Couple at Khajuraho
In the mid-19th century, British engineer T.S. Burt was assigned to trek through the jungles of central India. On his way he came across a series of intricately carved temples, made from pink and yellow sandstone, depicting scenes of orgies, masturbation and even bestiality.
Figures at Khajuraho
Though engineer Burt deemed the temples ‘offensive’, ‘amazingly historic’ would have been a better description. The Khajuraho temples, of which only 22 of the original 85 remain standing, were created between 950 and 1150 by the Chandel kings.
Erotic detail from the base of the temple
Although the kama sutra did not originate from the site of the temples, it was held to be a sacred book in the culture. Tantric sexual practices were widely used in India during medieval times and were duly honored in the architecture of the period.
Every part of the exteriors of the temples is sculpted with erotic forms. Still, these temples are meant as places of worship for deities and inside the temples, no erotic images appear.
Anthropologists have suggested this was to encourage visitors to leave their sexual desires outside, before entering the deitys' home for prayer.
Figures at Khajuraho
Additionally, the carvings depict people, not deities, suggesting gods are beyond the temptations of sex.
Despite depicting humans, the Khajuraho temples do not depict ordinary people.
The females have exceedingly large breasts and broad hips and the men are strong enough to lift multiple women in the air simultaneously. Not all fantasy, some carvings show moral situations.
In one scene, a man is penetrating a horse. A second man hides his head in shame to watch such an act. Overall, most of the carvings show such scenes of sexual exploration, sexual satisfaction and sexual awkwardness.
Current-day Khajuraho is home to 3,000 modest people, rich in traditional Indian culture. Despite souvenir shops selling playing cards conveying kama sutra instructions, the town is well known for its devout Jain population. Jainism is a sect that strictly believes in non-violence, self-effort, the freeing of the soul and rejection of material goods.
The Khajuraho temples were named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986.
The Khajuraho temples continue to tempt tourists eager to appreciate art, and the contortions of the human body.