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Akhil Misra
Valentine’s Day – No Need To Be So Prudish

Whether it is to chose your partner or to determine your sexuality- Hinduism has always provided you room to voice your concerns and to accommodate them duly.

त्वमसि मम भूषणं त्वमसि मम जीवनं

त्वमसि भवजलधिरत्नम्।

भवतु भवतीह मयि सततमनोरोधिनि

तत्र मम हृदयमतिरत्नम्॥

“You are my ornament, my breath, my world, my jewel in the endless sea of life: that you at last will yield to me I make perpetually the motive of this heart”

The above verse has been taken from 12th century poet Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam, where Krishna is trying to pacify a sulking Radha. This beautiful work in Sanskrit poetry eulogizes the bond between lord Krishna and Radha who share intense feeling of love and longing for each other. It is to Jayadeva’s credit that the legend of Radha-Krishna had such a lasting impact on Hindu mythology and its art and culture. While I do not have the expertise to delve deep into the contents of such magisterial work in love and poetry, my intention is to set things in perspective for subsequent discussion.

It is to everyone’s knowledge that some groups, claiming custodianship of Hindu culture, have threatened to marry off couples found celebrating Valentine’s day in parks, movie halls and restaurants. Couples going around – smiling and holding hands -for them is blind following of the western world and remnant of the colonial legacy. Their idea of Hinduism is one where love is not expressed and marriage is the only license for couples to hold hands in public. Nothing can be farther from truth. Hinduism has never been narrow in its outlook and was far more open when compared to other cultures in the world. Celebration of love and ‘Kama’ has been an integral and an important part of mythologies until it was subdued due to the advent of Islam – which brought the ‘Purdah’ system in the widely open Hindu society. The fear of exposing their women to the invader forced the then Hindus to veil their women. The society that was ever vibrant with ‘Raaslila’ was shut behind the doors. The people who authored the most distinguished book on the art of love making – The Kamasutra – decided that the topic would be relegated to be only worthy of mention behind closed doors.

During this phase, when the Hindu society was facing an onslaught from the invaders, it never truly succumbed to the pressure. Though the women were shielded behind Purdah, the struggle against this bigotry was taken up by symbols. There was no Kamadev worship anymore, but the Shiv linga and the Yoni stood tall to counter any attempt to subjugate the open spirit of Hindu thought process. Kamaykhya devi was always the part of the list of deities who were worshiped as manifestations of female power – Shakti. The “Ardhnarishwar” was a divine symbol of union of male and female powers into one. The milder form of acceptance of love was visible in worship of Radha-Krishna and in the popularity of the tale of Dushyant and Shakuntala. Polyandrous Draupadi and mother to sons from different fathers – Kunti, became part of “Panchkanyas”, the five ideal women and chaste wives.

This is just a glimpse of the width of the Hindu horizon which knows no bound. The description of the temple arts, the Devdasis, erotic verses etc have entire books devoted to them and provide a good read if one wishes to understand the Hindu point of view on these topics. There can be numerous other incidents and examples which can be quoted to support the cultural acceptance of love but the idea is not to create bibliography but to make a point .

As the threat from the mentioned groups is to marry off the couples, it would not be justified to ignore the institution of marriage when rebutting their claims. Deserving special mention in the current discussion is the ancient Hindu marriage tradition of ‘Gandharva vivah’. It is one of the eight classical types of Hindu marriage- which is based on mutual attraction between a man and a woman, with no rituals, witnesses and family participation. Number of Hindu law books or Smirits accept Gandhava Vivah without raising any question of morality, while some others go on the extent of praising it to be the best form of union. This for me is an approval to the recent phenomenon of “Live-in” relationships. One may agree or disagree with these texts and interpretations but he cannot take away the right of others to follow them. Morals in Hindu society, were never defined on the basis of rituals or ceremonies. Freedom accorded to men and women in our culture is unparalleled. Whether it is to chose your partner or to determine your sexuality- Hinduism has always provided you room to voice your concerns and to accommodate them duly.

Everyone who claims to subscribe to the view of the groups who have raised the threat, is free to do so – Hinduism itself provides them the freedom to choose, but they cannot force their opinion on anyone not willing to tow their line. Each and every member of our society has an absolute right to go out with anyone they choose. Neither I nor anyone else should dictate morality to the youth of this country. I personally feel that there is no specific reason why one should celebrate a day for display of love, and see it as a skillfully crafted marketing gimmick by certain firms. Though this does not give me any authority to lecture others on the same. Everyone is free to voice their concerns in a non violent manner – I choose to do so. Let people decide how they want to live and you will embody the true idea of Hinduism.