Khajuraho: Erotica Chiseled in the Stone


As you enter inside the millennium-old temple complex of Khajuraho, you have an eerie feeling that you are traveling by a time-machine and it has crash-landed in a very strange world of the hoary past when the earth was young.

The motifs on stony idols chiseled by unknown sinewy hands of the sculptures happen to be extremely strange for a Hindu temple. All the statues, appearing as if they would talk once you ask them a question, deals with a very strange topic: the human sex-life.

How could the orthodox Hindus create such a bold subject as erotica as the pivot of a temple? The question is extremely baffling. You really feel you are traveling in a time machine for today’s flying machines just cannot land in such a strange land.

If you feel you have come to an alien land and nothing here belongs to you, you are wrong. Like you, a British man T.S. Burt too thought he has accidentally wandered into a wonderful Xanadu or perhaps some Hindu black magician did some sort of voodoo to throw him into a thick jungle by the sky-way where the temple complex lay forgotten, forlorn.

Way back in 1830, Burt was surveying a thick jungle at Khajuraho, some 360 kilometers from Bhopal of Madhya Pradesh state of India. He was the Surveyor of the British East India Company. Suddenly, he stumbled upon this strange sort of a temple complex where nearly 480,000 now comes every year to glimpse at the very bold scenes of erotica on stone.

Burt was passing through the thick jungles in Bundelkhand area of today’s Madhya Pradesh state of India. He was being carried in a palanquin through the jungle. The palanquin bearers told him that there are large numbers of temples in the jungle that are utterly strange in nature. Burt turned very curious. What he saw astonished him. Burt saw them and was awestruck.

For centuries together, the temple complex was abandoned by the local people due to internecine warfare and invasions by the Muslims. Since they fled due to Islamic invasion, the temple complex had fallen into disuse thus allowing jungles to grow around it. Naturally, the temple complex practically lay hidden for several centuries.   

You might not have existed a millennium ago but your ancestors belonged to that forlorn era when the young Aryavarta or today’s India was torn in philosophical and ideological conflicts between the growing tendency of asceticism and its opposite stream of the value of family life.

Is it your déjà vu? The Khajuraho Temples contain sexual or erotic art. Nowhere else in the world such a temple can be found. Why but? To find an answer to this question, we have to trek back to those days when the young men in Aryavarta were growingly getting attracted to the Hindu philosophy of leaving their hearth and home to attain Moksha: freeing themselves from the vortex of life and death.

Temples of Khajuraho, defined as the world’s supreme example of human creation by the UNESCO, virtually are the rhythms of erotica chiseled on hard stones by unknown hands. Really those unknown hands added divinity to Kamasutra: the 1500-years old treatise on sex-life of mankind written by sage Vatsayana. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to one of the “Seven Wonders of India.”

The relevance of Kamasutra in Human Life

Nearly 950 years ago when the sand-stone made temple complex sprang to life, Aryavarta or today’s India had fallen in the vortex of conflicting Hindu religious and philosophical conflicts. On one side, the followers of Tantrism or worshippers of Mother Goddess Kali were debauching women with sexual escapism.

On the other hand, a section of Hindu scholars was suggesting people renounce the world to attain Moksha: the liberation of your soul from the cycle of life and death and uniting your spirit with the cosmos.

It was also the turbulent period from the angle of the Hindu religion as a large number of people were opting either for Buddhism or Jainism. In both these two religious orders, the attainment of Koksha mattered a lot. Hence, there had been a regular exodus of men and women from their families lives into jungle to turn monks in both the orders.

It was at that crucial juncture when the relevance of Kamasutra turned extremely important for the rulers of Chandela dynasty. Khajuraho, originating from the Sanskrit word Khajuravahaka or land of the date palm, was the cultural capital of Chandela kings.

The ancient path of sun-baked Khajuraho was known by different names at various junctures of history. Vatsa, Jejakabhukti, Jhajhanti, Kajjara and finally Khajuraho, this temple spot of Bundelkhand played very dominant roles in the socio-cultural cum politico-religious life of Aryavarta since 200 BC.

On finding that growing asceticism would spell doom to their kingdom as there would neither be sufficient hands to recruit as warriors nor for carrying out agricultural works, they contrived the idea of adding paramount importance of Garhastha or family-life by making erotic art the subject matter of a vast temple complex of occupying a massive area of 13 kilometers. And sex is the central point of Garhastha.

The temple complex, built over a period of 200 years beginning in 950 AD, basically aimed at stopping the people from adopting Brahmacharya Ashram or ascetic order that lay counter to family life. The Chandela Kings wanted to express the relevance of Kamasutra, a treatise on sex-life written by Vatsayan in 2nd century AD. In Kamasutra, hundreds of poses of sex have been explained. The temple, on a first look, appears to have been based on the book Kamasutra. 

Conflict of Hedonism with Asceticism in Ancient India

The sandstone-made unique ancient sculptures were created in the temples to psychologically motivate our ancient ancestors towards Hedonism which was known as Charvakbad in India in those days. It was the opposite stream of thinking to asceticism based on Brahmacharya or a sex-free bachelor life dedicated to meditation in jungles or at the foot of the hills.

Nowhere in the earth, Purushartha or man’s life most atrociously associated with the carnal desires or hedonism found its way in the forms of temple-sculptures as the gorgeously ornate walls and pillars of the temples of Khajuraho. Really, it is Kamasutra’s own personal ancient abode. The Kamasutra is the crux of Hedonism.

The earth’s oldest, boldest and finest example of temples dedicated to erotica, the extravaganza of Khajuraho was created in an area of 13 sq km bounded in the east by Dantala Hills, on the south by Khudar Nala and in the north by Lalguan Sagar in the Madhya Pradesh state of India.  

On entering inside the temple complex of Khajuraho, you feel the machine is taking back to a time when the conflict in ideas between Hedonism and Brahmacharya was galore in Aryavarta. Sinewy hands of unknown master craftsmen virtually added lyrical dimension in hard stones to depict mankind’s softest corner: the Kama or carnal desire. The temple complex is really provocative. 

Waging Psychological War against Moksha-Mania

Originally an assortment of 85 temples showing the futility of asceticism and proving paramount importance of carnal desires, the vast temple complex was raised by the mighty Chandella rulers at a peculiar time when Jainism was propagating Sanyasi-theory or leaving the family-life to move to jungles and mountains to meditate. Tantrism, supported both by Hinduism and Buddhism, was weaning away vast numbers of youth from Garhastha Jeevan or married family life into asceticism.

The temple complex proves the Chandella rulers of Bundelkhand in today’s Madhya Pradesh showed mental alacrity to wage psychological warfare against the principle of renunciation of the world by men and women. The main purpose was to bind the people to family life by belittling asceticism and Moksha.

The Chandella rulers did not oppose theories of Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism but created erotic temples to project the positive approach towards married family life. In other words, the immortal value of conjugal sex: the gate for the birth of human beings. These temples of erotic scenes tried to project that fresh life springs from the Kama: the door to the creation of the gen-next.

The brilliant success of this technique of psychological warfare against Moksha-mania and asceticism can be fathomed from the fact that the rulers of Utkal or modern Odisha and Tamil kings also copied it some 800-years ago. The Sun Temple of Konark in Odisha and other temples in Tamil Nadu prove it.

Khajuraho Temple complex opposed the Yogi cult (those who wander in jungles by renouncing the family life in search of the real meaning of human life) in a very intelligent way. It did not oppose any ancient theory of Hinduism, Jainism or Buddhism lest it led to mass discontentment among the people but spoke in favor of family life by giving prominence to Hedonism.

Unable to withstand smites of time when Bundelkhand overran by the Muslim attackers, 60 of the 85 temples collapsed. The Muslim invader Muhammad Ghaznavi broke them as idolatry is now allowed in Islam. Only 25 of them stand tall to sing the saga of sexual erotica. The sex and potency were projected as the ideal-most form of attaining spiritual bliss or a separate “Marg” (way) of achieving divinity.

Family Life is Supreme

The scenes of “Mithuna” or coitus in the temple walls are so live that it would have compelled our ancient ancestors to return back to their home from their desire to wander in jungles and hills in search of the meaning of life.

Truly, the Hedonism or “Chaarvak Vaad” in the Indian context, found its supreme expression in stones. Sage Chaarvak had said that sex and conjugal life between men and women had far greater spiritual value than Sanyas Dharma (life of an ascetic) or renunciation of world as “union” between men and women, in greater philosophical and spiritual senses, must be dealt in isolation as nothing can be compared with its divine value.

It is here where the axiomatic truth of Kamasutra becomes a very potent factor whose flashes we find in the temple walls of Khajuraho.  A peep into the temples of Khajuraho, particularly those dedicated to Kandariya Mahadev, Chitragupta, Vamana, and Jagadambi proves it beyond doubt that the sculptors tried to represent 64 erotic postures or male-female Mithuna described by Vatsayan in Kamasutra.

It is believed Vatsayan composed Kamasutra to stop the waves of Brahmacharya and asceticism propagated by Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Tantrism. The cults of Yogis were proliferating. So Kamasutra tried to draw them back towards Grihasth Ashram or married family life.

Just as Kamasutra was born out of the conflict of ideas, Khajuraho’s temples were also erected for the same reason. More you look at the erotic stony sculptures, more confused, perplexed and pluralistic you become. In the stones of the temples, the ancient artisans tried to very discreetly harp on Mithuna to unite divinity with family life.

But who instructed those sculptors to shows the abstract form of Mithuna as a means of procreating life? Undoubtedly, the Chandella rulers must have appointed scholars and philosophers to work out the concept of the sculptors as we today do in advertising campaigns to promote a brand or a product. Certainly, those philosophers were much ahead of their times.

Legend Says Men from Moon Made Khajuraho

Very interestingly, the folklores and legends revolving around the Khajuraho villages for centuries together also involve sexual escapades between a beautiful lady Hemvati and the Moon God. Unable to resist himself from the beauty of Hembati, the Moon God landed in the earth and seduced her. The result was the birth of a man child Chandravarman.

The legend is full of suspense matching ditto with the supreme suspense of the sculptures in the temple walls. Let us first have a look at Hemvati and the mischievous Moon God or Chandra in Sanskrit.

The legend has it that on one evening, Hemvati was bathing in the river. She was nude. Her exotic beauty that too in its nudity virtually made the Moon God mad and he could not resist the lust of having sex with her. After her seduction when the child was born, society ostracized the unwed mother. Hemvati moves deep inside the forest in Khajuraho far from the madding crowd where she was both the mother and Guru to Chandravarman. And Chandravarman grew up to be a strong lad who finally established the Chandella royalty.

Hemvati had asked her son to build up a temple-complex that dealt with human passion and desire of mankind. Chandravarman did that.

And Khajuraho temple complex came into being.

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