Bhagat Singh, Valentine’s Day and Love in Indian Tradition

Bhagat Singh and Valentine’s Day:

A message that circulates in the social media every year in the weeks preceding the Valentine’s Day calls upon us not to forget that “the hanging of the great freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru happened on 14th February”. A few friends share the message “as received”. Obviously, we only share with our friends such things as we ourselves like. So, when we receive a message on Bhagat Singh that strikes an inner chord we feel that our friends should also see it. This is natural. But there’s more to this message than is apparent.

For quite some time now, a wave of nationalism is sweeping the country. Those who spear-head this neo-swadeshi movement want us to shun whatever is not in our tradition. Valentine’s Day is on top of their list. To give an emotional touch to their appeal they have invented a fictitious connection between Bhagat Singh and 14th February. The fact is, Bhagat Singh and his two comrades were hanged on 23rd March and not on 14th February.

One could ignore this. In any case, re-writing history according to one’s political, religious or traditional belief is hardly a new phenomenon.  Of concern, however, is that in the name of preserving Indian tradition hooligans fan out on the 14th of February to all possible nooks and corners to nab men and women in love. They are then subjected to a very traditional lesson in morality, at the end of which it is not unusual to find some of the ‘culprits’ in hospital beds, if not in morgues.

Love in Indian Tradition:

Since these moralists believe in tradition, it may be worth the while to look into our heritage in so far as celebration of love is concerned.

From all accounts our ancestors were not just a bunch of glum and grave philosophers ever busy with the subtle and intricate questions of ‘life’ and moksha . Quite to the contrary,  Indians were mostly men about town who did not shy away from enjoying the pleasures of life. And when it came to amorous indulgence, the world could take a lesson or two from us.  After all, it was one of our sages who wrote the oldest, and arguably the best treatise on the art of love.

Day of Love in India of  Yore:

My quest for an Indian equivalent of Valentine’s Day took me back to poets and dramatists of the past. From their descriptions Madanotsava or Vasantotsava seems to be the closest match.

On this day young couples, attired in their attractive best, visited various amusement parks (pramod udyan), and city forests. They had the complete liberty  to express their love and affection to their partners. There would be much fun and frolic, accompanied by dance and music.   The king, queen, and other members of the royal family participated in the revelry with equal gusto. In comparison, today’s Valentine’s Day is a rather bland affair.

We should welcome it if the swadeshiwallahs reintroduce this traditional Day of Love in place of the Valentine’s Day.

Love in Poetic Tradition:

The classical poets of ancient India, in their treatment of love, generally highlighted the sublime, emotional aspects of milan and viraha.  They only gave subtle hints about the more passionate aspects of it. The later day works, however, become bolder in their content. The following passages from the Caurapancasika (Fifty stanzas of the thief) by the Kashmiri poet Bilhana (11-12th century) is illustrative :

             “Even today I can see her, her slender arms encircling my neck,
                my breast held tight against her two breasts,
                her playful eyes half-closed in ecstasy,
                her dear face drinking mine in a kiss.

             “Even today, if this evening,
               I might see my beloved, with eyes like the eyes of a fawn,
               with the bowls of her breasts the colour of milk,
               I’d leave the joys of kingship and heaven and final bliss.”  #

By the 14th century poets writing in vernacular shed all pretention and subtlety. In his book  titled “Love in Hindu Literature” published in 1916 Benoy Kumar Sarkar examines some Indian literary works on love.  Sarkar scorns  anotators’  tendency of giving “deep philosophical interpretation” where none is necessary.   An interesting quote from his book:

              “My mother-in-law was asleep, and I lay in her lap,
               And love-learned Kanu was lurking behind,
               Bending his face to mine, how did he drink
               the nectar of my lips?
               How often silently he laid his hand upon my breasts,
               Nor let betray him any panting breath, –
               My mother-in-law awoke, and Kanu ran away:
               My hopes were not fulfilled, says Vidyapati.”

Does this need any ‘elucidation’?

Fortunately for me,  the traditionalists generally have neither the time nor the inclination to read anything beyond the Sundar Kanda of the Ramayana, let alone Vidyapati or Jaidev.   Still, prudence tells me to stop here.  For young men a few broken limbs could be a minor collateral damage for the sake of love. That will, however, be too much of a risk at my age.

********

#The Wonder that was India by A.L. Basham – Language and Literature

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