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MF Husain and his reasons for painting Hindu Gods and Goddesses naked: A perverse Islamist under the veneer of ‘maverick’ artist

Defending his art at the age of 91, Husain compared the Hindus in India with Hitler, whom he hated the most and had painted nude in one of his earlier paintings. "Hitler cracked down on artists when he came to power in Germany. And this is precisely what the right-wing forces are doing in India. These people are worse than Nazis and should be persecuted," he was quoted as saying.

What comes first to your mind when you hear of MF Husain? An old man with white hair, pale deep eyes, painting brush in his hand? Or the absurd, weird portraits which he painted allegedly referring to the Hindu old scriptures of Mahabharata and Ramayana? Every Hindu person probably feels hurt when he thinks of a person born in India, who had seen Hindu culture so closely, insulting Hindu Gods and Goddesses by painting them nude.

MF Husain, more than his vibrantly coloured modern art paintings, is remembered today only because of the controversial paintings that he created where he blatantly portrayed Lord Ram, Goddess Sita, Lord Hanuman, Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Laxmi, etc nude in the name of ‘Indian modernism’. While he was battling legally, defending his ‘Freedom of Expression’ to paint Hindu Gods and Goddesses the way he did, his ‘artistic’ mind created a new painting- this time showing Bharat Mata nude in bold red. This did nothing but forced him to go into exile and resettle in Qatar.

What made him hurt the Hindu sentiments? Why did he make controversial paintings of only Hindu Gods but ‘not of other religions’? Why didn’t he paint Allah?- Husain had all the answers, however intolerant or unacceptable they were, but he had all the answers.

Exposing Hypocrisy of MF Husain

Maqbool Fida Husain, popularly known as MF Husain was nothing but a classic example of a ‘secular, liberal and progressive’ Islamist in India, where all his claims of ‘secularism’ began and ended only at the Hindu religion. In one of his paintings of Gandhi, Einstein, Marx, and Hitler, the ‘great artist’ had decapitated Gandhi but had pictured Hitler as naked. When asked about the painting, Husain in one of his interviews said that he hated Hitler as he had cracked down on artists when he came to power in Germany. “Painted Hitler nude to humiliate him as he deserves it”, he was quoted. So, did he paint Hindu Gods and Goddesses because he hated them? Husain’s answer to this was “No” and this contradiction in his ideology led to the initial rise of controversy.

Gandhi, Einstein, Marx, and Hitler painted by MF Husain (Image source- Hindujagruti.org)

For instance, he painted the Goddess of wisdom, Goddess Saraswati, nude in black and white ‘to make viewers understand the old Indian tradition of formlessness’. “The controversial sketch of Saraswati is an elegant white-on-black line drawing, which makes the viewer reflect on the old Indian tradition of ‘nirakara’ or formlessness,” Husain had said. He also painted Goddess Parvati nude and called her ‘Aparn’ which means ‘without leaves’ (nude). The story he blatantly claimed to have referred to while painting ‘Aparn’ was “Parvati underwent many years of penance to win Shiva till her clothing deteriorated and fell away in the bitter Himalayan cold”.

Goddess Saraswati was painted nude by MF Husain (Image Source- DailyO)
Goddess Parvati is portrayed naked by MF Husain (Image source- Hindujagruti.org)

Then he had also coloured Goddess Sita sitting naked on the laps of Ravana. In another one, he showed Lord Ram and Goddess Sita spending personal quality time with each other in presence of Lord Hanuman. What was his thought behind painting such ‘folklore’ as he termed these paintings to be? “Nobody is interested in knowing anyone. I give what people want: fodder for scandals and gossip”, Husain said adding that “the goddesses are pure and uncovered. Here, the nudity is not nakedness; it’s a form of innocence and maturity”.

Goddess Sita coloured nude on the laps of Ravana by MF Husain (Image source- DailyO)

If Husain painted Hindu Gods and Goddesses naked as a form of ‘innocence and maturity’, did he mean to praise the Nazi leader Hitler whom he had painted naked out of hatred in the past? Why didn’t he paint Islam or other religion for that matter the way he painted Hindu Gods and Goddesses? Didn’t he believe in the Islamic power and its ‘innocence and maturity’? Husain had answers to these also, however controversial, he had answers.

MF Husain
Lord Ram and Goddess Sita showed spending personal quality time with each other in presence of Lord Hanuman (Image Source- Pinterest)

Why did he paint only Hindu Gods and no God of any other religion?

While engaging in a conversation with author Ila Pal who later wrote a book named ‘Husain: Portrait of an Artist’, Husain opined that the tradition of painting and sculpting gods and goddesses had existed agelessly and that Hindus were tolerant enough to understand the art. The book quotes some Islamic leaders from Hyderabad having asked Husain that “why didn’t he paint Islamic history?”. Husain immediately replied, “Do you have the tolerance that Hindus have?”.

The book by Ila Pal further explains the plight of the artist about why he chose not to portray Allah, though he had a ‘deep rooted’ interest in religions of the world. “The answer is easy to understand. That is if one wants to. It is forbidden to paint Allah. He is formless, hence the taboo, whereas it is a tradition in the Hindu religion, from the beginning of history, to paint and sculpt gods and goddesses. Every art, however path-breaking, springs from traditions established earlier. The artist may then bring his imagination and inventiveness into play. There is no tradition of painting Allah”, the book quotes.

MF Husain
Book ‘Husain: Portrait of an Artist’ written by Author Ila Pal

Interestingly, though Husain had taken a lot of liberties with Hindu deities by picturing them naked, anyone who protested or opposed him was termed backwards, communal and conservative. In one of his paintings, he portrayed an Islamic leader accompanied by a Hindu Brahmin. The painting blatantly showcased a Brahmin man naked whereas the Islamic leader was shown fully covered in clothes.

MF Husain
The Muslim and the Brahmin (Image Source- quackreview.com)

The Islamist hypocrisy that revolved around his ‘artistic’ ideology was truly exposed when Husain produced a movie called ‘Meenaxi A Tale of 3 cities’ featuring actress Tabu. Soon as the movie was released, some Muslim organizations protested that one of the Qawwali songs Noor-un-Ala-Noor was ‘blasphemous’ and hurt the Islamic sentiment. Husain immediately withdrew the movie from all the theatres without uttering a single word against the protest as he knew the dire consequences of escalating the issue.

The controversial painting of Bharat Mata

Husain, born in the year 1915, had closely seen the British oppression in India and then the historic incident of the ‘Partition of India’ which he claimed inspired him to portray ‘Bharat Mata’ nude. The painting named ‘Bharat Mata’ which Husain claimed that he never gave the title to proved to be the most controversial painting around the year 2006. His portrayal of nudity inflamed red and aroused protests in different parts of the country. The painting implied a weeping woman as the enslaved state of India after the colonial impact.

The Hindu organizations, including the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS) and VHP, had launched massive protests in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh against the ‘Bharat Mata’ painting and his other paintings, depicting Hindu goddesses naked. HJS also had filed a case with Mumbai and Thane police and had appealed to the then President A P J Abdul Kalam and the then PM Manmohan Singh to take action against such an ‘anti-national and perverse artist’.

MF Husain
The painting of ‘Bharat Mata’ which Husain claims was never titled by him (Image source- Hindujagruti.org)

The controversial artist who was booked by police for hurting the sentiments of people by painting Hindu Gods in the nude had apologized and promised to withdraw his controversial painting depicting ‘Bharat Mata’ from an auction. Reportedly, Husain then went into self-exile and lived his last years in Qatar. Defending his art at the age of 91 then, Husain compared the Hindus in India with Hitler, whom he hated the most and had painted nude. “Hitler cracked down on artists when he came to power in Germany. And this is precisely what the right-wing forces are doing in India. These people are worse than Nazis and should be persecuted,” he was quoted.

Slamming the Indian government for taking no action for his protection, he stated that the ominous silence of the ‘good’ worried him.”It seems that it doesn’t have the political will to take action against these belligerent blimps who know nothing about art How long will the Indian government at the centre continue to remain a mute spectator to this witch-hunting?”, he pondered.

Further, in an alleged attempt to demean the Hindus for raising their voices in the protection of their religion and culture, Husain played a victim card stating that he was being ‘harassed’ because he was a Muslim. “I have never meant to offend anyone. In any case, an artist’s imagination is open to interpretation but it must remain unfettered. Possibly. If my name was not MF Husain, things would have been certainly different”, he blatantly stated.

900 odd court cases slapped against the artist

After the controversial painting of the ‘Bharat Mata’, the painter was slapped with 900 odd legal cases to fight in the Indian court of law. He went into self-exile in Qatar for four years and then expressed his wish to return to India probably after the Mumbai Court had begun attaching his properties after he failed to respond to the summons. He also meanwhile had given up his Indian passport and had accepted Qatari citizenship.

According to the reports, Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party Chief Bhim Singh had filed a petition in the court to direct the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take steps to bring Husain back to India. The petition also sought direction from the Centre for withdrawal of all cases lodged against Husain and to ensure his safe return to the country. The Supreme Court, however, in the year 2010 refused to issue any such directions and withdrawal of cases against him. The apex court said it cannot direct the Union of India to withdraw the cases as the complaints were filed by private individuals.

Pertinently, in the year 2008, the Delhi High Court had held that the ‘Bharat Mata’ painting was not obscene under section 292 of the Indian Penal Code. The appeal was brought to the Court by private complaints, filed in various parts of India. The court stated that art was an important tool of expression, but that Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution allowed limitations on freedom of expression to be restricted on the grounds of public decency and morality. “However, by reviewing, among other things, the intent of the artist and the idea behind the painting, the court held that the painting did not violate section 292 of the IPC”, it ruled.

MF Husain
Untitled self-portrait by MF Husain (Image source- Dawn)

Also, the Supreme Court in the year 2008 refused to initiate criminal proceedings against MF Husain for hurting public sentiments and depicting Bharat Mata and Hindu Gods and Goddesses obscenely. “There are many such pictures, paintings and sculptures and some of them are in temples also,” the court had maintained dismissing one such petition.

M F Husain graciously thanked the Supreme Court for its verdict and said that “at last they have understood the dignity of Indian contemporary art”. While he expressed his wish to come back to India and enjoy ‘khus chai at an Irani cafe in Mumbai and jalebi in the CCI club lawn’, the Supreme Court in another such ruling of the case refused to issue direction to the Centre for withdrawal of all cases lodged against Husain and to ensure his safe return to the country. “If he is in Doha, what is the problem,” the bench queried and asked petitioner Bhim Singh to withdraw his plea in the year 2010.

Some of MF Husain’s controversial paintings

MF Husain
Portrait of Lord Hanuman showcasing partially dressed Lord Rama and Goddess Sita (Image source- columbia.edu)
MF Husain
Portrait of nude Lord Hanuman saving nude Goddess Sita. Husain showed Lord Hanuman glaring at Goddess Sita (Image source- Victoria and Albert Museum)
MF Husain
Lord Hanuman without head (Image Source- Victoria and Albert Museum)
MF Husain
Lord Ganesha was painted nude by MF Husain (Image source- Webneel.com)

Death of MF Husain in London

MF Husain breathed his last due to a heart attack on June 9, 2011, in London. The artist took his last breath at the age of 95 giving up his desire to return to India forever. While many of his supporters and admirers paid condolences to the ‘pioneer of the modern art movement in India’, Hindu leaders stood defiantly, opposing his burial in India.

The BJP condoled Husain’s demise but opined that he got distanced from India and Indians. “He (Husain) should have come back, respected the law and people’s sentiments, and merged his breath and body with Indian soil. Alas, not only he got distanced from Indians but also from India,” stated the then BJP spokesperson Tarun Vijay. “His caricature of Durga and Bharat Mata was obnoxious and unacceptable,” he added.

Meanwhile, the members of Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stated that Husain had spent time in exile because he had insulted the country’s majority community. “The portrayal of Hindu goddesses in the nude is an unpardonable offence. No society will tolerate this,” the then spokesman of Bajrang Dal, Vinod Bansal had said.

Also, the then Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray had described him as a mercurial, obstinate man. “In matters of art, he gave up the country, but not his obduracy. If Husain’s death is a loss to India’s modern art movement, so be it,” he added, alluding to Husain’s long-drawn spat with the Sena and other Hindutva parties over his controversial oeuvre of work.

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Siddhi Somani
Siddhi Somani
Siddhi Somani is known for her satirical and factual hand in Economic, Social and Political writing. Having completed her post graduation in Journalism, she is pursuing her Masters in Politics. The author meanwhile is also exploring her hand in analytics and statistics. (Twitter- @sidis28)

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