Love is the universal feeling that sees no boundaries, language, caste or age. A priceless emotion that stays for life, love exudes warmth, acceptance and friendship that are hard to replicate in such deep emotional intimacy in any other relation. And when it is Valentine’s Day, love literally flutters in the air. Apart from the many debates on how Valentine’s Day may not necessarily adhere to our culture and how a single day is never enough to express love, it is still worth to reflect on how ‘love’ between two different individuals has seen a gamut of changes in expression and understanding over the years. However, the emotion itself has remained pretty much unaltered, though it has been accused of becoming frivolous, callous and at times ‘westernized’ by many.
The Great Indian love stories – The Past
India is not devoid of some of the greatest love stories of all time. From fables to folk lore and from history to epics, love stories abound in grandeur, courage and lust as much as they do in societal interferences and heart wrenching endings. Fascinatingly romantic escapades of Anarkali and Salim, Amrapali and Bimbisara, Baji Rao and Mastani, Prithviraaj Chauhan and Samyukta or Heer and Ranjha and Mirza and Sahiba are examples of boundless love that have influenced or have been influenced by society and culture. Some of these emerged victorious against odds while some left behind a legacy of unfulfilled love. Some laid down their lives while some lived on. However, their love stories have for generations become an integral part of how love stands up for itself distancing from societal pressure and traditional rules.
Samyukta’s grit in disdaining all rest and laying the garland around the statue of Prithviraaj, Anarkali’s unconditional love in being entombed, Baji Rao’s unconventional marriage to Mastani against religion and caste or Ranjha committing suicide besides dead Heer’s body are examples of selfless love that grew and remained true despite social differences and aggressive societal intrusions.
The Great Indian Love Stories of Today
Looking at multiple cases of honor killings and societal pressure one can say that some things have not really changed in our cultural understanding of the concept of love. Inter religion and inter caste marriages are not a taboo in certain sections, however, it still remains a distant dream in many parts and societies of the nation. Love is still believed to be confined to parameters and its expression suppressed, at times, forcibly to adhere to what is perceived as tradition and cultural purity.
Yet, the great Indian love stories continue to grow and prosper across various spectrums of the society.
Expression and culture
There are the legend love stories as well as the hundreds of known and not known love stories that have remained true to the real meaning of love. However, the expression of love has also undergone a drastic change and in many ways can be termed as a paradigm cultural shift of sorts. Where earlier there was really no concept of dating and where the spouses saw each other only after marriage today live in relations are quite common. And though love cannot be equated to marriage, yet marriage was always deemed as the solid representative of love some years ago.
Again, ask your grandparents or watch any old Indian movie and you will see how it was the eyes that did all the talking. Communication was very limited yet the sense of duty and responsibility heightened. Today communicating with the person you love is of paramount importance and expression of love has moved much beyond the swish of eyelashes or a blush of the cheeks. Unlike a lot of western countries where the expression of love was not a taboo, in India holding of hands or embracing is still beyond the comfort zone of many individuals when in public.
Yet, it is in India that most public parks and open spaces become a ground for love birds. Hence is the massive paradox of our society that is often mistaken under the garb of culture. There has always been a strong understanding of ‘maryada’ (repute) and ‘sharam’ (shyness) in general when it comes to expressing love and this seems to be changing drastically. PDA is no longer a scandalous once in a blue incident. Whereas some couples openly admit their love in public view, some chose to use the public space to hide away from private prying eyes of family. And this perhaps is one of the biggest drawbacks of how love is understood in our culture and society – a platonic inspiration that finds its obvious openness to expression unnecessary and even uncultured. Unsurprisingly, different ‘holders and bearers of our true culture’ cannot fathom the need for any kind of outward expression, especially if it is confined to a particular day called Valentine’s Day. On the other hand the debate of how much of public display of affection is acceptable and how much can others be comfortable viewing the expression of love of others is ongoing.
Young vs Old
This influx of a completely different way of showering and showing love has baffled the older generation to an extent. In fact, it is not only love, but the younger generation is often accused by those who are decades older of volatile reactions, instant decisions and strong individualistic ideas. Where grandparents may reminisce of how they nurtured their relation and built it up gradually, they also find it at times surprising that the younger generation quite literally wears their heart on their sleeve.
In the age of constant communication, love has become more explicit. But has it become more daring and also in many ways adventurous? Does this mean that the magnitude and depth of love has changed over time? I wouldn’t think so, because love knows how to speak without the use of words and language. Yet, admittedly the different subtle variations of love have found more acceptances and openness to conversation.
Love is not only blind, but also most unpredictable. It blossoms sometimes under the tutelage of culture, whereas in some cases it is curbed under the grind of tradition and honor. Sometimes a single look can do the magic and a thousand roses and cards can fail. It can take a few moments to hear the heart beat like never before or it can take years of togetherness or separation to know true love.
In either case, love is a special emotion that has not only transcended history and culture, but has in fact, shaped and molded it for generations to come.