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.”

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28 Responses to “Why Tagore was right and Gandhi was not”

  1. B k chowla Says:

    Personally,I am in favour of preserving whatever we can.
    Haven’t we been a society with double standards?

  2. haasana Says:

    we have at belur and halebidu.

  3. asha Says:

    Trust Gandhi to do these things, with all the serious sucking up he was doing to the followers of religion of peace, at that time.

  4. White Calf Says:

    Guess the shame has more to do with Abrahamic religions. As in the Book of Genesis where Adam & Eve become ashamed of being naked. Just as the “knowledge” apple still makes us all feel dirty about ourselves and our culture. :)

  5. AlanJ Says:

    Someone was telling me that Many Indian temples have Sexually explicit images carved outside the temple, and not inside as a statement that to “Realize God, one must Transcend Sex” walk beyond the images into the Temple Sanatorium.

  6. paciFier Says:

    If MK Gandhi indeed nurtured the idea to raze those structures then he would be no different from Taliban (Note: Taliban & Gandhi in the same sentence !!)


  7. Deepak Says:

    Oh God!! More liberal rantings – freedom of expression, our great culture promoted sex, etc, etc. Why bother about old temples, lets build modern temples and adorn them with 3D photos of Poonam Pandey and the other members of the slut brigade in various artistic poses!! That will please the liberals and also leave behind a great legacy for our future generations! No?

  8. Vinay Says:


    Your pointing fingers derisively at Gandhi’s sucking up to the religion of peace is justified if you are liberal yourself in your thoughts. Otherwise, you are just one more of the hundreds of millions of hypocrites who infest Indian society today.

    I agree that Hinduism was a religion with supremely liberal values in the past. Today however, the society is infested with hypocrites who try to outdo themselves in bigotry and “superior morals”, aping the Abrahamic religions. And such people claim to defend Hinduism.


    You are the only one who is ranting on this page. The puritanism and strict moral codes that we see today are in no way related to what we had in ancient times. Is there any mention of veils or “Ghunghats” in the Mahabharata and other ancient epics? Yet, the use of veils was prevalent in many parts of North India (and still is, in some places). No prizes for guessing where that culture came from.

    It is a miracle that Hinduism has still retained so much of its liberal essence, with the constant “morality” bombardment that we have been exposed to for decades.

  9. Kitapti Says:

    Tagore was a rasika kavi. Gandhi a puritan fighting his own sexuality. Thank goodness Tagore’s view pervailed.

    Agree with Deepak. Why all this talk of the past glories, why dont we show the openess and sexual liberal mores now. BJP has won in Goa, they can start naturist beaches and goverment funded tantric resorts. The BJP goverment in karnataka has given a heads up by organizing the Rave orgy in udupi. Will the Cheddis gives us back our past glory.

  10. asha Says:

    >>Your pointing fingers derisively at Gandhi’s sucking up to the religion of peace is justified if you are liberal yourself in your thoughts. Otherwise, you are just one more of the hundreds of millions of hypocrites who infest Indian society today.>>


    I am stating facts as they are….whenever I think of Gandhi sucking up to the followers of religion of peace, I mean the way he postponed the independence by 2 years by supporting khilafat movement (in support of reinstating the khalif in Turkey, which by the way did not have anything to do with india or Indian muslims) which resulted in carnage that visited malabar in the form of moplah rebellion (it was more like pogrom but of course we settle for something less offensive terminology when it comes to recording the unruly criminal behaviour of the followers of ROP). The second act of Gandhi was agreeing to Partition which as you might know caused untold misery and strife both to followers of ROP and hindus. BTW what has this got to do with me being liberal or not?

  11. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    “The slut brigade” is a good one, Deepak. I think your comments are not to be tqken seriously.

  12. chidu22 Says:

    Its fashionable to pick at Mahatma’s idiosyncrasies. A mediocre article churumuri could have done with out.

  13. Chakku Says:

    When I visited Konark, alocal guide gave an interesting explanation . If you have seen konark, there are 3 sections , the bottom most has , mythological carvings, the mid section has kamasutra rich carvings and the Top most has all gods and goddesses. He said the bottom was for children , mid for youth and top for the elderly. The kamasutra and erotic content was a way of attracting the mass back to hinduism , when most were converting to Buddhism or jainism .

  14. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    I mean I think your comments are not meant to be taken seriously.

  15. maisuru Says:

    @ Gandhi a puritan fighting his own sexuality….

    If any one of us were to sleep naked with a young woman and say one is fighting sexuality will the society except ! If there were mobile phones then and if any one had taken pics of a naked Mahatma sleeping with Dr.Sushila Nayar and if the same was being viewed/ circulated by a legislators would it have been called porn gate ? He was lucky he lived in a different era !

  16. EmptyMind Says:

    /*perhaps they were merely expressions of pleasure, one of the four aims of life — the other aims being ethics, economics and spirituality.*/

    As I know, these are not aims but they are way of life one as to live and practice concurrently. The aim of life is nothing as we won’t carry anything after death. Only deed of one who dies passes through next generation.
    Application of Sex without ethics results in addictive self indulgence of sensual pleasure which is one form of craving, the cause for later sufferings. All major world philosophies and even psychology support this theory.
    If Gandhi really planned to raze or burry this temple, we have to check the intent behind this move and the way, methods he follows to do this activity. I am dead sure he would have followed peaceful, non violent sathyagraha, the only way he knows.

    Most of the time we people lacks maturity to analyze the scenario and comparing Gandhiji with Taliban is quite a bit rude.

  17. Gaby Says:

    Wasnt there another incident- much better documented for posterity, when Gandhi and Tagore clashed. Gandhi had called the earthquake of 1934 in Bihar as ‘….a divine chastisement for the great sin we have committed and are still committing against those whom we describe as untouchables … ’. This made the utter rationalist Tagore express his complete disagreemnt in such a view. It is well known that the two has opposing positions on various aspects of morality and nature.

    In the instance of Konark or Khajuraho ( or both) I wonder what documentation exists to say that gandhi supported a movement to raze these structures to ground?

  18. Faldo Says:

    Without meaning any disrespect to the author of the piece, one is led to wonder if these were actual facts or mere hearsay. There is no doubt that Tagore was a very enlightened soul. However, one wonders if there is an attempt to exaggerate the positions of Gandhi and the British here to paint Tagore in a more favorable light. It could have been the position of a few Britishers and Indian leaders that Hindu culture was decadent but it may not be fair to generalize this to include most of our founding fathers.

  19. Deepak Says:

    Who knows sir, the types who built a temple for Khusbhoo (mother Goddess of premarital sex) may build one for Poonam Pandey too :)

  20. Vinay Says:


    The discussion is not about partition, moplah rebellion, etc. The discussion here is about Gandhi’s wish to have a temple destroyed because it contained erotic art. If you criticize Gandhi for his prudishness in wishing to break down such temples, you need to be “non prudish” i.e. liberal, yourself.

    Btw, regarding partition – the loss of lives was very sad, and it would have been nice to have avoided that loss of life. But in the long run, partition has been the best thing to have ever happened to India. Partition was the biggest blessing for present-day India (talking about modern India – “republic of India” – here) – it was an even bigger blessing than the 91′ reforms.

    Partition should have happened in a phased manner, maybe under the auspices of the British – over the course of 2-3 years. That would have been the ideal situation.

  21. EArun Says:

    Chur-muri thindu chaddi-harkolore jaasthi aagidare… This chaddi crowd with its false “patriotism”, Gandhi bashing and out right hypocrisy is rampant here. What the article tells you is two schools of thought. Yes Gandhi was wrong, that doesn’t mean you pick on him for all his thoughts. And comapring Gandhi to the ministers who watched porn, that filth can only come from the chaddi-clad. If the will of these knicker brigade is supreme, I bet they’ll even bring back the devadasi and the sati into society.

  22. Pulikeshi the Last Says:


    I would like to see a temple built for English Devi (as somebody did in Bihar) and one for Kannada Devi.

    Is there a Kannada actress who deserves a temple? Has there ever been?

  23. asha Says:


    I know this is not about the partition or moplah rebellion…my contention is he is very casual about destroying the place of worship of one religion without thinking too much about it while he does not even offer token protest for unlawful behaviour of the other religion. In hind sight every thing looks good, even partition, because you and I were not personally affected by it not were we displaced and out families destroyed. I have heard this argument a lot.

    Gandhi was not prudish…he was a confused pervert…think about this on one hand he wants to destroy a temple because it contains erotic sculptures and on the other hand he sleeps naked between 2 women and tries to control his hard on….on a lighter note, imagine the plight of those 2 women sleeping next to this pervert.

  24. asha Says:

    >>Is there a Kannada actress who deserves a temple? Has there ever been?>>

    Kalpana and Bharathi and maybe even jayanthi ;)

  25. Aakash Jain Says:

    cool. Seems bunch of really “intellect gems” got a forum to vent their daily frustration. Mr. Gandhi or Tagore, who cares? Or even if one do, would he/she be picking bad or good out of past? Couldn’t we just take good example from past?

  26. bengloor Says:

    @Aakash Jain,
    You think exactly the same way as delhi university thinks. It dropped Mysoor author’s ramayana for apparently similar racial reasons.

    Are you aware the digambara Jains’ and other jain rituals particularly removing hairs one by one?

    can you tell us which is good and bad or keeping Jain as surname is good or bad and finally becoming delhi aryan is good or bad?

  27. Ravindra Yadav Says:

    Mahatma Gandhi had has been correcting and experimenting with ‘Truth’ in his life time.Had Mahatma Gandhi lived more , he would have realised that he was wrong and Tagore was right.

  28. Jordan Says:

    I am in a class about Gandhi right now pursuing my Master’s degree. I can find absolutely NO EVIDENCE that Gandhi ever gave blessings to tear down the Khajuraho temples. One essay on the internet about this story says that in Claude Markovits’ book “The UnGandhian Gandhi” it is mentioned that Gandhi was very much influenced by 19th and early 20th century Victorian prudish morals. While it is almost certainly true that Gandhi was influenced by Victorian prudery, Markovits’ book makes absolutely NO REFERENCE to anything having to do with Gandhi or Tagore in relation to the Khajuraho temples. I believe this story to be a load of bunk until someone can produce A LEGITIMATE SOURCE for this claim.

    I say this to prevent the spread of untruth.


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