Balance of eroticism, spirituality needed in India, says author Sudhir Kakar

Sudhir Kakar credit:

New Delhi: Psychoanalyst-turned-writer Sudhir Kakar’s latest book, ‘The Devil Take Love’, is a heady mix of sexuality, ancient India and poetry.


The deeply erotic book comes against the backdrop of a heated debate in the country on porn ban and writers’ freedom of expression. The novel traces the life of the 7th century legendary Sanskrit poet Bhartrihari and his tussle between sexual self-discovery and intellect.

“The relevance of Bhartrihari is that he represents the perennial Indian struggle between flesh and spirit. It has been a struggle for India in the last 1,100 years. A balance of eroticism and spirituality is needed in India,” Kakar told  in an interview in Bhutan on the sidelines of a literary festival and later on the phone from Delhi.

The book unravels the liberal facet of ancient India where a temple was devoted to Kamadeva (king of desire) and a festival was observed for him.

“Bhartrihari’ s poetry is a struggle for the balance of eroticism and asceticism,” explains Kakar who has more than 20 titles to his credit. The book has at least three pages devoted to lovemaking.

Kakar also disputes attempts to glorify the spiritual past of ancient India. “It is a false notion that ancient India was purely spiritual as it is being projected now. It is good for Indians to learn that there have been two sides to ancient India,” said the author.

Defining passion as the driving force behind any creation, Kakar illustrates how Kama (lust) can’t be defied. “The sixth century Brihatsamhita says that from the greatest God to the smallest worm, everything is ruled by desire. Even Lord Shiva had to take four faces to have a look at a woman,” said Kakar who translated ‘The Kamasutra’ with Wendy Doniger .

The protagonist Bhartrihari, as a young man, travels from the provincial town of Jalandhar to the magnificent city of Ujjayini. His poetic prowess is recognised; he becomes the court poet in the kingdom of Avanti.

Though he climbed the ladder of success and fame in a short span of time, the poet is torn between sexual passion and erotic disenchantment, as the appeal of the senses tussles with the call of the spirit. As Bhartrihari’s poems are classified under shringara, vairagya and niti (love, renunciation and moral conduct), it is applicable for modern Indian society too, Kakar added.

‘The Devil Take Love’ eloquently narrates life in cosmopolitan Ujjayini while exploring the challenges in a poet’s mind. Bhartrihari is perceived to be the most modern among Sanskrit poets.

Kakar, however, describes his work as fiction and Bhartrihari as a ghost. “I would describe him as a historical ghost and a novelist’s delight. As there was a lack of information on the historical person behind the poet, I used my imagination to grasp the emotional truth of the poet,” said Kakar.

The author says that the intriguing title, ‘The Devil Take Love’, came from one of Bhartrihari’s verses when he was disillusioned with life and fell from grace. Kakar did his master’s degree in business economics from Germany and doctorate in economics from Vienna, before training in psychoanalysis at the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt.

Asked why he picked Bhartrihari’s life as a topic, he said: “My dad was a civil servant and I remember he recited a verse of Bhartrihari once when he came back from office disenchanted. He told me that Bhartrihari is the only poet with a modern sensibility. Fifty years must have passed, however, it stuck to me and I started reading his works,” said Kakar.

Kakar’s critically acclaimed oeuvres include ‘The Ascetic Of Desire; Ecstasy; The Crimson Throne; Intimate Relations; Exploring Indian Sexuality; Tales Of Love, Sex And Danger; among others.

(By Preetha Nair, IANS)