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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 Sanatana 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, Sanatana 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.