Drawn by the promise of explicit sex scenes carved from sand stone, millions of tourists come to Khajuraho every year. The temples of Khajaraho weren’t discovered until the British ruled the country and an English man was sent out to map India’s most central state; Madhya Pradesh. Thanks to T S Burt’s discovery in 1838, shopkeepers, restaurant owners and rickshaw drivers today can make a living from the hordes of tourists that come to this otherwise sleepy town.
I can only imagine what it must have felt like for this proper English gentleman to uncover the carvings from thick jungle branches. Did they make him blush? For even the most liberal thinkers some scenes are quite shocking. Even the little book that I picked up for 60 rupees at the entree seems to struggle with promoting the monument. Out of all the pictures of the temple in the book, not one of them shows a couple having sex. Though there are many on the temples and all the tourist try their best to located them.
To make sure that I wasn’t missing out on any of the scenes I decided tot get a guide. To source out the most knowledgeable one – anyone can print out that little ‘official tourist guide’ pass after all – I put them through a little test.
What is the reason for the sex sculptures on these temples and why don’t we see them anywhere else in India? (At the time I didn’t know there are a few other tempels that have rather explicit scenes on them, still not as much as the temples of Khajuraho have) I asked them.
After some vague answers in broken English it was Anshu that gave me the most satisfying answer. Till this day no one is sure about the real reason behind the Khajuraho carvings. But there are three options.
- Firstly; and my favourite one.. The Goddess of lightning is a single lady. To prevent her from striking the temple they wanted to make her feel so uncomfortable that she wouldn’t dare come close. According to the ancient Indians a single lady couldn’t be more terrified of anything else than couples having a lot of sex. The lightning conductors of the sides of the temples refute this silly idea, thank god.
- This was Anshu’s favourite explanation. The temples were building to teach the people about the learning’s of Tantra. Yes, that includes the Tantric sex. But this philosophy is about all aspects of live. Study, eat, breath or clean with full dedication and hundred percent commitment. I didn’t buy this explanation, since the sexual part was given a clear preference by the sculptures. Nowhere do I see anyone clean with dedication.
- This is the most likely option in my view. The temples were built to educate the people of the kingdom about sex. Educate them about the many things you can and cannot do. This education was needed because the kingdom’s inhabitant’s numbers were declining fast. More babies needed to be born and lots of sex needed to happen for that.
Through out the tour of the Western side of the complex my guide Anshu always gave me various angles to the stories that he tells. He says for example, about the destruction of most of the 85 original temples, that it could have been Muslim invaders. But it could also have been local people unaware of the importance of such historic sites. Anshu is able to see the best in any religion and acknowledge how the religion that he follows benefitted from some and was influenced by others.
(In the last year that I’ve been living in India it seems that this ability has become less and less common among India’s citizens.)
Greek Mythology for example influenced the way the sun god Surya was portrayed. In India the sun was always depicted as a round disc, never as a god in human form. Not until the Greek came to India and carried with them statues of their sun god. On the side of the Lakshmana temple – the first on you’ll come to if you follow the main route – you’ll see Surya wearing boots. You don’t see this with any other Indian god.
When we come to side of the temple that has to be the kinkiest carvings of all of the temple’s decorations Anshu points out a rather disturbing scene. Two sandstone men are having a lot of fun with a horse. But if you look closer you’ll see a person behind the horse covering his face with both hands in shock of what he sees. And my amazing guide points out the little fire that is carved out on the left side of the scene. This means that the fun happened in the evening.
‘There are many things you can do, but it doesn’t mean you should. Even when you reserve those actions for the nighttime, they might shock others’ Anshu explains.
I’m happy to see that the ancient Indian artists were open-minded enough to depict scenes that they might no agree with. Yet they were not too conservative to acknowledge the fact that it does happen.
Thankfully Anshu doesn’t look too surprised when I spend a long time taking pictures of all the sex positions that he points out to me on the temple.
With all this talk about the significance of explicit sex positions our conversation takes a detour after a while. Anshu also has an opinion about the meaning of love in modern day India. During our tea break in the middle of our tour he opens up about his own love story.
At 29 years old he was recently married to a woman he found online. After dating the girl that he loved for 8 years it became clear to him that his Brahmin family wouldn’t accept her as his wife. She was of a lower cast then him. According to Anshu his girlfriend was very understanding about it when he broke up with her. Even she needed to marry someone from her own cast, he tells me. After that long relationship Anshu decided the quickest way of finding a fitting match was to go on Facebook. From her last name he could tell she was of the same cast as him. Though I’m sure her profile picture had something to do with his choice as well. They chatted for about four months before they decided to get married.
He married his wife in her hometown of Varanasi. Anshu tells me with a big smile that he used to dislike the city, but because of his wife he has learned to love it. I guess when it comes to marriage there were many things Anshu was willing to change his mind about. When I ask him about it, he insists that boys and girls of his generation – he’s 29 years old – are free to chose their own match. Foreigners always believe we have arranged marriages, he says, but that’s no longer the case in India. I say that I don’t think he was free to choose at all, because his mother told him point blank that she would only accept a Brahmin daughter-in-law. But Anshu tells me it’s simple, he could choose between his family and the girl. He chose his family, because he felt that bond was stronger.
It amazes me how he can talk so emotionless about the story of his lost love. But he doesn’t see it as a loss at all. He’s extremely happy with his wife and their new-born baby boy, a perfect little Brahmin family.
As for the temples, they are one of the most beautiful temples I’ve seen in India s far. Khajuraho can easily fit it to your golden triangle route Delhi-Agra-Jaipur if you want to.
Are you planning a trip to the temples of Khajuraho and you liked what you’ve read about my guide Anshu? Then do give him a call to see if he can help you out. You can call him 9893717795 or email: email@example.com
On a separate note.. apart from the temples I loved the real stone oven pizzas and warm apple pie at Mediterraneo. It’s a bit expensive considering you’re in India. But after traveling around for a while you’re happy to pay for good pizza, I found.
Did you like this article, or do you want to tell me about your visit to Khajuraho? Feel free to share your thought in a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!