. In most cases, after 1100 CE, even when they owned property they had to be under tutelage from male members of their own family.

If a propertied woman married all that she owned became the husband’s property.

In fact, only a few pre-modern societies allowed women to fully inherit and own property on their own. In these societies, women retained their own property even after marriage.

I had heard that one legal argument used even in the early history of the United States is that “property” cannot own “property.”

[In response to Chitra’s post (November 29, 2005) at:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3676]

 

Prince Mahajanaka, Sivali and other court members

 

The prince after becoming a monk

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3683]

 Re breasts as sexual symbols

From: Umair Ahmed Muhajir

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 3:55 pm

Venkitesh wrote:

“Only in modern times with the advent of semitic religions have breasts really been associated with sexual connotations.”

This does not appear to be the case if pre-Christian Greek and Roman literature is considered, not to mention Sunthar’s point about the prominent (erotic) place accorded to breasts in Sanskrit literature. More broadly, while I can easily see a link between the semitic religions and the problematization of the female body, I am at a loss if the claimed link is between the semitic religions and the female breast in particular.

Umair Ahmed Muhajir

[Response to Venkitesh’s post, dated November 29, 2005, at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3678]


Taken together, the imaginative world of Sanskrit literature and the real-life testimony of pre-Islamic visual arts of India would seem to suggest that the female breast did not need to be covered (as in the Semitic and modern Western context) to acquire a widely shared (only by men?) hedonistic value (i.e., did the women too experience their breasts as erotically charged even if only on account of the gaze of the opposite sex?). Though there is even evidence that such a ‘taste’ was deliberately cultivated as an aesthetic ‘norm’ even by the ascetic ideal that denounces its attraction (otherwise why single out the breast?), the question would be does this amount to “fetishization” not just as in contemporary commercialization (ads and swimsuit magazines) but also in the psychological sense as when we speak of the ‘traditional’ proclivity for small feet (and its very real physiological impact on the well-being) of Chinese women?

Regards,

Sunthar

P.S. I must confess that my own Romantic notions and sensibility (as shaped by English literature) posed great difficulties, at least at first, in appreciating (the zrngāra-rasa of) Sanskrit poetry....

[Rest of this thread at Sunthar V. (Nov 01, 2005)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3454]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3686]

 Re breasts as sexual symbols

From: A.H. Venkitesh

Date: Tue Nov 29, 2005; 10:47 pm

Dear Umair

It is only when the missionaries came to India and various places and told the natives to cover up, that they really started doing so. Of course it is funny to see that the natives say in Bali are covering up while the Westerners frolicking topless, in Tahiti etc.

In the Pacific Islands they used coconut shells to cover their breasts. In Alaska there was some unintended effects. When the topless women covered their breasts, they died of cold.

Seriously speaking, at the heart of these discussions is clothing by women in traditional belief systems like Hinduism, African religions etc was really based on the region’s physical environment. So the women wore whatever was available based on the climate, topography etc. Male considerations were at best of secondary importance.

However in the Semitic religions—women had to cover up in order not to arouse the man. So here the hijab, covering of breasts etc were essentially imposed on women (by men based on their religion) and did not have much to do with their natural environment.

Hence we see Muslim lady in an extremely cold climate wearing the hijab and the same is followed by women in extremely hot and humid countries as well (Africa, South East Asia etc)

So the goal of female clothing in traditional cultures is different from that of the Semitic beliefs.

 A.H. Venkitesh (Viji)

Response to Umair’s post (Nov 29, 2005) at

Re http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3683]


Hello Venkitesh,

> 

Sunthar

P.S. I’ll be updating our “Nudity and Hindu eros” digest today:

http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/Dialogues/SexualityFemaleBody-frame.htm

So I’d request that everyone review the arguments so far to minimize repetition and stick to the core issues.


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3687]

 Re breasts as sexual symbols

From: Umair Muhajir

Date: Wed Nov 30, 2005; 9:55 am

Dear Venkitesh,

But my point was not about the importance of Semitic religions in “covering up” (a point I agreed with), but about the notion that prior to the Semitic religions breasts had not been objects of erotic attention. You had made that claim in your post, and whatever the nature of the cover-up there were a whole range of pre-Semitic religion societies where the breast was in fact eroticized. Indeed the cover up of the breast in Semitic religions does not mean that where breasts are not covered up they were not eroticized but instead that the Semitic religions espouse an ideology whereby that which is eroticized ought to be concealed. The two notions are distinct.

I might also add that in pre-Judeo-Christian-Islamic Europe and much of the Middle East women did not bare their breasts in public, except in contexts where eroticism was sought to be highlighted: not in Greece, not in Rome, and not to my knowledge in ancient Persia or Mesopotamia.

Aside: A useful book I would recommend is Leila Ahmed’s Women and Gender in Islam, which attempts to undermine some of the historical claims made by the Muslim proponents of purdah. Ahmed claims that the early Islamic Arabs borrowed the purdah from Persia and the Byzantines, and further adds a class dimension by claiming that in these countries purdah-like arrangements were mostly associated with the aristocracy. One of Ahmed’s points, not dissimilar to one you have made, is that pre-Islamic Arabs, as well as nomadic Bedouin until modern times (when, I might add, they were forced otherwise by the modern Saudi state) wore traditional dress that mostly covered both men and women—understandable in desert conditions (and readily verifiable if one looks at traditional male Arab dress today, which is loose and covers every part of the body except for the hands and the face), but that this traditional public dress was not the same as the burqa as we know it.

Umair Ahmed Muhajir

[Response to Venkitesh’s post (Nov 29, 2005) at

 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3686]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3688]

 Re breasts as sexual symbols

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Wed Nov 30, 2005; 1:01 pm

 

 

Seriously speaking, at the heart of these discussions is clothing by women in traditional belief systems like Hinduism, African religions, etc., was really based on the region’s physical environment. So the women wore whatever was available based on the climate, topography, etc. Male considerations were at best of secondary importance. [Venkitesh]

This flies in the face of 4000 years of traditional Indian literature [Vedic, Buddhist, Jain] concerning kaama, dharma, and moksha.

But from what I’ve been observing on this list, it looks like people can make whatever (all encompassing) comment(s) they want without backing up with textual proof. Such a practice totally dilutes the seriousness/substance of discussions.

[In response to Venkitesh’s post (Nov 30, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3686]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3689]

 Re breasts as sexual symbols

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Wed Nov 30, 2005; 2:10 pm

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Nandakumar Chandran wrote:

This flies in the face of 4000 years of traditional Indian literature [Vedic, Buddhist, Jain] concerning kaama, dharma, and moksha. But from what I’ve been observing on this list, it looks like people can make whatever (all encompassing) comment(s) they want without backing up with textual proof. Such a practice totally dilutes the seriousness/substance of discussions.

You seem to be far ahead the leader in this practice.

The only support you have brought in terms of “textual proof” is some late quote of Sankara on a woman’s navel.

Aren’t women’s navels exposed in many parts of India?

“The classic sari or ‘Nivi drape’ consists of a single strip of cloth, draped below the navel and around the hips to form the lower section of the clothing.”

http://www.bigpedia.com/encyclopedia/Sari

Also you have given no reason why we should ignore multiple foreign sources on the dress of women in some cases only less than a century ago.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

 [In response to Nandakumar’s post (Nov 30, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3686]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3691]

 Re breasts as sexual symbols

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Wed Nov 30, 2005; 3:32 pm

The only support you have brought in terms of “textual proof” is some late quote of Sankara on a woman’s navel. [Paul]

Paul, I’m not surprised at your comment here given that you’ve repeatedly shown that you don’t even care to read posts properly and often exercise your own imagination in making up what people supposedly said!

Aren’t women’s navels exposed in many parts of India?

I’ve lived in multiple parts of the country—I can confidently tell you that no normal woman would expose her navel. Probably models or the glitterati or the “fashion conscious” might. But those are exceptions.

You need more than Wikepedia/Google to know about actual cultural practices in India.

Also you have given no reason why we should ignore multiple foreign sources on the dress of women in some cases only less than a century ago.

Not when they’re in conflict with local texts or customs.

Nandakumar

[In response to Paul’s post (Nov 30, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3689]


I think we should leave this particular (increasingly unproductive...) difference of opinion as it is, for most of our members have been provided enough information by now, and are surely capable of following up on all the leads themselves before arriving at their own conclusions.

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3694]

 Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts

From: Ray Harris

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 12:45 am

Hi Umair, all,

In my earlier posts I did not want to concentrate on breasts as such. I was interested in uncovering how it is that modern India is apparently more puritan than it used to be (which may have also extended to sexual mores, the Russian merchant Nitikin, who came ashore in 15th C Maharashtra, commented that “Women who know you willingly concede their favors for they like white men”—which suggests a certain liberality not found today). This is not just about breasts but about the making a problem of the body, turning into a source of shame and sin, whether that sin is framed in Judeo-Christian terms, or Buddhist, or even Advaita Vedantic.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that an uncovered part of the body can just as easily be eroticized as a covered part. What else is the point of make-up if not to draw attention to the lips and the eyes as an erotic statement? When you cover any part of the body the erotic gaze is internalized in one’s imagination. To assume that men aren’t undressing clothed women in their minds is to be naive. To think that covering the female body stops the erotic gaze is to defy reality. Religious injunctions that are projected onto ‘the other’—yes, men make women the ‘other’ and commit all the errors of essentializing women—and which become moral inhibitions and restrictions tell us more about the individuals who seek to impose a moral order. Again, it is a matter, surely, of self-control? Because I have not seen any substantive evidence to suggest that wearing modest clothes inhibits the erotic imagination, or for that matter leads to an end of sexual assault.

If I can make a small correction: in regard to the exposure of the breast in Greece—it depends on the time and place. I understand that no such prohibition existed in Sparta. It may have been an Athenian custom to cover the breast but I am not sure about other regions. There was also some influence from Minoa impressing itself on some Greeks.

Ray Harris

[Reply to Umair’s post (Nov 30, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3687]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3696]

 Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 8:37 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Ray Harris wrote:

I wholeheartedly agree with you that an uncovered part of the body can just as easily be eroticized as a covered part. What else is the point of make-up if not to draw attention to the lips and the eyes as an erotic statement?

Speaking of the eyes these are in my view the woman’s most powerful “weapons” for seducing a man.

So in terms of preventing eroticism only the Taliban and the Saudis know what they are doing.

One thing though is nearly all the world agreed in covering the sexual organs as a norm regarding modesty and/or privacy.

I say privacy as arousal (or lack of it) becomes very obvious if the sexual organs are openly revealed.

Also can lead to embarrassing comparing of one’s “equipment.”

There is at least one example, of which I’m aware, of breasts apparently used to “measure up” a woman in Semitic literature—the Song of Solomon (8:8-10):

“We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?

“If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.

“I am a wall, and my breasts like towers; then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.”

This is often interpreted spiritually but the imagery used appears to be one where the lover is said to have small (no) breasts (by her competitors, siblings?). They also ask some questions about her chastity apparently.

The lover replies that she is chaste (a wall) and apparently that her breasts though small don’t sag (like towers).

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Reply to Ray’s post (Nov 30, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3694]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3697]

 Asokan breasts

From: Paul Kekai Manasala

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 8:51 am

 

I just got this from the Indiaarchaeology list.

Relevant to Abhinavagupta discussion are the exposed breasts and navel of the queen and other court ladies in this apparently first ever portrait of King Asoka and his queen at Kanganhalli, Karnataka.

http://asi.nic.in/album_kanganhalli.html

http://asi.nic.in/album_kanganhalli5.html

 

http://asi.nic.in/album_kanganhalli4.html

 

Accompanying inscription reading “Ranyo Asoko”

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3700]

 Questions of Eros in Hollywood: A similar problem?

From: Sumita Ambasta

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 9:31 am

I recently found this exceptional piece on the much criticized Kubrick film “Eyes Wide shut” in Harper’s by Lee Siegel.

http://www.indelibleinc.com/kubrick/films/ews/reviews/harpers.html

The lines that stand out are:

“Attacking a work of art on the grounds that it doesn’t reflect contemporary appearances and conventions was bad enough, but the critics really c did themselves on the subject of sex. The portrayal of an orgy, after all, had been the centerpiece of the film’s publicity campaign. Therefore, the publicists had to be thoroughly debunked. Yet in debunking all the hype about the sex, the critics never got beyond the hype about the sex. They seemed intent on proving how sexy they were, and how sophisticated they were about sexiness, because when sexiness is marketed as vigorously as it is in America today, one had better appear to have mastered the market. Never mind that Eyes Wide Shut is not about sexiness but about sex.”

 “The danger Bill and Alice face is that either domestic emotions will stifle sex or that unbridled sexual indulgence will kill off the individuality that nourishes emotional attachment. This is a dated theme? (That’s like telling Hamlet to lighten up--everyone’s father dies, for goodness sake.)”

The reason these thoughts are relevant to Bollywood discussions of erotic presentation is eros in the Indian setting is never separate from the “dharma, artha, kama, moksha” framework. It is only one part of “kama” The other part would consist of films like “Wall street” and desires that take other forms.

It’s hard for viewers to view films merely on one facet of life (or so I suspect, rather tentatively) and somewhere there is a desire in Indian viewers to see eros as part of a whole? I don’t know whether this is true, but it is a pathway I feel comfortable exploring. We have been discussing women’s clothing and breasts now for many posts and I read with great interest. However, I am not sure without finding exactly what the place of woman’s beauty (or do we prefer aesthetics) holds in a bigger framework of life, can this discussion have any meaning.

Is there not a danger of sheer voyeuristic pleasure in discussing these things without also addressing those questions? (of what place a woman’s aesthetics have in life or art?) Is there not a danger of these questions meandering into mundane and trite realms?

How is this different from the front benchers getting really excited about the titillation? What makes for that difference? And without defining that difference, how can we be sure we are taking an objective look at this topic, and not merely a provocative one?

I keep returning to this question. Does anyone else share this question?

(This is not meant to be offensive in any way, but merely a critical question of the motives we all bring to these discussions)

[Sumita Ambasta]


I couldn’t agree with you more!

Does Bollywood’s continuing appeal to Indians and now increasingly to Westerners revolve solely, or even primarily, around how much or how little women expose themselves? What else is there that is distinctive and commendable in Indian mass-market movies, and how could these be enriched and expanded for wider audiences by a mining of traditional Sanskritic and popular culture? Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3701]

 Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts

From: Sumita Ambasta

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 9:46 am

This is not just about breasts but about the making a problem of the body, turning it into a source of shame and sin, whether that sin is framed in Judeo-Christian terms, or Buddhist, or even Advaita Vedantic. [Ray]

Can it be possible that the bringing together of various cultures and views on sexually accepted behavior could have catalyzed an attempt to take a defensive stance? In a world where law does not protect women.

The reason I say this is while walking on the streets of New York in 30 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not unusual to see young girls in states of undress that absolutely do not make for any commonsensical weather-related dressing. It’s obviously provocative, and clearly aimed at gaining and holding the male attention. People from traditional societies (who travel much more across country’s borders) wonder why girls resort to such “slutty dressing.” This term is used by older men and women who find it hard to understand why girls need to weather such cold to expose themselves so desperately. They see a sense of pathos in it. I am pretty sure the girls do not identify with that pathos. A culture where girls need to “market” their wares to gain the best partner, will appear “slutty” to someone from a traditional culture. It’s an issue of “marketing.”

My guess is that some similar dynamics may have occurred in India when Judeo-Christian influences clashed with the social structures of family, mate selection, and sexual relation processes. Is there a possibility that since use of force was OK in those days (we didn’t have sexual harassment law enforcement) the difference in sexual mores may have creates self-consciousness at being exposed to the “other”? On both sides?

How I dress in my home has to be different from how I dress if a guest shows up in most occasions, right?

Is there a little of this dynamic here? When I see New York and immigrant responses to Victoria Secret bill boards, a sexually charged atmosphere, a thought occurs to me. Aren’t these tensions part of the “mixing up” of cultural mores? Isn’t this also an issue of power, where the dominant culture, which can implement its laws through force, drive what is correct or not?

These questions are not mine alone. They have been heard and repeated by many. Is it related?

Sumita


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3702]

 Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 10:00 am

the Russian merchant Nitikin, who came ashore in 15th C Maharashtra, commented that “Women who know you willingly concedetheir favors for they like white men” [Ray]

The problem with such sources is that they are too generic and ambiguous.

What is the exact geographical region that the Russian visited?

Who were the people he talked about?

What was their social background?

Was he talking about devadaasis, poor people, the glitteratti or the traditional housewife?

What is the veracity of his claims?

There’re too many questions here and without clear answers, it is very difficult to make judgments about such issues with such material.

which suggests a certain liberality not found today.

But Buddhist or Vedic or Jain texts on dharma shows the situation in a totally different light.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that an uncovered part of the body can just as easily be eroticized as a covered part.

It can—probably by intellectuals.

The average man is more affected by what can be seen and felt than what can be imagined.

We’ve to understand that people are of different types. The problem with intellectuals is that they often think that normal people are like themselves. It is simply not true.

What else is the point of make-up if not to draw attention to the lips and the eyes as an erotic statement? When you cover any part of the body the erotic gaze is internalized in one’s imagination. To assume that men aren’t undressing clothed women in their minds is to be naive. To think that covering the female body stops the erotic gaze is to defy reality.

But it could check the tendency.

An open breast would probably attract more attention than a covered one.

Also covering it gives the uncovering (physically or in imagination) a negative psychological effect.

There’s a difference between doing something which is considered wrong and doing something which is not considered wrong.

Knowing the difference itself is dharma.

Nandakumar

[In response to Ray’s post (Dec 1, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3694]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3703]

 Re: Women as ‘other’ and eroticized breasts

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 10:28 am

 “slutty dressing.” This term is used by older men and women who find it hard to understand why girls need to weather such cold to expose themselves so desperately. They see a sense of pathos in it. I am pretty sure the girls do not identify with that pathos.

You’d be surprised at how people do things simply because it is the normal practice in the society—that other people do it.

Not everybody reflects on or seeks meaning, in what they do.

But that also doesn’t mean that they’ll agree/accept the validity of what they do, once they understand its meaning/dynamics.

Is there a little of this dynamic here? When I see New York and immigrant responses to Victoria Secret bill boards, a sexually charged atmosphere, a thought occurs to me. Aren’t these tensions part of the “mixing up” of cultural mores? Isn’t this also an issue of power, where the dominant culture, which can implement its laws through force, drive what is correct or not?

Such reactions are not merely restricted only to foreigners. Even many conservatives and traditionally religious societies (especially in the mid-Western USA) don’t take kindly to such blatant sexuality.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sumita’s post (Dec 1, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3701]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3704]

 Re: Questions of Eros in Hollywood: A similar problem?

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 10:40 am

 “The danger Bill and Alice face is that either domestic emotions will stifle sex or that unbridled sexual indulgence will kill off the individuality that nourishes emotional attachment. This is a dated theme? (That’s like telling Hamlet to lighten up--everyone’s father dies, for goodness sake.)” [Lee Siegel – quoted by Sumita]

And I thought the movie was about human weakness, erotic imagination, jealousy, and understanding!

The reason these thoughts are relevant to Bollywood discussions of erotic presentation is eros in the Indian setting is never separate from the “dharma, artha, kama, moksha” framework. It is only one part of “kama” The other part would consist of films like “Wall street” and desires that take other forms. [Sumita]

artha, kaama, dharma, moksha, in one form or the other, exist in all societies.

artha and kaama in line with dharma with the ultimate aim of moksha—this is the traditional Indian view.

The emphasis is crucial and thus forms the difference between a dharmic society and a non-dharmic one.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sumita’s post (Dec 1, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3700


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3707]

 Reply to Sumita

From: Ray Harris 

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 10:36 pm

Hi Sumita,

One thing that I would strongly suggest is that women do not necessarily dress to attract the erotic gaze of men, they also dress to satisfy their own erotic image of themselves. The curious thing is that many men are not really attracted to what women choose to wear, nor to makeup. I know of men who are turned off by makeup, who like small breasts and care little for women’s fashion. So we have to assume that a good part of the process is women (and men) dressing to suit themselves and to satisfy what they think is attractive. Furthermore, I know of men who see scantly clad women in cold weather and whose first thought is, ‘where is her coat, isn’t she freezing?’ Mind you, in Australia, it is cool for boys to wear only T-shirts in winter. Amongst teens I would think the driving factor in fashion is appearing cool to your same sex peers, not the opposite sex.

(In the West it is now increasingly fashionable for both men and women to exfoliate their pubic hairs, with men facing pressure from women to do so—a custom incidentally, practiced in Greece, Rome and the ME—and this is often the last part of the body to be displayed).

So some of what drives all of this is peer pressure and the need to be in the ‘in’ crowd by wearing the right fashion of the moment. Which is very likely how India’s dress code changed. The ruling elites, both Muslim and British, dictated what was fashionable and what carried status. Ambitious Hindus affected the Muslim and British norms in order to advance themselves in the new social order. So perhaps changing fashion is more about status than arbitrary notions of morality.

What I find curious is how the self-appointed moral guardians suddenly declare certain things to be obscene, without reference to history or reason.

Besides, I thought the point of the naked avadhut was to point out exactly how arbitrary conventional morality was—and further, that they stood in transgressive opposition to Brahmanical (and Shankarian, Buddhist and others) moral orthodoxies.

In regard to defensive strategies—one has to ask, have such defensive strategies worked? I don’t believe that there is much sexual assault and abuse in nudist communities. In fact, there is far more flirting and sexual gazing on normal beaches and clothed events.

I actually believe there is more likelihood of sexual assault in cultures that have a division between the pure, untouchable girl, and the temptress who invites transgression. It seems assault victims are women who are perceived by the perpetrator to have in some way, asked for it, often for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time and outside the arbitrary ‘protected time/space’ that marks her as unavailable. In some societies that simply means not married and at home. Clothing can simply be torn off and has little effect in stopping assault.

Ray Harris

[Response to Sumira’s post (Dec 01, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3701]


I should point out that on the BHU campus there were frequent (attempted) molestations in public spaces (usually at night) of (fully-clothed) Indian female students and even quite mature matrons (I can remember a case quite vividly...) by male students apparently getting too high on Bollywood love-scenes (while returning from the cinemas on cycle rickshaws). And this despite (or rather because of?) the strict separation of the sexes (the girls’ college and hostel was literally walled off...).

I think this has still to do with the conflict of norms that Sumita brought up and, here, perhaps Bollywood is more a vector of the West?

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3708]

 Women as other and eroticized breasts

From: Ray Harris

Date: Thu Dec 1, 2005; 10:53 pm

Hi Nandakumar,

I accept and understand your reservations in regard to Nitikin’s observations. I intend it only as a suggestion that might provide a clue that then might be further investigated.

In regard to some of your other points.

I don’t make the same distinctions between the average man and intellectuals as you seem to. In my personal experience the average man has just as active an imagination as intellectuals. Your comments suggest to me a rather prejudiced and inaccurate understanding of “the average man.”

A naked breast in a sea of clothed breasts would certainly draw attention, but a clothed breast on a nudist beach would attract more attention.

Covering the body may indeed inhibit the erotic gaze—but it may also invite the erotic gaze with a curiosity to see what is hidden. This curiosity may itself be a nagging distraction.

I accept that you advocate your understanding of dharma, but what attracted me to this site is the sense in which spirituality may also be about transgression and questioning tradition and moral rules, indeed, in questioning what is dharmic. I’ve understood the Tantric tradition to question traditional ideas of dharma.

Isn’t Tantra dharma to be transgressive, to question, to shock normal moral standards, to shatter conventional understanding in order to point to a deeper reality?

Ray

[Reply to Nandakumar’s post (Dec 01, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3702]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3709]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Sumita Ambasta

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 5:12 am

 

So some of what drives all of this is peer pressure and the need to be in the ‘in’ crowd by wearing the right fashion of the moment. Which is very likely how India’s dress code changed. The ruling elites, both Muslim and British, dictated what was fashionable and what carried status. Ambitious Hindus affected the Muslim and British norms in order to advance themselves in the new social order. So perhaps changing fashion is more about status than arbitrary notions of morality. [Ray]

Yes, fashion is a big power statement. It’s the rich and famous who drive what’s fashionable, and the underlying principle of the propagation of fashion is one of emulation. It’s pretty similar to norms of corporate dressing. In the early 90s, when multinationals were setting up in India, B-School women graduates wore a lot of Indian clothes to work. I remember looking for a suit in Mumbai before a visit to the US and finding only one store in the entire city which stocked one. We wore saris and salwar kammez’es to work and it was considered appropriate clothing.

With a lot more business exchange having occurred in the last decade, I saw younger girls, specially those who have traveled abroad, moving to wearing suits. The desire is to emulate “powerful women” in the corporate world, most of whom dress in Western clothes, the model of transnational business being driven by Western mores. Saris are not the preferred clothing for younger professional women, and salwar kameezes have taken on a more ethnically neutral format, one of a pant set.

On the contrary here in NYC, with Asians moving to dominant positions in businesses, it’s not out of place to wear an ethnic outfit to a formal night. You have to look at any fashion magazine, to see ethnic jewelry, embellished and traditional clothing with flowing skirts, stones, sequins, etc., along with the elaborate form of dressing that is very ethinic in nature is making a comeback in the fashion world. It’s easy for me to source what’s fashionable in New York from India today than what it was 10 years ago.

But the central point of exposure or lack of exposure and the moral values many associate with it are never separate from this question, even as it may seem unrelated.

Fashion, is also driven at some level by the underlying mores of society, even is it is emulative.

I think the issue of assault you describe is simplistic. It’s more an issue of law enforcement. if law was not as strong in NYC, you would probably see as much or even more assault as traditional societes. You may not be familiar with the incident of Puerto Rican Day parade where girls were assaulted in broad daylight in Central Park in NYC and the big scandal was how the police did not do much about it.

Many things were inconclusive but the issue of public behavior and clothing was central to those debates. Yes, it’s what stands out that always draws attention. But it’s important to examine (I am working on these lines) why girls feel compelled to express themselves erotically rather than through other forms also. There are many choices available to girls of self-definition, specially in modern societies. What makes one choice stand out. If “being cool” is important, then why do “success icons” follow erotic model in preference to others?

Why is Britney a bigger role model, rather than lets’ say some social worker, or corporate leader, or political leader?

It’s hard to separate women’s portrayal from the role of women in society. If many goddess forms are available to girls, why the choice of Venus over let’s say Athena?

While the issue of power dynamics is very very important, it’s not the only factor. Moral policing is usually an outcome of these tensions. To invalidate the tension as mere power issues is a little reductionist. There has to be some concern that is hidden by aggressive moral stances, and I am not sure if it’s merely a desire to subjugate women, as is often suggested.

There are more things that need to be explored here.

Bollywood is also struggling with these conflicts, in attempting to integrate the many faces of women, erotic, nurturing, powerful, wise, etc.....But more on that later.

Regards.

Sumita

 What I find curious is how the self-appointed moral guardians suddenly declare certain things to be obscene, without reference to history or reason. In regard to defensive strategies—one has to ask, have such defensive strategies worked? I don’t believe that there is much sexual assault and abuse in nudist communities. In fact, there is far more flirting and sexual gazing on normal beaches and clothed events.

 [In response to Ray’s post at (Dec 01, 2005)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3707]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3710]

 Re: Women as other and eroticized breasts

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 8:38 am

 

I don’t make the same distinctions between the average man and intellectuals as you seem to. In my personal experience the average man has just as active an imagination as intellectuals. Your comments suggest to me a rather prejudiced and inaccurate understanding of “the average man.”

I guess we all have our own personal experiences and interpretations. Who is to say who is right?

A naked breast in a sea of clothed breasts would certainly draw attention, but a clothed breast on a nudist beach would attract more attention.

But the normal society isn’t a nudist beach, is it?

See the primary question is : which would be more erotic? the bared or the clothed?

We can argue till eternity.

But the fact is that civilizations throughout history have conceived and developed clothing in one form or other to cover up the private parts, even if not breasts, still the genitals are covered.

That means something, doesn’t it?

Also the question of whether European standards of morals were influential in such ideas: from Africa to Asia to South America, the natives of these lands, even as they accepted and assimilated so many European ideas into their local cultures, still they have also not accepted so many things even after centuries of colonialization.

So why should they accept this alone?

People seem to accept things culturally when it benefits them in some way. IF Indians did accept such values (if they didn’t already have such norms) it was because it complemented their existing values.

 I accept that you advocate your understanding of dharma, but what attracted me to this site is the sense in which spirituality may also be about transgression and questioning tradition and moral rules, indeed, in questioning what is dharmic. I’ve understood the Tantric tradition to question traditional ideas of dharma.

Yes, I’m sure you’ll find many members of this list supporting your ideas. But I’m generally inclined towards the conservative and orthodox perspective.

Isn’t Tantra dharma to be transgressive, to question, to shock normal moral standards, to shatter conventional understanding in order to point to a deeper reality?

Yes, but in that form it never achieved any popular support—rather were condemned and hounded out of existence.

Nandakumar

[In response to Ray’s post (Dec 02, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3708]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3711]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 8:56 am

I think the issue of assault you describe is simplistic. It’s more an issue of law enforcement. If law was not as strong in NYC, you would probably see as much or even more assault as traditional societies.

Very perceptive.

Yes, clothing is very much a statement—a personal definition—an identification. A woman who wears revealing clothes is often considered by men as “wanting it.”

Ray, let us suppose you want to buy apples. Who would you go to? A vendor who keeps his wares covered or the one who’s displaying it?

Likewise those who “want it” approach those who too seem to “want to give it.”

Why is Britney a bigger role model, rather than let’s say some social worker, or corporate leader, or political leader?

Because it is easier.

Because it is more natural for a woman to revel in her physical charms (there’s a reason that fashion, cosmetics, etc., are huge industries).

Because it is more pleasurable and exciting.

Even if Aishwarya Rai had the brains to do something different, what are the bets she would have opted out of “Bollywood”?

Nil, IMO.

As Gautama Siddhaartha is supposed to have said: adharma comes naturally. Dharma comes only with strenuous effort.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sumita’s post (Dec 02, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3709]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3713]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 9:46 am

 

Why is Britney a bigger role model, rather than let’s say some social worker, or corporate leader, or political leader?

Maybe, being desired, is more desirable (naturally?) for the average woman than being respected.

I’ve seen even old women pleased with complimentary comments on their looks.

Come on—who wouldn’t?

Even men would I guess. Except maybe for men, some things are even more important.

Nandakumar

[In addition to my own earlier post (Dec 2, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3711]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3712]

 You may want to fix this website typo. Also, an incorrect feedback link...

From: Kevin Merwin

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 9:26 am

Hello,

In the intro to the “The Politics of the female body: Nudity, Bollywood, and the Hindu Eros” page, we have:

“...Paul Kekai Manansala (who has richly illustrated this digest with ancient bear-breasted frescos from across the Indian subcontinent)...”

We mean bare-breasted, I am fairly certain.

[Kevin Merwin]

PS The email address given by the “feedback” link at the top of the page is throwing an error. The postmaster@svabhinava.org email address does not work.

--------------

Hello Kevin,

Yes, I noticed the error...guess only (Indian?) men are ‘bear-breasted’ :-)...last night but have fixed it only just now. Thanks for the reminder. The whole digest has been updated:

http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/Dialogues/SexualityFemaleBody-frame.\ htm

Yes, the feedback mailbox has not been forwarding mails to me since several months (change of server). I’ll have this fixed soon.

Nice to hear from you!

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3714]

 Re: You may want to fix this website typo. Also, an incorrect feedback link...

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 10:08 am

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com,

Kevin Merwin wrote:

In the intro to the “The Politics of the female body: Nudity, Bollywood, and the Hindu Eros” page, we have: “...Paul Kekai Manansala (who has richly illustrated this digest with ancient bear-breasted frescos from across the Indian subcontinent)...”

Sorry if the boob shots offended anyone. I did not mean to be anymore voyeuristic or titillating than in previous discussions about human and animal sacrifice, cannibalism, decapitation, Mahisi rituals with the dead, etc.

I guess exposed breasts are highly charged images in today’s world.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Kevin’s post (Dec 02, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3712]


Your images are a welcome visual testimony to these otherwise purely verbal (if not verbose...) discussions. What I find rather striking is how unselfconscious (even coy in a couple of cases...) these bare-breasted women, whatever their social status, seem. It’s not as if they were trying to ‘exhibit’ their (otherwise unappreciated?) physical charms, as seems often the case with the cleavages that are thrust in our faces (and not just in cinema and TV) in the West (to recall the comments of a compatriot residing in Benares during the first visit to BHU of a former French ambassador’s wife...).

I guess what makes the difference is the audience, context, and (perceived) intent of bodily exposure (the Benares I knew was much more tolerant of ‘natural’ nudity in public than is the United States...). What seems to be insufficiently explored and emphasized in the discussion so far is the segregation of ‘social spaces’ (in pre-modern and contemporary India), of and for which this global cyberforum would constitute a newly emerging and challenging kind...

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3716]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Ray Harris

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 4:39 pm

Hi Sumita,

I did not mean to be simplistic. The issue is actually quite complex—but in trying to keep my message brief I took some short cuts.

Attitudes to sexual assault vary from culture to culture and from sub-culture to sub-culture. In NYC you would find a difference in the Latino, Hasidic, and College cultures (a difference in Soho, the Village, Harlem and Queens). In the Western world feminism has done a considerable amount to place the blame for rape on the perpetrator and not the victim. The way a woman dressed used to be a defense, it is less accepted now. So I agree that law enforcement is part of the solution. But I would also suggest that cultural attitudes are a more important factor. For instance, I have had a number of women friends who have traveled to the ME and have reported that they are treated differently, that there is a sense of tension because Western women are regarded as morally lax and therefore available (one friend narrowly missed being raped at knife point in Morocco). It is difficult for the law to keep up with cultural and sub-cultural attitudes regarding when and if consent is given—something the ‘no means no’ campaign was meant to clarify.

This means that at different times different modes of dress become signifiers for notions of the erotic, or power (one area that has also become homogenized, apart from business, is the military, with nearly all national armies mimicking Western styles). The irony about the breast is that there are subtle degrees of acceptability. Curiosly the last thing that women should expose are their nipples, yet it is the thing both male and female chests have in common. I mean, that’s how illogical it is. The thing that is different is the fatty tissue and that is actually emphasized in a range of fashions—push up bras that create a cleavage, plunging necklines, backless dresses. If one wanted to hide the breast then one would apply a kind of bandage to flatten them and then hide them completely. But no, they are actually emphasized at the same time as complete exposure is taboo. This hide and reveal game is an erotic play that is a signifier of a ‘will I or won’t I’ erotic tease.

In regard to Britney—pop stars and movie stars seem to be held in higher esteem simply because they are, by their nature, far more obvious as role models. MTV is designed to promote them and other models are invisible in comparison.

I do take your point about Aphrodite (Venus) over Athena. Can I suggest there are several archetypal options, including Artemis (Diana)? She was the virgin, wild huntress (sister to Apollo, he was the sun, she the moon) who was seen bathing naked with nymphs by a certain, unfortunate hunter named Aktaion. She turned him into a deer and had her dogs hunt him down and tear him to bits. What this archetype is about is a powerful sensuality and eroticism that is strong and self-contained and will not suffer exploitation. Are there shades of Durga in Artemis?

In the end I am actually arguing that there are more choices for women than a narrow, patriarchal morality allows. To try and pull it back to my original Bollywood example—the West, through the examples of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Jodie Foster, Melissa Ethridge, JD Lang, etc., etc., etc.—have a far wider range of erotic options than the new puritanism of India allows Indian women. Something that has occurred in defiance of India’s rich archetypal tradition and mythological role models.

I would further argue that releasing the energy of all the archetypes creates a creative environment that benefits society. I’m no conservative. In fact I stand opposed to conservative moralisms which tend to stifle creativity, not just artistic creativity but also scientific, mechanical, and entrepreneurial creativity (the West also has a tradition of creative invention and one Australian program, the New Inventors, honors inventors).

Conservative forces want to censor certain archetypes and instead absolutize their chosen archetype, usually the archetype of the dominant male. Women’s bodies are controlled as a symbol of the male’s domination of the female archetypes. This is then also linked to the domination of a transcendent, ascender, male principle over an imminent, descender, female principle. To the ‘ascender’ the other world (heaven, paradise, Indraloka, nirvana) is desired and this world of matter and flesh is condemned. To the ‘descender’ heaven is in this world and flesh is not a sin. The appeal of Tantra is in the unification of the male and female principles. I’m interested in how this can be expressed culturally.

What Artemis might teach us is that women can be naked as a natural expression of themselves, free of the signifiers placed on their natural form by a patriarchal, moralizing, ascender gaze.

Ray

[Response to Sumita’s post (Dec 02, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3709]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3717]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Ray Harris

Date: Fri Dec 2, 2005; 4:55 pm

Hi Nandakumar

You say: “Ray, let us suppose you want to buy apples. Who would you go to? A vendor who keeps his wares covered or the one who’s displaying it?”

The problem occurs because there is a confusion of signals. It is not a simple case of displaying apples. A woman (or man) who dresses a certain way may be inviting attention but that attention has to be acceptable. Flirtation is a complex process that goes through a number of stages. Dress certainly signifies availability, along with a host of other signifiers. In some ‘naked’ cultures married women wear a specific item to signify they are married. These signifiers are arbitrary and vary greatly from culture to culture.

Ray

[Response to Nandakumar’s post (Dec 2, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3711]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3719]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Sumita Ambasta

Date: Sat Dec 3, 2005; 11:39 am

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Ray Harris wrote:

In regard to Britney—pop stars and movie stars seem to be held in higher esteem simply because they are, by their nature, far more obvious as role models. MTV is designed to promote them and other models are invisible in comparison.

Yes, but I am curious about the underlying societal reasons for these. Am in convergence with Postman’s submissions in “Technopoly,” that media marketing models subvert the sacred in society to marketing economic models as the highest value available. Would you agree?

I do take your point about Aphrodite (Venus) over Athena. Can I suggest there are several archetypal options, including Artemis (Diana)? She was the virgin, wild huntress (sister to Apollo, he was the sun, she the moon) who was seen bathing naked with nymphs by a certain, unfortunate hunter named Aktaion. She turned him into a deer and had her dogs hunt him down and tear him to bits. What this archetype is about is a powerful sensuality and eroticism that is strong and self-contained and will not suffer exploitation. Are there shades of Durga in Artemis?

 Yes, I am working on such themes to do with Indian media. It does sound that Artemis is close to Durga in spirit, as you describe. However, I always find it interesting how warrior Durga is also worshipped as mother of four children visiting her parents home (on earth) as Durga puja in Bengal. There is a father figure of Shiva (depicted in small pictures behind the mūrti during pūja). I find the family motif crossing with the warrior motif within Durga very fascinating. Is it two archetypes together? Which one rules? or is it an attempt at integration? Am exploring these questions. These are relevant for Indian women as well as media depiction of females.

Further, while researching the goddess archetypes, I discovered that the triad forms of Mahāsaraswatī, Mahālakshmī and Mahākālī have been considered correspondent to sattva, raja, and tamas modes of life. This is very interesting to me, as it sets up a hierarchy of spiritual goals in utilising these archetypes for common life. It provides a model for society and the roles for women. The Vedas, Puranas have these fairly clear faces of women, and its interesting to me that Bollywood focuses more on the Sītā face, rather than these original archetypes. The conservative factions also focus on the Rām- Sītā model of family, the good son narrative in Bollywood films. Is it due to a huge influence of partition-torn people on Bollywood, both from Bengal and Punjab? Their concerns focussed more on protecting family as a unit of social structure and this seemed to be the more powerful appeal to the imagination of a collective which fears loss of social structure? These questions are important. I notice Marathi filmmakers approach women very differently than the filmmakers from Punjab and Bengal (of course these are large generalizations and there are many exceptions but is there a larger trend?) Could “Paheli” have been made by a Yash Chopra camp?

Is the modern focus on other forms of women, a little rebellious and not always the “Sita type” a reconnect with existing female archetypes in our culture, which were merely temporarily submerged in the last years?

I find the film “Hey Ram” very interesting in exploring this theme. The combination of male-female principles was considered very provocative by some but it’s a deeply questioning film about the warrior and the nurturer modes of archetypes.

 In the end I am actually arguing that there are more choices for women than a narrow, patriarchal morality allows. To try and pull it back to my original Bollywood example—the West, through the examples of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Jodie Foster, Melissa Ethridge, JD Lang, etc., etc., etc.—have a far wider range of erotic options than the new puritanism of India allows Indian women. Something that has occured in defiance of India’s rich archetypal tradition and mythological role models.>

Yes, I see what you describe but I also am aware of many forces that prevent such monolithic growth of definition of the feminine. There is greater resilience in the Indian culture than what we occasionally observe. There is space for an expression of the feminine that is more multidimensional than what is currently visible. It’s only a matter of time.

I would further argue that releasing the energy of all the archetypes creates a creative environment that benefits society. I’m no conservative.

 I could not agree more.

 Regards

Sumita

 

 

[In response to Ray Harris’s post (Dec 2, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3716]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3720]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Sumita Ambasta

Date: Sat Dec 3, 2005; 12:31 pm

 Maybe, being desired, is more desirable (naturally?) for the average woman than being respected.

Do you see desire and respect as mutually exclusive? Is that a factor of women of your own perception of desire not compatible with respect?

It’s not a personal question, merely a philosophical one? have you seen the film Chitralekha? It deals with this dichotomy, much like Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, or Mann’s Transposed heads, which is an adaptation of an Indian tale.

Is there a possibility they may not be mutually exclusive?

 Even men would I guess. Except maybe for men, some things are even more important.

Ok, like what? Are you implying women do not value those things?

 Regards

Sumita

[In response to Nandakumar’s post (Dec 2, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3713]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3722]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Ray Harris

Date: Sat Dec 3, 2005; 5:03 pm

Hi Sumita,

Artemis is also the goddess of childbirth and children. It is said that she was born very quickly and immediately had to help her mortal mother, Leto, deliver her twin brother Apollo through a long and difficult birth. Artemis is actually a form of the ancient Earth Mother and she is a triple goddess, one of her forms being a multi-breasted mother figure. As the maiden she is probably around 12-16 years of age. Along with Athena and Aphrodite she is a virgin goddess, meaning that she is independent of men. The idea of the virgin is linked to the concept of Sophia, wisdom. Being a Virgin in this sense is linked to the womb as a symbol of the matrix of the creative universe. The idea of Abrahamic veil is in fact a literal adaptation of the symbol of the hymen, that which prevents access to the creative matrix of the Kosmos. Patriarchal misreading has turned the veil in a literal object of clothing. It is closest to its real symbolic meaning in the wedding veil—and farthest in its use as a method to hide women from the male gaze.

The virgin goddesses hold an important meaning as ways to access the mystery. Artemis was especially worshipped in Sparta. Sparta is usually understood as a template for a male, fascist state—and indeed, it was brutal and cruel for men. But surprisingly women did well. They were educated, inherited property from their husbands. Spartan women were known for their beauty and some have gone down in history as poets, philosophers (particularly Pythagorean), horse trainers (one winning an Olympic medal) and even wise advisors to their husbands. Spartan girls prayed to Artemis for many gifts. They were expected to have physical prowess and they trained and competed, naked like the boys, in athletics. During the gymnopaedia (the festival of naked youths) they exhibited their abilities in dance and athletics. There is a suggestion that up until puberty they would even compete with and against boys. There is also a strong suggestion that women would desire girls in the same way that Athenian males desired boys—in a homoerotic mentoring system.

In other words, Sparta emphasized the Artemis archetype and the women were proud and independent, somewhat like the legendary Amazons. Sparta, incidentally, was named after the wife of its legendary founder.

In regard to the corrupting affect of the market, I agree wholeheartedly. In fact it has often amused me that the moralistic Christian right has accepted capitalism and turned its attention to liberal secularists. Yet many liberals would agree that commercial interests are corrupting the moral standards of society. To give just one example. The cartoon series Bratz is targeted at 6-10 year old girls. It emphasizes celebrity and fashion. One birthday card for a 9 year old has a cartoon Bratz character standing in a provocative pose with the words ‘Flaunt it’. And what precisely should a 9 year old girl flaunt? The idea behind this product line is to train girls to consume fashion. This is the same demographic for which some idiot has designed a padded bra so that pre-pubescent girls can pretend to have breasts. This is the opposite idea of the archetype of Artemis with athletic girls running naked in the games. Many liberals are appalled at this commercial sexualization of children. Yet, the religious right will not attack capitalism and the corrupting effect of the market. In marketing it is well known that sex sells—and in fact I would argue that Eros, in its spiritual and human essence, has been rather successfully transferred to the consumption of material goods. So material objects become substitutes for the wise expression of Eros.

I also agree with you that there is a great resilience in Indian culture. I have the feeling that India is facing a renaissance. It is my feeling that conservative moralists become more vocal when there are murmurings of radical change in the zeitgeist. In the end what they are protecting is their conservative vision of society (and women). It is no surprise that the Christian right are very active in the areas of evolutionary theory and sexuality, because these are the two areas in which modernity has challenged the ‘truth’ of the tradition. Human sexuality is far more complex and intricate than the Judeo-Christian tradition has allowed. It has only been a few generations since many Western women didn’t even know what an orgasm was. The patriarchal, ascenders have been very successful at disempowering the feminine archetypes.

Ray

 

[Reply to Sumita’s post (Dec 03, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3719]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3724]

 Helen of Troy—for Sumita

From: Ray Harris

Date: Sat Dec 3, 2005; 6:02 pm

Hi Sumita,

I forgot to add that the historian Bettany Hughes has written a fascinating book called ‘Helen of Troy’. Helen was originally a Spartan queen. Archaeological research has suggested that Helen may have had her head shaved and gone bare breasted—and may have been a trained warrior. There is also the suggestion that Helen may have been a version of a nature goddess who is closely linked to Artemis.

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/books/news/article318223.ece

This following link has some interesting snippets but I have to apologise for the author’s description of Bettany Hughes as ‘tasty’. I don’t endorse this comment.

http://home.freeuk.net/webbuk/helenoftroy.htm

I also forgot to add that I am attempting a novel tentatively called ‘Navaratri’. The major theme of the book is the treatment of eros and the feminine in Greek, Judeo-Christian, and Indian culture. So the idea of the triple goddess is central to the thematic structure of the book—although it’s main narrative is about a young photographer who inherits a small fortune from a mysterious great aunt who had lived in India. His journey is to discover who she was, and his journey takes him from materialistic, hedonistic Sydney to strife torm Israel and then to India.

Ray

[Rest of this thread at Ray’s post (Dec 03, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3722]


You might want to take a look at my post (July 06, 2004)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/2078

“Indo-Greek parallels as reflected in Homer’s Iliad—Helen, the Trojan horse and the (inner) conflict of civilizations”

Sunthar

P.S. If Helen’s appearance had conformed to the Spartan athletic model (which is quite unlike how Aphrodite, as opposed to Athena, was depicted elsewhere), how come she was so desirable across all the Greek city-states, including the Trojan Paris whom one may suppose to have shared ‘Oriental’ tastes of Asia Minor?


Subject: [Abhinava msg #2078order of thread reversed]

 [Indo-Greek] Light

From: Sreeram W.

Sent: Tuesday, July 06, 2004 4:37 AM

To: Indo-Greek@yahoogroups.com

Hi,

When I watched Troy I was quite surprised to see that Greeks used to cremate their people by using fire and also had 12 days ceremony after death. Did India and Greek share a common culture thousands of years ago. Can anybody throw some light on this?  


Subject:

 Indo-Greek parallels as reflected in Homer’s Iliad—Helen, the Trojan horse and the (inner) conflict of civilizations

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Tue Jul 6, 2004; 11:35 am

 

Desire is War

(Subtitle on the Helen of [Troy] DVD of the USA Networks series)

Helen of Sparta was perhaps the most inspired character in all literature, ancient or modern. A whole war, one which lasted for ten years, was fought over her. Not only that, nearly all the myths of the heroic age were threaded together in such a way that this most idealized of all wars was the culmination of various exploits, including the Argonaut, the Theban wars, and the Calydonian boar hunt. It is as though this event was in the destiny of every dynasty formed from the beginning of things. Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, was a tantalizing enigma from the very first. She was flesh and blood certainly, but she was also immortal, since her father was none other than Zeus. [...] The most fascinating thing about Helen was her story. It was far better than she was. We do not see any real character development in her and have to regard her as a pawn of the gods. The larger story is involved with the people around her, their rise and fall. She herself seemed almost oblivious to the horrors that surrounded her. She displayed very little emotion and no remorse. She seemed removed and largely unaffected by the outcome of the war. In most accounts of her final years she was not even made to pay for her part in the calamity that touched virtually every family in Greece. It is small wonder some writers contrived alternative versions in which she was made to pay a debt to society.

Robert E. Bell, “About Helen of Troy,” Modern American Poetry

(Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes. Ed. Pierre Brunel. Copyright © 1996 by Routledge)

Hello Sri Ram,

The long documentary on Helen of Troy that aired recently on the History Channel was interspersed with preview scenes from the movie that was just appearing in cinemas across the United States. As I watched parts of the narrative, it occurred to me that, more than just thematic resemblances between the Greek and Indian epics, there were striking structural and ideological (as Dumézil would put it) parallels that could only be attributed to a common culture that had been reworked divergently, over time, at the two extremities of the Indo-Mediterranean belt.

Troy was unsuccessfully besieged by the Achaeans despite enormous losses of life on both sides. The deadlock is ultimately overcome by the subterfuge of the Trojan horse that hid those very Greek heroes, who had earlier been competing for the hand of Helen in marriage. The Achaean suitors would have fought themselves to death for her possession had they not been obliged to dip themselves in the blood of a sacrificed stallion so as to solemnly swear to defend the honor of whomever (Menelaus) she was bestowed upon in marriage. This is why they subsequently follow the lead of (Menelaus’ ruthless brother) Agamemnon (married to her sister Clytemnestra, but himself secretly in love with Helen) in their armada against this most Oriental of Greek cities located on the coast of Asia Minor. More than just a narrative and dramatic device, a trope that has since been immortalized even in the form of these computer viruses that are breaching the security walls of our computer-fortresses, the Trojan horse ultimately symbolizes of the larger ‘national’ unity of the constantly bickering Achaean Greeks. Homer is simply saying that if the Greeks eventually defeated Troy, this was because they had remained united through their shared faithfulness to their sacrificial religion. They immolated the cousin of the Indo-Aryan horse of the imperial Azvamedha sacrifice that reestablished the disrupted ‘national’ unity when performed by YudhiSThira after the Mahābhārata war and by Rāma on his triumphant return after slaying the demon RāvaNa in Lanka.

Daughter of Zeus, fair Helen herself is but the epic transposition—like Draupadī in the Mahābhārata and Sītā in the Rāmāyana—of Aphrodite the Greek goddess of Love and War. Her voluntary ‘kidnapping’ (Stockholm syndrome?) by Paris from Sparta to Troy amounts to competition between the Western and Oriental Greeks for the special favor of their tutelary goddess. The Rāmāyana is likewise the battle between Rāma and Rāvana for the hand of (the violated?) Sītā, just as the PāNDava-Kaurava Mahābhārata war may be read as the resolution, through an Indian holocaust, of the violation (and rape?) of the (ever menstruating...) Draupadī. The Indian epics have largely borrowed the preexisting Vedic theme of the ‘auspicious’ goddess Zrī (= Vāc-Sarasvatī) vacillating between the gods (deva) and demons (asura), who attempt to lure her to their own side. This supposedly ‘Indo-European’ ideology has itself largely borrowed the politico-religious role of the Mesopotamian cult of the goddess Inanna, who was adopted, as a proto-form of Durgā, by the increasingly aggressive ‘proto-Indo-Aryan’ BMAC civilization developing around the northern reaches of Afghanistan from around 2100 BC. Between 1800 and 1300 BC, Indo-Aryan warrior elites had extended their sway over the entire Middle East, penetrating well into Egypt (Hyksos) and the Greek mainland (Achaeans), absorbing even more of Middle Eastern religious elements. The mythico-ritual origin and continuing psychic hold of this cruel Goddess of Love does not necessarily imply that Helen and the Trojan war amount to no more than epic fiction. When the Elamite king Kudur-Nankhundi sacked Erech in 2280 BC., he ‘kidnapped’ the famed icon of Inanna; when the Assyrian Assurbanipal eventually conquered Elam, and in 645 BC sacked Susa, now the capital of the ancient Persians, his foremost attention was on returning the image to its original and rightful temple in Erech. Sparta and Troy may have been fighting for the same goddess.

The Greek and Hindu epics are more than just legendary stories of love-and-war that have come to inform the underlying ethos of a people. They offer a shared diagnosis of the unconscious motivations of human endeavor and the impending fate of civilizations that have grown too big for their boots. When unbridled ambition, aggressive behavior and eros unleashed begin to dissolve the precarious bonds that hold together human society, we begin to witness the sort of politico-cultural polarization dramatized between the PāNDava and Kaurava cousins, between the ‘Aryan’ Rāma and the ‘Dravidian’ (but brahmin!) RāvaNa, the ‘westernizing’ Greeks and their ‘orientalizing’ Trojan cousins. After having endured, for almost a century, a global confrontation between the capitalist and the communist blocs, both ardent devotees of the goddess ‘Progress’, we are now being swallowed up by a reconfiguration of the archaic dualistic schema around this ‘phony war’ between ‘Western’ and ‘Islamic’ civilizations. But where is the indifferent, blood-thirsty and irresistible Helen in all this? She is adored on TV screens around the world as the fair and (more than just) ‘nude’ (and provocative) Madonna, who wags her finger at US bellicosity even while exuding an all-too-American eros! She is the Anglo-Saxon ‘Feminist’ writ-large, who was collecting petitions for the invasion of Afghanistan long before 9/11, and whose Arabo-Muslim honor has found its champion in Osama ben Laden. She finds her castrating caricature in the ‘camaraderie’ of GI-Jane ‘England’ caught in the photogenic act of aiming her ‘trigger-happy’ finger at the humiliated genitals of the male Iraqi prisoner (Muslim descendent of a priest of Attis?).

If you look carefully at an anthropological map of the globe, it would become obvious that there has been an expansion of patriarchy across the whole Eurasian landmass with women continuing to enjoy high status only in South India (and more so in South-East Asia) and in the British Isles. What our American ‘Amazons’ are attempting, even if only unconsciously (like Wendy Doniger in her ‘hermeneutics’ of Hindu myth...?), seems to be nothing less than the reversal of what has been the civilizational status quo for the last 5000 years at least (the Sumerian urbanites were themselves already goddess-worshipping but male-centered society).

Fair or not, Helen, it would seem, has at long last descended from her divine pedestal—multiplying herself like Durgā—to join the fray in person...

Sunthar

P.S. Perhaps I might have more to add once I get around to seeing the movie, alone....Elizabeth, unlike Helen, abhors violent scenes!

[Rest of this thread at Sunthar V.

Beauty of the fortified triple-city (Tripurasundarī)—on the Bactrian warrior-dimension of Durgā and Zākta tantrism (Apr 18, 2003)

National culture, family structure and personality type—a Hindu approach to ‘transcendental psychoanalysis’? (June 28, 2004)]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3728]

 Re: [Ind-Arch] Hot News : First ever discovered labeled portraiture of king As

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Mon Dec 5, 2005; 10:31 am

 

Ram wrote:

Thereupon, the Pandavas take off their upper garments, uttareeyas.

Yes, upper garments existed but there is no evidence they were incumbent on women.

The Jataka real-life scenes at Ajanta show women wearing upper garments and going topless, sometimes in the same scene.

Even in 19th century Punjab there were areas where women still went topless.

This quote from Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India from the traveler Mrs. Colin MacKenzie in Ludhiana:

You may imagine the degraded condition of the here, when I tell you we constantly pass women in the open street bare down to the hips, little children have generally no clothing at all, and many of the men have the smallest possible quantity.

Of course, northern India can get cold and is would be natural for women and men to cover up during winter.

Some clothing like the “Vedic” breast-band was meant more for support than covering.

Stanapatta breast bands

The Uttariya was usually a sheer or diaphanous garment.

Image of Gupta princess with sheer uttariya

2. Slave girls may not have worn upper garments, as in the famous “dancing girl” of M’Dharo. I can recall only one small statue of a woman in the Harappan collection, and it may be dangerous to generalize based on that one piece of artifact.

I’ve posted at Abhinavagupta, images from Ajanta and Sri Lanka that nobility commonly went bare-breasted.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3668

A quote from Richard Burton’s translation of the Kamasutra on the Kanchukiyas:

“A name given to the maid servants of the zenana of the kings in ancient times, on account of their always keeping their breasts covered with a cloth called Kanchuki. It was customary in the olden time for the maid servants to cover their breasts with a cloth, while the queens kept their breasts uncovered. This custom is distinctly to be seen in the Ajunta cave paintings.

Regards,

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

 

[Original post:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IndiaArchaeology/message/2619]

[Rest of this thread at Paul’s post (De 02, 2005)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3714]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3729]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Mon Dec 5, 2005; 9:38 pm

> Do you see desire and respect as mutually exclusive?

In some cases yes. Men desire/lust for starlets who “reveal.” People respect Mother Therasa.

>Is that a factor of women of your own perception of desire not compatible with respect?

Definitely so. I’m a product of a particular environment. In the environment I grew up, there’s simply no respect for a woman who would show off her body. This environment probably applies to a great part of Indian society even today I would think. And was definitely the dominant trend say 30 years back in India.

For example, my sister used to study in a top arts college in Chennai. Apparently one girl once wore a mini skirt to college. In the “ladies special” public bus, other women passengers apparently verbally abused and threatened this girl for dressing that way. So that’s the value system for certain people.

Even men would I guess. Except maybe for men, some things are even more important. [Nandakumar]

 Ok, like what? Are you implying women do not value those things? [Sumita]

It is my observation that appearance is of greater importance to the average woman than substance. At least so it seems to me. For example how many times have I heard my sisters trash some politician or leader, because he didn’t “look good.” No, not because they’re crooks or selfish or corrupt, etc, but because they didn’t look good! I was commenting on this once to one of my British friends when I lived in London—a liberal who BTW didn’t accept my generalizations on women. But even he laughingly conceded that was pretty much his mother’s reaction to politicians.

That I think can be directly traced to the dominant categories of the average woman’s self-perception.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sumita’s post (Dec 3, 2005) at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3713]


Hello Nandakumar,

These are perceptions I shared myself from my childhood, from sheer observations of women around, for a long time (including the conviction that they were less intelligent and ‘serious’ than men...).

But I really wonder how much all this has to do with a certain upbringing, social expectations (on the part of men in particular), and the areas to which their interests had been ‘traditionally’ channeled?

Sunthar

P.S. My thoughts on this issue have evolved a great deal since...


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3730]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Tue Dec 6, 2005; 6:32 am

 But I really wonder how much all this has to do with a certain upbringing, social expectations (on the part of men in particular), and the areas to which their interests had been ‘traditionally’ channeled? [Sunthar]

A cow is only the cow I’ve experienced. If a cow can fly in some other world, I do not know of it.

Likewise if women can react differently based on different environments, I’ve not been exposed to it.

But the world is the world as it is. It is not some idealistic utopia which exists only in our mind where we can speculate on what could or might have been.

We can only talk of things as they exist.

Other than India, I’ve lived in Singapore, London, and many parts of the USA. I’ve also travelled to other parts of the world. I’m also a voracious reader and have read literature from many parts of the world. Can’t say that my observations in this regard are very different in all these places.

It is my opinion that to be desired by men is amongst that strongest instincts in women. So ...

P.S. My thoughts on this issue have evolved a great deal since... [Sunthar]

Mine is constantly evolving. But sometimes there’re fundamental truths which cannot be swayed by any amount of argument.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sunthar’s comment on Nandakumar’s post (Dec, 06, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3729]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3733]

 Desired devis

From: Sumita Ambasta

Date: Tue Dec 6, 2005; 11:40 am

Ray,

As is evident from how the discussion progresses, women, desire, respect are entwined with goddess archetypes.

Did Shiva desire Shakti? Did Shiva worship (respect) Shakti? What is Saraswatī’s role? Is Lakshmī the form they talk about when they talk about the fickle women, who focus on the material (as Nandakumar probably suggests)?

What forms did goddesses take that combined male-female principles, which forms the basis for Eros, or desire, to use a simpler concept?

Did Eros eradicate certain archetypes, or did this selection occur through historical forces.

These are my questions. It’s interesting to me, many men find not much to respect in a real woman form, and the forms they desire, they feel are not worthy of respect. This dichotomy is very very interesting to me. It’s at contrast with archetypes, and is more in line with conservative morality. Your book concept sounds very fascinating. For now, it seems to me, there are things to observe about these topics that come up in these discussions. Even as most remain silent. These conflicts take many forms, in art, social relations, models of family, role models for women, etc.,...

Nandakumar, Sunthar,

What is conditioning? Is it not role models we inherit from cultural history? And if we inherit them, doesn’t experience hint at distortions in these models. (Sunthar, you hinted at these changes. Nandakumar, I understand that experence can only be limited to an extent.)

Do women choose what models they follow? Can one who is now empowered have freedom to choose, or to follow what is expected. Somewhere, then, do not expectations have something to do with these models? That they feel compelled to follow. Then, isn’t the label of “limited views” equally apply to both men and women?

I am not sure what these issues stem from... But I hope we all are equally interested in exploring them. For now, maybe we are digressing from the issues that are central to this board. But these are related to what is aesthetic, or beautiful?

 Regards

Sumita

[In response to Ray’s post (Dec 2, 2005)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3716

and Nandakumar’s post (Dec 5, 2005) and Sunthar’s comments at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3729]

---------------

Hello Sumita,

It seems to me that the questions you are raising all point us in the right directions, and your caution that we keep returning to the original topic of (the Hindu) eros in relation to (the Bollywood) aesthetics is most timely.

Here, I would ask whether men’s ‘traditional’ treatment of women as ‘sex-objects’, which seems to be as old as the Vedas and is perhaps even more in force today in ‘enlightened’ America, is a detriment to their overall social upliftment (in the sense of gender ‘equality’) or whether the judicious celebration of female eroticism could instead result in some form of ‘emancipation’ even for males. Why is it that (only?) courtesans were so highly literate and artistically refined in post-Vedic India?

Regards,

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3737]

 Re: Desired devīs

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Tue Dec 6, 2005; 10:13 pm

 What is conditioning? Is it not role models we inherit from cultural history? And if we inherit them, doesn’t experience hint at distortions in these models. [Sumita]

I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at here.

In my mind, most things happen in the world because of certain dynamics surrounding the inherent nature—dharma—of a thing. Most things which happen to men or women happen because of some fundamental characteristic/nature within them to aid such process. Else such cannot last.

But it is possible that such characteristics can be due to the environment and can also be changed.

Do women choose what models they follow? Can one who is now empowered have freedom to choose, or to follow what is expected.

In modern India I think that’s reasonably true.

Somewhere, then, do not expectations have something to do with these models? That they feel compelled to follow. Then, [doesn’t] the label of “limited views” equally apply to both men and women?

Sure, no denying it. The society holds the members within it like puppets on a string. But that’s the existing dynamics and such dynamics have evolved along with the society due to certain reasons. Sure such dynamics can be changed effecting in the change of behavioral patterns of the members within the society.

Again I’m lost as to what you’re trying to get at here.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sumita’s post (Dec 06, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3733]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3738]

 Intelligent Women

From: Radhakrishna Warrier

Date: Tue Dec 6, 2005; 5:18 pm

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Nandakumar Chandran wrote:

... For example, my sister used to study in a top arts college in Chennai. ... It is my observation that appearance is of greater importance to the average woman than substance. At least so it seems to me. For example how many times have I heard my sisters trash some politician or leader, because he didn’t “look good.” No, not because they’re crooks or selfish or corrupt, etc, but because they didn’t look good! [Nandakumar]

Translator the traitor strikes again :-). But this time I don’t have anything to translate :-)

Regarding women, I have a different story to tell. I don’t deny that dull women inhabit the earth, just as Taliban-type men, whether Islamic, Christian or even Hindu do. There are women interested in things we consider inconsequential just as there are men who can talk nothing but cricket and coitus or hockey and cars. But this world is home to smart, intelligent women in no insignificant numbers.

I was influenced quite a lot by my mother and older sisters in my formative years. They kindled my interest in subjects as varied as languages and mathematics, or philosophy and physics. They helped me find my strong moorings in our own culture and tradition but with modern sensibilities. In short, they were very instrumental in making me what I am today. My parents are no more now; my sisters continue to remain successful housewives at the same time making contributions in their chosen fields as PhDs and medical doctors. By the way, all my sisters, like me, studied in government institutions not “top”, high brow convent schools.

Thanks and regards,

Radhakrishna Warrier

 [In response to Nandakumar Chandran’s post dated 6 Dec 2005

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3729]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3739]

 Re: Reply to Sumita

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Wed Dec 7, 2005; 6:31 am

It is my observation that appearance is of greater importance to the average woman than substance. [Nandakumar]

Actually I wanted to make this note a day after my initial comments.

I personally think that the older generation had higher values than the present generation. For example, I can’t imagine my mother or aunt approving of a politician just because he “looked good.” They had more substantial categories to evaluate such.

My mother taught me a lot of valuable things: the basics of Upanishadic philosophy, the patience to look at the “other perspective,” to appreciate art, music etc.

In my mind the higher points of all cultures is the product of the efforts of uncommon (wo)men. Such substance has to be preserved and propagated carefully so that the common (wo)man can benefit by it. Common (wo)man if left to themselves will fritter their lives away.

Would Bhaarathiaar, the idealist that he was who could see only the brighter side, who dreamed of the “pudhumei penn” (the modern woman), because he felt that tradition stifled a woman’s potential, approve of Aishwarya Rai?

But that’s pretty much what people are capable of, if left to themselves.

Freedom—boon or bane?

Nandakumar

[In continuation of Nandakumar’s own earlier post (Dec 06, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3729]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3741]

 Responding to Nandakumar

From: Sugrutha

Date: Thu Dec 8, 2005; 1:05 pm

Some very interesting posts from Nandakumar. I have some responses.

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3711]

Yes, clothing is very much a statement—a personal definition—an identification. A woman who wears revealing clothes is often considered by men as "wanting it."

Ray, let us suppose you want to buy apples. Who would you go to? A vendor who keeps his wares covered or the one who's displaying it?

Likewise those who "want it" approach those who too seem to "want to give it."

How do you compare some woman walking on the roads/riding a train/buying groceries at a super-market/standing in line for movie tickets, to apples on sale on a vendor's stand? Does a woman go on sale as soon as she steps out of her house?

You have used both 'wanting it' and 'wanting to give it' about women. Very confusing. What is on sale? Who is giving and who is taking? Who is 'selling' and who is ‘buying’? Is it all free or is there some bartering? And what is the barter?

And where exactly does one draw the line for speculating between a woman who is out 'wanting it/wanting to give it' and out 'doing her chores’? Display of legs, display of face, display of ankles, display of palms, wearing lip-stick, wearing kohl, wearing flowers in the hair, chiffon saris ? Where?

Growing up, I knew cousins (male, late teens) going to the local temple very religiously on Fridays, to look (or drool ?) at all the young girls/women who would turn up in pattu pavadai-dhavani-pudavai (silk attire) and thalai niriya poo (flowers in the hair). 'Nothing to beat the sexiness in that style of dressing,' they would comment.

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3729]

Men desire/lust for starlets who "reveal." People respect Mother Therasa.

What about all those 'real women' one meets in daily life who fall in between Screen starlets and Saint Theresa?

It is my observation that appearance is of greater importance to the average woman than substance. At least so it seems to me. For example how many times have I heard my sisters trash some politician or leader, because he didn't "look good." No, not because they're crooks or selfish or corrupt, etc, but because they didn't look good! I was commenting on this once to one of my British friends when I lived in London—a liberal who BTW didn't accept my generalizations on women. But even he laughingly conceded that was pretty much his mother's reaction to politicians.

That I think can be directly traced to the dominant categories of the average woman's self-perception.

Very simple, yes. But what I see in the above women is a clear disinterest in politics, and making some facetious comments based on looks. If you ask a man about women saints, and if he is someone not interested in saints or sainthood or what they are all about, he will probably say 'oh I like that one, she looks very pretty'.

[http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3730]

A cow is only the cow I've experienced. If a cow can fly in some other world, I do not know of it.

Likewise if women can react differently based on different environments, I've not been exposed to it.

But the world is the world as it is. It is not some idealistic utopia which exists only in our mind where we can speculate on what could or might have been.

We can only talk of things as they exist.

If what we see is what is there, will our uncorrected eye-sight play a role in our comparative realities ? With my vision, I won't know whether it is a cow or a giant bird flying above my head. Oh, I won't even spot them if they are more than 50 yards away. In a dimly lit room, how do we know if that curled up thingy is a coiled rope or a sleeping snake? Often times do eyes play on our minds such that we are required to take a closer and more informed second look at things? For example, when my younger son was a child, I often could not make out whether he was laughing or crying when he squealed from another room, I always had to walk over to 'see' and check out.

Isn't that why we have a Tamil saying which means 'It is a lie what you see, it is a lie what you hear, the truth of it all is what your mind tells you after due analysis.' ?

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3730

I personally think that the older generation had higher values than the present generation. For example, I can't imagine my mother or aunt approving of a politician just because he "looked good." They had more substantial categories to evaluate such.

Did we know them when they were younger? I mean, when they were young women we were after all not there or too young :-) Many times we all get more serious about certain things and less serious about certain things as we grow older, depending on our perception of what really affects/influences/is relevant to our lives.

Would Bhaarathiaar, the idealist that he was who could see only the brighter side, who dreamed of the pudhumei penn (the modern woman), because he felt that tradition stifled a woman's potential, approve of Aishwarya Rai?

Ah, that, we will never know :-) From what I have heard of Bharathiyar, and what I have read of his poems, I think he also had a fun/lighter side to himself, and I am not sure he would not have enjoyed watching Aishwarya Rai in 'hum dil de chuke sanam' :-)

Sugrutha


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3742]

 Why no nude goddesses or queens today?

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Thu Dec 8, 2005; 3:40 pm

There is a line of reasoning given here that the nude sculptures of ancient India were not meant to display actual dress customs but only the beauty of the human body (as in a modern nude study).

If that is the case, when did this change? How many modern nude images do we see of the gods for instance. The cartoon-like family pictures with Parvati or Sita sold on the streets all over India.

Obviously these well-dressed goddesses are simply complying with modern norms that were entirely absent in ancient India.

If one does a portrait of the queen of Nepal today, will it be in the nude? No, because mores have changed.

Goddesses in newly-built temples are so often fully-dressed because they will be seen by eyes conditioned differently than those hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala


This line of reasoning not only exaggerates the male tension between ascetic inclination and sexual desire (as in the traditional image of Shankarāchārya that I presented earlier...) into an outright opposition but also seeks to give the impression that the religious and the erotic were irreconcilable spheres of value in ancient India. This is all the more curious because the very first sensual allusion to the female breast is already found in Rig Veda 1.92.4, where the poet-priest describes the brightly attired goddess Dawn (Ushas) as exposing her breast (as a cow would her udder!), like a (seductive) danseuse. And this too within a ritual context as is evidenced by the reference in the following verse to the (activity of the) 'sacrificer' (yajamāna, who offers oblations of milk during the Agnihotra performed at dawn). Within this Aryan social circle, at least, a woman's erotic display of her breast was considered a 'natural' metaphor for the expression of (ritual as opposed to moral?) 'piety'!

Despite (our arch-?) 'conservative' Nandakumar here, the above verse is frequently cited as indicative of the sublime aesthetic taste of the 'seers' (Rishis) and the primordial source of their inspiration in so many orthodox Hindu websites celebrating our Vedic heritage...

Regards,

Sunthar

P.S. This Rig-Vedic testimony suggests that whereas some women covered themselves out of modesty, the audience to whom these poems were addressed were familiar with (disreputable?) ones who took (and gave?) pleasure in exceeding these bounds, and were probably also familar with other social circles and surrounding peoples whose women went naturally bare-breasted.

[Rest of this thread at Paul's post (Nov 29, 2005) with Sunthar's comments at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3672

and Paulraj's post (Nov 29, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3673]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3744]

 Reply to Sugrutha

From: Ray Harris

Date: Fri Dec 9, 2005; 4:10 pm

Hi Sugrutha,

I haven't bothered to respond to Nandakumar's posts because they are too far from my views for me to be interested. I believe he has a very prejudiced view of women—a view that does not correspond to my experience. Sure, there are superficial women—and there are superficial men in equal amount.

My view is that women should be free to express themselves as they wish without being condemned by moralists. Clothing signifies many things. A conservative moralist will read things into clothing that the wearer does not. What a conservative moralist regards as 'provocative' clothing may not be regarded by others as such. (Conservative moralists also make a large number of assumptions about the nudist movement that nudists themselves find hilarious—and disturbing).

The joke behind the conservative moralist's stance is that modest clothing does not, in any way, quell the erotic glance. Instead the erotic glance makes a fetish of certain parts of the body or certain items of clothing. An accidental glimpse of an ankle, the nape of the neck, the hand—the Chinese bound a woman's feet, Western women wore corsets (such that there is now a corset fetish) and some tribal men and women modify other parts of the body, extend the neck, enlarge the earlobes. All of these can be erotic signifiers, so your point about your cousins going to the temple to drool is apt.

I would argue that the idea of woman as seductress and temptress is a device used to control women. It is most evident in patriarchal cultures and sub-cultures. Indeed, both single (and some married) men and women are in a constant game of looking for partners. Clothing may or may not be a part of the game. However, unlike apples, which are available to any person with the right amount of money, a woman who is 'looking for it' (whatever 'it' is) is only looking for it from the right man and not every man. If we are to carry Nandakumar's analogy into reality then the purchaser has to actually negotiate with the apple, not the apple vendor. The apple might consent to being purchased, but this does not then mean it consents to being eaten. So even if a woman is wearing clothing that she agrees means she is making herself available there are still several stages of negotiation before she will consent to sex.

Moral conservatives tend to live in a simple world of generalisations. The real world is a complex world of overt and subtle moral negotiations that may or may not use clothing (or lack thereof) as signifiers. I would suggest that body language is the most important signifier of erotic intent. Clothing is more about expressing personality and one's position in society—as in, I'm part of this group, or, I'm not a part of that group (as in non-conformist clothing).

Ray

[Response to Sugrutha's post (Dec 08, 2005) at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3741]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3747]

 Re: Reply to Sugrutha [female sexuality was viewed as a disaggregating force in traditional society—SV]

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Sat Dec 10, 2005; 6:51 am

I believe he has a very prejudiced view of women—a view that does not correspond to my experience. Sure, there are superficial women—and there are superficial men in equal amount. [Ray]

Without doubt. But my focus is not on that. I'm trying to understand whether there's something inherently natural in such behavior.

Instead the erotic glance makes a fetish of certain parts of the body or certain items of clothing. An accidental glimpse of an ankle, the nape of the neck, the hand... [Ray]

Whatever is of material value to us, we keep it protected—in our houses, in our garage, in our banks, etc. We don't say such protection is useless because people will only desire them more—forbidden fruit etc.

This is not to say that there's no validity to your argument, but that the other side of the argument is more practical and universally accepted.

I would argue that the idea of woman as seductress and temptress is a device used to control women. [Ray]

Prior to the modern development of political correctness, the above was pretty much the traditional view in India—that simply represented civilizational knowledge. From the Panchatantra to the orthodox philosophical literature to Buddhist/Jaina literature—that's the standard view. Not because they were prejudiced against women, but they were frank and genunine in their enquiry of human nature and the acceptance of its limitations—of both men and women.

BTW the ancients had such views because they were in search of a higher ideal—enlightenment, salvation, etc. What ideal do those who advocate contrary theories have apart from empty ones like "freedom to choose," etc.?

The traditional Indian view is based on a hard and serious look at life, which modern Indians having lost their civilizational substance are finding very hard to understand. But at one level you cannot blame them because they're only human. Man is only an animal and therefore adharma comes naturally. Dharma is about man raising himself above his natural animal instincts using his intelligence. But today intelligence stands for too many things.

Nandakumar

[In response to Ray's post (Nov 09, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3744]


Hello Nandakumar,

I would agree that practically all religions have looked upon the sexual urge as a problem, if not a potential menace, for social cohesion and continuity. In the patriarchal traditions, this had however taken the form of control over women (relegated to the domestic sphere) and their reproductive functions. However, just as class divisions (whatever their excesses and injustices) had been necessitated by the sheer necessity of specialization (manual labor, knowledge management, etc.) for survival (now obsolete in our robotic and information age?), so too the woman's 'dharma' was as much determined by forms of production, child-rearing, adaption for group survival, etc., as by 'purely' spiritual pursuits (one could even make the opposite case that the forms the latter assumed were themselves considerably conditioned by such gender relations...).

The contemporary West may be subverting existing power-relations so as to politically 'restore' a gender 'equality' (such as may have existed in certain 'primitive' societies that lived in symbiosis with their natural environment), but it has yet to address the disaggregating force of 'liberated' sexuality. How many of us (whether girls or boys) would like to be raised in the home of a single-parent a large amount of whose energies is still devoted to snaring the next partner (to serve as surrogate mother/father...)?

Regards,

 Sunthar

P.S. Any posts to this forum are ipso facto, even when pursuing a conversation with a specific member, addressed to all of us. So I'd recommend that we keep the titles of our posts focused on the subject being discussed rather than the person to whom we are responding (and who is already mentioned in the opening address).


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3750]

 Re: Why no nude goddesses or queens today?

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Sat Dec 10, 2005; 7:15 am

This line of reasoning not only exaggerates the male tension between ascetic inclination and sexual desire (as in the traditional image of Shankarāchārya that I presented earlier...) [Sunthar]

Without doubt. All those seriously/naturally inclined towards spirituality are those with a higher level of awareness than normal people—their self-identity due to karma is grounded more in consciousness than the psycho-physical faculties.

Sexual organs by nature are capable of greater awareness than the other parts of the body—that's the reason they're more pleasurable.

So the spiritually inclined will naturally possess greater awareness of such instincts and the struggle to conquer such instincts will definitely reflect on their views on such issues.

…into an outright opposition but also seeks to give the impression >that the religious and the erotic were irreconcilable spheres of value in ancient India. [Sunthar]

Eroticism and sexuality is justified in a marital context—between a man and wife.

But not outside of it, especially not in spirituality.

From Baadaraayana to Patanjali to Gautama Siddhaartha to Vardhamaana to Naagaarjuna to Shankara to the other bhakti philosophers/saints the message is clear—spirituality requires you to subdue your sexual instincts.

Ramana Maharishi when questioned whether repeated sex would tire people out of it is supposed to have said : when ghee is added to fire, will it go down?

Show me clear, unambiguous examples Sunthar where sexuality is not considered as in conflict with the spiritual pursuit—from standard texts not obscure tantric texts which historically show no proof of having enjoyed popular support.

Shankara in Saundaryalahari (if it is really his work) might have sung paens to the female anotomy—but still in his Bhajagovindam he asks spiritual aspirants not to be seduced by the female form. Such sentiment necessarily needs to be reconciled while interpreting ancient views towards sexuality.

Nandakumar

[In response to Sunthar's comments on Paul's post (Dec 10, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3742]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3752]

 Female sexuality

From: Ray Harris

Date: Sat Dec 10, 2005; 6:04 pm

I do not accept the analogy of a woman's body as being like a house or bank. Clothing is not a security system. It does not prevent lascivious intent in any way. If this analogy were correct then the incidence of sexual assault would be demonstrably higher in unclothed communities than in highly clothed communities. What I've been trying to suggest is that the state of dress or undress is actually unrelated to the erotic gaze. Of course, if there is a belief in a certain community that a certain type of clothing signifies immorality then that is another matter. In which case it is the belief that is the cause and not the state of dress or undress.

This leaves us to consider the justification for the belief.

It seems you rely on your understanding of Hindu dharma to justify the belief. Whereas I take a more universal, cross-cultural view. It is my personal experience that enlightenment can happen outside the confines of a narrow Hindu dharma and that many of the conventions of Hindu dharma are concerned solely with the maintenance of a tradition.

In this sense I am no traditionalist. I believe that the past can be wrong and that new knowledge is possible. The past must be reconsidered in the light of new information. I do not believe that the sages of ancient India were possessed of the cross-cultural knowledge we possess today. In fact, they did not possess a great deal of knowledge we now possess.

What I am interested in is separating the core ingrediants for enlightenment from cultural and traditional beliefs that attach themselves like leeches. Religion is often about the continuation of tradition for tradition's sake. Mysticism can be radical, even revolutionary, and opposed to mindless tradition. There is a point at which dharma/tradition becomes a barrier to enlightenment.

Frankly, I'm interested in subverting and questioning tradition.

Ray

[Response to Nandakumar's post (Dec 10, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3747]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3753]

 Re: Why no nude goddesses or queens today?

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Sat Dec 10, 2005; 6:59 pm

 

Show me clear, unambiguous examples Sunthar where sexuality is not considered as in conflict with the spiritual pursuit—from standard texts not obscure tantric texts which historically show no proof of having enjoyed popular support.

The smrithis say that one who "keeps it in" will enjoy great health, clarity, awareness, etc.

In Indian philosophy it is normally said that if one "keeps it in", it will be converted into ojas—which is almost spirit in material form.

Actually in each of his praakarna granthaas, Shankara lists the necessary qualifications required of a spiritual aspirant: the ability to control one's desires/sexual organs, is a clear requirement.

The dangers of flirting with sexuality while on the spiritual pursuit is actually very well documented in Indian philosophical literature.

In Vivekachoodaamani, Shankara says that one who indulges in sexual gratification and still aspires to know the truth, is like somebody who when crossing a river grasps a crocodile thinking it is a log—he'll be destroyed.

Aurobindo too has remarked on the dangers of those who indulge in sexual desire when on spiritual pursuit—according to him the most likely result is that the person will go raving mad.

Vivekananda actually ascribes this result to Prophet Mohammed, saying that the Arabs lacked a civilizational discipline like yoga!

Spirituality is about the spirit—which 90% of Indian philosophy keeps hammering it in as "not the body, senses, mind, etc." Whereby will pleasuring of the psycho-physical faculties aid in the realization of the spirit?

Nandakumar

[Continuation of Nandakumar's earlier post (Dec 10, 2005) at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3750]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3754]

 Female sexuality

From: Ray Harris

Date: Sat Dec 10, 2005; 7:03 pm

I forgot to add that there are a number of successful naturist colonies and resorts in the world where men, women, and children can and do go about unclothed safely. This is because naturists have a belief that clothing invites a prurient gaze and that being naked allows a freedom from a range of cultural and false beliefs about sex and nudity and bodies.

It should be no secret that I am a naturist of sorts, but not formally so. My life experience has allowed me to experience both nudism and living in an ashram that observed a conservative dress code. I can assure everyone that living in the ashram did not quieten the erotic gaze, it was simply transferred to a face, a walk, or what the clothing revealed about the figure (and this applied to both sexes). Attractions and romances still formed. Whereas, in naturist surroundings the erotic gaze tends to be subverted because nothing is hidden. Of course, to begin with, one is curious, but after a while it becomes unremarkable and ordinary. Naturist colonies and resorts are not hot beds of immorality and are often family oriented.

But after years of living in an ashram and finding out that there had been a degree of sexual misconduct in the ashram despite the strict segregation of the sexes and the emphasis on celibacy and modesty, I had my most profound spiritual experience (nirvikalpa samadhi) on a naturist beach.

It is my experience that what is forbidden causes temptation and that the struggle between the two is a major distraction in meditation. It is best to acknowledge the natural drives and turn them toward the task of enlightenment. One way to quell a curiosity is to satisfy it. It is not true that another curiosity always arises to replace it.

I can recall one fine day on a Sydney 'free' beach. Someone had brought a cricket bat and ball. As the day progressed the bat and ball passed from person to person, from child to child and adult to adult. Who was the original owner? It didn't matter. Then someone arrived with a guitar and a small group gathered to listen. Everyone had smiles that day and a great deal of fun was had. No-one was self-conscious or acting suspiciously or inappropriately. In fact I've generally found such beaches to be friendlier than 'textile' beaches.

It's not the state of dress or undress that is important but the beliefs about the state of dress or undress. It's those beliefs that need to change.

In fact I believe that the reason conservative moralists are so concerned about libertarians/libertines is not because they corrupt and destroy society but because they prove the fears and prejudices of the moralists to be unfounded, thus undermining their authority. In the US the Christian fundamentalists are primarily concerned with issues of morality and creationism because it is these two areas in which they are the most vulnerable to being proved wrong. Society will not collapse if homosexuals marry or if people go naked on beaches (society collapses when civility collapses and factions use violence).

Which brings me back to the gymnosophists, the naked sages, who apparently understood that many of the norms of society were arbitrary and obstacles to enlightenment.

Ray

 [Continuation of Ray's post (Dec 10, 2005) at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3752]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3757]

 Please repost your preceding message—my apologies!

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 12:15 am

Dear Chitra,

My apologies to Nandakumar, yourself, and other members. In replacing your email address (synektix) with your name while approving your post, I absent-mindedly (past midnight here...) ended up selecting Nandakumar's name instead from the dropdown list.

I'd suggest that you repost the entire email, after which I'll delete the existing copy.

Regards,

Sunthar

P.S. I couldn't agree more with your observations about men arguing for women being subservient to dharma or crusading to liberate them, without encouraging them speak as individuals for themselves...but then even the Tantric texts are largely by men speaking about women:

http://www.svabhinava.org/goddess/default.htm

Even 'Arya' Abhinava, being (more than) an integral part of the tradition, is not entirely exempt from this cultural framework...

 


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3758]

 Re: Why no nude goddesses or queens today?

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 8:12 am

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Nandakumar Chandran wrote:

 The smrithis say that one who "keeps it in" will enjoy great health, clarity, awareness, etc.

In Indian philosophy it is normally said that if one "keeps it in,” it will be converted into ojas—which is almost spirit in material form.

 No danger of any "ojas" infusing anyone on this forum ... you gentlemen certainly aren't "keeping it in" ... I haven't encountered this kind of prurience since my kid brother read smuggled paperbacks cunningly camouflaged among his schoolbooks!

I'm no Puritan, but I'm just wondering if I might interrupt the eternal discourse on breasts and the female form to ask if anyone has considered that male attractiveness might be ju..st a tee..ny bit important to analyze as part of a discussion on "Eros" ?

What is it that makes a man attractive to a woman, how come no one is interested in knowing that? Or is it assumed that "Attraction" means male attraction and it is the woman's function to submit meekly to it?

Nandakumar makes the preposterous claim that women are interested only in looks and not substance. Considering that it is the men on this list that have been discussing the female form over the past—what, three weeks?—clothed and unclothed, historical, contemporary, the whys and wherefores, without any glimmer of a reference to a woman's mind, I would say this is a pretty astonishing statement. I think the men on this forum ought to be asking women, rather than presuming these shallow stereotypes.

I think of attraction as a composite phenomenon, of which physical appeal is just one factor. Women like me are repelled by narcissism, egocentricity, and self-absorption—traits that afflict both physically attractive and unattractive men alike.

Of course women are attracted by good looks. Very attracted. "Morality" has nothing to do with one's fundamental response. It is just that we are culturally conditioned to not openly express interest in the same manner that men do, whether or not we decide to act upon that attraction.

Men however have arrogated to themselves a God-given birthright to possess that which they seek. That is why they want women to walk around looking out at the world through a net, clothed in a black shroud like they just decided to take a stroll out of a coffin. That is why Nandakumar talks of women exposing themselves as "wanting it." A man's inability to exercise restraint or better judgment must be the fault of the woman for provoking him. Well—Sure, women who dress well or scantily may "want it" but they may not want the guy who wants it from them!

I greatly appreciated Sugrutha's response on this topic.

Actually in each of his praakarna granthaas, Shankara lists the necessary qualifications required of a spiritual aspirant: the ability to control one's desires/sexual organs, is a clear requirement.

In Vivekachoodaamani, Shankara says that one who indulges in sexual gratification and still aspires to know the truth, is like somebody who when crossing a river grasps a crocodile thinking it is a log—he'll be destroyed.

Aurobindo too has remarked on the dangers of those who indulge in sexual desire when on spiritual pursuit—according to him the most likely result is that the person will go raving mad. [Nandakumar]

What these sages advocate, I think, is for an aspirant to commit to the goal of spiritual awakening and have focus, rather than being ambiguous. Simply quelling or suppressing one's physical urges by itself does nothing to automatically heighten spiritual awareness – all it does is promote frustration, perversion and guilt.

When the goal is spiritual awakening and the thirst is ignited, the seeker is no longer a renunciate – you only renounce that which you still want. She/He becomes a voyager and a detached spectator of her/his own life.

[Response to Nandakumar's post (December 10, 2005) at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3753]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3759]

 Re: Female sexuality

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 7:13 am

> What I've been trying to suggest is that the state of dress or > undress is actually unrelated to the erotic gaze.

Actually according to Vaatsyaayana, the autor of the kāma sūtra, every man when he sees a woman and desires her, he wants to mate with her. But it is just that circumstances, cultural conditioning, etc., prevents such a thing happening in most cases.

So yes, what you say about the "erotic gaze" might be true—but whether it would really cause anything physical to follow is the question.

> It seems you rely on your understanding of Hindu dharma to justify > the belief.

Ray, I think I've tried to complement my reading of dharma with as much reasoning as possible I think. This is pretty much the traditional approach—the words of wise men reconciled with reason.

> In this sense I am no traditionalist. I believe that the past can > be wrong and that new knowledge is possible.

Definitely—that's pretty much the approach of the much maligned smrithis like Manu.

> I do not believe that the sages of ancient India were possessed of > the cross-cultural knowledge we possess today. In fact, > they did not possess a great deal of knowledge we now possess.

But how much of such knowledge is actually important and essential to one who seeks meaning in life, is itself highly disputable.

Forms might be different, but the underlying need is often the same. A Levis or veshti is clothing. A mercedes or a bullockcart is a means of mobility. Pasta and sambar rice is food.

>What I am interested in is separating the core ingredients for >enlightenment from cultural and traditional beliefs that attach >themselves like leeches.

> Religion is often about the continuation of tradition for > tradition's sake.

The same argument pretty much applies to those who try to subvert tradition today.

> Mysticism can be radical, even revolutionary, and opposed to > mindless tradition. There is a point at which dharma/tradition > becomes a barrier to enlightenment.

What's your knowledge of 'dharma' for you to be making such a claim? How much have you studied and understood it?

> Frankly, I'm interested in subverting and questioning tradition.

The questioning of a tradition should be about knowledge. You cannot forsake a tradition without fully studying/understanding it. The danger of subverting a tradition as a means and end in itself is immense. Sadly that's what is happening today.

It is probably a good time for you to pose the question to yourself: why is it that you want to subvert something without even really knowing/understanding it in all its dynamics?

Nandakumar

[In response to Ray's post (Dec 11, 2005) at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3752]


Hello Nandakumar,

I had elaborated 'transgressive sacrality' as a means of better understanding (the dynamics of not just Hindu) tradition, and its practice by spiritual giants, like Abhinava, as a means of transcending one's own limited (sense of) identity. Many Anglo-Saxons, particularly American scholars, seem to have latched on to this idea with their own (sometimes diametrically opposed and highly suspect...) agendas:

http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/Dialogues/TSinHinduTradition-frame.h\ tm

often underpinned by a naive and uncritical reading of their own 'enlightened' politico-cultural genealogy...

Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3760]

 Re: Female sexuality

From: Nandakumar Chandran

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 7:27 am

I can recall one fine day on a Sydney 'free' beach. Someone had brought a cricket bat and ball. As the day progressed the bat and ball passed from person to person, from child to child and adult to adult. Who was the original owner? It didn't matter. Then someone arrived with a guitar and a small group gathered to listen. Everyone had smiles that day and a great deal of fun was had. No-one was self-conscious or acting suspiciously or inappropriately. In fact I've generally found such beaches to be friendlier than 'textile' beaches.

Ray, a "pleasant" day in the beach is hardly a base to build a societal theory upon.

Add more days, add more people, add more recreational variety—I think your pleasant experience could change for the worse.

Civilizational knowledge/practice is due to a variety of experience.

At some point in time, I'm sure that humans ran around without clothes. But due to experience over a period of time certain things have evolved. This is not to say that every such thing that evolved is right—maybe certain things have alternate remedies or could do with enhancement—but for that you've to first study and understand such practices before condemning them.

Yes, you're questioning and studying such practice—but with the fundamental intent of subvertion because in your mind you've already decided that it is wrong (or so it seems to me).

This is pretty much the case with many Indian "intellectuals" today. Having been raised with a Western education they have been conditioned to criticize/condemn tradition without even subjecting it to an impartial evaluation.

One would think that people would have better sense. My manager is fond of quoting Voltaire: common sense is not so common!

Which brings me back to the gymnosophists, the naked sages, who apparently understood that many of the norms of society were arbitrary and obstacles to enlightenment.

Yes, but you have to understand that at no point in time did they say it was OK for normal people to go in the nude.

Nandakumar

[Response to Ray's post (Dec 11, 2005) at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3754]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3761]

 [What is the history of women writers in India?]

From: Paul Kekai Manansala

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 9:35 am

 

--- In Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com, Sunthar Visuvalingam wrote:

P.S. I couldn't agree more with your observations about men arguing for women being subservient to dharma or crusading to liberate them, without encouraging them speak as individuals for themselves...but then even the Tantric texts are largely by men speaking about women:

What is the history of women writers in India? Anyone know off-hand.

I know that China had women authors through much of the Imperial period starting in the Han dynasty. Japan had a tradition starting in the 8th century. In these areas, and also Korea, most of the writing I believe was poetic and calligraphic.

There were exceptions though like the annals of the Imperial historian Ban Zhou.

In early modern Europe, women writers often had to use male pen names. Sappho was the noted writer from ancient Greece.

A quick search of the net turned up this page on writings by women in Theravada Buddhism.

http://www.enabling.org/ia/vipassana/vipwomen.html

Regards,

Paul Kekai Manansala

[Response to Sunthar's post (Dec. 11, 2005)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/messages/3757]


If you consider that women generally were not taught Sanskrit (in the plays they typically speak in Prakrit by prescription), which was the primary language of high discourse and culture that was worth preserving in ancient India, it is not surprising that their opinions on such issues (including those bearing on their own well-being...) have not reached us. Accomplished courtesans, who were supposed to be refined in all the 64 arts of the Kāma Sūtra (including calligraphy), could apparently converse with men (as equals?) within a certain milieu, and Vasantasenā is able to switch to Sanskrit with ease (though I've yet to come across any Pillow Book from her hand...). However, even here, the VidūSaka makes disparaging and ridiculing comments about the bizarre intonations of women attempting to speak Sanskrit!

However, any attempt at cross-cultural comparison with (poetesses, etc.) in ancient Greece, China, Japan, etc., should be seen in the context of the cultural resistance to writing in ancient India and the emphasis on oral transmission (even and especially among the brahmins), rather than attributed to some greater suppression of women. We do know from the example of Gārgi, that there were extremely learned and intellectually independent women in the Upanishadic period, who could take on the top male authorities of their day (like Yājńavalkya). And, mind you, this was a heated debate about the esoteric meaning of Vedic ritual and its transcendence! Even Mandana Mishra's wife, Bhāratī (Speech!), challenged Shankara's knowledge of erotics only after having engaged him in debate, on his own ground, about the zruti and related zāstras.

 Sunthar


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3762]

 Re: [What is the history of women writers in India?]

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 2:00 pm

However, any attempt at cross-cultural comparison with (poetesses, etc.) in ancient Greece, China, Japan, etc., should be seen in the context of the cultural resistance to writing in ancient India and the emphasis on oral transmission (even and especially among the brahmins), rather than attributed to some greater suppression of women. We do know from the example of Gārgi, that there were extremely learned and intellectually independent women in the Upanishadic period, who could take on the top male authorities of their day (like Yājńavalkya). And, mind you, this was a heated debate about the esoteric meaning of Vedic ritual and its transcendence! Even Mandana Mishra's wife, Bhāratī (Speech!), challenged Shankara's knowledge of erotics only after having engaged him in debate, on his own ground, about the zruti and related zāstras. [Sunthar]

Sunthar, thank you for these remarks.

Actually, one doesn't have to look too far beyond the West to realize that the intellectual contributions by women in general--not just Indian women—through history were not absent,just anonymous.

I'll give you two instances. These were two brilliant and gifted Western women who would have rocketed to stratospheric acclaim and garnered copious acknowledgment by history books—if only they had been men. Instead, they remained trapped within the umbra cast by their powerful male patrons.

Antonia Maury is my first example. Haven't heard of her? Neither had I, until I researched her life story for an online biography I wrote for Gale Research Group, an organization that specializes in print and electronic research materials for school and college students. Sunthar, I will share that bio with you offline.

In brief – she was an unflagging cartographer of the sky; she suggested the system in use today for measuring the magnitude of stars; she discovered the first eclipsing binary star system; and it was her painstaking documentation, dismissed as inconsequential by her boss, that formed the basis of the Hertzprung-Russell diagram, which is as fundamental to astrophysics as an armature is to sculpture.

And she was just one of a number of women in her day, hired to do the grunt work in obscurity for the men who took it and published their brilliant papers and swaggered about lapping up the heady acclaim, without a shred of remorse that they had not acknowledged that the seminal input (irony intended) came from a woman, or a group of women.

Speaking of sculpture, my next example is Claudel, the young mistress of sculptor Rodin. She matched him—and perhaps even surpassed him in her ability to capture and freeze fire, yearning, bitterness, compassion, lust, and disillusionment into a work of clay made bronze—or stone. The extent of her contribution to his work is not fully realized because she frequently worked on refining and polishing his marble pieces; while there is at least one instance of a work by him which borrows from one of her early ideas executed in terracotta.

Yet while his fame and stature grew, she remained a sidekick, an apprentice, having to be content with the crumbs he occasionally tossed her way. Eventually, when she realized he was not going to leave his first mistress Rose Beuret and marry her, she had the strength and spirit to refuse him access, even though he wrote her impassioned letters and said he would go mad if he couldn't see her.

When I viewed Claudel's work beside Rodin's last week at a local museum and read about the circumstances of her life and death, it was as if a door to a furnace had opened and revealed to me the burning anguish of a woman who felt used and outrageously undervalued. Rodin, as we know, not only did not go mad, but became the toast of France and lived long enough to see a museum opened in his name. He married Rose Beuret one year before she died. Claudel, on the other hand, spent the last THREE DECADES of her life in an insane asylum.

Regards,

Chitra

 [Response to Sunthar's comments appended to Paul's post (Dec 11, 2005)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3761]


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3763]

 [Camille Claudel—victim of a male-dominated culture?—SV]

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 3:38 pm

There was especially a large intense sculpture of the artist in his Old Age followed by a despairing woman reaching out. It seemed to me to capture very well, in a sublimated mode, her anguished feelings towards Rodin. This was my favorite piece in the whole museum. [Sunthar]

 Sunthar, that would be the work titled

" L'Age Mūr" in 1895, taken up again in 1898 and 1907: a cruel statement of abandonment, Rodin leaving Camille, on her knees begging him to stay, to go back to Rose. [Sunthar]

(From the webpage you linked in your message)

Beyond the literal depiction of Claudel's lived reality as reflected by that sculpture, her true genius is in how much is conveyed through that sculpture. Old age is symbolized by a grotesquely wrinkled toothless hag, who symbolizes Rose Beuret, solicitously enveloping the man walking forward from above. This suggests the inevitability and inescapable grasp of old age.

The man walks away from the kneeling girl (symbolizing Claudel) letting one hand trail behind as though reaching out to her but not actually touching her, his face set in pain, and his eyes looking blankly ahead. This communicates fatalism, cop-out, ambiguity rather than a willing decision.

Finally, the youthful girl implores with both hands upraised, kneeling; but that is as far as she will go; she does not cling, nor grasp at his wrist, nor cling to his feet to be dragged along like the doormat wife played by Meena Kumari in the Hindi movie "Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam." There were limits to the lengths to which Claudel would go to secure Rodin's presence in her life—even if that ultimately shattered her. For that she has my utmost respect.

Regards,

Chitra

 [Response to Sunthar's comments to Chitra's post (December 11, 2005)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/3762]


Actually, I suspect that her relationship between Rodin was more complicated than that of a successful male artist 'exploiting' his talented mistress apprentice (click on Collections|Camille Claudel):

http://www.musee-rodin.fr/welcome.htm

"From 1906 the madness became more pronounced and destructive. The Museum has fifteen of her sculptures and it is here that the most representative selection of Camille’s art can be seen. This is as Rodin wished; we need only quote the words he wrote to his friend Morhardt in 1914 when the museum project was taking shape: “With regard to the Hōtel Biron, nothing is settled yet. The idea of including some sculptures by Mlle Say [a phonetic pseudonym for Camille Claudel, Mademoiselle C., based on the French pronunciation of “c”] would please me very much. This house is quite small and I don’t know how the rooms will be arranged. There could be a few buildings for her and for me.” Following the 1951 exhibition Paul Claudel gave the museum the plaster version of Clotho, L’Age Mūr in bronze and Vertumne et Pomone in marble. In 1963 the museum acquired the onyx version of Les Causeuses, and it seemed only natural this should be joined in 1995 by La Vague, a masterpiece in bronze and onyx also purchased by the museum. Therefore it is in Rodin’s own house that Camille’s work can best be appreciated in all the power and originality of own individual genius, stripped of the media hype which has tented only to distort it." [closing para]

For the sexual attraction was compounded by the large age difference between a mature artist (43) poised for fame and a teenage (hero-worshipping?) girl (19) in quest of her own identity. This is the sort of (inner) conflict that even a young man (otherwise devoted to his guru) would have in trying to grow out of the dominating influence of an authoritative master (Rudra in the brahmanicide myth cuts off Brahmā's head because the latter addresses him condescendingly as "my son"...), only it is devilishly compounded by the mutual sexual attraction. A situation possible (inevitable?) only when the masculine and feminine spheres of activity begin to overlap giving rise to competition within a cultural context where the gender bias still remains strong (even more potent because of the erosion of barriers in certain domains). Isn't this competitive sexual dynamics (with the need for 'creative' personal space) now increasingly generalized (regardless of any artistic inclination proper) even within the institution of marriage in the West? Where increasing numbers of women suddenly wake up one day to realize suddenly that they've been 'living in a cage' (even if the husband has been as dutiful as ever in keeping them well-fed and well-dressed)?

To my knowledge, Camille's famous brother (who was close to her), the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel, never went as far as some of Rodin's modern 'feminist' critics...

Regards,

Sunthar

P.S. Yes, I read that notice fully (with the part on L'Āge Mūr') only after letting your post through.


Subject: [Abhinava msg #3765]

 Re: [Camille Claudel—victim of a male-dominated culture?—SV]

From: Chitra Raman

Date: Sun Dec 11, 2005; 9:43 pm

Actually, I suspect that her relationship between Rodin was more complicated than that of a successful male artist 'exploiting' his talented mistress apprentice. [Sunthar]

 Well, Sunthar—I think I said in my last post that she communicated the sense of feeling used and undervalued. Whether or not we can use the word "exploited" in connection with their relationship is open to conjecture … we cannot ask Claudel how she felt. Or what she gave him relative to what she received in return.

If you're suggesting that Rodin's inclusion of her works in his Museum is proof he wasn't all that bad, I must ask – didn't this Museum open fairly late in Rodin's life when Claudel was already well along the path of paranoia? Could the gesture have been born out of equal parts love, regard, and guilt? Yes, he was under no compulsion to extend that gesture – but then on the other hand he wasn't exactly doling out alms. Her work is hands down magnificent and a clear asset to his museum.

 For the sexual attraction was compounded by the large age difference between a mature artist (43) poised for fame and a teenage (hero-worshipping?) girl (19) in quest of her own identity. [Sunthar]

Camille Claudel hardly appeared like one groping for her identity. I suspect she was quite sure of her identity well before she met Rodin, and in fact that conviction was what drove her to seek him out.

There is a bust of an older woman that greets one at the very entrance to the exhibition, apparently of one of Claudel's housemaids. It is simply breathtaking in its proportion, detail, and subtlety of expression. And it was crafted by her at age 16.

Eyewitness accounts of her demeanor in the studio describe a young woman ravenous for work and absorbed in its completion, working sometimes for 10 hours straight occasionally pausing to gaze at the visitor who stood before her, before wordlessly returning to her work.

It was the species of passion they shared with respect to their work that drew them together and made the age difference secondary.

 This is the sort of (inner) conflict that even a young man (otherwise devoted to his guru) would have in trying to grow out of the dominating influence of an authoritative master (Rudra in the brahmanicide myth cuts off Brahmā's head because the latter addresses him condescendingly as "my son"...), only it is devilishly compounded by the mutual sexual attraction. [Sunthar]

 I'm not sure how the Rudra example is relevant here because Claudel had no alternative BUT to rely upon Rodin to give her opportunities and publicity, and have her walk by his side as an artistic equal if not his wife, which he never invited her to do, let's face it. She did try quite courageously to strike out on her own but never received any significant commissions.

 A situation possible (inevitable?) only when the masculine and feminine spheres of activity begin to overlap giving rise to competition within a cultural context where the gender bias still remains strong (even more potent because of the erosion of barriers in certain domains).[Sunthar]

I'm not sure I understand you completely here. Let me share a personal anecdote, however—my husband bumped my shoulder affectionately at the exhibition and with a meaningful look pointed out how uniquely progressive and non-resentful he was with respect to my particular achievements --<