Monday, June 20, 2011

Understanding why M F Husain might have painted Nude Hindu Gods

Many people ask this question:
Why did M F Husain NOT paint Muslim icons in nude? Why did he paint only Hindu gods in nude?

To start with, I believe that answering such a question is a foolish exercise. Artists do lot of things which ordinary people cannot comprehend or understand.  Picasso and Dali did lot of bizarre things.  It is a pointless exercise to try to understand the motives of an artist or a poet.  But since M F Husain’s paintings of nude Hindu goddesses has allegedly ‘hurt’ so many Hindus in India and abroad, we might as well waste some time to understand why he might have painted Hindu goddesses in nude, but not Muslim figures in nude.

Before you read this further, let me make it clear that no explanation that I provide here would give the actual reasons why he painted Hindu gods in nude, and this exercise is only an attempt to make those Hindus understand who are otherwise quite rational and liberal in outlook but have the same nagging question as the one above.

For all we know, may be MF Husain was doing what every other artisan in India did for centuries – conform to the practices already in vogue, and not deviate from those practices by a lot.  It is a common practice that an artisan who works on Hindu temples sculpts Hindu goddesses in nude and then goes to work on a mosque to etch Arabic texts onto the walls.   That practice happened for centuries in India, where the local artisans were both Hindus and Muslims working on both temples and mosques.

Traditionally, most Hindu female icons were portrayed in nude for all our history, including the modern times.  Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati were all portrayed in nude with big breasts, narrow waists, and prominent nipples.  Even the contemporary artists have sculpted Saraswati in nude.  M F Husain differed from the other artists who sculpted our Hindu temples in the sense that he was actually being very conservative.  He did not portray Hindu goddesses in the same voluptuousness as other artists.  He made his nude goddesses less erotic than those found in most Hindu temples and museums.  His nude Sita or nude Saraswati does not evoke eroticism but rather sadness. 

Many artisans, both Hindu and Muslim, took small liberties in carving their statues, and that can be seen in the variations across the temples in India.  At the most, M F Husain might have used his artistic freedom to expand the horizons only a bit further than what most artisans do, but I don’t think he went really bizarre in his creative expression.  The Indian in him has still constrained him to be a conservative artist. 

Coming to Islam, traditionally, it has no practice of painting human figures, and even if they do, they do it quite conservatively.  Any experienced artisan while working on a mosque would concentrate on intricate designs that mosques look for, and not nude pictures. 

We don’t look at the mosques and ask the artisan why he did not paint nude gods and goddesses in that mosque.   In the same way, we don’t look at temples and punish the artisan for sculpting nude goddesses, even when the artisan is a Muslim.  That prevailing practice might be what M F Husain embraced. 

Some Hindus believe that there was some kind of malignant intention when M F Husain painted Hindu icons in nude.  They believe it has to do with his religious fanaticism.  They believe that M F Husain being a Muslim has deliberately painted Hindu goddesses in nude to insult Hindus and Hinduism. 

There’s no end to such far-fetched interpretations seeped in bigotry and prejudice.  Knowing M F Husain from his speeches and interviews, it becomes clear that he celebrates India and its traditions.  He was a lover of what India is.  And in his India, the artisan, whether he is Hindu or Muslim, painted Hindu goddesses in nude, just the way so many temples around him depict them.  M F Husain celebrated the India that he saw.  If you happen to be that Hindu who went to a temple and shut your eyes each time you saw nude Hindu goddess – tough luck. 

While the conservative lot visit the regular temples and see their gods dressed in modern sarees, some of us visit the other temples to see our gods naked prancing in each other’s arms, sometimes copulating and making love.  The conservative lot may look the other way when they see Shiva holding Parvati in his lap to tweak one of her nipples, but some of us look at the same statues boldly to celebrate how liberal Hinduism is.

These other Hindus may want to close their eyes to such reality and believe that M F Husain did what he did only to piss off Hindus.  There is no limit to how peevish Indians can be.  We Indians can get peevish about almost anything anyone does and call it an insult.  When served non-veg in foreign nations, we get peevish, when joked about Indians, we get peevish.  We can get ruffled very easily, and that’s what is happening here.  When you want grow as a great nation, you have to allow yourself to be criticized.  Instead, we stop every nation and every citizen from criticizing India or Indians. 

Some people ask me:
Why do you expect Hindus to be tolerant and not ask other religions to be tolerant? 

Well, my answer is simple.  I am not exhorting Hindus to be more tolerant.  I am exhorting them to open their eyes and understand Hinduism as it is.  The beauty of Hinduism is that it is not the same for everyone.  I exhort them to go and see various temples in India, instead of closing their eyes.  I ask them to visit some museums and see Shiva tweaking Parvati’s nipple.  Some of these sculptures might have been done my Muslims back then.   Should we go about destroying those statues just because we find out it was done by a Muslim sculptor?

Some people complain that while the temples were commissioned by a Hindu patron, these paintings by M F Husain are not.  I believe that it is a mere technicality.  What if we find out that most of M F Husain’s paintings are commissioned by various patrons?  Are we ready to absolve him of all his crimes? 


M F Husain is no different from thousands of Muslim artisans who came before him.  Many of them sculpted nude goddesses in temples.  If a Muslim artisan sculpts a nude Hindu goddess in nude, then he is not called a religious fanatic.  He is called an artisan, who did his job well, who is trying to make a living by drawing and sculpting those things which are considered standard practices. M F Husain is just a refined and sophisticated artist, who was getting paid by patrons for the work he did; and he conformed to the mores of our times, not deviated from it. 


  1. You are cent percent right Sujai, but I doubt whether it will serve a good reply for those who cried for his blood. Those who bashed Hussain think that a Muslim doesn't have the right to portray a Hindu God, either in nude or in dress (and vice versa). Religious beliefs have taken such a demonic turn in our society and finding patrons even from most unexpected quarters.

    Through his works, Hussain was actually restoring the kanchipuram silk clad hindu goddesses of moghul and victorian rulers and artists to their primordial nature.


  2. While the conservative lot visit the regular temples and see their gods dressed in modern sarees, some of us visit the other temples to see our gods naked prancing in each other’s arms, sometimes copulating and making love. The conservative lot may look the other way when they see Shiva holding Parvati in his lap to tweak one of her nipples, but some of us look at the same statues boldly to celebrate how liberal Hinduism is.

    Something you have to understand from your own writing Sujai. Yes, conservatives avoid looking at such things same as they do while watching TV or movie with family. The progressive minds call them 'middle class'.
    And the arts you mentioned are not tagged with great painters and exhibited in public.
    This is where Hussain made difference.

    In this post you say "how liberal Hinduism is". But below is extract from previous post.

    some of them positioning these gods in perversely sexual acts?
    How come you celebrate "perversely sexual acts"? Has meaning "perverse" changed in oxford or Cambridge?

    Another one from previous post
    because it made them face some awkward truths which, according to them, were best avoided.

    What are those awkward truths? Nudity? It cannot be as per your own explanation.
    World knows how Vatican treated works of Michelangelo, just few centuries ago when Europe is modernizing.
    But the works you mentioned survived thousands of years.
    Did those "some Hindus" you are targeting or Hindus in general ever demanded destroying those works?

    No? Then what is the awkward truth those "some Hindus" had to face?
    Something personal between Hussain and those "some Hindus"?
    How "some Hindus" represent religious intolerance of India?
    Do we call killings in Kashmir with slogans of "Jihad" as religious intolerance?
    Do we call demand by "some Mullahs" to wear Burkhas as religious intolerance? Do we attribute either of them to Islam or India?

    Then why this special focus on acts of intolerance by "some Hindus"?
    And interpreting same aspect as 'perversion' one day and 'pride' next day?

  3. Anonymous:

    And the arts you mentioned are not tagged with great painters and exhibited in public.
    This is where Hussain made difference.

    May be you are new to this blog. This topic has been debated extensively in previous topics on MF Husain. Repeating myself, nobody asked you to go to an exhibition to look at Husain’s paintings. If one chooses, they can stay at home the way one chooses to stay home and not go to a museum or an adult movie.

  4. Repeating myself, nobody asked you to go to an exhibition to look at Husain’s paintings.
    Rather funny Sujai.
    Media gives so much coverage to such people. Today such things come to your drawing room, even if we don't want.

    You will say same about Temple nudity. No it is not coming to my drawing room. Nor discussed extensively.

    As far as you past posts are concerned. They do not make sense. Within successive posts you present same aspect as 'perversion' as well as 'pride'.
    The fact is that you are bent on targeting a particular section. You debate on "some Hindus" and attack entire system.

  5. Hey Sujai,

    you could have answered other questions on your current posts.

  6. How many temples have been built in India, with nudity on them, after the emergence of 'muslim' rule in India?

    Are there any cases of painters like (Da Vinci, Picasso etc) having painted something that hurt the sentiments of other religions.

    Religion is a fanatical issue for almost all humans. I am not willing to accept that MH hussain was oblivious to the furore that his painting would create. Knowing the ruckus it would cause, he still went ahead with it. What is such an attitude called?

    I am sure he was aware of the Danish cartoons. I am sure he was aware of the various problems that were caused when Hindu religions icons were used from chappals to bikinis.
    Yet he went ahead and painted it and surprisingly unlike his other paintings, in this case he took great paints to make it public. Like he painted and sold hundreds of things for the rich and famous he could have done this too.

    Hindus definitely have a lot more tolerance than other religons. But that cannot be taken as a sign of weakness....atleast not for ever.
    Sujai, religion is fanatical. It has converted absolute Buddha types into terrorists with no logical reason. One does know what influence a person undergoes at what stage on religious issues.
    Religion is best left to the individual without denigrating it.

  7. This article explores in detail the background for Husain's art:

    tl;dr - Husain was deeply in love with Indian art and culture and revered them and his paintings are reflection of that.

  8. POK:

    I am sure he was aware of the Danish cartoons. I am sure he was aware of the various problems that were caused when Hindu religions icons were used from chappals to bikinis.

    Many of his controversial paintings were made in 1970s. Danish Cartoons episode happened few years ago.

    Yet he went ahead and painted it and surprisingly unlike his other paintings, in this case he took great paints to make it public.

    He did not take pains to make his controversial paintings public. It was one of the Hindu booklets released in 1990s which made these paintings public. That’s when the controversy started.

  9. I Think the acts seen as perverse before and now as celebrated might be he evolved and understood the significance of the paintings..
    people for sure will learn something new day to day..
    People who criticsed M.F Hussain are the same religious fanatic people..

    Good Post Sujit..Keep going


  10. Kunta,

    that was a good explanation.

    So perceptions can change, rather take U-turn, in few days.
    Why not wait for the rest change their perception?
    Instead of bashing an entire religion in the name of "some Hindus".

    Also what should we do with all those people/groups raise the bogey of sentiment when their beloved leaders/cultures are humiliated?
    Allow them vandalize anythings that alleged to insult them?

    Skewed thinking is not character of learned. But educated crooks use it well.

  11. More power to you sujai. Very nice post. Somebody sent me Sri Sri ravishankar video criticizing husain. I sent them your link as part of my response.

  12. Satya:
    In Hinduism Sex and God are inseparable. Both have been worshipped since time immemorial as the very essence of creativty and creation. Unless one overcomes the hypocrisies or false attitudes associated with Sex and God, realization of Truth is not possible in Eastern religions(Hinduism,Jainism,buddhism).
    This is where Hinduism basically differs from Abrahamic religions which were founded 2000 yrs after the Eastern religions when Sex and God were seen as being at the opposite poles of the Spectrum of Truth. One dirty and the other sacred. The influence of these religions on India especially after the British introduced "Western" education in India has caused so much confusion in Indian minds between Indian moralistic Values and Abrahamic moralistic Values. This is why we see Indians of today not knowing whether they should be proud of Khajuraho/linga worship/krishna ras leela and other temple art/culture or be ashamed of it. Hussain controversy also stems from this confusion - Indians do not seem to know whether to be proud of his art or be ashamed of it.

  13. tell me one thing..


    that was OK?
    just answer this portion and after that if you think YES IT WAS OK AND HINDU OVER REACTED then what abt when a person made Mohammad's cartoon Image with a bomb on his head..

  14. Simple Bhartiya HinduSeptember 28, 2012 8:13 AM

    I would like to remind you that Pictures and Idols in hinduism are only used to explain the characteristics of our deities and demons.

    When we draw a picture of Durga riding on a Tiger , it signifies that the deity is associated with power. Similar case with other Gods and Godesses.

    But In Mr. Hussain's painting the character portrayed of the Goddess depicted is entirely different, although the pictures may be similar. Isn't it stupid ( may be offensively bold) of Mr. Hussain to have tried to engage in displaying Hinduism in his own way without actually knowing what it is about. Yeah he may have celebrated India with all its culture and religions , but he had painted idiotic pictures, and such naivety isn't allowed for such a mature artist on such a topic. Even a Hindu painter would have been banished to show sita naked on ravan's thigh (This isn't what Sita's character is portrayed as in Hinduism- of a rape victim.Instead, she is portrayed as a devote wife who had power of piousness towards her husband-she is depicted as सती सावित्री ) .... Nor would a union of Goddess Durga with Tiger can portray any characteristics of Durga.

    Stupid things like these depictions and interpretations are like mites which are eating away the reverence; unknowledgeable Hindus have towards their religion. And sadly these stupid deeds are what get popularity instead of Gita, and Ramayan in written form.

    I agree with paulo Coelho ( Author of -The Alchemist) that when a written story is depicted through a movie or picture...The story loses its quality of instilling the awe and reverence, which it would have had according to each persons' imagination level. Which would be better than forcing the directors or the painter's imagination on others.

    Pictures and Idols depict the characteristic of the God and are put into temples to infuse the same in the devotees.If the wrong characteristics are displayed ...then that's whats wrong!!
    चरित्र की पूजा करो, चित्र की नहीं!!

    1. Totally agree with you, this blogger is biased and i don think he will let my comment be displayed

  15. the above explaination is appreciated. :)
    i think he jst did as per a painter's mind. he should be guilty for dis act but i jst wnated to say 1 statemnt dat v knw god is der bt he iznt der wid us as sch,bt the people who tossed dis topic so mch,i jst wanted to say,the girls n women who r live,respect dem. dont let dem to be rapped or teasd. wen sch thng happn den no 1 cums but on dis topic evry1's blood boiled. respect humanity,rathr den geting into dis.

  16. Depiction of Hindu gods in nude
    Prakash M Apte

    Vedic scriptures that are the fountain head of Sanatan Dharma refer to only three gods, Brahma the Creator, Vushnu the Preserver and Mahesha the Destroyer. All other icons like Rama, Krishna, Bhairava and others are “Avatars” or human forms of these gods but NOT GODS.

    In recent times many painters and artist have faced heat for painting nude Shiva and other Hindu deities. Many of them have claimed and have been supported in such claims by so called Scholars that Shiva, for example, is depicted in nude every day in the form of Shivalinga or in his “Avatar” as Bhairava.

    As a student of Indian Architecture & allied arts for the last 54 years, I have never ever come across nude depiction of the gods (Brahma-the creator, Vishnu-the preserver, and Mahesha-the destroyer) in Indian or Hindu mythology. The Scholars of Indian iconography need to dispel, once for all the myth and mischief, particularly of the visual artists (Hussain, Das, J.Choudhary, Atul Dodiya et al) that Hindu gods have been represented in nude in our ancient sculptures. The nude depictions that these Painters perhaps allude to, are in fact those of Gandharva, Kinnara or Apsara (celestial actors of performing arts) or Yaksha –a human creation of Brahma. To say that, because the “Shiva Linga” (male sexual organ) has been historically openly displayed, it amounts to Shiva’s depiction in nude, is to expose one’s abysmal ignorance and arrogance. Artists must have liberty of expression but liberty should not become a license to ‘libel’.

    In this context Let me dispel the myth of “Shivalinga”. The expression does not mean ‘linga (sexual organ) OF Shiva’. The word Shiva in Sanskrit means ‘sacred’ or ‘pure’ (Pavitra). The ‘Linga’ partially penetrated into ‘Yoni’ (female sexual organ) is a depiction of the force (‘Shakti’) that sustains this world by procreation. It has no connection whatsoever with Shiva who is the god of destruction and not of creation. This Icon was venerated by the followers of ‘Shakta Panth’ and not by the worshippers of Shiva. While the vandalism indulged into by common people at the obscene depiction of their deities however deplorable, is at least understandable, the wanton obscene depiction by the Artists certainly raises doubts about their real intentions.
    Many so called scholars have referred to “Purana” to substantiate their claims that Shiva has been depicted in nude in Indian iconography. Perhaps these scholars are not aware that Puranas fall into the category of Hindu scripture known as Smrti (recollected tradition) and vary from place to place and from time to time. They are usually written in Sanskrit and normally tell of the genealogies of gods, kings, and saints, and contain assorted narratives, stories, and legends. Legends cannot be quoted as authentic evidence.
    The three main Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh are never ever depicted naked, displaying their genitalia, in any Indian or Hindu iconography. The photographs referred to by such scholars in support of their contention are those of “Bhairava” or “Bhikshantana”, a human incarnation of lord Shiva and not of god Shiva. The form of Bhairava is considered to be fierce, one that infuses more fear than love towards Lord Shiva. Bhairava is known to be a naked mendicant or follows the same iconographic appearance as Bhikshatana where he is depicted ash smeared and naked. Lord Shiva descended to the earth in the form of Bhairava.

    If in the eyes of such scholars vandalism of some Hindus against such depiction is reprehensible, no less reprehensible are the attempts of the so called scholars to misrepresent and misguide the people through a gullible or publicity crazy print media into making them believe that the Hindu gods were traditionally depicted in nude!

  17. Good Evening all,

    I read many comments acknowledging
    Late Mr. M.F. Husain's work positively as well as negatively.

    Almost all the comments are just made with questions and answers like 'is it okay or not to paint Hindu Gods nude", "How far it is justified to paint Hindu Goddesses and Gods nude, etc ec, etc".

    And in addition to prove that 'it is okay and not okay', there are given goes several references to Ancient Hindu sculpture and some literary works of well known authors and Photographs, etc, etc,etc.

    But not with right intellectual view or analysis of
    Late Mr. M.F. Husain's reason and mind behind depicting Hindu Gods and Goddesses nude, why he has chosen only Hindu Goddesses and Gods to paint them nude and not one but all of them repeating not one but all of them.

    Why not he chosen his own religious people and families for this work.

    Late Mr. M.F. Husain's intention of painting Hindu deities was definitely his will and wish to degrade Hindu divinity and belief.

    And he openly drew and projected them to public with a strong confidence that anything M.F.Husain painted is lauded and appreciated and also that anything will do in India and specially with Hindus who are like fellows with no tongue in mouth and can not find his actual crooked mind and evil intention.

    And at the end what he achieved was, he finally died unsung in a foreign land almost oblivion in his final stages.

    It is true one has the freedom to read, speak, write, read, listen, but not to the extent of drawing ones own mother or father in nude.

    Sorry if I am wrong


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