Books: Locating Pleasure in Indian History Prescribed and Proscribed Desires in Visual and Literary Cultures by Seema Bawa

Locating Pleasure in Indian History is one of the first works on the subject of the 'discourse of pleasure' in Indian history and culture. A source-based, rigorous work, it examines the cultural practices and the underlying philosophic matrix of pleasure, be it big or small. It recovers the production and consumption of beauty, desire and gratification in the world of pleasure, pleasurable pursuits and pleasant experiences of viewing, performing, thinking, debating, cooking, eating, listening, writing, creating and procreating.

With over 40 photographs, the volume historicises ideological and experiential conundrums thrown up by the idea of pursuing alimentary, carnal and even pious desires in visual and literary cultures. The reflexivity inherent in the work of artists, poets, dramatists and even shastrins is brought out through moments of pleasure as revealed through anecdotes, narratives, artefacts and objects of aesthetic gratification.

The contributions retrieve the discourse of pleasure in visual and literary cultures, in elite and popular spheres, as it informed the public and private domains of the bazaar, the temple, the household, the court and the garden locating it in the urbane art of Mathura of early CE, Ravana's palace in the art of 7th CE western Deccan showcases, the picture gallery or Suratkhana of Rajput royalty or domestic pleasures of women in the labyrinths of the Puranas.

The literary and visual archives reveal the attitudes and lived experiences of seeking and rejecting pleasures of the body and mind in the autobiography of a 17th-century Jaina merchant and an Urdu poet of the 18th century who extols the little pleasures just as another poet posits a counter culture that exposes the hypocrisy and excesses through biting satire and through the changing tastes and mores of colonial fashions.

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Copyright @ Department of History, University of Delhi . 2021