Majestic Sun Temple at Konark
You are a curious onlooker to countless sensuous carvings in close embrace and interlocked in lovemaking. You are puzzled, keen to unravel their stories shrouded in mysteries. Then you seek the help of a trained guide, who narrates you – “the erotic sculptures were made after the brutal Kalinga War in remote 3rd century BCE. The battle had been fought between Emperor Ashoka of Magadha and the army of Kalinga. 1,50,000 soldiers had died leading to a severe scarcity of warriors in Kalinga. The population declined sharply. The erotic sculptures you see here were made as a medium to attract sexual indulgence. Since women visited in large numbers on a daily basis, the erotic figures motivated them to indulge in more sex with their spouses. This led to more childbirth and in the processes created more warriors for Kalinga”.
Female Musicians and Dancers
Not satisfied, you seek an explanation from yet another guide. He narrates:
“None of these things — none of those acts, ever happened anywhere. They were made up by the sculptors because they were away from home for a long time and were missing their wives.”
What Rubbish! The timelines between two events were 1600 years apart in history. The logic for the second narration is neither acceptable by any serious traveller to the world heritage site of Konark, an architectural wonder, now frozen in stone.
Konark is seaside town to the north of Puri and northeast of Bhubaneswar. Together with Bhubaneswar and Puri, Konark forms the golden triangle of Odisha. While the Sun Temple is the main attraction here, a traveller can also visit the nearby archaeological sites such as Kuruma and Gangeswari Temple in Gop. The other major attractions are Chandrabhaga and Ramchandi Beach and the marine drive that connects Puri with Konark, which is also part of Balukhand Sanctuary. Within Konark, the other major attractions are light-and-sound shown in the evening, interpretation centre and the ASI museum. While most travellers prefer Puri to stay, we recommend Konark as a better alternative as it is less crowded and more serene. Konark is a heaven for seafood lovers.
Konark, among all Hindu temples of India, has the highest concentration of erotic sculptures, ranging from oral to group sex, perhaps depicting all 64 types of ratikrida that find mentioned in Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. The concentration is so high that Lowell Thomas, an American traveller and broadcaster described Konark as the most beautiful and at the same time the most obscene building in the world.
Erotica on the walls of Konark Sun Temple generates curiosity and even puzzles the mind of every visitor. The brazenness and ethereal beauty of these sculptures are not only sensuous but also artistically rich and vibrant. They are mostly concentrated on the outer walls of the temple.
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In Indian culture for all ages our ancestors had emphasized on wholesome living, kama or sex is an essential part of living. According to Stella Kramrish, an international authority in Hindu Temple art:
‘This state which is “like a man and women in close embrace” is a symbol of moksha, final release of the reunion of two principles, the essence (purusha) and nature (prakriti)’.
Love making in Odisha had been more explicit compared to rest of India. This may be due to remaining of Odisha in isolation for a very long time from the influence of Islamic civilization as one sees in Deccan, Gujarat, Central and North India.
In the 12th century CE, Jayadeva, Odisha’s classical poet wrote Gitagovinda, lyrical poems celebrating the romance of the divine cowherd Krishna and his beloved Radha.
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Erotica depicted in Palm leaves or Pothi Chitra
Exhibit in Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar (18th Century)
Some Examples from Gitagovinda
“Abhinava jaladhara sundara” — beautifully dark-hued like a fresh rain-bearing cloud (shritha Kamala kucha)
“Shrimukha chandra chakora:” — longing for Goddess Lakshmi’s face as a chakora bird longs for the moon (shritha Kamala kucha)
“Shri Radhapathi paada padma bhajanaanandaabdhi magno anisham tham vande Jayadeva sathguruvaram Padmavati vallabham” — I bow down to that foremost preceptor Jayadeva, who is always immersed in the ocean of bliss in worshipping the lotus feet of the consort of Radha and who is the spouse of Padmavati (Dhyana slokam – Shri Gopalavilasini )
Jayadeva was born in Kenduli village on the bank of Prachi River, not far from Konark Temple in Coastal Odisha. It was the time when the cult of Jagannath and Vaishnavism had established strong footings around Prachi River. Several temples built on Prachi Valley during this period show an array of erotic and amorous sculptures on their walls against the spread of bhakti-rasa in the background. Bhakti is about shared joy, about sharing Krishna, it is about yearning for Krishna and wanting that union on an individual level — ‘I want him. He wants me.’
Erotica Depicted in Soveswara Temple near Niali on Prachi Valley
It is most probably the spread of these ideas from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that had deeply influenced the master builders of Konark and their patron to conceptualize and execute erotica in a grand way.
Erotica in Konark was however not new. Odisha had a long tradition of depicting and celebrating love and passion from time immemorial. Like Vrindavan, in Ekamra (Bhubaneswar) during the period of their sojourn, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva. Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose. The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.
The dalliance between Shiva and Parvati in Parasuramaeswara Temple in Bhubaneswar
In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma once had said: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.
In temples, right from the beginning, we find depictions of amorous couples. For example, at the 6th century ruined Shiva Temple of Bankadagada near Banapur (140 km from Konark in the southwest), we find a large number of amorous couples associated with Tantric rituals depicted on its walls.
Amorous Couples in Bankadagada (6th Century CE)
The early temples of Bhubaneswar including Parasurameswar and Vaital also exhibit numerous erotic and amorous couples on their walls. But unlike Konark here they were part of Tantric rituals associated with Kapalika sect of Shaivism.
Amorous Couples in the earliest Bhubaneswar Temple, Parasurameswara
Though difficult to accept but true – the Buddhist monasteries of Ratnagiri too had adopted sex a part of Mahayana Tantric rituals.
Erotica in Ratnagiri Buddhist Monastery
In the later phase (10th -12th centuries CE), the decorative programme in temples was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.
According to Puranas, ‘in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hand’s whiles still, another come out with her garments worn inside out’.
According to scholars, the amorous activities of gods and celestial as found mentioned in the Puranas actually showcased as models of behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.
Amorous Couples in Brahmeswra Temple in Bhubaneswar (11th Century)
This was the time when Konark was conceptualized as an epitome of Odia architecture and art. After so much experimentation with amorous art in Odisha here, the builders had mastered perfection to showcase erotica as a symbol to the union of the individual soul with the universal spirit. The outside of the temple represents various activities that belong to the ‘samsara’; beyond that and within the temple is the image of God. The worshipper must overcome the world of pleasure to find this god.
The erotica depicted in Konark offers not only windows to explore Odisha’s past, but also to present, how life needs to be celebrated to attain mokshya through kama, two essential pillars of Indian wisdom. Unfortunately, today discussing sex in open forums is seen as a taboo. Work pressure, alternative lifestyles and stress especially in urban India has kept people distance from kama. Perhaps a visit to Konark and appreciating how our ancestors celebrated life may inspire us for a deeper retrospection to tune our lifestyle in sync with ancient wisdom and practices.
Author: Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org