Many modern Hindus who have never seen old temples or never been to a museum identify with only one version of Saraswati - a sari-clad and jewelry-decked, modest and serene lady, who resembles more of a conservative Indian male chauvinist’s idea of a virtuous woman.
I do not know exactly when such a version has come to prominence, but it is clear that as soon as the pictures of gods started entering ordinary family man’s homes, the deity started to become conservative. By the time Ravi Verma painted his Saraswati, it looks like such modesty was already an attribute of a Hindu Goddess.
Ravi Verma’s Saraswati:
However, many contemporary artists continued to depict their goddesses in nude but these figurines never entered the common man’s homes as deity figures. Also, without sufficient patronage, artists could not continue painting or sculpting nude goddesses and it fell out of fashion. In fact, India failed to produce many great artists. Meanwhile, roadside artists started to make copies of ultraconservative versions, like that of Ravi Verma’s Saraswati, which the common man bought for few rupees to keep it at home.
The way Indians got familiar with Ramayana through Ramanand Sagar’s version on TV, the new generation Hindus now became familiar with a sari-draped ultraconservative version of their goddesses. But some of us know that Ramanand Sagar’s version is not the only version of Ramayana. To say that every Rama we depict should look like Arun Govil would be nonsensical.
Different versions of Rama:
There are many other versions of Ramayana - some of them may sound quite shocking to those who know only the Ramanand Sagar’s version. [Amuse yourself with some of the versions here.]
In the same way, there are other depictions of Saraswati which are quite different from these roadside drawings. They can be found in the old Indian temples and the museums.
From Gangaikonda, Cholapuram, Tamil Nadu, 1020 AD
Saraswati, Jain Temple, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh
Saraswati, 9th Century AD.
Saraswati, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai: Goddess Saraswathi
MF Husain’s Saraswati:
Now, that you have seen these variants of Saraswati, please take a look at the variant from M F Husain and decide for yourself if his depiction is any way obscene compared to the above variants.