During a recent trip to the pilgrim town Rishikesh for a friend’s wedding two of my friends and me lost our way in the quaint town.
Left at the mercy of an auto driver, who mistook our hunger-driven desire for food as hunger for devotional satisfaction, we were dropped off, with small-town warmth, at the mouth of a narrow winding path.
Enthused by his energetic gesticulations directing us down the road, and unaware of his holy intentions, we sauntered along the path in search of … yes, what else, food, and chanced upon a beautiful vista of lush green mountains, a beautiful sculpture of Krishna and Arjuna and a wide river flowing serenely at its own sweet space.
Marring this beautiful sight, which took away the breath from even our growling-stomached selves, were a number of people who were praying to the Ganga. Hurling packets of flowers, dipping into the cool water to wash off their sins, these men and women — in various stages of undress — made for a slightly jarring sight.
Religion, I have found, is extremely polarising. Just about anything can be justified in the name of religion and anything can be condemned. Emotions can be played with. Holy-men can cheat naïve believers. Murders can be ‘explained’. Brutalities can be brushed aside. And…social taboos stop mattering.
The human body in its natural form, or nudity, which is frowned upon in our society and in social and cultural spaces, finds validation when one is praying. Hundreds of women and men — of different age, colour, caste, and… errr… shapes — could be dipping their pious semi-clothed bodies into the river at the same time.
At one level it appears egalitarian but at another the hypocrisy tarnishes this thought.
In the aftermath of the recent gang rape of a student in the Capital, many debates, on television and other forums, stood up for the freedom of women. Many talked about their right to dress as they like, go where they want. But many, and I mean many, went so far as to say that the way women dress (or do not dress, as they argue) provokes men. Many self-appointed guardians of morality ‘banned’ certain items of clothing for women.
Previous posts on the issue illustrate my strong opposition to such actions that impinge on women’s — or for that matter even men’s — freedom. But, I wonder why these moral brigades do not feel irked by “nudity” in such public spaces!
If a mini-skirt in a pub, which is frankly an acceptable dress in that particular place, is bothersome, then why is a see-through, wet petticoat acceptable in broad day light?
Or for that matter, why is a man in flimsy boxers (or sometimes langot), not reprimanded for causing public nuisance? (I think few would argue that the sight of fat hairy legs under, and hairy pot-bellies over these “intimates” are not disturbing!)
Nudity and sexuality make for hushed discussions in bedrooms. A sense of shame is often attached. But throw in religion — and all is fair.