In the past, Hinduism used to take a refreshingly open attitude towards sex. One has only to see the carvings on old Hindu temples with people engaged in all manner of sexual acts to quickly recognize this. But that was then, this is now. Hindus have become just like people of other major religions in viewing sex as something sinful and to be discouraged except in highly restrictive settings.
The latest example of this is the pressure that Hindu groups exerted on Penguin books to destroy all the copies in India of the book The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, an American scholar of that religion.
Why? Peggy Payne gives one reason.
While the offended Hindu group has many objections to Doniger’s book, one of the main ones, according to Time magazine, is “the juxtaposition of sex and Hinduism.” The leader of the organization that successfully campaigned for destroying the book says that Doniger’s particular portrayal of sex and Hinduism insults the gods and goddesses and the whole of the book “hurt(s) the feelings” of Hindus.
In contrast, The Times of India says the book “appears to make the case that sex was treated by Hinduism as a natural, beautiful part of life.” Hinduism is a religion that — once upon a time — produced a substantial amount of erotic art (and didn’t pronounce it heresy); the sculptures at Khajuraho, for example, and the famed Kama Sutra, the ancient Sanskrit guide to living a loving, pleasurable, and virtuous life.
The Judeo-Christian religions have never been so open-minded on the subject.
But buried in the article is another reason that I think added impetus to the anger over the book.
Dina Nath Batra, the activist who filed the lawsuit in 2010, said in an interview that the book insulted Hinduism by discussing the sexual desires of figures in Hindu mythology and by describing the Mahabharata, one of the epic stories that make up the Hindu canon, as a fictional work.
Religious people hate being told that the canonical books that undergird their faith are mostly fiction.
And in another example of the Streisand Effect, Doniger’s 800-page scholarly book has risen to #26 in Amazon’s rankings as a result of the controversy.