Cultural patrons

Recently we heard about opposition to a talk about Tamil woman’s chastity by an actress in Tamilnadu.  As I don’t know what they talked exactly, I cannot comment on them.  My intension is neither to support them nor to oppose them but bring out the common fact that in recent time, in the name of protecting and promoting (Tamil) culture certain groups, mostly affiliated with political parties (with political interest) suddenly become the guardian of all (Tamil) interest, values, culture and language.  But those who really are interested to understand appreciate and preserve (Tamil or any) culture will have a balanced view of accepting certain practices which are not agreeable now but existed in the past. And when such practices are pointed out as part of a culture, they should not be opposed as traitors of that culture.

For example, ‘going along with her chosen lover (known as ‘udanpohal’ in Tamil) before marriage and having sex’1 was known as ‘kalavu neri’ was part of Tamil life in the past.  One can read many songs portraying such scene in Tamil literature (see ‘Natrinai’ and ‘Kurunthohai’). And after that they get married and lead a family life was known as ‘karpu neri’.  But in modern time such things won’t be accept as part of norm in most of the Indian societies.  But this doesn’t mean such practice didn’t exist in the past (or at present).  Similarly when ‘kissing’ scene is introduced in Films, it was debated very heatedly whereas the fact is that even before Independence that scene was there in film but after Independence due to ‘Puritanism’ in Indian worldview it was banned.2

But such Puritanism was more a reaction against western cultures and also to portray as if in our culture such practices were not allowed.  In fact the way woman body is described in Indian literature that too in religious literature is very graphic.  Each part of their body is described that too not as an art but bluntly in the context of ‘sex’.  When I first read such poems in religious literature, I was surprised whether I am reading religious scripture or erotic literature.  Even modern Tamil literature won’t dare to describe woman’s private part this much openly. But to my surprise except describing the (broad) shoulders or some time (strong) arms, man’s body was not at all described in such a (graphic) way.  One reason could be that most of such scriptures were written mostly by men.

Well the point that I want to bring is that what is considered and celebrated as a ‘norm’ in one time may not be acceptable in another time.  For example widows remarriage, leviratical marriage were part of our culture.  Begetting a son through a surrogate father was a common practice in ancient India.3 And explaining them as if belong to the bye gone age is also part of objecting to them at present.4 But this doesn’t mean that those who quote or share about such things should not be victimized by the ‘Moral Patrons’ of modern time whose interest is more political and populist than presenting and preserving facts as it is.

Dayanand Bharati, February 10, 2010

1. In recent time many deny that in ‘kalavu neri’ they had sex and try to interpret in a different way.  But there are many songs both in Natrinai and Kurundohai clearly describing they the eloped couple had sex.

2. …In the 1930s, Himanshu Raj and Devika Rani could exchange a kiss in films like Light of Asia and Karma without much ado.  Most of the films of the silent era and the early talkies were quite uninhibited about showing a couple kiss.  But middle-class prudery grew over the years.  The result is that while the kiss has been substituted by the absurd depiction of two flowers bent towards each other….— Pavan K Varma, , Great Indian Middle Class, Pavan K Varma, New Delhi, Viking, 1998,bid. p.161]

3. Knowing the preceptor’s wife at the preceptor’s behest, does not stain the pupil. The sage Uddalaka caused his son Shwetaketu to be begotten by a disciple. [Vyasa to Yudhisthira] — M.N. Dutt, Mahabharata, Delhi, Parimala Publications, 1988, Vol. 6, Shanti parva, Ch. XXXIII, p. 48]

4. Fire sacrifice, killing cows, renunciation, offering meat at a sraddha and procuring a son through the (deceased) husband’s brother; these five should be avoided in the kali age. — Patric Olivelle, Yatidharma Prakasha, A Treatise on World Renunciation, Critically edited with Introduction, Annotated translation and Appendices, Part two Translation.  Publications of THE DE NOBILI RESEARCH LIBRARY,Vienna, 1977, p.204

…one of the several ways in which the conflict between several smrti texts was got over was to hold some of them as legislating for a bygone age [yugantra]….— P.V.Kane, History of Dharmasastra, vol. III. Ch. XXXIV. Kalivarjya.p. 885.