Many historians are still to offer explaination or the mystery behind depiction of gross sexual images on the facade of temples or places of worship of hindu gods. If one surveys the landscape and dwells into the history Jains and Buddhism seemed to have marched ahead of Hinduism during first century upto 6th century with famed reign of Asoka, Kanishka and Gupta’s who sponsored them liberally. Huge statues of Jain thirtankaras and Buddha was installed all over the country. Hindus had just come up with a counter of installing Lingas which was a feeble attempt to retain faith among the common folks. The symbol of phallus worship was only another extention of nature worship in the form of stone.
Jains offered non violence and self control in their religion, Buddhist offered the middle path in leading one’s life. Hindu religion was threatened because of the impressive monuments and symbolism of Jains and Buddhist. And they had to counter to retain their identity. Thus was born Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva generally termed as Generator, Operator & Destroyer. GOD in short form.
The naked image of Thirtankaras offered an visual effect of relinquishing materialistic things and desires, Stupas and Viharas along with frescos offered a different attraction and angle to the common folks leading them to middle path. Thus was born the idea of Kamasutra to retain the interest of the common man and stick to his core religion (Hinduism ). Vatsayanan proposed the sexual fitness theory with 69 postures along with showing restraints. The taboo of inhibited or miniature sexual images from the days of Ajanta and Aihole was given a free lease of life. The artisans under the guidance and sponsorship of the royalty went on imagination galore to produce the wonderful sculpture in form Khajuraho sexual images. They obviously were guided by some yogic sex expert, who knows it may been Vatsayanan himself or one of his disciples. Some the sexual postures definitely requires man to be extremely fit along with his partner.
The second premise is that the Vatsayanan of Kamasutra was the guiding factor behind the exposition of erotic architecture of the temple. The entire region of Khajuraho and Bundelkhand was known as Vatsa region. It is sad that majority of the religions perceive sex as satanical desire. But Vatsayanan and Freud have exploded this myth during their times.
The third assumption for the depiction of erotic sculpture is to spread the knowledge of sex education amongst the royalty and public in a brazen manner along with worshipping the god and goddesses. Human life is divided into three stages Kama ( Sexual desire ) Artha ( Materialistic ) & Dharma ( Virtuous life ).
Other explanations offered are :
Chandelas were followers of Tantric Cult. They believed in attainment of moksha through sexual pleasures. The goal of Tantric sex is to experience the inner meaning of our body and soul. The idea is to enrich the sexual experience rather than only attaining orgasm.
Some experts during ancient times believed that Kama offered natural protection against lightening and rain. The message seems to have been picked up well by ASI now that they have installed lightening conductors on the façade.
Some scholars believed that the erotic sculptures were a direct inspiration from Kamasutra
Prologue : When I visited Khajuraho as a bachelor after finishing our market work in 1987 alongwith my colleague Somasunderam. He uttered ” Che Poh ” in tamil in astonishment. You really brought me here to witness this atrocious sculptures depicting sex. And than in the night he started discussing how could they have done it. That was the typical attitude of general public after it was demonized and declared heretic by the British after the re discovery of Khajuraho in 1830 guided by local folks by T.S. Burt. Alexander Cunningham acknowledges Khajuraho monuments were secretly occupied by the Agori babas ( naked saints ) and Shivarathri was celebrated every year with assemblage of crowd from nearby villages.
Our history professor Rao with his booming voice uttered once famously in our classroom in 1977 that Sex is the cheapest and greatest form of entertainment for majority of Indians. Probably it is one of the binding factor for the success of family life in India when compared to westerners. Hats off to our professor who opened our eyes in descrbing the erotic architecture of Aihole which is considered to be school of Indian Architecture.
Never in the history of fine arts in India, has the dexetrous hands sculpted such fine specimen of erotic figures on stone, which can be replicated. Kudos to the artisans of time who have remained largely anonymous to the world.
Khajuraho group of monuments are grouped into basically three divisions Western, Eastern and Southern. Out of the 85 temples only 25 temples have survived today. They have been declared a world heritage site.
Western Group of Temples :
1. Matangeswar temple : SHIVA ( 900-925 AD ) : According to epics saint Matanga adorned the Linga form who seemed to have controlled the goddess of Love. This temple is located outside the complex and it is the only temple where the worshipping of Linga is allowed. Devotees throng them during Shivaratri festival wherein the Lingam is decked up like a bridegroom about to be married.
2. Lakshmana Temple : VAIKUNTA VISHNU ( 930-950 ) This temple seems to have been built by Yashovarman according to an incription slab excavated dating back to 953 AD. It is one of the best preserved temple in the complex with its plaform intact. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu with four other small shrines surrounding the main temple. The shrine displays the image of Vishnu with 3 headed avatar and four arms forms the sanctum. The pillars are decorated with Apsaras in various style and fully decked up. The central panel is decorated with various forms of Vishnu. The lentil and facades depict Krishna subjugating the serpant Kaliya along with goddess Lakshmi. One panel on outside depicts the slaying of demon Hiranayakaspu by Narasimha avatar of Vishnu. Another sculpture of Lord Ganesha with four arms and tusk with a dancing format is beautifully embedded on the facade.
A couple is displayed in a standing and locked love making posture which beats the imagination of the onlooker for its sheer execution in stone. One is left to wonder whether the man is in squatting & locked posture or the women. Some of the other panels displaying a blow job and kissing couple in various formats of foreplay is embedded.
3. Kandariya Mahadev Temple : SHIVA ( 1003-1035 ) This is the largest temple in the western group of temples. The credit for building this magnificent edifice goes to Chandela king Vidhadhara. This temple is built in the form of four shikaras or spires. It has a hexagonal platform and consists of two other temples. The temple is literally guarded by dragon and damsel in a ritualistic posture on its two sides.
The iconic sexual fantasy of a male lying upside down having intercourse with three females at a time, with one female mounted and locked with the support of two standing females, who in turn is being masturbated by man with his hands on both sides. This is probably the most yogic style of having an inter course with dexterity and agility beyond imagination. ( Original quote )
It is left to the onlookers imagination to interpret whether the three panels depict the starting of love making sequence to its culmination from top to bottom panel. If one has a closer look at the panels one can see all the players are well decked up in jewelry and hair dressings. It is almost as if a prince or a royalty is exhibiting his sexual prowess and fitness with his partners.
This temple complex was raided twice by Mahmud Ghazi in search of treasures and destruction of idolatry. Once in 1019 and second time in 1022 AD. Truce was bought a hefty price by the Dhangadeva and this temple was dedicated to his family deity lord Shiva. Epigraphic evidence points out to a fact that this temple’s architect is Virimda. The dateline streches beyond 1029 upto 1050 considering its size and gigantic proportions.
The penetration of natural light is very limited despite its frontal balconies. Probably for this reason it is known as the cave temple. The sanctum is like a womb chamber of Parvathi the consort of lord Shiva. The temple is built like a spiral vertical structure with facade of the temple adorned with images of Ganesha, Veerabhadra, Bramha, Varaha and Narasimha.
4. Viswanatha Temple : Shiva ( 999 AD ) : The construction of this temple is credited to Dhangadeva ( 950-999 ) The architects of the temple are Chichha and Vishwakarma. The temple is built in Nagara style. This temple is almost constructed in similar style of Kandariya temple except for the additional gopuram by its side.
The facade of the temple is embedded with sculptures of Ganesha, Apsaras, Varaha, Shiva-Parvathi and couples in romantic liason. The sanctum sanctorium contains the image of Linga.
The coyness depicted by a women when couples are having sex is a natural defensive nature of a shy lady. The embracing couple intercourse with two other females on standby mode is a unique combination with bystanders watching the entire action unfolding.
Some of the images depict a women plucking a thorn, combing her hair and playing flute instrument. Some of the erotic sculptures are hidden between the joints of the structure. A women interlocked on the lap of a man is the highlight of the erotic depiction. They are assisted by two women on either side.
The Colonial British arts administrator Earnest Havel termed it as product of decadent phase of Hinduism. However the contrarian view it is the artistic exposure of Kamasutra of a broad minded society. Another theory suggested that only those who resisted sexual temptation can attain salvation. Some believed that these erotic sculptures protected the edifice from evil eye. Another Professor that these erotic sculptures symbolized fertility and procreation extension of the genes or family tree.
5. Chitragupta Temple : Surya ( Sun God ) : ( 1020-1025 ) : This temple is dedicated to the sun goddess. The impressive image of the lord standing in horse drawn chariot is the main image on sanctum.
This edifice contains images of 11 headed Vishnu displaying all his avatars on the southern side. There are number of images of couples in erotic and loving posture. Brahma and his consort are seen in embracing posture.
Inorder to construct majority of the temples at the Khajuraho a fine grade of sandstone has been used. The stones had different shades of pink and hues of pale yellow. They were chiselled from the quarries located at Panna and transported to Khajuraho. Some of the foundation was laid with granite blocks.
Other temples located in the Western group are Devi Jagadambi temple, Varaha temple Avatar of Vishnu (900-925 ), Parvathi Temple, Nandi Temple, Bramha temple, Vamana temple (1050-1075 ) and few other smaller shrines.
Eastern Group of Temples or Jain group :
These group of temples have almost been subject to massive changes with yellow white wash or painting. The entire heritage structure seems to have been discarded with only two temples maintained in its originality. Jain group of temples have obviously suffered a massive destruction by the invaders, due to their blantant nakedness and prominent idolatory.
The jain group of temples are named after their theertankaras Parsvanath, Shantinath, Adinath, Mahavir etc. The digambar sect of jains have their ashram as well as temple where the prayers are conducted in a routine manner.
Southern Group of Temples :
Duladeo : Shiva : 1125 AD : Dulhadeo means Holy Bridegroom. This is one of the last temple built during the Chandela reign. It is laid with a Chariot plan with a limited erotic panel display of Apsaras. This temple has been beautifully renovated by ASI to its original condition. The restored portion of the temple is visible with shades of granite being different from older ones.
The outer wall panels has sculptures of Varaha and other avatars of Vishnu along with Shiva in a seated posture along with snake and other embellishments.
Vatsayanana ultimately ends his treatise in a humourous way ” Nowhere is as poorly guarded as a harem, and no women are more accessible than the wives of the King. An enterprising and pleasure seeking young man can choose any number of ways to get inside. Hidden in a barrel or in disguise of a maid, he can easily sneak past lazy guards who are over worked and tired. Another distinct possibility is to partake a magic potion that will make him invisible …..” Quote from Deepak Chopra’s rendition of Kamasutra.
Chaturbhu Temple : Vishnu 1100 AD : This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu with four arms and it is the only temple which does not contain any erotic sculptures. The construction of this temple is credited to Yashovarman of Chandela dynasty.
Excavated Temple : Enroute to Chaturbhuja temple there is an excavation under progress by ASI. One can witness the crumbled structure from a distance. There is a deviation from the main road with a signage indicating the direction of the excavated temple.
The Chandelas claim a lunar lineage and as the legend goes One full moon night, Hemavathi a 16 year old widow was bathing in a pond filled with Lotus. The Moon god was attracted towards her beauty. He descended in the form of a handsome youth and seduced her, to beget a son named Chandratreya. He began the Chandela dynasty. His legendary act of fighting a Lion with his bare hands became a symbol of the dynasty. Thus on one full moon night honeymoon occured and thus was born the lineage of Khajuraho.
An image of an Apsara disrobing herself to get rid of a scorpion, is another metaphor, the scorpion is compared to lust. The word Khajura means scorpion in Sanskrit. It also symbolises date in the colloquial language Khajur. So dating and mating is what Khajuraho all about ?
Another image points to sages or acharyas instructing the sculptors with devadasis or courtesans standing besides them. They were probably imparting their advice to the sculptors and masons as to where to embed the erotic motifs.
Overall a trip to Khajuraho is revealing and fulfilling in terms of quest for knowledge and heritage. Let us not bow down or shy away from the fact that our country has offered Kamasutra as a treatise to the world. It contains a comprehensive manual for art of lovemaking with 69 odd postures, martial discourse and guideline for an art of family life. It would always be debated among private circles as a sex scandal, rebellion against conservatism or promotion of a broad minded religion. `Indians can always be proud of invention of Zero, Mining of best Diamonds and Treatise known as Kamasutra. Khajuraho epitomizes Kamasutra in its ultimate Avatar.
Acknowledgement & References : Wikipedia, Deepak Chopra’s Kamasutra, History of Fine Arts by Edith Tomory , India today and includes original interpretation.