by Jayaram V
Hunting, gambling, sleeping by day, censoriousness,
(excess with) women, drunkenness, (an inordinate love for)
dancing, singing, and music, and useless travel are the
tenfold set (of vices) springing from love of pleasure.
A twice-born student, who has involuntarily
wasted his manly strength during sleep, must bathe, worship
the sun, and afterwards thrice mutter the Rik-verse (which
begins), 'Again let my strength return to me.' (Manusmriti
Those who know the Veda declare that a voluntary
effusion of semen by a twice-born (youth) who fulfils the
vow (of studentship constitutes) a breach of that vow. The
divine light which the Veda imparts to the student, enters,
if he breaks his vow, the Maruts, Puruhuta (Indra), the
teacher (of the gods, Brihaspati) and Pavaka (Fire). When
this sin has been committed, he shall go begging to seven
houses, dressed in the hide of the (sacrificed) ass, proclaiming
his deed. Subsisting on a single (daily meal that consists)
of the alms obtained there and bathing at (the time of)
the three savanas (morning, noon, and evening), he becomes
pure after (the lapse of) one year. (Manusmriti 11:121-124)
Hinduism considers celibacy (brahmacharya) as an important
virtue and an essential aspect of spiritual life. Manu, the
famous law giver believed that desire would only grow by enjoyment
and therefore abstinence from sensual enjoyment or renunciation
of all pleasure was the best course (Manusmriti 2:96-97). Manu
advised young students to practice celibacy and remain on guard
in the company of women as they were by nature seducers (Manusmriti
In ancient India, students who were engaged in the study
of the Vedas and the knowledge of Brahman were exhorted to observe
strict celibacy. Since control of desires was considered essential
for self realization and sexual desire being the ultimate of
all desires, observation of celibacy became an important feature
of Hindu spiritualism. The idea that a student and follower
of Brahman should be a strict celibate became so ingrained in
the mind of people that over a period of time the word Brahmacharya
became synonymous more with the idea of celibacy than with
the studentship of Brahman.
In ancient India, apart form students, even the seers and
sages observed strict celibacy most of their lives even though
they were married. On important occasions and prior to performing
religious ceremonies, the householders also abstained from sex
and observed vows of celibacy. Sexual activity was completely
prohibited for all women during menstruation. Manu
prescribed the following rules for householders. (Manusmriti
Let (the husband) approach his wife in due season,
being constantly satisfied with her (alone); he may also,
being intent on pleasing her, approach her with a desire
for conjugal union (on any day) excepting the Parvas.
Sixteen (days and) nights (in each month), including
four days which differ from the rest and are censured by
the virtuous, (are called) the natural season of women.
But among these the first four, the eleventh and the
thirteenth are (declared to be) forbidden; the remaining
nights are recommended.
On the even nights sons are conceived and daughters
on the uneven ones; hence a man who desires to have sons
should approach his wife in due season on the even (nights).
A male child is produced by a greater quantity of
male seed, a female child by the prevalence of the female;
if (both are) equal, a hermaphrodite or a boy and a girl;
if (both are) weak or deficient in quantity, a failure of
He who avoids women on the six forbidden nights and
on eight others, is (equal in chastity to) a student, in
whichever order he may live.
Orthodox Hindus believe that abstinence from sex is
essential for sublimating sexual energy (retas) into spiritual
energy (tejas). They also believe that when a person controls
his sexual impulse, instead of going out and dissipating, his
sexual energy would change its direction and goes up through
the back of his spine and activates his higher
chakras, or centers of spiritual
energy. Ancient Hindus firmly believed that observation of celibacy
was very essential to reach the world of Brahman.
Hinduism does not consider that sex is sinful. However sexual
conduct is subject to the principles of dharma. Of the four
stages (ashramas) of human life, only during the stage of householder
a person was allowed to have sex. Only certain types of sexual
activity is considered lawful. It is also subject to the predominant
qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattvic sex is that which
is practiced with a pure mind out of love for the purpose of
procreation. Rajasic sex is that which is practiced out of egoism
in which personal pleasure and demonstration of one's strength
is the chief aim. Tamasic sex is that which is practiced out
of cruelty in which there is a total disregard for social norms
and the consent of the partner. Sexual act is also compared
to a ritual as is evident from the following verse from the
Chandogya Upanishad (2.13. 1&2).
"The beckoning is the invocation (binkara). Making
the request is the proposal (prasthava). Lying close to
the woman, that is udgitha. Lying on the top of the woman,
that is pratihara. Reaching the climax is the consecration.
He comes to the finish, that is nidhana. This is the hymn
to Vamadeva woven out of the act of sexual intercourse.
He who knows this Vamadeva chant as woven on sexual intercourse,
comes to intercourse, procreates himself from every act,
reaches a full length of life, lives well, becomes great
in offspring and in cattle, great in fame. One should not
despise any woman. That is the rule."
While celibacy was an important moral value for the students
and the priests, the ruling classes rarely observed celibacy.
The same was true in case of merchant communities. The
tantric form of worship considered sex as an important means
for spiritual transformation. But those who indulged in such
practices never gained public approval at any time in the history
of Hinduism and the tantric cults remained mostly secretive
for fear of public disapproval.