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Debating Sexuality: Morality in the Early-Twentieth-Century Marathi Literary Culture

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Duration: 0:22:39 | Added: 21 Jan 2022
Part of the International conference on Maharashtra in September 2021 - Rahul Sarwate, University of Ahmadabad

In this paper, I explore an interplay between sexuality and power by examining the production and circulation of a new moral sensibility in early-twentieth-century Marathi literary culture. In particular, I examine two specific conversations about the relationship between literature, art, and sexuality in the 1930s: A) a debate instigated by a painting titled, Oleti ((A Drenched Woman), which was printed as a cover page for Ratnakar, a literary magazine, in June 1930. Oleti was quite controversial in the Marathi public sphere throughout the 1930s and led to a great number of debates about the relationship between art, sexuality, and obscenity, where the central concern was not the quality of the artistic expression but the moral anxiety about the depiction of female sexuality through the works of art. B) A debate between Bhaskarrao Jadhav, a renowned non-Brahmin intellectual, and Mahadev Shastri Divekar, a Sanskrit pundit of Pradnya Patha Shala, the reformist seminary at Wai, about the supposed celibacy of the Hindu god Hanuman. This debate, though drew upon philology and hermeneutics of reading the Ramayana, ultimately revolved around the relationship between sexuality and morality in the modern Marathi public.

I discuss these debates to explore the circulation of new moral aesthetic, as it emerged through the literary and cultural modernity in Marathi, particularly in the post-Tilak age. I seek to show that the materiality of the body, its romantic and sensual fervor was at the very center of early-twentieth-century Marathi literary culture.

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