Khajuraho: Love in The Time of Chandelas.

Khajuraho temple, Khajuraho temple photos, Khajuraho India

The faint outline of a waning moon appears in the sky, as the sun slowly descends beyond the magnificent temples, and times, of the moon-worshipping Chandela dynasty. In the distance, a guide solemnly explains to an Indian family the sculpture of a foursome on the wall – this aasan (pose) depicts a man “satisfying” three women, the pose helps improve blood circulation in the entire body, he says. I gape in awe, first at the intricacy of the stone carvings, then at the nonchalant reaction of the family. Chances are, the same adults will condemn their daughters from dating men of their choice, label sexual references as taboo in another (non-holy) setting, and scorn at pre-marital sex, all in the name of Indian culture.

Khajuraho temple, Khajuraho photos, Khajuraho temple photos
Beautifully preserved glory of the Chandelas, at Khajuraho.
khajuraho sculptures, Khajuraho temple, Khajuraho photos
The “foursome” sculpture at Khajuraho!

Erotic sculptures are all over the walls, but Khajuraho isn’t just about erotica; it’s about the depiction of life in an era when sex was considered as normal as men going to work, women doing household chores, kings preparing for war and such. An era when men and women were as in tune with nature as with their own desires. So many on Twitter echo my sentiments while I tweet from the temples; what happened to our society? When, and more importantly why, did we become so rigid?

Khajuraho temple, Khajuraho temple photos, Khajuraho India
Khajuraho at sunset.
Khajuraho sculptures, Khajuraho pictures, Khajuraho temple
The carved sculptures that adorn the temple walls at Khajuraho. Notice the intricacy!

I’m struck by the irony of the depictions on the walls, in the context of today’s India. Centuries ago, our temples and people were liberal enough to tastefully explore the desire and biology of our own bodies, even in the presence of the gods they worshipped. Centuries later, our temples veil women, our political leaders condemn nudist art, and Bollywood’s portrayal of sex is anything but tasteful. How did we change so much?

Khajuraho temple photos, Khajuraho sound and light show, Khajuraho
Khajuraho temples lit up during the sound and light show.

I’m travelling with Pugdundee Safaris in Madhya Pradesh this week, staying at their eco-lodges at Panna, Bandavgarh and Kanha, visiting the wildlife parks and exploring life in Bundelkhand. All opinions / thoughts expressed in this post are my own.

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  1. India is a confused society. Frankly I have no opinion about the erotic carvings on the temple walls – they are beyond my understanding. I mean ‘threesome’, ‘foursome’ on temple walls! I have no idea how people perceived sex or how they perceive it now. Anyway, I liked the sunset shot!

    1. Haha, atleast you’re honest, Renuka! I don’t know how hard-core religious people perceive it, but in my opinion, it just reflects on how open society back then was.

      1. Don’t you think if the carvings were about two people making love….that would have been ‘open, liberal’…. Is sex supposed to be between three-four people together? And should we call it a liberal mindset?

        1. SARATH KUMAR says:

          hi shivya ,

          great write of the destination i want to visit . “How did we change so much ?” a question to be pondered upon by everyone.have you been there for the dance festival.

        2. Madhu Sharma says:

          Polyamory is more liberal than monogamy. The idea that sex is meant to be only between two people and not more than two is a closed mindset many Indians still can’t find a way out of.

        3. Edha Singla says:

          Renuka, the whole concept behind these carvings is the depiction of ‘kaam’ which translate to extensive desire, uncontrolled longing, concupiscence, sensuality or lasciviousness. When the temple was being, the people didnt give a second thought about whether what they were making was open or liberal. They were depicting a very major part of human life=sex. It is us who are trying to understand as to how a society such old was so so open to sex, whereas today a mojar part of the Indian society is sexually repressed and frustrated as the writer has mentioned in her article.

  2. “when did we change” will remain a hypothetical question? I could only think of all these reformers who were in prominence in the late 17th century, who perhaps would’ve had a role to play. When they were abolishing Sati and other evils, some bloke would’ve raised his finger and brought this up- for reasons best known to himself.

    1. Possibly; it’s too bad that transition is not evident or documented in our long history.

  3. Wonderful write up Shivya.Have been to Khajuraho twice by motorcycle all the way from Pune.Do visit the Raneh falls, its beautiful.

    1. Whoa, that must’ve been quite a drive. Got pictures from it? And what did you think of Khajuraho? Visited it on a monday when the falls are closed 🙁

  4. Reminds me of when we were taken to Khajuraho on a college trip. I remember the awe with which we were listening to the guide. And, yup, the same question was on everyone’s lips… When and why did we change??

    1. That must’ve been something! And I can just about imagine the awe, haha.

  5. Sure India and Indian mindset is a bundle of contradictions! I am sure that very same question will be running in million people’s mind too 🙂 This temple is a testimony of true workmanship. Each and every sculpture is gorgeous, in its own way!

    1. I agree, it really is great workmanship! And you’re right, whatever you say about India, the opposite is equally true.

  6. Drove to Khajuraho twice in last few years. Tried to read more about the origins and from my limited reading, I am not sure whether it is correct to say that Indian society encouraged or took depiction of sex as normal matter-of-fact things. I know it is a touchy topic but I would love to read more and be more informed here. 🙂

    Great title Shivya. Almost feeling like picking the book again. BTW, Chandelas are still around incase one of them feels offended for the analogy. hehe.

    1. Haha, I think the Chandelas should be so proud of their heritage, and for descending from such liberal thinkers. I would love to hear / read more about their times and thinking too. If you come across anything credible, do share 🙂

  7. I am going to Bandhavgarh this december, will try to add khujuraho to my list as well….think its not too far and off the track 😉

    1. That’s great; it’s actually about a 6 hour drive from Bandavgarh, only an hour from Panna though!

  8. Khajuraho isn’t the only temple complex with erotic art on it’s walls, the Sun Temple at Konark is full of them as well as so many other temples all over the country built during those ages. Khajuraho is the only one “famous for it’s erotic art” as if it is the only one in India that has erotic art on it’s walls.

    1. Someone said so on Twitter too; reason enough to visit the Sun Temple 😉 On a more serious note lthough, I’ve heard that the sun worshippers tended to be a lot more conservative than the moon worshippers, so it would be interesting to see how the erotica varies.

      1. Well, I am not sure what the moon worshippers do and which temples they visit for worshipping, any ideas?!!!

        1. They basically worshipped the moon, so all their temples were moon facing. That’s pretty much what I know!

          1. Surya (the Sun god) is also depicted in the Khajuraho temples. I don’t know where you read about the Moon worshippers being less conservative than the Sun worshippers since erotic art is more openly displayed on the Sun temple at Konark (and other temples) than in Khajuraho.

  9. The temples create a striking silhouette against the sunset. Truly a beautiful, historical place to visit.

  10. That’s a good point. The nation of the Kama Sutra is also a nation of modesty, somehow. Though I think the United States shares this odd duality, with our media filled with permissive attitudes, but people tend to be paranoid whenever they think about their kids.

    1. How is the US filled with that duality? I’d love to hear, never though of it that way.

  11. Thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Shivya.

    The Khajuraho temples have long been on my travel wishlist. Some day…

  12. Colleen Brynn says:

    I find this super interesting. I agree that on average, people have become more conservative, and yes, human sexuality is not always portrayed in the best way in media and pop culture. But on the flip side, there are some very good reasons we don’t just go around screwing like we are just going to work or the grocery store. To play devil’s advocate, we can’t forget about sexual health and looking after ourselves and being careful to not spread/contract diseases. Shit’s out there, and I think when a lot of people talk about sex (including while traveling), they overlook the safety component of it. Sure it’s all fine and good to fall in love on a beach with a stranger from a foreign land, buuuuut he might have an STD. Hope that wasn’t too much Debbie Downer for one day.

    1. I agree with you on the safety part, Colleen. But in India, sex and sexuality are such taboo issues to talk about, that even educating people about the use of condoms or even sexual health in small villages is tough. It’s not that people don’t have sex or explore their own sexuality anyway, but the lack of communication or acknowledgement is a big barrier to sex education in the country.

      1. kapil dev says:

        i m working in near khajuraho village for poor tribal give education for child

  13. nice pic,great writing with good content through any one easily know about the place of temple
    Khajuraho.Thanks for sharing this.

  14. Hey Shivya!! I’m so glad to know about your progressive views. Great post indeed. I’m already excited to visit Kharjurao now. Thanks for the post!

    1. Glad you found it interesting. Share your perspective once you’re back too 🙂

  15. Hey there! So I’m back from the MP tour and let me share my experience with you. Khajuraho group of monuments are simply brilliant piece of architecture. I was awestruck seeing the beautiful yet intricate erotic carvings happened in the 9-10th century. And the surprising thing was those were still preserved and kept intact since ages. It was really a great experience and I wish to visit Khajuraho again in the future.

  16. Living by I-don’t-judge-you, you-don’t-judge-me philosophy and looking at the standards of hypocrisy our country is aiming at, it makes me laugh. Thanks for Sharing. 🙂

  17. My dream destination with my Partner…

    Salute your courage to fulfill your dram in this one life….

  18. Pingback: 5 Weekend Jaunts From Delhi
  19. Simple, islamic influence on hinduism. Hindus still worship ling&yoni, down in south they celebrate when a girl menstruates for first time, have a god for lust, n detailed instruction manual on love making, ….. couldn’t have been so without external meddling. Self preservation in the time of islamic invaders. No Rocket science !?

  20. Hi Shivya… beautiful clicks. I will be visiting Khajuraho in December. Would you recommend taking a guide? I was keen on hiring a bicycle to go around since quite a few have recommended it… not sure if this and a guide can be managed together.

    PS: I have just about started blogging about travel and you are certainly a big inspiration!

  21. Thanks mam, for giving such a nice information about Khajuraho. I even don’t know the place.
    thanks again mam.

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