The Khajuraho Temple

The Khajuraho Temple

The Khajuraho  is a town in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, located in Chhatarpur District, about 620 kilometres  southeast of New Delhi, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Khajuraho has the largest group of medieval Hindu and Jain temples, famous for their erotic sculptures.

 In the 19th century, British engineer T.S. Burt arrived in the area, followed by General Alexander Cunningham. Cunningham put Khajuraho on the world map and he explored the site on behalf of the Archaeological Survey of India  .The Khajuraho Group of Monuments has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is considered from one of the “seven wonders” in India.

Architecture

 The temples are grouped into three geographical divisions: western, eastern and southern.

The Khajuraho temples are made of sandstone. The builders didn’t use mortar: the stones were put together with mortise and tenon joints and they were held in place by gravitcal force . This form of construction requires very precise joints. The columns and architraves were built with megaliths that weighed up to 20 tons.

 The Saraswati temple on the campus of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, is modeled after the Khajuraho temples.

 The Khajuraho temples do not contain sexual or erotic art nor inside the temple or near the deities; however, some external carvings bear erotic art. Also, some of the temples that have two layers of walls have small erotic carvings on the outside of the inner wall. There are many interpretations of the erotic carvings. They portray that, for seeing the deity, one must leave his or her sexual desires outside the temple. They also show that divinity, such as the deities of the temples, is pure like the atman, which is not affected by sexual desires and other characteristics of the physical body. It has been suggested that these suggest tantric sexual practices. Meanwhile, the external curvature and carvings of the temples depict humans, human bodies, and the changes that occur in human bodies, as well as facts of life. Some 10% of the carvings contain sexual themes; those reportedly do not show deities, they show sexual activities between people. The rest depict the everyday life of the common Indian of the time when the carvings were made, and of various activities of other beings. For example, those depictions show women putting on makeup, musicians, potters, farmers, and other folk. Those mundane scenes are all at some distance from the temple deities. A common misconception is that, since the old structures with carvings in Khajuraho are temples, the carvings depict sex between deities.

Another perspective of these carvings is presented by James McConnachie. In his history of the Kamasutra, McConnachie describes the zesty 10% of the Khajuraho sculpture as “the apogee of erotic art”: “Twisting, broad-hipped and high breasted nymphs display their generously contoured and bejewelled bodies on exquisitely worked exterior wall panels. These fleshy apsaras run riot across the surface of the stone, putting on make-up, washing their hair, playing games, dancing, and endlessly knotting and unknotting their girdles….Beside the heavenly nymphs are serried ranks of griffins, guardian deities and, most notoriously, extravagantly interlocked maithunas, or lovemaking couples.”