A key feature of Hindu society today is its powerful strain of sexual prudery. Hindu conservatives see nothing wrong with it of course, and consider it the very essence of Hinduism. They usually blame "phoren" influences for the loosening sexual mores in their midst. Meanwhile, the liberals argue the reverse, and point to a remarkable Hindu past that produced open-minded texts like the Kama Sutra and the erotic temple sculptures of Khajuraho and Konark. They scratch their heads and wonder how this shift happened, and usually blame it on later historical interventions, such as the conservatism of the Muslim ruling elite and the puritanical Protestantism of Europeans.
In this engaging talk (20 mins), Wendy Doniger pokes holes in these simple narratives. She argues that the Europeans, when excavating the Hindu past, possessed the colonizer's lens of scholarship, which has profoundly shaped modern Hindu self-knowledge. The Anglicized Hindus, as I've written elsewhere, began understanding themselves and their culture "through the eyes of the colonizer—using the latter’s concepts, categories, and judgments." Doniger speaks of two prominent ideals in the history of the Hindus, the erotic and the ascetic, that have long coexisted despite being in tension. She notes that while the British oozed Victorian Virtues, Hinduism too had a long and indigenous strain of prudery that predates European colonization. Not surprisingly, this strain got valorized in colonial times, helping create a more standardized "Hinduism" based on the European idea of "religion", at the heart of which they placed the most austere spiritual texts like the Bhagavad Gita, demoting other strands of folk spirituality. Listen to her full argument, and to her Q&A exchange later with Lawrence Cohen.