Why Tagore was right and Gandhi was not

Author, illustrator and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik in Star of Mysore:

“Whether it is the temple of Konark in Orissa or that of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, the artisans have embellished the walls with images of lovers in various stages of embrace. They have been placed there deliberately, to catch the gaze of the devout who enter the shrine.

“Why? To titillate, to communicate, to provoke thought? No one is quite sure.

“One explanation is that these are remnants of fertility rites meant to enhance the power of the temple. Another explanation is that it is sex education for the masses who visit the temple.

“Perhaps it was advertising for the devadasis or sacred courtesans who supplemented the income of the temple. Perhaps they were magical talismans meant to keep demons away. Perhaps they were meant to please Indra, god of the sky, who had a roving eye, so that he did not strike the tall roofs with lightning.

“Perhaps they were merely expressions of pleasure, one of the four aims of life — the other aims being ethics, economics and spirituality. Perhaps they are codes of Tantrik practices, metaphors for deeper metaphysical thought. Perhaps they are all of the above, or maybe, none of the above. No one is completely sure.

“The British were convinced that this was proof of ‘Hindoo’ decadence. Many of our nation’s founding fathers felt ashamed. A group of overzealous social reformers once planned to raze or deface or bury such temple carvings. It is said that Gandhiji supported such action. But then Rabindranath Tagore wrote an impassioned plea that, good or bad, moral or immoral, this was a national treasure that we could not wish away. We had to preserve it. And so it has survived, continuing to baffle us as they have baffled onlookers for hundreds of years.”