We Indians even have a god for sex – Kama. So it is only natural that we have erotic sculptures on our temples. There have been many questions raised on the reason behind having erotic sculptures and sexual imagery in a place otherwise considered so ‘holy’ and ‘pure’. There are a few theories floating about but the most popular one seems to be that in order to enter a place so pure, you need to relieve yourself of all your desires and lust. It is by acceptance of lust and desire in you that you can learn to control it. Furthermore, these sculptures are always on the outer walls of temples meaning that the humans need to leave their desires outside before stepping in. In many Indian manuscripts, sex was considered to be spiritual and not hedonistic. There are many such theories but the fact remains that these temples are known more for their erotic sculptures than the deities residing inside.
1. Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
The most famous of the lot, Khajuraho temples are located in Madhya Pradesh in the small town of Khajuraho which they are named after. It is not just one temple but a group of temples. It is rumoured that Shiva and other deities visited the region during ancient times to play and hence, the temples were created in their honour. All Khajuraho temples, except one, face the east and the architecture of the temples is designed in a way that is a perfect integration of male and female deities and symbols. The artwork outside the temple, that is found to be the most interesting by tourists, is a depiction of the four goals of Hinduism – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Hence, all the erotic imagery that has so enthralled tourists.
2. Sun Temple, Konark
The Sun Temples of Konark are one of the most famous Sun Temples of India. Dedicated to the Sun God, the temple was created in the early 13th century and is also called by the name ‘Black Pagoda’. Konark Sun Temple is in the form of a giant chariot and the stone wheels, pillars, walls are all exquisitely and intricately carved. Unfortunately, most of the carvings are now in ruins due to natural calamities and foreign invasions. The temple is known for ‘Maithunas’ which are the erotic sculptures on the temple walls. Britishers have called the Konark Temple ‘most beautiful and yet the most obscene’. However, the erotic sculptures on the Sun Temple are explained by archaeologists, especially by A.K. Coomaraswamy, stating that the sculptures are a depiction of Indian sex-symbolism which is ‘sacramental’ in its likeness to the union of the individual soul with the universal spirit. The sculptures are a part of Samsara which the human must ultimately give up to reach within, on the path of Moksha.
3. Jagdish Mandir, Udaipur
Originally known as the Jagannath Rai temple, Jagdish Mandir is a famous temple in Udaipur. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is a 3-storeyed temple elaborately carved. While the main structure inside the temple is of black stone, other structures are made of metals like brass. The temple walls even have inscriptions belonging to the time of Maharana Jagat Singh under whose reign the temple was constructed. The Jagdish Mandir temple also has some erotic imagery and the explanation for the same is in keeping with the others – that the outer walls of the temple symbolise the worldly pleasures that humans need to give up to reach the inner sanctum or God.
4. Markandeshwar, Maharashtra
Located in a small district in Maharashtra is the Markandeshwar Shiv temple. Located on the banks of the river, the temple is believed to be extremely holy and though not a well known sight, flocked to by locals and tourists from within the state who believe in the power of the deity residing in the temple. The outside of the temple is architecturally different from the other temples as it belongs to a different ear. But the intricate carvings have been preserved to day. Some of the carvings include sexual imagery which some say is the work of demons as the temple is said to have been mysteriously constructed within one night.
5. Padawali, Madhya Pradesh
Lost in the greenery near Chambal river, the Padawali ruins still stand tall and beautiful, ensnaring tourists who visit the tiny village. The temples are Shiv and Vishnu temples which have faced a lot of weathering through the ages. Though most of the temples are now in ruins, the statues and carving on the walls, tops and the stairs are still intact, giving people a fair idea of the stories they held. Among the various sculptures, there are also some erotic sculptures on the outer temple walls in various positions.
6. Sun Temple, Gujarat
The Sun Temple at Modhera in Gujarat was constructed in the 11th century and lies on the banks of a river. Though the temple is no longer functional as a temple as no prayers or rituals are conducted here, it is still an important tourist place and under the Archaeological Survey of India. The temple has detailed architecture in the form of sculptures representing the different Hindu Gods and the Samudramanthan where the Hindu Gods battled over the elixir of life with the demons. The temple also has erotic sculptures and the reason cited for these sculptures is that in the olden era, sex was neither considered impure nor moralised, as it is today. It was seen as a pure act that brought fertility in the world and helped give birth.
7. Osian, Rajasthan
The inclusion of erotic and sexual imagery on temple walls is not limited only to the Hindu religion. Even Jain temples have such imagery and sculptures carved on the outer walls of their ‘derasars’. Osian is an ancient town located on the outskirts of Jodhpur that was once a bustling trade center but is today a part of the Thar dessert. It boasts of many religious monuments, Osian Jain Temple being one among them. The town, in olden days, saw a mixed Hindu and Jain population with harmony among them and the town was a major center for Jain pilgrims. The Jain temples had tales of Jain priests and Lord Mahavira (the youngest and last Tirthankar) carved on the walls. Along with these sculptures, there were also sculptures of Nagas (entwined snakes) and erotic imagery, giving the people an idea that sex was treated as one of the worldly pleasures, equal to other pleasures, and not looked down upon.
8. Virupaksha, Hampi
Situated in Hampi, Karnataka, Virupaksha temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a part of a group of monuments. The Shiva temple boasts of a huge, elaborate structure and is situated on the banks of Tungabhadra river. A tributary of the river also flows through the temple kitchen and terrace. The temple is beautifully structured and has many parts like the sanctum, three ante chambers, a pillared hall and an open pillared hall. The courtyards, steps and smaller shrines lining the temples are also beautifully carved. The temple boasts of some erotic imagery on the outer walls.
9. Tripurantaka Temple, Karnataka
Another temple in Karnataka, Tripurantaka temple is a temple constructed in 1070 CE in today what is known as Shivamogga. The temple is mainly famous for the intricate stone carvings that adorn the sides and edges of windows and screens. Also carved on ceilings and walls are multiple mythical animals and tales from Indian epics. The temple has a lot of sculptures from the Kamasutra carved on the outer walls along with a huge mythical 2-faced bird believed to have been carved to scare away elephants from entering the premises.
10. Kailasa, Ellora
Situated in a small part of the Ellora Caves, the Kailasa Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The monolithic structure is designed to resemble Mount Kailasa, the home of Hindu God Shiva. The temple is believed to have been constructed between 757-783 CE by the ruler Krishna and is famous for its vertical creation. In fact, workers started at the top of the rock and continued downwards. The temple has a depiction of Ravana trying to lift Mount Kailasa as a sculpture. The other sculptures carved are done in a way that on the left side, there are sculptures for the followers of Lord Shiva and on the right, for the followers of Lord Vishnu.
11. Ranakpur, Rajasthan
A temple dedicated to Adinath (also known as Rishabha) the first Jain Tirthankar, Ranakpur Temple is situated close to Udaipur. Though not as popular as Dilwara, many tourists prefer this temple to the Mount Abu one as it is more elaborate and serene. The temple is constructed entirely out of white marble and took 65 years to complete. It has 27 halls that are supported by 1447 pillars and each pillar is intricately carved. The most surprising part about the sculptures is that no two carvings are alike.
12. Bhoramdeo, Chattisgarh
Bhoramdeo temples are located at Chattisgarh and are a group of 4 temples, the earliest of which was built in bricks and the rest in stone. The temple has been described as “scintillating poetry in stone” and the temples are also called the Khajuraho of Chattisgarh, given the number of erotic architecture on the temples. The temple was built under the reign of kings who are believed to have practised Tantrism and Occult and hence, many of the sculptures on the walls are related to occult sciences.
13. Nanda Devi Temple, Almora
Located in idyllic Uttarakhand, the Valley of Flowers, Nanda Devi temple Uttarakhand is a temple dedicated to Nanda Devi, the consort of Lord Shiva. Legend has it that Nanda Devi left her village and went to the Nanda Devi parbat (mountain). The Nanda Devi fair is held every year around the temple in honour of the Goddess and her sister. The temple is a simple temple but has some erotic carvings on the walls. The symbol of these elements on the temple is urging the people to give up their pleasures to enjoy the afterlife.
14. Lingaraja Temple, Bhubaneshwar
Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneshwar is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and there is also the Harihara form which is the combined form of Lord Vishnu and Shiva. The temple is widely popular with locals and tourists and sees as many as 6000 tourists per day. The temple has animal and mythological graffiti as well as sculptures. The temple also has a lot of erotic art and images from the Kamasutra, the sacred Hindu text on sex.