The Erotic Temples of Khajuraho
85 great sandstone temples built a thousand years ago in a single area,
adorned with thousands of sculptures of people in all arenas of life, 22
temples still stand today. 15% of the sculptures are erotic in nature, hence
their designation as the erotic temples. It is amazing that 85 temples were
constructed in a single area and in a single century by a people celebrating
builders so long ago may have seen their work as a universal kiss to
one-another in honour of their Gods who were often celebrated in human form
in Hinduism, with the sexual dimension not exempted. With the temple walls
adorned with human figures of all areas of life, they may have recognized
the profound Principle of the Universal Marriage of
Mankind as human beings translated into life, which they may have found richly rewarding
by its very substance, and thus they let
it be. The people must have lived in an amazingly powerful cultural
environment to have been able to built so many intricate temples, in so
short a time, all in the same area. The sexual focus, small as it was, may
speak to us of a factor in their work that was of far greater creative power, than we dare to acknowledge in today's small-minded world.
chapter presented here is the 6th part of a
series focused on the Universal Marriage of
The next morning, for breakfast on the balcony, a candle had been added to the table setting. The candle was lit. She explained that she always lights a candle on the morning of her traveling, symbolically to light the way. "I know its silly," she said, "but the sight of its light stays in thought. It keeps that day bright. May it is my own version of the Festival of Lights. Or maybe I do it, because a lighted candle has a long in ancient traditions that aren't as silly as one might think. The erotic temples of Khajuraho are like a light on the spiritual horizon of India. So it seems doubly appropriate to light a candle on our travel day to them. We will leave at 11:05, reservations have already been made, and arrive shortly after noon. I got you a window seat.
"Getting there is easy," said Indira. I didn't think so. Delhi is huge. It is a city of 20 million residents, polluted and gridlock. It is a city with streets teeming with millions of pedestrians and 360,000 holy cows as Indira informed me, all ambling about in every direction. To her, that was normal. We took a cab to the monumental Jamal Mashid Mosque, then the train of the super-modern Metro, and from one of the stations a bus to the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Surprisingly, we got there in less than an hour.
In the air things were quiet and delightful. Some pastry was served. Indira told me that we came at the wrong time to
Khajuraho. Had we come in March we would have taken part in the famous Khajuraho Dance Festival that goes on for 10 days. She said that the festival is a high-class cultural event with renowned dancers from all over India taking part, paying tribute in dance to the Gods and goddesses enshrined in the temples. She said that the festival is a celebration of the 'opulence' of Indian classical dance. She spoke of dance styles with names that sounded as exotic as the names of the gods they were designed to
honor, dance styles called Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and
Traveling with Indira quickly became a 'festival of dance' in its own right. I was sure that flying to Khajuraho with her was the shortest four-hour flight that I could remember.
Indira had promised a tour of the erotic temples. But that had to wait. Accommodation had to be found first. "What's the hurry?" she asked. Fortunately accommodation was plentiful. We has a whole slew of hotels to choose from. We rented a car and simply cruised about and picked a hotel that looked 'right' as Indira had put it. In this case, 'right' meant that it was sufficient for western expectation.
I was more fascinated with Khajuraho as a village than with the prospects of looking at temples. The village was a mixture of a quaint rural setting and the commercialism that in interwoven with rare places of a rich cultural heritage. We were tourists. This was a place for tourists with several types of eating-places to choose from, one even advertising hamburgers and fish and chips. But underneath the neon signs were thousand-year-old stone sculptures giving a foretaste of things to come.
Indira said that the temples of Khajuraho belong not only to India, but to the whole world, and are now a world heritage site. She said that only 22 of the original 85 temples had survived. Some decayed. Some were demolished. She suspected that Islam has something to do with that, whose rulers had destroyed many Hindu temples or turned them into mosques. She suspected that there were none converted in
Khajuraho. She said that the temples that survived the tempest of time had been revived only in the last century and are now counted among the world's great artistic wonders. She called them a silent body of evidence to an artistic grandeur of a distant past that became almost lost out of neglect.
She bought a guidebook that pointed out that the temples were a thousand years old and were all built within a hundred year period that is centered at the end of the 1st Millennium and the beginning of the 2nd. The guidebook called them dryly "the best-preserved architectural antiquity of the Chandela period."
"Is this what we have come to see, an architectural antiquity?" I asked.
"Wait till tomorrow and you'll rewrite the guidebook," said Indira and began to grin.
Obviously I had to be patient; patient in a night with some dancing in a quaint place; a night of dining with food of exotic names that no westerner could pronounce; a nigh of wine that was rather inexpensive; and a night enriched with local entertainment in the hotel of traditional Indian music that sounded as magical as a dream. And after all that we had our own festival of
She was right about me rewriting the guidebook, at least in my mind. The temples were a bewildering collection of fascinating shapes that challenged the imagination of the beholder in the modern age as much as it must have challenged the builders and their skill and endurance in creating such works of beauty with a freedom in construction that seemed to challenge the physical constraints. And yet I had to remind myself that those temples have stood for a thousand years, built merely of sandstone. They were created of varying shades of sandstone, some buff, some pink, some pale yellow.
The guidebook indicated the different sect that the individual temples represented. Some belonged to the Shiva Sect, others to the Vaishnava Sect, and others again to the Jaina Sect. I couldn't see the difference. I found them indistinguishable from one-another. I saw them as lofty monuments, generously laid out with ample walking space separating them.
The guidebook pointed out that the interior rooms are interconnected in an East/West line, and that all contain a magnificent entrance oriented towards the East, towards the sunrise. The great interior hall seemed to be a kind of vestibule for a sanctum. Windows have added to the larger temples to add a feeling of space and light.
The guidebook also pointed out that all the openings face East. I only saw them as lavishly carved archways. Still I found it interesting after a while that they were all oriented towards the sunrise, since the sunrise is repeated each single day. I found this significant, because Mary had associated her second development stream with the East, the direction of the sunrise, and had dedicated the flow of development in that stream with the development of the rights of woman, the rights of the spiritual idea of humanity, the new image of mankind that John the Revelator saw as "a woman clothed with the sun and moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars," the stars in the crown of rejoicing. It seemed as if these temples were aligned towards this development. I wondered if the builders realized that it would take mankind a thousand years before it would actually have the moon under its feet, and that this miraculous ability would flicker like a star and then become lost again in an age of war and a fast-rising darkness. It occurred to me that the temples were built between two dark ages, between the end of the Brahmanic Dark Age and the lesser Dark Age of the Islamic Moghul emporium.
The interior ceilings of the temples displayed many renaissance features in their design. Except that renaissance wasn't Islamic. An erotic Islam is a contradiction in concept. The temples were definitely profoundly Hindu in design. The temples spoke to me of a Hindu Renaissance, the kind of renaissance that the history books don't seem to mention. Of course the renaissance that arose out of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 isn't acknowledged in the history books either as a great renaissance, though it shaped the world in a profound way. I wondered if the temples of Khajuraho had the same effect in their time.
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from Chapter 5 of my novel: Glass Barriers