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Nudity In The Indian Context

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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.

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  1. Bhupinder Partap

    Hi! Divya, its good to see that Indian women are coming up to express their minds fearlessly esp. over topics which are considered a taboo in our Indian society. I completely agree with you there is no harm in nudity provided its displayed in an aesthetic way ; its should not be used as a tool of spilling one’s raw lust because its not fit for our society considering present intellectual level of Indians.

    Its often said about Indian society that “It takes one step forward and two steps backward” or “Indians are modern by clothes and traditional by mind”.

    I think this mindset is the root cause of most of the social problems in India. Our hippocratic social values are such that it restricts a person from expressing himself in every natural form and forces him to act under the boundaries created by it. These norms and values don’t let cultivate that natural instinct of expression consequently it narrows the outlook of that person as he could not experience that aspects of things which he could have ;had he been allowed to express himself naturally.I think while developing his perspective about different things he misses that experience this curbs his thought process and intellectual development.

    Whenever I see some foreigner girl; alone ;independent;confident ;I often ask myself “why do women in my country not do it? why don’t they go out alone and experience different cultures and landscapes and I conclude that its the inherent outcome of our social system.It restricts the moves which challenge the old age established social norms.It restricts the natural freedom of a person esp.women.

    The immature and underdeveloped outlook developed owing to the restriction of natural desires plays an important role in every social decision, be it when comes to marriage, treatment to women ,caste system,love or so on.

    Most importantly it curtails a sense of rationality ;a sense to look over things from all aspects and its the lack of this sense that people support caste system,marriages of women against their wishes,dowry system,corruption and so on.

    And I strongly feel that unless this sense of rationality is not develop among Indians these social evils shall continue to wound our motherland.

    But the best part is that those who support this system in the name of culture don’t know the meaning of “culture” and if one cites examples like origin of “SHIVLINGA” in support of nudity ;they turn speechless.

  2. Debasish Gupta

    I live by the side of a large tank in a District Town in West Bengal. I have seen by my own eyes that sometimes, particularly during a Hindu Religious Custom, young girls take their bath top-less, and sometimes even full naked. I have seen the mother of the girl to command her daughter to be fully naked. I had even seen the mother or grand-mother to force young boys to be fully naked. Naked bath of young children is not uncommon within the house.

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