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Savithri Shaming huh??!

September 28, 2016

Recently I came across this new coinage (or lord knows how long this phrase is doing the rounds) : SAVITHRI SHAMING (and I have not come across a bigger bullshit than this I must confess).

The term referred to women who took to the bottle.

Although I did not go into details, I managed to skim what it was about. The rambling went on like how ‘rural women draped in saris were champions of chastity and character whereas urban Indian women were not averse to gulping down a peg or two of liquor.’ Urban Indian women were lacking morals and were shameless (why limit to alcohol, we women are not into the wrong side of 40s without watching our share of hard porn, take it from me).

I am not an experienced or routine traveler so there is not much I can draw from my life book in this respect.

But very recently my visit to Italy changed in many ways how I have perceived things all my life.

Even otherwise, conservative but not blind or superstitious – that is what I am. Liberal where we can be. Restrained – not because of religion or law but because of sheer will-power and willingness. Nothing can be forced upon me and neither will anything be taboo to me.

Whatever little taboo got lost when during my first foreign residence in Malaysia I had for neighbours two chinese couples in the next villa. Who slept in the same room and who swapped partners overnight. Nothing more can shock me and the strange encounters and life experiences have made me different in many ways from most of my regular ‘dharam patni’ relatives and friends back home. Some of my views shock even my best friends. They have not been where I have been, they have not lived my life.

I have a way of going astray from chosen subject, so let me stick to the topic.

Hindu temples have been criticized for their more explicit stone carvings on sex. Sanathana Dharma (Hinduism) is not an organized religion like Christianity or Islam or even Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. We have no founders, no holy book like the Bible or Koran, no Vatican or Mecca, no Pope or Imam who have set boundaries for us. No prescribed code of conduct. May be this is why Hinduism has survived centuries of onslaught by alien cultures and invaders. I also had a chance to glance at the ancient Roman temples which had all been converted into catholic churches in Italy. There is no more trace of the original faith of the land. The surviving few crumbling precincts are the only reminders to what Romans were before catholicity took over.

Similar is the case of most Asian and European nations. They were all swept by either Islam or Christianity, whichever reached them first or whichever fought successfully over the other. Hinduism on the other hand was not to be vanquished out of the soil of Bharatha. We are Bharath and hopefully we shall stay Bharatha to eternity.

Hinduism’s chief characteristic is its ability to grow in the face of adversity, drawing in the positive influences in due course. However there have also been a few negative implications. Whereas you can be an atheist, you can still be Hindu, an idolator, you can still be a Hindu, a non-idolator, you can still be a Hindu, a meat-eater and you can still be a hindu, a vegetarian and you can still be a hindu, a ritualist and you can still be a Hindu,  and etc., and etc., Hinduism has still had a damaging impact by way of crippling practices borrowed or copied from practitioners of foreign faiths that confine women, subjugate women to a lower position than men and other corrupt ideas.

The 1000-2000 year Hindu temple sculptures reflect to us today what a liberal society India once was. After all this is the land of ‘Kama Sutra.’ Homosexuality finds mention in ‘Mahabharat.’ ‘Soma bana’ was the drink of celebration that even Gods could not resist. Shiva smoked chillum. But that did not prevent Him from being the Creator and Destroyer that He is of the universe.

Books like Da Vinci Code etc and those fictions I had read over decades did instill in me a strong sense of curiosity about what I was to witness in Vatican and Florence and Paris (although after a considerable lapse of time). I had indeed done a mild research (not deep enough) before embarking on the trip. Yet nothing prepared me for the sense of awakening, rekindling and liberation and euphoria I felt walking through the galleries where centuries of indescribable creativity adorned their walls by way of oil paintings and tapestries and frescos that brought to life the uncountable facets of life in the middle-ages as well as the rebel and cunning ways the wisest men devised to leave a piece of their mind for future generations to ponder about. It was for me, like walking through a time-machine. I literally transgressed into medieval age where men wore long robes (or none) and women strolled bare breasted and where in the chaos of the streets and war scapes, an arrow or sword piercing one’s chest was not as uncommon. Thank you Renaissance artists for the greatest gift. You gave life to my vivid imaginations. While I have found our Hindu temple sculptures enchanting, they were still mystical sort of. What I saw in the european museums was life frothing it its full stream.

Michelangelo. I really loved this great man for the rebel he was, for more than the genius he was. At the last moment we took upon a guide which proved the best for the tour. By this time in Vatican I had had a great visual treat of genitals of the french, the roman, the greek and others (from other galleries and museums) but nothing prepared me for what awaited me in the catholic capital of the world.

The Sistine chapel was not to be photographed but many did. As I am married to ‘Rules Ramanujam’ (my husband who is a stickler for rules, laws etc strictly that even after 11 pm when signals are not working in Chennai roads he will not drive in the wrong side or do a non-designated u-turn 🙂 ) I did not click pictures which I thought I could anyway google.

Here are some of Michelangelo’s mischiefs in the wall-to-wall frescos that I loved.  To borrow words from a critic, the Renaissance artists were the greatest trolls of all times. This at a time when an astronomer like Galileo could be guillotined for stating that it was the Earth that revolved around the sun and not vice versa.

 

I wish I had had more time to look at these things in detail. First I was overcome by awe. My admiration for the man was galloping in leaps and bounds by the minute that it hit soon the ceiling of the hundreds of years old chapel wherefrom the artist’s immortal life works touched upon my eyes and soul at the same time. His damnation at hell of a priest (Biagio Da Cesena) who wanted to cover up the genitals (by way of boxers (?!)) (that the papal office successfully managed to in certain works of renaissance artists as we noticed in some cases) who was Michelangelo’s worst critic, with his crotch in the jaws of a snake was not nearly as shocking as looking at God’s bums after the rebel painted Him in six-packs because he reasoned, for a man to be perfect when he knocked on the doors of the other world, God has to be perfect first to receive him !

May be for seasoned travelers and voracious readers, this is stale news. Not for me. These details I never knew although I have read about renaissance artists. My knowledge of others’ scriptures (in this case the Bible) is also poor.

The rebel in the renaissance artists in an age when death stared from every corner of the street eager for any slight, their courage over creativity – this is what impressed me the most.

Even in the holiest of holy shrine of Catholics, the excesses (?) were tolerated as a form of expression and art. In fact they were viewed as something aesthetic, the same way hindu kings imagined when they commissioned our temples.

We all know of the crusades and to what extent church unleashed brutality and exercised unrestrained powers matching that of emperors in the centuries gone by.

But such a powerful tyranny hardly prevented the creative geniuses from expressing what they wanted to by way of sculptures, paintings, frescos and tapestries which have all survived the tumults and jolts of a war-torn era to present times to bring to  life in front of our eyes, proofs of rebellion and non-conformity and liberation of  mankind.

How many Hindus can deny what Hindu temple sculptures depict. Are you ashamed to look at them because our Gods are copulating in public.

What happened to the spirit of Hinduism?

In the intervening centuries, invaders had managed to wrap the sari pallu around the head of Hindu women. South Indian Hindu women cover their heads with dupatta or sari pallu only if they are widowed (and now no more). (Actually some do when driving scooters when the dupatta serves as sun-screen 🙂 ).

If I am a vegetarian today, it is by choice. I recommend vegetarianism to anyone and everyone but would not want to force it down the throat of any one. My son for the record, confessed he tasted alligator meat which he said was like chicken, nothing fancy (to his sheer disappointment)! I am spiritual, I follow the rituals that I am comfortable with, but I have still raised a son who, I can proudly say, claims to be agnostic. Logical, reasoning, scientific. Being rational is not a crime.

Covering up will not cover up your ‘karma’ and smoking or boozing or even prostituting has got nothing to do with one’s character or integrity. Smoking or Boozing or Eating Meat or Prostituting is still better than lying, cheating, betraying, judging people. Even lacking affection is a crime. Shirking responsibilities is the worst of all. Shifting blame no better. Dashing hopes? Get offended for right reasons. Know the difference. Learn the difference.

Once I was reading this Karma story. It went on like this:

A king was donating food. A poor brahmin was in line to receive his thali from the king. At that time a vulture was flying over the place with a viper in its talons. A drop of the viper’s venom fell in the food from a height of over a hundred meters. It was just a miniscule dose but enough to kill the brahmin who was relishing it in total trust in the cool shade of a tree.

A few days later, a traveler was visiting the kingdom. He noticed an old woman selling her wares in front of the king’s palace. The traveler was tired and asked the old woman whether he would receive charity of food if he knocked on the raja’s doors.

The woman said, ‘don’t. because the king gave food to a poor brahmin. on eating it the man died. the king poisoned and killed the brahman. so he could kill you.’

The traveler turned away from the palace gates on hearing the story, hungry to his bones.

Later, in (Hindu) hell (we also have heaven and hell, mind you!), Yama Raja was seated on his thrown when Chitra Gupta brought up the matter of deciding the Karma of this incidence.

‘Who should get the bad karma, my lord?’ Chitra Gupta asked Yama. ‘Because a man, that too a brahman has been killed. This man did not meet his natural death. So his bad karma needs to be accounted. The snake’s venom killed it. But the snake was carried by the vulture. But if not for the king’s food, the brahmin would not have died. So should I apportion Karma to all 3 parties?’

Yama Raj took a minute to ponder over his question. Then he addressed Chitra Gupta, ‘the king, the viper and the vulture are all parties to the bad karma that killed the brahmin but reckon, they are all innocent parties, aren’t they? was there deliberate poisoning?’

‘But bad karma is bad karma, my lord, and the karma has to be accounted, as you know’ said Chitra Gupta, ‘this is the law of nature!’

And Yama Raj declared, ‘in that case add the bad karma to the old woman who gossiped not knowing facts, for lying,  for misconstruing and for misleading. her role may not matter but in this case she must carry at least half the bad karma of the unnatural death!’

Chitra Gupta hailed Yama Raj’s ruling. The ruler of Death never made a mistake. Last Judgement may be for catholics but dear self-made Hindu vigilantes, this is what Hindu Philosophy is about. I am not sure where I read this story. Panchatantra?

Hinduism is the least judgmental fold in the entire world. There is no yardstick by which you can define the Sanathana Dharma.

Guys, keep your dharam patnis within 4 walls if you want to. But remember we have also had a Panchali in our history. Cross out your new lingo ‘Savithri Shaming.’ Shame is upon you. As Indian women make remarkable strides in the world arena, the prejudices against them ceaselessly persist. I am the woman who sports a bindhi and I am still the woman who has no qualms about raising a toast with my friend with – vodka or cognac. I am the woman who is Lalitha worshiper, I am the woman who celebrates ‘Her’ over ‘Him’ and I am also the woman who will brook no nonsense over branding or judging women. Cheers to that !

It is those societies who rise above a petty and narrow mind-set that finally succeed and excel.

America does, Europe does, China does because they are not advocating the diktats of a God who none of us have ever met with in heavens and come back from, to share our experiences.

If you are going to confine Hinduism to cows and sari pallus, none can do more harm to the fold than you. Practise, don’t preach. Enough of moral policing. If India is such a holy land, why do we have so many rapes? Can fathers and brothers be trusted any more? What went wrong? Where?

Whether a woman drinks or smokes or socializes is HER prerogative and privilege. That does not define what substance she is made of. I don’t have to prove to anyone my faith or character. My faith is a matter between my maker and me. My character has nothing to do with my personal whims. I did come across a sex toy shop in Amsterdam but did not buy a vibrator (!) On reflection, I wish I had !! My culture is something I am proud of but I am not blind to what trappings it binds me with. There are times when I find it clipping my wings and there are moments when I want to flee.

So stop making judgments and stop character assassinating. Or meet the fate of the old woman at the hands of Yama Raj one day in your life!

A liberal mind is not a sick or perverse mind. A judgmental mind is.

Love you Michelangelo with all my heart ! World can do with rebels like you ! Love you for all your sins and excesses and sheer courage ! But I can shake hands with you only after the Day of Judgement !!!

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. jan permalink

    Such an interesting read! I have also had my awe-moments at museums and how wonderfully artists from decades/centuries ago have represented many progressive notions that are still not being accepted. It is very unfortunate how people are judged and shamed. As for Savithri Shaming – I have never heard the term before, but don’t we know rural patties who suruttu pudichify (smoke cigars) or women who drink fermented beverages like kallu (palm wine).

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