Khajuraho :- A lesson on how sex was once never a taboo

Khajuraho , a small town out of the way from all major cities in India has an airport. It’ s claim to fame ?  – The depictions of the kamasutra poses along its temples’ facade.  Enough said. Now lets take a step back and start at the beginning.

While it is known for a fact that the temples were built originally by the Chandela dynasty and later  by the Bundelas, the exact reason for the carving are not known for sure.   Some say the carvings are to appease the god of lightning. I like to believe the version narrated by our guide.

In the 10th century AD the northern portion of the country was ravaged by invaders from the far east. The constant fighting meant that there was a need for the steady supply of soldiers to the front. Young men were recruited, trained and marched off to the front line.  This meant that young maidens waited for  years for their lovers to come home, their biological clocks ticking; some even waiting in vain.  To add to this, the era also saw a strong promotion of Buddhism. Young men traded the sword for  the vow of celibacy and shed all cares of the world to lead a life of ahimsa and enlightenment.

 

The temples of Khajuraho was the answer to the dwindling population of the Chandela kingdoms. Through out the temples ( which once number 85  in total)  a common theme resonates – sex of many forms and women of many shapes.  The carvings were to educate and enthuse young men and women on the importance and pleasures of sexual acts.

Even the most progressive and free spirited society of today will blush at the almost life like depictions of an act now considered taboo to speak out about. With the  all eroticism around it is easy to forget about the level of skill.  The artists paid attention to every detail. In the following pictures notice how every muscle and vein of the body stands out.

 

 

Not a single detail left out

Not a single detail left out

 

The older temples have two panels of educative ( read erotic) panels, depicting various poses for normal and  also group sex ( progressive). In the later temples the number of panels increased to three and also the women were depicted sexier with slimmer bodies and longer legs.

 

 

Three panels of erotic carvings

Three panels of erotic carvings

 

A closer view of the sculptures in the panel.

 

 

A group sex sculpture

A group sex sculpture

 

Not all the panels are of erotic in nature. The lower panels of the temple depict every day scenes, movement of the army since the Chandelas were also fighting/defending their territory.

 

A teacher taking class

A teacher taking class

 

 

 

It also had some disturbing teachings.  Men on the war front were encouraged to do it with horses! (Yikes! ).

 

Now that I am not so sure!

Now that I am not so sure!

 

This is one of my favorite. It depicts a woman having a bath, her wet sari gathered around her waist. Notice that she has moved her chain to the back. All this is done on a single stone.

 

The lady with her sari gathered around her waist! What skill!

The lady with her sari gathered around her waist! What skill!

 

 

Disregarding all the eroticism the work at Khajuraho speaks of a time long past which would bring even the most avant garde society of ours to an awkward pause!

 

A lone voice speaking for the dead

” They have given Rs. 50,000 for a garden. But the gardens will not help this place. What will a garden do? Encourage couples; families may come to picnic. These tombs have been around for 200 years. If they need to survive for another 200 the government must do something”, Rehmatullah finishes the self-initiated lecture.

“Do a lot of people come here?”Arvind asks while at the same time casually photographing the lattice work on the walls.

“Yes everyday they come. They come from all countries. They write their name and country in the guest book.I take it to the government official and tell them, see how many people come here. We need more money for maintenance and repair.IAS officer, Rajat Kumar came forward to help this place but in 2 weeks he was transferred!”

I walk away from them. Not out of disinterest. But hindi is not a language I can follow clearly and especially not when spoken fast.

As I stop at a distance to peep through the cement screens into the tombs that form part of the Paigah complex, I still hear the passion of Rehmatullah. Even without the luxury of  a satisfactory hindi vocabulary I know he is still talking about the conservation of the 200-year-old heritage site that comprises of the Paigah tombs.

The truth is that not many people know of the existence of these tombs. You might think that the AP tourism board would have taken care of that already! That is in all honesty far from the truth. A sign by the tourism board has  an arrow pointing in the direction of  Engine Bowli. Next to the arrow it is written Paigah Tombs 1 km, when  in fact you should take a U turn at that sign  and travel about 4 km in the opposite direction if you want to get anywhere close to the Paigah Tombs.

“Rehmatullah has been taking care of this place for 40 years”,the guard appointed by the Archaeological Survey of India to the tombs tells us.

“Before him, his father took care of the place.Everyday he is calling government people, meeting people with money to get some money for the restoration of the tombs.”

“Why don’t people know of this place?” I ask. “We asked a lot of people and no one seemed to know about the place”.

“It’s not that they don’t know. They don’t want you to come. Because if people start coming then government will have to make roads and the people will lose houses since they have built their houses on the roads.”

Arvind and I give each other knowing looks. That explained a lot of things, like having to ride through people’s backyards to get to the tombs, the presence of shelves, bathrooms and other house hold goods in and around some tomb structures and most importantly why people living next to the site did not seem to know the way to the tombs.

Sitting among the dead it seems that only Rehmatullah  really cares about what happens to the dead rotting 6 feet below delicately carved marble tombs.

If the government does not extend a hand to restore the falling structure the fate of this place after Rehmatullah’s time will be sealed forever.

In Rehmatullah’s words,”We may not be there tomorrow but these have to remain forever..thats our only hope.”