A religion that celebrates the love of Sri Krishna and Radha cannot be considered prudish. Kali, the great goddess, does not appear demurely dressed. The statues of Durga lovingly made out of clay by potters and worshipped by Bengalis during Durga Puja sometimes resemble beautiful Indian film actresses.Beauty and sensuousness have always been celebrated in Hindu religion and ancient Hindu civilisation and culture had a place for erotic art.
But just because one can appreciate Botticelli’s and Titian’s nudes doesn’t mean one likes pornography. The Indian painter MF Hussain may be an acclaimed master but he does seem to have a very sick imagination.
How else can one explain paintings such as these:
- Hanuman opposite Sita sitting on the thigh of a naked Ravana
- bull copulating with Parvati
- Durga in sexual union with a tiger
- nude Laxmi on the head of Ganesh?
Laxmi is the sister of Ganesh, for God’s sake, and where does it say the demon Ravana after abducting Sita managed to have fun and games with her? Sita, the wife of Rama, is regarded as the ideal of womanhood. And what kind of a man imagines Hindu goddesses having sex with animals? Certainly not someone who has any respect for Hindus. The choice of animals is also telling. The bull is the mount of Parvati’s husband, Siva. Durga is traditionally mounted on a lion. Maybe she has also been depicted on a tiger though I can’t recall any such image.
This is sacrilege.
Hussain can’t claim he didn’t know his paintings would be highly offensive to Hindus. He is familiar with Hindu lore having used it for a long time in his paintings. He can’t even justify it as art for art’s sake, especially in a country like India which respects all religions and banned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses because it was offensive to Muslims.
The Telegraph reports complaints have been filed against him for outraging religious sentiments. But I don’t think he should be prosecuted. Obscenity trials do more harm than good. And we should have freedom of expression. The Satanic Verses shouldn’t have been banned. Not that I have read it. And those who have, have told me they didn’t like it. But banning it just turned it into a cause celebre, giving it more significance than it perhaps deserved. I am afraid prosecuting Hussain will have the same effect.
But if I think Hussain’s offensive depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses should be ignored, why am I writing this? Because someone should ask him this. If he really believes in freedom of expression and art for art’s sake, why does he paint such pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses only? Why doesn’t he turn his "creative energy" to his own religion? Going by his name, he must have been born a Muslim.
I can think of two possible answers:
(a) He finds "inspiration" in Hinduism
(b) He knows Islam has zero tolerance for obscenity. He remembers the fatwa against Rushdie for The Satanic Verses and has a healthy desire to save his own skin.
He knows, though complaints have been filed against him, the Indian authorities will handle the issue discreetly, especially with local elections about to be held in several states. The ruling Congress party has always been secular and partly depends on the Muslim vote. As the Telegraph report said: "Before it makes a decision, the big question for the government is if it should risk being clubbed with radical Hindu outfits by starting prosecution or simply put Hussain on a leash by serving him a warning or a notice."
So Hussain will probably get away with a slap on the wrist. That’s fine with me. We Hindus try to be tolerant. We can understand if the bearded artist chickened out of taking the same liberties with Islam. I have nothing against a man having a healthy regard for his own skin. I just wish his imagination were just as healthy.