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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 14:12 GMT
India's fascination with Valentine's Day
Women at the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal - India's most famous expression of love
The BBC's Vijay Rana explains how Valentine's Day has replaced more traditional celebrations of love in India

Among the numerous gods of the Hindu pantheon, Kamadev is the lord of love.

He wields a bow of flowers.

Couples fall in love when struck by his rose-decorated arrows.

Couple in Bombay
Valentine's Day is popular with young urbanites

India is also the home of the Kamasutra, the most elaborate treatise on lovemaking.

There are numerous folk tales of legendary lovers who kissed death with a promise to meet, or rather mate, in heaven.

These old tales are so lurid they make Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet a pale afterthought.

Indians protesting against Valentine's Day celebrations make one wonder what has happened to the people who once sculpted the passionate love makers on the temple walls at Khajuraho.

That ancient tradition of love died somewhere in the Middle Ages.

No longer was it celebrated in public cultural displays.

Lovers were frowned upon.

Sexual suppression was severe and vehement.

Lovers who came from unequal castes were punished and even occasionally executed.

The tradition of Kamadev was buried and the lessons of the Kamasutra were forgotten - then, a decade ago, Valentine's Day began to make an impression in India.

Recent advent

Before that, hardly anyone celebrated Valentines Day in India.

Purists dubbed it as another decadent influence of the west.

But economic globalisation followed by the emergence of a class of neo-rich brought in a new a culture of fancy dinners and dance clubs, foreign satellite channels and expensive card shops.

Man gets a hirsute message of love
Young Romeos are often demanding

Their clientele were the privileged few.

But millions of those who were unable to escape the grind of a meagre life could not be deprived of Valentine's universal gift of love.

Commercial TV channels invented special Valentine shows, dedications of love filled radio programmes and even love letter competitions were organised.

When Indians do something they tend to overdo it.

Weeks before Valentine's Day street Romeos reappear everywhere.

Many of them pretend to enact the Bollywood style boy-meets-girl stories that often degenerate into verbal abuse.

Tough love

Such harassment of women is a widespread problem in many parts of India.

Perhaps to lighten the social guilt it is rather imaginatively described as 'eve teasing'.

Young woman at card shop
Pestering can take the shine off love

This kind of abuse becomes rampant in the days preceding Valentine's Day.

There is simply no escape for those girls uninfected by the love bug.

"It is virtually impossible to get out of your house before you find a love-struck class-fellow waiting for you. And you never know what they will do," said one of the harassed girls.

Sexual crimes are not uncommon in India.

Jilted lovers have strange ways of taking revenge: Verbal abuse, physical assaults, rapes, kidnappings and even throwing of acid and disfiguring a woman for life.

Sociologists have yet to come up with figures, but there is clear evidence that this abuse grows during the Valentine season.

People find ingenious ways to express love.

A few years ago a drunken thug, emulating a Bollywood film hero, arrived on horseback with a gun in his hand.

He fired a shot in the air and declared to the terrified father of the girl he fancied: "The bandit king has not come to destroy your house, but to marry your daughter and to shower prosperity on your house."

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Valentine's Day in Asia
13 Feb 02 | Middle East
Cooling the ardour of Valentine's Day
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Tough love for Indian Valentines
12 Feb 01 | South Asia
Militant Hindu Valentine threat
14 Feb 00 | South Asia
India takes Valentine's Day to heart
04 Feb 00 | South Asia
Bangalore's Valentine bloom
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