The Suggestive Culture: 12 Temples in India that Portray Erotic Art

The general perception has always stereotyped India as one land that inscribes its religious, sexual and moral mores on its society in a strict manner. This belief that is universally accepted as the norm is actually implicated in the oriental clichés’ that define the presence of this country on the world map. However, what we need to understand is that this stereotype actually obscures the prevalence of sexual liberty that delineated Indian subcontinent before the onslaught of Victorian morality. India is the land of temples and some of these ancient architectures beautifully blend sexuality and divine love in the form of their erotic sculptures. Here are 12 of such temples that must be visited soon if you want to understand the Indian art and religious faith in the ancient world. Unlike the rest of the world where sexuality is seen in juxtaposition to the religious morality, the land of Kama sutra weaves them together to come up with beautiful pieces of art work.

1. Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

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Every time the mention of the erotic art comes into the picture, the sculptures of Khajuraho strike one’s imagination. The set of temples in Khajuraho were built by the Chandela Kings who were greatly influenced by Tantric traditions.  In his history of the Kamasutra, Mc Connachie describes the erotic sculptures as "the apogee of erotic art", where the twisting, broad hipped and high breasted nymphs, fleshy apsaras and extravagantly interlocked maithunas run riot along the surface of stone.” The sculptures here portray various scenes of passionate love making that come across as the most aesthetic representations of love making.

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2. Sun Temple, Orissa

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The Sun Temple of Konark in Orissa is the most famed one, not just in India but also in the imagination of rest of the world. The temple is built in dedication to the Sun God and is also called by the name 'Black Pagoda'. This sun temple is built in the form of a giant chariot and the stone wheels, pillars; walls are all exquisitely and intricately carved. This temple is known for its  'Maithunas' which are the erotic sculptures on the temple walls. According to the British settlers in India, the Konark Temple is the ‘most beautiful and yet the most obscene'. However, keeping aside that seems to be obscene for the western world, these sculptures actually depict sex which is ‘sacramental’ in its symbolic meaning of the union of the individual soul with the universal spirit. 

3. Osian, Rajasthan

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Situated amidst the sand dunes of Thar, Osian houses a set of Hindu and Jain temples that date back to the 11 century AD. The Sachiya Mata temple dedicated to the resident Goddess has a gorgeous carved archway leading up to the shrine and has some beautiful depiction of erotic love locked couples.

4. Ranakpur Jain Temples, Rajasthan

Ranakpur in Rajasthan is home to the temple dedicated to Adinath (also known as Rishabha) the first Jain Tirthankar. This temple is constructed entirely out of white marble and has 27 halls that are supported by 1447 pillars and each pillar is intricately carved. An interesting fact about the sculptures is that no two carvings are alike. 

5. Markandeshwar Temple, Maharashtra

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The Markandeshwar temple complex is situated by the River Wainganga. Some of the sculptures here might raise that frown, for example: there is a couple performing ‘fellacio’. Know to be built by danavas (evil forces) in one night, the temple is made from stone, and follows Hemadpanth architecture. The annual fair during Mahashivratri attracts devotees from far and wide every year.

6. Ellora, Maharashtra

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The Kailasa temple in Ellora 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. Ellora caves are world famous for depicting the state of spiritual unison with the God through the carnal relationship.

7. Padawali Temple, Madhya Pradesh

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Nestled amidst the greenery near Chambal River, the Padawali temple ruins preserve its antiquity and religious faith. The temples are Shiva and Vishnu temples inside that withered with time. However, one can still see the sculptures that are remain intact here. Among the various sculptures, there are also some erotic sculptures on the outer temple walls in various positions.

8. Sun Temple, Gujarat

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Dedicated to the Hindu Sun-God, Surya, the modhera temple is situated on the bank of the river Pushpavati, 102 km from Ahmedabad. The main attraction here remains the stepped well that was used to store pure water. However, what attracts tourists here is the erotic art that finds manifestation here. Sex was seen as a way towards fertility and this temple remains as a most profound depiction of sexual iconography, represented at its walls and temple inside.

9. Virupaksha Temple, Karnataka

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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. The courtyards, steps and smaller shrines lining the temples are also beautifully carved and boast of some erotic imagery on the outer walls.

10. Bhoramdeo, Chattisgarh

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Set amidst the picturesque surroundings of Maikal Mountains and dense forests, the Bhoramdeo temple is the perfect blend of religious and erotic sculptures that are carved on the rocky stones in the Nagar style. This temple was built in the period of 7th to 11th century A.D. The Shiva Linga in the temple is beautifully carved and the artistic appeal beckons the visitors. The Bhoramdeo temple has a resemblance with the Sun temple of Konark and The Khajuraho temple, and that is why it is also called the Khajuraho of Chhattisgarh.

11. Lingaraja Temple, Bhubaneshwar 

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An epitome of the Orissan temple architecture it is one of the most beautiful temples in India. The beautiful sculptures of birds, animals, and floral motifs, human figures in erotic postures and gods and goddesses adorn the exterior of the temple. The lingam is made of uncarved granite which is 8 ft in diameter and raised 8 inches above the ground.

12. Jagdish Mandir, Udaipur

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The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is a 3-storeyed structure elaborately carved. While the main structure inside the temple is of black stone, other structures are made of metals like brass. The Jagdish Mandir temple in Udaipur also has some erotic imagery for which it is visited.

Whenever you visit these temples in India as a tourist, try to contextualize them in the framework of mythology, art, culture and symbolism so as to do proper justice to their presence. After all, art is beyond morality!

You may also like to read:

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Bhubaneswar: The Beaming City of Temples

15 Indian Souvenirs That are Hard to Get Anywhere Else in The World!

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