Nudity In The Indian Context

Posted on July 31, 2010 in Society

By Divya Gupta:

Imagine a typical Indian family consisting of grand parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, parents and children all sitting in the living room and suddenly a semi-nude model is shown on the television. All hell breaks loose and all of a sudden there is a hush-hush scenario and the channel is changed within seconds. What is it that caused so much turmoil in the calm family? The fact that someone with barely any clothes was shown! This is just one instance of the reactions in our country when it comes to nudity.

What exactly is nudity? It is the state of having no clothes on and it may not necessarily be in a sexual context. The progress and development of human civilization goes in line with our changing attitudes towards nudity. Anthropologists logically presume that humans originally lived naked, without clothing, as their natural state. The biblical images of ADAM and EVE are mostly shown nude. India’s tryst with nudity dates back to the time of Jainism founded in about 500 B.C.

Mahavira, founder of the Jains, insisted on complete nudity for the monks as part of their vow to give up all worldly goods. The Sakas, a Hindu sect of India, have transmitted their traditions of nudity to modem India through the thousands of explicit sculptures that remain on the walls of the city of Khajuraho. Built about 1000 A.D., this temple at Khajuraho communicates its values to the modern visitor with a directness that leaves nothing to the imagination. “Tens of thousands of human and animal figures dance happily over and around the facade of these buildings… Kings and commoners are depicted in joyous sexual union, completely naked except for beads, bangles, and decoration… The beauty of the body was exalted, paraded even. And, since sexual function is part of the body — that too was exalted.”

A Khajuraho Sculpture Depicting Sexual Union

Other Indian temples, such as the revered shrines at Konarak and Ellora, also display highly realistic erotic sculptures. These representations were obviously not regarded as obscene by the people who lived at the time they were created. Their directness of statement and their placement at central public locations shows that they were an essential part of the living experience of the community, part of the fabric of their social, educational, and religious life. Lord Shiva is also said to be scantily dressed in a loin cloth despite his penance in the Kailasa Mountains. In India, nudity was associated with honesty and purity.

What was it that as we progressed — nudity started to be seen as something obscene and vulgar? What was once pious and pure turned despicable. During British control of India, practice of nudism was greatly curtailed. Inexcusably, as civilization was encroached upon us, the concept of nudity was severely damaged or destroyed by the invading virus of a technologically superior society. Enticed by trinkets and modern conveniences, the native populations almost invariably succumbed to the customs, clothing, diseases, and problems of our intrusive culture. Clothing started to be seen as a symbol of civilization and nudity became synonymous to barbarism. What is wrong with nudity? Why are people embarrassed about their bodies? How and why did they get the way they are? These questions raised strike at the heart of human physical and social evolution.

In our country if an actor is to appear nude for a film sequence there are all sorts of morcha’s and protests against it. Contemporary India is one which believes in sophistication and nudity is way beyond this mark. It is considered crude and shameful nowadays. During the daytime, when children are watching, nudity isn’t permissible. Children are protected from the “damaging” effects of viewing a natural, normal, and harmless human body, but body violence is condoned as entertainment for our children and us. Such confused value systems help fill the psychiatric couch! Our value systems and traditions for which our country is apparently known prohibit the harmless naked body to be shown publicly. This coming from the land of Kama Sutra almost seems hypocritical. It is evident that the body freedom depicted in the public art of ancient temples is not incorporated into the westernized lifestyle of contemporary India.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.