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Gujarat Painting Row and Hinduism

For more than two decades there is a highly active Hindu morality brigade in India. Although they represent a miniscule Hindu population, they are able to get their voices around the world through violence. The latest being the Gujarat Institute of Fine Arts painting row and the arrest of Chandra Mohan, an art student. M F Hussain has been the target of the morality brigade for quite for a while now.

The morality policing is not confined to Hinduism in India. Islam and Christianity have from time to time come out with protests against artists and entertainment forms. The protests against Da Vinci Code and Discovery channel’s Jesus Tomb are the latest from Christian community. From Islam it was the famous Danish cartoon episode.

The so called defenders of Hinduism often forget that we live in a democratic country. Each and every person living in India has a right to protest when his/her religious sentiments are hurt. But it should be done through methods that are agreeable to a civilized nation. Quite often this is not the case and protesters turn villains in the whole episode.

An average Hindu rarely bothers about such paintings and they only come to know about it when there is an issue. Most of the times a Hindu forms an opinion without seeing the actual painting. In fact, majority of the people that participate in demonstrations and arguments might have never seen the controversial painting. They just stand up and defend their religion.

Freedom of expression is one of the great facets of Santana Dharma (Hinduism). And this is one reason why there are numerous symbols in Hindu religion. Brahman or the Supreme Being cannot be defined and so innumerable are the ways in which it can be represented. Thus we have Ganesha, the Shivling, Hanuman, Varaha, Narasimha and the other countless symbolic representations found across the Hindu world. The idols that Hindus worship today are the product of the imagination of artists of the bygone era. The rich symbolism in Hinduism is the result of the imaginative power and creativity these artists.

Today, there are several artists in India who lack creativity and originality. But they are able to survive through their ‘outer appearance.’ There is another class of artists who make fame and money through controversy. When you lack creativity, the best way to get fame and recognition is by tampering with the established symbols. Yet another way is stealing another person’s creativity. Sadly, we get to hear more about these types of pseudo artists. The talented artists never find space in the front page of newspapers and never appear at prime time in national news channels.

From the very beginning, Santana Dharma believed in democracy and it has always taught to respect the freedom of expression. But modern day defenders of Hinduism are not aware these aspects of Hinduism. They quite often play into the hands of pseudo artists.

If the religious sentiments of a particular community is hurt, they have a right to protest in India. But that must not be by stopping the freedom of expression or freedom movement of an artist.

If a person believes that a painting can damage Sanatana Dharma, then he/she has not understood Sanatana Dharma and is still groping in darkness.


  1. I feel quite releived to come across your article. All my childhood I was addicted to religious movies, people and writings from Hinduism. I was so attracted to the vastness and variety I witnessed. But my veiw was never of a strict regime - for good or bad. I was even more excited to come across ways of Hindu beleifs which were slightly different when travelling into South East Asia - giving me a clue that Hinduism may not be just one intepretation or practise. For me having a discourse with one of my very 'conservative' friends is so illuminating and brings a chill in my spine. I speak with him about everything under the sun and I am not really 'conservative'. However, the few people who like to appropriate Hinduism are hijacking this relationship between me and the essence of this universe. They want people like me to stop exploring and evolving and reaching the profundity that lies in Hinduism. Its true I am no authority on the religion, and maybe 'i' am re-discovering myself, but I am sure I have the right to find my own way in? its an individual journey and when I want it could be a journey alongwith others too?

    Why is more and more Hindus becoming defensive? Why are we so intense on justifing our being by comparing with other religions and cultures? Sure, there are issues to be dealt with and we should. But that cannot be allowed to change the nature of this rich way of life?

    I am scared these few people who think they own Hinduism will hijack and scare the minds that want to rejoice in the understanding of this Dharm.

    And the fact is that any free mind, will explore sexuality and religion at least once in his or her lifetime. It of course is becoming of us not to hurt others. But at times someone may have a strong urge to express - as a result of innocence, naivety or even maybe something insightful. It is something that anyone who is wiser has to handle with care, like handling one's own student? Its about a degree of offense and intent. We as a culture should be able to handle such matters with a gentler and much more supporting hand.


  2. Yes...well said...there is nothing wrong in expressing feelings but that should be done in a civilized manner... and when true knowledge dawns we will learn to adjust, accept and forgive....

  3. Imagine today a new temple is built. On this temple are placed statues showing explicit sexual positions. Can you imagine the uproar this would cause?
    Yet we know of a temple that has exactly this!
    With this in mind I guess we should just resign to the fact that sex and freedom to express it is a right that was expressed and understood by our ancestors and therefore we should not protest or feel ashamed or have any cause for concern.

    So in todays world does that make it right for the likes of MF Hussain to attempt similar activities with portraits of our gods?

    Well firstly we must remember that the religious understanding and sentiments of the Hindus differ widely in their interpretations. We know that back in the old days the same was true.
    Im also sure that religious protest and objections would have been made over those temple constructions. But power speaks louder then words in those days and besides it was only those that bothered to travel out of their towns would have seen or even heard about these temples.

    Its not the same today. Today a post on the internet in a remote village in India would easily spread across the world in a matter of seconds. We can no longer apply that simplistic view of “if a few people kept quite about it then no one would know about it.” The truth is everyone does know or will come to know. So what is the next best option?

    Since opinions on matters of all things do differ, then to ignore one sentiment today is rather foolish and ignorant. To say some Hindus are hijacking ones rights of expression is also naïve in my opinion. Im not sure if ‘Freedom of expression is one of the great facets of Santana Dharma’.

    Being offended by one thing or another is a growing problem and its not going to go away by being secular or tolerant or we are Hindus we can withstand any offence you throw at us attitude.
    Hindus do have feelings and we do hurt.
    In the old days the problem was contained within parameters of a few miles. The hurt or offense was ignored. Even if someone was offended a 1000 miles away in the old days, it would have little impact or make little difference to the society at large.

    You have the right to express your opinion but not at the expense of hurting the sentiments of others. This fact cannot be ignored with today’s technology. Today I can longer see paintings of Hindu Gods on toilet seats or ladies underwear. Obviously a balance needs to be addressed as to how much and what is offensive. It’s a very difficult task and yes I agree sometimes people are offended by the most petty of things.

    I guess the argument is not about whats offensive but how we go about protesting about those offenses.

    Also lets consider Mr Hussains stance on his painitings.
    No doubt MF Hussain should have his artistic freedoms, but when groups of people specifically say to him, this is insulting to our religion, I think he should have taken this into consideration. Especially since he has previously withdrawn work insulting to people of his own religion!!


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