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Ancient India saw desire as duty to self

Published : Feb 6, 2019, 2:29 am IST
Updated : Feb 6, 2019, 2:29 am IST

Gurcharan Das’ book, Kama: The Riddle of Desire, argues that ancient Hindu civilisation saw desire as the source of action, creation and procreation.

Gurcharan Das at the Hyderabad Literary Festival.
 Gurcharan Das at the Hyderabad Literary Festival.

The beguiling world of kama is full of paradoxes. I desire only what I don’t have. Once I attain it, Kama dies, Plato wisely observed that desire is a lack of something that one does not possess. Lovers long to unite in order to fill this deficiency. But how can something that is missing, or perishes once attained, be a goal of life? Yet, kama, is ubiquitous and indestructible.

— Reads an excerpt from the book Kama: The Riddle Of Desire

While many Indians shy away from talking about sex and their sexual fantasies, author Gurcharan Das’ new novel deals with why desires are important and how Hinduism is perhaps the only religion that elevates kama — desire and pleasure — to a goal of life.

Speaking at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2019, the author said, “We all want to be happy and I always believed that happiness was essentially a simple idea. It consists of loving the work you do and loving the person you live with. But when I started exploring kama, I realised that ancient Indians had a very interesting idea about it, and I embraced the notion that we have not one goal in life, we have multiple goals.”

Elaborating on this, Das argued, “The goals that the ancient Indians had were artha (material well-being), dharma (moral well-being), kama (emotional and sexual well-being and desire) and moksha (spiritual well-being). Only when these are in harmony, is a person happy. If dharma is one’s duty towards society, kama is the duty towards one’s self.”

Kama: The Riddle Of Desire Gurcharan Das Publication: Penguin Pp: 548 Cost: Rs 799.Kama: The Riddle Of Desire Gurcharan Das Publication: Penguin Pp: 548 Cost: Rs 799.

Gurcharan’s book, which is the last book of his trilogy on life’s goals, is the story of Amar, a middle-aged man who is exploring the relevance of kama in today’s day and age. “When I began to write this book, I realised rather early that you can’t write about an emotion without a story. To write a philosophical or historical track would have been quite boring, because you have to engage the reader. This book is a fictional memoir, in which the narrator is looking back upon his life. So Amar discovers that for some people desire strikes early in life, but it can also strike early in a civilisation — like it did in ancient India,” Gurcharan said.

The point that drew a huge round of applause at the fest was Gurcharan’s opinion on how Hinduism explored sexual desire way back in time. Das pointed out that in today’s world, we tend to sweep a person’s emotional life under the carpet. Though people were happy to discuss economical and political problems, when it came to our deepest emotions — love and sex — we want no one else to know about them, he felt.

“A healthy society shouldn’t do that, because then an individual will become repressed. For example, in the Western Judeo-Christian civilisation, in the Genesis, it says that there was light in the beginning. In contrast, the Hindu Rig Veda says that in the beginning there was kama and the cosmos was created from the seed of desire. Our ancestors knew that desire was the source of all action, of creation and of procreation. In many Western societies desire is seen as the origin of sin, guilt and shame, whereas Indians saw desire as the animating principle of life. And thus, you find a lot of content on sex and sexual desire in this side of the world,” the author concluded.

Tags: kama: the riddle of desire, gurcharan das