On Recent Criticism Of Our Divine Art – And Attendant Legal Threats Surmounted

I must say – this is the first time (that I can recall) that one of our posts has apparently attracted the threat of legal action, police enforcement, and imprisonment. But rather … unexpected dimension is not why I’m posting this cap here with commentary.

Rather, I want to take a look at various of the theological dimensions to this commenter’s complaint.

The first of which being that while we do acknowledge that the Reign of the Gods, the Divine Law, extends everywhere [‘Samrajya’ in several senses of the term] … we are unsure precisely how far the reach of the Indian police and/or Indian Penal Code may be. And we shall return to that point later on. Once we’ve taken a more proper look at the iconographical elements under ‘debate’ herein.

So, where to begin? Well, one element that our interlocutor has put both here and in his other comment of complaint is his feeling that we are presenting Mahadev as being ‘Asuric’, being I suppose we may translate: ‘Demonic’ of visage.

He has asserted that this must be the case, and that our depiction is objectionable because of the rather prominent fangs – which he declares, and I quote: “Only Asuras have that.”

We would ask him whether all of those many Bhairava depictions which frequently feature fangs or tusks are therefore, in his view, also “Demonic” likewise and improper. Or, for that matter whether the descriptions in various Puranic sources for Veerabhadra as having prominently protruding fangs or tusks are similarly some sort of ‘demonization’.

[pictured is a fine 17th century South Indian Bronze depiction of Bhairava that my attention was directed to by a Brahminical associate who was … unimpressed by the complaint we had received. Note the ‘Fangs’]

We would also note the Agamic attestations and other such source materials wherein it is mandated that Rudra be depicted with rather prominently protruding teeth.

In the Kamika Agama, for example, we find direction for the (South-Facing) Aghora facing of Shiva to be rendered with ‘damstradantura karkasham’ [Kamika Agama Purva Pada IV 344].

To translate for those in the audience – it is indeed with quite a frightful appearance and very prominent, protruding, jagged even fangs or teeth or tusks. Right there. Scripturally mandated as how one is supposed to depict a most pertinent ‘Facing’ of Mahadev.

[captioning of above image from its source reads – “Rare sculpture of pre tantrik era where shiva was worshipped as Aghora and the temple faced South. Here the front image is Aghora with fangs, on the right side is parvati and on the left is Tatpurusa. It is from the ruins of original Mahakal temple of Ujjain which faces South.” ]

Now as applies the charge that, and I again quote: “Shiva is not one eyed blind, He is Tryambakeshwar (Three Eyed One).”

We agree. That is why, if one actually looks at the image, they will observe that Lord Shiva has been depicted here as having a Third Eye in the midst of His Tripundra. Admittedly, Facebook does not do so well for image resolutions when posting – but you can most definitely see on the full-sized image that the red circle therein has a pupil within it, even. It is an eye. One of Two that are Open in this image.

Meanwhile, the image does not declare that Shiva is blind in one eye. Rather, one of Shiva’s eyes is closed. It is most peculiar if it is being asserted that Shiva is not allowed to close one Eye if He should so feel like it. Perhaps, if the issue is any less than Three Eyes being open and visible, our interlocutor may wish to take it up with Parvati for covering Two of His Eyes at once in that well-known Pauranik tale. Or, perhaps, to approach things in a slightly more ‘figurative’ sense – given the Three Eyes of Lord Shiva are the Sun, the Moon, and Fire … he might ask himself if the Moon is always ‘open’ and visible, likewise. But we are digressing.

The invocation for Rudra as ‘One Eyed’ is quite directly there in the liturgical corpus … I did not suddenly make up those four Shaivite theonyms mentioned in the text I accompanied the post with, after all.

For starters, we have Ekanetra utilized in the context of the 8 Vidyeśvara Shiva facings / embodiments set out in Agamic materials, or the same theonymic for Rudra found similarly within the Tantrika sphere’s texts.

Or, for instance, the list given in the Agni Purana [90 3-4] for ritual utilization & placement –

niveśayed yathāsaṅkhyamaṣṭau vidyeśvarānatha
ekaṃ śikhaṇḍinaṃ rudraṃ śrīkaṇṭhantu dvitīyakaṃ
trimūrtamekarudrākṣamekanetraṃ śivottamaṃ
saptamaṃ sūkṣmanāmānamanantaṃ rudramaṣṭamaṃ

You will, of course, note the ‘Ekanetram’ (‘One Eyed’) in the third line there.

I believe that there is also a Shruti attestation – insofar as one of the Brahmin sages I correspond with mentioned exactly this viz. Ekaksha in the context of a specific Vaidika rite, and oddly enough in a thread in reaction to this very image presently under discussion.

But let us also delve into the Smriti canon.

We shall quote in Sanskrit so that there is no allegation we are making things up in translation:

वासुदेव उवाच ।
युधिष्ठिर महाबाहो महाभाग्यं महात्मनः ।
रुद्राय बहुरूपाय बहुनाम्ने निबोध मे ॥ १ ॥

vāsudeva uvāca |
yudhiṣṭhira mahābāho mahābhāgyaṃ mahātmanaḥ |
rudrāya bahurūpāya bahunāmne nibodha me || 1 ||

वदन्त्यग्निं महादेवं तथा स्थाणुं महेश्वरम् ।
एकाक्षं त्र्यम्बकं चैव विश्वरूपं शिवं तथा ॥ २ ॥

vadantyagniṃ mahādevaṃ tathā sthāṇuṃ maheśvaram |
ekākṣaṃ tryambakaṃ caiva viśvarūpaṃ śivaṃ tathā || 2 ||

“Vasudeva said, ‘O mighty-armed Yudhishthira, listen to me as I recite to thee the many names of Rudra as also the high blessedness of that high-souled one. The Rishis describe Mahadeva as Agni, and Sthanu, and Maheswara; as one-eyed, and three-eyed, of universal form, and Siva or highly auspicious.”
[Ganguli translation]

Now, as applies his charge that Gods are never depicted romantically linked or in posing suggestive of such (his exact phrasing was, and I quote: “this kind of intimation is what Gods are never depicted. Like they are some bf-gf stuffs. It looks and feels Tamasic in every sense.”, or “And what’s with this girlfriend pose of Maa Kali with a pajama?”) … this is prima facie wrong. I have some further thoughts on this that I shall detail elsewhere (having just bombarded a noble associate’s chat-window with a few of them, in earnest 😛 ) … but it occurs to me that there is something most peculiar indeed going on if he genuinely does not believe it proper and appropriate to depict the God and Goddess Who are acknowledged as the Divine Couple with a union so perfect that They are occasionally depicted literally ‘as one’ (viz. Ardhanarishvara) … as expressing affection via Devi having Her Arm about Mahadev’s shoulders in a half-embrace. Especially because there are quite an extensive array of sculptures and scriptural elements that would appear to flagrantly offend his sensibilities.

The Umāmaheśvaramūrti style of depiction, for instance, as detailed in T.A. Gopinath Rao’s ‘Elements of Hindu Iconography’, is declared in the Viṣṇudharmottara [a style-manual of Hindu devotional depiction of clear antiquity] to be characterized by …

“The image of Śiva and Umā should be seated on a seat, embracing each other. Śiva should have the jaṭāmakuṭa on his head with the crescent moon stuck in it; he should have two arms, in the right one of which there should be a nīlotpala flower and the left one should be placed in embrace on the left shoulder of Umā. Umādevī should have a handsome bust and hip; she should have her right hand thrown in embrace on the right shoulder of Śiva and should keep in her left hand a mirror. The figures of Śiva and Umā should be sculptured very beautifully.”

Now, of course, it can definitely be argued – indeed, not just ‘argued’, outright shown, that we have not followed those directions in all particulars. We find no Moon adorning Lord Shiva’s Brow, for instance; nor is Devi holding a mirror, etc..

But that is not my point in raising this here. Rather, it is to observe that here we have the Divine Couple depicted as a Couple … and with His Arm about Her, and Her Arm about Him. Indeed, not just ‘depicted’ nor ‘described’ – that is, again, an expressly ‘approved’, ‘mandated’ stylistic element.

Interestingly, in one prominent actually-existing-and-publicly-displayed exemplar of the style – the fine 13th century Orissan sculpture of black stone which stands near two meters tall and more than a meter wide … one of Lord Shiva’s (several) Hands can be very clearly shown to be placed directly upon the underside of Parvati’s breast, upholding same.

This is not an isolated occurrence, either – an exquisite north Indian (likely Rajasthani or of Uttar Pradesh) piece of about a thousand years’ antiquity, carved of pink sandstone and depicting (so it is said) the Marriage of Lord Shiva & Lady Parvati … goes even further. This time, one of Lord Shiva’s is directly upon one of Devi’s divine breasts; and it appears from the expertly poised position of the bodies that She is drawing Him in closer to Her.

Other examples can surely be found within that well-renowned realm of the Indian devotional chisel; and we can also identify quite the array of scriptural materials that should likewise, no doubt, meet with our interlocutors most scornful shadings of disapproval.

Now personally, I did not read the image that HC has produced as explicitly (much less ‘excessively’) ‘sexualized’. There is a female figure with Her Arm about the shoulder of a male figure, certainly. And yes – She is bare-chested. A feature common to quite an incredibly extensive array of historical Hindu deific depictions for some millennia now. Indeed, something also not uncommon for human Hindu women as well in various areas in the South right up until relatively recent times and the pervasive influence of European / Christian mores.

But as we can clearly see – it is absolutely not inappropriate to have the Loving Couple depicted with Their Arms about Each Other. And we take our complainant’s objection to “this girlfriend pose of Maa Kali” and the alleged iconographic featuring of “some bf-gf stuffs” as being something rather distinct from the ‘Sexualization’ angle (hence why he included that as its own apparently somewhat standalone head of claim). Even as applies the latter, were it held to be in evidence here – we have absolutely not gone as far as various scripture or sculpture, as we have (and can) amply demonstrated (and, if necessary, can likely do so further).

If he genuinely feels ‘tamasic’ energies in relation to all of this – we can only suggest to him that the source may be rather closer to him in these instances than lurking upon the other side of his screen.

All of which basically just leaves the trousers as his last remaining point of outcry.

And really – really – are we going to find ourselves with a court-case to answer for over the salient matter of two Gods wearing trousers?

In any case, in his other complaint-comment, elsewhere on a share of this post, our interlocutor stated the following:

“If you show this photo to a kattar Hindu offline, nothing but a sharp SLAP awaits.”

‘Kattar’, here, we would translate as ‘Zealous’.

Now, personally – I know nothing as to our interlocutor’s devotional practices or other such engagements … but I would perhaps suggest that in terms of religious ‘fervor’, if he genuinely seeks to find what a ‘zealous’ Hindu makes of this image, then he has just read it.

As I said to him in my initial reply:

“You are, however, more than welcome to come down and visit me in person to discuss with a pious Hindu your artistic sensibilities and preferences. Or any other such matter.”

But let us move forward to one final element of consideration.

Neither myself [C.A.R.], nor the artist (HC) reside in India or are Indian citizens (pertinent since we’re playing the ‘invoking legislation’ game – c.f IPC section 4), and we would be rather surprised if extradition proceedings were undertaken over a complaint of this nature. Especially because the actual substantive grounds set out are … incorrect. And not just in the fashions that we have detailed at some considerable length thereabove.

s295A of the Indian Penal Code sets out the following:

“Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.—

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class […]”

We are pretty sure that we do not have any such “deliberate and malicious intention” of outraging Hindus with our efforts. After all, while I cannot speak for HC – I am most definitely Hindu, and my purpose with these efforts of ours has ever been entirely the opposite to what is alleged.

So, if there were ‘offence’ or ‘outrage’ caused – it is not deliberate, and it is decidedly not malicious.

More to the point, of the hundreds of people who’ve seen and engaged with this image in the various places it’s been posted … we have had, so far, precisely two complaints. One from this person (well, several from this person, in two places), and one from a person following him in one of those threads.

[pictured, the other complaint from this interlocutor of ours]

We have also had quite a lot of the opposite. And it is perhaps interesting to note that of the Brahmins whom I correspond with (indeed, we actively consult with most of the images that we produce with Brahminical oversight precisely to ensure things are done with accuracy) … none of them had expressed such issues with this particular presentational rendering.

Not, of course, that I am intending to suggest that “only Brahmincal opinion counts” when it comes to defining things for the Hindusphere – but i) it would be rather hard to suggest we were ‘deliberately’ or ‘maliciously’ going out to offend Hindu sentiment if we are engaging with endogenous experts in our efforts … ii) people knowing the scriptural and other theological material not having these kinds of issues … would appear to suggest that it is not really a scriptural / theological issue that is being raised here.

In closing – it is necessary for us to note that the Hindusphere is an exceptionally broad and diverse place. This is one of its many (aptly enough) grand strengths. Ranging all the way across a vast SubContinent (and, once upon a time, prominently found also rather beyond same throughout not just South East Asia but Central Asia as well), you shall encounter quite a vibrancy of perspective, opinion, and taste. This is as it should be. And it is particularly the case when we consider that we are not only dealing with the sentiments of more than a billion people in the moment, the here and now of the present – but also extending all of this back through several millennia, as well.

Now I do not, personally, believe that this makes for ‘anything goes’. I do most definitely believe that it is possible to intentionally offend the Gods (and, for that matter, the Gods’ Devotees) in such a manner that mandates (meta)physical response. We recall the iconoclasm of Mahmud of Ghazni, for instance, as one very, very clear exemplar (and accompanying ‘contrapasso’ – ‘Yatana’ ( यातन ), we should say in Sanskrit ! ) for same.

However, we have observed some particular strains of ‘curious thinking’ about certain matters … both historical as well as contemporary … and we do feel that it is worrisome enough to bear mentioning (and, of course, trenchantly responding to) from time to time.

One example of this concerns Arya Samaj. We shall not relitigate the entire thing here, but suffice to say that this particular and rather ‘curious’ denomination sprang up in the very late 1800s … and whilst it HAS done some good work (a particular figure of theirs went down to Goa to try and ‘bring home’ the Catholic Indians there who had been converted (often rather unwillingly) by the Portuguese those centuries afore), has also promulgated some decidedly ‘peculiar’ interpretations of our hallowed scripture. For example, they point-blank insist that there is and was not animal sacrifice – particularly not horse sacrifice – and respond to the citation of the very very directly materials pertaining to this that are right there in the Vedas by declaring these to be ‘mistranslations’ and insisting (if memory serves) that the verses actually somehow refer to ‘good digestion’ for a man. Meanwhile similarly opposing the vast swathe of Hindu canon that postdates the RV which mentions this as being ‘heretical’, ‘mistaken’, or outright ‘British fabrications’, et al. It is a rather vexing situation. Especially when they then go on to attempt to insist that they are the ones practicing the ‘proper’ Vedic faith – with everybody else doing nigh on the opposite. Somehow. Occasionally they even get taken seriously.

A perhaps more pertinent exemplar concerns a conversation on twitter that I was conjured into some time ago by no lesser a personage than StJ [Survive the Jive].

He had posted a particular string of RigVedic Verses, and was getting quite some ‘pushback’ from some Indian Hindus in his replies. They felt he was defaming our religion by posting what he had. Because they also felt the translation was a fabrication, entirely inaccurate, and some sort of deliberate attempt to make us look morally iniquitous in some sense. And, you know – we so often do encounter non-Hindus posting out-of-context (or just flagrantly wrongfully rendered) verses with the precise intention of making us look reprehensible, that it is perhaps not an unreasonable suspicion to have on general principle. Not, of course, that I think for a moment that that was what StJ was doing – in fact, I know for a fact it was the exact opposite. He’d posted these verses precisely because they contained something he thought was spiritually healthy, vital, and worthy of embracement. But I digress.

I got, as I say, conjured into the conversation and asked to weigh in upon this matter of the gentleman and his posting. I did so, initially, by asking various of his detractors to take a read of the actual lines in Sanskrit and asking how they would instead prefer to have it translated.

Predictably, we did not get many bites on that front.

Yet what we did get was quite instructive.

Some responded with ‘their’ rendering – that, in fact, turned out to be word-for-word the Griffith translation produced in the 1890s.

The Griffith translation produced, I should add, in a climate of decidedly Victorian morality – and which by that translator’s own direct admission meant that he had ‘self-censored’ various portions.
In one prominent case, choosing only to present certain lines translated into Latin so as to keep them out of the head of the ordinary reader; yet in this particular case, only choosing to phrase things in rather bowdlerized fashion that meant that you would have little idea of what was really going on from his work.

This was the version – these were the meanings – that we were told by these respondents to be the ‘proper’ and ‘authentic’ and ‘true’ ones.

So, to phrase it another way – what had happened here was that some of these guys responding … these small, irascible quotient of Indian Hindus (understandably) concerned about ensuring that our religion is not besmirched and its heritage co-opted, vandalized, misrepresented, nor outright devalued by foreigners … had somehow wound up with the morality and moral standards of a Victorian Englishman (or, at least, what said Victorian Englishman thought was decency enough to be able to be printed for a morally upstanding high-society audience during that age) as being ‘the’ Truth.

Rather than, say, the actual words, intent, and sentiment of the Vedic Rsis of near four thousand years afore. Absolutely remarkable! Outstanding! And not in a good way!

We went through, word-by-word, showing how the translation which StJ had presented … was actually substantively correct. Quietly, if occasionally snarkily, various of our errant interlocutors slunk away.

And others, it must be said, we had good conversation with – once we had proven (or, at least, adequately demonstrated) our intent had not and would never be to defame nor disparage our Gods.

Although I have also quietly taken a bit of a lesson (at least, the reinforcement of a lesson) from that incident myself. Namely, that while some things may be true and accurate and apt – that does not necessarily mean they ought be talked about unguardedly amongst ‘outsiders’. Particularly where these truthful elements may so happen to be misapprehended, misrepresented, and twisted by those who would seek to do our faith ill.

Yet that dictum does not, herein, apply I think.

We have not depicted our Gods as ‘demonic’ – contrary to our interlocutor’s curious assertions. We have not – we believe – intentionally set out to depict our Gods with disrespect. Quite the contrary, in fact.

We are aware, of course, that certain voices and certain audiences may see something else other than that which we have intended and which we see in these renderings. But here I am thinking of the very specific sort of Very Online Christian we have occasionally encountered of late (long set of ridicularity on twitter in the past week and a half …) for whom any depiction of still-living, still-vital Gods of the Indo-Europeans automatically gets declared ‘Demonic’ – as to them, well, that is all which they can see. They find such things ‘confronting’ – because, of course, they are quite literally ‘confronted’ by that which they should dearly like to be able to pretend Not To Be.

I do not mean to group our interlocutor into such unfortunate company (even if he has previously made some rather odd claims in my seeming direction about being a ‘crypto-‘ something).

[context for these – he’d objected to some modern art depicting Kali wielding, inter alia, an assault rifle – his reasoning appeared to have been something about a Christian-Marxist conspiracy. Which included a rather … curious statement about the Pope being, literally, some kind of Marxist, if memory serves.]

But that is another travail for another time. And this response has already grown far more in the telling than I had initially intended.

I cannot speak for the artist, HC, but I can speak most resoundingly (and, it should seem, at great length) for myself.

I make no apology for my piety – it needs none.

I make no apology for putting out the call to artists to help us to furnish our work with visual depictions so as to help further glorify the Gods and encourage resonancy in our audience’s minds’ eye – this act requires none.

I make no apology for choosing to post what I do genuinely believe to be a positive and resonant rendering of Lord Shiva And His Wife upon Arya Akasha – it demands none.

But I do declare that I am very sorry indeed that somebody out there saw fit to threaten us (however bloviatingly) with efforts at imprisonment for so doing.

It is most unfortunate for him. That he could look out upon such a depiction – and fixate upon particular scripturally justified or even outright mandated elements of iconographic rendering, declaring that these were somehow ‘false’ or ‘malefic’ or even outright ‘demonic’ in purport.

Nevertheless – we shall save him from himself.

Or his wrongheaded sentiments shall be removed.

One way or the other.

ॐ नमः शिवाय

Har Har Mahadev !

2 thoughts on “On Recent Criticism Of Our Divine Art – And Attendant Legal Threats Surmounted

  1. Pingback: On Recent Criticism Of Our Divine Art – And Attendant Legal Threats Surmounted – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  2. If just quoting prophet mohhamad marriage with aisha can be termed as gustakh e rasool then why not your work , whole india wants gustakh e rasool to be killed , so why not gustskh e mahadev ?


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