Sexuality and Hinduism

Unlike other religions, views of sexual morality among Hindus differ widely depending on the region and sect. Hindu scriptures themselves are often vague about sexuality.

 There are temples depicting sexual activity openly (examples include temple complexes at Ajanta and Ellora) and sexual imagery is not altogether sacrilege (for instance, the commonly-known phallic fertility symbol of the Shiva lingam), but strict married life and a good dose of sexual self-restraint (as well as in other aspects of life) are considered essential to a Hindu’s well being and dharmic/karmic duties.

Religiously speaking, Hindus begin life at the Brahmacharya or “student” stage, in which they are directed to celibately advance themselves educationally and spiritually to prepare themselves for a life of furthering their dharma (religious duties) and karma (right earthly actions); only once they reach the Grihastya or “householder” stage can they seek kama (physical pleasure) in the strict context of marriage and artha (worldly achievement, material prosperity) through their vocations. To seek physical pleasure before the householder stage would violate the spiritual Hindu’s prescribed life path.

In general, however, Hindu society has been influenced by a millennium of Islamic subjugation and centuries of colonial British influence (Victorian at the time) to reflect their quite conservative attitudes in matters pertaining to sex. Many contemporary Hindus (especially in large cities within India and/or second-generation immigrant communities in developed countries) have accepted Western notions like pre-marital sex, “love” marriages (compared to the more traditional arranged marriage), and homo-/bisexuality. Among more traditional elements of Hindu society, though, such concepts are still anathema.

Most culturally-sensitive Hindus adhere to sexual standards akin to Victorian morality, with both pre-marital and extra-marital sex perceived to be gravely immoral and shameful. In the religion’s teachings, the prohibition against sex outside of marriage is largely related to the prescribed life stages Hindus are bound to follow if they are to attain moksha (the same as the Buddhist concept of nirvana, or enlightenment of the soul).

As influenced by the British and Islam, Indian law (influencing the highest concentration of Hindus) considers all except heterosexual monogamy to be illegal. Additionally, while there are no restictions on particular kinds of sexual activity, it is considered a highly private affair. Most Hindus are extremely averse to openly address anything related to sexuality, as such discussion


or publicly romantic displays are viewed as exceptionally distasteful.

The Kama Sutra (Aphorisms of Love) by Vatsayana, widely believed to be just a manual for sexual congress, offers an insight into sexual mores, ethics and societal rules that were prevalent at that time (ca. 5 CE). Shrungara Ras (Romance, one of the nine rasas or emotions). A drama in Sanskrit, Shakuntalam by Kalidasa, is cited as one of the best examples of Shrungara Ras, talks of the love story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala.



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