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Yab-Yum - artelino

Yab-Yum PositionYab-yum is a Tibetan word combination. Yab means 'honorable father' and 'yum' stands for 'honorable mother'. Yab-yum is simply a sexual position that you encounter often in Tibetan and Hindu arts, mostly for metal statues and on thangka paintings.

Yab-Yum in Tibetan Arts

The yab-yum motif comes in two basic variations. In the first position the male part is a wrathful deity and is standing, holding his female partner against his lap, or if his hands are too busy, the female is clinging around his neck. In this position she usually is touching the ground with one leg. The other leg is clinging around the male's hip.

In the second position the male is sitting in lotus position and his female partner is sitting in his lap. None of the two positions looks really comfortable and requires the agility of an Indian yogi. The whole position is made even more difficult because in most depictions 'yab' and 'yum' are holding some odd things in their hands, all these terrifying symbols like daggers or skulls.

Sex in Buddhism and Hinduism

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Western eyes are often puzzled and bewildered when they see rather explicit depictions of sexual intercourse in all kinds of "refinement" on old temples or on other art objects. The old temple carvings in Nepal are full of them. These are proofs that the Indian and Nepalese societies had a rather open and liberal attitude towards sex.

This changed with the arrival of the British in India. The prudery of the Victorian age became the new norm. Even today Indian films do not show scenes of kissing.

In the Tibetan society the relations between the genders were rather relaxed. Fraternal polyandry was the standard in the countryside, a means to avoid that the heritage of a family had to be split into small and difficult to manage agricultural units. A woman often married two or more brothers. And also the initiative for sexual intercourse was with the wife, not with the husbands.

Sex and Religion in the Himalayas

In the arts of Tibet and other Himalayan peoples you will often find 'yab-yum' or other sexual references. I find it rather funny to read the literature written by Western scholars with some winding and hard to understand explanations about their religious meanings. I have never understood this mumble-jumble about 'duality' and 'linguistic symbolism' and whatever. I rather think the subjects shown in art, religious or worldly, represent the habits, practices and the thinking of the society that created this art.

Dieter Wanczura, August 2010.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 November 2010 17:05  

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