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Valentine Day


Valentine’s day is upon us again and predictably, Indian media will go into an overdrive trying to deconstruct the idea, ideal, culture and history behind the day dedicated to “love”.  Indian commentators mainly fall into two camps.  One side insists that the day is either a western intrusion on our eastern culture and the other side argues that it is something we should embrace enthusiastically on our path to modernization. 

Both sides actually miss the point of the day.  It’s a day to celebrate LOVE.
Love is not an eastern or western concept.  It’s a natural human emotion.  It’s innate in all of us.

NOOOOOOOOOOO  - I hear the conservative brigade scream.  This is not a saffron phenomena.  The Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslims of India are just as conservative as saffron-wearing-Hindus.  Infact, the Hindu conservative attitudes comes from India having been ruled by prudish Muslims and sexually-repressed Christians for about 800 years.

 Judging by our pre-Islamic art, sculpture, poetry and literature we were a fairly liberal, sexually open society.  If we could exhibit sexual activity of humans and animals in our spiritual space, I am sure we were fairly happy to talk about it in secular space too.  Invasion, dominance by culturally repressed foreigners, and iconoclasm on monumental scale forced us to be as prudish as them if not more.  We started to cover our women in veils, encourage child marriage and condoned sati to keep our women from being abducted by the Muslim marauders.  One of the saddest byproduct of living under cultures that repressed love was loss of LOVE between prospective couples.

Over the centuries, we have come to think of LOVE as a foreign concept in marriage.  People even insist that in a traditional Indian marriage (Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslims), love is the last thing that comes in a couple’s life.  Marriage is meant to be more of a relationship between two families rather than two people.  Marriage cements alliance for political, financial, social or business needs.  Bride and groom are simply pawns in this wider game of power and influence.  This has become so engrained in our minds, that people consider these peripheral matters as essential and love as non-essential matter in marriage. 

It is sad that even our films and TV serials reinforce this on a regular basis.  Even in the 21st century, we are bombarded with daily soaps replaying the old stereotypes of loveless, often sexless marriages.  Every channel, every serial reinforces these stereo types.  Every bride is expected to sacrifice her hopes and dreams for a marriage that benefits her family.  Every groom is expected to do his duty and marry who his parents have found for him.  Even in star-studded Bollywood movies made with budgets to dwarf national budgets, love that flourishes in technicolour detail of exaggerated dances and songs dies at the altar of marriage.  Heroes and heroines who sacrifice their love for duty are eulogized and those who follow their heart are considered to be renegade reprobates who have abandoned their culture. 

Has anyone actually bothered to investigate and find out what our culture is ?  Has anyone looked into our history or mythology to see if duty triumphs love or love triumphs duty ?  Has anyone tried to find where love fits into the jigsaw puzzle of our diverse culture that spans eons of years, thousands of miles and billions of people ?

Bharat pioneered the tradition of “swayamvar” where the woman – WOMAN – gets to choose her spouse.  Men had to jostle for women’s attention and wait for the female to choose her male.  Sometimes the women decided to marry men with specific qualities of strength or intelligence and set up competitions to decide who was best suited to marry them.  At the end of the day, it was “her choice”.  This was decided as our cultural norm when women across the rest of the world were treated like chattel.  India created a culture that was brave and liberal enough to allow women the choice of her mate.   

This is the culture where we worship Gauri who died for her love of Shiv.  This is the land of Savitri who defied death and poverty to be with the man she loved.  In this country, Arjun and Subhadra defied their family to be with each other.  This is where land of Kama and Rati.  Ancient India has given the world one of its most detailed sex manual, Kamasutra.  How did this become the land of prudish people who deny the existence of love – in or out of marriage ?

Those who vilify and denigrate Valentine’s day forget that it follows hot on the heels of Vasant Panchami – originally celebrated as the birthday of Kamadeva – god of love.  In our neo-Victorian world of sexually repressive society, we have abandoned worship or even mention of Kama as a deva.  How sad that most people do not even associate Vasant Panchami with Kamadeva. 

We presume all matters related to “Kama” to be smutty, dirty, unacceptable for discussion in decent company.  We have abandoned Kamadeva and hence abandoned kama in our relationships.  In our blind following of sexually-repressed cultures, we have in turn become sexually repressed.  We have internalized this so much, we have forgotten our rich cultural heritage of LOVE.

Current trend of sending cards, chocolates and expensive gifts on Valentine’s day is no different to how we used to celebrate Vasant Panchami with gifts, festive food, colourful flowers, fancy clothes and picnics in the countryside.  We don’t have to subscribe to “commercialization” of Valentine’s day or Vasant Panchami.  But we should celebrate our love for our beloved on this day, and everyday. 



© Bhagwat Shahah   
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