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!

 

Kambala

Kambala originated as a rural sport. After the harvest was done, the slushy  paddy fields were filled with water. It served as a race track for farmers to race their buffaloes.

A decade ago when Kambala was still just a rural sport, the sport had an added advantage. The racing of the  buffaloes was used to till the land. Today Kambala is far from that. Buffaloes are now bred with the single intention of racing. . The winning pair receives a few grams of gold which by no stretch balances the money that goes into their diet which consists of  a litre of coconut oil and kilos of fodder a day.

Every team has two buffaloes(of course) yoked together, a runner who either holds the yoke and runs behind the pair or stands on a platform between the pair and a about half a dozen men just to hold the buffaloes.

But whatever anyone says, those lumps of lard can run! I saw a pair of seniors ( age greater than 6 years)  a 100 mts in less than 16 seconds.

Getting ready with a wash

Getting ready with a wash

The yoke

The yoke

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The race track

The race track

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A pair of seniors

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The gods of the thin places

On our trip to Amritsar I knew I would be photographing the Golden Temple from many angles and at different times of the day. I knew I would get a picture of the reflection of the temple on the water, of the fishes in the pond and every other building around it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Eric Weiner in an article in the New York times describes ‘thin places’ as places where the distance between heaven and earth collapse. In all my travels I have never gone looking for  thin places nor have I found them by chance.  I cannot imagine finding a god  waiting for me amidst all the superficial devoutness of the tourists and the pretend piety of the touts. To me god comes silently in places that I am most familiar with.

But the photographs I took at the Golden temple assure me that while I may not believe in the gods of the thin places that does not mean that they do not exist.

 

 

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Orchha

A stone’s throw from Jhansi in the heart of incredible India lies Orchha, a  forgotten old town  founded by Rudra Pratap Singh  of the Bundela Dynasty. Situated on the banks of the river Betwa , it was once one of the most prosperous states in pre independence India.   But today remnants of it’s former glory lie scattered around the town weathering  years of abandon, its bricks laid bare to the mercy of the elements and stifled by overgrown by weeds.  

Since it’s merger with the Indian Union in 1950 fate has not been kind to Orchha nor her residents. A town which was once surrounded by temples, palaces and even boasted of a 21 gun salute  is now withdrawn, hidden from view. The people once subjects of great and generous rulers today struggle to make a living.  Ironically Orccha means ‘hidden’. Perhaps it’s fate was decided at inception.

I stayed with a family of 6 while in Orchha – a grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, daughter and son. The home stay was arranged by the grassroots organization called Friends of Orchha. The NGO gave financial support to the families to build guest rooms and clean toilets. The families then charged guests  a very nominal fee for bed and food.

I sat with the mother on the raised mud platform that functioned as a kitchen beside a  small fire fueled  by cakes of cow dung . She was making roti and dal. That was to be our dinner.

” You use lots of coconut in Kerala, correct?” she asked.

“Yes.”

With that we started an exchange of culture and information. I asked her all about Orchha. What she thought about the neglect and abandon of the buildings. She didn’t seem too worried about that. People who could not afford houses had moved into some of the better maintained ruins. You can see their laundry hanging from the towers she said. In her world this was alright. But I had a good laugh imagining the gun towers which once sounded a 21 gun salute to the visiting  emperor Jehangir now  used as a laundry line.

All she wanted to know in return was why I unmarried well past the prime age of 20. I changed the subject complimenting her on her perfect circular rotis.

To which she replied ” It’s a shame if I don’t make perfect rotis. This is all I have done my whole life. But my daughter is going to study. Doctor she will become”.

According to the 2001 census the population of Orchha was 8501 with a  literacy rate of 54% lower than the national average of 59.5%.

Recently a guest had agreed to sponsor the children’s education. The mother was thrilled about it. She told me of her hopes for her children. She wanted them to have different lives than their parents. She wanted them to go to big cities and work.

” You use coconut oil in cooking”  She asked me coming back to the subject of my culture.

“Please don’t mind my questions. All this I read in my daughter’s books otherwise I don’t know. I have been in Orchha all my life”.

The jehangir Mahal

The jehangir Mahal

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A view of the Betwa river

A view of the Betwa river

The home stay family

The home stay family