Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Nayika as the lovers of all creature

Anonymous, The Nayika as the lovers of all creatures, 18th century

I couldn't find any precise information about this intriguing Indian picture. I like erotic Indian art a lot for its portrayals of joyous sensuality and this picture is no exception, it looks like a tongue-in-cheek celebration of lust as a basic animal instinct which drives all of nature. The anatomical correctness of most genitals and mating positions only adds to the good-natured humor of the scene.

I have to wonder why all the humans are women though (there is even a lesbian couple on the left) and why they are juxtaposed to images of animals couples. Nayika can be roughly translated as "heroine" or "woman archetype". I'm not familiar with critical readings of Indian art, but I would especially like to know whether it was meant to be just an enticing piece or some sort of satyrical picture denouncing women's lust. If this were Western art from the same time period the latter would certainly be the most likely reading since even the most sexually explicit art hasn't been safe from moralism or cultural propaganda in past Western history.

In the absence of specific information I'd rather think this image isn't meant to debase women though. Celebrations of fertility and female sexuality hold an important role in Indian culture (although unfortunately real life sexual freedom is another matter), and so do animals and oddities of nature, so it's not surprising that it would produce artistic depictions of lust crossing all barriers and cast in a positive light such as this one.

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