Decoding the sculptures of Khajuraho

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“Where are you today?”, exclaimed my mom. I seldom tell her about my travel plans.
“Am at Khajuraho!”, I said.
“Khajuraho, where is Khajuraho? I have heard of it.. Khajurahoo, Oh my God, Khajurahoooo. Is it that Khajuraho? What are you doing there??” Her pitch and tone went from a shrill to fast paced.. And that is exactly the train of thoughts that runs in any Indian’s mind on the mention of the name Khajuraho. Khajuraho and its erotic sculptures. What do these sculptures signify? Why do we have these sculptures on the walls of a temple? In a country which is very much oppressive to even talk about it, we have them depicted in temples. The Indian history and architecture have always been a fascination to me and so here I was standing in front of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
The place was full of Khajur aka date trees and hence it gets the name, “Khajuraho”, narrated the local guide. Khajuraho has a western, eastern and southern group of temples of which the western group is the most prominent. Neatly led lawns, green trees, pink bougainvillea added to the beauty of the tall rising stunning monuments. The temples were built in the early 10th century during the Chandela dynasty. It is said that there were nearly 85 such temples in and around but now only 25 of it remains. I looked around the place and couldn’t stop imagining the beauty of 85 such tall temples with splendid architecture nestled among the date trees! What a sight it must have been.

Lakshmana temple Khajuraho

Lakshmana Temple Khajuraho

“Very often the sculptures of these temples are misinterpreted. People talk only about only the erotica and does not know the philosophy behind them. Some find it weird even to hire a guide. In olden days the men also had long hair. So people easily misinterpret a statue which is facing back as a woman because it has a bun. And then you should hear them interpreting, it can get really funny”, he was chuckling away and I couldn’t wipe off the smile either. Around the walls of each temple are usually prominent idols of, guardians of directions, or ten incarnations of Vishnu, or a male God and a female incarnation of them, or the seven mother of Goddesses, or a similar pattern. And then you can see the emblem or the symbol of Chandela dynasty – the man fighting a lion. And then there are three kinds of women depicted – one from the heavenly adobe identified with multiple arms, the apsaras identified as the beautiful woman from the earth and the last is the serpent lady who is from the evil world. The other depiction to notice is the fire God or the Agni Dev who can be seen with a knotted beard. The sculptures are done with so many details. For instance, check the dancing Ganesha idol below, just look at how realistically the wobbling tummy is carved!

Dancing Ganesha Khajuraho

Dancing Ganesha

Our guide, I should say was very knowledgeable and was good at connecting the dots as to how, why and what these sculptures depicted. In the olden days, tantric activities were very much prevalent. The sculptures of Aghoris and the Kapaalikas (lady tantric) are evidently seen holding a skull in their hand. Kundalini awakening is the tapping of huge energy potential within the human being. It is considered to be the ultimate bliss, spiritual energy and a way to attain Moksha. As a modern-day man, we know that it is mostly done through intense practice of Yoga. While the tantrics used sex to awaken this energy. It is not the act of making love but the perfect sex posture that awakens the Kundalini. The Chandela king who had interest in tantrism is said to have involved in these practices. The below picture shows the king with a kapaalika while the two other tantrics help them to get the posture right. But it is also seen that they get aroused on seeing them. Also by the side is a woman showing her love bite.

Kundalini Awakening

Kundalini Awakening

But this is not the only reason why there is a depiction of erotica in a temple. It is also said that before you attain moksha, you need to inhibit dharm, arth, and kaam. Meaning when you are done with the worldly deeds of performing your duty, done with your money/ economy, overcome your sexual desire, it is then you attain salvation. And that is why the outside of the temple has other sculptures related to the three while the inner sanctum sanctorum does not have the lovemaking couples but has divine sculptures. There are depictions of the king having a foursome, mithunas or the lovemaking couples lost in love, women losing their clothes in heat, anything and everything you can imagine, even differentiation between a young lady and a woman.

It is not all about eroticism. There is a child playing with mother, astrologer reading the lines, trading, war scenes, a playful monkey, woman dripping with water after a bath, a scene from war, scene of training elephants for war, business and trading, all these depicted as sculptures. It is like an entire city and their way of life depicted on the walls through sculptures. Below pic shows, the crowd listening to a baba, a wedding, going to war and a war scene.

Life at Khajuraho

Life at Khajuraho

Khajuraho is a rich source of information. Each temple not only speaks of the finest architecture but there are useful life lessons or the right way of living depicted in them. What more legacy can you leave behind for the common man for whom visual depiction is much easier to grab and understand. Here are some more sculptures from Khajuraho..

The first one shows men away at war having unnatural sex with a horse. And because it is unacceptable the person behind the horse is closing the face in shame. The second is also on unnatural sex where a woman has with a dog since the man is away in the war. She is then dragged to a local leader or panchayat or equivalent where she is seen apologizing for her act. So unlike what we see in social media where they post such pics and say men those days were involved in unnatural sex, no it was considered punishable. The last one is couples having coitus before they depart for war.

Various depiction of Sex

Various depiction of Sex

The beautiful architecture of the Kandariya Mahadeva temple. It is so mighty and splendid to stand in front of it and look up.

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Khajuraho

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Khajuraho

The detail of architecture found in this piece is awe-inspiring. Watch the middle column from the last row. First, the couple is involved in foreplay and the color of the stone is lighter. The middle is where it is intense and a dark reddish color is used to show the fierceness. The top one is a relaxed state after making love and hence almost a yellowish shade used. Also, notice how the differences are shown with the leg posture.

Stages of Sex

Stages of Love Making

Khajuraho is a wonder to visit. Make sure you carry an extra battery for your camera. Please hire a guide. There is so much story behind Khajuraho. We had a guide by name Surendra, he was very very well informed about the history behind the place along with some philosophy. It is important to find the right guide, for some were very uncomfortable to just say the word sex and so it needs some talent to show around this temple without making you uncomfortable.

Where to Stay: I stayed at the swanky Syna Heritage Hotel. It is conveniently located with just a 15 min walk from the western group of temples. It is one of the hotels where the interiors are thoughtfully designed to match the heritage site that we are at. Some of the artifacts are passed on from generations making it special. The Royal suite comes with a living room, a bedroom, a changing room and a washroom with an awesome jacuzzi. There is also a honeymoon suite which is furnished with paintings and sculptures depicting erotica. The walls are made of sandstone and are hand carved making the hotel itself an architecture to marvel at. After walking around throughout the day, ending it with a scrumptious dinner at their restaurant and relaxing in the jacuzzi was my favorite thing to do.

For bookings: Syna Heritage Hotel

Syna heritage hotel

Syna Heritage Hotel, Khajuraho

Note: I was hosted in Khajuraho by Syna Heritage hotels. However, the views about the hotel are based on my experience.

Also Read – Visit the Grand Canyon of Khajuraho – The Raneh Falls

How to reach Khajuraho

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