Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sex and Hinduism

Nithin Sridhar

"Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hairs, the sacrificial grass; her skin, the soma-press. The two labia*(lips) of the vulva are the fire in the middle." [Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad, 6.4.3]
"This man (ama) am I; that woman (sâ), thou!
That woman, thou; this man am I!
I am the Sâman; thou, the Rig!
I am the heaven; thou, the earth!
Come, let us two together clasp!
Together let us semen mix,
A male, a son for to procure!"
[Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad, 6.4.20]1

Whenever the issue of Love, Nudity, Sex and Hinduism comes into picture, we usually get any one of the following reactions-

1] The Westerners in general and Western scholars doing South Asian studies [for example RISA2] in particular, and their Indian counterparts who consider Hinduism to be mix of voodoo and pornography.

2] The Hindu orthodox which thinks sex is a taboo.

Now I will examine, how valid is both of these perspective.

Hindu Purusharthas:

Purusharthas means objectives of a human being. They are the canonical four ends or aims of human life. They serve as pointers in the life. The four Purusharthas from lowest to highest-

? Kama - pleasure or desire3
? Artha - wealth
? Dharma - righteousness or morality
? Moksha - liberation from the cycle of reincarnation

According to Kama Sutra, "IN the beginning, the Lord of Beings created men and women, and in the form of commandments in one hundred thousand chapters laid down rules for regulating their existence with regard to Dharma, Artha, and Kama." 4 Further it says- "MAN, the period of whose life is one hundred years, should practise Dharma, Artha and Kama at different times and in such a manner that they may harmonize together and not clash in any way. He should acquire learning in his childhood, in his youth and middle age he should attend to Artha and Kama, and in his old age he should perform Dharma, and thus seek to gain Moksha, i.e. release from further transmigration.."5

So, according to Hindu scheme of thing, even though Enlightment is the ultimate goal of life, it encourages people to enjoy everything and fulfill all material desires. Moksha is a long process. It can be achieved only when all material desires are quenched. And hence, Hindu religion prescribes 2 methods, the path of renounciates, the path of householder. There is one more less popular but more maligned path of within "Tantras" which accept everything material, everything condemned as taboo and hence aims to rise above the animalistic desires.

Sex as Yajna:

Yajna or sacrifice is derived from root word "Yaj". It means Worship or offering an oblation.
Max Muller defines Yajna is an act by which we surrender something for the sake of gods"6.
Sex is worship. It is an act by which the couples surrender their ego, in order to gain pleasure, progeny, eventually even enlightment.

"Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hairs, the sacrificial grass; her skin, the soma-press. The two labia of the vulva are the fire in the middle. Verily, indeed, as great as is the world of him who sacrifices with the Vâjapeya ("Strength-libation") sacrifice, so great is the world of him who practises sexual intercourse"7 (Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad)

These verses clearly shows that, sex was treated as a form of worship, an act to not only fulfill one"s desires and gain pleasures, but also as an act of sacredness.

Sex as Meditation:

In Vigyana Bhairava Tantra8, during a conversation between Shiva and Shakti,

Devi Asks:

O Shiva, what is your reality?
What is this wonder-filled universe?
What consttutes seed?
Who centers the universal wheel?
What is this life beyond form pervading forms?
How may we enter it fully,
above space and time,
names and descriptions?
Let my doubts be cleared!

So, Shiva explains her 112 methods of meditation to attain enlightment. He says-

At the start of sexual union
Keep attentive on the fire in the beginning,
And so continuing,
Avoid the embers in the end.
When in such embrace your senses are shaken as leaves,
Enter this shaking.
Even remembering union,
Without the embrace.

These verses clearly indicate how sexual act can be utilized for achieving enlightment. Enlightment is a state, when all egos vanish. As in a sexual act, the couple leaves behind their ego and unites with each other and achieves sexual ecstasy. This very thing can be utilized to achieve spiritual ecstasy.


It is the study of "Sixty Four9" arts like- Singing, Playing on musical instruments, Dancing, Union of dancing, singing, and playing instrumental music, Writing and drawing, Tattooing, etc. "Kamasutra" or the "art of lovemaking" only a part of this Shastra.

Is Hinduism pornography and Tantra a sex manual?

The straight answer is a simple No. It is Victorian mentality which condemns any depiction of sex. Hinduism recognizes the role of sexual desires in human lives. The sexual depictions in some of the temples were mean to not only educate the people, but also to help those who were involved in sexual sadhanas for enlightment. There is a difference between Nudity and expression of beauty and pornography. What appears in Hindu puranas and Itihasas are the expressions of genuine beauty and not pornography.

"Tantra" is a much maligned word. "Tantra" actually refers to vast body of literatures called "Agamas" which are practical manuals for meditation. There are many Shaiva, Shaktha, Pancharatra Agamas. Using sex for meditation is prescribed in only few of the so many different paths described in Agamas. So, it is very wrong in equating Tantra with Sex.

Some Social Issues:

Sex Education: Sex education had always been present in Hindu history. Vatsayana says, both men and women should learn Kamashastra10.

Pre-Marital Sex and Love Marriages: In Hindu society sex was always considered to be individual choices. There are many instances in our history and scriptures depicting pre-marital sex and love marriages. So, crying out against them as being anti-Hindu is not quite proper. Manusmrithi recognizes 8 kinds of marriages of which "Gandharva Marriage11" is one of them. It is the voluntary union of a maiden and her lover, which arises from desire and sexual intercourse for its purpose.

The same can be said about extra marital affairs. As they are personal affairs, we should let individuals to decide about it. Hindu society has always given this much freedom to its people.


In Hindu society sex is neither a taboo nor pornography. Sex is sacred. Sex is recognized as human desire which should be satisfied and which can be used to attain the ultimate goal of enlightment.

References & Notes:

1 Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad forms part of the Satapatha-brâhmana. The verses are taken from chapter titled "Incantations and ceremonies for procreation"

2 Religions In South Asia (RISA), a department under the American Academy of Religion (AAR), has been sponsoring studies for years now to deride Hinduism. Our gods and goddesses like Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, Laxmi and Kali, our rituals like Upanayana our saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and scriptures, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Gita all have come under such distasteful sexual connotation and nauseating voyeurism that one begins to wonder if it can at all be called academics.

3 Kama in general means material desires and pleasures- Physical, Emotional, Sexual, Psychological.
According to Kama Sutra of Vatsayana- "Kama is the enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, assisted by the mind together with the soul. The ingredient in this is a peculiar contact between the organ of sense and its object, and the consciousness of pleasure which arises from that contact is called Kama."

4 Chapter 1, Preface, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton.

5 Chapter 2, Observations on the Three Worldly Attainments of Virtue, Wealth, and Love, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton.

6 Max Muller, Sacred Books of East series.

7 Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad

8 Vigyana Bhairava Tantra.

9,10 Chapter III. On the Study of the Sixty-Four Arts, The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana, Translated by Sir Richard Burton.



Anonymous said...

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Somasekhar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Somasekhar said...

The controversy about Wendy Doniger's book on Hinduism reminds me of a small story in Mahabharatha Epic. One day Both Prince Dharmaraja and Duryodhana were sent on a mission to gain the experience of out side world by their Master Dronacharya. After they returned Dronaacharya would ask them about their experiences. To which prince Dharmaraja replied that the out side world was so good and prince Duryodhana replied that the out side world was very bad. So it is not what we see that matters. It is what is inside us that manifests itself through our ideas. People might wear green goggles and declare that the world is green. Little wisdom is needed to imagine how would they see it if they wear goggles tarnished with Sex.