The temples of Khajuraho were built between 950 to 1050 A.D. during the Chandela dynasty of Central India. In every temple, there is the depiction of royalty, armies, wrestling, kinship, war, courtship, marriage, lovemaking, music and dancing, spiritual teachings, union, meditation, bliss, gods, goddesses, plants, animals and an abundance of all human forms.
The Khajuraho temples are one of the seven wonders of India, second only to the incredible Taj Mahal. While the brilliant architecture and symmetry remains a point of amazement, the Khajuraho temples mainly in the limelight because of the incredible erotic art and carvings. Although the erotic sculptures make for just 10% of the temples, the temples have become synonymous with love and erotica.
Erotic Art – Unraveling the Story Behind
There are many theories explaining the real reason for incorporating erotic art with the temples. One of the most popular theories is that they were meant to provide education about earthly desires. During the medieval era, young boys were sent to hermitage and practice bramhacharya till reaching maturity. The sculptures were meant to educate them about grahasthahram.
Yet another theory states that they were meant to represent kama (desire) as the third purushartha (aim of life). The sculptures are also accredited to the rise of the Tantric cults during that time. However, several experts reject these theories.
However, the most credible explanations for the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho are as follows:
1. Sign of happiness, prosperity and auspiciousness: During the medieval era there was a common belief that having erotic sculptures were considered alankaras or decorative motifs, protective and auspicious. This hypothesis is based on the authoritative religious texts like the Shilpashastras and the Brihat Samhita. According to the Brihat Samhita, mithunas (couples), goblins, creepers and erotic sculptures were meant to be carved on the temple door to bring in good luck and as a sign of auspiciousness.
2. Mock the Ascetics: Yet another theory explaining the old erotic art at Khajuraho states that the coital couples represent ascetics as well as people from the royal class. It is also believed that the sculptures of couples participating in the orgies are scenes imagined by the artists. Also, it is also said that the artists used ascetics in sensuous and passionate moods as a way to mock the extreme Tantric sects that rose during that era.
3. Code Language: According to experts, the erotic figures were used as a code language to convey Tantric doctrines and non-communicable experiences. For e.g. A sculpture wherein a washerwoman clings to an ascetic may look erotic and sensuous for the layman. However, in the Tantric language, the washerwoman represents the Kundalini energy that has ascended up to the chakras i.e. the neck of the ascetic. Thus, the erotic sculptures have a deeper meaning related to the Tantric cult.
4. Conceal the Magico-Propitiory Yantra: According to the architectural text of the Shilpa Prakasha, every temple must have a Kamakala Yantra strategically placed to protect it from evil spirits and natural calamities. However, the Yantra, which is basically a set of lines drawn symmetrically, must not be visible to the lay man. Thus, a few erotic sculptures with the head down posture were made corresponding to the lines of the Yantra and superimposed on it.
5. Non-duality: It is possible that the erotic sculptures symbolically represent the union of two opposing forces or energies like, inhalation and exhalation, in a timeless state of non-duality.
The erotic art at Khajuraho is considered to be the pinnacle of love and passion. However, during the period between 900 – 1300 AD most Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples across western and southern India comprised of erotic art.
However, at other temples, these sculptures were carved at the plinth level, below the eye level and thus did not get noticed. It is only at Khajuraho that these sculptures were so prominently displayed on the main wall of the temples.