The control of bodies is one of the singular most important concepts in terms of thinking about how power works in societies and cultures across the world. This is no less true in the United States than in India. However, India has specific cultural ideals and values that make studying the body in India especially interesting. For instance, India has a long history of Hindu tradition that, according to the version practiced, proscribes the body paradoxically as gift and burden.
According to Gavin Flood, “The body has been a central concern for Indian religions and philosophies, on the one hand being given a positive evaluation in some traditions as the vehicle of the journey to liberation (Skt. mokṣa) or enlightenment (bodha), on the other hand being given a negative evaluation in some traditions as a restriction or confinement of the soul from which it must break free.” For many Hindus, the body is of primary importance for several reasons. One of these is that it represents one’s past lives, such that their bodily form in the current life is a result of their past lives deeds–better deeds result in better bodily form and social status. Some believe yoga and meditation will free one from the earthly body, while others believe the body contains the heavens inside. Flood notes, “Apart from soteriological and ritual concerns, the body has been the focus of medical discourse, the Ayurveda, that cannot be separated from general Hindu cosmological and philosophical categories.” Thus, the body is of central concern when considering Indian practice, values, and beliefs, particularly as these have shifted post-British colonization.
Taking the importance of the body in India into consideration, I elected to keep a journal of my experience in India. In this journal, I reflect on what it means to have a body, to be embodied, in a space that is deeply complex. India is full of diversity and contradiction. It is the prime space to examine bodies, given the number and importance of them in tradition and contemporary society. This is my experience: