“Madam, yahaan sab erotic items milte hain, erotic pendant chahiye?” The shopkeeper had a deadpan look on his face as he showcased all his erotic-ware on the table. Crudely designed sculptures in various Kama Sutra poses adorned showpieces, door handles, bottle-openers, even small pieces of jewellery. My companion and hostess Suchana looked at me in amusement and asked what I would like to buy.
I picked up a bottle-opener in bronze and in the process overheard a conversation between two elderly foreign tourists.
“He called me honey and I told him how dare you?” She was referring to a vendor who was trying to sell her copies of the Kama Sutra.
The other lady added indignantly, “How dare he? He even asked my name!”
Mamaji, our guide, sighed in exasperation on hearing the conversation. “You know, Khajuraho is not just about the Kama Sutra. The temples here go beyond all this, there is so much of symbolism with respect to tantricism in them,” he said. There are many theories around these erotic sculptures – the common thought being you leave your lust behind before entering these temples. “Which is why you would see these sculptures only on the outer walls and they do not depict deities, and if you notice, barely 10 percent of the sculptures are sensual.”
Perhaps the legend behind the origin of the Chandelas who built these temples 1,000 years ago had something to do with it. Hemavati, the daughter of a priest, was bathing in the dark under the moonlight when the moon god fell for her beauty. He took the form of a mortal and seduced her. A child widow, Hemavati retreated into the forests out of fear and was blessed by her lover that her son would be a great king. Chandravarman grew in the forest and is believed to have been told by his mother all about human passions and the futility of the same. He did grow to be the founder of the Chandela dynasty and started building temples, a tradition carried on by his successors as well.
It was early morning and I was truly blown away by the sheer architecture here in the Western Complex of temples. The Kandariya Mahadeva temple dedicated to has some of the raciest sculptures, but the sensuality and grace took over. With about 900 sculptures adorning it, it is by far the largest of all the temples here. The Chitragupta temple faced the rising sun and the Lakshmana temple basked in its glory. The parakeets landed on the grass, almost merging with the green, while tourists walked around, completely in awe of the sheer size of these temples.
Mamaji decided to take us on a tour of Khajuraho. We visited the other temples and Jain bastis in the Eastern and Southern groups, and I was particularly taken in by the Dulhadeo or the Bridegroom temple, where Shiva takes over the role. As mamaji told us stories, I walked around in the village, which seemed to be lost in a world of its own. The streets were clean, the potters and sculptors were at work and the children were playing.
In a small crafts centre, some artists were creating sculptures in stone. The village seemed to be indifferent to the erotic tag, as the men looked at their carvings as pieces of art. As the craftsmen showed off their wares, it was a far cry from the shopkeeper displaying his souvenirs.
To these men, it was their passion in art that created passionate embraces in stone.