Excavating Pompeii and Herculaneum : Ancient erotic artwork is widely displayed!

By | September 6, 2023

Perhaps no other destination evokes as many different responses as Khajuraho. The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho are the cynosure of all eyes and yet they get varied reactions from people who visit the city and temples of Khajuraho.

While some are cynical, others shudder. Some feel embarrassed, others disappointed. The poker-faced guides point out “an oral activity” or a “group activity,” while most tourists laugh or look away. Street vendors sell kamasutra packaged in the form of paintings, books or crude carvings depicting various forms of lovemaking.

And yet, there is intrigue surrounding the erotic Khajuraho sculptures that adorn the walls of these temples. We wonder why the Chandelas, who ruled over 1000 years ago, built these monuments depicting love and lust in various forms. And it’s not just about the Chandelas. Let’s revisit India during the 9th-12th centuries: from north to south, there are many temples with erotic sculptures. The temples of Chalukyas and Hoysala have them engraved on their walls, although they are not as explicit as those of Khajuraho or Konark. Was it some kind of manual that these sculptors had or was it a belief that led them to carve these erotic sculptures of Khajuraho?

Khajuraho, Western Group of Temples, erotic sculptures of Khajuraho
Western group of temples.

There seem to be different interpretations regarding the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho, from stories to spiritual beliefs, and I thought I would share them with you and get your perspectives.

I’ll start with stories and my favorite is this one. The moon always evokes romance and it is no wonder that the descendants of the celestial moon god built monuments representing love. The story goes that a beautiful woman named Hemavathy was bathing in the dark under the moonlight, when she was seduced by the moon itself. She ran into the forests for shelter and raised her son, Chandravarman, alone. However, the moon promised her that her son would one day rule a kingdom. True to her word, Chandravarman grew up to establish the Chandela dynasty. It is believed that he was influenced by his mother’s story and that is why he built temples with sculptures that represent human passions and, probably, their futility.

Khajuraho, Western Group of Temples, Erotic sculptures of Khajuraho
Photographing the Devi Jagadambi temple

In case you are not fascinated with the story behind the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho, here is another belief that mithuna carvings are symbols of “good luck”, along with several sculptures depicting mythical creatures. Another interpretation says that they served as a form of sexual education, rekindling passions in the ascetic minds of people, who were probably influenced by Buddhism.

Khajuraho Erotic Sculptures
Kandariya Mahadev Temple is full of erotic sculptures

And there are various interpretations that speak to different beliefs in Hinduism that seem to be in the foreground. One of them talks about leaving behind lust and desires before entering the temple, which is probably why there are no sex carvings inside the temples. The Mithunas or couples in love are only represented on the outer walls of the sanctuaries. My guide, Gopalji, tells me that it is a description of the Hindu philosophy of Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha. Maybe you can reach nirvana once you are done with all your worldly pleasures

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