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Khajuraho


Khajuraho Temple


Background and History

  • Khajuraho refers to a group of temples located in central India. The temples are clustered around three areas in a small town. Previously, the area was occupied by wealthy and powerful dynasties who all contributed to the temples construction over several generations. Although one of the most popular tourist destinations in modern India, with a devoted airport to transport the interested tourists coming from abroad and from within India, Khajuraho is also one of the most misunderstood places in the world, primarily due to its controversial representation of erotic sexual practices found on the sides of the temples.
  • Probably constructed over a century or even two, the monuments’ original function was to provide local elites with a centralized location where they could worship all of their favorite Hindu gods in one place. As such, the site spans several kilometers and hosts statues to most of the famous Hindu gods and goddesses. The famous erotic sculptures found on the outside of the temples show a variety of controversial images, including group sex, sex with animals, and sexual positions often considered taboo, especially within the conservative Brahmanical (‘priestly’) Hindu culture. Inside the temples, the sculptures are quite normal and depict famous scenes known from the stories of the individual gods and goddesses. Each temple does have a central deity that presides over the structure. On the outside it is a different story. Nearly each of the temples, regardless of their size or main depicted deity, has a similar sculptural program indicating that there were a finite number of images that the sculptors were paid to present on the temple facades. Most of the images repeat hundreds of times on each of the temples, seemingly without much organization.
  • The temples themselves are created in the prototypical panchayatana style, meaning that they feature a large central spire jetting into the sky over the main shrine and several cascading smaller spires. Each is designed to hold a central statue of the main god and an isolated inner-sanctum walkway around the main chamber that allows a devotee to circumambulate clockwise around their god or goddess, thus accruing merit.
  • There are several main temples at Khajuraho that are the representations of the classic Hindu temple par excellance. The Lakshmana temple dedicated is decicated to Lord Vishnu, the god of preservation within Hindu cosmology. It is also one of the largest temples at Khajuraho and is often the temple depicted the most in books and merchandise. One of those reasons is because on the outside, the Lakshmana temple features several very unique sexual scenes that are not found elsewhere at Khajuraho. This indicates that the sculptors had a unique design-plan for the temple and gave it a different kind of priority and attention than many of the other temples.
  • Most people ask the question “why?” when thinking about the naughty sculptures at Khajuraho. There is no satisfying answer as to why a conservative Brahmanical (‘priestly’) religious culture would create such images en masse. Even though archaeologists, art historians, and textual scholars continued to be bamboozled and have  not found a complete answer according to acknowledged evidence, there are some fascinating theories. One theory is that the images were used to depict conquest over enemies by the kings who constructed the temples. The kings of central India may have viewed themselves as pure and devotional whereas the kings and people of the surrounding territories were dirty and not devotional. As such, because they did things like have sex with their animals or in groups, practices which were not considered clean or pure by the priestly authorities, they deserved to be defeated in battle and conquered. The sculptures could be a representation or remembrance of that sentiment.
  • Another leading theory is that the sculptures were used as a teaching tool for young priestly boys who were too young to have families of their own. Viewing the sculptures with a learned elder, they could be prepared to engage in householder life. In ancient India, young men from the Brahmin castes were sent to live and be educated in hermitages. These hermitages were of course devoid of proper learning tools to study the innate human desires, such as sex. While neither of these theories adequately describes the monuments and their erotic sculptures, the truth may never be found.