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Women's Dress as Shown in Himalayan Academy Art

Gurudeva has agreed to share this lively open discussion of a sensitive topic which occured in Kadavul Hindu temple about a week ago. We begin with the question from Kavita Mardeemootoo, asking if Gurudeva could explain why the artwork of S. Rajam, which appears in Merging with Siva and often in Hinduism Today, portrays women "scantily clad" and in some cases partially clad. Gurudeva answers, and Acharya Palaniswami augments Gurudeva's answer with some details about S. Rajam's background. Don't miss it!

Unedited Transcript:

Kavita Mardemootoo: In 'Merging with Siva' and some of the other books, I noticed that a lot of the illustrations were perceiving women or depicting women half-dressed. There is a nursing mother which is beautiful but there is also a lot of showing of a lot of the body. Also, it was a drawing, so it was a body that is kind-of like in a magazine, a perfect, slim body. And then again, Gurudeva, you have seen this also, it seems like every drawing was always of a woman not very covered up. Because I know, you have worked on Asians. My mother once told me that. The way they used to draw and depict women.

I was wondering how this can consciously affect us when we open the book and we are studying. How does it affect the children? I was asking this question because she does notice, already at four, and I don't know how to explain the differences really in how we dress now. They were showing the way that women should be in 'Hinduism Today' and how they should bathe and rise early and about the old tradition, but most of them are not clothed very well. So, it is like ... How do I answer? How does it consciously ..."

Gurudeva: We have to tell them that the Christians make the women dress up so tightly that it created a lot of other diseases. In fact, it killed all the Hawaiian people when they put mumus on them and everything. Even in Sri Lanka, when I was in Sri Lanka at twenty-one years of age, none of the older women had their breasts covered. It was considered immoral to do that. It was just the new generation that covered their breasts. It was a totally different culture and a totally different style of living and a totally different morality. The Western religion is, you know, "cover up everything".

It is one of the reasons we have our artist, Manivelu here for 'Living with Siva', which is the sub-title is 'Hinduism's Contemporary Culture', so that he can see how you are dressed. You will see yourself in this book called, 'Living with Siva'. How everybody is dressed, how their hair is done at this particular time, not in ancient times like in 'Merging with Siva' or 'Dancing with Siva'. At this particular time. He is here, he went to Disneyland and he has traveled all over the San Francisco area, visited every community, ______ community, making notes and seeing people as they are.

That you can explain. We have a now and then we had a yesterday. Yes. Even now, if you go to Indian villages, you will see women with no bras on and so forth. Maybe you can explain that too, because you have been living in India.

Any more questions?

Acharya Palaniswami: Could I add to the answer to Kavita's question?

Gurudeva: Why, sure!

Acharya Palaniswami: Really a wonderful question. Comes on email from readers of 'Hinduism Today'. You rightly have noticed _____ S Rajam who is the artist, he is eighty-five years old. He is of the old school. When he was a young man, all he wanted to be was an artist. He wanted to be a bachelor his whole life and be an artist. It turned out that he got married. But, he went around India for the great art forms. For example, the Ajanta caves, which you may know about. A beautiful series of wall paintings and frescoes in North India. He went to the ... What is that frescoes that you see in Anuradhapura? Siguria hills? Similar thing there. In both of those instances, he found the purest and best art that he had ever seen in his life. In both of those cases, the art was done by monks.

So, he decided taht in order to do spiritual art, he had to be a monk. Because, he decided that your consciousness had to be a certain way before your art can be a certain way. You cannot have good art and a bad mind! So, he worked on the inner path. In the course of that, he adopted these styles. If you go these hills, that is what you see. Scantily clad, ____, sensuous pictures of women and the same with the stereotypes of men, you know macho, ____ looking gys. So they had this singular thing going, masculine - feminine. So, that is the conscious mind and good art. So, anytime we ask him to do some art, that is what comes back and you cannot change him. He is eighty-five years old, you know. He has traveled a one-way street.

Gurudeva: So, that is what I have to look forward to!! *laughs heartily*

Palaniswami: I really appreciate this point. I think they are valid. A really good example, you know, a representative of the Hindu ideals. I don't know how to explain this to all of our readers but I can say that here.

Gurudeva: Well, in those days, morality was different and it only became sensual when you started covering up.

I was reminded of a very great artist who painted nudes. Somebody said, "Well, does it not arouse your sex nature to see a woman in there absolutely naked?"

He said, "No, not at all. Not until she begins to put on one stocking."

Doesn't that tell you something? So, if you cover up things, somebody else wants to take them off. It is human nature.

Lady: Gurudeva, that was a little bit exactly it. They were not showing everything about a mother and a nursing child. They were just showing bits and pieces, sort of like teasing. That was the part that got mentioned.

Gurudeva: Yeah, I think ... The artist might have a little personal problem there!! *laughs again, very heartily