After the quashing of criminal proceedings against M.F. Husain by Delhi High Court, ?liberals? supporting Husain, are hailing it as a victory of ?artistic expression.? The Court judgment is also being interpreted as vindication of his artistic licence to portray the Hindu Goddesses in nude.
Two arguments have always been forwarded by liberals to justify Husain'snude portrayals of Hindu Goddesses. First, is the ostensible presence of ?similar? nudity in traditional sculptures and bronzes of various Goddesses, and second is the existence of figurines on the outer walls of certain temples depicting erotic imagery. It isn?t, however, surprising that the westernised liberals and intellectuals, far removed from the Indian ethos, lack in their comprehension of Hindu iconography what is easily and naturally understood by illiterate Hindu masses.
Admittedly, traditional Indian art has portrayed the eternal and absolute infinity in sensuous female forms, but this expression has always sought to represent divinity through it. To help achieve this, traditional art has diligently employed a conventional symbolism. This religious symbolism relies heavily on body postures and hand positions making it easy for a devotee to recognise and differentiate between, say, a varada mudra and an abahya mudra or a gnana mudra and a kataka mudra. Additionally, fixed attributes such as a ?Veena? for Saraswati or a ?Mahisasura lying under the feet? of Durga are used to convey the various manifestations of that divinity. Husain'spaintings not only lack proper symbolism, but apply it selectively and often whimsically to portray Hindu Goddesses in doubtless derogation.
The portrait of Durga, for instance, shows the naked Goddess riding a tiger in a pose suggesting bestiality. His painting of Saraswati is equally frivolous. Husain'sSaraswati is pitch dark when tradition invokes her as tushaarahaara and dhavala meaning white as moon and the flakes of snow. Neither does the ostensible purity which Husain claims his nudes to be representing, do justice to her abiding iconography as ya shubhra vastraavata i.e. ?draped in white.? Similarly, it will require an ingenious effort to find even a remote appeal to divinity or purity in his portrayals of naked Hanuman and Sita, where the latter is shown sitting on the lap of Ravana or for that matter, in his depiction of naked Lakshmi sitting on the head of Ganesh.
Husain'shypocrisy, when he speaks of nudity in Hindu culture as a metaphor of purity and an inspiration to artists including him, is highlighted further in his other paintings. In one such painting he depicts a fully clothed Muslim King juxtaposed against a naked Brahmin. In another painting illustrating four leaders including a decapitated Mahatma Gandhi, Husain portrays Hitler in the nude. Significantly, Husain has declared his loathing for Hitler in an interview. He has also said categorically that his nude portrayal of Hitler was done with the explicit intention of humiliating him. By contrast, his portrayals of Prophet'sdaughter Fatima, Mother Teresa, his own daughter Raeesa and his mother are fully clothed. Certainly, Husain's?inspiration? is concomitant to the religious sectarianism of his subjects. But the question is, if Husain is prepared to play subservient to Muslim sensitivities then why not to those of Hindus; this when he has already apologised for hurting the Hindu sentiments in the past.
(The writer can be contacted at 23, West Arjun Nagar, Agra-282001.)