Hermeneutics of Ganesha:

Psychoanalysis, Hindu Wisdom and Transgressive Sacrality

[Part I / Part II / Part III]

This ongoing (debate on the) hermeneutics of the elephant-headed Hindu Ganesha—beginning with Rajiv Malhotra’s post of 26 June 03 to the Abhinavagupta forum—is actually composed of multiple intertwined threads that I have attempted to distinguish for the sake of intelligibility by thick blue separator-lines. Some were off-line exchanges among a few individuals before they were fed into the larger public debate on the Abhinava forum. Others even appropriate (a series of) messages on other lists (RISA-L, Navya-Shâstra, etc.) so as to broaden the diversity and scope of the discourse. My own commentaries, in particular, are sometimes preceded by long disparate citations from the furthest nooks and crannies of the Web, and simultaneously serve as a, sometimes humorous, exegesis on the underlying presuppositions and blind spots of this intercultural deadlock. The attentive reader will note that certain key themes keep resurfacing from fresh angles so as to shed light on both the complex underlying logic of Hindu culture and the predicaments of Indology as a mode of knowledge production. In order to help the reader remain focused on the central issues, I have streamlined the messages—for example, by deleting digressions and some citations—while providing links to the original unedited posts. In addition, I have inserted introductory comments to contextualize each sub-thread [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 after listening and responding to Prof. Paul Courtright’s version of events and his framing of the controversy during his talk on “Studying Religion in an Age of Terror” at the Univ. of Chicago (1st April 04), I would like to offer some concise clarifications—a conceptual grid as it were—of my own take on the opposing perspectives that are under question in this controversy:

Indology: Literate Indians, particularly the English-speaking diaspora, already understand the world around them in terms of the categories—that have seeped down into the everyday consciousness of even non-English speaking laymen in South Asia—provided by history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, comparative philology, etc. It is unrealistic to expect these perspectives not to be applied to the Hindu tradition, which is precisely what professional Indologists are paid to do. Though these ‘scientific’ disciplines tend to be overwhelmingly reductive—and are often based on mutually contradictory underlying premises—Hindus have no real choice but to study and critically assimilate the best that Indology has to offer. Only through constructive mutual engagement will Orientalism graduate from being a clearing house for the imposition of ‘Western’ categories upon the rest of the world into becoming a full-fledged and self-conscious catalyst in the co-creation of a global knowledge framework.

Hinduism: Religious norms and beliefs have been able hold Indian civilization together for more than 5000 years because they have been able to evolve and diversify with the times. These reconstructive energies responded to ongoing challenges by assimilating new data, methods and ideas from rival systems of thought and practice even while constantly re-reading and building upon past successes. Responding creatively to the reductive and destructive impact of modernity on the fabric of Indian culture requires a critical interrogation of the formative processes of Hindu identity from a comparative perspective that extends to other non-Western traditions (Is it even conceivable that a non-tropical culture might have an elephant-derived deity or that a non-South-Asian Shiva would be ever depicted wearing a characteristic sacred thread?) For non-scholars who lack the time, skills and resources for an independent reformulation of their own tradition, the best strategy would be to start from the most synthetic ‘Hindu’ understanding of Indian culture available: Abhinavagupta. 

Psychoanalysis: Hindu tradition is replete with motifs—such as phallus worship, incest, decapitation, patricide, etc.—that have been explained away within the didactics and apologetics of the exoteric tradition as allegories for profound metaphysical insights. Though the analytical categories and tools in contemporary ‘scientific’ discourse for a systematic and comparative hermeneutics of such ‘transgressive’ symbolism are available only in psychoanalysis, the latter is unable to appropriate these striking ‘confirmations’ without imposing a procrustean straitjacket on the Indian materials. The Freudian legacy—its core principles, therapeutic practices, mode of transmission, institutional ethics, scientific status, cultural politics, and the motives of the founder himself—is moreover being subjected to cogent critique, even and especially, from within the Western intellectual tradition. Instead of remaining a mere ‘object’ for Indological appropriation, the Hindu semiotic system—as embodied by the ‘patient’ Ganesha—must be unraveled by reformulating and universalizing its own esoteric traditions in a ‘psychoanalytically informed’ manner.  

Transgressive Sacrality: Whereas the ‘enlightened’ Western episteme has been able to relegate (the ‘shamanistic’ core of) ‘primitive’ cultures to the bottom rung of our human evolution and even portray them with condescending sympathy, ‘Hinduism’ has proved most disconcerting because the underlying mythico-ritual values have been tenaciously conserved within even the most sophisticated philosophical, aesthetic and theological constructions—such as those embodied by Abhinavagupta-Bhairava—that rival parallel developments within Western history. Instead of denigrating Indian culture for remaining faithful to these origins, Indologists would be advised to refocus these pre-modern Indian lenses towards a more positive reappraisal of forms of tribal life that have been marginalized and practically exterminated in their own ‘egalitarian’ civilization but are still very much alive in South Asia. Hindus, for their part, cannot simply disown these 'primitive' roots without losing intellectual ownership of their traditions as a whole.

Humor: Ganesha, Lord of Wisdom and most popular god of the Hindu pantheon, embodies the core esoteric ideas from which are also derived the ‘infantile’ clown (vidûSaka) of the Sanskrit theater, and their separate historical evolutions may have well influenced each other. An underlying sense of irony inspires the genial portrayal of the overweight elephant-deity riding on his tiny mouse, just as a deep seriousness of purpose governs the elaboration, by the learned and subtle dramaturges, of the incurable ‘foolishness’ of the king’s indispensable counselor. What better way to demonstrate this propensity of transgressive sacrality to laugh at itself, and others, than to indulge in (the semblance of) humor (hâsyâbhâsa) at every opportunity in the course of deciphering—in the very process of extending—a semiotic system organized around the clash of ‘contradictory’ perspectives: emic and etic, conscious and sub/supra-conscious, exoteric and esoteric? Laughter affords a cathartic neutralization—though not a definitive resolution—of the emotional investment that drives the hatred and the fear. Abhinavagupta, it seems to me, might have nodded in genuine appreciation to see his bisociative understanding of humor vindicated not just in 'Sanskritic' theory but in contemporary vernacular practice!

 

Related threads at svAbhinava:

 

What is ‘rationality’? primitivism, philosophy and semiotics

                                                                 

This thread-compilation will be eventually complemented by others on psychoanalysis and Orientalism; in the meantime please check out the (incomplete) Abhinavagupta forum-index under the following headings and topics:

 

[Divinities:Ganesha; Esotericism:Psychoanalysis; Politics:Orientalism]

 

Index to threads below on the Ganesha controversy:

 

Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums [Rajiv Malhotra]

Iconography of Ganesha [Alexandra Kafka]

.... RE: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)? [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Re: Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums [Carl Vadivelle Belle]

.... RE: Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums - please post to the Abhinava forum [Sunthar V.]

.... Re: Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums - please post to the Abhinava forum [Carl Vadivelle Belle]

Re: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)? [Lady Joyce]

.... Re: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)? [Kalyanaraman]

.... Re: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)? [Loganathan]

Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book [Rajiv Malhotra]

.... Re: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book [Laurie Patton]

.... RE: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book [Rajiv M.]

.... Re: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book [Chitra Raman]

.... RE: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book [Sunthar V.]

‘Psychoanalysis’ in (American) Orientalism and (the obsession with?) sexual motifs in Hinduism: is Lord Ganesha (still) laughing? [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

.... FW: ‘Psychoanalysis’ in (American) Orientalism and (the obsession with?) sexual motifs in Hinduism:  is Lord Ganesha (still) laughing?  [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

.... Re: ‘Psychoanalysis’ in (American) Orientalism and (the obsession with?) sexual motifs in Hinduism: is Lord Ganesha (still) laughing? [Sathia]

Lord GaNeZa caught red-handed in Hugh Heffner’s Chicago penthouse - online petition to revoke his green card? [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Re: [RISA-L] The scholar’s accountability [Antonio de Nicolás]

.... Re: The scholar’s accountability [Raja Mylvaganam]

Appar’s Ganesha [Loganathan]

[NavyaShastra] Subtle ideas [V.V. Raman]

Re: Good Taste, Bad Taste, Hindu Taste - why are art historians more deserving of GaNeza’s (sweet) favor (modakas)? [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

 

 

Subject:  Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums

From:  Rajiv Malhotra [Abhinava msg #889]

Date:  Thu Jun 26, 2003; 7:10 am

One of the foremost art museums in the US is the famous Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. Its display on Asian Art features some of the most rare and precious art objects of Asia. Each display item has an explanation next to it that is also in the museum’s coffee table book referenced below. These explanations are important, because many school tours visit the museum, and through art the kids learn about Asian culture.

The large 11th century Ganesha carving in the collection has a write-up, and the following are excerpts from it. [“Asian Art in The Walters Art Gallery: A Selection,” by Hiram W. Woodward, Jr. Publisher: The Trustees of The Walters Art Gallery, 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, Page 20.]:

“Ganesa is a son of the great god Siva, and many of his abilities are comic or absurd extensions of the lofty dichotomies of his father.”

And then goes on to say:

“Ganesa’s potbelly and his childlike love for sweets mock Siva’s practice of austerities, and his limp trunk will forever be a poor match for Siva’s erect phallus.”

Alex Alexander, who sent the pages of the museum book to me, also told me that, as someone who is deeply interested in Indian art, he has frequently seen this explanation of Ganesha at many other US museums.

This explanation of the symbolism of Ganesha mirrors what is written in Prof. Paul Courtright’s book on Ganesha, which is widely prescribed on US campuses. For more details on Courtright’s eroticizing of Ganesha’s symbolism, please read the quotes given in my essay, “RISA Lila - 1: Wendy’s Child Syndrome,” posted at:

 http://www.sulekha.com/column.asp?cid=239156

Here is why I bring this up: Makarand Paranjape (Prof. of English at JNU) was recently visiting here, and mentioned that Prof. Jeffrey Kripal and Prof. Philip Lutgendorf (among others who are attacking my critiques of Western scholars and their Indian mercenaries) have come up with a novel defense of Courtright. They claim that such writings against Hinduism do not harm the general public’s impressions, because only highly specialized scholars read them.

In response, I had mentioned that such books by Courtright and other Wendy’s Children guide the research of new scholars, and are prescribed reading for undergraduates. But now, Alex has brought this evidence of yet another influence that these writings have, and one that is far more insidious—their influence on popular/mainstream depictions of Hinduism.

US Museums are as mainstream as one could get in disseminating ideas about culture. Wendy’s Children must be smiling and rubbing their hands in glee to learn how vast and deep their impact is in spreading Hindu-bashing. They should not deny the widespread hate speech and potential for cultural genocide that their work is causing. Journalists, schoolteachers, kids, public officials, etc., all go to museums, and what they learn there gets assimilated as part of their long-term attitudes and biases.

In most serious professions, there is the notion of professional responsibility, ethics, and liability, and this is based on a systematic study of the ultimate impact of their work upon society. One is left wondering what it would take for Prof. Vasudha Narayanan, President of the American Academy of Religion, to create a code of conduct on such matters, an ombudsman to resolve community complaints, and a positive outreach program to educate the public as remedy and retribution for all the damage caused by some of its esteemed members. So far, their response has been only defensiveness, covering up the problems, and attacking any whistleblowers such as myself.

I am also unsure to what extent the museum shares liability in the spread of Hindu-bashing—they would claim to be innocently passing on what professors at important universities write. Jewish and Islamic groups might provide some advice, because they have far greater experience at addressing such matters. Unfortunately, Hindus have tended to rely upon others to represent their culture, and have blindly trusted anyone who claims to be a great lover of India/Hinduism if they can speak a few lines of an Indian language, sing a bhajan, wear Indian clothes/symbols, and show prestigious degrees as ways to dupe the gullible.

All this also reconfirms the incompetence of VHP America (and its “academic” vehicles such as Hindu Student Council) in addressing such matters: They have failed even to properly understand the problem and its systemic sources fully, to establish any tracking mechanism similar to what other minority religions have in place, or to do anything at all about this. Yet, they continue to project themselves as the representatives of Hinduism. They seem too busy touching feet, garlanding each other, and congratulating each other in public forums. When enough pressure builds up, their leaders start yet another new organization that does nothing other than promoting its founders and officers. Things will stay this way, until they transform from a cronyism-based to a merit-based management style.

Regards,

Rajiv Malhotra

 

[Alexandra’s query, almost 3 months later, was not particularly connected with Rajiv’s above post. It, however, prompted me to make public the private exchange between Carl & myself to the Abhinava list - SV]


Subject:  Iconography of Ganesha

From:  Alexandra Kafka [Abhinava msg #1053]  

Date:  Sat Sep 6, 2003  2:22 pm

 

Are there forms of Ganesha with a human head?

I know that his head was cut off and replaced with that of an elephant, however, Indian gods have many forms and aspects, so I think that Lord Ganesha also should have iconographic representations that show him with a human head.

Someone information?


Subject:  RE: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)?

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam [Abhinava msg #1054]

Date:  Sat Sep 6, 2003  3:20 pm

 

Though the myths repeat that Ganesha was the son of Pârvatî who was decapitated (like Brahmâ....) by Shiva, I don’t know of any iconographic representations of him with a human head. However, he may be profitably compared to the (more-than-) ‘human’ clown of the classical theater:

On the ‘crookedness’ of the Vidûsaka 

which will be an important section of one of the chapters of my book on humor in the Sanskrit drama.  Bear in mind that the entire significance of this deity is invested in his elephant-head, pot-belly and fondness for sweets, without which there is no point in depicting him... 

There’s been recent discussion of whether there’s a ‘phallic’ significance to his trunk and how this is being used, once again, to demean India:

Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums

Until I’m able to find some time to post a more systematic analysis, I hope that Carl Vadivelle Belle will excuse me for appending our subsequent private exchange on this issue (I still owe a reply...), as it might offer everyone much food for thought... 

Sunthar

 

P.S. Shashi Tharoor [Under-Secretary at the U.N. to Kofi Annan], who likewise learnt his Hindu myths from his mother, has written an interesting piece on Ganesha (statues drinking milk!)...


[Appended 06 Sep. 2003 by Sunthar from off-list exchange in response to Rajiv’s original post] 

Subject: Re: Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums

From: Carl Vadivelle Belle  

Sent: Friday, June 27, 2003 5:47 AM [off-list private mail - SV]

To: Sunthar Visuvalingam;  Cc:  Rajiv Malhotra

 

Dear Sunthar,

I read this topic with a great deal of interest. Since my participation as a kavadi bearer in the Murugan festival of Thaipusam led to the destruction of my own career in multicultural, multifaith Australia, I have become very interested in Orientalism, and in particular the depictions of Indian religions.

I have also read Courtright’s work on Ganesha. I have always been intrigued by his “perpetually limp phallus” and his assertion that because Ganesha remains unmarried, allegedly because he finds no woman as beautiful as his mother Parvati, he is either mother incest fixated or homosexual.

One of the reasons I have been so amazed by these simplistic assertions is because it ignores evidence which is widespread and readily available to the most superficial observer.  Whether you visit temples in India, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa or other places where the diaspora has concentrated, one does not have to search too far to find iconography of Ganesha which shows him with an extended trunk (Vira Ganapati) or with his consorts (Laksmi Ganapati). The failure to locate such temples and such iconography suggests a very cursory investigation...or perhaps inconvenient facts ruin a good theory...

Since I began my thesis, I have been astonished by the sweeping assertions made by many Eurocentric scholars and the fertile and often fetid mindsets of many who subject Puranas, the Vedas, the Agamas and the iconography of the deities to conjectural psychoanalytic theorizing. In reading many of these works I am uncomfortably reminded of the racist literature of the US (and Australia) or a period not so far distant which portrayed Afro-Americans, indigenous peoples and others as sexually depraved and somewhat less than human. As Indians and their putatively promiscuous gods and their allegedly sexually inadequate or perverted populations are now described, so were “Negroes” and “primitive” peoples like Australian Aborigines and “Red Indians” then. One could easily devise an elaborate thesis about the sexual anxieties and deepest fantasies of Eurocentric scholars and their projection upon “the other” (vide: Obeskeyere, Courtright, Elizabeth Fuller Collins etc.)

Hemingway (I think), once unkindly said of D.H. Lawrence that he constructed an entire literary edifice on the basis of “one good f....” The similarities with the Orientalist scholars and psychoanalytic theories are obvious. It is easier to generalize, theorize, and offer facile summaries that all accord with established nostrums than actually become involved in the hard work of engagement and understanding (or, heaven forbid, challenge conventionality).

I am currently completing my thesis, but will write more on this topic in a couple of months—indeed, I should like space to review Blanche D’Alpuget’s book Turtle Beach which discusses Thaipusam in Malaysia and is replete with neo-colonial bromides.

Aum Shanti,

 

Carl Vadivella Belle


Subject: RE: Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums - please post to the Abhinava forum

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam 

To: Carl Vadivelle Belle 

Sent: Friday, June 27, 2003 8:17 PM [off-list private exchange - SV]

 

Dear Carl,

Though I do think that both the crooked trunk and single-tusk of Ganesha have a (not only) ‘phallic’ signification, I also agree with Rajiv, yourself and others that the sort of kitsch ‘psychoanalysis’ indulged in by Orientalists is not only misleading and tendentious, but also demeaning to Hindu culture. The problem, as I see it, is that Hindus themselves have left the field open to not-so-well-meaning others by not offering compelling alternative interpretations that incorporate the sexual dimension within a larger metaphysical understanding (not an easy task...).

Your thoughts are not only valid but also appropriate, and I would urge you to post this thread directly to the Abhinavagupta forum.

Best wishes for your thesis,

 

Sunthar

 


Subject: Re: Paul Courtright’s “limp phallus” enters US museums - please post to the Abhinava forum

From: Carl Vadivelle Belle

Sent: Friday, August 08, 2003 5:32 PM [off-list private exchange - SV]

To:  Sunthar Visuvalingam

 

Dear Sunthar,

I must apologize for not responding to your e-mail much earlier. […]

Yes, I take your point. I have found, for example, various people being remarkably coy about the story of Murugan’s relationship with Valli; the story seems to have an “authorized” abridged version which destroys the most pungent aspects of the essential message of bhakti devotionalism; that even a deity will transgress what is regarded as dharmic law. 

What I disagree with (and in this I am in total agreement with you), is the superficial psychoanalysis which leads to all Hindu mythology and practices being interpreted according to a US/UK ethnocentric viewpoint. Collins’ book is a good example of that, but recently one Andrew (?) Wilford has produced a thesis which claims that all Hindu mediumship and trance states in Malaysia are a product of social deprivation and powerlessness. But he fails to consider that (i) the experiences of Thaipusam and other similar festivals in Malaysia cut across all social groupings; (ii) that everything that occurs in Malaysia is also found in India; and (iii) that these sorts of practices occur even in societies where Tamils are comparatively well off or even hold a majority (e.g. Mauritius). The example of the Seychelles is pertinent in this regard; a society of well-off merchants who actually started celebrating Thaipusam, including kavadi worship, in 1994, because they felt it was an intrinsic part of their Tamil heritage. But of course Willford restricts his study to Malaysia and the specific social conditions found there, and his rather superficial analysis thus satisfies himself (and presumably his equally superficial examiners). It has certainly aroused some annoyance among academics in Malaysia.

Of course, this sort of psychoanalytic approach—which seems to be an especially US or UK province—is not restricted to analysis of India (though cultures which are obviously the “Other” seem to suffer more openly from their attentions; Islam is now presumably off limits—though not in Australia). I once remember reading a review of “Macbeth” which regarded the daggers held by Macbeth as phallic symbols, and Lady Macbeth’s inability to wash out the “damned spot” as indicative of poor toilet training! And another which dealt with Disney characters which had poor old Goofy as the perennially impotent American male, constantly outwitted by the “Jewish” Mickey Mouse.

I suppose it is now too late to submit the “limp phallus” piece—too much time has elapsed.

Regards,

 

Carl

Subject:  Re: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)?

From:  Lady Joyce [Abhinava msg #1055]

Date:  Sat Sep 6, 2003  6:30 pm

Namaste, Sri Sunthar:

Please allow me to briefly introduce myself.  I have just recently joined this group, after returning from the Global Dharma Conference, where I met Rita Sharma and other notable Indian scholars.   I also joined with a group known as HICAD, the goal of which is to help promote understanding, diversity and tolerance of the Indic traditions.   At the moment, we are just commencing to approach a museum which depicts Ganesha in much the fashion you describe [above].

We have discovered some groups which have actively put together literature which helps explain the symbolism behind the deities, in particular for the purpose of distribution to museums.   My observation has been that most of my friends express their angst to the religious intolerance which they identify as such.  I have broached the subject but have not known how to tell them that I also think that the basis of the misrepresentations of the symbolism is racist in its [mainspring], in much the fashion as posited by your friend, Carl [above], an excerpt of which I post here:

Since I began my thesis, I have been astonished by the sweeping assertions made by many Eurocentric scholars and the fertile and often fetid mindsets of many who subject Puranas, the Vedas, the Agamas and the iconography of the deities to conjectural psychoanalytic theorizing. In reading many of these works I am uncomfortably reminded of the racist literature of the US (and Australia) or a period not so far distant which portrayed Afro-Americans, indigenous peoples and others as sexually depraved and somewhat less than human. As Indians and their putatively promiscuous gods and their allegedly sexually inadequate or perverted populations are now described, so were “Negroes” and “primitive” peoples like Australian Aborigines and “Red Indians” then. One could easily devise an elaborate thesis about the sexual anxieties and deepest fantasies of Eurocentric scholars and their projection upon “the other” (vide: Obeskeyere, Courtright, Elizabeth Fuller Collins etc.)

Understanding and tolerance of different concepts are some of the tools to peace.  We all end up in the same destination eventually, although some of us take longer to get there than others :-)  May we all shine together in our journey.

Feel free to visit the site...www.Hicad.org

Even more important, I look forward to your follow-up posts on dealing with the misrepresentations of the symbolism and beauty of the deities.

OM Namah Shivaya,

Joyce

PS Alexandra...thank you for posting your question.  You never know where the inquiring mind will lead you :-)

Subject:  Re: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)?

From:  S. Kalyanaraman [Abhinava msg #1056]

Date:  Sat Sep 6, 2003  9:51 pm

 

Thanks, Joyce and Sunthar for the posts.

The comparison of Ganesha glyph has to go back far beyond (in time) vidûSaka—into early smithy in the transition from chalcolithic (stone-copper) to alloy (bronze) phase of technological evolution in Bharat:

Let us start with the obvious components (apart from the gourmet stuff): 1. trunk of an elephant; and 2. mûSika (mouse as vâhana, carrier).

In fact, it may surprise many that the earliest ligaturing of the trunk of an elephant occurs in Sarasvati hieroglyphs (so-called Indus Script). I call them Sarasvatî hieroglyphs because 2,000 out of the 2,600 archaeological sites of the civilization are on the banks of River Sarasvatî. Ligaturing as an artistic technique itself can be traced to these hieroglyphs.

Let me point to two recently-discovered glyphs: http://harappa.com/indus/63.html Terracotta. Elephant head with stylized wide spread ears. Traces of red and white paint bands are visible on the face.

A composite animal formed with the trunk of an elephant, human-faced markhor, body of a heifer, front legs of a bull, rear legs of a tiger, serpent as tail: http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/signs/M300.jpg

The hieroglyphs of (1) a trunk of an elephant and (2) an elephant can both be explained rebus as a turner and iron:

Glyph: zuND. = trunk of elephant; .t.am elephant’s trunk (Ta.); soNDam id. (Nk.)(DEDR 3311). tuNDa trunk of an elephant (Skt.) (CDIAL 5853). zuNDâ elephant’s trunk (Skt.)(CDIAL 12516).

Rebus: cundakâra turner (Pali); cuna_ro maker of wooden vessels (Ku.); cunâro, canâro, cu~da_ro id. (N.)(CDIAL 4862). cunda wood or ivory work (Skt.); ivory worker (Pali); cundiba_ to do woodwork (Or.)(CDIAL 4861).

Glyph: ibha = elephant (Sanskrit)

Rebus: ib = iron (Santali)

Hundreds of glyphs containing Sarasvatî hieroglyphs can be explained simply as minerals, metals and furnaces —the technology repertoire of a metalsmith, a brazier, a lapidary.

Why mûSa?

Rebus: mûSa = crucible!

mûSa = m. (%{A} and %{I}) f. a rat , mouse Pan5cat. L. [827,2] ; a crucible Ma1rkP. Kull. L. (Cologne Sanskrit lexicon) muSâ = crucible (Skt.) mûSâ = air hole (Skt.)

The depiction using Sarasvatî hieroglyphs will connote an air-bellow for a turner’s furnace.

This is based on the cracked code of Sarasvati hieroglyphs as rebus representations of metalsmiths’ repertoire in 400+ signs and 100+ pictorial motifs (field-symbols).

Kalyanaraman

Subject:  Re: iconography of Ganesha - why not start by comparing him with the VidûSaka (a real ‘gourmet’ if there was one...)?

From:  K. Loganathan [Abhinava msg #1059]

Date:  Sun Sep 7, 2003  4:13 am

 

Dear Sunthar and Vadivel,

I just want mention briefly that the Freudian and Jungian Psychoanalysis is not applicable for analyzing Hindu mythologies and the Icon Thinking they incorporate. For one thing the notion of Unconscious as defined by Freud and implicitly accepted by Jung is NOT the meaning of maRaipoRuL with which Agamic Psychology, the depth psychological dimensions of Icon Thinking operates with.

The MaRaiporuL is the hidden, covered up, the concealed and so forth and which they attribute to one of the Divine Praxis of Siva, namely Tirotakam and which means casting a screen, a tirai. This MaRaiporuL is also different from Ignorance which is attributed to aaNavam, the Dark Killing Force against which the aruL of BEING is always in combat. This aruL emerges as consciousness as well as the essence Hermeneutic Logic and for which reason the Saivites call it CiRcakti, that which confers consciousness.

The bestowal of consciousness is a contingent process and is guided by the ETHICS of the actions effected by the person. When EVIL actions are done then there is a withdrawal of this AruL and which leads to the degeneration of Icon Thinking with its resultant madness of the mind. Communicative competence breaks along with the control of consciousness producing cognitve processes. 

Thus mental sickness is seen as the resultant EVIL actions and hence is karma related. The Siddhas in their Depth Psychological ventures prescribe certain RITUALS for the recovery of the mind.

Now some kind sexual activity may be evil and immoral and certainly NOT the LOVE related sexual behavior. Saivism promotes this LOVE related sexuality and the meaning of Ardhanarisvara Icon is precisely this.

I think Freud did not distinguish carefully between these kinds of sexualities and which may be applicable to the whole lot Western psychoanalytic tradition. The whole of this tradition is ill-equipped to understand the Depth Psychology that the Agamic or Tantric tradition incorporates.

I shall write in greater detail later on such issues in the series “The Meaning of SivaliGkam’

 

Loga

 “Sunthar (Yahoo!Mail)” <suntharv@yahoo.com> wrote:

Though the myths repeat that Ganesha was the son of Pârvatî who was decapitated (like Brahmâ....) by Shiva, I don’t know of any iconographic representations of him with a human head. However, he may be profitably compared to the (more-than-) ‘human’ clown of the classical theater:

[The following thread was originally a restricted exchange that I subsequently posted to the Abhinava forum]


Subject: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book

From: Rajiv Malhotra 

SentThursday, October 30, 2003 11:59 AM [Abhinava msg #1203 with thread in inverse order]

To:  [....]

 

For those who don’t know, the recent petition causing great anxiety is posted at:

http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?HSCULL 

(Also, while not the topic here, there has been a recent satire on Wendy’s children posted on Sulekha a few days ago that has also lit up the issue in a humorous manner:

 http://www.sulekha.com/expressions/articledesc.asp?cid=306944)  

I have privately interacted with Paul Courtright recently on the petition that just came out against his book. I have also heard through the grapevine that many others at RISA are concerned about it. Rather than under-the-table angry reactions, it’s best to have an open discussion. Here is my 2 [cents] worth on this:  

I disagree with the petitioners’ stance that the issue is about “feelings” being hurt—such a petition can and is dismissed easily as being irrelevant to objective scholarship. The petition is facile in its lack of critical analysis.

However, my problem with many scholars is entirely different: It is about their works’ lack of authenticity and objectivity—a charge that they are not responding to, because they prefer to construct a false purva-paksha [straw man argument attributed to the opponent - SV] that is easier for them to deal with.  

The issue of non-authenticity takes us deep into questioning the “critical theories” that are the very foundation of liberal arts. I want PROOF that these “theories” are valid and especially in the Indian context. Just because they are widely quoted does not make them valid scientifically, as popularity simply means that they have the power of distribution channels on their side—which comes with money and institutional control. So the burden of proof of the validity of the “theories” should be on the shoulders of those who wish to use them. Nobody in Religious Studies to the best of my knowledge has proven these “theories,” and, instead, they merely quote others who quote others. It’s all about having established a brand name for oneself, or learning to use someone else’s... It is this shallowness and lack of scientific objectivity that is the crux of my criticism and not “feelings”—but these scholars have not even acknowledged the true nature of the complaint, which is disingenuous on their part.

Freudianism, as a theory for such purposes, has long been rejected by psychology departments in the West, but it has become the “export” product to mis-educate those third-worlders who are in awe of the West. Rolland and others have gone far to explain, based on their empirical data, that such “theories” do not work in explaining Indian culture.  

In the same manner, I wish to openly challenge much of postmodernism, Western feminism, and many other sociological and anthropological constructs—in fact, Wendy’s entire “tool-box.”   

The concept of nation state is being applied based on the West as the gold standard, and others are being rated based on how “Western” they are—the irony is that globalization is moving beyond this Eurocentric nation state criteria, closer to the Indian Ocean open economy prior to colonialism closing it. Christianity is being used as the basis to define what a “religion” should be and how it is to be studied. Feminism is being defined based on Western ideas of womanhood—I can cite many criticisms against this by African and Asian women scholars.   

Here is what one popular level introduction to “critical theory” has to say: “It is an “alternative metaphysics” promoting a particular world view, and, at least implicitly, a particular politics... We cannot assume that any criticism is a “value-free” activity... Being critical is being political: it represents an intervention... The cultural analyst can pick or mix from the catalog of theories to put together synthetic models for whatever the task may happen to be.”

Essentially, the student is taught to be able to quote well and apply the set of theories, simply assuming that they are some sort of canon: “The successful student in higher education reaches theoretically-informed conclusions in essays and exams, and can show precisely how the theory informed those conclusions.” In other words, these “theories” have become like absolute and ultimate authorities—which makes them akin to the authority of the Vedas, their originators akin to the Vedic rishis [sages], and the liberal arts educators like English language based brahmins.   

So I request that the discourse be upgraded by both sides—which Courtright should support—to the meta-level discussion of “theories” in circulation these days, including Wendy’s theories of “myths” as agents that seem to deny Indians’ individual agency.  

Many RISA scholars have defended this state of scholarship by telling me that “of course, all theories are relative and not scientific,” as if that solves the problem. Subjectivity and relativism merely compels us to take the inquiry further: this is where the role of power in distribution channels/control, and hence in the adoption of “standard theories” or lenses, becomes important. The asymmetry of power becomes a relevant topic for discussion—but Religious Studies avoids it. No longer can one claim emic/etic irrelevance, because the power asymmetry in the case of (neo) colonized religions determines who is licensed to say what using which lens—and to reproduce more of their own kind as graduate students who depend on them.  

So far I have addressed two aspects: the relativeness of the theories in style, and the role of power asymmetry we find today. There are other issues as well: (1) Why has the academy used its gate-keeping role to consistently abuse any and all critics of its ways, and what does this say about its claims of objectivity? Here I can supply lots of written abuses against those who raise such matters, and many more verbal anecdotes. (2) Why have academic scholars been one-sided in their condemnations of human rights violations, citing academic neutrality when they choose to look the other way, but getting deeply engaged when it’s politically expedient? The list goes on...

The Hinduism Unit of AAR has a unique opportunity to examine such meta-level issues, and to be open about allowing participation—which means not using asymmetric power to block off dissent as “unqualified.” If there is any forum that wishes to seriously debate at the meta-level, please do let me know and I would be delighted to participate.   

I hope to have explained how the petition does a disservice to serious dialog by downgrading the issue into “feelings,” while masking the more serious problems of methodology.  

Regards,  

Rajiv Malhotra


Subject: Re: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book

From: Laurie Patton  

Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2003 4:01 PM

To: Rajiv Malhotra

Rajiv, 

I have no interest in engaging with you on email.  As I have written in Samvada, I consider email and websites neither “open,” nor “democratic,” nor [conducive] to any form of civility. I will look forward to talking about our common interests with you in person or via written letter, where conventions of respecting the individual scholar and his or her entire body of work are followed. Right now I am currently busy trying to protect the personal safety of my faculty members. 

Yours, Laurie L. Patton

Professor of Early Indian Religions

Winship Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities and Chair, Department of Religion 

 


Subject: RE: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book

From: Rajiv Malhotra

SentThursday, October 30, 2003 7:55 PM

To: ’Laurie Patton’

 

Laurie, so be it. But just for the record, you copied me on anxious emails from India recently. It surprised me, frankly. Maybe you imagine “native informants” you can turn on and off at will. As far as this episode goes, I was recently emailed by Paul Courtright and decided to interact with him, and today Rita emailed to me about the petition causing some scholars anxiety. Regarding interacting in India or elsewhere, since consistency is important to me, it’s best that you find other native informants—I have plenty of quality scholars to work with who are free of the fuss. Concerning the petition, you should deal with the petitioners. Finally, regarding “conventions” of respecting scholars, please do evaluate whether the name-calling on your RISA-L archive complies with your “standards.”

Regards,

 


Subject: Re: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book

From: [Chitra Raman] 

Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2003 8:45 PM

To: Rajiv Malhotra

Cc: […]

Dear Rajiv,

You write:

“I disagree with the petitioners’ stance that the issue is about “feelings” being hurt—such a petition can and is dismissed easily as being irrelevant to objective scholarship. The petition is facile in its lack of critical analysis.

“However, my problem with many scholars is entirely different: It is about their works’ lack of authenticity and objectivity—a charge that they are not responding to, because they prefer to construct a false purva-paksha that is easier for them to deal with.”

I agree entirely with your arguments on the need to engage in an intellectual rather than an emotion-driven scrutiny of Professor Courtright’s Opus. For thinkers and activists at your level, that is both appropriate and necessary.

However, the drafters of this petition are equally entitled to express their deep outrage over the book. To you, the issue is not about “feelings” being hurt; but to them, at the level they operate, it is.

I must confess I was a little puzzled about Professor Laurie Patton’s comment about having to “protect” her faculty in response to your entirely civil and well-reasoned email—until I read some of the irate messages on that petition. I now understand her concern. But I hope she realizes that this petition should be read purely as a barometer of collective sentiment, not as an incitement to inflict harm.

There appears to be a perception that “progressive and secular” Hindus ought to be able to roll over and take anything that is written about their religious traditions. They should be “objective” about people who turn some of their most sacred iconography into an object of obscene, practically derisive interpretation. Those who stand up and protest are either ignored as either excessively “emotional;” or, if their language turns extreme, are eyed warily as recidivist fanatics.

You yourself state that despite your own efforts to put your views across, that

“these scholars have not even acknowledged the true nature of the complaint, which is disingenuous on their part.”

In other words, regardless of how it is phrased or conveyed, the substance of the objections continues to elude the offenders. Or at least if they get it, they do not acknowledge it.

Do representatives of all religious traditions in the West have to try so hard to maintain the right tone, to calibrate their approach to such an extent, in order get a proper hearing? Do they take a tuning fork to their arguments to ensure that it resonates with the right “objective” frequency if they believe they have experienced an opprobrious assault either to their belief systems, their community, or their culture?

I think you and everyone on this list knows the answer to that as well as I do. In fact I never cease to be amazed at the double standards that permeate the Western perspective. To give you a recent example: National Geographic Magazine has, in its October issue covered Saudi Arabia. The treatment is almost reverential, despite incidental references to the country’s religious conservatism and social incarceration of women. There is a close-up shot of an Arab with this quote highlighted “We are not a nation of terrorists.”

This is the same magazine that covered the Untouchables of India in an earlier issue, presenting untouchability as a social blight sanctioned and abetted by Hinduism. The suffering and marginalization of the Untouchables was described without any significant reference to any contemporary steps taken in India to combat untouchability at all levels. There was not even an attempt at balance.

Photographer David Allard spoke on camera, in an online clip, about how he had bent down to kiss a Dalit woman on the cheek while taking leave, and she had recoiled from him, probably because she was not used to being treated like a human being.

Actually, she probably recoiled because she thought he was nuts. A course in Indian Culture 101 would have made it clear to Mr. Allard that kissing on the cheek (or elsewhere) is not an Indian leave-taking convention, least of all between members of the opposite sex!

Allard actually went on to say his attempt to plant a kiss was evidently very novel to them, but not to him as an American, because: “of course, we do not have untouchables.” Of course not. But as I wrote in my letter to National Geographic, in all the years that I worked in a civil rights organization in inner-city Detroit I must say I never saw white suburbanites lining up to kiss black babies.

My fundamental question is this: By their own standards of holding religion responsible for social evils, why does the National Geographic feature on Saudi Arabia not even hint at the continuing practice of clitoridectomy in Saudi Arabia? Does this not qualify as barbarism in the name of religion?

In a discussion of cultural stereotyping in a multiculturalism course in Journalism School here at Wayne State University, we were encouraged to freely ask any question of each other. Two of my fellow students were Arabs: one from Saudi Arabia, one from Syria, a couple of great guys, fun-loving, mischievous. I looked them straight in the eye and asked them if this practice still continues. It was as though a curtain had dropped over their irises and they grew very still and impassive. “Yes, but not like olden times, now it is done very kindly,” one of the young men said, “Always in hospital under anesthesia.”

A significant concession to the West’s human rights sensibilities, no doubt.

Incidentally, I noticed that one of the signatories on the Anti-Courtright petition is “Salman Rushdie” and he writes “Leave Him Alone!” It is worth noting that Rushdie was forced into a fugitive existence for writing a satirical work of FICTION. He did not present his writing as an alternative interpretation of the Quran.

Professor Courtright, on the other hand, writes as an academician with the expectation of influencing young minds in his classroom and beyond. He writes about the most widely beloved and central deity in the Hindu religious tradition. I do think it is uncivilized and deplorable to level threats of physical harm to anyone on the basis of any level of disagreement. However, it is necessary that Prof. Courtright and other luminaries at Emory University understand what they are taking on, and be prepared and open at the very least to face fierce opposition and spirited debate over his book. 

In summary, I believe that double standards in the treatment of faiths exist for a number of reasons and that fear of reprisal is only one of them. There is also the matter of a natural cultural affinity, despite their myriad divisions, among believers of Semitic faiths. It is truly energizing to know that people such as yourself continue to push for the move from double standards to higher standards of academic accountability. But this effort is in no way diluted by diverse voices. Let them be heard.

Best regards, Chitra

 


Subject: RE: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam  

Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2003 8:59 PM

Thanks for bringing this controversy to my notice (I corresponded with Paul Courtright from Benares while he was still writing the book...).

With your permission, and especially given that the petition and hullabaloo is becoming an increasingly public affair (even assuming ‘international diplomatic’ proportions), I’d like to simply forward this thread (with all the personal email addresses removed) to the Abhinavagupta and a couple of related forums. At the very least, it should give people much food for thought and make them reflect on where we are headed with all this...

OK?

Sunthar


Subject:  ‘Psychoanalysis’ in (American) Orientalism and (the obsession with?) sexual motifs in Hinduism: is Lord Ganesha (still) laughing?

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam [Abhinava msg #1203]

Date:  Fri Oct 31, 2003  7:52 am

 

It seems to me that we have to respond to separate but related questions here:

·         Are there sexual meanings (also) involved in (not just the shiva-linga but even apparently) innocuous divine images like Ganesha?

·         Do such studies by (mostly American) Indologists meet the minimum requirements of ‘objective’ scholarship or rather intended to denigrate?

·         Freud was a ‘revolutionary’ thinker who risked being burnt along with his books, whereas the ‘kitsch-psychoanalysis’ that prevails especially among non-professionals is often a cheap and self-serving way to make a career at the expense of their ‘patients’. Which is the case here?

·         What then is the ‘real’ meaning of Lord Ganesha? Do I need to find this out for myself? If so, do I need to tell this to everyone, especially Hindus?

For the record, Paul Courtright (whom I don’t believe I have ever met despite having arranged for him to visit and speak at the Benares Hindu University in the late 80s...) participated (he was roped in by Alf Hiltebeitel as a ‘junior’ scholar at the time...) in the “Transgressive Sacrality” conference around our work in Nov. 1986 at the Annual South Asia Conference (Madison, Wisconsin).

I have had his book since it was published in 1985, but must confess that I have never really gotten around to reading it. I suppose I ought to take a hard look at it before I eventually complete the section on Ganesha on my own book on Abhinavagupta’s Conception of Humor...

Enjoy! (but hopefully not at someone else’s expense...)

Sunthar

 

[An exchange that includes Sunthar’s response to S. Sathia’s comments on the Akandabaratam list]

Subject: FW: ‘Psychoanalysis’ in (American) Orientalism and (the obsession with?) sexual motifs in Hinduism:  is Lord Ganesha (still) laughing?

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

SentFriday, October 31, 2003 9:38 AM [Abhinava msg #1207 thread in reverse order]

To: Yoga Psychology; Cc: Hindu-Buddhist 

 

Alice Getty’s book on Ganesha, from which I learned a great deal about 2 decades ago, might serve as a useful foil to this discussion. It covers not only (his iconography in) India, but also South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Japan, etc., and shows unusual representations such as a ‘Kâpâlika’ form of the deity (wearing skulls, from Java or Sumatra), embracing twin-figures (Kangi-Ten from Japanese Buddhism), etc. What struck me was how this ‘clumsy’ deity so deftly straddles the brahmanical (Brhaspati) and tantric worlds, so that he was so popular among even the ‘Dalits’ (as among the Chamars of Maharashtra). One has the impression that Getty is presenting a fascinating wealth of data while remaining content to leave many questions unanswered (for that would have implied the competence to venture boldly into a totalizing interpretation of culture...).  

I have no doubt that there is much sexual symbolism invested in the iconography of Ganesha. The question, however: is this the expression of the repressed fantasies of (not just Indians but) Asians and (not just Hindus but also) Buddhists? Or is there a different vision (and what may this be?) of the human body/psyche and ultimate reality that, despite much overlap, is at odds with the psychoanalytic perspective?  

Quite apart from questions of competence, are the ‘Indologists’ even interested in addressing these more fundamental questions?  

Sunthar  

 

P.S. I’ve appended Carl Vadivelle’s earlier exchanges with Rajiv and myself on this issue (that I’ve not had to get into so far...).

 


Subject:  Re: ‘Psychoanalysis’ in (American) Orientalism and (the obsession with?) sexual motifs in Hinduism: is Lord Ganesha (still) laughing?

From:  S. Sathia [Malaysia]

Date:  Fri Oct 31, 2003  5:04 pm

 

Dear Sunthar,

> * are there sexual meanings (also) involved in (not just the shiva-linga but even apparently) innocuous divine images like Ganesha?

I just wished to share with you that I have seen images of ancient sculptures of Ganesha engaging in sexual orgy with multiple female partners in ways that would defy imaginations of Kâmasûtra. These were contained in the rare books section of universities.

Regards, Sathia

 


Subject:  Lord GaNeZa caught red-handed in Hugh Heffner’s Chicago penthouse - online petition to revoke his green card?

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam [Abhinava msg #1207]

Date:  Sat Nov 1, 2003  10:37 am

 

Dear Sathia,  

One of the ‘puzzles’ that Alice Getty raises in her book on the iconography of Lord GaNeza is why he is piously invoked at the beginning of the Kaula rituals (at least in the manuscripts she has studied...) only to be ceremoniously dismissed before we get to the ‘hard-core’ action. The embracing Kangi-Ten couples (see post appended [above]) from Japan would seem to be the outward expression of precisely such ‘left-handed’ practices. In South Asia, GaNeza is often paired with Bhairava in various mythico-ritual contexts, and among the Newars he even receives blood-sacrifices. In South-East Asia, one comes across this ‘brahmanical’ deity portrayed with Kâpâlika-type attributes. The problem then is to explain why the Hindus needed such a ‘ridiculous’ god in the first place: shouldn’t our slogan be Brhaspati for the brahmins and Bhairava for the Dalits?

In my Ph.D. thesis, I have posited that GaNeza is a semiotic ‘mediator’ in the polarization between the pure Brahmâ and the impure Bhairava, which largely explains why, unlike either of these opposed divinities, he is so popular across the whole spectrum of the Hindu caste society, and has emigrated, with Buddhism, well beyond India’s borders into other Asian countries. Indeed, there is nothing overtly sexual in GaNeza and he is as brilliant and engaging a visualized conception of the Hindu genius, and as ‘beautiful’ in his own way, as the mind-boggling symmetries of [the ecstatically dancing statue of] Shiva-NaTarâja (as so well described by Ananda Coomaraswamy). However, anyone who contemplates deeply enough (and this is something that Mr. Nagalingam probably shouldn’t try if he wants to preserve his ‘sanity’...) on the ‘lawful irregularities’ (crooked trunk, single tusk, pot-belly, connoisseur of modakas [rounded sweetmeats], of the ‘exoteric’ deity—so well enumerated in well-known kîrtanas [vocal compositions], like Muttuswamy DîkSitar’s Vâtâpi GaNapatim, that typically open a concert of Carnatic music)—will be rewarded for his/her persistence with an ‘esoteric’ insight into the Tantric mysteries that are embodied more overtly in the figure of Bhairava. This is precisely why GaNeza—also the embodiment, like the VidûSaka, of AUMkâra (praNava-svarûpa)—is such an amusing fellow who insinuates himself into the hearts of greedy (not just Indian) kids even before they can say “No!”

The same triadic relation may be recognized in Amerindian mythology, where the hilarious monkey (= the clownish GaNeza) likewise mediates between the socialized human being subjected to strict interdictions (Brahmâ) and the underground initiate, the bearer of the secrets of culture, represented by the Jaguar (Bhairava). In many of these myths (where, by the way, the incest-motif is not only explicit but central...), it is the monkey that leads the ‘qualified’ human to the lair of the Jaguar, who thereupon adopts the lost soul and transforms him into a culture hero, who eventually returns to the tribe to share his hard-won secrets. The qualification consists precisely in *not* laughing (hâsyâbhâsa) at the ape or at the (preliminary) antics of the Jaguar, who would otherwise have devoured them. So I suspect that Paul Courtright and the Orientalist ‘gurus’, led by Wendy, may not only not make the grade but also end-up in GaNeza’s already full-stomach...

 In short, my understanding of GaNeza does not preclude the possibility of this ‘impotent great-brahmin’ (mahâ-brâhmaNa) descending uninvited into the midst of a Tantric ‘orgy of worship’ (cakra-pûjâ). After all, the vidûSaka makes a big show of not being able to stand women (he even holds his nose because they stink!), but if you observe carefully all the strange things he does and says with his (useless?) ‘crooked appendage’ (vakra-tuNDa), there would be even more justification for submitting an online petition to Attorney-General John Ashcroft (and his Christian Right?) to revoke his green-card and send him back to India (Chandni Cauk?) where he really belongs. Fortunately, such perspicacity, though perhaps within the searching and penetrating intellect of Freud, seems to be still beyond the reach of our Orientalist-bandhus (‘friends’)!

Best wishes,

 

Sunthar

 

P.S. I’d appreciate any further details you can provide me (off list, of course!) on these images. I guess if you found them as traumatizing as so many of the pious Hindus (Mr. Nagalingam?) on these lists, you would have remembered all the graphic details...with slight distortions?

[rest of this thread at Sunthar V.,  On the ‘crookedness’ of the Vidûsaka]

[Repost by Antonio of his message to the RISA-L list with Rajan’s response]

Subject:  Re: [RISA-L] The scholar’s accountability

From: Antonio de Nicolás [Abhinava msg #1209]  

Date:  Sat Nov 1, 2003; 5:40 pm

 

Dear friends,

It is now obvious that we have a revolution of sensitivities on our hands, and the correction of such a distempered situation is now in the court of Indic studies scholars and the Universities we serve. Are we as scholars commanded by the freedoms and privileges of our professional degrees entitled to stand the ground of silence in the case of Dr. Paul Courtright and his thesis on Ganesha, or is it our obligation as such scholars to call into question the scholarship of Dr. Paul Courtright and demand a corrective of some kind? In more veridical terms, did Dr. Courtright act, in writing his book on Ganesha, with the discipline and scholarship demanded of him by his degree, or did he act irresponsibly and unscholarly in such a manner that both his freedom of speech and his freedom to teach are both in jeopardy?

Point number one: The first responsibility of a scholar in describing, writing, speaking, teaching other cultures is to present those cultures or the elements of those cultures in the same manner those cultures are viewed by themselves and by the people of those cultures. If not, then the scholar is using those cultures in name only and his goal is their destruction, if not in intention at least in fact. “The flaccid phallus of Ganesha” is an invention of the author when this is not the only depiction of Ganesha, since He appears in other statues with large erection. 

A scholar who does not know how to present other cultures by their own criteria should not be allowed to teach those cultures. His freedom of speech is not guaranteed by his ignorance. His degree is a privilege of knowledge, not ignorance. Freedom stops here. Opinions are not the food of the classroom at the hands of Professors. They guarantee knowledge.

In the case of Lord Ganesha and Hindus the case is even more dramatic and irresponsible, or demands even more responsibility than in other cases. Lord Ganesha is considered a God by millions of Hindus. We Westerners may think whatever we want about Indic gods, but it is the case that in the Indic classical texts gods are “intelligence centers,” pilot brains to give light to our lives and decisions. Who is the Western Scholar that can use his freedom of speech (but not his responsibility to know better) in order to destroy, dethrone, or laugh at a God made naked for that purpose or consequence? And which is the Institution of learning that will condone such behavior from one that has promised, by accepting his degree, to strive to continue to impart knowledge, not falsehood, or opinions.

Would Dr. Courtright like to open a door to the enemies, or outsiders, of Christianity to do the same with the Bible, for example? Would he or others find it offensive if a Hindu scholar with full credentials and knowledge described the Creation myth of the Bible as an absurd and gross sexual representation? For one thing Freud would not be needed. The Bible is very explicit. The creation myth (history) says very clearly that the Creator created the world by ejecting his semen (ruh = pron. ruah) and mingling it with the waters. In other words, the creator created through masturbation. And if you stretch the story all the way to Jesus and follow the patrilineal lines given to him turns out that Yaweh is his father. Can you be more gross? And would any Ph.D. in Religion be able to answer this attack? You see, a Pandora’s box is let open to inflict enormous pain on believers. Why not see the same pain on Hindus when their gods are attacked? We are talking about interpretations not realities!!! All stories about gods are bad stories.

I think I am making my points clearly. Emory University and the AAR should investigate this and similar cases and keep an investigating body available to make sure this does not happen again. And also make sure that the present crisis is immediately stopped from spreading with a large apology for such irresponsible behavior.

Peace

Antonio de Nicolás

 


Subject:  Re: The scholar’s accountability

From:  Raja Mylvaganam [Abhinava msg #1212 – response to Antonio’s post above]

Date:  Sun Nov 2, 2003  6:05 am

 

Dear Professor Antonio:

It is the nature of scholarship to challenge and be challenged, and scholars conversant with Ganesha studies have the right to challenge Courtright. He or the institutions that give him authority know their options. Our best option is to approach them in a manner that permits them to hear us, that is, without belligerence, demands, threats, etc. Your demand that a “scholar in describing, writing, speaking, teaching other cultures is to present those cultures or the elements of those cultures in the same manner those cultures are viewed by themselves...” is a very naive view of how acculturation takes place and will certainly limit the flow of ideas. 

It appears to me that every attribute of Ganesha is of human origin including the elephant head or large erection (?).  All put there to satisfy some, as yet to be completely fathomed, human need, anthropological, sexual or otherwise (read Sunthar, Freud, Jung). From the energy generated thus far it seems that Courtright has upended an issue and may have done a religious service by providing a symbol for men struggling to come to terms with a flaccid (or impending flaccid) phallus. The friendly, helpful and placid Ganesha (of my imagination) seems ideally suited to this task. And certainly a non-erect penis is less threatening than an erect one if the context is non-sexual. Ganesha is [the] favorite of children because he is definitely non-threatening.       

You say that a

“scholar who does not know how to present other cultures by their own criteria should not be allowed to teach those cultures. His freedom of speech is not guaranteed by his ignorance. His degree is a privilege of knowledge, not ignorance. Freedom stops here. Opinions are not the food of the classroom at the hands of Professors. They guarantee knowledge.”

You seem to make much of scholars and their knowledge. I do not see where you get the evidence for your assertions and the criteria you mention [are] not on any job application that I have seen.

In any debate on who has done more damage to the human enterprise, good or bad scholars in religion on one hand, and politicians who use religions on the other, there is no question in my own mind who wins hands down. Let us not get too grandiose and lose our ability to discern.

Many believe that what is happening to Ganesha has already been done to the Bible (at least to Jesus) and one of the results is a greater diversity within Christianity and Judaism not withstanding the inquisition. The manner of the attack on Courtright may be indicative of the emergence of a new ‘party’ within Indic studies. The truth of their arguments cannot be taken for granted and in no way should they be considered to be representative of all native Indic scholars or Ganeshites (!) 

I write as one who was familiar transacting with Ganesha, and has a personal preference for liberalism. I had never heard of Courtright before but, having known Ganesha, I certainly do not want anyone to limit Him. It is also possible that the creators of ancient texts (and Courtright in this instance) were more comfortable with the various aspects of human sexuality than some of us. I do not feel attacked by the suggestion that Ganesha (sometimes) cannot get an erection. Makes him even more lovable. 

Professor, I would dearly love to know the difference between “interpretations (and) realities...” in Ganesha’s case. Finally, that you believe that “all stories about gods are bad stories” suggests that you have a long way to go before you understand “millions of Hindus.”

More dangerous than any of this for scholarship [is] your suggestion,

Emory University and the AAR should investigate this and similar cases and keep an investigating body available to make sure this does not happen again.”

If this comes to pass you may have just launched an inquisition. 

Rajan

 

SubjectAppar’s Ganesha

From:  Dr K. Loganathan [Abhinava msg #1210]

Date:  Sat Nov 1, 2003  11:13 pm

 

It is not well known that the Saiva Nayanmars [63 ‘canonized’ Tamil saints] have mentioned in several places the many famous Hindu gods including KaNapati [GaNapati] Muruka in addition to Tirumaal [ViSNu] and Ambal [the Shaiva Goddess]. In view of the current uproar on Ganesha, I have taken one of the early verses of Appar (6th cent AD) where Appar mentions Ganesha and interestingly enough in a psychoanalytic vein, in relation to the control of the excessive sexual appetites of human beings.

While I have also identified this Patikam for an intensive study as a whole, for the immediate purposes now, I have taken only this verse (4: 2-5) for an in depth study.

4

4:2-5

palapala kaamattaraakip pataittu ezuvaar maanattuLLee

kalamalak kiddut tiryuG kaNabati yennuG kaLiRum

valam eentu iru cudarum vaan kayilaaya malaiyum

nalamaar kedilap punalaum udaiyaar oruvar tamar naam         

anjcuvatu yaathonRumillai anjca varuvathum illai

Meaning:

There is nothing that I fear not only now but also in future. It is all because there is the Elephant-faced GaNapati, who takes possession of the people full of uncontrollable desires of all kinds that drives them to untold anxieties, worries and miseries, and acting along with them slowly makes these desires withdraw and become powerless. And above it all there is BEING-as-Siva with the lights of the Moon and Sun and staying not only in the Mount Kailash that is distant but also as the most immediate in the waters of this River of Kedilam

Comments

Appar here is dealing with people who are almost insane full of anxieties worries and so forth so that they can be considered psychiatric cases in modern psychoanalytic terminologies. The phrase ‘palapala kaamattar’ also carries the implication of people with uncontrollable sexual and other kinds of desires, the people classified as belonging to the ecologies of KaikkiLai and PerunTiNai in Tolkaappiyam (= Tol., circa 3rd cent BC). Thus Appar shows quite clearly a psychoanalytic understanding of human behavior, which has been a component of behavioral analysis in Tamil philosophic tradition from days of Tol. at least.

Now it is here he notices the presentation of BEING as GaNapati who stands AS IF the anma [soul] itself and going along with it also PULLS the anma to an inner ecology where such excessive desires do not prevail. This is the meaning of the crucial phrase ‘kalamalakkiddu’ which is really ‘kalantu malakkiddu’ i.e. becomes the self itself and causes the withdrawal of the desires. The malakkidal, can also mean ‘pushing into the dark’ and hence something like Freudian ‘suppression and repression’. However, as the traditional commentators observe, malakkidal means here “making it weak, powerless” and so forth.

Such a function may be the meaning of puraNic and Icon themes where GaNapati is shown enjoying various kinds of pleasures—sexual aesthetic culinary and so forth. The powerful desires, especially the sexual, SHOULD NOT be repressed and suppressed and which then will get transferred into the Unconscious creating later insanity and so forth. They have to be ENJOYED and under guidance so that they get burnt off, transmuted, weakened and thus brought under control.

Now it is here the two lights of the Moon and Sun that BEING holds becomes significant. The Moon is KuNdalini under Bindu, the blind and powerful creative force and the Sun is the KuNdalini under the Natam. While the Moon creates desires of all kinds including the sexual, the Sun introduces the reflective dimensions and with that ego-control and moderations. The reflective appropriation of the genesis of one’s own sexual and other kinds of desires that can drive one crazy, brings about a moderation and control over them and hence sanity.

But Siva stays in Mount Kailash and which means in the deepest realms of the mind and hence the deep unconscious. But Appar notes that BEING as such also makes Himself available readily for all in the waters of the river Kedilam or for that matter in the pure waters of any river. Thus a ritualistic dip in such sacred rivers may have the functioning of cleansing not only the body but also the inner self thus making it Pure and Clean.

Appar exclaims that he is NOT assailed by phobias right now and is confident that he will not be also in the future because of his UNDERSTANDING of the metaphysical realities as such.

Here it should be noted that Ganesha, at least in one of His forms, comes down to the level of the human beings almost insane because assailed by excessive and uncontrollable desires the root one being the sexual. Here we must recall the words of MeykaNdar “veenduvaarkku veeNduruvait taan koduttu”, BEING like a magician gives or assumes shapes that are consistent with the desires of the human beings (and other creatures), BEING does not DISREGARD anyone as unworthy, including the individuals crazy with uncontrollable desires. He descends down to their level and going along with them also lifts them up towards inner ecological regions where such desires do not sprout.

Such a notion of BEING is NOT available in the Semitic faiths and also in Western metaphysics. Perhaps the roots of misunderstanding by the bulk of Western scholars is this Magical aspect of BEING. In seeing GaNesha enjoying various kinds of pleasures including the sexual we do have a picture of human person being helped by BEING who assumes a form suitable to help him out.

[Dr. K. Loganathan]

[V.V. Raman’s response to the Navyashâstra list, reposted by Loga to Akandabaratam list, with Sunthar’s response]

Subject: [NavyaShastra] Subtle ideas

From: V.V. Raman

To: NavyaShastra@yahoogroups.com

Sent: Saturday, November 01, 2003 8:57 PM [Abhinava msg #1213 order of thread reversed]

Sexual dimensions of spirituality

Thank you, Mr. Loganathan, for clarifying a very important element in the Hindu worldview. The recognition of the mystical dimension in the sexual act is one of the deep insights of Hindu visionaries. On ultimate analysis it is the one act that leads to Creation, the formation of a physical body in which consciousness emerges. The role of sex in the persistence of embodied consciousness is of enormous significance. This is at the root of tantric tenets.

As per the Hindu framework, while we are at the purely physical level, blinded by the associated physical pleasure, sexual union expresses itself as lust. At a higher spiritual level, it is associated with love. And at the mystical level, it is based on an awareness of its cosmic significance.

Conditioned as we have been by Victorian sexual morality which deals with the topic in hush-hush modes, and regards the act as a matter for shame, we are shocked when it is brought into the open, and outraged when it is mentioned in the context of worship and deities.

None of this is to say that distorted, unsympathetic, misunderstood, and offensive interpretations of PurANic and mystical representations by insensitive scholars (Western or Eastern) should be condoned or tolerated. Dr. Loganathan has rightly pointed out: “The SACRED in every act of sexual union is beyond the reach of such scholars and because of which they become something revolting, carnal and promiscuous. The fault is NOT in such events and their depiction in temple iconography and so forth but rather in the BLINDNESS of such scholars who cannot see the DIVINE presence in such events.”

I would add that it is no less a deficiency, if not a fault, on the part of Westernized Hindus that we still regard sexual mysticism in our tradition as matters of embarrassment or impositions by Western scholars.

I would like to repeat that by this clarification I in no way applaud or approve of the work on Ganesha that has been cited. I have not read the book, but from reviews and quotes it strikes me as a most inappropriate, not to say dangerous, publication that could further serve the cause of misrepresentations of our tradition which is already understood/misunderstood only at the most simplistic and most unsophisticated level in many parts of the world. It is all the more painful since I know of Westerners who treat Ganesha statuettes with fondness and affection, and even as a symbol for success in an undertaking. A book like this does much disservice for intercultural respect and appreciation which we sorely need in our divided world.

On the other hand, Studies on an Asian God: Ganesh, edited by Robert L. Brown, and published in 1991 is a scholarly and legitimate work.

V. V. Raman

November 1, 2003

 


Dear Dr V.V. Raman

Thank you and I am so glad a great scholar like yourself appreciates such essays. There are so many such insights in the Tevaram Divviya Prabantam and other Tamil literature that need to be brought out to the attention of the world of scholars. Tantrism has been misunderstood (even by traditional Hindu âcâryas [religious scholars]) and its real shape can be brought out, I think, by looking at it psychoanalytically. It is NOT an accident that TirukkuRaL contains a whole book on Kaamattuppaal.

I join your endeavors to bring out the Tamil Gems to the world at large which seems to be very unfortunately unaware of much of it.

Loga


Subject:  Good Taste, Bad Taste, Hindu Taste - why are art historians more deserving of GaNeza’s (sweet) favor (modakas)?

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam [Abhinava msg #1213]
Date:  Sun Nov 2, 2003  11:04 am

 

Dear Loga (and Dr. V.V. Raman - Loga, please forward),

 

It’s worth noting that Studies on an Asian God: Ganesh, praised below for its scholarliness, was edited by an art historian rather than by an ‘Indologist’ proper. Similarly some of the most sympathetic, and least obfuscating, accounts of various aspects of South Asian religions have come from the hands of art historians: Mary Slusser (Newar civilization), Stella Kramrisch (The Presence of Shiva), Alice Getty (GaNeza). They also convey insights that are often missing in the corresponding works of philologists (or even ‘anthropologists’...), because the primarily oral, and hence ‘visual’, orientations of these cultures encourages the expression through the plastic arts of esoteric ideas that are not explicitly elaborated anywhere, not even in tantric texts reserved for initiates: such is the case for GaNeza and the VidûSaka (a living icon!). The art historian is seduced first of all by the ‘exotic’ beauty of the objects in his/her collection, and then starts cataloguing the thematic and stylistic conventions, a ‘taxonomic’ exercise that obliges and facilitates deeper enquiry into the underlying meaning: why did the Indians invest so much of their creativity, and over so many centuries, into producing such ‘grotesque’ figures as the ‘lord of the (disfigured) hosts’ (gaNa-pati)? And what was the secret behind their success in transforming him into not only a lovable but also ‘beautiful’ icon, obliging us, even without thinking, to reshape our ingrained aesthetic norms. The initial ‘love-affair’ with the concrete form inhibits them from over-adventurous and invariably reductive (Freudian, Durkheimian, Lévi-Straussian, etc.) speculation on the cultural significance of GaNeza. Such modesty is coupled with valuable new insights into the spread of Bhairava worship in South India in the work of Karine Ledrech (need to complete my translation from the French):

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

 

This seductive appeal of GaNeza, precisely because he is paradoxically both so ‘inhuman’ and ‘human’, can be seen in the most cosmopolitan quarter of Amsterdam. In summer 2001, we were surprised to see huge wooden and other representations, authentic enough to warrant worship from any passing Hindu, above the doors of souvenir shops and even in a large and busy café: not in a niche on the wall but dominating the entire space from above. Though GaNeza is thus making significant inroads into this famous ‘red-light’ area of the ‘libertarian’ capital of Europe, I doubt that any of his Dutch advocates have read Paul Courtright’s book or are aware of his secret Tantric allegiances: so it is unlikely that they are seeking a ‘flaccid’ protection from the even more voracious ‘women of easy virtue’ stalking the area (when they are not themselves standing motionless like statues in their glass cages...), nor deluding themselves that the outstretched trunk of (Carl’s and Sathia’s) Vîra GaNapati will enable them to sample a larger variety from this international buffet without having to fill the coffers of the Viagra multinationals with their hard-earned guilders. After all, there is also a beautiful new Chinese temple in the vicinity (the refuge for Taoist tantric refugees from Beijing?). The point here is that the Divine in India immediately seduces the senses and the heart, even before the muddling intellect can intervene!

Rare are the scholars, like Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (Curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), who combine such deep aesthetic sensibility with both scientific precision (he was geologist by training) and extensive erudition. The problem is that this massive ‘scholarly’ apparatus (he cited freely from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Greek paganism, ‘primitive’ religions, etc., and in the original languages...) makes his insights inaccessible if not too intimidating (unlike GaNeza’s dainty, choosy and non-threatening trunk....) for lay (not just) Indians eager to fathom the depths of their own artistic and metaphysical traditions (that are so intimately intertwined). You don’t need to be a scholar to appreciate (Indian) music, poetry, theater, sculpture, ritual, mythology and, of course, GaNeza’s laddus (rounded sweets easily available in Little India)!

This is why our first volume on Abhinavagupta and the Synthesis of Indian culture, gradually appearing online at svAbhinava, is devoted first of all to (the metaphysical underpinnings of Indian and comparative) aesthetics. I would think that Lord GaNeza, the remover of obstacles, whom pious Indians worship not only for success in their undertakings (Rddhi and Siddhi) but also for greater intelligence (Buddhi), will be offended, like the modaka-loving VidûSaka, if our collaborative enterprise did not begin with a determination of “Good Taste, Bad Taste, Hindu Taste.”

Enjoy!

 

Sunthar

 

P.S. So, leaving aside the question of right and wrong, true and false, is the online petition against (Courtright’s) GaNeza in ‘good taste’?

 


Subject:  Re: Good Taste, Bad Taste, Hindu Taste - why are art historians more deserving of GaNeza’s (sweet) favor (modakas)?

From:  Dr. K. Loganathan [Abhinava msg #1214]
Date:  Sun Nov 2, 2003  8:19 pm

 

Dear Sunthar

First of all let me say that I am not in favor of such petitions. The worst offenders to Agamic or Tantric Hinduism has been Hindu âcâryas than, I think, Western scholars. While admittedly quite a number are misguided because of their hidden and not so obvious Christian theologies, there are many who have studied Hinduism in a way that is really fascinating. You have mentioned some and I should add to that list Heinrich Zimmer, Jung and a host of others. We can also add Prof Antonio who is with us. Though we may not agree with all his insights, he is very sincere with good intentions and has brought out new methodologies for unraveling the meaning of Rig Veda verses. He is willing to enter into a dialogue even with me with the intention of joint learning! Will a Vedic Brahmin do that? The first thing he would do is to say that I am NOT qualified because a Sudra and such nonsense.

I think we should take up such misunderstanding on the part of some Western scholars as challenges to our own understanding of Hinduism. I notice that even Saiva Atheenams [monasteries] in Tamil Nadu are NOT living the genuine Saivism and they appear to be more Advaitins than Siddhantins. Caste sentiments, premature canniyasam [renunciation], etc. have crept into their way of life and which is NOT at all as portrayed by the Nayanmars. Saiva Siddhanta has been presented as the Philosophy of the Velaalars [agricultural caste] (even in Sri Lanka!)

With this, let me react to the following words of yours:

Why did the Indians invest so much of their creativity, and over so many centuries, into producing such ‘grotesque’ figures as the ‘lord of the (disfigured) hosts’ (gaNa-pati)? And what was the secret behind their success in transforming him into not only a lovable but also ‘beautiful’ icon, obliging us, even without thinking, to reshape our ingrained aesthetic norms. The initial ‘love-affair’ with the concrete form inhibits them from over-adventurous and invariably reductive (Freudian, Durkheimian, Lévi-Straussian, etc.) speculation on the cultural significance of GaNeza. Such modesty is coupled with valuable new insights into the spread of Bhairava worship in South India in the work of Karine Ledrech

Yes, aesthetics has been the INITIAL language of the Divine forces and captivated by that the human mind is lifted up into the heavenly mode of being but sometimes unfortunately remains mesmerized by it. The aesthetical is only the initial and when the anma [self] succeeds in tearing itself away from it and enters deeper realms even in aesthetics, it will witness another kind of beauty qualitatively different from the earlier. So the learning even in aesthetics continues, incorporates ethics into it, and finally transcends all in terms of Pure Love and understands BEING as LOVE (anbee Sivam) and with Siva Nadarajah as the Image of it all.

Now let me ask you: If Hindu people live such a life and Hindu Acaryas promote such a way of life, will there be any caste discriminations? Elements of varNasrama dharma as part of Hindu culture? The point is, as I told even the Atheenams in Tamil Nadu in a major conference where they were also present that Saivism is DEAD, no Saiva Atheenams seem to promote a life such as that led by the Nayanmars.

I feel that I am learning something new, the hidden dimensions of Hinduism when I pour over Zimmer, Jung and even our mitra [friend] Antonio.

Having said this let me also say something about the way sexuality is handled in Agamism, also a theme that is suppressed now (because of the dominance of Vedanta, Christianity, Islam?)

As Dr V.V. Raman has also expressed, the various activities of the sexual kind and in all living creatures (the Siddhas will extend it even to the physical matter) have at the deepest recesses the union of Siva Sakti. This is the SACRED dimensions of sexuality that Appar sees in the sexual activities of elephants, birds, cows and bulls. His vision pierces through the surface level features and sees the deepest and the most universal and where he locates one kind of Dance of Siva and Sakti.

So there is the question of the quality of the subjective self of the individuals. While people like Appar would see the dance of Siva-Sakti and moved emotionally would burst into lyrics of the most profound kind, the ordinary individuals in their metaphysical BLINDNESS cannot see such depths and hence remain captured by the flesh and can see nothing divine in such activities at all. What can be a solution to such a BLINDNESS except a course in spiritual pedagogy which will open their eyes?

Now there is another dimension to this issue as well and which comes quite effectively in Appar’s GaNesha.

BEING does not remain, the Most High, the Above All, the TaRparan, the One, etc., and a Power that can self-destroy, self-regenerate, etc. But He is also a Magician, who takes countless number of avatars and with which he PURIFIES the anmas so that they all can enjoy the Civattuvam, the inner purity that would prepare them for enjoying Civanjaanam, the Absolute Understanding.

So BEING comes down to the level of the human beings, and noticing in SOME (mentally sick?) excessive desires that leads to phobia and so forth, assumes the shape of Ganesha and enacts a PLAY whereby while such human beings are allowed to enjoy various kinds of pleasures including the sexual, they are gradually and perhaps unknown to themselves lifted up from the realms of darkness into that of light. There is a SHIFT in existential ecology so that they are freed from the immensely dangerous hold of the killer energy, the ANavam, etc.

With this let me pose a question to you: How many Hindu Acaryas and Scholars TALK like this of sexuality? I have not come across any (may be I am limited in my scholarship).

When the Hindu Acariyas and scholars are INCAPABLE of UNDERSTANDING sexuality which is such a powerful force, how can they explain EXISTENCE, its meaning and so forth?

Loga


Subject:  Re: Good Taste, Bad Taste, Hindu Taste - why are art historians more deserving of GaNeza’s (sweet) favor (modakas)?

From:  Raja Mylvaganam  [Abhinava msg #1218 – response to Loga (above) on Sunthar’s message to VV Raman]
Date:  Mon Nov 3, 2003  4:13 am

Dear Dr. Loga:

I agree with you that many people (including many Hindus) have considerable difficulty talking about human sexuality. That is because human sexuality does present issues. We have desires that if left untrammeled will thwart social life including family life and are not in themselves indications of mental illness. The point for many Hindus is that even when we do engage the subject of human sexuality we tend to too quickly move to some other ostensibly ‘higher’ plane. Therefore in order to accept our sexuality we have to buy into an entire cosmology that is not readily comprehensible. This may not always be possible. I am a humanist Hindu who does not understand the mysteries of existence but does not conclude that there are supernatural entities. Yet, the particular creation myth of Ganesha from the Siva Purana speaks to me. It is the one where Parvati creates Ganesha from some dirt on her body and sets him to watch out for intruders. In the event Siva shows up and is denied access to his ’Wife’ by Ganesha who does not recognize his ‘Father’. At this point Siva re-engineers Ganesha’s anatomical structure. The Mother sees her Husband and her Son quarrelling over her and breaks out in laughter. The Son sees an opportunity to laugh himself out of a bad situation and order is restored but the lesson is not forgotten. This type of interpretation is permitted in psychoanalytic work and I think the particular story is as good an illustration of the communication of the incest taboo as any that I have heard. The aesthetics involved in the depiction of Ganesha’s rearranged anatomy has not (hopefully) obliterated the ethic transmitted in the myth. I would your thoughts on this understanding of the story.

Incidentally, I like very much Zimmer’s work, Philosophies of India edited by Joseph Campbell.

Rajan


Subject:  Re: Good Taste, Bad Taste, Hindu Taste - why are art historians more deserving of GaNeza’s (sweet) favor (modakas)?

From:  Dr. K.Loganathan
Date:  Mon Nov 3, 2003  9:34 pm [Abhinava msg #1222 - response to Rajan’s post above]

Dear Thurairaja,

Let me give my interpretations here where I do not see incest taboo but that of “attachment” and the meaning of the Puranic theme as that of weaning both a mother and child from this kind abnormality.

1. First we must note that episode seeks to show the HUMAN situation especially that of a wife who becomes a mother and through ‘attachment’ to her son, forgets her role as a wife to her husband. Instead of presenting this as an episode in the prototypical talaivan-talaivi (the hero-heroine) as in CaGkam literature, it is cast in the form Siva-Umâ dialectics to show the Divine Interference, how BEING interferes in the context of abnormal behavior to restore normality in the Husband-Wife relationship which becomes submerged in the Mother-Son attachment behavior. We also note that Umâ creating a son out of ‘dirt’ carries the message that species regeneration belongs to anma [soul] that are dirty, i.e. still polluted with Malam and hence impure.

2. The normal form relationship between husband and wife is one where they move towards realizing the Icon of Ardhanârî, the man-woman complex in which both are EQUAL. At the deeper level this is the situation where both Natam and Bindu are not only equally present but saturate each other so that Bindu-hunger of man and Natam-hunger of Woman are saturated and no more.  In my books in Tamil, (TiruneRit TeLivu, Azivil UNmai etc) I have explained these in some detail. The female body and psyche is Bindu dominated with Natam present in the depths and because of which in the psyche there is Natam-hunger to maintain the balance. This Natam-hunger is expressed as the female sexual desire—to have sexual union with man, the Natam-dominant and with that attain some kind of Bindu-Natam balance. The same goes for man—being Natam dominated with Bindu in the depths he becomes Bindu-hungry and seeks a Female and sexual union with her to attain the Bindu-Natam balance of the Ardhanari form. In man the sexual desire is an expression Bindu-hunger.

So you can see the genesis of the sexual impulses in man and woman are different even though both are directed towards enjoying a Bindu-Natam balance, become the Ardhanari. When a man or a woman becomes ardhanârî in and out, they are NO MORE sexual and there will be no more sexual desires at all. What comes to prevail then is PURE LOVE and man-woman union purely on the basis of such a love as in shown in icons where Siva embraces Sakti and where both wear beautiful smiles. This love is already present between loving couples providing a kind of fulfillment and which the end, if cultivated properly, becomes wholly LOVE without any hint of sexual desires. This is Tolkaappiyar’s Kaamanaj caanRa kadikooL kaalai...

3. Now it happens that there are women who attach themselves with their SON substituting the Husband and with that enjoy an inauthentic Bindu-Natam balance. This attachment may result because of the FEAR of sexual union for some reason or other and hence disallowing the husband access to the inner chambers, etc.  The pre-elephant faced GaNapati is a VICTIM of this DISPLACEMENT of LOVE unto husband that comes along with sexuality and hence something that needs to be CORRECTED for restoring normalcy. The attachment behavior is NOT incest for there is NO suggestion of sexuality at all.  This is just a mental aberration born out of FEAR of sex.

4. This is what Siva CURES by replacing the human head of such a victim with elephant head. But why the elephant head?

The elephant head is a natural object that comes closest to resembling the shape of Ongkaram [AUM-kâra = the syllable OM] and for which reason Ganapati is the Muulaathara Muurtti [the divine image situated at the sacral plexus], the Icon that regulates the Siddhies and Buddhies. When the normal head is replaced with the elephant head, what happens is the transmutation of the personality of the son into one who would be dominated in the head i.e. in thinking about METAPHYSICAL matters and as prompted by Ongkaram, the Primordial Logos.

 This means that when the son becomes Metaphysical, he becomes autonomous and frees himself from being a victim of his mother’s substitution behavior, an irrational clinging onto him instead of her husband and which is the proper thing to do.  The Om, even in the crude form of an elephant head, provides the metaphysical illuminations that would destroy the abnormal attachment and make him function as an individual on his own right and push ahead in his metaphysical sojourn and enjoy more and more real freedom. This also restores the Mother and puts her back with the authentic relationship between a man and woman and which remains essentially sexual till the ardhanârî icon form is attained and the anma is transmuted to that shape.

Loga

[Part I / Part II / Part III]