Khajuraho

What’s the difference between erotic art, historical marvels and pornography?

Varaha (Shiva) temple, Khajuraho
Varaha (Shiva) temple, Khajuraho
Varaha (Shiva) temple, Khajuraho
Varaha (Shiva) temple, Khajuraho

It isn’t a question that I’ve spent a great deal of time worrying about, and perhaps not the obvious one when thinking about tourist attractions.

Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho

But when we arrived at Khajuraho, North India, (Khajuraho travel guide – Wikitravel) our very competent guide sat us down and looking at my teenage girls asked directly whether we were comfortable talking about sex and sexual images?

Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Elephants holding up Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Elephants holding up Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho

Khajuraho is a tiny town, accessed most easily by either plane or train (a very slow train from Agra) and it is the site of a UNESCO World Heritage site on the basis of a Hindu temple complex “rediscovered” by the British Raj in 1838.

Ganesh, Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Ganesh, Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho

The temples were built between 950 to 1050 A.D. during the Chandela dynasty of Central India and were abandoned as a result of the first Moghul (Islamic) invasion. After the decline of the Chandela dynasty in 13th century, the temples were left under the cover of dense date palm trees for many years, only to be “found” by a British army engineer, Captain T.S. Burt in 1838, . By that time only 22 of the original 85 temples had survived.

Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple Wall, Khajuraho

They are extraordinary to visit, with intricate and very beautiful carvings on all of their outside walls. In every temple, you can find images of royalty, armies, wrestling, family, war, courtship, marriage, lovemaking, music and dancing, spiritual teachings, union, meditation, bliss, gods, goddesses, plants, animals, a huge range of all human forms.

Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple

Around 10% of the carvings are said to be erotic, based loosely on the Kama Sutra. It was described to me as carvings of everyday life (though idealised obviously) and a lesson that all of our everyday lives should be lived and experienced as acts of celebration or worship.

Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho

If you can think of a variant of heterosexual sex, you’ll find a statue carved to represent it on the walls of the temples in Khajuraho, which is a bit like suggesting the walls of St Pauls in London or the Vatican should be exquisitely reinvented with artworks of copulation rather than martyrdom. And all this in a country where a couple can now be arrested simply for kissing in public.

Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho

And walking around, I was very concious of trying and failing to balance out the number of explicit carvings with non-explicit because to my western gaze, they were difficult to ignore, saying much more about me than them, obviously.

Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Detail Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Detail Khajuraho
Elephants holding up Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Elephants holding up Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Mother & Child Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple, Mother & Child Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Balcony Detail, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Balcony Detail, Khajuraho

The carvings are clearly made for the male gaze, probably by men as well as for men. They are also hugely ambitious and optimistic – the women are all slender yet full-breasted (the boobs all point skywards), the men are all very well endowed and very acrobatic. There is a surprising amount of humour.

Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Mother & Child, Reflective Lady, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Mother & Child, Reflective Lady, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Lady Washing, Khajuraho
Lakshmana temple, Lady Washing, Khajuraho
Pulling a thorn, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Pulling a thorn, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Wall Detail, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Wall Detail, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho

Even when showing a man screwing a horse, there is a degree of fun with one onlooker hiding his face in his hands (bestiality was probably shunned) but still taking a peek through his fingers, horror plus a prurient curiosity that can’t quite be denied.

I can't watch & I can't not, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
I can’t watch & I can’t not, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho

And there is the elephant who refuses to get on with his work because he’s too interested in watching the couple next to him having sex.

Elephant Watching, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Elephant Watching, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Orgy, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Orgy, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho

There’s a lot of sex. There’s also a lot of going to war, fighting with elephants, with camels etc. There are hunting scenes and classrooms where learned men are wafted with fans by nubile women. There is a skill and fluidity to the bodies of men wrestling that really is beautiful.

Hunting, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Hunting, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Wrestling, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Wrestling, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho

And in some of the carvings of couples, the faces show a genuine tenderness or fondness for each other, though obviously not when wrestling.

Class, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Class, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Camels off to War, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho
Camels off to War, Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho

Having enjoyed the glorious Lakshmana Temple, we were left to wander around the Devi Jagambi Temple. There’s only so many times a guide can point out masturbation before it gets tired.

Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Elephants go to war, Khajuraho
Elephants go to war, Khajuraho
First find a man who can stand on his head... Khajuraho
First find a man who can stand on his head… Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Figures, no sex Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Figures, no sex Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Just 10%, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Just 10%, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Come Hither, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Come Hither, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Detail, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Detail, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Mythical Creatures, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Mythical Creatures, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Wall Detail, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho
Wall Detail, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Khajuraho

 

As well as the Western Hindu Temples, there is another site the smaller eastern Complex, which comprises the remains of Jain Temples with rather less sex and more current religous feelings than the others because of the (more recent) build up of practicing Jain Temples around it.

Jain Temples, Khjuraho
Jain Temples, Khjuraho

DSC_0425web

Eastern Temples, Khajuraho
Eastern Temples, Khajuraho
Shiva, Eastern Temple Complex, Khajuraho
Shiva, Eastern Temple Complex, Khajuraho DSC_0426web
Detail, jain Temples, Khjuraho
Detail, jain Temples, Khjuraho
Wall detail, Eastern temple Complex, Khajuraho
Wall detail, Eastern temple Complex, Khajuraho
Corner Detail, Eastern Temple Complex, Khajuraho
Corner Detail, Eastern Temple Complex, Khajuraho
Detail, Eastern temple Complex, Khajuraho
Detail, Eastern temple Complex, Khajuraho

Perhaps only the naive, will imagine that these images could possibly shock a modern teenage, though we all passed by the horse screwing rather quickly. It turns out that NLondon liberal parents and their children have their limits as to what they want to share…

Eastern temple Complex, Khajuraho
Eastern temple Complex, Khajuraho

 

All about me!