At the time when people of developed countries were clad in animal skins, ate taste-less food and lived in dug-holes, ancient India was a heaven on Earth, and a military power too. People lived a luxurious, contented and refined social life. To Aristotle conquest of India implied conquest over world. Till eighteenth century no Indian desired to go abroad, but people from other countries desired to reach India.
Importance of Married Life
According to Hinduism individual goal of life is attainment of total satisfaction. Moksha can be enjoyed any time after the stage of Brahmcharya (studentship). However one is not required to betray obligation towards others while pursuing his individual total satisfaction through Moksha.
Those who fail to discharge their obligations or desire to enjoy at the expense of others cannot attain Moksha. They live discontented life. An issue-less person is not appreciated in Hindu society, because duties towards continuity of creation are not performed. Donning Sanyas, skipping duties of Grahastha Ashrma is not desirable.
House holders sustain studentship, Vanaprastha and Sanyas ashram. Thus they play a pivotal role in generation of resources. Similarly they maintain continuity of creation. Therefore any person who hops towards Vanaprastha or Sanyas is viewed as escapism; barring few out-standing exceptions.
Person deprived of sensory pleasures due to forced circumstances, shall always be attracted towards his unfulfilled desires. It is significant that all Hindu sages entered in Sanyas Ashrama voluntarily along with their spouses after saturating their desires.
Enjoyment cannot be without income and resources. Even a hermit would require about fifty items for his personal use even in forest. Therefore he ought to have lived an active life to earn some living through righteous means.
Recently coined living in relationships also cannot lead to satisfaction in life. These are escape routes from discharging obligations towards society and future generation. Institution of marriage is the only proper forum to enjoy sensory pleasures and attainment of total satisfaction by discharging obligations.
Hinduism allowed indulgences and enjoyment of all worldly pleasure but within Dharma and Grahastha Ashrama. In contrast to the Puritanical view that the sole purpose of sex is procreation, Hindus believe three purposes of life – Dharma, Artha, and Kama. The erotic is regarded as the seat of earthly beauty. The pursuit of sexual pleasure is revered as a religious quest.
Tantra is a sub-sect of Hinduism that has several rituals associated with coupling as part of religious practice, besides other practices based on Tantrik philosophy. However it must be clarified that Tantra is at the extreme in indulgence and certainly not the life style of Hindus in main stream.
Kamasutra by Rishi Vatsayana is world’s first comprehensive guide to living erotically. The classic has fascinated imagination of the western world as much as Indian philosophy, science and Yoga. Over and above, the theme of this treatise has inspired the sculpture of thirty temples at Khajuroho where tourists flock from all over the globe to watch the beautiful stone carvings depicting all the possible fantasies of the erotic mind.
Practical towards Sensuousness
There is no Taalibani type moral policing in Hinduism, but one is expected to abide by the decency of Dharma. Sometimes foreign couples display sensuality at public places. When protested by locals, either they cite the example of Khajuroho sculptures as precedence, or call the Indians hypocrites and conservative. The fact is that foreigners do not understand the depth of Hindu philosophy at all. For the sake of argument alone it can be said, that European pornographers have nothing to match even the eroticism that Hindus carved in stone more than ten centuries ago!
Kama is not only confined to mere satisfaction of biological sex desires, but its scope covers all the pleasures related to human senses like hearing, smell, tasting and touching. It includes enjoyment of music, fine arts, delicious food, perfumes, sports and all aesthetic material and comforts. In this pursuit the observance of Dharma and availability of resources owned by efforts are the limits.
Valmiki Ramayana depicts several situations of materialistic pleasures. There is a vivid description of protocol and etiquette when King Dasrath is awakened from his sleep. The feast arranged by Rishi Bhardwaja to welcome prince Bharat and his army on way to Chitrakoot, would pale the luxuries of any state banquet organized today. Hanuman‘s searching peep for Sita in Ravana’s bed chambers is another pictorial depiction of the luxuries of the time. But whatever the sage has described is within the limits of decency and aesthetic quality.
Health and Hygiene have always been given paramount importance in Hindu living. Food is classified in to Satvik, Rajsik and Tamsik categories, keeping in view the physical activity of the individual. The classification perfectly matches recommendations of dietitians of our times. Individuals have the choice to pick any food packet according to the desire, affordability, occupation, and appetite.
Comprehensive instructions have also been documented in Manusamriti regarding service and consumption of food; right to the last activity of cleaning of teeth. These kind of written procedures are in vogue today in most of the manufacturing organizations certified according to the standards of quality control.
Hinduism does not approve wanton killing of animals for food but Hindus have the choice of eating vegetarian or non-vegetarian diet. Procurement of meat by hunting is commended for non-vegetarians. There is a difference in attitude of Hindus preferring vegetarian food than that of others. While in other faiths individuals turned vegetarians for their personal considerations of health, Hindus stay vegetarians for compassion towards animals.
Multiplicity of Food Items
European learnt growing pumpkins from Red Indians after reaching America in seventeenth century. Even today pulses are not an item on their table and they get proteins from animals. But ancient texts reveal that Hindus were proficient in the field of agriculture and cultivated variety of cereals, pulses and fruit. Cultivation of Rice, wheat, maize and corns was known. They owned fruit orchards to produce mangoes, bananas, coconut, and melons. Holding of cow herds was a symbol of prosperity. Cow milk, butter, ghee, curd, and cottage cheese were items of daily use in homes.
Art of Cooking
Cooking was considered an art, out of 64 art forms. Indians could prepare food in many ways such as baked, grilled, steamed, dried or fried. The medicinal properties of spices were known to house-wives and the same were included in daily diet. To ensure a perfect and balanced diet plan, every meal included at least one item to taste sweat, salty, sour, astringent pungent and bitter. Offering of Tambul Patra (Beatle nut) was sophistication at the end of food. There were no restrictions on consumption of wine and other intoxicants while in Grahastha Ashram as long as the individual could afford and hold.
India invented sugar
Sugar from sugar cane was pre-eminently an Indian discovery. Rest of the world derived equivalent of sugar from the Indian Sakara or Shakkar. The origin of the word can be traced to Arabic Shakar, Latin Sacharum, French Sucere German Zucker, and English sugar. Hindus prefer sweats and regard them Satvik food. Prasada offered at temples is generally sweat. Rice cooked in sweetened milk as Kheer (payasam) is considered most pious, and a most soothing pudding in all respects. There is an endless variety of sweat dishes handed down to generations since times immemorial.
Textiles and Costumes
India is the original home of cotton. Indians were the first to perfect the art of weaving. The discovery of several spindles, and a piece of cotton stuck to a silver vase, revealed that cotton-spinning and weaving was practiced in Harappa. References to weaving are found in the Vedic literature also.
The variety in Indian fabrics ranges from homespun Khadi to complex brocades flaming with gold, from picturesque pajamas to the invisibly seamed shawls of Kashmir. Every garment woven in India had a beauty that came only of a very ancient and instinctive art.
Indian Textile Trade
The foundations of the Indian textile trade with other countries were laid as early as the second century BC. Soldiers of Alexander carried cotton to Europe as a curiosity in the 4th century BC. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in Indian muslin 2000 years ago. Hordes of block printed, resist-dyed fabrics of Gujarati origin, found in the tombs of Fostat in Egypt prove Indian export of cotton textiles to Egypt in medieval times.
Indian artisans created such fine fabrics that British characterized them as ‘the work of fairies or insects rather than of men.’ Bengali weavers produced delicate cotton muslin so sheer that they were named ‘running water’ and ‘evening dew’. Silk brocades from Benares in northern India glittered with threads of gold and silver. In Kashmir, enormous shawls – so finely woven that they could be passed through a ring – were made from the inner fleece of a rare mountain goat, which left its hairs behind while rubbing against shrubs on Himalayan peaks.
European nations had initially been drawn to India by the spice trade, textiles and gold. In matters of taste and refinement, Hindu females were equated with Apasra, the heavenly beauties. That is enough to prove that India was a heaven on Earth.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 42/72 – Etiquette and Social Norms)