Nutcases in India will have you believe that Indians and erotica don’t go hand-in-hand. That’s a laugh! Despite our society having become increasingly intolerant when it comes to love and sex, it takes a mere glance at our history to see that for ancient Indians, sex was nothing to hide or be ashamed of. For those who find couples holding hands or even walking around together something that goes against Indian culture, we recommend a visit to the following places:
1. Khajurao, Madhya Pradesh
The Khajurao monuments, built by Chandela kings, are a group of temples sacred to both Hindus and Jains. Originally there were 85 temples at the site, but only 20 survived. Decorating the temple walls of Khajurao are numerous sculptures of couples in sexual acts. These sculptures twist and bend in flexible ways to display a number of coital positions and group sex scenes. Some scholars say that the sculptures show tantric sex positions while others argue that sex (kama) is an integral part of Hindu life and was, therefore, depicted on temple walls.
2. Khetappayya Narayan Temple, Karnataka
The port of Bhatkal played an important role during the Vijayanagara empire. There were a number of temples that were constructed in the region by the Saraswats. One of these, the Khetappayya Narayan Temple, has an immense amount of erotic sculptures on its walls. Here you will find panels of erotica, such as a woman who decorates various part of her body while a man in the background keeps observing her, and finally he is unable to control himself and indulges in self-gratification. There are several such panels that depict arousal and coitus on an everyday level.
3. Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra
These are a group of about 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves that are decorated with various paintings and sculptures. These caves are supposed to date back to 480 or 650 CE and are one of the main tourist attractions of Maharashtra. Quite a few of the art pieces in the caves deal with the life of the Buddha and Buddhist teachings, but some of the pieces will scandalize those with sedate sexual preferences. There are various frescoes of couples and groups indulging in sexual acts or even just fondling and caressing each other.
4. Ellora Caves, Maharashtra
Another example of Indian rock-cut architecture, these caves are sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. There are 34 caves, out of which cave 16, Kailasanatha Temple, can be called the centerpiece. It was carved out of a single rock and was covered with white plaster to make it look like Lord Shiva’s abode, Mount Kailash. This cave is also famous for its images of mithunas (male and female figures in erotic positions). Mithunas were considered sacred by Jains, Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shakti and many cult followers. There was nothing taboo about the sacred art of sex, which found its way on temple walls.
5. Sun Temple, Gujarat
After killing Ravana, a Brahmin, Rama went to Mosherak and performed a yagna (ritual sacrifice) to purify himself from the sin of Brahmahatya (killing a Brahmin). It was here that Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty built a temple. The Solankis are considered descendants of the Sun god; they designed the temple in a way that the first rays of the sun fall on Surya during the equinoxes. Among the most prominent features of the temple are carvings of human men and women in sexual positions with midget-type creatures. In a lot of the places, the carvings have eroded but several are still clearly discernible.
6. Sun Temple, Odisha
Built in the shape of an enormous chariot resting on stone wheels, much of the Konark Temple is now in ruins. This temple was dedicated to the sun god, Surya (‘kona’ means corner, while ‘arka’ signifies sun). It was supposedly built by Samba, the son of Krishna, who had been cursed with leprosy and was advised to worship Surya. The erotic sculptures of the Sun Temple of Konark show a greater understanding of human anatomy than any erotic Indian art before it. There is a simple message – man can attain moksha after he has fulfilled all his earthly desires.
7. Markandeshwar Temple, Maharashtra
When the sage Markandeya meditated on Lord Shiva, he saw a small child on a banana leaf floating out to sea. He wondered if he saw Shiva and Lord Vishnu assured him that he had indeed seen Shiva. It was on this spot that danavas (demons) built this temple in one night. It is said that this is the reason there are sexually explicit figurines carved on the outer temple walls. There is an annual fair during Mahashivratri, which sees devotees come from neighboring villages on foot and other tourists via cars; it is the most popular time for this relatively unknown temple.
8. Padawali Temple, Madhya Pradesh
Bateshwar is an archeological site that has around 200 shrines dedicated mostly to Shiva and Vishnu, which were built about 300 years before the Khajurao temples. An interesting anecdote about this area is that historians got help from local dacoits like Nirbhaya Singh Gujjar to help preserve these temples from the mining mafia. One tourist draw here is the Padawali Temple, which is covered with thousands of miniature sculptures. These range from scenes of Surya, Krishna and Vishnu to mithunas in more normal sexual positions than those of later temples like Khajurao.
9. Ranakpur Jain Temple, Rajasthan
This Jain temple, dedicated to Tirthankara Adinatha, is the main draw of Pali, Rajasthan. It was built by Dharma Shah who saw a divine vision that inspired him to start construction. This temple is made of white marble and has over 1,400 pillars, all of which are different from each other. There is a sculpture hewn out of one marble rock that has over 100 snakes carved on it. There are also plenty of sculptures that show lovemaking scenes. One panel has a central queen figure with an amorous small-statured person sitting on her lap.
10. Osian, Rajasthan
In Jodhpur district of Rajasthan lies an ancient town called Osian, which has a group of Hindu and Jain temples that date back to 11 century AD. This site is an oasis in the Thar desert and is known as the ‘Khajurao of Rajasthan’ because of the sexual imagery on the temple walls. One temple here is dedicated to Sachiya Mata, who was worshipped by both Hindus and Jains of the region. The gorgeous carved archway that leads up to the temple has sculptures of couples engaged in sexual acts with details like their beds shown clearly.
11. Virupaksha Temple, Karnataka
The Virupaksha Temple is located in Hampi, Karnataka and is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva (one of his avatars is Virupaksha), who in the region is consort of the local goddess Pampa. It is the only temple in the area which is not in ruins and is still used for worship. There is a famous panel wherein a naked woman is admired by both men and women who surround her. Nearby lies the Achyutaraya Temple that also has erotic artwork on its pillars. A trip during the Hampi festival is well worth your time.
12. Lingaraja Temple, Odisha
This temple in Bhubaneswar is dedicated to Harihara, a joint form of Lords Shiva and Vishnu. It is the largest temple in Bhubaneswar and was built by the kings of the Somavamsi dynasty. Since ‘lingaraj’ literally means ‘lord of the lingam (male genitalia)’, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see figures of couples in erotic poses. The temple has many sculptures of humans and animals as well as mythological artwork. In addition to this, there are mithunas and scenes from the ‘Kamasutra’, the ancient Hindu manual on erotica.
13. Nanda Devi Temple, Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand is called the ‘devbhoomi’ – the land of the gods. Here lies the home of Nanda Devi (Parvati), wife of Lord Shiva. The Nanda Devi Temple in Almora is reportedly 1,000 years old. The Nanda Devi Raj Jat is a yatra (religious journey) that is held every 12 years and is one of the most popular celebrations of the region. With this journey, Nanda Devi is sent to her home on Nanda Devi Parbat. While the temple is not grand like some of the others on this list, it also has several erotic carvings on the wall. These are, however, interpreted as advice to forgo the carnal and attain the spiritual.
14. Tirupurantaka Temple, Karnataka
The Tirupurantaka Temple is located in the historically important town of Balligave (now Shivamogga). Unfortunately, the temple, which was built around 1070 CE, is now in a dilapidated state. The temple is famous for its decorative windows and intricate stone carvings. The carvings are of Brahma, Shiva and Vishu and dikpalas (guardians) as well as hunts of a Hoysala king. Along with these, there are sculptures of positions taken from the ‘Kamasutra’ on the outer walls of the temple. There are also huge two-faced birds that were placed to scare away elephants who tried to enter the temple.
15. Jagdish Mandir, Rajasthan
Also called Jagannath Rai and Jagdish-ji, this temple is a large, three-storeyed structure located in Udaipur. It was built in the reign of Maharana Jagat Singh and was finished in 1651. This temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, has interiors of black stone while some of its structures are made of brass and other metals. This temple also has erotic imagery carved on its outer walls. The erotic artwork is explained as representing one of the material pleasures that falls behind once people go inward and become more spiritual.
16. Bhoramdeo Temple, Chattisgarh
This is a complex of four temples dedicated to Shiva in Bhoramdeo in Chattisgarh. The Bhoramdeo Temple dates back to 1100 AD and was reportedly built under the aegis of kings who practiced tantra. Its exterior and interior walls are covered with carved images; these include mythical figures, elephants, lions and mithunas. The erotic sculptures represent the ‘Kamasutra’. About a kilometer away lies the Madwa Mahal (marriage hall) built on the occasion of a royal wedding in 1349; on the lowest part of the interior wall are carved crude erotic images by local artisans.
There are other temples in India that also have erotic sculptures on their walls, such as the Banashankari Temple in Bangalore, the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai and the Veeraranarayan Temple in Gadag. All these places reflect a time when Indians didn’t view sex as a shameful act but as an act that helped one farther along a spiritual journey.