The Khajuraho temples, a group of Hindu and Jain’s temples located in Madhya Pradesh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These temples are famous for their nagara-style temple architecture (one of the three prominent styles of temple architecture, the other two are Dravida style and vesara style) and the erotic sculptures carved on the walls of these structures. Most of the temples were built by the Chandela dynasty and are decorated with intricate details that express ancient Indian art. The historical records state that the original temple site had 85 temples out of which only 25 temples have survived.
Many who visit these temples are intrigued by the erotic sculptures that adorn the walls of these temples and wonder why were these monuments built that express love, lust, and sex so openly. There are many myths and stories as well as facts around these expressions.
According to one of the myths, it is the moon that evokes romance and the descendants of the moon god will build monuments that represent love. As per the story, a beautiful woman named Hemavathi was seduced by the moon god. Hemavathi then gave birth and raised her son named Chandravarman who later founded the Chandela dynasty. It is believed that Chandravarman was inspired by his mother’s story and hence he built the Khajuraho temples with sculptures depicting human passions.
One of the points that historians have pointed out is the openness of Indian society during the period from the 9th to 12th centuries AD which is why we see such representations (though not as explicitly as seen in the Khajuraho temples) in many of the Chalukya and Hoysala temples. Erotic sculptures were an integral feature of most ancient Indian monuments, it is just that the intricate carvings of human figures on the temples of Khajuraho leave us spellbound.
These carvings not just depict the physical union of man and woman but also the cosmic union. The philosophy behind it is such that sexual desire is supposed to be a part of human lives which results in reproduction and is in turn responsible for the birth of new life. This explains physical intimacy as a fundamental aspect of life.
The analytical study of sculptures of the Khajuraho temple reveals the dominant role of women in ancient Indian society. It portrays women as a person and someone much more than a means of expressing love. The poise, beauty, and energy of women are depicted in these sculptures. It also proves the fact that tenth-century Indian society regarded women as a person of respect and the finest creation of God.
Another important thing depicted is the equal role of women in society then, in the sculptures of the Khajuraho temple. These sculptures reveal that women were much more expressive during that time. It is also considered that these temples were constructed to celebrate womanhood. All sculptures of this temple, erotic and otherwise convey a profound message. They underline the behavior of human beings within, a mix of divine and devil. They say that man is exposed to temptations of both love and lust. It is entirely his choice whether to attain spiritual freedom or sensual slavery. The choices that men have been portrayed on the outer walls of the temple. This even includes his unrestrained desire for sex.
It also states that only those who can single-mindedly focus and are determined to attain self–realization is able to transcend through all the earthly desires and progress towards a spiritual plane. The levels of self-realization are placed at higher levels above the level of sculptures showing eroticism on the temple walls. They show the sculptures of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the three gods of creation, preservation, and demolition respectively. The sculptures at Khajuraho temples explain the three fundamental goals of life – dharma which means duty, artha meaning means of livelihood, and moksha meaning liberation.
The ascending levels of sculpture in this temple and its design explains the concept of growing to become more abstract and symbolic. The higher walls of the temple have no depiction of human form or any other god showing that divinity is formless and without any expressions. The Khajuraho temples are a depiction of the multi-level journey of man’s inward search and discovery to self–realization.
As one mentions the name of Khajuraho temples, most people focus on the erotic sculptures carved here but, it is interesting to know that out of all the sculptures on the walls of Khajuraho temples, only 10% of them show eroticism and sexual desires. The rest of the carvings at the temples depict the everyday lifestyle of people during that era. There are sculptures on the walls of temples that show women applying makeup, showcasing potters, musicians, farmers working on their creativity, scenes from wars, business and trading, etc. This also explains the fact that sexual desire is a part of life and wasn’t considered as a taboo in earlier Indian societies.