FAMOUS HINDU TEMPLES

HINDU TEMPLES

20120502-Khajuraho_140.jpg
Khajuraho
Most Hindus worship over alters in their homes and at temples. Family altars are used for daily prayers. Temples are sought out for important matters or big events and occasions.

Unlike Christian churches which are places to worship, Hindu temples are "artificial mountains" built as objects of worship built to enshrine the image of a chosen deity. The Upanishads described them as a place “at the heart of this phenomenal world, within all its changing forms, dwells the unchanging Lord.”

Also unlike Christian churches, temples are generally not places where worshipers come to listen to sermons. Instead they are places where people come to engage in individual worship with deities and socialize with other people that they meet there. In the old days only kings, Brahmin priests and important nobles were allowed inside temples. Even today non-Hindus are generally not allowed to enter Hindu temples.

Worship at the temple is not congregational. Instead, individuals or small groups of devotees approach the sanctum in order to obtain a vision (darshana ) of the god, say prayers, and perform devotional worship. Because the god exists in totality in the shrine, any objects that touch the image or even enter the sanctum are filled with power and, when returned to their givers, confer the grace of the divine on the human world. Only persons of requisite purity who have been specially trained are able to handle the power of the deity, and most temple sanctums are operated by priests who take the offerings from worshipers, present them directly to the image of the deity, and then return most of the gifts to the devotees for use or consumption later at home. [Source: Library of Congress ]

The earliest existing examples of Indian architecture are stone Buddhist and Jain structures, some of them cut from rock caves. Temples before that were made of wood. The great period of Hindu temple building began in the A.D. 6th century. Much of the great architecture of India is Muslim rather than Hindu in origin. The Muslim Rajput maharajahs in Rajasthan and the Muslim Moguls produced great palaces and forts. Muslim influences began appearing in the 11th century. The period under the Moguls is regarded by many as the golden age of Indian architecture. The Taj Mahal is the most famous example of Mogul architecture.

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs

Varanasi Temples


Varanasi Temples and Ghats in the early 20th century

Varanasi, also known as Benares, is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage centers. Located on the banks of the Ganges in northern India, it is said to be the home of Lord Shiva, the place where, according to legend, his fiery light broke through the earth to reach the heavens. A Hindu who dies at Varanasi and has their ashes scattered on the Ganges is said to have experienced the best death possible. [Source: BBC]

Thousand of Hindu temples lace Varanasi, arguably Hinduism most sacred place, and they are visited by thousands of pilgrims every day. They vary in size from the large opulent Golden Temple to ones the size of a closet. Most of them look new, even though they are located on sites that have been designated as holy for thousands of years, because they are constantly rebuilt.

In the 1880s an Englishman attempted to count all the temples in Varanasi's most sacred area. When he got to 1,500 and realized he still had hundred yet to go, he gave up. As far as anyone knows no one has tried to count them since then. There are temples devoted to many gods and many things. There is even a smallpox temple attended by a regular stream of visitors, even though no one gets smallpox any more. Many temples are devoted to Shiva in his many guises and forms. Phallic-shaped lingas that honor him are so numerous that Varanasi has been described as the city "made of lingas." Many of the temples unfortunately are closed to non-Hindus. Souvenir shops outside the temples sell marigold pedals, candy offerings, containers of holy water and lingams. The palaces, temples and ghats in Varanasi were built by Hindu rulers, many of them from outside Varanasi. Even Varanasi train station looks like a Hindu temple.

Panchkroshi Road is an important part of the 50-mile pilgrimage route that many Hindu devotees follow when they come to Varanasi. The pilgrimage begins at Manikaranika Ghat with a ritual bath and prayers and ends at the confluence of the Ganges and Vruan River. The pilgrims start their journey before dawn. In the course of five days they stop at 108 sacred sites to worship. Many of the sites are unadorned shrines or painted rock formations honored since ancient times. Sometimes the pilgrims fix humble meals in front of the shrines, offering food first to the deities and then taking some for themselves.

The followers travel in groups and spend the night in rest houses donated by rich patrons, sometimes with free room and board. Every Hindu hopes to take this pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime the same way every Muslim hopes to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrimage is believed to "approximate in miniature the girdling of the whole world." Items the pilgrims bring back to their villages from Varanasi are reverently displayed in their houses.

Golden Temple of Vishvanath


old picture of the Golden Temple of Vishvanath

The Golden Temple of Vishvanath is the most important temple in Varanasi. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and houses Shiva’s linga, “a fiery column of light” in the central shrine that is said to be Shiva’s home. Nadi bulls outside guard the temple. In the old days non-Hindus were not allowed to enter the temple but friendly shop owners in an alley by the temple let visitors climb to a second story balcony so they could peer inside. These days non-Hindu tourists are allowed inside. They endure a lengthy security check but are allowed to jump the line ahead of Hindu devotees that have been waiting for hours.

In the central courtyard of the temple is a black Siva lingam situated within a silver-lined pit. As worshipers walk buy they pray and throw in their offerings of flower pedals and powder. An arati (a Hindu religious ritual) is held here by 11 priest who wear nothing but loincloths, sacred threads and religious beads. While Vedic verses are chanted the priests shout and take ghee, honey, milk and Ganges water from a silver tray and anoint the lingham. Wreaths of marigold and orange paste (which the priests use to streak their forehead) are later draped over the lingam and an image of a five-headed cobra.

While this is going on other priests light incense stick and worshipers ring bells and beat on drums. The ritual climaxes when the worshipers throw combustible butter on the lingam causing it to briefly flare up like a roman candle. The worshippers then touch their forehead with Ganges water and touch the lingam to receives its blessing. Also worth checking out are the gold-plating on the "shikharas," a gift from a one eyed Sikh king named Maharajah Ranjit Singh.

In 1669 Mogul Emperor Aurangzed tore down the temple and erected a mosque in its place. Before the temple was torn down a priest took a lingam devoted to Lord Siva and hid it until a new Hindu temple was built in the 18th century. In one alcove you can see this lingam; in another alcove is a spectacular polychromatic statue of the elephant-headed god Ganesh. Every day the Ganesh's bed is made, and the statue is draped in flowers, dressed in a robe and given offerings. In a courtyard near Vishanath an orange statue of a bull, Siva's mount, attracts sacred cows and pilgrims who wander throughout the temple.

The temple is located on Visanath Lane, a twisting, bustling, stone-flagged alleyway near Dasashvamedh Ghat. Stalls along the narrow lane sell butter lamps, flowers and sweets used as offerings. Thousands of pilgrims come to the temple every day to make offerings and perform arati, which takes place four times. Cows and bulls mills around with the people.

Tamil Nadu Temples


Tamil Nadu temple

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Few things in India express the continuous presence of the gods better than the ancient, massive temple complexes of Tamil Nadu. Walk through any city there and what catches your eye first are the soaring temple entrances known as gopuras, sacred skyscrapers decorated with a phantasmagoria of Hindu statues of multi-armed, bug-eyed gods, mythical beasts and chiseled warriors. Thousands of such statues adorn the largest gopuras, like the ones rising from the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple in Madurai, one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in India. “Here, we have a proverb: ‘Where there is a temple, people can live,’ ” said Ram Kumar, a guide I had hired in Madurai. “The temple is the center of a person’s living space.”“ [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008 /*/]

In Mahabalipuram, “by the crashing waves of the Bay of Bengal sits the town’s most important architectural site, the Shore Temple. My Rough Guide said the Shore Temple was built in the early eighth century during the Pallava dynasty and is considered the earliest stone temple in the south. Its two towers were modest compared with some of the gopuras I would later see, but the style — a layered, wedding-cake look whose sharp edges have been eroded by the seaside weather — had enormous influence on the development of later temples both in India and in Southeast Asia. The corncob towers of the beautiful Angkor complex in Cambodia, built by the Hindu Khmer rulers, are one example. /*/

“The next morning, with the rain lessening, I went to the Brihadishwara Temple, the most jaw-dropping architectural achievement of the Cholas. The impressive scale of it was apparent as soon as I walked past the temple’s pet elephant in the outer courtyard and toward the interior. The vimana, the tower above the inner sanctum, rises 216 feet into the air and is topped with an 81-ton-ball of stone. One theory says that the builders used a 3.5-mile-long elevated plank to roll the ball to the top. As I peered at the thousands of statues decorating the tower, pilgrims streamed into the compound, many going into the inner sanctum to be blessed by the priests and to gaze on the 10-foot-tall black lingam. In appearance, a lingam is essentially a big phallus. It is the most common representation of Shiva — the destroyer, the transformer, the god who embodies both life and the negation of life — at temples across India...A massive, brightly painted gopura rose above each of the four entrances to the temple, the 12 towers visible for miles around. The tallest, above the south entrance, was more than 150 feet tall. /*/


Tamil Nadu festival

“Madurai is one of the most ancient cities in India, so it is only fitting that at the center of its teeming bazaars stands what some call the most magnificent temple complex on the subcontinent. It is actually two temples joined, one dedicated to Meenakshi and the other to her husband, Sundareshwarar. Unlike many temples in India, the female god is the dominant one here. “This temple is a special one,” said Mr. Kumar, my guide. “You feel it as soon as you walk in.” /*/

“At least 15,000 visitors come each day. That afternoon, pilgrims kept pouring in. Mr. Kumar said many had temporarily left behind their material lives — jobs as software engineers, rickshaw drivers, whatever — to spend weeks walking to these temples barefoot and in robes. That night, when I went to see the ceremony that would bring about the union of the husband-and-wife gods, the pilgrims were there as well, bearing witness to the holy coupling. They believed the gods had given them life. But it was, in fact, they who — through their devotion, through their journeys to these great temples — were breathing life into the gods.” /*/

Tamil Nadu Temple Rituals

Reporting from Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple in Madurai, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “The god was ready for his night of conjugal bliss. The priests of the temple, muscular, shirtless men with white sarongs wrapped around their thighs, bore the god’s palanquin on their shoulders. They marched him slowly along a stone corridor shrouded in shadows to his consort’s shrine. Drumbeats echoed along the walls. Candles flickered outside the doorway to the shrine’s inner sanctum. There, Meenakshi, the fish-eyed goddess, awaited the embrace of her husband, Sundareshwarar, an incarnation of that most priapic of Indian gods, Shiva. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008]

Along with hundreds of Indians clustered around the shrine entrance, I strained to get a glimpse of the statue of Sundareshwarar, but green cloths draped over the palanquin kept it hidden. Worshipers surged forward in mass delirium, snapping photos with their cellphones, bowing to the palanquin and chanting hymns. They stretched out their hands to touch the carriage. Priests ordered them back.

Then the priests veered into the inner sanctum, carrying the unseen god toward the eager arms of his wife. They too had a night of divine pleasure ahead of them, so we were all ushered out as the guards began locking up.

This union of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar is a nightly ritual in Madurai, the second-largest temple city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, drawing feverish crowds of Hindu devotees. In much of India, the gods are not creatures of distant myth to be worshiped as abstractions. They exist in our world, in our time, and are fully integrated into the daily lives of Hindu believers. They move simultaneously through the world of the divine and the world that we inhabit, and are subject to all the emotions and experiences that we humans are all too familiar with — including carnal desire.

At Brihadishwara Temple, Wong wrote: “Male pilgrims draped in orange robes shuffled past us to stand in front of the lingam. Many were Shaivites, easily recognized by three white lines drawn on their foreheads. I saw them everywhere in Tamil Nadu, including at the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple in Madurai, my final stop.

I stood by the bathing tank in the courtyard outside the Meenakshi shrine, watching as pilgrims dunked their heads or entire bodies into the water, a scene repeated at rivers, lakes and pools all across India.

Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple

Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple is one of the most spectacular temple complexes in the world. Completed in 1660 and the site of many religious festivals, it is named after Meenakshi, the beautiful "fish-eyed" daughter of a mythical Pandyyan king and Sundarashvara, a manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva. It's location in the middle of Madurai symbolizes the centrality of religion in the everyday life of the people there.


Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple


One of the largest temple complexes in India, Meenakshi Sundareshwarar covers 15 acres and is made up of 12 gopuras (large ceremonial gateways decorated with stucco figures) that surround the two most important shrines: one dedicated to Sundarashvara (Lord Shiva) and the other to Meenakshi. Around the temples is high wall punctuated by four gates covered with carved, brightly-painted, stucco sculptures of gods, goddesses and mythical beasts. The main gate is lined with stalls selling coconuts, bananas, cum cum (colored ash placed on one's forehead), and offering presented to the gods by pilgrims.

The 160-foot-high roof of the tallest temple is balanced on top of a series of 12 terraces. Each terrace is decorated with hundreds of brightly colored life-size figures depicting episodes from Hindu literature and mythology. These images were placed here in part so that illiterate audiences could understand the stories they depict. Pilgrims sometimes throw butter at the sculptures as a sign of respect and to cool the sculptures down. Nearby is a ritual tank, where pilgrims douse themselves with sacred water and cool themselves down.

Inside the temples are ceiling frescoes, wall murals and elaborately carved colonnades and exquisite sculptures and shrines. Pilgrims sit in groups or alone. Priests are identifiable by their bare chests and sacred threads hanging over their shoulders. Brass bowls with coconut milk, rose petals and bananas are left here and there as offerings. The faithful pray and chant to the sounds of temple drums and the nagaswaram, a giant Tamil oboe. In the porch of eight goddesses, visitors are flanked by carved pillars with dancing girls and large-breasted Hindu goddesses.

The temple is regarded as a tirtha, a place where the world and the heavens intersect and gods can easily move to the human world. It is believed that the Kadamba tree under which Lord Indra installed a lingam of Lord Shiva for his worship is the only one that remains of the forest that once covered this area. Legend has it that when the last Tamil Sangam (Academy) met here, literary works were thrown into a the temple tank: those that floated to the top were deemed to be outstanding literature.

Meenakshi has a reputation for being a particularly generous and giving deity, especially when it comes to children. Many women pray to her and then tie twine around a banyan tree in the courtyard, in hopes of having a child delivered to them in nine months time. One pilgrim told National Geographic Traveler: “If you ask anything of the goddess, you are sure to get success...Meenkashi Devi looks after her devotees. Just to see her, to have darshan [experiencing the power of god through an image] is enough.”

A National Geographic from the 1910s reported: “The thousands of brightly clad men and women, the interesting ceremonies, the dry river-bed with its borders of waving coconut palms and over and through it all a sense of the divine presence that all the people seem to feel even in spite of their hilarity and somewhat questionable conduct— all of these bewilder the senses and cloud the mind until one is lost in a maze of thought where East and West stand in opposition, The practical Westerner sees much he would like to imitate in the child-like faith and simple ceremomy. And yet he also sees much that he would like to purify and ennoble. Could the simple faith be linked to a noble ethical code, here would be power indeed.”

Great Living Chola Temples


Temple of Brihadishwara

The Great Living Chola Temples of Tamil Nadu were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. According to UNESCO: these temples “were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India and the neighbouring islands. The site includes three great 11th- and 12th-century Temples: the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. The Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana (sanctum tower) has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. The Airavatesvara temple complex, built by Rajaraja II, at Darasuram features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva. The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. [Source:UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

“The great Cholas established a powerful monarchy in the 9th CE at Thanjavur and in its surroundings. They enjoyed a long, eventful rule lasting for four and a half centuries with great achievements in all fields of royal endeavour such as military conquest, efficient administration, cultural assimilation and promotion of art. All three temples, the Brihadisvara at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara at Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara at Darasuram, are living temples. The tradition of temple worship and rituals established and practised over a thousand years ago, based on still older Agamic texts, continues daily, weekly and annually, as an inseparable part of life of the people. =

“These three temple complexes therefore form a unique group, demonstrating a progressive development of high Chola architecture and art at its best and at the same time encapsulating a very distinctive period of Chola history and Tamil culture. The Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur marks the greatest achievement of the Chola architects. Known in the inscriptions as Dakshina Meru, the construction of this temple was inaugurated by the Chola King, Rajaraja I (985-1012 CE) possibly in the 19th regal year (1003-1004 CE) and consecrated by his own hands in the 25th regal year (1009-1010 CE). A massive colonnaded prakara with sub-shrines dedicated to the ashatadikpalas and a main entrance with gopura (known as Rajarajantiruvasal) encompasses the massive temple. The sanctum itself occupies the centre of the rear half of the rectangular court.


Gangaikonda Cholapuram

The vimana soars to a height of 59.82 meters over the ground. This grand elevation is punctuated by a high upapitha, adhisthana with bold mouldings; the ground tier (prastara) is divided into two levels, carrying images of Siva. Over this rises the 13 talas and is surmounted by an octagonal sikhara. There is a circumambulatory path all around the sanctum housing a massive linga. The temple walls are embellished with expansive and exquisite mural paintings. Eighty-one of the one hundred and eight karanas, posed in Baharatanatya,are carved on the walls of second bhumi around the garbhagriha. There is a shrine dedicated to Amman dating to c.13th century. Outside the temple enclosure are the fort walls of the Sivaganga Little Fort surrounded by a moat, and the Sivaganga Tank, constructed by the Nayaks of Tanjore of the 16th century who succeeded the imperial Cholas. The fort walls enclose and protect the temple complex within and form part of the protected area by the Archaeological Survey of India. =

“The Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram in the Perambalur district was built for Siva by Rajendra I (1012-1044 CE). The temple has sculptures of exceptional quality. The bronzes of Bhogasakti and Subrahmanya are masterpieces of Chola metal icons. The Saurapitha (Solar altar), the lotus altar with eight deities, is considered auspicious. The Airavatesvara temple at Tanjavur was built by the Chola king Rajaraja II (1143-1173 CE.): it is much smaller in size as compared to the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. It differs from themin itshighly ornate execution. The temple consists of a sanctum without a circumambulatory path and axial mandapas. The front mandapa known in the inscriptions as Rajagambhiran tirumandapam, is unique as it was conceptualized as a chariot with wheels. The pillars of this mandapa are highly ornate. The elevation of all the units is elegant with sculptures dominating the architecture. A number of sculptures from this temple are the masterpieces of Chola art. The labelled miniature friezes extolling the events that happened to the 63 nayanmars (Saiva saints) are noteworthy and reflect the deep roots of Saivism in this region. The construction of a separate temple for Devi, slightly later than the main temple, indicates the emergence of the Amman shrine as an essential component of the South Indian temple complex.” =

Rat Temple of Deshnoke, Rajasthan

Karni Mata Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Karni Mata. Located in Deshnoke, 30 kilometers from Bikaner, in Rajasthan and also known as the Temple of Rats, it is is famous for the approximately 25,000 holy black rats — called kabbas — that live, and are revered in, the temple. Many people travel great distances to pay their respects. The temple draws visitors from across the country for blessings, as well as curious tourists from around the world. Devotees at the temple explain that rats, like all living creatures, are welcome. Eating food that has been nibbled on by the rats is considered to be a "high honor". If one of them is killed, it must be replaced with one made of solid silver. Some Indians criticize the money spent feeding the rats when some people in the town are desperately short of food.


Carvings of rats decorate silver doors and marble archways the temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Bhagwati Karniji. Bowls of grains, sweets and milk are left out for the rodents which are everywhere. "They were all around me," said National Geographic photographer James Stanfield, who was in the temple on a magazine assignment, "While I was shooting pictures, the rats gnawed holes in my camera bag, and even chewed the insulation from my strobe lights, shorting them out." [Source: Thomas Canby, National Geographic, July 1977]

According to legend, Laxman, Karni Mata's stepson (or the son of one of her storytellers), drowned in a pond in Kapil Sarovar in Kolayat Tehsil while he was attempting to drink from it. Karni Mata implored Yama, the god of death, to revive him. First refusing, Yama eventually relented, permitting Laxman and all of Karni mata's male children to be reincarnated as rats. The story behind rats at the temple is different according to some local folklore. According to this version, a 20,000 strong army deserted a nearby battle and came running to Deshnoke. Upon learning of the sin of desertion, punishable by death, Karni Mata spared their lives but turned them into rats, and offered the temple as a future place to stay. The army of soldiers expressed their gratitude and promised to serve Karni Mata evermore. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Love Temples of Khajuraho

The great “love temples” of northern India, including Khajuraho, were built in the eleventh century by the Chandella dynasty. Khajuraho (260 miles from Agra) is remote city famed for its erotic temples. The origin of the temples and the history of the Chandela dynasty that built them is not completely understood. But it is known that at least 850 temples were built between A.D 950 and 1050 over a wide area, of which 22 are still in fairly good shape. The city was built in such a remote location so that it could escape the ravages of invaders.

The Chandela or Chandel were a rajputs (a powerful military caste). The Chandela Dynasty ruled much of the Bundelkhand region of central India for long periods between the A.D. 10th and the 13th centuries. The Chandel dynasty is famous in Indian history for Maharaja Rao Vidyadhara, who repulsed the attacks of Mahmud of Ghazni and was behind much of the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho. The word Chandela is said to have evolved from of Chandratreya, combination of two words indicating the lineage Chandra vamsa and Atreya gotra.


Matangesvara Temple

What makes Khajuraho so interesting are the sculptures of people—and perhaps gods and goddesses—in various love-making positions on the sandstone walls of the temples. In one extraordinary bas-relief a man doing a headstand is shown getting it on with a woman—held off the ground by a pair of large-breasted assistants—doings the splits. The sculptures are considered to be some of the best examples of erotic Hindu art in India. Most of the temples have two or three bands of these sculptures.

Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Khajuraho’s 22 temples are grouped into three areas: the western, eastern, and southern groups. Kandariya, the largest, most profane and most typical of the Khajuraho temples, is dedicated to Shiva. The main shrine is exquisitely carved and features delicate details. Among the other temples worth visiting are Chaunsat Yogini (the oldest surviving shrine), Devi Jagada (temple dedicated to Kali), Chitragupta, Vishwanath, Lakshmana, Varaha and Matangeswara temple. The eastern group contains the Parsvanath temple, a large Jain structure noted for the detailed sculptures on the northern outer wall. Other notable temples in this group are the Ghantai and Adinath temples and the three Hindu temples of Brahma, Javari and Vamana, the last of which is adorned with a variety of sensuous sculptures. the southern group includes the two temples of Duladeo and Chaturbhuj.

Erotic Sculptures at Khajuraho

The Khajuraho temples feature a variety of art work, of which 10 percent is sexual or erotic art outside and inside the temples. Some of the temples that have two layers of walls have small erotic carvings on the outside of the inner wall. Some scholars suggest these to be tantric sexual practices. Other scholars state that the erotic arts are part of Hindu tradition of treating kama as an essential and proper part of human life, and its symbolic or explicit display is common in Hindu temples. Over 90 percent of the art work at the temple is about daily life and symbolic values in ancient Indian culture. The Khajuraho temples represent one expression of many forms of arts that flourished in Rajput kingdoms of India from the A.D. 8th through 10th century.[Source: Wikipedia +]


James McConnachie, in his history of the Kamasutra, describes the sexual-themed Khajuraho sculptures as "the apogee of erotic art": "Twisting, broad-hipped and high breasted nymphs display their generously contoured and bejewelled bodies on exquisitely worked exterior wall panels. These fleshy apsaras run riot across the surface of the stone, putting on make-up, washing their hair, playing games, dancing, and endlessly knotting and unknotting their girdles....Beside the heavenly nymphs are serried ranks of griffins, guardian deities and, most notoriously, extravagantly interlocked maithunas, or lovemaking couples."

The temples have several thousand statues and art works, with Kandarya Mahadeva temple alone decorated with over 870. Some 10 percent of these iconographic carvings contain sexual themes and various sexual poses. A common misconception is that, since the old structures with carvings in Khajuraho are temples, the carvings depict sex between deities; however the kama arts represent diverse sexual expressions of different human beings. Core Hindu values are expressed in multitude of ways. Even the Kama scenes, when seen in combination of sculptures that precede and follow, depict the spiritual themes such as moksha. In the words of Stella Kramrisch, This state which is “like a man and woman in close embrace” is a symbol of moksa, final release or reunion of two principles, the essence (Purusha) and the nature (Prakriti). +

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); The Creators by Daniel Boorstin; A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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